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.

Stuck training the new guy

If you’ve ever had to train a new employee, and the guy was taking a long time to catch on to tasks you could do without a moment’s thought, you might have found yourself thinking the same things as I did the other afternoon.

I was attempting to train a new worker how to use the leaf blower to herd dead leaves into one big pile. There is a profound difference between creating wind and using it to affect some purpose. His insensibility to this, and the resulting random rearrangement of leaves, led me to my first great trainer’s cliché. “It would be so much easier to just do this myself,” I thought.

But that would mean sending my trainee away discouraged. I worked with him on the rudiments of directional leaf blowing. It was a hard sell, which inspired my next trainer’s lament. “This guy has the intellectual capacity of a five-year-old,” I said to myself.

I spent 20 minutes walking sideways with him, shrinking the perimeter of ground covered by leaves. It was probably that I was uncomfortably hunched over the entire time, helping him aim the blower nozzle, that led me to my final nugget of trainer’s wisdom. “I’d be better off trying to teach a first-grader to do this,” I muttered.

This is when I discovered that statements made to relieve frustration (and back pain) lose much of their impact when reality robs them of their comforting hyperbole.

The new employee had the intellect of a five-year-old because he was exactly five years old. It wasn’t my idea to hire him for this work. He volunteered. In fact, he volunteered so vehemently that I’m sure he would have run into the house crying if I’d denied him his training.

Little boys are fascinated by power tools. Combine the necessity of plugging it in to an electrical outlet with the magic of creating wind, and the leaf blower is a kid magnet. Unfortunately, the power of the gods comes with a steep learning curve for a kindergartener.

To his credit, he stuck with the training, and the associated parental scowls, long enough to get the hang of it. When our herd of leaves was under control, I let him go solo.

He even earned a short break for the obligatory leap into the pile.

rewards of hard work

I just hope this doesn’t make him think that after his first day of training at McDonald’s they’ll let him jump into a pile of hamburgers.

But the days grow short this time of year, and there was a large pile of leaves to vacuum and bag. He wanted to take training on this process too, but the machine was a little tall and heavy for him to hold upright. It was clear that his workday was over when he began throwing armfuls of leaves at me and shouting, “Confetti!”

Leaf fort

Makes you wonder how many children get bagged up and carted away with the leaves every year.

In the end, he learned a little bit, and I learned a lot. I have to practice being more patient with my volunteer helpers. As to whether I would be better off trying to train a first grader, well, I guess we’ll find that out next year.

Baby steps toward superstardom

Last spring I expressed my desire to use the summer to expose our five-year-old to playing sports. I didn’t put him into organized leagues because I wanted him to have more time to be a disorganized kid and figure out what he likes. Also, leagues cost money, and I’ve been in a cheapskate mood for the last 30 years.

Now that summer is over, it’s time for an update on his progress as an athlete. All of these wonderful advancements were accomplished under the tutelage of only his tepidly athletic dad.

Baseball

I’m not sure this is one of his favorites, as he never asked to play catch. I am happy to boast that he did successfully get all of his fingers into his baseball glove one time. This was not because he wanted to throw the ball with me, but because his friends found a ball and some bats in the garage and wanted to play. I can also proudly report that despite there being three Kindergarteners in the yard with a ball and bats, no windows were broken. Those are the kinds of fundamentals a dad can really appreciate.

Archery

We only tried this once, but he showed promising talent at sticking a foam skunk. This is a twist, since he spent all last year pretending to be a skunk.

in pursuit of the foam skunk

Skunks used to be the coolest animal. Now, they’re the coolest animal target.

Football

Now this is real progress. He no longer runs away when I toss the football in his direction. He might turn his back and layer his arms over his head, but keep in mind we’re not using helmets or pads yet. He is completely unprotected from the injury that Nerf sponge could cause him. Occasionally he will actually stretch his arms out toward the ball, but this usually ends with him swatting the dangerous missile away.

Basketball

He can now dribble a basketball up to three consecutive times with one hand. He has yet to fully comprehend that he needs to push the ball with his hand rather than just slap at it. This leads to diminishing returns after each dribble. By the fourth one, he is squatting down, slapping a ball that is resting on the ground. I may be a rulebook stickler, but I don’t count beating a dead ball as dribbling.

baby slam

Little Brother is a natural athlete. Here he is at six months, perfecting his dunk.

Soccer

He’s pretty good at soccer. When he kicks the ball he doesn’t usually miss the target by more than 75˚ to either side. He still likes to kick the ball with his toe, like he’s playing kickball, but he rarely misses it anymore. He only uses his hands as an absolute last resort, even less so after that time he got his finger kicked. It’s amazing how much a little pain keeps one mindful of the rules.

All in all, it’s been a productive summer. Sure, the little man displays lots of natural talent, but raw talent needs to be molded. Hence, much of the credit for his blossoming as a superstar athlete must be assigned to his awesome coach.