Parental guidance is suggested

I don’t write a lot here about the fact that I’m a parent. I certainly don’t try to hide it. I regularly tweet my 5-year-old daughter’s witticisms, and I post pictures of her and her 8-year-old brother on Instagram all the time. But I don’t blog about it because, well, I don’t really feel like I have that much of value to say on the matter.

I’m not a great parent. I’m not a bad parent, but I’m not one of those super-engaged, every-day-is-inspired-genius, my-children-are-the-center-of-my-universe Parents. I’m just a dude who’s married and has a couple of kids. We make sure they’re fed, bathed regularly, do their homework, brush their teeth, all of that stuff. On the weekends we try to take them out and do things that are fun, intellectually stimulating, or (ideally) both.

So, I get a passing grade in the parenting department. But whatever you do, don’t come looking to me for parenting advice.

We’re not exactly (tie-)dyed-in-the-wool hippies, but like Steven and Elyse Keaton, one of our biggest fears is probably that our son will grow up to want to wear suits to school and believe in trickle-down economics. Politically, we’re pretty far to the left (at least by U.S. standards). We value and respect a diversity of perspectives, and if we teach our kids anything in life we want it to be to respect other people, and ways of being that may be different from their own. We also want them to be independent thinkers and to question authority.

The problem then arises that we may be too reluctant to teach them our own perspectives and values and beliefs. I sometimes wonder where the line is between filling kids’ heads with (the wrong) ideas, and not filling their heads with anything at all. Where does a careful effort not to impose ways of thinking and being cross over into not encouraging them to think, period?

Our kids are smart. They’re excelling in school. Yet sometimes they seem to lack “common sense.” That idea of common sense can be a tricky one, and is something we are especially trying to avoid. Because while just about anyone can say it’s “common sense” not to put your hand on a hot stove, where does common sense stop being “common”; when does it stop making “sense”? There was a time when slavery was “common sense.” It’s still “common sense” to some people that women should make less money than men for doing the same work. We’re currently in the middle of a national struggle to overcome the idea that it’s “common sense” that gay couples shouldn’t enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. Common sense, in other words, is often shorthand for assumed prejudices, because it’s hard to argue with “common sense.”

Just yesterday, as our family walked home from the LRT station, we were discussing the fact that even though our kids are so “smart,” we still don’t trust them to do “common sense” things like cross the street by themselves. I mentioned how, from first grade on, I walked six blocks to school by myself (well, with a neighbor who also went to my school and was two years older). My parents knew that I could find my way safely to and from a location a half mile away, five days a week.

A couple of days ago, I overheard our kids in the living room, discussing whether or not they believed in ghosts, and I was dismayed when they agreed that, yes, they both believed in ghosts. What?! As a science-minded agnostic (leaning atheist, but absence of evidence does not constitute proof against), I was upset to hear this. But as a let-them-decide-for-themselves liberal parent, I said nothing. I was hoping that the fact that they even felt the need to question whether or not ghosts were real was a good enough start for now.

I grew up Lutheran. Went to church most Sundays, went to Sunday school through high school. Beyond religion, my parents imparted most of their beliefs about the world and how to live in it directly to me, without all of this namby-pamby moral relativism I’m using to hold back my subjective opinions on certain topics with my own kids. (Fortunately, they were — and are — die-hard Democrats.) I avoided burning my hands on the stove, or running out into the street in front of a moving car, not through my own independent discovery, but because my parents told me not to.

I do think we live in a time when parents are expected to allow their children to discover for themselves, and to treat them as precious snowflakes, rather than to teach them stern lessons about the cruel realities of the world. (And we’re seeing the results of that approach as a generation grows up and never leaves home.) At the same time, I wonder if perhaps we, specifically, are taking certain aspects of that philosophy too far, even as we intend to counteract it. Children do need guidance to learn how the world works. And trying too hard to avoid accidentally imparting your own unconscious prejudices on them might sometimes lead to not even teaching them those things that truly are “common sense,” but still need to be taught.

Yes, I was Hoodwinked Too!

I don’t often write movie reviews here, but then again, I don’t often see the worst movie ever made, and I think the latter may just have happened yesterday.

In my defense, there is one, and only one, reason I went to see Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil yesterday, and that was to allow myself and my family a two-hour reprieve from the oppressive 100-degree heat of Minneapolis in July. It had not occurred to me prior to leaving home that there may be experiences to be had on such a summer day that were far more unpleasant, even if they were air conditioned.

Two minutes into the movie I was already bewildered by the incomprehensible (and unengaging) plot; the uninspired, inappropriate-reference-saturated, rapid-fire, pseudo-witty dialogue; the derivative grab bag of every possible character and trope from popular animated movies, good or bad, of the past decade (including, but not limited to, Shrek, Ice Age, The Incredibles, Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda); and the lazy, stunningly, sub-straight-to-DVD-Barbie-movie bad animation. The only thing this movie had going for it was a fairly decent cast of voice actors, and even then, most of them sounded as if they were recorded at their first table read, half asleep and wholly disinterested.

It got worse from there.

Or maybe it didn’t, as there were at least 2 or 3 moments — brief moments — during the movie where I was mildly entertained, mostly involving Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as Hansel and Gretel. But even they were annoying far more often than not. And they were nowhere near enough to offset the myriad other horrible things wrong with this movie. Perhaps the most disturbing is the movie’s tendency to take every questionable attribute of modern “kids'” movies to its logical extreme, especially the references to films no child should be able to understand. A few throwaway quotes from the likes of Scarface and Terminator (within 10 seconds of each other) is one thing. An entire scene built upon a parody of The Silence of the Lambs, with an Andy Dick-voiced rabbit strapped to a hand truck and locked behind shatterproof glass a la Hannibal Lecter, is inexcusable. And if inappropriate references don’t bother you, don’t worry. There are enough stereotypes here to offend just about anyone.

At this point you may be asking why I chose to see this movie, and why I’d spend money on it. The reason is simple: it was playing at a nearby second-run theater, which only has a single screen. This is what was showing at the time we chose to go, and tickets were only $2 each. That someone might have spent as much as $15 per ticket to see this movie (in 3-D no less, from which we were thankfully spared) sickens and saddens me. I scarcely even knew this movie existed prior to yesterday, and will do what I can to purge it from my memory as soon as this post goes live.

I’m sure far more people read Rotten Tomatoes every day than have visited this blog since its inception, so reiterating its content here is superfluous. Except… I wouldn’t be surprised if more people read this blog than have bothered to check out Hoodwinked Too! on Rotten Tomatoes. And since some of the reviews of this godawful piece of garbage (which, yes, I know, was the result of a lot of hard work… or, at least… work… by a large number of talented people… or, at least… people) provide far more entertainment (in far less time) than the movie itself, I figure they’re worth shining my dim little light upon.

If you’re not familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, it’s essentially a movie review aggregator. It provides each new release with a “Tomatometer” score, representing the percentage of reviewers who’ve given a film a positive rating. Films over 50% get a nice, plump, ripe red tomato. Films under 50% get a nasty green splatter. The site also gives each movie its own page, featuring excerpts from select reviews.

Hoodwinked Too! has one of the lowest Tomatometer scores I’ve ever seen — 12%— which restores just a shred of the respect for humanity I lost at the movie theater yesterday.

Here are some of my favorite comments from the reviewers:

Full of manic momentum and nattering, witless word play, the movie has all the charm of a mudslide.
–Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

This is precisely what I was thinking, if not so eloquently, during the opening scenes.

Remember the first “Hoodwinked,” five years ago? Remember how it ended with the promise of a sequel? Remember how many times you’ve wondered when-oh-when-will-it-finally-come? Me neither.
–Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

I honestly don’t remember ever seeing any promotion whatsoever for either of these movies, and could have gone on happily ever after (to carry over the fairy tale theme) believing they didn’t exist.

Parents should take their children to “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil,” if only because kids are never too young to learn the important and liberating skill of walking out of a movie and demanding a refund.
–Kyle Smith, New York Post

Why didn’t I think of that?

Somewhere during the first 30 minutes I actually felt my soul shrivel up and die. Trust me, you’ve had more entertaining colonoscopies.
–Jeff Meyers, Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

No comment.

Musings of a 4-year-old daughter: a tweet compendium

I’ve spent the last year-plus tweeting the musings of my 4-year-old daughter. Tomorrow she becomes my 5-year-old daughter, so this seemed like a good time for a compendium of her “greatest hits.”

I need to acknowledge the great iPhone app Momento, which made gathering a year’s worth of tweets possible (if still not quite as easy as I would have liked… I still needed to manually pull them out of a text file using TextWrangler, and I didn’t bother to reorganize them from its default reverse chronological order). Momento is a great app for automatically turning your tweets, Facebook status updates and blog RSS feed into an automatic personal journal. You can also write private entries directly within the app. It’s fantastic, and well worth the $2.99 price tag.

Here we go…

4yo daughter: What’s the car alarm for?
Me: To scare off someone trying to break in.
4yo: It should just make a ghost come out.
Monday 21 March 2011, 12:22 PM

4yo daughter just sheepishly approached me and said “I accidentally did this.”
“This” being writing her name on her leg with a marker.
Sunday 20 March 2011, 9:08 AM

I was explaining how long Bob Dylan’s been around. 4yo daughter: “Um, dad, the word you’re looking for is ’80 hundred years’.”
Sunday 13 February 2011, 8:34 PM

4yo daughter wants to do yoga. Or, in her words, get “yoga’ed up.”
Saturday 5 February 2011, 7:07 PM

4yo daughter: Who do you think I’m going to marry?
Me: I don’t know. Probably someone you don’t even know yet.
4yo: I have to MEET someone?
Saturday 29 January 2011, 4:06 PM

4yo daughter is excited for Twins Fest on Sunday, but only for possibility of seeing TC Bear or Joe Mauer (in that order). @MinnesotaTwins
Friday 28 January 2011, 9:32 PM

4yo daughter to coffee roaster: “What are you doing?”
Coffee roaster: “Cooking little girls.”
Daughter: “What?”
Roaster: “Roasting coffee.”
Saturday 8 January 2011, 3:45 PM

4yo daughter’s new song: “Doo Doo Death Star,” sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”
Thursday 6 January 2011, 7:31 AM

4yo daughter: “Worms are mean to artists because worms eat trees and paper comes from trees.”
Friday 31 December 2010, 12:52 PM

Always surprising what songs 4yo daughter spontaneously sings… this time it’s “Baby’s in Black” by the Beatles.
Friday 31 December 2010, 4:39 PM

4yo daughter in a freshly cleaned bathroom: “It smells like I pooped on a flower.”
Thursday 30 December 2010, 1:02 PM

To 4yo daughter: “Are they vegetarians?”
4yo daughter replies: “Yeah, they only eat vegetarian meat.”
Tuesday 21 December 2010, 5:58 PM

4yo daughter: “I love shopping. Just like London Tipton.” #ParentingFail
Thursday 16 December 2010, 5:22 PM

4yo daughter, totally out of the blue: “Pigs are breakfast, daddy.”
Sunday 5 December 2010, 8:34 PM

Apparently 4yo daughter spent entire drive back from North Shore listening to the White Album. Walking around house singing “Bungalow Bill.”
Sunday 28 November 2010, 1:51 PM

4yo daughter gets home from preschool. What does she want for a snack? Salt.
Thursday 11 November 2010, 5:20 PM

4yo daughter is listening to Queen: “Why are they champions?”
Tuesday 26 October 2010, 8:36 PM

4yo daughter correctly identified Kyle Massey on Dancing with the Stars as the voice of Milo on Disney Channel’s Fish Hooks. Seriously?!
Monday 18 October 2010, 8:23 PM

Listening to Rush — “La Villa Strangiato” — today, because last night my 4yo daughter misheard me say something and asked “Strangiato?” I think.
Wednesday 13 October 2010, 9:00 AM

Speaking of 4yo daughter, my natural inclination to correct everyone all the time shuts off when she calls an iPad a “big iPod.”
Wednesday 13 October 2010, 9:18 AM

4yo daughter identified the scientist Algernon (Roy Kinnear) in The Beatles’ Help! as “Veruca’s dad.”
Monday 30 August 2010, 3:30 PM

4yo daughter just said, “I wish your body didn’t need sleep. Sleeping is boring!”
Wednesday 26 May 2010, 9:19 PM

4yo explaining why she’s hungry: “My tummy’s empty. All the food went into my legs.”
Wednesday 12 May 2010, 7:56 AM

4yo daughter just insulted me (I think) by yelling “You shredded wheat!”
Saturday 10 April 2010, 3:22 PM

Troy Bolton is my 4yo daughter’s boyfriend. Also, bacon.
Tuesday 6 April 2010, 8:25 PM

4yo daughter just informed us that 7yo son is “pushing my buttons!” Wonder where she learned that.
Saturday 3 April 2010, 6:24 PM

And, stepping back just a bit further, my all-time favorite quote, from when she was 3…

The Smiths on @TheCurrent. 3yo daughter, hearing Morrissey’s crooning, asks: “Is he crying?” Yeah. Pretty much.
Friday 19 February 2010, 4:54 PM

Tomorrow is also my son’s 8th birthday (yep, same day). He’s not quite as quotable as his little sister, but he did have one absolute gem (for me, at least) this year…

7yo son: Is XBOX Nintendo or Sega?
Me: Neither… it’s Microsoft.
Him: Microsoft?! What’s that?
Thursday 27 January 2011, 7:50 PM

Happy birthday guys!

Remind me never to get insomnia again

Two nights after having spent the entire night awake in the Children’s Hospital ER with a sick daughter, my sleep routine is completely off. So last night I was awake in bed watching TV until nearly 2 AM. After The Colbert Report ended, and deciding as usual that I was not interested in leaving it on Comedy Central to watch South Park (why, exactly, is that show still on?), I flipped over to MSNBC to see if Countdown or Rachel Maddow was being replayed. Well, no, it was Hardball, but I decided to just leave it on and wait.

First observation: Wow. An hour is a really long time. Although I found moments entertaining, and perhaps a few nanoseconds informative, I developed a newfound understanding for Einstein’s simple explanation of relativity:

Put your hand on a stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.

He couldn’t anticipate the third corollary: Sit with Chris Matthews for an hour, and, like Meat Loaf, you’ll be praying for the end of time.

The end of time did arrive eventually, and Keith Olbermann appeared. It was, perhaps, not his best show, but I can’t recall how many times I’ve actually watched an entire episode of Countdown. Usually I just see clips on YouTube. I was glad to see that he (and all three hosts, to be sure) wasn’t going to let John McCain’s Joe the Plumber debacle in Defiance, Ohio (can’t make this stuff up) slip by. Rachel Maddow actually did the best filling in the details of the McCain rally there, though. Nowhere else all day long did I hear the fact that I personally found most interesting (and revealing) about the event: of the 6000 people in attendance, 4000 consisted of the entire student body of the Defiance public school system. The schools were closed for the day, and the students were bussed to the rally. Attendance, apparently, was required.

But the most regrettably memorable moment of the long 180 minutes I spent with MSNBC in the wee-est of wee hours last night, the moment that made me most wish I could be asleep right now, occurred not during one of the programs, but during a commercial break on the Rachel Maddow Show. I saw this:

The first two computers you see in the commercial are Macs. But I knew something was amiss when I saw the woman’s iBook (yes, I can see in a freeze-frame at 0:10 that it’s definitely an iBook, despite having the brand masked over) displaying a BSOD. If it were a MacBook, that would at least be possible — however unlikely, and I will acknowledge that’s at least in part because Macs don’t run versions of Windows before XP SP2, and how often does that BSOD?

Then we see at 0:42 an on-screen notice: “FinallyFast.com is for PC Computers Only.” Well, yeah.

Sid and Marty would be proud…

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever return to the heyday of drugged-out children’s programming that Sid and Marty Krofft brought us in the early ’70s with the likes of Lidsville, but the folks over at Nick Jr. seem to be channeling that same spirit with their show Yo Gabba Gabba. Apparently my 19-month-old daughter is now being indoctrinated into this hallucinogenic world. Right on!