Friday, July 22, 2016

Perspective: A Cure for the Summertime Blues

A meme making its way across the internet a while back went like this: "So often in life what screws us up in life is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be."

While this is food for serious thought and self-exploration I'll apply it to a less lofty purpose here. Specifically, my begrudging acceptance of the reality that summer bears no resemblance to the picture in my head of how it's supposed to be.
The boys taking a break from their new "park."

And that picture began to take shape many, many, many, many years ago when I was a kid looking forward to the end of the school year.

As the calendar marched through spring into May and June, the anticipation of a summer outside the confines of the classroom was practically unbearable.

Weeks in advance I could barely restrain my glee. Finally, all that waiting culminated in one final bell marking the end of another school year.

What awaited the littler version of me once class was dismissed for the year was a teacher-free summer filled with long, sunny days spent riding bikes to far-off creeks, ponds and parks.

When I was lucky enough to scrounge up enough loose change, I'd make the occasional trip to the convenience store to buy a coke and chips. It was simple but it was oh so good.

This was what I knew summers to be and, based on that ideal, I knew exactly what they'd look like when I grew up.

This picture included long, sunny days spent lazing by a pool or slowly swaying in a hammock bathed in shade. The only cause "grown-up me" might have to get his blood pressure up during this time of year would be the realization that he'd have to mow the lawn — sometime.
Pictured: how it's supposed to be.

It's pretty much a real-life version of Homer Simpson and, of course, completely unrealistic.

That's because when you get older you realize a few things, chief amongst them, it's never a good idea to emulate Homer Simpson.

Another huge point is that there are very few jobs in which one gets to take an entire summer off.

So, sure, you could spend your time in a hammock, or by the pool but eventually bills have to be paid and unless you're lifeguard or a highly skilled hammock quality inspector, you're probably out of luck.

I say "probably" because I happen to be married to a woman who is in fact setting herself up for just such a life.

You see, one day in the not-too-distant future, Mrs. Blackwell will be Professor Mrs. Blackwell, living in the lap of time-rich luxury the confines of the academic calendar provides.

As for me and the billions of others like me, well, it's a different kind of reality. And, while it's not the picture I had in my head, it's not a bad one as it turns out.

Recent experiments in which Mrs. Blackwell and the kids have been away for a couple days while I'm off work have revealed that I'm not especially good at sitting around.

About half way through the second day I've usually eaten no fewer than three fast-food meals and I've done little that could be described as productive, including change my clothes.

So, no wonder the ideal summer doesn't look the same. If it did, I'd be the creepy dude riding his BMX down to the creek and fishing through couch cushions so I could go buy a Coke.

Out and about. Concert-going
at the footsteps of the Capitol.
Instead what my summer looks like is this:

We put in a playground for the kids so, now everyday when I get home, I'm outside in short order pushing my boys in their swings. (Yes, even though he's just eight months old the New Little Guy likes to swing. He is after all wearing clothes meant for 18-24 month olds, so he's sturdy enough to handle the baby swing.)

In general this picture is busier than the winter months and the thoughts of short, dark days and cold, cold nights grows realer by the day.

The warm weather — and the slower pace of life it brings with it — only lasts so long here in Whizzkaahhnsin so you'd better make the most of it.

Doing this means going to concerts outside, taking day trips to nearby lakes and occasionally (thank God) the odd brewery. Ultimately this picture includes looking for any excuse to get out of the house and go somewhere different, even if it's to buy donuts and take the kids to a park they've never seen before.

And with that "seize the moment" mentality in mind it's pertinent to mention that the New Little Guy just got his first teeth this week. He's been crawling for months. He's pulling himself up on furniture and now this.

For whatever reason he's in a hurry to grow. Between that, the weather and the long days, I've got all the incentive I need to make the most out of these next few weeks.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Car Wars Episode II

A little bit of background.

For a couple of years The Boy has had a strange fascination with TV snow.

TV Snow. AKA Must-see TV.
It's not that he enjoys it, in fact he says it scares him. But, this doesn't dissuade him from regularly asking for our television to be tuned to it, or just doing it himself when he gets his little paws on the remote.

His infatuation was at its peak about a year ago and while it's abated significantly, it's now migrated to radio.

You see, The Boy now loves, loves, loves, to tune the radio to stations that don't exist and listen in. And, while the TV snow used to be met with a shred of fear from the boy, radio static in all it's awful noisiness, is not.

He enjoys the sound, pure and simple. And what is that sound?

Awful, awful static. There are occasional crackles and the odd song intrudes but, it's "KKSSSSHHHHHHH!!!" 99 percent of the time.

Now, I think we can all agree that TV snow and radio static are among the worst noises ever devised by man. One imagines that somewhere in Guantanamo Bay these sounds are playing endlessly until someone gets the information they're after.

Its supreme awfulness is self evident and playing it while driving in a car might just be the chief ingredient in a recipe for road rage.

His view from the back seat. Preset Nine is unfortunately
very clearly marked. 

Anyways, at some point The Boy observed that Preset 9 in my car was set to 107.1 which, in Madison, Wisconsin, is not a station. It's just that crackling, awful white noise. But, no matter to him, he gets in the car and asks for "Preset Nine!" Over and over and over again. 

If I've got music from a CD, my iPhone or the radio on, it doesn't matter.  

"Can you hit Preset Nine?"

I'll first respond by politely declining the boy's request but am met with a steady stream of the same question asked slightly differently. 

"Ummm, can we try Preset Nine?"
"Would you like to try Preset Nine?"

"Can you press Preset Nine, please."

These requests don't stop until I've hit the button, which means I can't really hear the radio.

I've attempted to reason with The Boy.

The Boy in the fore in red. Thankfully he still prefers live
music above all other sounds. 

I've asked him to pick other stations or songs and that we can listen to anything he wants to except "radio snow" as we call it.

I've told him that the radio snow is bad for him. I've told him that it will poison his ears. I've contemplated more fear mongering but I don't want to give him nightmares that will wake him (and me) in the middle of the night.

All of this is to say that each of my attempts at conciliation are met with a variation of the same response: "Preset Nine, please."

This leaves me with a few options:

Turn up the volume to an obnoxious level to drown out his incessant requests.

This one is a bit heavy handed and ultimately makes life miserable for both of us.

Tell the boy to stop asking, to be quiet and to be happy that I'm not forcing him to walk barefoot to day care.

This and any other attempts at reason don't work. Period. Now, if we sprinkle in some bribery, donuts and the like, we get results.

Appeasement and total capitulation to his wishes. 
Like the bribery mentioned above, this one has the same results: the boy preening from his perch in the back seat, wearing an ear-to-ear grin, and me frowning and feeling like Neville Chamberlain.

Truthfully, I've tried each of these approaches, or combinations thereof at one time or another. Judge me if you must, but one's parenting options are severely limited when they've got to keep two eyes and their attention on the road before them.

Now, if you're a smart guy or gal you might have considered another option not mentioned yet.

When not behind the wheel of the car, one's parenting
options are limited only by 
"Why not just set Preset Nine to something else, an enjoyable radio station perhaps?" you knowingly — and maybe smugly — ask yourself.

This course first occurred to me early on but I initially dismissed it because for some unbelievably weird,reason, I felt guilty doing it.

And isn't that parenting in a bit of a contorted nutshell?

You want to give your kid everything, even things that annoy the ever-living hell out of you.

Oddly, changing the preset feels like cheating too. Like somehow, some way, I should (for lack of a better word) win by virtue of clear-communication, which would result in The Boy seeing things my way.

You know, good old-fashioned parenting.

Yeah, well, that's all out the window. The guilt. The good, old-fashioned parenting. The promises of donuts. All of it.

Because, as I'm ever-so-slowly learning, sometimes you can overthink things. Sometimes, you just go for the easy, assertive decision and let the chips fall where they may.

In other words, sometimes Preset Nine becomes NPR.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Car Wars: Episode I

Driving a car is a uniquely sovereign practice.

The power to simply jump in a vehicle and cover hundreds of miles in just a couple hours is an act of true liberation, as any Mennonite can enviously attest.

Pictured: unrestrained envy of my Ford Fusion.
And, when you drive a 175-horsepower, mid-size family sedan like I do, the experience is especially intoxicating.

I know I've got plenty of company when I say that, when I'm in my car, it's my world.

The temperature stays where I want it. The windows go up or down as I desire. And the stereo? Well, it's tuned to the sweet sounds WBWL "Blackwell Radio," all day every day.

Yep, in my car, my rules and druthers prevail at all times.

And by "all times" I mean only when it's just me in the car.

Because you see, dear reader, every single word I just wrote refers to the Blackwell who existed prior to having a wife and children, specifically a wife and children with opinions.

And let me start this diatribe with my wife.
Don't let her laid-back demeanor fool you.
She's a temperature Nazi. 

The moment she sits down in my car, Mrs. Blackwell transforms into a geriatric, a relentless stickler for temperature.

She likes it her way and, for whatever reason, that never aligns with the temperature in my car.

This fact is particularly evident during the summer months when she thinks it's too hot inside the car, or is it too cold? I can't remember.

To achieve her desired "just-so" temperature, she has an incredibly annoying habit of turning the air conditioner to full throttle and then corrupting the experience by putting all the windows down.

Let's get something straight: there is no, I repeat NO, logical reason that supports this arrangement.

You either run the air conditioner OR you put the windows down. They are mutually exclusive.

The results of this perverted practice are predictable: the air from outside the car reduces the air conditioner to little more than occasional whisps of chilly air, detected to one's knees.

He too has opinions. Terrible, terrible opinions.
In summation I'll just say that running the air with the windows down means one act negates the benefits of the other and ultimately amounts to a crime against all that is good in the world.

Case closed.

Mrs. Blackwell and I banter back and forth about the sheer and utter futility of all this and through our discourse we've established what I would call a shaky detente; though outside observers might call an outright win for Mrs. Blackwell.

Fine. No matter. At least I've got my radio.

Mrs. Blackwell and I have similar taste in music so she rarely raises her hackles at my tunes. The newest little guy will sit back and groove to whatever is playing; from Otis Redding to the Avett Brothers, the dude is down.

That leaves only the Boy to be pleased and, like his mother with the air-conditioning/windows-down arrangement, he too has his preferences and he too has a habit of winning but with far, far worse consequences.

But more on that in the next post.