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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dreading the "Big Kid Slide"

When you're a little kid the world is one great, big, never-ending source of unexpected awe.
Joy can come from the simplest pleasures. Wonder can be teased from what adults might perceive to be the most mundane sights. Laughter and memories that last a lifetime can spring from the most unforeseen places.

Master Blackwell's list of unexpected joys is a long one. Some of those I've been part of include:
  • the sight of me flattening a ball of Play-Doh with my forehead
  • listening to me make the sound of dripping water with my mouth
  • being held high in the air and shaken like he was tied to a giant paint shaker 
  • and, of course, him inadvertently kicking me in the groin and watching me drop to the ground like a bag of hammers
For his part, our new little guy (nickname pending) gets a huge kick out of a random assortment of facial expressions — and the sight of his mother if she's happened to be out of view for more than two minutes.

So, yes, one never knows from where a child's glee will emerge. Ditto for a child's fear. Which brings me to last Sunday, also known as Father's Day.

To cap off what was otherwise a fantastic weekend, we decided to visit a local pool.

The boy loves pools. He's taken swim lessons, loves to jump in the water and play. And, judging from the vigor with which he splashes and kicks, the little guy either loves the water or wishes to beat it to death.

So we embarked, confident that our destination would be one the entire family would enjoy. And we were correct, right up until Mrs. Blackwell decided to go down the water slide.

She asked the boy if he wanted to join her and, not surprisingly, he did.

"After all it's not like mom would knowingly lead her son into a terrifying nightmare," the boy no doubt thought to himself.

As they made their way up the three-story platform to the top of the slide, the little guy and I watched from the safety of the shallow end below. As they climbed up, it dawned on me that Mrs. Blackwell would have to go down first so that she could meet the boy at the bottom.

The water is over the boy's head where the slide shoots him out and, given it was his first time going down this slide, better to be waiting at the bottom than watching from the top.

As it turns out, we ended up waiting from the bottom.

I watched Mrs. Blackwell go down the slide and about 10 seconds later emerge at the bottom. As she did, the lifeguard at the top of the platform instructed the boy that it was his turn to go down. I saw him immediately move to reverse course and go back down the stairs.

It was clear he wanted no part of going down that slide. But the life guard quickly convinced him otherwise, coaxed him into sitting down and then nudged him on his way and out of my sight.

Thus began the longest 30 seconds of my life.

As Mrs. Blackwell and I waited, the only thing coming off the slide was a torrent of water. There was no sign of the boy. He'd gone down, that much we knew. But he hadn't emerged.

We both watched, and watched and watched the bottom of the slide. My eyes then turned to the lifeguard at the top of the slide who finally broke from her stoic lifeguard pose and began peering quizzically down the slide.


When a lifeguard gets off their ass to do anything it's usually a bad sign.

At that moment, Mrs. Blackwell and I looked at each other and shared an unspoken exchange of the same terrible thought: "Should we freak out now?"

Turning to the lifeguard just a few feet from her, Mrs. Blackwell indicated that something wasn't right. She sounded concerned but, not panicked.

I, on the other hand proclaimed loudly that, "We've got a problem!"

No sooner had the words left my mouth than did the boy come whooshing out from the slide — crying loudly.

He was apoplectic, absolutely shaken but fortunately his mom was right there to scoop him up and make him feel safe. We're still not sure exactly how he managed to prolong his ride down the slide.

I imagine him with a leg propped up high on the on the slide, trying furiously avoid what to him likely seemed a terrifying descent. 


In little time, we'd moved on. We were back frolicking in the water and the boy's good spirits had returned. All was forgotten, or so I thought.

As we made our way home, the boy quietly informed us that, "I'll not like to go down the big kids slide anymore."

He repeated the same sentence verbatim a few more times through the evening and finally before he went to bed.

The next morning, in what was an absolute first, I woke up and had another flash of fear when I went to the boy's room and he wasn't in his bed — he's always in his bed or our bed.

But on this morning he was in neither. Instead he was curled up down the hall on the bathroom floor. When I bent down and wished him a good morning he returned my message with one of  his own: "I'll not like to go down the big kids slide anymore."

You never know where the good times can come from or, for that matter, the bad ones.

Message received buddy. But, if I was a betting man, I'd lay odds that this kid will be clamoring to go down that slide the next time we go to the pool, ready to add another item on his list of joys.