My Daughter, version 12.5

Strategy.

That’s the word my wife and I use most these days when discussing our 12-year-old daughter. We read parenting articles and strategize how best to deal with angry responses and other “tweenerisms.”

We do our best to stay calm when she ramps up and relives her toddler days, but with a greater mastery of the English language.

She is a missile. And we, at best, have a slim chance here and there to nudge her and redirect her flight path, helping her miss buildings and mountains – and us.

Gone in the explosion is my fantasy of having control over her direction – of logical father/daughter talks and sharing any wisdom of life I think I might have.

Nature vs. Nurture? Nature is winning. And hormones.

Don’t get me wrong, we love her and feel grateful to have her. But for me this stage has been the hardest.

As I’m an idiot, I thought it would be different – smooth – we’d talk out things. I underestimated the emotion of youth, her brain still forming, resulting in firecracker responses and logic crushed to death.

Delusional, I was, that we would get a pass on this stage.

Worst of all, she’s more like me than my wife. That scares me. All of the mistakes I made in my youth. I hope she can steer clear of the same behavior.

Oh, Universe, don’t let her be the same. Let her be smarter.

Despite the more challenging moments, there are the ones that remind me that it’s all worth it. For those, I’m grateful. Because without them, we’d let the wolves raise her – I’m kidding. Wolves would eat her. Kidding again.

One day, she might read this and I’m going to get my ass kicked. Oh, well, I’m used to it.

 

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A perfect day with my daughter (with an assist from a reader of this blog)

When you’re living in overtime, or extra time, bonus time – whatever you’d like to call the point at which every moment you have left matters (a lot) – you fall in love with the days when everything comes together and the Universe hands you a gift.

Toss in a little luck with an email from a reader of this blog and it becomes the “perfect” day.

With my wife fighting a cold, my 11 year-old daughter and I visited the Renegade Craft Fair,  located between Chinatown and Downtown LA. It was our holiday gift-finding adventure on a Saturday morning. And, as a bonus, the weather gods delivered the optimal temperature: 75 degrees, light breeze and crystal clear sky with minimal pollution that we could see.

Now just a bit of back story.

Usually I drag my daughter to early morning flea markets and swap meets in search of reclaimed wood and metal pieces and other unique items I can refinish for the house. Like the time we drove all the way to the Long Beach Flea Market and I told my daughter it might be chilly out and to dress warmly, only to get an 80-degree day. This led to “angry tweener syndrome,” which is a lot like walking the booths with the Tasmanian Devil at your side. It bites. So keep your eyes forward and ignore the snarling noises.

This image is from the Renegade Craft Fair site. It's located in other cites too. Check it out.

This image is from the Renegade Craft Fair site. It’s located in other cites too. Check it out.

What I’ve learned is my daughter at 11 has a very narrow range in her comfort zone. Tired, hot, and hungry all lead to beating up daddy with “grumpitude.”

But the Renegade Fair, with its jewelry and clothing, was more her style. And though she overdressed a bit, losing the wool scarf upon arrival, she took to the hip, LA cool of the place right away, especially when it’s almost Christmas and I’m footing the bill.

90 minutes later, we left with bags and more bags of soaps, caramel popcorn (peppermint was my favorite, curry, hers), seed bombs, fruit preserves, lip balms, and a hanging terrarium for her mom. We also rejoiced in helping small businesses and scoring great Christmas gifts. Double Bonus.

(Now the story shifts sideways for a moment.)

The best part of writing this blog is the people I’ve met online, from Van Nuys CA, not too far away, to Australia and England, and down south to Georgia. And Texas. And Boston. And Valencia CA. And Minnesota. I fear mentioning just these locations because they don’t cover all of my blog friends. But they’re far and wide.

I email back and forth with many of these wonderful and caring people and they prevent me from being completely hopeless and negative about humanity.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Larry emailed me and mentioned he saw a place TV show with a restaurant in LA called Homegirl Cafe and asked if I’ve ever been there. I haven’t. And it’s in Downtown LA, so I doubt I ever will, I tell him. But I research it, finding out Homeboy/Homegirl helps transform gang members with “Jobs, not Jail,” an excellent cause here in LA. I’m intrigued and put in on my mental bucket list.

Heaven, cucumber, lime and pineapple in a plastic glass. (Is that correct? Plastic glass? Hmm.)

Heaven, cucumber, lime and pineapple in a plastic glass. (Is that correct? Plastic glass? Hmm.)

So, as my daughter and I drive away from the craft fair, what restaurant do I pass?

If you guessed Homegirl, you are correct. (Larry, my friend, you are a Prince.)

The Universe said: Luck is your responsibility. 

U-Turn made.

Daddy, was that legal? 

We skip driving home and park at Homegirl.

Luck had found us thanks to a simple question in a simple email. And my daughter and I enjoy a great memory and brunch – a bacon omelette, in which she removes the bacon strip and tries to eat it all at once. “You eat like a barbarian,” I say. She smiled a big bacon smile.

The Universe rewarded me with an amazing Cucumber, pineapple and lime drink and I enter “foodie heaven” – and feel good about supporting a wonderful enterprise like Homegirl.

I read a theory on time once that stated it feels slow for us when we’re young because we fill it constantly with new experiences and memories. As we grow older, we create fewer new memories and time feels like it goes faster.

I’m not sure if the theory is correct or not, but I can say this: 4.5 hours of airway clearance a day, and three to four hospitalizations a year, are worth the price of admission to a life with days like this one.

Parenting for the upcoming zombie wars

As my daughter approaches her teen years, my level of stress and worry increases: drugs, alcohol, guns, driving, high school drama, school shootings, men and boys that may want to hurt her, ineffective antibiotics, the bird flu, and who knows what else my mind can conjure up.

Wait, I do know: the end of the world and the complete breakdown of society as we know it.

I've been watching too many Walking Dead episodes. © Jeffrey Collingwood - Fotolia.com

I’ve been watching too many Walking Dead episodes. © Jeffrey Collingwood – Fotolia.com

There I said it. Throw me in an underground holding tank with a deck of Uno cards and the rest of the doomsday nuts.

However, before you do, I wonder if I and others haven’t been approaching parenting the wrong way. I mean we’re the protective generation of parents, aren’t we? We do everything we can to keep our children safe, which is a good thing. But I  wonder if we should have been looking at the “big picture” instead of worrying about our kids falling off a swing at the park, or riding a skateboard without knee pads.

Like doing more to make sure they inherit a habitable Earth.

I know other generations of parents have worried about their children and the future. However, are we the first parents to ever have the concern of our planet being so screwed up it won’t be able to sustain life?

And, as life heads to a possible end with food and water shortages, overpopulation, a larger percentage of poor, rising sea levels and global warming, what will those last years of life on the planet be like?

Yes, I worry too much. I know. I just wonder while the majority of us are working our asses off, and paying bills, and putting food on the table, and figuring out how to pay medical bills, and stressing about our jobs, who is keeping the planet safe from harm?

Was that up to us too?

I think it was.

Parents of a Jr. High Schooler

I wonder if we had fed her less over the years, she would have stayed small and cuddly?

I wonder if we had fed her less over the years, she would have stayed small and cuddly?

I remember the day she popped out her mom. It was yesterday. Or it feels like it. I remember every detail of it.

Where did all of that time go?

Today, our daughter started Jr. high school. 6th grade. Holy Tweener, Batman, when did she get that old? I remember going to the school’s Christmas shows and thinking, “wow, look how big those Jr. high school students are. Glad that’s a long way off.”

I AM AN IDIOT. That time is here.

So, on my 29th work day in a row, I’m a little discombobulated by the speed at which my daughter aged. It seems very unfair. And, if there is a God, I’d like to register a complaint with her right now.

The sweet spot of childhood is definitely over. Ages 2 to 11 are the golden years – pajamas with feet, princess dresses, riding on my shoulders, Santa, the Easter bunny, Disneyland trips just before Christmas, a homemade dollhouse, the beach, bringing home a yellow lab puppy.

Don’t be surprised if you read my blog post in seven years about how I’m going to miss the last seven years and how quickly they went. It’s gonna happen.

Yes, Heaven, hello. Please connect me to the complaint department. I’d like to discuss the concept of time and childhood and how to improve it. Yes, I’ll hold. 

Day of the Dolphins

(Warning: No dolphins were harmed in the writing of this post. And, as it is with all human interactions in my life, everything is my fault)

Pop Quiz

1) The primary reason I, the Unknown Idiot, don’t go to children’s birthday parties is:

A. I hate birthday parties
B. All of the mothers stare at me and undress me with their eyes
C. I believe I will catch a cold and end up in the hospital
D. I break out in hives if I eat cake without first drinking a six-pack of Old Milwaukee

2) True or false: Raising an 11-year old daughter can, on certain days, make you want to ram your head into a brick wall.

A. True
B. False

********

I broke my rule of not going to birthday parties with my daughter. However, I had a good reason to jump aboard the most recent invite: whale watching.

Spending the afternoon on a boat on the Pacific Ocean looking for giant mammals? I was so there.

And there I was with my wife and daughter Sunday afternoon as we boarded a double-decker boat for a four-hour journey to the waters of two Channel Islands: Anacapa and Santa Cruz.

********

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

3) Approximately, how many Anacapa islands can you fit on Santa Cruz island?

A. 1
B. 10
C. 100
D. None unless you’re Godzilla and you like to tear up islands and move them other places

********

According to the tour guide, you can fit about 100 of the tiny Anacapa on Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. Good to know.

So, the boat ride was a blast, as the wind created exciting swells. I stayed on the covered upper level by myself, away from the lower deck, the elements, and the party with its toilets filled with vomiting parents, and had my own zen moments staring at the water and watching people flinch every time they thought a whale popped its head out of the water. None did.

I made trips outside to the exposed deck and cold wind – it was ball-freezing cold – and enjoyed the sun and heaving. I wore my hunting cap, not that I hunt, but it covers my ears better than the paper bag I usually wear over my head.

The offending pants. The front isn't looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The offending pants. The front isn’t looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The rest of my stylish ensemble included a windproof, lined jacket, turtleneck, two t-shirts and my special “hot pants.” Not the “hot pants” that models wear, though I am a male underwear model in my spare time and could totally get away with wearing the short type of hot pants.

When you're on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That's what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn't find the whales. But we found something better.

When you’re on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That’s what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn’t find the whales. But we found something better.

My hot pants, made by Abercrombie, are literally “hot” because they’re lined with flannel, keeping my rock-hard buns and jewels nice and warm on cold days. Unfortunately, after 15 plus years of wearing them, they’ve seen better days. One might say that I look homeless wearing them.

Oh, and they upset my daughter now that she’s a self-conscious 11-year old (more on this later).

Though no whales made an appearance during our trip, we did see something very special: hundreds of common dolphins racing to a feeding area occupied by hundreds of gulls.

Think: dolphin party.

They swam next to the boat, under the boat, around the boat, in the distance, and up and out of the water. Hundreds of them.

All I can add is that it’s a good thing the fuckers can’t fly because we would have shot them out of the sky and feasted on dolphin stew. Kidding, this isn’t “the cove” where killing dolphins is allowed.

No, this is California and we don’t eat our dolphins here. We love our dolphins. We shoot them with iPhones and digital cameras and post their pictures to our blogs with cute captions, like “Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.”

Back to the day trip.

It's very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don't listen to direction and surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

It’s very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don’t listen to direction or surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

Whales: zero, dolphins: a ton.

Back to shore we headed. Shortly after 5 we were off to downtown Ventura for some Thai food, where we joined a good friend and her daughter.

Now my daughter, who was tired and hungry from being in the cold and running around the boat with her friends, sat there on the vinyl bench-seat one wrong comment away from Tasmanian Devil mode.

And sure enough the spark arrived when her friend said to me: “Hey, you have holes in your pants.”

I find that lying in these situations is best.

“No, I don’t. You’re imagining things.”

But she stuck to her guns and disagree with my attempt to deflect by telling a blatant lie.

Hey, it's Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

My daughter’s eyes focused on me. Arms crossed. She shook her head in disgust.

“What?” I said to her in a light and fun tone, hoping to make her smile.

“You embarrassed me, daddy.” Repeat that sentence two more times.

Scene: Angry daughter, all conversation at the table halted.

Disappointed my usual charm didn’t work, I let it go and focused on my Tom Kha soup. I decided to discuss it at home and not get into a fight that would have led to the burning down of one of my favorite Thai food restaurants, then going to jail for it, with my daughter telling me, as they took me away in handcuffs, I shouldn’t have worn those pants,.

“But I didn’t even get to taste the pumpkin curry with chicken,” I would have said, adding to my wife, “Honey, get it to go. I’ll be out in five years. Wait for me.”

Well that didn’t happen. Fortunately.

But we did talk about it later, which was like me talking to a dolphin about not worrying about what other dolphins think of her daddy dolphin.

“What?” the daughter dolphin said. “No comprende human language.”

Then my daughter gave my wife some attitude and that was all she wrote. My wife delivered the hurt and guilt. Tears, crying, and an apology for moi. Nice job, Hon. Hey, that worked out. Boy, this parenting stuff is a boatload of fun. A boatload.

All I can think these days, and that night, as I tried to go to sleep and the bed rose and fell, “God, don’t let me mess her up for life.”

It was so easy when my daughter was 4 or 5 or 7. Now she’s a genius whirlwind of love and emotions, and dynamite.

Look at her the wrong way, wear the wrong pants, discount how she’s feeling about a situation (Mommy understands, you don’t), and “bang,” here’s a boat oar to the head.

But still, even with a cracked skull, it’s impossible not to love this little dophin girl more than life itself.

********

4) True or False: The loser known as Unknown is always one step away from a major disaster of some sort or another. 
A. True
B. True

The best Christmas ever (and I understand Charlie Brown much better now)

Here are my very simple criteria for what makes a Christmas, “the best Christmas”:

  1. Was I alive during it?
  2. Did I stay out of the hospital?

Check off both of those boxes this year. Thus, best Christmas ever. Check back next year and if those two boxes are checked again, you’ll see a post with the same title.

Though my present was Luna's bionic knee, I did get some stocking stuffers, like this BBQ mitt to keep me from burning the hair off my arm each time I cook the fish.

Though my present was Luna’s bionic knee, I did get some stocking stuffers, like this BBQ mitt to keep me from burning the hair off my hand and arm each time I cook fish.

You’ll notice there’s nothing on my checklist about the gifts I received during the holiday. Just living to see another Christmas and not being in the hospital are the only two gifts I care about now. When I was younger it was about the “stuff,” which would make the year I received a Sizzlers racetrack the best Christmas ever.

So, this Christmas was pretty awesome. We didn’t make any parental missteps like last year’s bicycle gift to my daughter. My wife and I gave her a bunch of eclectic gifts this year, including a messenger bag that she loved and carried around downtown Ventura two days later, which is amazing considering she’s allergic to carrying anything, especially groceries from the car to the house.

The art supplies Santa (my wife) bought her made her happy. And I went off the reservation, so to speak, this year, and ordered her several gifts without asking for my wife’s “voice of reason” opinion, which would have killed some of them. I just ordered stuff I thought my daughter would like: an origami book, a logic puzzle book, a scientific cookbook for kids, and a book on cupcakes.

Jackpot! I received zero, “Why is there a bicycle wedged in my stocking?” looks this year.

If there was one melancholy moment, it was at dinner the next night when my daughter challenged us to a logic puzzle. Both my wife and I made the big mistake of attempting it while we continued to eat, not paying attention that my daughter ignored her turkey and mashed potatoes and gave 100% of her young, healthy brain’s attention to the puzzle.

The two of us were halfway through it when she yelled out, “done.”

My favorite quote from the movie Aliens seems appropriate here: “What do you mean, THEY cut the power? How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”

So, my response was somewhat similar: What do you mean you finished? You did the entire thing? How did you do it that fast, you’re only 10?”

What happened to our little girl, the half-pint sponge who dressed up as Snow White and loved tea parties? Hello, computer-brained daughter whose main goal now is to have a mental throwdown with her parents, with little thought and compassion for their fragile adult self-esteem. What the heck are they teaching kids in fifth grade these days?

Round two. With fresh copies of a new puzzle in our hands and full concentration – dinner set aside – the three of us went at it again.

I also received a Kreg Jig Jr. I can go "pocket hole" crazy now.

I also received a Kreg Jig Jr. I can go “pocket hole” crazy now.

The scene: clock ticking loudly, sweat dripping off my brow, collar feeling tight, pencil slowly etching the paper, scribbled notes, stomach churning.

The result: My wife finished first, followed by my daughter two seconds later, followed by me – later.

Defeat, failure. Smashed by the two females in my house, an event that is happening way too often these days. ARGH, Charlie Brown, I know how you felt, my man. I know how you felt.

But if there is a silver lining to the beat down, I’m still the person they come to when their computers don’t work, or something in the house needs fixing. Luckily, the logic puzzles don’t extend to real life, and I still have some purpose and value left.

All hope is not lost yet, Charlie Brown.

Happy New Year to all.

Speaking to my daughter’s future self

I hope there is a God so one day I can thank her for my daughter.

Kicking back at the beach with a yellow Labrador pillow.

How I got so lucky, I will never know. But I did. And it’s best not to question why.

I’ll also thank the Universe for my wife, too, because I won the marriage lotto. And, as a jackpot bonus, she contributed all the best genes and qualities to my daughter, especially the love, goodness, and kindness – because our 5th grader didn’t get any of those from me.

I’m the guy with the low opinion of humanity who thinks the world is going to collapse under the weight of billions of people with resources to support millions. No matter how much ketchup you use, you can’t eat an iPhone or iPad, or fish from a poisoned ocean.

But there in the middle of the madness is my daughter, bright, shiny, ready to join the ride I’ll be getting off of soon. And it’s everything we can do to keep her from harm, especially the self-inflicted kind. It’s almost as if the important talks we have with her now anticipate that she will become someone else, someone different from her 10-year-old self.  We speak to her future self, which feels a bit sci-fi like, and hope what we tell her sticks, and she remembers it when needed years from now.

We have conversations about alcohol and drugs: One day a friend will offer you drugs, someone you never expected (disbelief from daughter). What will you do?  If your friend drinks too much at a party and wants to drive you home, will you remember to call us? We’ll pick you up. No judgment. 

When she is a teenager, will she still love us? That’s a question my wife and I ask ourselves a lot. I’m not as concerned. I’m just not. I can only do so much.

But now that my daughter is almost 11, I’m feeling sentimental and a little bit . . . scared?

I read too many news stories about harm coming to women. I used to worry about our cabinet doors being secure and the bumper around the coffee table being in place, or wearing her helmet while biking. The stuff I worry about now feels more real, harder to see, like it’s waiting outside, lurking – a jungle filled with scummy people, losers, and criminals. We can prepare her, coach her, but in that moment when she in on her own one day, what can we do?

Our neighbor’s adult daughter has a drug problem and history with the police. We use her as the poster child of what not to do with your life. But I still wonder what happened to her. What signs did the parents miss? What mistakes did they make? How did she go from bright, bubbly toddler to living in her car and homeless? How did that happen? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen to our daughter?

So, what does the future hold for our daughter? Will we prepare her properly to succeed in the world? I’m in no hurry to find out.