The act of moving is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad business. Trust me. Last August, the wife and I climbed into our Toyotas with two young ‘uns and two cats to move 2,400 miles, two time zones and one huge cultural shift—from the Bible Belt to the Pacific Northwest. We shadowed the Oregon Trail for a piece, but we did not die of dysentery.
I let my gray hair spread, unpainted. I wear slippers in April. I groan when I sit down. I hit the elliptical because I have trouble with plantar fasciitis. I eat oatmeal for breakfast everyday. Steel cut, ya hear? Keeps the digestion regular. I go to RV shows. I read the made-of-dead-trees newspaper. I watch This Old House. You can grow old, too. Just gotta find your jam.
I like my shit. I don’t want to declutter or downsize. My pasta cutter doesn’t need to make me giddy. It just needs to exist in my cabinet until I get a hankerin’ for some carbonara. But the pasta cutter doesn’t get all the way to explaining the urge to retain what I own. The objects I’ve added to my credit card debt in the shiny aisles of Acres O’ Junk aren’t usually the ones I cherish. It’s all the things I didn’t buy. None more so than the typewriter.
Fellow parents, I’ve seen the promised land. Children of Men was a lie. A world without kids is calm and quiet. It never smells of diapers. Free time is a tangible thing you can see stretching away forever to the horizon like a desert road. None of the books have pictures. The restaurants serve delicious entrees that excite the palate. You can visit this parallel universe too, but like all fantastical trips through time and space, you need a friend to guide you.
Let’s talk about pets. They are made for cuddling. They nuzzle and purr and wiggle. They show their cute little bellies, asking for scratches. When we’re blue, they bring comfort. When they act like silly imbeciles, we make videos of them and share their antics with strangers on the internet. Pets give us something to squeeze and care for and love on. Pets are made for us. Dear reader, this perception of pets is a lie. A sugary-sweet pop-song-conception of true love at first kiss, a clean and bright and too-happy commercial, a David Copperfield slight-of-hand misdirection trick of epic proportions. And you know the thing about magic, right? It’s fake.
If car mechanics were my father’s high priests, then meteorologists were his televangelists. He was as obsessive as an ancient mariner. Was there a low-pressure system on the way? Lake-effect snow? Could we expect thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon? Back then, the most up-to-date information could only be found on the late newscast. Sometimes, I’d stay up with him, waiting for that smooth-talking soothsayer to appear in front of a map, murmuring about wind chill and dew point and the jet stream. His predictions could preserve—or destroy—our plans for the following day. Sitting there next to Dad, staring at the little black and white television, I was on pins and needles.
If she sells a mere 36 boxes, she gets a patch for her sash, and the swag escalates from there, from T-shirts to hairbrushes to area rugs all the way to an iPad Mini for selling 2,016 boxes. These items are enticing, but you must emphasize to your daughter that they’re just material goods. They’ll get lost or used up or broken or forgotten on the subway. The real takeways here are a sense of accomplishment, and, more importantly, the realization of the mechanism of gaining and keeping power by means of exploiting the character weaknesses of simpletons. Once she realizes how to do that, no one can take it away from her, and no one can stand in her way.
I bet you know some bad kids. Not your kids. Your kids are lovely, imaginative, super-athletic, and smart as a whip. I’m talking about your step-sister’s kids and your boss’s kids and the kids on your son’s soccer team and those kids who always end up hurting someone at the neighborhood block parties. Screw those kids.
I’m a child of a broken home. Before they split, my broke-ass parents had a couple nickels to rub together; afterward, a lonesome nickel did little to fill up the pantry in my dad’s house, and he had just enough ignorant confidence in the kitchen to get himself into trouble. The dishes he created were sometimes inedible, but every once in a great while he stumbled upon a real treat. Both the good and the bad were repeated ad nauseam, sometimes literally.
I want the inside of your minivan to look like your mobbed-up cousin just hit an arts & crafts delivery truck. Coloring books, word finds, Mad Libs, Sudoku, eye-spy games, Rubik’s Cubes, card games, sewing kits—whatever your kids are into. Just don’t bring anything sticky or melty or made up of 10,001 tiny plastic pieces. Make sure you buy some new stuff and keep it out of sight until everyone is in the car. Look, kids: presents for Car Prison!
Last summer, I achieved a personal best in strenuous relaxation: I spent hundreds of dollars and drove hundreds of miles to hike on the Appalachian Trail for five days. I brought my daughter, who was six at the time and excited for the trip, due to Stockholm Syndrome. We were joined by my brother (an able-bodied adult) and my father (a sort-of-able-bodied adult). At the end of the journey, our legs hurt, we’d all yelled at each other a lot, and we smelled real bad. But we never did nothing. It was great!
Whereas in my family, we have a dozen Seuss books in the house and reread them constantly. We watch the Cat in the Hat TV show. We own the board game and the flash cards. And I’m sure there’s a stuffed animal or five hidden under some clutter in the kids’ rooms. My 2-year-old son spots that candy-cane top hat in the wild wherever we go and jabs a finger in the air as he shouts a glorious discovery. We are Seussed up the wazoo, as are all of the Doodles in Greater Blazoo, but a bonfire of Hortons never seems a good thing to do.
The key is to dream up a project that is both overly ambitious and easily derailed by the absence of one key tool or piece of equipment. Can’t do anything until we find the hoe! Start looking, kids! The longer the search goes on, the angrier you should get. Bonus points if you repeat a curse in a signature cadence often enough that your children can still hear it in their heads three decades later. GOTdamn sonofaBITCH!
I’ve heard all the jokes. They’re not funny anymore. It’s not because Cleveland’s sports teams don’t deserve ridicule. It’s because the jokes are too easy. And at some point in the recent past, the knee-slappers turned into something darker. There’s a dagger in those voices now, plunged a little deeper by every TV network that orders its production assistants to whip up a fresh montage showing all of Cleveland’s failures over the last 50 years, in order to play that package in pre-game coverage, during timeouts, and also as part of the post-game show, in case anyone missed it the first dozen times. Sometimes they also include footage of the Cuyahoga River engulfed in flames, just to put a fine point on it.
Every year, there are more men who don’t work outside the home. Some want to, but can’t find a job that pays enough to cover the cost of childcare. Others used to, but felt our hearts grow three sizes the day our first child was born, and we lost all desire to climb the corporate ladder. But even as we spread throughout the nation like spilled milk across the kitchen table, house husbands remain far from the norm. So if you’re new to the field, let me drop a little knowledge on you. This job is more demanding than you think. You’re on call 24/7, and you spend every day treading water through transitions and logistics. The banalities will dull your edge, and the crises can make your heart jump out of your chest.
Ideally, your home has an extra bedroom or a basement or maybe even a real, honest-to-God study with mahogany paneling and a built-in humidor. Even if all you can scrounge for yourself is space in a closet like Peggy Hill did when she was writing for the Arlen Bystander, you’ll be much happier in the long run. And please, please do not put your desk in your bedroom. If you do that, you’ll be writing anti-government manifestos on the walls within three weeks.
You won’t find any euphemisms here. I’m going to take you on a tour of one of the shittiest experiences you will have, from the nursing home to the hospital to the funeral home. It’s a series of places that are no place at all, like airports or bus stations. Lots of people pass through, but no one stays too long. We’re going to notice the absurd and darkly humorous exhibits in particular. We’ll glance at the emotionally crushing, yawning abyss of mortality, but we won’t spend much time there. It’s too early in the day to start drinking.
I read to my kids every day, and you’d better do it, too, if you don’t want your own kids to grow up to be sociopaths or “truthers” or Ravens fans—every study on early childhood development says so. If I’m honest, reading to my kids is the only parental activity that I’m 100-percent confident about.
The only problem is that lots of kids’ books are terrible. I don’t just mean the crap churned out by media machines like Dora and Thomas. Plenty of classic children’s books should be burned, or thrown out, or at least ridiculed in this space. So let’s do at least one of those.