The secret league of horrible parents

We just won a moral victory of sorts. It took two months, and there were times I doubted the Fates would allow it, but now that it’s done, I feel free to speak of it.

I mentioned that our seven-year-old son was on a basketball team. If you saw that post, you may think our victory is a decision to keep score at the games, but it’s not. It may be even more valuable than that.

Over our three years in sports, there has not been a team that didn’t require a rotating list of hapless parents to bring healthy snacks for the kids to eat at the end of every game. The Team Snack was the Sacred Cow of youth athletics. God knows, kids playing ball for an hour would wither to dust if not fortified with granola and sugar-free fluids within seconds of the final whistle.

When I was a boy, we played all afternoon without a thought to our bellies, but then we were not enlightened enough to know we were doomed to die young for our bad habits. We drank whole milk too, to give you an idea of how recklessly ignorant we were. Our parents were the worst, making us have fun all the way until dinner time. For shame.

My wife and I dislike game-day snacks because we struggle to get to the games on time without having to remember the groceries, and it’s not like we can just grab a bag of Doritos or Oreos on the way out the door. These evil snacks we have, but only because our tragic upbringings neglected to teach us any better. Blame the 1970s.

old school

After the game, we had to take up the planking from the pasture and milk the cows before we could even think about eating. (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

They told us it couldn’t be done. They said the kids on a snackless team would grow envious of the other team’s snacks, though I don’t know a single kid who covets a V8 juice box and a bar of pine needles. Still, no one would want to be on the team whose bad parents didn’t do exactly what the good parents do.

So after the first practice, we waited for that email – the one organizing the snack rotation. We’d highlight a game on the schedule, dread it’s coming, and hope we were both available to attend, so all our children and all our snacks could be at the same place at the same time.

The email never came. The coach was new, and I don’t think she even thought about snacks, which makes me love her a little bit. For the entire season, we went to games where other teams had snacks. Our team never bemoaned our lack of snacks. I saw no indication they even noticed. From our team’s other parents, I never heard a peep about snacks. Our snackless rebellion was our little secret.

I now suspect that many parents dislike the post-game snack, but no one publicly decries it, because that might make them the worst parent ever, and who would ever dare flirt with that consequence?


Hay still smells good, but Daddy’s done with cows

For some strange reason, it smelled like a haymow on the second floor of my building yesterday. It’s not the kind of space that should smell like hay. Maybe somebody was just wearing an extra dose of Barnyard by Calvin Klein. Whatever the reason, it sent my mind reeling back to the 1970s.

The images in my memory were not ones of attempting to lug hay bales as big as myself, or of scratching up my arms on the rough edges of cut hay. They weren’t of getting blisters in the joints of my destined-for-office-work fingers from the friction of baler twine. They weren’t of trying to balance on a moving wagon while keeping out of the way of bigger kids who could actually heft the bales up onto the stack.

My memories were of building forts with bales in the mow; of playing hide and seek and tunneling between the stacks; of the hay smelling fun, not being the odor of sweat and hard work.

haymow diplomacy

Ah, those good old days! Making forts, hiding out, and negotiating international treaties in the wonderland of the haymow. It was good to be a kid. (Image: Ridson Tillery – US Farm Security Administration)

My wife once asked me if I regretted my children not having that kind of upbringing. I said no.

They’ll have much more opportunity in their suburban childhoods than I had in my rural one. They will have schools with more resources, and a wider variety of people with which to interact. They will miss out on some particular brands of fun, but they’ll miss much of that fun merely because it’s not the ‘70s anymore. Even in the country, it’s 2015, with 2015 rules and regulations.

A farm life would be good to teach them the value of hard work. It might teach them that you can smell bad and still walk tall, as long as you smell bad for a good reason, and only when necessary. It could teach them humility, as it did me when my job was to hold cows’ tails. Cows’ tails can get to be very – let’s call it grimy – and having to hold them tight can make a young dandy have to swallow a good portion of his pride.

All the cows are doin it

Even with a friend along to help talk to the cow into it, I still don’t want to do any more milking. (Image: John Vachon – US Farm Security Administration)

There can be many character benefits to a farm life, but I don’t want it for my boys. The selfish truth of the matter is I don’t want it for me, because if they lived on a farm, I’d have to live there too, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to start work at 4 a.m. and knock off after dark. I don’t want to carry blisters on my still perfect-office-worker fingers all through haying season. I don’t want to coerce milk from an animal who doesn’t feel like giving it up, or even one who does. I don’t want my livelihood held hostage by the weather or a far-away commodities market. And I never want to have to grab hold of another cow’s stinky, sticky, wet tail again.

I’ve decided the second floor of my building smelled more like a silo. Silos were always dark and damp inside. I never had any fun in a silo.

Is it too late to rename them Barry, Robin, and Maurice?

I am prone to bouts of nostalgia for the 1970s. It was the decade of my innocent years. The ‘70s began with me forming my earliest memories and ended with me standing on the cusp of teenagerdom. It is appropriate that I have a soft spot for those days.

Why my children so easily follow me into that ‘70s groove, I can’t explain. The decade of their formative years is not half over with yet. They should be assembling the mental scrap book that will draw their hearts back to these good old days in times to come. Maybe they are, but in their spare moments, they are boogying back to the ‘70s right beside me.

Musically, the ‘70s decade was an odd dichotomy of timeless classics and curious songs that seemed fitting at the time, but now make me wonder what other questionable choices were being made by the grown-ups of my youth.

This doesn’t mean these song aren’t still fun to sing, especially if you are riding in the car with the other two members of your boy band strapped into their respective booster and toddler car seats.

When Le Freak (remembered by children of the ‘70s as Freak Out!) came on the radio, my bandmate in the booster said, “Oh yeah, I know this song.” I found that a little odd since I’d heard it about five times since sixth grade and not at all since he was born.


The record that made us all freak out.

As if sensing my skepticism, he began singing along to every “Freak Out!” – of which there are many.

I’m convinced our bandmate in the toddler seat did not know this song, but he picked it up quickly. He began echoing every “Freak Out!” his brother sang. This being a new number to him, he was just a little off the lyric so that his contribution sounded like “Eee Ow!”

Being the founding member of the band, I could not sit idly by. There was no room between instances of “Freak Out!” to add a second echo, so I took up the role of singing the “Awwwwwww” buildup to each “Freak Out!”

Altogether, we drove down the road sounding like this:

Driver’s seat: “Awwwwwww”

Booster seat: “Freak Out!”

Toddler seat: “Eee Ow!”

Repeat the cycle.

A lot.

It’s the main feature of the song.

Back in the day, it seemed like a fun song. Then it seemed like a stupid song. Now, it’s a fun song all over again. That’s the magic of the ‘70s.

It put us all in good mood.

When the new baby is up to singing, I may just bow out of the group and see if we’ve got a brand new generation of Bee Gees on our hands. Being a child of the ‘70s, nothing could be more appealing to me. If Chic could put me a good mood, driving around with my own set of Bee Gees in the back seat would put me on top of the world.

Bee Gees

I’m thinking my new Bee Gees won’t be quite so hairy.