Monthly Archives: September 2016

Honor Has No Place At A Sleepover

There’s a moment at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight, where Batman signs up to take the fall for Harvey Dent’s death (and all the mess that led up to it). He does it to keep Dent’s name clean, Jim Gordon’s name clean, the entire Gotham PD free from controversy, and because he, as a vigilante outside the law, can shoulder it best. This scene was the lead up to the quote: “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”

This might be, for my money, the single most awesome thing about Batman as a character. It’s also the reason Genghis Khan conquered the known world, and why capitalism is so unstoppable. Because Batman, like the Mongols and moguls, doesn’t care what you think of him as long as he achieves his mission.

And this does apply to Fatherhood, but just let me talk about ninjas and samurais.

Yes, it does illustrate the point I’m making.

Also yes, I just want to talk about ninjas and samurais.

Ninjas – historical ninjas, not the turtle kind – didn’t fight that much. They had all the cool weapons, yes, and they had their martial arts yes, but mainly ninjas were spies and saboteurs. Like the CIA, or the guy running sound for Smashmouth, you would only notice them when they messed something up. This is in stark contrast to the samurai, who were all about honor and codes and their (and their family) names. For a samurai, winning a battle was good and all, but if they died in some spectacularly bushido fashion, that was almost just as good, if not better.

But honor has no place at a sleepover.

When you have two boys playing the jungle explorer game with the monkeys and the magic bracelet and the sound device weapon, you are not in a situation for high ideals. The simple dirty truth is that somebody has to “get,” and somebody has to be “gotten,” and you’ve got two little minds who are used to being the one to make up the rules. No matter how good each boy is at sharing (and they are both incredibly good at sharing) sooner or later feelings are hurt and the first sleepover ever ends with ignominy and ruin.

Now, the Samurai Papa would have no time for changing the rules, would have no tolerance for protests from a boy who lost the magic bracelet one time too many. No. A Samurai Papa would get all “teachable moment” on this, and monkeys and explorers would play nicely or all the toys would be put away and we’d do pushups and count staples until we learned the lessons of equitability in play.

I, however, am not a follower of the way of the samurai. No sensei. The mission is fun, and like the Iga, the Koga, and the Watchful Protector of Gotham City, I’ll take the fall so the mission can be achieved. He’s the papa this sleepover deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll jump on him. We’ll hit him with the sound device weapon, because he can take it. Because he’s not our teacher, he’s our sleepy guardian, our hungry protector. Our dork knight.

dark-knight

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The Banana Game

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“Rainbow Monkey and Good Old Gorilla don’t know anything. And Owl knows everything. And I’m Rainbow Monkey and You’re Owl and Good Old Gorilla”

These are the instructions I’m given. We did just play this game 15 minutes ago, but it’s important that continuity is maintained.

It’s always interesting to dig into the Little Man’s games. There was one routine we had called “The Unkind Game” where one of his toy cars (often the white van. That damn white van) would refuse to be safe around the toy railroad tracks, and would consequently get bonked by the train.

It goes without saying that he played the train, and I, the truculent hot wheels.

There were a few variations on this game – one toy was behaving badly, and others would be frustrated and have to try to get the offender to shape up.

These games can, in theory, be little developmental diagnostics. Play is so integral to learning and growth – even tag, maybe the simplest of all games helps coordination and body-kinesthetic intelligence. Not to mention burning off the endless fountain of energy possessed by the little bastards. And even beyond development, play can be a method for processing new emotions or information. A five-year-old likely won’t sit down to talk through some unresolved conflict in their day, but they may act it out with stuffed monkeys.

And there have been other imaginative play games I’ve done with the little man that ended up with just him holding forth on some of his favorite topics – insects, spiders, trains, what have you. Some “Little-Mansplaining,” if you will. Obnoxious in an adult, but in a little guy who spends his days being corrected and directed and under the control of people bigger than him, it can be a way to get a little agency, build a little self-confidence.

So I was curious to see what the Banana Game (as it has since been monikered) would play out to be.

Then he started flinging his monkey around shouting “BANANAS! BANANAS! BANANAS!”

That was the game. The entire game.

I’m not exaggerating.

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For The Win

A friend told me a story once of an incident when he was in high school. He was sitting at his desk, sketching something, when the boy in front of him turned around to see what he was doing.

The boy in front of him, it should be said, was a football player.

My friend, it should be said, was (and continues to be) a nerd.

“What are you doing?” asked the boy.

“Drawing.” responded my friend.

“Why?” asked the boy, incredulous, “you can’t win at drawing!”

first-place

All the things you forget as an adult, or at least stop thinking about: how to poop while walking, how to slip effortlessly back into playing after you were weeping and wailing over whatever injustice befell you a minute ago, or why did I come into this room in the first place? It had something to do with cowboys.

It wasn’t until my little dude started running on his own, and thus wanted to race me constantly that I was reminded in no uncertain terms how vital was the toddler’s need to win.

Toddlers and wookies, everything goes smoother when they don’t lose.

I get the drive to win – I grew up in the U.S.A, I played Mariokart. I understand the idea of wanting to be, if not the best, then better than the other schmucks on Luigi’s Raceway.

But with little kids it’s almost pathological – they don’t want to win, they need to win. It doesn’t matter if he’s running against Usain Bolt, or swimming against the Sharktopus, if a 4 year old loses a race the best you can hope for is pouting. The Little Man has never in his life played a game of checkers. We break it out, I show him how to set it up, explain the rules to him, and despite the fact that he didn’t have the first idea how to play it not 2 minutes ago, if he doesn’t win the first three matches he may never play the damn game again.

It even goes as far as jokes. Little kids will try to win jokes. I had one boy lay out his strategy for beating the “interrupting cow/starfish/howler monkey” series of knock-knock jokes.

I think this is natural and harmless as far as things go. Though there is the school of thought that you shouldn’t let a child win. That you need to challenge them, instill a work ethic and a drive, make them earn their achievements.

There is such a school of thought, but this school of thought can suck it.

The world will beat my kid up. The world will challenge him and frustrate him and it will, I’m sure, do a more thorough job than I ever could. No. I’m just fine with losing. I’ve had plenty of practice and if I do say so myself, am quite accomplished at it. Reference the “nerd” in the title of this blog.

No, with Papa, it’s just gonna be fun. Races, wrestling matches, hide and seek – I’m perfectly content to find new and interesting ways to lose for a few more years. At least until we start playing Mariokart, then shit’s gonna get real.

 

 

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The Narwhal

It’s a strange cross section of humanity, is the Kindergarten class.

You see these humans, mostly without the scars and fears, without the protective armor that life sets on you. They haven’t made many big choices yet, haven’t failed (or succeeded) at the tests that give our lives their courses. Mostly. Some have faced tests at 6 that I haven’t yet at 40.

But in some ways they’re fully formed as well. There’s no mistaking the people they are and will become if you watch them. At their core they are fully realized members of the species who just need a little more practice.

And you also get to see them at both their best and worst. Sometimes in the same 60 seconds. If the school is good and the teacher knows her stuff, the kids will mostly try to follow the rules. They’ll want to. But they’re six years old – impulse control isn’t a major strength for a kindergartner.

If you ever question how genetically similar we are to a chimpanzee, come to kindergarten lunch on pancake day. All you need is the last five minutes – it’s like Lord of the Flies with Yogurt tubes.

But so I’ve gotten to spend some time with Little Man’s class. Lunch, field trips, any chance I get to volunteer I usually do. And now, by June, I have a read on all of them. Not only do I know all their names, not only do they all know me, but I know the smart ones , the dumb ones, I know the ones who don’t get enough attention at home but are basically good kids, and the ones who get too much attention at home and are nothing special, really. I know the kids who are rowdy because they’re bored, rowdy because they’re rowdy, and rowdy because they’re just little shits. I know the ones to watch, and I know the ones I could give a thousand dollars, a chainsaw, and a tank of propane and tell them to meet me in Chicago and they’d show up.

And there’s one guy I know who both fascinates and terrifies me. I’ll call him The Narwhal, for reasons obvious only to me.

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I sometimes wonder if I’m on the Autism spectrum. I’m a big one, historically, for “supposed to.” Rules have always been very concrete for me.  It’s been the work of my 20’s and 30’s to really comprehend in a visceral practical way just how arbitrary this whole thing is. Just how few consequences there actually are and how we mostly impose these on ourselves. It’s been kind of the “Enlightenment for Dummies” version of what happens to the character in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

Which is why I worry about someone who’s figured this out before he hits first grade.

The Narwhal.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not on the shortlist of kids you keep in sight on the field trip. He’s very likely never been to the principal’s office, or had a major (for Kindergarten) disciplining. Which, in a way, makes it more frightening.

And I don’t want to make him out as a complete sociopath. Yet. He’s got plenty of time to grow into it.

But he’s not a little Hannibal Lector, wondering how you’d taste on animal crackers. It’s just that as an authority figure with no real authority, he sees right through me in a way other kids don’t. He follows the rules not because he wants to, or has to, but because it’s the most convenient path at this point. He’s already at school, got pants on and everything, he might as well throw his milk carton away, I guess. Any time I try to call him on something I get the sense that if this ever really starts to chafe, he’s just going to walk out the front door and hitch hike to Disney world. It’s like riding a horse with reins made of paper.

Or I could be projecting. This also happens.

Either way, if anything happens, I promise to let you know.

 

 

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