Monday, March 14, 2011

What's Embarrassing Anyway?

New column in the local newspaper today. I was facing a looming deadline when struck with the idea of asking the kids for their help. Um, well, yeah. The column got done, but I made a curious discovery. Or at least I pondered something probably already known.

Anyways, continue reading below or check the newspaper or the newspaper's printable version.

This is a transcript of an actual, recently completed conversation:
Me: Kiddos? I have an article to write. Do you want to help me?
Daughter: Why?
Me: I need ideas.
Daughter: Snakes!
Me: Snakes?
Daughter: I don’t know. That’s what’s on TV right now.
Me: Wha...?
Daughter: Zac gets bit on the butt.
Me, after muting the offending television: Seriously! Quit looking at TV for a second why don’t you?
Son: Hey, I was watching that! What’re you doing?
Me: I’m talking to you.
Son: You are? About what?
Me: My newspaper column. Weren’t you listening?
Son: Um, TV?
Daughter: Texting. You could make a texting article.
Me: I don’t think I could get enough words with texting.
Daughter: Why? LOL. BRB. [giggles]
Me: I don’t think I know what all the things mean.
Daughter, incredulous: Laugh out loud? Be right back?
Me: Yeah, I know THOSE two, but...
Daughter: ASAP? C’mon, Daddio! [Seriously. She called me Daddio.]
Son: [no response]
At this point my writer’s block was becoming an entire neighborhood of emptiness, and I figured kids should be able to provide content for a parenting column. I decided it was time to pull out the big guns. Coercion.
Me: Eh-hem, here’s the deal. I have taken pictures of the floors in your bedrooms. I will describe them in great detail if you don’t help me write this article.
Daughter: What do you mean, describe them? You took a picture of our bedroom floors?
Me: I took two. 
Son: [no response]
Daughter: What are going to do with them?
Me: Describe them.
Daughter: Okay. [shrugs]
Me: Okay?
Daughter: Just not the underwear.
Me: All right. I won’t mention the underwear.
Son: [no response]
And that was it. My last, best grasp at getting help, voluntarily or involuntarily, had disappeared like yesterday’s homework under a pile of fingernail products, torn art projects, and laundry. But how can the threat of public embarrassment bring absolutely zero results?
This is a room meant for human occupancy, yet items pointy, slimy, and sticky threaten every bare-footed step. Personal effects purchased to provide the necessities of life - clothing, comfort, nourishment - and once neatly organized by loving hands, now lay discarded. Clothing, some torn and some stained and all dirty, is piled randomly. Stuffed animals, half-whiskered and half-clothed, are planted face down. Remnants of snacks past now permanently meld spoons to bowls.
And when I threaten to publicly portray the slovenly practices of my children, all I get is “Okay.”? Is a ruinous room not embarrassing? Is the disastrous not distressing?
I took a writing break after that last paragraph when, coincidentally, my wife exited the boy’s bedroom. “I swear stuff just multiplies in there. It wasn’t that long ago we cleaned under his bed the last time.” Upon looking in the boy’s room I found him lying on the floor, calmly assembling some new creation, surrounded by - and oblivious to - the mysteriously multiplying “stuff.”
That’s when I realized that messy bedrooms don’t embarrass kids any more than right turns embarrass drivers. It’s just part of being a kid. And it’s why kids' bedrooms have doors. Doors parents can keep closed.

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