The house of feral boys

My wife is out of town for a week. I hope she can make it through this time with her sanity intact. It must be a great burden on her mind to know that four males are alone in her house without supervision for seven long days.

There must be many things troubling her. For example, she is convinced that none of the people in her house know how to properly load the dishwasher. Two of them don’t even seem to know where the dishwasher is; one of them doesn’t understand the value of exposing all the dirty dishes to water in the system; and the last is sure he can fit one more dish inside, because it is just a spacial puzzle that can, and must, be solved in the name of efficiency. You just have to move every dish to a new location three or four times, and then the solution becomes obvious.

We’ll probably get some clothes washed, but we won’t do it the right way. They certainly won’t smell like the proper combination of three laundry soaps and two fabric softeners. It takes years to perfect that laundry smell. What can rank amateurs do in a week?

It’s a lead-pipe cinch the washcloths won’t be folded properly.

The kids will be fed, just maybe not whenever they are hungry. The one who has compassion for your pangs will be back after a few more days. Meanwhile, being hungry until dinnertime builds character. We’ll eat after we get some stuff done.

The boys will be clean, such as boys get clean. Mom instituted a regular bath schedule long ago. But it may not matter that the bodies themselves are clean, since the laundry will certainly smell funky from the wrong proportions of chemical additives.

“Mom will be so happy with how we’ve kept house! Now let’s punch each other some more.”

The carpet has already been vacuumed once since my wife left. In the interest of full disclosure, this was done because we were clearing living room space to put up the Christmas tree. Then the boys decided they didn’t want to put up the tree without Mom. So that was a wasted vacuum. Now we must do it again before she comes home. I was toying with idea of mopping the kitchen, but if I have to vacuum all over again, well, I can’t be expected to give my whole life over to floor maintenance, can I?

And just to be clear, we vacuumed not just the prospective tree area; we vacuumed all the rugs (upstairs excluded – we’re not wild-eyed zealots). Add to this the fact that I’ve yelled at the kids to pick up after themselves enough for two parents and I think you’d have to admit I’m really picking up the slack around here.

All in all, we’ve done pretty well for a quartet of cave dwellers.

And no, we’re not gonna talk about the bathrooms.

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A road through the past

I’m in favor of modern, paved roads, when it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to drive on them (more on that later). Nine times out of 10 times, modern roads are helpful. But if you’re the fool who carries historical maps inside your head, modern roads can befuddle you occasionally.

On our summer vacation, we took a day to visit Gettysburg. This was a risky move, as the battlefield was an enticing attraction to only two members of our five-person family. I have always been a reader of American History. Big Brother has an interest in history as well. He took an 8th grade Civil War class last spring and was eager to see the field.

For the others, interest in Gettysburg was less acute. My wife likes to visit famous places, but once somebody tells her who won, she feels like she’s got all the info about the battle she needs. Buster believes when you go someplace with a cannon on every hill, you should be allowed to blow up something. Big Man just wants a hotel with a pool.

Sorry, Buster. All those guns are just for looking at.

It was a hot, humid day, but everyone bore it well. My wife was a trooper, driving us around and stopping wherever I asked so we could examine the monuments and walk the ground. I used the map in my head to answer Big Brother’s questions.

By the time we got to Little Round Top, it was the heat of the afternoon. We all climbed to the apex and took in the view. I wandered to the left, trying to locate the end of the Union battle line. Big Brother followed, and suddenly we were on a sacred quest to find the monument to the 20th Maine.

The beaten path ended, and we found ourselves exploring through underbrush. Now that the hunt had begun, the younger boys took up the chase, rushing downhill through the weeds to keep up. My wife followed out of concern for her wayward boys, issuing a constant bugle call of poison ivy warnings.

In the overgrowth, we discover the monument to the regiment in line next to the 20th. We must be close. Big Brother forged ahead, convinced he would soon be standing upon that hallowed spot.

He stopped short, clearly befuddled. When I came up to him, I understood why. He stood at a clearing with a paved road running through. We followed the road to an intersection, wondering how we could have missed the marker.

At the intersection we noticed a park ranger addressing a small group across the intersecting road. Then we knew our mistake. The modern roads had messed up the maps in our heads. The monument was just where it should have been, and just where we might have looked, had the Union line been bisected by asphalt in 1863.

No matter. We found our Holy Grail. A 13-year-old solidified his connection to the past. Even his tired and sweaty little brothers seemed satisfied. Their dad was happy about many things at that moment.

We didn’t see everything, but we couldn’t leave without finding this.

Mom had gone to get the car. When we felt the air conditioning inside, she became Gettysburg’s greatest hero.

EPILOGUE

A month later I got the Pay-by-Plate toll in the mail from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The toll for driving from the Ohio border to the Gettysburg exit, one way, was $67. Paved roads are getting to be trouble.

3 kids x 3 different schools = 9 billion emails

I attempted to write a post about having three kids in three separate school buildings this year, and how I’m feeling, more than ever, like I am going back to school alongside my kids. That post wasn’t good: it came off as whiney; it wasn’t entertaining; and its tone insinuated that the blame for parents being inundated with emails and homework belonged to the schools and the teachers.

While some schools and teachers are better than others at managing the information dump on parents, they are all following the dictates of a society that, yearning so mightily to make things easier, has made things more difficult.

The best way to illustrate this may be to compare school life today, with school life during the 1975-76 academic year, when I was in third grade (the same grade as my youngest child today).

During the 1975-76 school year, my mother became a single parent. She had seven children still in the public school system. There was no such thing as email. This, no doubt, prevented her jumping off a tall bridge.

CAR LINES

Our schools’ car lines block traffic in the streets around the schools. They allow parents to display the worst of their angry impatience or disregard for the time of other parents. Consequently, every school sends out a two-page email of car line procedures.

In 1975, the car line was three cars speeding up to the front door 15-30 minutes late. Only kids who had fallen behind schedule were driven to school. Everyone else walked or rode the bus.

LUNCH MONEY

The web site our schools use to keep track of lunch accounts changed. I must set up a new account and register each of my children. To do this, I need a student number for each child. I know one of them. My high schooler also needs a PIN number to access the money on his account in the cafeteria. I wish he could just be concerned with the numbers in math class.

My mom gave me enough money every Monday to buy a lunch ticket for the week. Each day the lunch lady punched a hole in the ticket. After five holes, the ticket was discarded. If I forget my money, they made a note in their book that I had “charged” lunch. The next day I got two holes punched in my ticket. There were no extras to buy; lunch was lunch, no more, no less.

Demonstrating car line procedures in the days before PDF diagrams and email.

PROGRESS REPORTING

Our schools use another website/app for parents to follow their kids’ assignments and grades. I set up an account this year. I was able to get one kid on it, but only the app accepts my login. Of course you can only add students via the web site (which doesn’t recognize my credentials). Also, you need a separate code number (different from the student ID) for each kid. This is another secret number I have for only one kid. Looks like the others will be monitoring themselves.

My mom monitored our progress by leaving things alone until she got a note from a teacher. She would address the issue and then go back about her own business. But things were far less competitive then, and she already had one child attending a state university, so she understood that not going to Harvard would not mean the end of the world to any of us.

RULES OF CONDUCT

Today I received an email with a link to the Orchestra Handbook for our middle school. My son and I are supposed to read the handbook together and sign the last page. This is just one of the multiple school activities where the rules need to be in writing and the parents must acknowledge receipt of them.

If any rules were in writing, it was most likely a placard on the wall of the classroom that read:

RULES:

Sit Down.

Shut Up.

Rules beyond that were based upon the general principles of proper decorum, and if the teacher had to explain them, it was already a bad day. When we broke the rules, we were punished, and if we whined about it at home, we were punished there too. However, we were almost never sued for breach of contract.

There are other examples, but this is already a long post. We shouldn’t be surprised that our schools reflect our frightened, angry, litigious, password-protected (without so much protection), ease-of-use (difficult) society. But nobody needs to carry cash, so that’s awesome.

Why we can’t be friends (Social media justice: part 2)

It’s official.

I’m now an outcast from modern society, a pariah of current culture, a man without a profile.

I’ve been permanently banned from Facebook.

And I’m okay with that.

In my last post, I shared how I received notice from Facebook that my account was suspended, for reasons that were a mystery to me. I was given 30 days to appeal, a process that must begin with me uploading my state ID to Facebook. This is something I would not do.

Since then, things have gotten more interesting, in an alarming sort of way.

I began to receive emailed receipts for ads placed on Facebook. There were two simple reasons why I could not have placed these ads:

  1. I had been locked out of my account for more than three weeks.
  2. The descriptions of the ads were in a language I don’t understand. (In fact, I can’t even tell what language it is.)

This shed some light on the situation. It appears that somebody in a foreign land had hijacked my account and done something with it to get me expelled from the platform. The brilliant minds at Facebook swung into action and barred the true owner of the account while apparently allowing the pirates to access the account freely and, as a bonus perk, to also run fraudulent ads on it. They weren’t getting any ad revenue from the rightful owner, so why not?

I found generic email addresses for Facebook departments online. I also found one reference to a phone number, but this was explained as the number that tells you not to try calling Facebook when you dial it. It seems that Facebook wants to hear from you in only one way, and that is the way that begins with you giving them more personal data about yourself. This personal data could easily end up in the hands of the new owners of your account, but even if it doesn’t, the prying eyes of Facebook would still have it.

I sent emails to all the Facebook addresses I found. In them, I explained the situation. I did not ask for my account to be reinstated. Now, I was sure I wanted it deleted, and the sooner the better. That was my best hope for making it useless to criminals. I don’t expect that any of the emails were ever read, but you’ve got to try.

I tried to log into my account again. Not surprisingly, I still couldn’t. When I click the button to close the app, I was warned that I had only one day left to appeal before my account was permanently disabled. I’m sure this was meant as some sort of threat, but I saw it as my only hope. I hoped it wasn’t an idle threat.

I’ve stopped getting the ad receipts. My account is beyond the appeal period. If that’s the end of it, I’m grateful to be done with Facebook. My only regret is that last Christmas I bought my boys an Oculus VR headset. It ran off my Facebook account; Oculus has alerted me that we will lose all the games we bought for it. The consolation is it wasn’t a huge hit with the boys and we didn’t spend a ton on games. And when I think back, it wouldn’t be the first time money spent on gifts for the kids was wasted.

In conclusion, I will not be accepting any more Facebook friends.

I’ve no more friends to play with.