Trying to Survive One More Year

It’s that time of year again.  Halloween is just around the corner; that celebration of the horrific and macabre that somehow is also the perfect excuse for children to go door to door and beg for candy from strangers.  I find it interesting that 364 days each year we preach to our children that they must never take candy from anyone they don’t know, and then on October 31st the rules change.  We actually encourage it.  There is no special day of the year that we let kids run with scissors.  There isn’t a season of hitchhiking on country roads.  And there is no annual celebration of dashing across a busy freeway.  But on Halloween, parents universally decide that they really don’t care about their children’s safety any more.

There is even a new trend I’ve noticed over the past few years.  The event is called “Trunk or Treat.”  Churches, schools, or local businesses open up a parking lot where members of the community park their cars, open the trunks, decorate them and fill them with candy.  Kids from nearby neighborhoods are encouraged to go from car to car, getting candy and treats from each vehicle owner.  I guess there is the benefit of not having to wander through the streets; kids can stay in one location and still fill their goody bags with the same number of sweets.  But what are we telling our children when we allow them to go car to car, accepting items from people they don’t know?  it just seems to me that the practice is one step away from parking a windowless white van at the curb with a sign on the door that says: “My puppy needs a child to play with.  Inquire within.”

Before you accuse me of pointing fingers, I know I am just as guilty as any parent of this questionable practice called Halloween.  For years, I let my daughters dress in dark outfits and wear masks that obstructed their peripheral vision, then sent them out to run through the streets and investigate the homes of strangers.  Somehow, no thanks to me, they always managed to find their way back home in more or less one piece.  I didn’t think twice about it.  I just looked forward to the moment they burst in through the front door, yelling at each other because the younger one was going too slow, and the older one kept leaving her behind.  I would watch them as they plopped down on the living room carpet, their eyes bright and their cheeks ruddy from the cold, and they would dump out their candy to see what they had gotten.  I, as the dutiful father, checked for anything that might appear unsafe, collected my “tax” from their collection of ill-gotten loot, then left them alone to trade and fight over what was left.

Those nights of child roulette are over for me, however.  Now, my girls are both of an age where going door to door, trick or treating is no longer on their social agenda for the evening.  They wouldn’t be caught dead in plastic, store-bought costumes, asking neighbors for candy.  Instead, they roll their eyes at me when I suggest dressing up and tell me they are too old for that “kid stuff.”

I recall the days when my daughters were little, and they would put on rubber monster masks and jump out from closets in an attempt to frighten their mom and me.  They stopped doing that a couple years ago when they discovered a whole new way to scare the crap out of us.  These days, to torment me, they put on too much makeup, too little clothing, and say things like, “Dad, I’m going over to Joe’s.  His parents are out of town, so we are going to hang out at his house tonight.”  This usually results in an evening of me in one corner of my bedroom, curled up in the fetal position and banging my head against the wall.  Wishing for the good old days when they were just running in front of cars in the dark.

Regardless of how old your kids are, what your family traditions are, or what methods you prefer for putting your own child’s safety at risk, I want to wish you all a very happy Halloween!

The Cost of Admission

I would like to discuss one of the greatest injustices in the field of education today.  If you have a child in middle or high school, then you have most likely experienced this titanic unfairness for yourself.  Yes, I’m talking about charging parents to attend high school sporting events.

Last week, I went to see my daughter’s high school football team play.  I was turned away at the front gate and informed that I had to go to the box office and purchase a ticket for $7.  When I asked why, I was told it was to support the school’s athletics program.

This, to me, was a slap in the face.  If my child is participating in high school sports then, as a parent, I am already supporting the school’s athletics program.  The parent usually pays an initial fee just to allow their child to play.  The parent pays for uniform rental and cleaning costs.  The parent pays for equipment their child needs in order to participate.  The parent pays for their child’s expenses when the team is bussed away to play a rival school.  And let’s not forget, it is the parents that are the ones buying all those cookies, magazines, and candy bars that come home in great big yellow boxes during the annual team fund raisers.

Now, we have to pay an additional fee when we actually go to watch our child compete?  This practice directly targets the parents of the players.  Because, let’s be honest, who besides the parents is going to any of these games?

If you are an adult with no children, and you are watching high school kids play sports, unless you live in one of a few small communities in west Texas, you probably need to rethink your social calendar.  Or maybe the police should be taking a closer look at your hobbies.

My personal situation is even worse than most.  You see, my child is not a player.  She is in the marching band.  She is required to be at every home game for every sporting event throughout the school year, from an hour before the game starts until the final buzzer.  And I have to drive her there.

Over the past few years, I have paid for musical instruments, music lessons, band uniforms, and trips to Reno, New York, and Disneyland.  My daughter travels all over the United States playing music while I sit at home eating cat food.  (The cat has to hunt for mice outside since those cans are single serving only.)  Then at football and basketball games, because I don’t want to sit in the car out in the parking lot for two hours waiting to take her back home, I have to pay more money to sit on a hard bleacher seat and watch a bunch of kids I don’t know run around chasing a ball and crashing into one another.  How is this allowed to happen?  How has California not already outlawed this practice?

As parents, we are handing out money hand over fist to cover our children’s participation expenses.  Charging me to go see a game feels like forcing me to pay a second time for something I already bought.  It’s like paying for a hot dog and a bun, then being told that as soon as I put them together I will owe an additional $7 before I’m allowed to eat it.

To be fair, maybe I would feel slightly different about the added expense if our team could be relied upon to win a damn game once in a while.  Watching them play this year has been like rooting for the Washington Generals at a Globetrotters performance, only nobody gets confetti thrown on them, and no one gets their pants pulled down.  Well, there was that one kid, but I’m almost certain that was an accident.

To sum up: do I want to pay $7 every game to support the student athletes?  No.  No, I do not.  If this is the cost of having a child involved in extracurricular activities, I’m thinking I might just buy my daughter a new video game so she has something she can do at home.

And I can watch her play it for free.

An Open Letter to the Passenger in My Car

Just a quick reminder to you, the passenger in my car.  When you sit down, please adjust your seat, put on your seatbelt, and make yourself comfortable.  On the right, you will find a small toggle on your arm rest which will allow you to open or close your window.  In front of you is a vent that you may angle in any direction you choose.  You also have the option to close it completely.  Near your head is a visor that you can lower if the sun is in your eyes.  These items are here for your comfort and/or amusement.  If you notice anything else on the dashboard of the vehicle that moves, rotates, or depresses:

Stay the hell away from it!

The radio has five buttons, each preset to a station I enjoy listening to.  Whatever is currently playing on the radio is on because I have selected it.  My music selection is designed to keep me calm and attentive so that we might arrive at our destination safely and with a minimum of emotional tension in the car.  Do not start playing with the tuner to see what else is on.  And if the radio is off, it is off because I have selected silence as one of my listening options.  This is not an invitation for you to find yourself a station that plays K-POP twenty-four hours a day.  And god help you if you actually go so far as to reprogram one of my radio buttons so that you have something to listen to “the next time” you ride in this car.  I can just about guarantee that there will be no next time.

The air conditioning settings are also my attempt to keep myself comfortable and relaxed to maximize our chances of arriving at point B in one piece.  If I am too cold I am tense and irritable.  If I am too warm, I may fall asleep which is not an optimum outcome for anyone in the vehicle.  If you are too cold or too warm, well … that’s too damn bad.  I don’t need you blasting the air conditioner at maximum simply because in the middle of August you decided that the striped wool sweater you have in your closet would look “really cute” on you today.  I suggest you suck it up, check the weather report in the morning, and dress like a human being.

Finally, let’s talk about the rear-view mirror.  For a driver, the positioning of the rear-view mirror is an intricate dance of seat positioning and delicate fine tuning of the mirror.  It takes days, sometime weeks, to find the optimal setting, and that perfect location can be ruined by just a moment of thoughtless vanity.  If you decide the mirror on the back of your sun visor is suddenly too small for whatever needless manipulation of your hair you’ve taken on at that moment, and instead swivel my rear-view over to your side, you are a heartless animal.  You may think you put it back in the same place, but let me assure you: you haven’t.  You have destroyed a masterpiece.  You have taken a knife to the Mona Lisa.  You have taken a hammer to the face of the Pieta.  And you deserve to suffer in damnation for eternity … or at least to get out and walk home.

These are the rules my dear prospective passenger.  They are simple and easy to follow.  Stick to them, and enjoy a peaceful ride with a happy driver.  If you don’t like them, you can always take the bus.