Tag: kids

Back to School

This was a busy week. We attended three open houses at our local elementary and middle schools. We met our kids’ teachers, saw their classrooms, lugged supplies to their desks and cubbies. The Little Man, Zach, who is now entering 7th grade, got his first locker1. We made sure he tested out his combination twice. The Littlest Miss, who turned 5 yesterday, met her kindergarten teacher, saw where she’d be sitting, and has been asking ever since if it is Monday yet. The Little Miss, Grace, saw where she was sitting, and scouted out the desks of three or four of her good friends in the neighborhood to see where they were sitting as well. Both schools are short walks from the house, but with the mind-numbing heat and humidity, they were hot, sweaty walks.

Kelly made an interesting observation: all three open houses were held in the mornings, one on Tuesday, the other two on Thursday. Normally, these happen in the evenings, after parents have returned home from work. But not this year. And the classrooms were filled with students and parents. Maybe because many people in this area are able to work from home?

I had a different observation: why are these events called “open houses” and not “open classrooms”? Open houses are those things that real estate agents put on to try to hock their wears. I’ve never understood why they call these school events open houses when open classrooms makes much more sense.

Walking through the corridors of the school buildings sent flashbacks of my own time in school. I was reminded of things like bells that told class was over, and the rush of studentry2 to the next class before the “tardy” bell rang. Given how many people I know that are consistently late to things today, I think the entire notion of bells was a failure, Pavlov not withstanding. While Zach was attempting to open his locker, I was trying to remember my own locker combination from high school. I was trying to remember ever using my locker. I must have used it in the course of my years at the high school, but no specific memory came to mind.

Meeting the teachers is always awkward these days. Most of them appear as if they are just out of school themselves. Yet my own years in school come back to me and force a kind of reverence and deference to them. At the same time, they look like teenagers. Kelly always has lots of question for the teachers and doesn’t even raise her hand to ask them. When I am in the presence of a teacher, my hand instinctively goes up when I want to ask a question. This has led to some questionable looks from the other parents around me, to say nothing of the teachers.

As a kid, back to school meant the end of the summer and a long school year looming before me. It did mean I got to wear my new back-to-school clothes, but that was small consolation. On the flip side, I got to see my friends every day. Today, back to school takes on a new light. Monday will be the first time since March 2020 that all three kids will be out of the house for a big chunk of the day. Last year, the girls’ started school at 7:55, but this year school doesn’t begin for them until 9 am, meaning no rush in the mornings. And, after seven years of driving the kids to school each morning and picking them up each afternoon, all three kids can now either walk to school or ride their bike. I’m trying to imagine how quiet the house will seem between the hours of 9am and 3pm five days a week.

I love our kids, but I am looking forward to that peace and quiet.

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  1. He would have had a locker last year, but they weren’t using locker because of COVID.
  2. A nod to Strunk & White. I’ve always wanted to use this word in a sentence.

Minecraft Lessons IRL (In Real Life)

Minecraft screen capture -- courtesy of the Little Miss
Minecraft screen capture courtesy of The Little Miss

We went for a hike on the Fourth of July in a state park in upstate New York. It was our family, and my sister’s family. Between us there are five kids, and five very enthusiastic Minecraft aficionados. The weather was perfect for a hike, especially after several days of rain. We had reached our turn around point and had started back when one of the kids (my increasingly fallible memory protects the innocent here) said, “I’m staying here.”

We all kept walking.

“How far would you guys go before turning around and coming back for me?” they asked.

Someone might have said, “Why would we?” (That someone might have been me.) Of course, we were joking.

“That’s okay,” the straggler said, “I’ve played Minecraft in survival mode. I could survive here in the woods no problem.”

And that’s when my writers imagination took over. What I saw was this:

The Little Man and his cousin decided to attempt to survive in the woods overnight applying the lessons and skills they’d learned from countless hours of playing Minecraft in survival mode.

The Little Man, who is nothing if not methodical when it comes to playing video games (if only this were true about, say, putting wrappers in the trash or turning off the light when he leaves a room), takes a look around the woods and says to his cousin, “First thing’s first. We need to make some tools. And the most basic of the Minecraft tools is a pickax.”

“Great idea!” his cousin replies.

Now, the Little Man, who sometimes forgets to put his shoes back where they belong, magically comes up with the formula for a pickax from memory. “First we need three wooden planks and two sticks,” he says.

“Why not make a Netherite pickax?” his cousin asks.

“Bro!” the Little Man says. He says “bro” the way I used to say “dude” when I was thirteen and living in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. “Netherite isn’t real. Besides, we’d need a diamond pickax first, and we can’t get a diamond pickax without getting diamonds and that means having a pickax to begin with.”

Now in my imagination, they somehow locate three wooden planks in the midst of this state park. The sticks are easy. They each collect one, and before they’ve been alone in the woods for an hour, they have the five pieces needed to create a pickax.

“Uh, Bro?” the Little Man’s cousin says, “what do we do for a crafting table?”

“Easy,” the Little Man says, “we’ll find a clearing and use one of these sticks to sketch out a 3×3 grid that will be our crafting table.”

So they hunt for a clearing and after brushing away leaves and other detritus, they carry out their plan and sketch out the grid.

The Little Man wipes his dirty hands on his shorts. “Now all we have to do is lay the three planks across the top, and the two sticks down below the central plank.” He and his cousin set to laying out the planks and sticks as described. They stand, waiting.

“Something’s wrong,” his cousin says.

“Bro, I can see that.”

“What do you think is wrong? Do we need some redstone?”

“I’m getting hungry,” the Little Man says.

“Me, too.”

They stand there while no pickax forms from the material they’ve gathered.

“What should we do?” his cousin asks.

The Little Man considers for a long time. Then his face lights up. “Bro, I’ve got it!”

“What?”

“We’ll use a cheat code.”

“What cheat code?” his cousin says.

A wicked smile draws across the Little Man’s face, and he pulls out his iPhone. Carefully, he taps out the cheat code, which it turns out, is Dad’s phone number.

When I pick up, the Little Man says, “We’re hungry. Can you come get us?”

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Oh, the profanity!

In many ways, I still see myself as just a kid. I think the same thoughts I did when I was a kid, I occasionally ask the same questions I did when I was a kid. While reading about a particularly fascinating profession, I will to this day, say to myself, “When I grow up, I want to do that.” Some things, I guess, you never grow out of. Take profanity, for instance.

Let me start by saying I have absolutely no moral objection to profanity. It is just another means of expression. It’s not a means of expression that I use in the ordinary course of my day. My aversion to profanity comes from some deep-seated fear when I was a kid, that if said a “bad word,” I’d be in big trouble. I’m not exactly sure where this came from. But it stuck with me. With the exception of a period of a few years between 7th and 9th grade or so, when everyone around me was using profanity the way we use “like” today, I have avoided it.

Actually, it’s not even that I’ve avoided using profanity. It’s just not something that is in my daily lexicon. Whenever I do end up using a bad word, I almost instantly regret it. Not because it was a profane, but because it was a bad word choice. There’s almost always a better way for me to express a thought other than using profanity.

The fact that I don’t generally use profanity is another of those things that makes me see myself as just a kid. Friends and family use profanity and I think, wow, they’re so grown up; when I grow up, I’ll be just like them. It rarely comes to pass. Indeed, there are three occasions when the probability that I’ll use profanity increases dramatically.

First, in fiction. I’ve said before that writing fiction, for me, is in many ways like method acting. I need to feel what the characters are feeling. And since generally, the people around me use profanity more than I do, characters in my fiction will use it from time to time. I have no problem with profanity in fiction, television, movies, etc. What I find interesting is that people object to this, to the point that they are willing to call you out on it. When my story, “Take One for the Road” appeared in Analog (June 2011), it received several reviews in the usual places. I remember only one of them, however, from someone who objected to the grumpy old man in the story using the word “shit.” It was the only bad word in the story, and in my mind, it was completely in character. Any other expression in that situation by that character would have seen unrealistic. What I find most interesting is that I have no problem writing dialog with profanity, but when I re-read it, I am always a little uncomfortable. It’s that little kid in my thinking he’s going to get his mouth washed out with soap.

Second, while writing code. There are two use cases here. One is where I am deep in the code, in a kind of coma that takes over when I am trying to hold the complicated logic of a program in my head. I’ll finish up a piece and execute it to test it, and something goes wrong. When that happens, I’ll let out a string of profanity that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. I am always alone when this happens. The second use case is similar, except that when I execute the complicated piece of code I just completed and it works, I’ll usually allow a good old, “fuck yeah!”

Third, is when I injure myself. Bang a knee, step on a Lego. Whenever it happens, it’s usually followed by a “Shit, oww!”

Of course, I enjoy a good dirty joke, but I am especially fond of joke that use profanity in clever ways. Two examples, that I won’t repeat here, can be found in Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor. They are the last two jokes in the books, numbers 639 and 640. If you can find the book, it’s worth looking them up.

We’ve tried not to make a big deal about profanity with our kids. We generally don’t use it around them, but we also know they hear it at school, and see it on TV. We don’t make a big deal beyond explaining that there is a time a place for it, more so with kids. I think they will end up using profanity more than I do. It’s kind of built into the language for them these days. Of course, when they have used it, it is Kelly who handles it calmly and rationally. I am usually too busy rolling around on the floor laughing.

Honey, I Forgot the Kids

Because we both work, we have a routine for school drops-offs and pick-ups. Having five school days a week makes this routine unnecessarily complex, and I implore the schools to cut back to a four-day school week to allow us a somewhat less complicated routine. Our routine is this: Kelly handles drop-offs and pick-ups on Mondays and Wednesday and I take Tuesdays and Thursdays. For Friday, we alternative each of us taking every other Friday.

The school is 4 minutes from the house by car, and drop-off/pick-up doesn’t take very long, so it is not a burden in anyway. In the six years the Little Man has been attending the school, I estimate I’ve made 570 drop-offs and pick-ups, and I never forgot to it even once.

Until last week, that is.

It started with a trade. I was supposed to go to L.A. for work last week. It would have been my sixth trip to L.A. this year, and I was worn out from the travel. Instead, I decided to run the meetings remotely. It means I needed to be on video calls on Tuesday and Thursday at the times I would normally be picking up the kids. To resolve this, Kelly and I traded days, as we sometimes do. As part of this exchange, I took Wednesday.

I almost never do pick-ups on Mondays or Wednesdays. The problem with Wednesday is exacerbated because the kids get out of school an hour early. On Wednesday afternoon this week, I had everything under control, and felt good about it. I got my youngest down for a nap, attended a meeting, and around 2:30, not long before we’d leave to pick up the kids, I warmed up the car so that it would not be freezing when we got in there.

Five minutes after warming up the car, my phone rang, and I saw that it was our friend, Raquel calling. My first thought was that she was calling to ask me to pick up her kids, and I was a little worried because I had a 3:30 meeting and picking up her kids in addition to mine would mean I’d cut things very close.

Then I saw a text from Raquel that said, “I am bringing the kids home.” Kelly hadn’t told me that I didn’t need to pick up the kids, that they were going to Raquel’s house, but okay. That made things easier for me. Then my phone rang again. This time it was Kelly, and as soon as I saw her name on the display, I knew what I’d done wrong.

“Honey,” I said, “I forgot the kids got out early today. Raquel has them and is bringing them home now.” Everyone thought it was funny. The kids were nonplussed about it. It was the first time in 570 pick-ups that I’d forgotten, a 99.8% success rate.

The whole incident reminded me of the importance of checklists, something ingrained in me when I got my pilot’s license 20 years ago. The value of a checklist is to make sure you follow all of the steps even when the routine changes. The problem in this case is that I’m not sure a checklist would have prevented me from forgetting the kids, unless the list explicitly said that ON WEDNESDAYS, THE KIDS GET OUT AN HOUR EARLY.

I am often making fun of Kelly for forgetting things: keys, phone. I tease our friend Raquel about little things as well. It’s all in good fun. Now, they both have something to tease me about. I wish I could guarantee this would never happen again, but given my past history, I expect to forget picking up the kids in another 570 pick-ups from now, right around the time the Little Man is a senior in high school.

Lakeside reading

I went up to the lake this morning to do some reading and the ducks were out in force which made me thing of Trevor and thepopeswife and their stories about ducks. Perfect weather today with a few puffy white clouds in the sky. It was very peaceful at the lake, no sounds except the ducks and the buzzing of bees and other critters. At least at first.

After I’d been reading for a short time, some kids showed up somewhere nearby. I think they were fishing, but that quickly devolved into what can only be described as the discovery of the interesting properties of sound: they discovered their echoes. The discovery of your shadow is quiet. The discovery of your echo, is by its very nature noisy. These kids started out by screaming out nonsense words: “Bub!” “Wub!” Then they moved on to the “hello world” version of echo construction: “Hello! [Hello!]” This went on for a while with more and more elaborate phrase until finally (and I imagine, quite naturally), they ended up shouting out obscene phrases. Really obscene! If it wasn’t so funny, it would have been annoying. About this time, I decided to head to the other side of the lake, where there is a bit more shade, and as I walked past these kids, their mom had returned and was berating them for how embarassing they were, shouting out those things. That was even funnier.

On the other side of the lake, there is a bench built out of an old, fallen tree, and the plaque on the bench reads:

In memory of George Stern 1899-1993. He sat here enjoying the view. May you do so too.

I got comfortable on the bench (still hearing the echoes of the beligerantly angry mother yelling at the kids) and proceeded to do some more reading in the shade. Here I am sitting comfortably on the bench:

And here is how things look from my vantage point on the bench. (Ah, isn’t that a great view, the bright white pages of the book softly turning! Oh, yeah, the scenery in the background is pretty nice too.):

I stayed by the lake until noon and then headed home so that I could cut the grass.