I was in the middle of a sentence

A couple of times recently, my daughter, when her younger brother has interrupted her, has rudely spat out the sentence (interrupting him right back) “I was in the middle of a sentence.” Her tone when she’s done it has been horrible — hateful and curt and unforgiving.

She learned it from me. For a while, my kids both had a habit of interrupting me, and it began to annoy me something ferocious. So I got in the habit of interrupting them back and saying this sentence in what I now realize, hearing it reflected in my daughter’s voice, was a really awful tone. The first couple of times I heard this echo of myself in her, I didn’t say anything about it, but last night I did.

What I said was “I’m sorry.” Although I think I’m mostly a reasonably good parent, I’ve certainly done some things, or said some things, I’ve regretted. This has been one of my more shameful things in recent years. I started using this phrase at a time when I had begun introducing sarcasm as a way of providing feedback, and my introduction of sarcasm for this purpose is another of the parenting failures of which I’m really ashamed. I suppose I started this at a time during which I was frustrated and was sort of venting, and it was a really unhealthy way to parent my children and a crummy way to treat a human being in general. This year I made an effort to scrub sarcasm from my repertoire when giving the kids feedback about their behavior (sarcasm in general is still in bounds if offered humorously and with something like a wink), and I think I’m pretty well broken of the habit.

So, I apologized to my daughter last night for treating her (and my son) so rudely. I told her it was no way to treat a human being and that, as with the sarcasm, I was going to work on scrubbing this awful sentence from my repertoire. I said I hoped she’d join me.

There are certainly worse behaviors I could have modeled, and this at least is one that we can both learn from and use to improve how we treat other people, but I still feel like a pretty big dud over it.

Cello

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My son makes things out of paper. He once made a moderately convincing machine gun, and he’s recently made a cube and a pair of scissors that actually scissored like a pair of scissors. Perhaps his greatest triumph to date has been this cello, which he modeled loosely on the cello his older sister now plays in middle school orchestra.

The little holes on the front, which sort of look like headless body builders because he misjudged the cut to make, are on a real cello called F holes, but when I was first acquainting myself with the instrument to help my daughter get started, I learned that the concave curves on the side are called the C bouts, had read that there were F holes, and managed to think briefly that the F holes were called the A holes, so that now occasionally I’ll do this schtick in which I name the other lettered bits of cello anatomy and express surprise that I never can find the A hole. I’m still waiting for my Father of the Year award.

Riordan vs. Luhrmann

My daughter has read all (or perhaps all but the very latest) of Rick Riordan’s books that’re based loosely on various popular mythologies, and my son has by now read most of them. Among these are the books popularized in recent years in the form of movies pertaining to the central Percy Jackson character.

I’ve avoided reading more than brief snippets of the books, but my son’s 3rd-grade teacher recently asked if I’d be willing to give a Riordan mythology book a read to determine whether or not it’d be suitable to lend to 3rd-graders. Since this one — titled Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods — purports to be a more faithful retelling of the myths, she was worried that some of the content might be a little mature.

I cheerfully agreed to give it a try. It’s not a small book, and I got through about 100 pages before crying uncle. It’s about what I expected in terms of whether or not it’s appropriate for 3rd graders. There are some mature-ish topics mostly sort of danced around in a way that’s probably better for tweens than for the younger set but that I wouldn’t personally object to my son’s reading.

More troubling to me than these topics, which Riordan mostly handles in a reasonably oblique way, are instances of sexist language and attitudes. Of course, we’re reading about ancient Greek mythology here, and Zeus for example wasn’t exactly leading the march for women’s rights, so I don’t suppose I expected a feminist presentation of the old material. But Riordan has Percy as narrator use phrases like “chick magnet” and “had to get with her” and “screaming like little girls” and (with respect to women, though here inhabiting some god or another’s voice if I recall correctly) “take what you want,” and I feel like he could have offered the story in a voice like Percy’s without falling back to these sorts attitudes and language. In the summary I wrote for the teacher, I acknowledged that I was much more bothered by these slips than by Uranus jokes (which I find funny) and references to sex, murder, incest, etc.

I also just really hated the voice. The gimmick of the book is that Percy has been asked to tell what he knows about the old myths, so Riordan retells the myths in an annoying, sort of too-cool teenager voice that strikes me as not merely annoying but also inauthentic. I think it’s a condescending approach. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote to the teacher about it:

My main objection to the book honestly is that it foregrounds Percy’s frankly sort of annoying voice and all but resorts to the use of text speak and emoji to strike a tone that ultimately deflates the richness of the stories being told. I wouldn’t forbid my kids to read this, but I’d probably give them a disclaimer that it’s a pretty low-calorie read and try to offset it with something more enriching and less condescending.

As I characterize the book in that way, I find myself thinking of Baz Luhrmann’s old Romeo and Juliet movie from the ’90s. It did something similar, providing a more modern and stylized take on the original play so that it was more thrilling and accessible than, say, the old Zeffirelli movie of the play or the text itself. And, well, I actually liked Luhrmann’s version a lot (I’m sure it had nothing to do with sort of a crush I had on Claire Danes at the time). So what’s the difference between what Luhrmann did then and what Riordan has done here? I’m not really sure. Luhrmann at least preserved most of the original text of the play, I suppose, so that the foregrounding of his stylistic choices was at least more firmly rooted in some of the original aesthetics and story structure. Maybe it’s that for all that Luhrmann modernized and stylized the play, he didn’t dumb it down, and I feel like Riordan dumbs things down a lot and sort of makes the dumbing down almost the primary focus. I’m not a fan of condescending to kids, and while I think it’s fair to help ease them into difficult things, I think there are better ways to do so than what Riordan does. Or maybe it’s that Luhrmann added actual beauty to the original whereas Riordan here adds only personality (and personality that I find annoying), so that it is strictly derivative and not meaningfully additive.

Later, I felt like my assessment had come off as kind of snobbish and had sort of missed the point, since the teacher was probably looking more for an assessment of appropriateness than for a more formal aesthetic or literary critique, so I talked to my kids about Riordan’s books and sent along another email, excerpted as follows:

As I reread my last note, I cringe at the realization of how pompous it comes off. I thought I’d back down from my snobbish attitude about it and see what my kids thought about Riordan compared to some other books like the Harry Potter series and books by Kate DiCamillo (e.g. Despereaux).

My daughter (11 years old) reports that Harry Potter is on a tier well above what Riordan writes, though she likes Riordan quite a lot because she finds him funny and finds the characters relatable (which is after all what Riordan’s going for, especially in this book).

Finn says that Riordan’s books are super mega awesome and that the Harry Potter series is super mega awesome and a half, which to him means just a little better (his grasp of fractions being apparently tenuous). Finn’s down on DiCamillo, though he forgets that he liked several of her books quite a lot when we read them to him a couple of years ago (my daughter rates DiCamillo’s books somewhat closer to Rowling’s books than to Riordan’s).

So, the children have spoken. Riordan’s aim seems to be to make mythology relatable to children, and it seems that he’s a success. I find what I’ve read of the books (bits and pieces mostly) annoying in the way, I suppose, that old people often find the younger set’s things annoying. Get off my lawn, etc.

Confronted with a child choosing between Rowling and Riordan, I would surely point the child toward Rowling, who I think writes in a less condescending and more sophisticated way, but I’d like to back away from my earlier assessment that I’d urge Riordan only to a child who otherwise wouldn’t read anything.

Eyebrows

wpid-wp-1440170713928.jpgWhen my daughter was very young, she liked to grab my ears. I wasn’t able easily to locate the photo, but there’s a nice picture of the two of us from years back in which we’re walking around at the zoo. Well, I’m walking, and she’s on my shoulders, holding on by my ears. At about that time, she developed the occasional habit of rubbing my earlobes, which I suppose are soft.

I am a man who has little trouble growing hair, and my eyebrows can grow to be quite impressive if I don’t keep them in check. A few years ago, my wife let it be known that she preferred when I kept them a bit shorter, so I started getting them trimmed when I got a haircut. I sort of like when they grow a bit longer because it’s silly, but my wife is the one who most often has to look at my face, so I’ve happily deferred to her preference.

My daughter’s fondness for my ears has in recent years been joined by a fondness for my big spidery eyebrows. It started when she began getting allergy shots. For kids new to allergy shots, parents are encouraged to sort of kneel down in front of the kid for some reason, and the kid is encouraged to exhale while the injection is occurring. This arrangement gave my daughter a recurring opportunity to take note of my eyebrows, which I’ll confess I may have waggled at her a few times for comic effect to try to help take her mind off the odious shots. After a time or two of this, she began pinching my eyebrows a bit, and a new weird habit was born.

My wife and daughter have now expressed opposite preferences with respect to my eyebrows, which puts me in a bit of a tough spot. When I go for a haircut, whose preference do I honor? That of my wife who has to look at me or that of my poor daughter who I force to get bi-weekly injections and whose chief solace is this weird eyebrow ritual?

A few months ago, I made a deal with them. If the person cutting my hair mentions my eyebrows and asks if I want them trimmed, I say yes. If the he or she does not mention my eyebrows, I don’t mention them either, and they continue to grow. It’s been a couple of months since my last haircut, and my eyebrows are becoming very impressive (they’d be more so if they weren’t so light), the longest hairs an inch-and-a-half or so by my quick informal measurement. Just the other day, my daughter conceded that they had probably grown very nearly enough and added that once she could stretch them down to touch the tip of my nose, it’d probably be time to give them a bit of a trim.

Tiles

Tiles

My wife ran across an idea for making home-made coasters using glazed tiles, sharpies, and rubbing alcohol. You start with a plain white tile and scribble on it with rainbow sharpies. Then you spritz or dropper alcohol onto the ink. The alcohol makes the colors run together and then it evaporates, leaving the color smears behind.

Sometimes you wind up with these weird almost burned looking effects (I think probably where alcohol has puddled too much). You rarely get quite what you expect. The tiles are dirt cheap, and it’s a quick, neat craft. Once we figure out how to seal the colors in, we’ll have a nice new assortment of coasters, and we’ve talked about figuring out a way to mount these together somehow as a wall hanging in the kids’ playroom.

My tiles are the rainbow one in row 4, column 3 and the one with lots of sort of marbled whitish space (intentional but not exactly as I had intended) in row 3, column 1. I think the top left one looks really neat — like something the Hubble telescope would send back — but my son was really disappointed in it. The one to its right has some neat striations that I think were the result of blowing the pooling alcohol a little.

Sock puppets

A few weeks ago, I proposed that we make sock puppets as a fun activity for the kids. My wife was out of town this weekend and I was antsy to get the craft going, so we went ahead without her. After a trip to the craft store, we laid out our supplies, and the kids started designing their puppets. Although I had intended to make one of my own, we found that our various room-temperature glues weren’t really doing the trick, so I operated the hot glue gun (a first for me) and stuck the various limbs and accessories on. The kids were really happy with their puppets and went straightaway after finishing them to go write and perform for me a brief puppet show that made absolutely no sense. It was a fun afternoon. Pinterest, here I come.