Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Girls in Space?

I've never been a strong advocate for my favorite causes. I've never written my member of Congress, I don't complain at stores and restaurants, and I've never held a sign and marched anywhere. Mine is more of a live-and-let-live mentality—seeking my own happiness while letting others seek theirs. (An exception would be if Coca-Cola reintroduced New Coke. I'd likely end up in prison over that.)

But today that may have changed. I was reading a book titled Mousetronaut, about a tiny mouse that traveled on a space shuttle. (It's a true story, and the mouse had its own uniform and special training…budget deficit anyone?) Partway through the story, my daughter pointed to one of the human astronauts and asked, "Is that a girl?"
"Yep," I replied.
Then she turned around in my lap and asked wide-eyed, "Can girls be astronauts?" 

Wow. I've never done anything to suggest my daughter cannot be anything at all she wants to be, yet somehow this three-year-old had determined that going to space was only for boys.

I still won't be writing any letters—I'm too busy helping my kids build a LEGO castle for that—but I guess more needs to be done to show children that they can do and be anything their imaginations desire.

So, yes, my little girl needs to see that astronauts, mayors, and dump truck drivers can be girls as well as boys. Just like my sons need to see that teachers and veterinarians are not all girls.

It's my job to make sure my kids know that they can be whatever they want, and that they should choose something that excites and challenges them. Unless one wants to be a chemist modifying the recipe for Coca-Cola. I'd draw the line there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Screw up a Kid for Life

I’ve named three babies in my life. You may question whether that makes me a doddering amateur or a seasoned professional. I suppose if I said I’d hammered three nails in my life you’d likely not be inclined to ask my help on your next construction project. But if I said I’d defused three bombs in my life, you’d think I was MacGyver (Or James Bond if you’re too young to know who MacGyver was.) Given the relative scarcity of baby naming opportunities a person has in his life, I consider myself highly proficient at baby naming.

I named my first child, Brennen after bickering through a list of names with my wife. My second son, Caleb, was taken from the same list, being the only other name that we both agreed on for a boy. My daughter, Emily, is named after the greatest poet in the history of the universe: Emily Dickinson. 

Those are three pretty straightforward names. Chances are, if I asked you to spell all of them, you’d go two-for-three without breaking a sweat, and you might even luck into spelling Brennen’s name with an “e” instead of an “a.”

So if a noted weirdo like me can name three children without incident, setting them up for a life of normalcy (at least on the as far as their names go), why are so many people having trouble naming their babies lately without resorting to odd creations and perplexing spellings?  Celebrities, for example, apparently can’t even be bothered to think about their children’s names. They just shout out the first concrete noun in sight and go with it: Apple! Blanket! Coco! Done.

Possibly just as bad (at least for their future teachers) are those kids whose parents decide to test the limits of phonetics with their creative spellings. Ashleigh, anyone?

I fear we are raising a whole generation of kids who think spelling is like some sort of X-games event: make it up as you go, and as long as it looks pretty, you’ll get some points.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sick Day

Have you ever seen one of those movies where explorers find a journal written by some poor schmuck who was chronicling his civilization’s downfall right up until invading hordes swept the pen from his ink-speckled hand and offed him with a broadsword?

I bring it up because this blog might someday be a museum piece for this very reason. My family is in the throes of some unidentified sickness, and I’m slouched at the keyboard, with pieces of toilet paper scattered around the desk (because the Kleenex are long gone, and no one has had the energy to get dressed in days, let alone make a trip to the store). Cough drops are my constant companions, except when I’m actually coughing, which the aforesaid cough drops are powerless to prevent. I’m typing simply because my fingers landed on the keyboard when they dropped in exhaustion.

The coughing and sore throats came first, which led to the run on cough drops, then on honey, and finally on the leftover Halloween candy that would have never been eaten otherwise. Then came the fevers. At one point the mean temperature among the inhabitants of my home was 102. We probably should have all gone to the hospital, but who would have driven?

Nobody’s really eaten anything in a few days (except the Halloween candy). Nobody’s felt like cooking anything either though, so it’s hard to tell if our collective fast is out of necessity or lack of options. 

They are coming…I can hear the coughing in the distance. They are stumbling over empty Kleenex boxes and discarded cough drop wrappers, but nothing stops their relentless march. We have bleached the door handles and propped up our pillows. We do not hope to see the sunlight again…

See what happens when I get sick? I eat gross Halloween candy and have delusions that I’m Tolkien. Maybe somebody should drive me to the hospital. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Never Start a Land War in Asia

Just in case anyone at the highest levels of government is thinking about offering me a position in the Department of Defense, I would like to withdraw my name from consideration. I just finished an 80-minute RISK game with my six-year-old son and I cannot find a strong enough metaphor to describe how thoroughly I was demolished.

If you’re not familiar with RISK, the game of world conquest, you have lived an unfortunately sheltered life, and the rest of this story will be a blurry of meaninglessness. If you have played, then you know how important it is to take over Australia, which I did early in the game. I also took over South America for good measure. These, and a few skirmishes in Europe, were the extent of my strategy. (Which is why the aforementioned defense post is not for me.)

The Game of World Conquest

My son’s strategy involved piling his troops at different random places around the board, taking one country, and then ending his turn, leaving him with masses of forces scattered throughout the world blocking my way. In a real war, these forces would have died of malaria, frostbite, or alcohol poisoning.

I didn’t go easy on him either. Every turn I took my allotted number of soldiers and attacked strategically chosen locations close to my borders, hoping to chip away at his morale in a battle of attrition.

The climax of the war was a skirmish in Siam, whose existence I was unaware of outside of that movie with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. I would posit that if the fate of the world ever rests on a one-sided battle fought between an invading horde from China and a force of Siamese guards, we’d better stock up on canned goods. My humiliating defeat in Siam was followed by a mop-up operation in Australia. The jewel of my world empire had only one soldier in each of its territories. If it had been a real war, I suspect the men would have disappeared into the outback to survive on kangaroos, but as it was, they had to suffer the humiliation of my rolling ones and twos in opposition as my son’s juggernaut rolled through.

He was a gracious winner, reaching his hand across the table to shake hands and wish me “good game” after I swept my last troop into its plastic grave. He even attempted to patch my wounded pride by adding, “You were a good challenge, Daddy.”

I was the Blue team. Yep--all gone.

 I looked back across the table at my little Genghis Bonaparte, and then took in the mob of green plastic armies that had just turned Australia into its private playground. Maybe getting my butt kicked wasn’t such a bad thing. America might need a good general someday if Iceland and Kamchatka decide to invade.