It’s a training issue

Yesterday morning, I was working remotely from the back room of our house. Big Man, who should have been in virtual school by then, came in. “Mama needs more training on how to be a mom,” he told me.

My eyes widened at this strange, unsolicited assessment. “Oh, does she?”

“Yes. Buster is in school, but he’s got the TV on, and Mama isn’t even shutting it off.”

His mother was working from a different part of the house, where she could hardly know about the status of the TV.

I told him to use his energy to go shut the TV off and get back to school, instead of ratting out family members. I assume he carried out my instructions. My training on how to be a dad didn’t cover follow-up.

Mom isn’t the only one with training issues. My job has changed drastically in the past year. I’ve had to learn an entirely new, complex, and vastly more bureaucratic financial system at a time when all the training session were canceled due to Covid. Consequently, I’ve had to make some educated, and even more uneducated, guesses. A lot of time gets eaten up fixing mistakes.

I’ve also been trying to learn to be a baseball coach for 7th and 8th graders. It’s probably not the best year to begin a baseball coaching career. Our state finds it expedient to blame kids for Covid outbreaks this year. You wouldn’t want to blame people who can vote, after all. New, random rules are issued periodically that either pause youth sports outright or make it difficult to keep sports going. Even non-contact, outdoor sports like baseball are hindered by these edicts. It seems as if our state is serious about protecting our children from fresh air and Vitamin D.

It’s remarkable how much non-baseball information I’ve had to process to coach baseball. Occasionally there’s time left to teach the game.

No one in the world social distances like a bored right fielder.

Mom and Dad aren’t the only ones facing training issues these days. Big Brother’s class has stumbled into algebra. He comes to me regularly for help with math homework. After one toilsome tutoring session he asked the inevitable question: “Will I ever use this in real life?”

“You’d be surprised,” I answered. “Every so often, I use it at work to help solve a problem it would otherwise take much longer to solve.”

“I don’t think I’ll have the same kind of job as you,” he said. “Will I use it for anything else?”

“Lots of times,” I assured him. “Mostly when your kids come to you for help on their math homework.”

“Oh,” he said. I think that decided him never to have children.

So, if you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted in months (I hope you’ve got better things to wonder about), it’s a training issue. And I haven’t even mentioned the updated WordPress editor yet.

Don’t be a Puzzled Penguin

In the past six months, I’ve learned more about being a first grader than I have since I was a first grader. Part of each of my days is spent in first grade, learning to read and do addition and subtraction. Part of each day is spent in third grade as well, learning to read a little better and do multiplication and division.

There are a lot more parents, like me, in first grade this year than there were in the 1973-74 academic year. As I recall, it used to be mostly little kids, but now parents are having to figure out how to use all the many online tools that make the remote learning elementary school go. Fortunately, we all have a six or seven-year-old nearby to help us.

It’s kind of a vicious cycle, but in order that we don’t get too frustrated, we call it a symbiotic relationship: Big Man wants help with his homework; before I can begin to help him, he must teach me how to use the online platform that jealously guards this day’s homework inside its electronic labyrinth.

It can be taxing, but we’re getting through it together. Our two heads combined are enough to graduate one of us from first grade. I just hope it’s the one still full of potential.

Along the way, we’ve have had some adventures and met some characters. One of the noteworthy entities I’ve met in electronic first grade is the Puzzled Penguin. The Puzzled Penguin shows up occasionally on one of the arithmetic applications.

I first met the Puzzled Penguin when Big Man and I encountered a math problem that went something like this:

                The Puzzled Penguin thinks 7 + 5 = 10 + 3. Is he correct?

Before I had even finished reading the problem, Big Man announced with certainty: “Nope, he’s wrong!”

I was amazed at the speed of his calculation. “Wow! How’d you do that addition so fast?”

“I didn’t add anything.”

“Then how do you know he’s wrong.”

“Easy. The Puzzled Penguin’s always wrong.”

“But why is he wrong?”

Big Man shrugged. “Because he’s dumb?”

“I mean why is he wrong in this case?”

“Because he’s still dumb?”

I put the screen squarely in front of him. “Okay. Do the math and tell me why he’s wrong.”

He gave me an exasperated look. “I already told you the answer. Because the Puzzled Penguin is always wrong.”

As he was speaking, Buster entered the room. “Oh, the Puzzled Penguin,” Buster mused. “I remember him. That dumb bird is always wrong.”

The only thing we learned about arithmetic that day is that penguins are consistent.

Believe me, we’ve tried to help him.

It was supposed to be just a game

Getting all their schooling from a computer screen has not deterred our boys from their desires to play video games for the remainder of their waking hours. In an attempt to wean them from unnecessary screen time, we have tried to interest them in board games.

This strategy is fraught will peril. They are willing to play board games, but only if a parent participates. For some reason, they are too uncomfortable around these ancient relics to confidently manage them alone. They need someone who understands the old ways to guide them.

This is unfortunate. Though I spent many hours playing board games as a boy, I find I have almost no patience for them anymore. Also, sitting on the floor is not nearly as fun/manageable as it once was.

We have a Monopoly game in the closet, which I hope we never get desperate enough to open. I can’t imagine sitting through an entire game of Monopoly at my time of life. I’d have to resort to the trick my brother used to do when he was losing and “accidentally” overturn the board.

I have played my 1979 version of The Game of Life with the younger boys a few times. If you ignore the more tedious rules and aren’t too meticulous about every little monetary exchange, you can bang out a game in 30-45 minutes.

Look at those happy 70s parents. I wonder what they were trying to distract their children from.

This is the first time I’ve played Life since boyhood, and now I notice different things about the game. For example, even for 1979, the salaries were outdated: Doctor’s salary – $20,000.

The remarkable thing about the game could be a mere coincidence, or maybe Milton Bradly knew the score better than we give him credit:

Every player must get married, but the number of children each player accumulates is pure chance. In the games we’ve played so far, I have chanced to fill my little green car with children. In fact, I’ve collected more children than there are spaces in the car. Some of my children have had to sit on their older siblings’ laps, which they could do without being taken into foster care in 1979. I assume the newer versions have minivans and Child Protective Services.

In my car crammed with sardine children, I have never finished the game without ending up in the poorhouse. Buster, on the other hand, who the spinning wheel has never blessed with more than one child, has ended each game as a millionaire.

That’s my overloaded car in the Poorhouse parking lot.

This is an interesting lesson.

I wonder. If I had learned Milton Bradley’s one-child-limit lesson in 1979, instead of 2020, would I be able to contemplate a day when I could retire to someplace other than the poorhouse?

Oh well. In the game of life, children cost money. It’s too late to give them back now. Besides, I’ve come to adore them all too much to do anything but let them drive me up the wall and directly into poverty.

Grow tomatoes, they said

Back when we first moved into our house, and I was trying to build a garden that wouldn’t be raided by wildlife, people told me: “Plant tomatoes. The animals won’t touch them.” I didn’t plant tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes. I like lots of things made from tomatoes: pizza sauce, tomato soup, marinara, but an actual tomato has just the right texture to make me flinch when I bite into it. I’m a freak, I know, but there’s just something about the feel of a tomato that makes my tongue want to retreat down my throat.

Instead, I spent lots of time fortifying my garden. The effort paid off. I made my garden impervious to rabbits and groundhogs, etc., just in time to abandon gardening in order to take up the hobby of raising children. Through all the years my garden lay fallow, I took pride in knowing herbivores could not get at the various weeds filling the space.

This year, my wife took an interest in gardening. Men familiar with wives will understand this means she did a lot of pointing while I did an equal amount of digging around in dirt. The pointing was crucial; without it, I may not have understood which dirt I was to play in.

In our refurbished garden, we kept it simple, planting only cucumbers and peas. The cucumbers went wild, overrunning the peas as well as the garden fence. It’s a good thing we didn’t plant tomatoes in there; they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the invading cucumber hordes.

Cucumber plants going over the wall to carry their conquest into the back yard proper.

My wife likes tomatoes. She likes them a lot. So, we planted some tomatoes in a pot on our deck. They prospered well, until the fruit started to turn red. Then we began to find bites taken out of them. The Internet cast the blame at squirrels. The Internet casts blame for a lot of things at squirrels. I’m sure some of it is justified, but I bet some of it is thrown at them based solely upon reputation. Squirrels have a PR problem.

I wrapped chicken wire (or as the chickens prefer: flightless bird wire) around the pot. The depredations continued unabated. A friend suggested it must be birds attacking our tomatoes, but I’ve seen the mouths on the birds around our place and I doubt they’d leave teeth marks.

One day I noticed movement inside the wire. As I came closer, the movement noticed me. Up the wire scampered a dirty little red-faced chip monk. He leapt from the wire to the deck railing and was gone before I could do more than stomp my foot and yell at him to get a job.

What a nice chap. He left half of the only ripe one for us.

We slid the pot away from the railing and removed the accommodating wire. The thievery continues unabated.

To date, the tomato arithmetic has worked itself to a ratio of one tomato for us, one tomato for Chip. I guess that makes us Nature’s perfect socialists.