Kids in the Backseat: What the Hell Is Going On Back There?

What is it about the backseat of a car that seems to instigate bad behavior? Most parents would agree that they would prefer their kids to be on their best behavior in public and act out at home rather than the opposite. But what about the car? It is neither home nor out. They feel the freedom of the open road, and yet are confined in their seat. Mom and Dad are there, but out of reach. It is the wild west, where children seem to think that rules don’t apply.

A Backseat Turf War

My kids could be having great days, being nice to each other, and in great moods, until they get in the backseat of a car. Once they are buckled in, they suddenly feel the need to engage in a car seat version of trench warfare. Much suffering is inflicted, but there is nothing to be gained. The sacred space that is the two inches between their seats is never possessed, only fought over. On a few occasions I’ve told my kids to pretend there is an invisible wall between them, but it presents more confusion than solutions and it becomes a game to go through the wall. On the bright side, it stops them from fighting each other. However, they’ve stopped fighting each other because they are now united against a common enemy – me and my wall.

All things being equal, I’d rather they be against me than each other. The front seat can handle their aggression and is equipped to squash any rebellion, but a backseat divided against itself cannot stand.

The Worst Words You’ll Ever Hear

In my 7th grade history class it was permanently impressed in my brain that World War I was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip (shout out to Mr. Coles). It is now permanently impressed in my brain that Backseat War to End all Wars is precipitated by three words – she’s touching me.

Physical contact, not matter how accidental, is not tolerated in the backseat. Never mind the fact that when they are playing they literally sit on each other, the page of a book grazing somebody’s hand is an indisputable act of aggression. Crossing legs is just begging to be kicked. Using somebody else’s arm rest? Get ready for scorched earth.

Short Trips: A False Sense of Safety

I understand kids acting out on long car trips, but I also prepare accordingly. Books, toys, and snacks are must. They still have their moments, and I completely sympathize with that. If you’re in the car for several hours, you can’t expect your kids to be good the whole time, just be glad you have modern conveniences that previous generations of parents didn’t have. What completely blows my mind however, is that by my calculations roughly 103% of all back seat arguments happen in the 10 minutes or less ride to school.

On most days, I have three kids to drop off at three different places. I drop my son off first, and his day care is 5 minutes from our house. It is extremely common that somebody is yelling at somebody by the time we are half way there. When I take my son inside, I leave my two girls alone in the car for 2 minutes. It is extremely common that somebody is crying by the time I get back. Apparently the four sentences they would have had time to say in that time period were very offensive.

Again, what is it about the mix of freedom and confinement of the back seat? They know Dad isn’t in the car so they feel they can say what they want, but they are strapped in their seat and can’t remove themself from the situation should it go south – which, of course it will. They aren’t home, so the rules of home don’t apply, but they aren’t in public so the social pressure of manners doesn’t apply either. They are neither indoors nor outdoors, so inside voices aren’t necessary.

No. No you won’t.

Perhaps most importantly, they face no immediate repercussions for their actions. They can’t yet make the connection that once we get where we are going they will need to answer for their actions in the car. If they are being little jerks on the way to school, the threat of going to their room once they get home from school 7 hours later is too far off to matter. As popular of a threat that it might be, lets be honest, you are not turning this car right back around. You’re an adult on a weekday, you’ve got places to go.

I am sure they will grow out of this, at least I hope so. I’ve got three kids and none of them are big enough to sit in the front seat yet, so a vehicle big enough where each kid can get their own row is not practical. Would it be kind of fun rolling up to the pre-school drop-off in a limo – absolutely. Is preventing Operation Car Seat Storm worth getting a CDL – probably not. I guess I’ll just keep trying to achieve peace in our time, and if I can’t do that I’ll just turn up the radio a little louder.

Preschool Boyfriends, Girlfriends, and Marriage

Having two girls, I know that boyfriends would some day come into the picture. Part of me completely dreads it, but part of me really looks forward to intimidating the young suitors that they bring home. I completely understand that it is probably not the most mature thing, but I really think I’ll get way more enjoyment than I should from busting some 13 year-old dweeb’s chops. Turns out 13 years might be about 9 and a half years too late.

While me and my 3 year-old daughter were sitting at the breakfast table, enjoying some nice conversation over bowls of cereal, she told me about one of the grown up girls at church (a Sunday school aide) who has her very own cell phone. Not only that, but she uses that cell phone to send texts to her boyfriend. My daughter was very impressed. At first I thought he was struck by the fact that a kid could have their own phone, and I braced myself for her asking for one. I did not, however, brace myself for her informing me that she had a boyfriend too.

Now, I know that she in fact does not have a boyfriend because no chops have yet been busted, but I was curious to see where this was going.

“O yeah? Who is your boyfriend?” I asked.

“Hugo,” she responded with a smile.

After confirming that Hugo was also aware of this situation, I asked her what makes him her boyfriend.

“I stare at him,” she said. “We stare at each other.”

Never mind some kind of puppy love, this must be more serious than I thought. I mean, sitting there staring at each other is like 80% of marriage. Most of me knows that she had the concept of a boyfriend on her mind and she probably associated that a boy in her class that she happens to play with, but part of me couldn’t help but wonder if she really was developing a little crush this boy. Should we have him over for a play date? Should I greet him an overly aggressive handshake? What are his intentions with my daughter other than the apparent staring contests they’ve been having?

I was fully prepared to not think about it again, but as luck would have it Hugo happened to be right in front of us in the drop off line at preschool later that morning.

“There’s Hugo!” she said as she did a little wiggle in her car seat as if she was playing charades and was acting out the sound the “OOoooohhhOOOOohhh” sound the studio audience made when two sitcom characters kissed. A reaction like that made me think that perhaps this is a little crush.

“He’s your boyfriend,” her older sister chimed in.

So apparently Hugo has already been discussed between the sisters? Is this serious? Have her illegible scribbles been her way of trying to write “Evie + Hugo 4Ever?”

I needed to get a look at this boy. He was walking away from us so all I could see was that he has the same haircut that all 3 year-old boys have. Not a lot to work with. I did notice that his Dad was very tall. Or perhaps average height, he was standing next to a preschooler so its kind of hard to tell. He had a full head of salt and pepper hair, and based on the window stickers on his Subaru, he seemed outdoorsy. These initial five seconds worth of impressions made it clear to me that my kid could do a lot worse than Hugo.

“Are you going to marry him?” her older sister asked. Getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but ever since they were in their aunt’s wedding the girls have been very interested in getting married. Not to anybody in particular either. They have said they are going to marry me, their uncles, and their baby brother. Us not being hill-people, those clearly are not real options. But Hugo?

“No,” she replied, “I am going to marry Judson. He’s so handsome.”

Where the hell did that come from?

Artist’s rendition of my daughter.

Less than a minute ago she was wiggling in her seat for the lad, and she’s willing to drop him like a bad habit for the handsome kid. The little Jezebel. I feel like I need to course correct this. If she is dropping a perfectly short kid with a perfectly average haircut now, what kind of a bitch is she going to be in high school? I can’t let my kid grow up to be a kind of person I’d hate. It is a slippery slope from here to telling a guy who asked to you prom that you’ll go with him, unless somebody else asks. Is she going to keep one eye out for a handsomer handsome guy right up until she says “I do?” What ever poor bastard she ends up with better have ugly groomsmen.

I had no idea what to say to that so I handed her her backpack and she walked into school. Probably to go string Hugo along. Poor little guy. What if he really does think she is his girlfriend? What if staring at my daughter from across the Lego table is the highlight of his day? Maybe Judson’s dad also has a wonderful salt and pepper mane, but I don’t think I care to find out. And if I ever meet this kid I am going to give him a knuckle crushing handshake. My daughter can make her choices, but I’m on Team Hugo.

Now My Kid Knows What War Is

While sitting at dinner, my 5 year-old informed me that, “Dad, there is a war today.”

I cringed on the inside. She now lives in a world where war is real and not just a scary scene from Mulan, and a generation of kids has been failed by those that came before them.

Armed conflicts, and current international affairs in general, are not our typical dinner time conversation, so I asked her where she heard that. Apparently a kid in her kindergarten class had heard about it at home. I don’t know this kid or their family, but based on my limited impression of them they definitely seem like people who listen to NPR on the ride to school. I’m more of a listen to Springsteen kind of a guy. But it was brought up, and discussed in class. My daughter told me that war was when a bunch of bullies were starting a fight. You won’t finder a better definition. Except for maybe “all war is hell.”

My initial reaction was that I hate that my kid now aware of this, even if only in the most general sense. The more I thought about it, what really bothers me is that in the year 2022, people still see waging war as a thing to do. For all the advancements we’ve made in other areas, when it comes to conflict we have made essentially no progress in the history of man. Actually, I take that back. We can kill people at a much larger scale now.

I felt bad because my daughter is aware of war, but that is nothing compared to the children living in it. My kid heard a news story about a war? Boo-hoo. Somewhere thousands of kids just had their fathers murdered because they happen to live on a piece of land that a sociopath wants to take in the name of a power grab. Like I said, we’ve failed another generation.

These children of war will undoubtedly continue to live in a world of violence. One war always creates another. The cycle will continue until people are in place to make it stop. Sadly, it is all too common that the kinds of people who rise to positions of power are also the kinds of people who are sociopaths, narcissists, and value power over actual values. (Here is a great listen on power, the kinds of people who seek it, and what happens when they get it.) Today’s power seeker will kill to get it – or more accurately have other people kill for him – until he dies, and he’ll replaced by the next lunatic. Rinse, repeat, and raise another group of kids left make the most of life in war-torn country or as a refugee seeking a new life somewhere. Buy hey, some guy got to lay claim to a patch of dirt that people will still get to fight over for the next decade or so. It’s good to be king, am I right?

Hopefully this cycle will change with future generations. Maybe our kids will be intelligent enough to not see violence as a means to an end but as a desperate act of the mentally unstable. Maybe they will become leaders driven by principles over profit, and value virtue over being really popular on Twitter. Maybe they will stand up to bullies and lunatics at a young age rather than enable them until its too late. Maybe they will value knowledge over opinion. Maybe. But in order for that to happen they need to see that kind of behavior in action. Who is going to be that model? If it’s going to be us, we need to do better.

Hopefully at some point a generation of kids will only know war from history class. Kids will learn about war with the same grossed out disbelief that we learned about chamber pots. Somebody, but we clearly aren’t there yet. I asked my daughter if the war was a good thing or a bad thing. She gave me a silent thumbs down. If only more world “leaders” had the simple wisdom of a 5 year-old.

Dad Takes It Away

Before you have kids you really have no idea what kind of a parent you’ll actually be. You’ll have an idea of the kind of parent you’ll want to be, but until it’s your job to stop a tiny baby from crying there is absolutely no way of knowing for sure. Over time you develop your parenting style – some of it on purpose, some of it on accident, and some of it out of pure necessity. For example, I purposely make the conscious effort not to tell my kids no when they ask if I can play with them or pick them up. I accidentally discovered that the best solution to calm down a cranky baby at bed time is with sad country music. Out of necessity, I discovered that my go-to action for stopping any dispute, correct any behavior, or implement any punishment is to take it away. Whatever it is.

It starts small enough, a baby slams their sippy cup on the table over and over again, so I took it away. Baby hits me with toy, I took it away. Baby rips pages out of a book, I took it away. It is effective for babies in that they have the immediate tangible consequence. They had a thing, they were mean with the thing, Dad takes the thing. A very straightforward way to train your kids to behave a certain way. Well, wouldn’t you know the damnedest thing happened – I trained myself.

I have come to the realization that my immediate reaction is to take the thing from my kids. Whatever it is. Looking back, there was a time when I removed the bedside table and all its contents from my daughters’ room when they were being too silly at bedtime. So a table, radio, lamp, humidifier, water bottles, and books were placed in the kitchen until they woke up the next morning. I also went through the house and collected every bottle of lotion and put them out of reach. Because they were taking it when they weren’t supposed to, five bottles of Aveeno took up residence on top of my dresser for a week. When my daughter lied to me and told me she finished her dinner and started eating her dessert, I literally took candy from a baby. Took her roll of Smarties and fired them into the trash can as she watched in horror. Though, to be fair, Smarties are trash candy anyway and I was actually doing her a favor.

I am sure there are a thousand more over the years, and they were all done without a second thought. Last week, I finally recognized and overcame this impulse when it reached, what I realized, was a new level of absurdity. After the full bedtime routine of getting in jammies, getting stories, and getting tucked in, my two daughters refused to stay in their rooms and go to sleep. At one point, they got up and changed out of their jammies into the clothes they wanted to wear the next day. About two hours after their bedtime, they finally got to sleep. The next day was a school day so they couldn’t sleep in, and wouldn’t you know it, the next day at bed time they were over-tired and worse than the night before. They did the exact same thing of changing out of jammies and into their clothes for the next day.

Quick two things. One, how stupid is it that kids get over-tired? If you are tired, shouldn’t it be easier to go to sleep? Shouldn’t rest be a desirable thing if you can barely keep your eyes open? Two, if my kids can change out of jammies and into their clothes in the middle of the night (and by middle of the night I mean 9:30 PM), then why do they beg me to help get them dressed each morning? They showed their hand. Fools.

Anyway, I decided enough was enough. If they didn’t want to stay in their pajamas, then not only would I not help them change into them, but they wouldn’t even have them. I was going to take the jammies. While they were gone at school I was going to go into their drawers and take all the jammies. That’ll teach em! Wouldn’t that teach em? I mean, it seemed like a good idea at first and definitely in line with the kind of disciplinary measures they’ve come to expect. And I was honestly very curious to see how’d they’d react when they’d get ready for bed that night. But then I thought, what if they were fine with it? What if they just started sleeping in their normal clothes? If they developed that habit now, would they ever get out if it? Do I want my kids to stay in their jammies at night? Yes. When they get older do I want them to be the weird kid at the sleepover who goes to bed in jeans? Absolutely not. Slippery slope from there to swimming in a pair of shorts rather than a real bathing suit.

I decided to leave the jammies be. But what is it that has become so ingrained in me to take things from my kids? Is it the remnants of the primitive instinct to be the hunter/gatherer/provider and the flip-side of that is the taker? I provided them with that 24 pack of markers, so it is in my nature to take it back. Is it some innate sense of God-like power that comes from the fact that I created them, and as such, have the power to givith and taketh away the construction paper? Is there a better way to handle these situations where I end up taking something from them? Surely there is some wisdom I can give, some discussion we can have to articulate expectations of behavior and the consequences of when those expectations aren’t met.

The next day at dinner my wife and I explained to our kids why it was important to go to sleep at bedtime, and let them know why the way the had been behaving wasn’t right. They agreed. They understood. They acknowledged that if they got out of their beds for any reason other than to go to the bathroom that there would be consequences. That night they tried to sneak out of their beds at least three times. I took all of their stuffed animals.

A Child’s Laughter: From Adorable to Annoying

There is no sweeter sounds to a parent’s ears that the first time they hear their baby laugh. A tiny little coo or a bubbly little giggle, these are great. The first time they give you a solid belly laugh, the stuff dreams are made of. A kid’s genuine laughter is almost magical. Emphasis on genuine, because a child’s feigned cackle is the exact opposite. Well, maybe not the exact opposite. I suppose the exact opposite would be crying, though I honestly don’t know which one is worse.

Of all the difficult things a parent needs to do, making a kid laugh isn’t that hard. Between funny words (never underestimate the inherent comedy in the word “underpants”) and a good old fashioned tickle, a parent doesn’t actually need to be funny to make their kids laugh. Which is good news for parents, because trying too hard to be funny is where the infamous dad joke comes from. Crappy dad jokes aside, real laughs from a kid are plentiful, yet somewhere along the line they break out a guffaw as fake as it is annoying.

I find that most often these faux laughs come out in response to their own behavior. As if pretending to laugh is the signal to everybody else that what they did was actually funny. Like a sitcom laugh track, it is almost convincing enough to pass as genuine if you don’t actually notice it. The best purpose it can serve is white noise, however, unlike canned laughter used to que you in that what Balki just said was meant to be funny, a small child is incapable of being white noise. Their noise must be front and center. It must be noticed and acknowledged. So when my child says something they they really want to drive home as being a funny, they suddenly change from a kid making what they think is a joke to Ray Liotta busting a gut while Joe Pesci amuses him.

My five year-old after call me “Taddy” instead of “Daddy”.

What is that? Where do they learn that? Even if I accidentally stoop to the level of a dad joke, I never follow up with an over the top hardy-har-har. I follow it with a moment of shame and deep disapointment in myself. I wonder if that is how they feel after fake laugh? Do they panic and think “Oh no, what have I done? I better cover this up by slapping my sister!” Actually, I bet it isn’t far off. If there is one thing parents learn, is that over the top laughter (be it fake or real) is inevitably followed by tears because nobody can ruin a child’s fun like themself.

Perhaps they learned it from school. One day a kid walks into class and does his best Jerry Lewis impression and the next think you know there are 25 kids all yukking it up at themselves. If that really is the case, then for no other reason teachers really are underpaid for their efforts.

If it isn’t a learned behavior, is it instinct? Some primal reaction based on a deep seeded need to make the people around us happy? Do animals do some version of this? If so, it has to be responsible for half of cases of animals eating their young. When a child cries, our natural instincts kick in and we become caregivers. When a child genuinely laughs, we get a true feeling of purpose and our own joy in what we’re created. When a child spews forth a harsh cackle so over the top that Janice from Friends sound normal, in a very instinctual way, you want to tell them to shut the hell up. Sure, it might make them cry, but I honestly would take real anything over fake laughter.

Turning the Volume Up: A Parenting Strategy

As Garth Algar pointed out, parents hate any music played at the appropriate level. Perhaps it is generational, but to me certain music just sounds better loud. It is a scientific fact (probably) that you can’t play Welcome to the Jungle loud enough. There are certain songs that as soon as they come on the radio, you instinctively reach for the volume to turn it up. Usually, this is just out of pure enjoyment, but I discovered an alternate use for turning it up to eleven – drowning out your crying kid in the backseat.

This strategy previously used to ignore annoying sounds the car is making that you don’t actually know how to fix, is also very useful for ignoring annoying sounds your child is making that you don’t actually know how to fix. Though more accurately, you do know how to fix them, but your child has no interest in arriving at a practical solution. They’ve decided to go all in on their tantrum and there is no turning back. They are pot committed on being a little asshole. Little do they know, I’ve got a chip and a chair (and a volume knob) and they don’t scare me.

To give you some background, I picked up my daughter from Kindergarten and we stopped home for a little bit before going to pick up my younger two kids from day care. While we were home, she asked for snack. I said no, wait until we get your brother and sister and then we can all have a snack together. She took this suggestion as a grievous insult on a very personal level. She kept asking, I kept saying no. The meltdown was underway. A Larabar was the hill she had chosen to die on. She whined and cried getting shoes on, jacket on, and getting out the door. By the time we got into my truck, whines were turning grunts. Fun fact: when my daughter gets really mad she grunts like some kind of wild boar trying to establish dominance at the water hole. I enjoy my time in my truck, and I enjoy my music. Rather than let her ruin that, I decided to use it to my advantage.

Much like Gandhi, I decided to meet this aggression with a mellowness that will still resonate and deliver a message. I put on the Rolling Stones and turned it up. Tumbling Dice poured out of the speakers, and screams poured out of her face. I turn it up more. She screamed more. Volume up again. At this point, she wasn’t screaming about her snack anymore, she was screaming at me to turn the music down. I left the volume at an appropriate level and completely ignored the screams from the back seat, though the more desperate she got, the more entertaining it was. As her frustration with my passive aggressive audio assault grew, her anger grew to the point of threatening to rip off her ears. I was almost entirely certain she wouldn’t actually do that, so the volume stayed where it was all the way to the day care.

By the time we were driving back home, she was calm, and I think pretty embarrassed. Keith Richards triumphs again. While I would certainly love it if my kids would just behave in the car, part of me can’t wait until somebody in the backseat starts to whine, pout, or cry. I can teach them a lesson on behavior and good music all at the same time. Perhaps I’ll employ this strategy elsewhere. Between my phone and an Alexa, Led Zeppelin loud enough to turn my kids’ into white noise is never out of reach. What a time to be alive. I pity those poor parents of generations before me who were only armed with Glenn Miller and a Victrola. Of course, those parents would have just hit their kids until they got quiet. Look at me, promoting non-violence in parenting. I really am just like Gandhi.

Dad Food: Leftover Chicken Nuggets

As Chris Rock pointed out, the least you can give a Dad to eat is the big piece of chicken. While mostly true, the actual least you can give Dad to eat is a half-eaten chicken nugget. Oddly enough, this is mostly what Dad eats. Like any other kid, I ate my fair share of chicken nuggets growing up. I don’t know how many nuggets I ate in my life before I became a parent, but I am pretty sure I’ve eating ten times as many sense. Sometimes there are bites missing. Sometimes they are completely untouched. Sometimes they’ve been sitting in a puddle of honey for an hour. Every time they are not originally prepared for my consumption.

Dads Hate Food Waste

In fairness, I couldn’t let good food go uneaten before I had kids. Or even average food for that mater. If a doughnut from Friday was left in the office over the weekend and come Monday morning it had the consistency of a hockey puck, you better believe I’m dunking that rock hard sumbitch in my coffee and calling it biscotti.

However, my attitude has shifted from one of “somebody should probably eat that last bagel” to “I paid good money for that bagel.” Its amazing how your perspective on food going uneaten changes when the groceries are going on your credit card. A cold chicken nugget that previously had parts of it in and around a toddler’s mouth becomes much more palatable when you bought them yourself and they weren’t even on sale. Slobbered on or not, somebody has to eat that nugget, and Dad is that somebody. Nuggets with bites out of them, abandoned pizza crusts, nibbled on hot dogs, previously melty but now re-solidified grilled cheese – these are the staples of a Dad’s diet.

A bit of Dad advice: invest in dipping sauces, they are the key to revitalizing your kid’s abandoned scraps. An hours old nugget is a perfectly acceptable vehicle for some quality barbecue sauce.

Uneaten Kids’ Meals Cause Dad Bod

There are many contributing factors to dad bod:

  • Time previously available for going to the gym is now spend keeping small people alive.
  • Playing actual sports have been replaced by athletically themed drinking activities – softball and golf.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio is totally pulling it off.
  • You’re a dad, who are you trying to impress?
  • An entire kid’s meal (minus five bites or less) is eaten as a dessert to your actual meal.

We try to take our kids out to restaurants as a means to introduce them to the world they live in. To teach them how to act in public. To get free crayons. We gave up on the idea of taking our kids out to eat for them to actually eat when our daughter didn’t eat the moderately over-priced mac and cheese we got her because she said it was (I shit you not) “too cheesy.” Fret not, the mac and cheese did not go uneaten.

I am pretty sure the only kids’ meals that I’ve not ended up finishing are pancakes with happy face whipped cream. I wonder what would happen if I put a whipped cream face on a burger? Actually I don’t, I know exactly what would happen. My kid would lick off the whipped cream and peel the cheese off, and I’d end up eating a wet bun and a cheese-less meat patty. Its no big piece of chicken, but I paid good money for that meat patty.

Don’t Make a Kid Clean Their Plate

One reason I end up with uneaten kid food is my own doing. In our house, we don’t make the kids eat all their food. They have to take at least a bite of everything, and they do need to eat as much as we say to get dessert, but we don’t make them sit there and force down their food. If my kid tells me they’re full, that’s fine. If they tell me they don’t like their chicken nugget because its “too spicy” even though it is the exact same brand of chicken nugget they always have but this one just happens to be in the shape of a dinosaur and apparently dinosaur nuggets are spicy, that’s cool. I may not be able to tolerate food going uneaten, but I’m not going to be a dick about it. Just pass me the buffalo sauce.

Though it is amazing how motivated my kids are to eat if they know what dessert lays ahead. On the rare occasions my daughter actually does eat all her dinner, it takes her roughly three hours. However, once we told her she could pick the big brownie, she threw down her dinner in the blink of an eye. I may be entitled to the big piece of chicken, but if it means my daughter will eat her peas then giving up the big brownie is a small price to pay. Plus, odds are she won’t finish it anyway and I’ll get to finish it. Might even got to have a few bits of it as floaties in orange juice. Yum.

This Is What Parental Failure Looks Like

Even before you have kids you wonder if you’ll be a good parent. After you have kids, you wonder even more. It can be pretty easy to be hard yourself. You really need to remember that nobody is perfect, and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Even though we know this, there are times when you can’t help but feel like you’ve failed. However, I think the bar for parental failure isn’t as high as we think it is. The bar has officially been set at being charged with manslaughter for the murders your teenage child committed.

In the same way that C’s get degrees (see my transcripts for proof), it doesn’t take an extraordinary effort to prevent failure as a parent. But it does take some effort. Some level of attention needs to be paid to your child and their behavior. Seems to me involuntary manslaughter is a result of involuntary parenting.

While it is not always the case with teenage murderers, the warning signs with the kid in Oxford were obvious and abundant, and the deaths were 100% preventable. If only there was somebody in that kid’s life who could have been paying attention to him. Maybe even somebody who lived in the same house as him and would know what is going on with him on a daily basis. Maybe somebody who had an active interest in making sure he was developing properly. Somebody who could help him get the mental health treatment he so clearly needed. Too bad all he has was somebody to supply him the murder weapon.

I am not saying it isn’t the kid’s fault, or even that I feel sorry for him. He’s human trash. But I am saying he wasn’t born that way. It took years for this kid’s mental state to breakdown to the point where mass murder seemed like a thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon. Teenagers lack the self awareness to realize they are dressed terribly, so they can’t possibly be expected to have the ability to take corrective measures for their own mental health. It was the parents’ job to help, and not only did they fail to do so, they actively made it worse. The murderer’s choice to act was his own, the failure to correct the course he was on up to that moment is the failure of his parents. I know there is still stigma around needing mental help, but we live in a time where getting that help has never been easier. But I guess giving the gift of mental health isn’t as cool of Christmas gift as a murder weapon is. What will they give him for his birthday? A shiv?

I hope charging the parents for the crimes of the child becomes standard practice. If a parent can’t be bothered to take an active role in their child’s life because it is the right thing to do, I wonder if they would do it to avoid criminal charges? Sad that it might take the threat of prison to motivate a parent to give a shit, but I guess that is where we are. At least it would be something we could do to prevent school shootings rather than the nothing we’ve been doing since Columbine. I was in middle school when the Columbine shooting happened, and this year my daughter started school. For a generation we’ve somehow allowed the prioritization of an adult’s right to get a rager from owning a big ol’ gun over a child’s right to not get shot in the head on the way to math class. If we want at to allow easy access to implements of violence, then we must hold people accountable for when those implements fulfill their purpose. Make no mistake, a gun’s only use is to make something dead. Fundamentally no different from a bomb. But we’d consider the very idea of “responsible bomb ownership” completely ridiculous. Then again, nobody overcompensates by keeping a pipe bomb in the bedside drawer.

So for all the times you put something with peanuts in their lunch, forgot what time to pick them up from school, dropped them on their head, or even something so egregious as give them the wrong colored cup – remember, that doesn’t make you a failure. That makes you a human person. The bar to clear is not that high. Did you let tell-tale signs of violent behavior go unchecked? Did you purposely arm your mentally ill child? No? Then congratulations! You’re in a first place tie for parent of the year with everybody else who hasn’t produced a murderer.

A Kid’s Concept of Money

My daughter is five and getting to the point where she knows that things exist because she has heard about out them or seen them in a movie, but doesn’t quite understand what it is. Money falls into this category. I know this because she thinks we have “so much” of it.

For the last two weeks or so, we’ve been doing a little exercise at dinner where we write down three things that we are thankful for that day. So far she said been thankful “that we have so much money” at least three times. I don’t know where she got this idea, but I guess I’m glad she is pleased with this lifestyle that she’s become accustomed to. I also don’t know about this “we” stuff. To paraphrase Cliff Huxtable, her mother and I have money, she’s broke.

She doesn’t get an allowance. Her only concept of money is that when we go to the store we have to pay for what we buy, and when we go to the drive-up ATM at the bank we put money into the machine. So I get that as a matter of fact in her mind, it is true that we have money. It is the “so much” part that throws me. I don’t know if you know this, but a part-time side gig as dad blogger really doesn’t pay all that well. Or at all. It actually costs me money. Why the hell do I do this again? Anyway, I suppose from her perspective, we do have so much money.

A friend of mine once said that he’d never wish to have a certain amount of money, but would always want to have enough in his pocket to buy what he needed at the moment. To my daughter, that is what we have. Granted, the things that she wants at any given moment is mostly donuts, but anytime we’ve told her we aren’t getting something, not being able to afford it has never been the reason. Is that where privilege begins? Am I raising my daughter to be some kind entitled brat that will contribute nothing to society? The next time she asks for a treat from the store should I tell her that if we get that then she won’t be able to go to college? Of course I’m just kidding, I wouldn’t tell her that. I’m not going to help her pay for college regardless. Can’t let three kids get in the way of my retirement more than they already have. An important financial lesson for her.

Should I be teaching her more financial lessons? She has a chore, I suppose we could start giving her an allowance. What’s the going rate for putting the recyclables in the recycling bin? Then again, what does it matter? I could give her ten cents a month and she’d be thrilled. Probably think it’s so much money. Though, if I am teaching lessons, I should probably take rent out of that ten cents. Let’s see how she gets by on seven cents a month.

Now I wonder, when will her concept of money reach a pivot point? She is in kindergarten now making friends. What if she makes friends with a kid who really does have so much money? Then again, those kids are in private schools so never mind. But there will come a day when she’ll want something we can’t afford, or at least won’t want to pay for, and she’ll need to learn the value of a dollar. Perhaps there is no time like the present. She told me she wants a puppy for Christmas this year, so I think I’ll tell her that puppies cost a million dollars. I’ll get her interested in saving and investing her seven cents each month, and we won’t have to get a dog. Win-win!

Ultimately, if my kid thinks we have so much money, then I think I must be doing something right. She isn’t into having more and more stuff, and she seems to be happy with what she has. If she can carry that with her through life, she’ll be in good shape. And she certainly won’t mind my charging her rent.

The Little Red Caboose: An Obsolete Children’s Book

Last night my daughter picked The Little Red Caboose for her story before bed. I had never read it to her before, and I was surprised she picked it. When I told her to pick a book, I think she panicked and picked the first book she saw on the shelf. I do the same thing when they ask for my order at the the drive through window. Many a chicken quesadilla has been ordered as a hurried reflex. Anyway, a few pages into the book I realized I am wasting my daughter’s time, and young, spongy brain on a book about something she’ll never need to know about.

I get that trains still exist, but I think their usefulness as a subject of children’s books has ran its course, or at least The Little Red Caboose has. My daughter almost always asks questions about things in books, usually related to the pictures, and usually always answered in the next sentence. However, when she asked questions in this book, I realized the answers were irrelevant because the subject matter is as well. My daughter will never see a train like this in real life. Actually, I take that back. There is a vintage train at Disney World. So the train is as real to her as Cinderella.The train is an old-fashioned, steam train, and was pulling a coal car.

“What is that?” she asked. To this point her only reference for coal is what Santa might give you if you’re bad, but even that she probably doesn’t remember that seeing as it only comes up once a year and she’s three years old. While I was trying to think of the quickest answer that would keep us moving through the story, it dawned on me that coal as a source of energy is something for a history book, not a children’s book. We need to position our kids to think forward and to imagine possibilities. The books they read should provide a road map, or a least a positive projection of what their futures could hold. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in my daughter’s life time coal energy will disappear, or at least that’s what we should be striving for. Of course, global warming and sustainable energy are a little beyond the grasp of somebody who still can’t tell time.

“Those are rocks,” I told her.

The train was also pulling an oil car. While she didn’t ask about that, I noticed that I’d never seen to many references to fossil fuels in a children’s book before. Who published this thing? The Rockefellers? The book was first published in 1953, so a sign of the times I suppose. Another sign of the times featured in the book – racial stereotypes. Who doesn’t love that in a children’s book?

Throughout the first few pages of the book, the train starts in the city and heads out of town and up a mountain. Along the way it passes cars stopped at the railroad crossing, a beach, another train with circus animals in cages (another totally relevant thing to a kid today), a farm, some wild animals in a field, and then we come to a Native American village complete with teepees, a shirtless man taming a wild horse, and kids with a single feather poking out the back of their headbands.* To say that page hasn’t aged well is an understatement. Sure, it was published in another time, I get that. But even aside from that, where the hell is this train going? Under what scenario does a train leave a modern, industrial town and end up in a scene from “The Searchers”? Based on the cars, the factories, and the modern dress of the white people, we’ve already firmly established that this book takes place in present day. So are we to believe that this caricature of a century old Native American village somehow still exists? Or did this train somehow travel back in time? Or could it be that the publishers probably just didn’t give a shit and some guy in a meeting said, “Throw some Indians in there, kids love Indians,” and nobody else at Little Golden Books saw anything wrong with that?

I’m not saying we ban it, and I’m not saying we “cancel” it. I’m saying this book is old. Too old to be in any way relevant to a kid today. Hell, it’s too old to be relevant to kid 20 years ago. The lesson is fine, the little caboose saves the day after feeling like the unappreciated part of the train. Turns out those coal cars were what the people wanted to see, which is another reason I’m fairly certain this whole book was just a propaganda piece for Texaco. Anyway, put this book in a museum next to cabooses and coal burning trains, and let’s get a new one out there. How about a book about an electric bullet train that learns to be appreciated while going past a collection of scenes that are a little more relevant and a lot less racist? If children are the future, let’s leave the past in the past, and not in their nighty entertainment.

So far there are only a few books that I refuse to read my kids at bed time, but I think this one is going on that list. Right next to Baby Shark (the words to the book are literally just the words to the song, complete with the do-do-do’s) and anything over 25 pages – a bedtime story needs to be five minutes or less. I am trying to get my kids to sleep, not make an episode of Reading Rainbow.

*I cannot in good conscience include a picture of this here. If you want to see for yourself, you can find it.