Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Most Miserable Place on Earth

OK, I am NOT talking about Disneyland. I love Disneyland, except of course for the massive crowds and the occasional male European tourist who wears shorts that are just a little bit too short. Please sir, I just ate a churro. Have some consideration.

No, I am indeed talking about the most miserable place on earth: Chuck E. Cheese’s. I remember seeing the commercials when I was in high school. I vowed never to set foot in one. I’ve kept that vow until last year, when TWO of Bella’s friends had birthday parties there. The first time was miserable but the second time was even worse and…. I’m out. Never again, even if the kids beg me. Thankfully, we live 40 minutes away from Disneyland so I’m pretty sure it will never happen.

Imagine the Jersey shore except dirtier, louder, and more annoying. You can use the actual Jersey shore or the new MTV show, it doesn’t matter. The comparison still stands. As you walk in you are assaulted with noise, aging, broken machines, outdated animatronics, miserable employees, miserable parents, and a creeping sense of capitulation laced with an odd sense of otherworldy dread.

Now, I know Chuck E Cheese started in the 70’s but I think it’s great that the animatronics are from the 50’s. I especially like the racist Italian drummer, Pasqually E. Pieplate. Look at the whole “band” for a moment. The band is made up of giant animals, and one Italian. Well done.

And Chuck, how can you have pizza that is WORSE than Dominos?! I didn’t think that was even possible. But you did it. And I know you’re supposed to be a mouse but were originally a rat (thanks again, Google), but you still look like a giant rat, Chuck. But I will say, if there really were giant rats after the apocalypse, I think they would eat each other before your pizza.

Then a friend of mine told me that there are a lot of shootings at Chuck E. Cheese’s. WHAT?! Of course, I could see them being suicides, but really?! shootings? So, I Googled shootings at Chuck E Cheese’s. 94,300 results came up. Go ahead, try it. Geez, folks, the tokens aren’t worth it. Just go buy the plastic necklace next time and stop fighting over the skeeball machine. Half of them don’t work anyway.

So did the kids have a good time? Yes, but they didn’t love it. Thank God. Bella was quickly bored with the lame rides and didn’t care about the games, and also thought the one climbing area and slide was insufficient. Score.

Chuck E Cheese was dirty, miserable, and crowded. Twice, in two different locations. We all felt really, really dirty afterwards. Like we had all just watched an episode of Rock of Love. If Purell made buckets we would have bought one. You know, I may be a father, but I’m also an adult. There are certain things I just don’t have to do anymore. I don’t have to ride a schoolbus, eat brussel sprouts, or go swimming if I don’t want to. And from now on, until the apocalypse, I don’t have to put up with any more bullshit from a giant rat.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Hollywood Kindergarten Shuffle

Our daughter Bella is going to be five this year, and now the scramble for kindergarten begins. Of course we live in LA and let’s just say schools aren’t always so great. There are great schools near us, just not the one we’re zoned for.

So now we have to look into things like charter schools and magnet schools. Until now I thought they meant a school on a boat and a school that you can’t bring any metal to. Then if we can’t get into one of those, we have to look at neighboring schools, sign up for what’s called “open enrollment” and hope a slot opens up somewhere. Of course there’s always private school, but let’s not go there. We’d like to pay down our debt sometime before the first one starts college.

Basically schools in Los Angeles are a fucking maze. Unless you’re zoned for a good one, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Unless you want to pony up for private but even then you have to do your research. But with some effort and some insider info (thankfully, our neighbor is a teacher and has been helping us) you start to see a method to the educational madness. Actually, no. There’s no method. Just madness. So we joined the LA School System Tea Party and we were off.

So everything is like a lottery and you just apply and hope you get in somewhere. Magnet schools you can acquire points every time you apply like you’re saving up for a bigger prize at the boardwalk or something. So the more times you don’t get in the greater your chances.
So a friend suggested a charter school. OK, what the hell? Got nothing to lose. And I can at least get out of the house for an hour or two. So I applied online and went to the prospective parent “orientation” on Sunday afternoon.

The first thing I learned was that a “charter” school doesn’t really have any rules. It’s tuition-free, and publicly funded (YEAH) but operates like a private school (OH…). This can be a double edged sword, I believe. The good thing is they can hire who they want and set their own curriculum. The bad thing is that they can hire who they want and set their own curriculum. So if it’s high standards, great. But there are definitely some quirks.

So I went to the orientation with an open mind. Keep in mind, though, every school tells you how great it is. No school Principal gets up and goes “Frankly, we have no idea what we’re doing. I’m surprised anyone even graduates from here with a rudimentary grasp of math and English.” But if they did, wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Now, this school in particular had uniforms. Not real keep on the whole conformity thing, but OK I was still listening.

Next tidbit: “We don’t have “Ds”. Huh? Turns out they don’t use D as a grade. If you didn’t get a C, you failed. “Just passing isn’t good enough” OK, strict and with mandatory summer for a failing grade school but I was still on board. Fine.

Then the kicker: “We are primarily a business and entrepreneurial school” Ok-- wait, what?! I thought I was looking for a kindergarten. I didn’t hear incorrectly. That was what she said. “We teach the students to run their own businesses and to earn a salary starting in kindergarten” Warning bells. Seriously?! The last thing I want is to have a six year old ask for a raise in her allowance to adjust for inflation.

OK, not for me. Our daughter loves to sing, dance and play. You know, like most five year olds. Now I’m going to turn her into a business asshole at age five?! I don’t think so.

I don’t think I could have been more against the whole philosophy of indoctrinating children into an early cult of money love. Take a moment and think about this: When you look back on your life, when were your most creative times? Usually, with the exception of the few of us who can’t let it go, they were when you were young. That’s the time to be creative. When your mind and your world are just opening up. When you made a diorama, was it of a bank? An accounting office? A retirement home? No?

Being creative when you’re young is a glorious, open, freeing feeling and the last think I want for my child in GRADE SCHOOL is to worry about making money and having that the focal point of her education. I think it makes perfect sense to have a business program in high school but frankly, in grade school it’s a little ridiculous.

I’m not knocking business or an understanding of money, those are great skills to have and frankly, I wish I had them. But I don’t and by now let’s just say that ship has sailed. But for now let kids be kids. She can make her first million at 16, not 6. For now we’re going to watch Dragon Tales, draw, color and put together puzzles. And if she mentions inflation she better be talking about a balloon.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Boardwalks, Meltdowns, and Diabolical Baby Formula

This one was over at a few months ago but I am all about recycling. Enjoy.

We were visiting family in Ocean City NJ. So that’s myself, my wife, and our four year old daughter and one year old son. And when you’re in Ocean City, NJ there are only two things to do. Go to the beach, and then go to the boardwalk. I don’t like the beach. It’s hot, sunny and sandy. What can I say, I’m an indoor cat. But I survived a few trips to the beach. (One dude generously let me borrow his shovel so I could actually secure the beach umbrella in 75 mph wind.) Hot yet windy. Even better.

But after the beach, there was the boardwalk. Man, it was packed. All the traditions are still there. Carney games, rides, and frozen custard where every stand is run by the same company. No one’s breaking up that monopoly anytime soon. But there’s never any actual Carnies at the carnie games. Just bored teenagers. But I digress.

So we went on a bunch of rides. Our four year old LOVES rides. She wants to go on the bigger ones but is too short and now gets bored on slow ones. At Disneyland she went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad four times in a row and I finally had to slip the guy twenty bucks to tell her it was broken or I would have thrown up all over the animatronic goat. She was having a blast going on tilt-a-whirls, ferris wheels and giant swings and our one year old enjoyed just looking around and going on a few really slow rides like the kiddie train.

But when you have small children, there is always a timer. And occasionally you forget this, and you pay for it 15 minutes later. We were going to leave, and decided to stay for a half an hour longer. Tick…tick tick… boom!

Our one year old lost it. He was tired and hungry and the cry bomb had gone off. I mean, it really went off. Like trying to break glass screaming and crying. There we were on the Ocean City boardwalk with a one year old having an absolute meltdown. We pushed it by about 14.2 minutes and now we were paying for it.

My wife quickly tried to feed him. That’s when it got… insane. Instead of pulling out a bottle of formula, she pulls out a large tube of powder. What?! It was like some kind of giant baby pixie stick.

“I’m sorry, are you going to give our child astronaut food?” I asked as our baby continued to scream.
“It’s powdered formula. It’s easier for traveling,” She explained.
“Are you sure?!”

Now instead of actually feeding out child, we had to engage in a chemistry experiment on the boardwalk, quickly being able to stir together water and powder once released from its hermetically sealed container.

You know what the best thing is about canned formula? It’s formula, in a can! That’s right! You open it up and put it in your baby. That’s it. Done! Maybe you need to pour it into the bottle, but that’s OK. That’s only one extra step.

So the baby is screaming his head off, and guess what? No water, and we can’t get the infernal baby formula tube open. So we split up. Audge takes the kids to get water from a water fountain. I go into the nearest store.

It’s a lame touristy boutique with T-shirts and salt water taffy. Surprise! Neither of those things have ever interested me, and they certainly don’t now. I look at the guy behind the counter. He looks at me. I ask if I can borrow a scissors. He looks at me and shakes his head. I repeat the question. Same response. It then occurs to me that he can’t speak English. Fantastic. I can hear Griffin screaming from all the way in the store.

I take a deep breath. With one hand, I hold up the evil, evil tube of powdered formula. With the other hand, I calmly held up two fingers. I was tempted to only hold up one, knowing that would hurtle the language barrier quite nicely, but I held back. Instead I held up my two fingers and mimed a cutting motion, the universal sign for scissors. A light went off in the head of my foreign friend.

THAT he understood. The universal cutting motion. He got a scissors and cut open the petulant powder tube and I thanked him. He smiled, not quite understanding what I said or even what just happened, but knowing he helped open a tube of something. Possibly cocaine.

So I got back to my wife and she had found water and the alchemy began. Mix, shake, serve. Griffin calmed down instantly and inhaled the witch’s brew. We started walking off the boardwalk and back to the car.

“We pushed it, didn’t we?”
“Yes” my wife said.
“I’m going out to buy cans of formula tomorrow, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Maybe even tonight.”

Fair enough. Those evil tubes should come with a warning: “Not for use when you actually need it.” It’s hard enough to stock a diaper bag with everything you need but now you need to stock it judiciously. Now the items need to be packed according to weight, size, and now varying degrees of usage difficulty. At this point, if we travel again with two small children I’m hiring a Sherpa.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Overheard in LA

Wife: “Enjoy this time when the kids are young, because once they’re teenagers they won’t want anything to do with us.”

Me: “Great! Let’s start thinking of ways we can embarrass them in twelve years.”

OK, that was a non-sequitur, but I didn’t have anywhere else to put it, and I still can’t get the twitter gadget to work properly in blogger.

Anyhoo, when you live in LA, especially as a parent, you hear things you most certainly would not hear anywhere else. Here are some things I’ve overheard. I’m a very good listener, when someone isn’t speaking directly to me.

Mother talking to her six year old daughter: “We’re going out for sushi tonight, your favorite!” Judging by the look on her face it was not her favorite. And really, why would it be?

Mother talking to a sales clerk in Macy’s: “My son is shooting a movie tomorrow and he needs to wear plain type clothes” Way to hike up your kid’s resume to the Macy’s clerk. Embarrased to say “My son is an extra”?

Mother to son at daycare: “If you keep acting this way you’re going to get a consequence!” Consequence?! SERIOUSLY?! While I’m against the whole “gonna get a beating” thing, I think we can still call a spade a spade. PUNISHMENT is still a good word, for criminals and for children. Be a parent, not a hippie.

“Sometime I give my son a cupcake in the morning without icing and say it’s a muffin.” This one is so creatively absurd that I had to give the mother some credit. Well done.

What was the dumbest parenting conversation you’ve overheard?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Laguna Beach in 24 Hours

I really think we forget this sometimes. The last two weeks I tried to take a break from the internets and everything else having to do with checking or posting something. It was harder than I thought. I wonder if we’re getting a bit TOO wired for our own good. And yes, I am well aware of the irony of blogging about this subject.

So I took a break. I made sure the iphone didn’t get checked every five minutes. I didn’t care about sales ranks or ratings, reviews, or anything. OK, I at least tried. When you’re home, it’s next to impossible. To clarify: When you’re home and you’re obsessive, it’s next to impossible.

So the only way to really do it and unplug, is to take an actual break. So we did. It lasted for a little over 24 hours, but it was amazing. My family was in town, so the day after Christmas they offered to watch the kids. I was out the door so fast I forgot my wife. After going back in the house, getting my wife, and actually packing a few things, Audge and I got in the car and drove to Laguna Beach, CA.

As soon as we were on the freeway we started to relax a bit. It had been a stressful year with everything from the good (a book release) to the bad (every appliance in the house breaking down at the same time which made our credit card company very happy) and everything in between. With the new baby, we hadn’t been away as a couple for almost two years. Not that we ever really did it that often with the first child, so let’s just say we were overdue.

We went a bit cheap on the hotel which is always a gamble. Normally over $200 a night but now only half that? With breakfast? Really? That’s quite a bargain! Turns out we were staying at one expensive cheap motel. But was crack included? That’s never on the brochure.

Let’s just say you get what you pay for and to be honest, we didn’t mind, except for the backaches we both got from the rock hard mattress. It was pretty much a bed surrounded by four walls and a bathroom. Only one side had a lamp so we had to take turns on the “reading side”.

So we went to the beach. It was cold but beautiful. Laguna is beautiful by the way. Worth the drive. We went shopping. I hate shopping, but it took me a whole extra hour to get annoyed! I was definitely relaxing.

Then we went to a crazy expensive hotel and ate in their restaurant. Needless to say, it was amazing. From the view to the food, it really felt like… well… a date. After dinner we walked around this crazy rich person hotel like we were… rich and it was really fun. It was actually cold and if it had been a little warmer and we weren’t so full of good food and sangria we probably would have walked down their cliff walkway to their beach.

So once we were back in the lobby we felt warm, full and happy, and went back to our cheap motel. We watched an old Fantasy Island rerun on a channel I don’t even think we have two hours away, and just enjoyed not having to do ANYTHING. No kitchen cleanup, no childcare, no bills, no house repairs, no vampire slaying, etc. Nothing. It was awesome.

It was four in the morning and we were woken up by a drunk outside the hotel. Now, we’re used to being woken up at four in the morning since the baby seems to like that time of the morning to have a family conference. But the difference was, we were in a hotel room, we didn’t have to get up. And we certainly didn’t have to change him. At least, we weren’t going to.

We woke up late (8:00 am) and felt refreshed. So other than a few aches in the back and a free breakfast that was actually six blocks away in another hotel, we really felt like we got our money’s worth. Most importantly, we really felt like we went on vacation.

In fact, we had so much fun we’re going to make in an annual thing, as long as my family keeps offering. Looking forward to next Christmas. Maybe we can stretch it to 36 hours next time…

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