How  to  Raise  Children
Without  Killing  Them


(Yet  another  in  the  seemingly  endless
series  of  useless  Web  pages  by  Ben)


Copyright  ©2005




CREDITS


My wife Cathi and my stepchildren Joseph and Adam were the inspirations for this work. (Remember that. If you don't like it, blame them!)

To Cathi. Well, you've helped motivate me to create yet another worthless diatribe. Thanks.

To Joseph and Adam. I would not have been able to write this if it weren't for the years I spent helping to raise you. You're good people, and I'd buy you a trophy if I had any money left.



FOREWORD


A man is pushing a carriage with a screaming baby down the street. He keeps saying, "Keep calm, George. Don't scream, George. It'll be okay, George." A lady walking past him says, "You're really doing an admirable job trying to soothe George." The man replies, "I'm George."


This Web page is geared toward people who love children. I love children. Especially when they're lightly sautéed with onions and mushrooms. Wait! Don't go away! I'm only kidding! I don't eat children. Anymore.

I have two kids. At least until their parents come up with the ransom money. Wait! I'm kidding again! I live with my wife and two children. Neither child is genetically mine - they're my wife's from her first marriage - but I will nevertheless refer to them as "my kids" for convenience.

I know what some of you are thinking: "Who are you to write a Web page about raising children, Ben? You don't have any children of your own!" The fact that someone's kids did not come from one's own loins has no bearing on that person's parental abilities. Many people reproduce and then abuse or neglect their own offspring, while others adopt children and do a good job raising them. Then there are people like me who mistakenly stumble into a relationship with a divorced parent, have kids dumped in their lap, and live the next 10 or 20 years spending lots of time, energy and money on them, all the while apologizing for not being a perfect guardian. Yeah, I love this.

Several of my friends have opted not to reproduce. It doesn't mean that they don't like kids; parenthood just wouldn't fit their lifestyle. I, too, never planned to raise kids. I have always enjoyed my freedom and I feel no need to pass on my DNA. Well, several years back I became involved with a mother of two, and the rest is history. I was thrust into a position of responsibility that I did not ask for. I had no experience disciplining, teaching or feeding anyone but myself. I had to talk in simple terms so I could be understood. I had to spend more on food and utilities. I had to deal with tantrums and emotional needs. Then I met her kids. They were almost as difficult to deal with as she was. I was often asked to pick them up from or drop them off at their father's place, to patiently help them with homework, to get them to brush and floss their teeth, to put them to sleep -- I mean, bed -- at night, and to use "time out" as the form of discipline when I wanted to hit them. It was all very irritating to a selfish individualist like me who just wanted to go on being lonely and bitter. Eventually, through patience, understanding and a lot of booze, I learned how to appreciate the joy that kids bring even though they do require a lot of work. Now I like being a family man. It took a pushy -- I mean, strong -- woman to force me into family life, and I'm grateful that she did. It was worth all the initial difficulties to get to this point. I wouldn't give up my life as a parent for anything, and I can't wait until the kids move out so I can have my freedom back.

One great thing about having kids is that they look up to you. Even if you're a total dweeb who got picked on by everyone in high school (including your teachers), your progeny will think you're the greatest, coolest and strongest person on the planet. At least until they become teenagers and realize what a dork you are. But until then, your offspring will obey you and look to you for guidance and love you and hug you and play with you. You see, kids are a clean slate. No matter what you've done with your life up until you became a parent, your children are completely oblivious. They come into this life with no preconceived notions and nobody to compare you with. Whatever you do, they just accept it. You can smoke and spend all your leisure time in front of the TV and get hugely fat, and they think you're the cat's meow because you were here before they were so you must know better. Sure, everyone else might ridicule you for being a nerd or trailer trash or Sally Struthers, but you can always reproduce in order to create new people who think the world of you.

It takes an enormous amount of time, energy and money to raise children properly. There are midnight bottle feedings, endless toys, disciplining, play dates, homework, meals to prepare, chauffeuring to sports/clubs/activities, medical costs, clothes, dating, driving and college. And kids never pay us back for all we've done for them. From a resource standpoint, children are an utter disaster. You'd think that this would make them an effective form of birth control. Paradoxically, some couples have upwards of five or eleven children. I can hear them now: "Our kids are so time-consuming and expensive. I'm exhausted from taking care of them. Let's have another one!" These people - mostly Mormons, Catholics and welfare recipients - never cease to amaze me. I don't know how they keep their sanity when their house is basically a day care center. If I had more than three kids, I wouldn't even be able to remember their names. I'd address them all collectively, as in, "Hey, who wants to see their face on a milk carton?"

So if children present such a drain on our resources, then why do we raise them? Because we have an innate need to love and nurture. Kids unwittingly give us intangible rewards that no big-screen TV or European vacation can provide. It is wonderful to see our children grow and develop, to hug and be hugged by them, to watch them learn and accomplish new things, to hear them laugh ... okay, that's enough. I'm all verklempt.




THE  EARLY  YEAR


How to change a diaper: Place the diaper in the position of a baseball diamond, with you at bat. Fold second base over home plate. Place baby on pitcher's mound. Pin first base and third base to home plate. Go get a beer.


I had a difficult time deciding where in a child's life to start this book. Birth? Toddlerhood? Conception? Certainly not conception; I shouldn't meddle in prenatal affairs because there's little you can do for kids before they're born other than not smoke or drink, and given my history of experimentation with various substances, my telling pregnant women to stay away from smoke and booze would be like Marlon Brando telling people to stay away from pizza.

So let's start with birth, which usually occurs in a hospital or the back seat of a taxi. In the old days, the standard childbirth procedure was for the husband to drive his screaming wife to the hospital, where compassionate doctors would lovingly clunk her on the head, let the baby exit its unconscious mother, clean her and the baby up, put it in a room with all the other babies that were born in that hospital recently, and then, after the mother woke up, allow her and her husband, who had been suffering from such mental agony in the waiting room that he had developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder, to view their newborn child through a pane of glass. "Which one's ours?" they'd sometimes ask, looking wistfully at the cutest one. "It's that one over there," a nurse would reply, pointing to the one with big ears and a funny-shaped head. The parents would then turn their attention to it and exclaim, with parental enthusiasm, "Oh."

Then, sometime between The Twist and pet rocks, natural childbirth was invented. It came at a time when Eastern philosophy, meditation and "higher consciousness" were in vogue, and a guy named Lamaze figured he'd cash in on this anti-American fad by convincing middle-class pregnant women to pay him for classes in which they were told not to take drugs while an object the size of a watermelon passed through an opening that normally wouldn't accommodate a can of olives. This masochistic lunacy is still practiced today, if you can believe it, although it does have its good points. For one thing, the baby can be brought to its mother's breasts right after being born, which allows the two of them to bond (I'm referring here to the mother and her baby, not the mother's breasts). For another thing, the mother can be absolutely sure that the baby she's holding is hers, whereas in the old days, when she was unconscious during the entire birthing procedure, the hospital could have sent her home with an orangutan.

Okay, so you've brought your little bundle of joy home and it's time to start enjoying it. But how? Unlike an appliance such as a toaster or an electric bug zapper, there is no user manual. You can't plug it in and expect it to run on its own. It can't be kept in the garage until you need it. So what exactly do you do with this thing?

Let's start with feeding, and as we do, let us return once again to those good old days before our society was infected with body piercing, grunge, crack cocaine and equal rights. Clever companies convinced women not to breastfeed. Actually it didn't take a whole lot of convincing since mainstream people in our society have always been afraid of seeing certain body parts exposed, as evidenced by the fact that television programs can show people getting murdered and tortured but are forbidden to show a woman's nipple, the logic being that seeing areola tissue might be upsetting. Anyway, women bought baby formula, which was basically a mixture of cow's milk and chalk, and fed it directly into their babies' mouths.

We now know that breastfeeding is way better for babies. Breast milk contains the right amount of proteins, fats, vitamins and antibodies. The act of breastfeeding helps the mother and child bond, aids in visual development as the baby looks up at its mother, and lowers the probability of its teeth coming in crooked. So women, if you plan to reproduce, please breastfeed your children. I wasn't breastfed and look how I turned out. Also, I wish that the millions of anal-retentive, Puritan-ethic prudes would stop acting so disgusted when a lactating mother whips out a breast in public. Breastfeeding is completely natural and essential, and in fact, those women who insist on using formula even though they have perfectly functional breasts are doing their children a disservice and are therefore even less fit to be parents than I am.

No matter what you feed your infant, she will process it and eventually produce, from the other end of her body, some rather disgusting material, much like Taco Bell does with the ingredients it receives. This makes it necessary for you to put a diaper on your offspring, unless you raise her in a barn, in which case the child welfare authorities will arrive shortly to take her to a less septic home and put you in living quarters where you can sleep and take a dump in the same room.

Disposable or non-disposable? Some of us are old enough to remember diaper services, which would come to our neighborhoods, take our soiled diapers, give us fresh ones, and then leave, flies swarming behind them. When disposable diapers were invented, people thought, "Hey, look! We don't need the diaper service anymore! Now we can throw our soiled diapers right into our garbage can! And leave them there until the next trash pick-up day! Not only that, we can contribute more items to our badly underused landfills!" And so millions of Americans switched from natural cloth to plastic models, using maybe 30 per week per child, while the diaper services went out of business and the people who used to work there got jobs in Congress.

Both forms of diapers have their good points and their bad points. Armchair environmentalists berate people who use disposable diapers, but many of these self-righteous critics haven't had kids of their own. What if you change your baby's cloth diaper in a public place? Do you then carry the soiled item around in your purse until you get home? Cloth is also more likely to cause diaper rash or to leak. Furthermore, although disposable diapers generate more trash, cloth diapers cause more pollution because of the detergents that are used to clean them. The only positive side I can see to using cloth diapers is that they can be more economical if you wash them yourself, since you're not constantly buying them, but laundering them is - should I even say it? - a shit job.

Now we get to the really fun part of baby care: sleep deprivation. I've never understood why people sometimes use the expression, "I slept like a baby last night," unless they woke up every three hours crying. Just about every night you can count on getting interrupted by a hungry infant, which can be fed either directly from its mother's breast or from a bottle that the mother has previously filled using a breast pump. A breast pump is a contraption that allows a woman to get milk out of her breasts with squeezing and sucking action. (Had I possessed one of these during my teenage years, it would have prevented a lot of calluses.) And so the mother or father sits or walks around half-awake, perhaps watching wee-hour programming such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or a Rogaine infomercial, while an infant suckles at a breast or bottle. It would be so much easier if you could just hook the child to an intravenous tube for the first year of its life. In addition to maintaining a constant state of satiety, which would keep the child quiet, there would be additional benefits, such as that having to drag an IV stand around would prevent the baby from getting into trouble because it would not be able to travel outside a radius of about six feet. However, as I found out at my trial in 1989, this method of feeding is illegal.

Should a crying baby that has just had a feeding be picked up or left in its crib? There are different schools of thought, one being that leaving it there teaches it that it has no control over its destiny, and the other one being that picking it up teaches it that crying will always get it what it wants. I say, pick the poor child up. It's an infant, for crying out loud. It needs more than just food; it needs human touch. Every mammal needs close contact with its own kind, whether it's a higher-order primate such as a human or chimp, or a lower-order rodent such as a sewer rat or Trent Lott.

As you can see, the first year of your baby's life will be difficult. Don't let this period, when lack of sleep turns you into a psychopath and you change the baby's diapers more often than Bill Clinton changes sex partners, scare you away from parenthood. Think about it in a positive manner. For example, your child's lack of bladder control might remind you of someone you once met at a college fraternity party. Or you can make profound observations such as, "This diaper is more full of shit than Louis Farrakhan."




TODDLERHOOD


As a woman was trying to pack for vacation, her 3-year-old son was having a wonderful time playing on the bed. At one point he said, "Mommy, look at this," and stuck out two of his fingers. Trying to keep him entertained, she put his fingers in her mouth and said, "Mommy gonna eat your fingers!" and pretended to eat them. The boy pulled his hand out and stared at his fingers with a devastated look on his face. His mother asked, "What's wrong?" He replied, "Mommy, where's my booger?"


It is one of the greatest wonders of the world to watch a child learn and become aware of his surroundings. Neurons are connecting, motor and speech pathways are being formed, more emotions are being experienced, and the child is becoming more human. A small child has an insatiable appetite for learning and creativity, making it all that much more difficult to imagine him 30 years later as a divorced, bitter, humorless automaton wearing a suit and working for some faceless corporation.

Between the ages of one and two, children are absorbing a lot of input. They're exploring and experimenting, which can be frustrating when a parent tries to teach her child something ("Tommy, don't pull the dog's ear. He doesn't like that. Tommy, let go of the ear. Tommy, don't do that. Tommy ... Okay, give me the ear.") Fortunately, kids learn fairly quickly, although it takes a lot of time and effort to monitor and educate them. This is one reason that being a good parent is a lot of work, often more than people realized before they opted to reproduce. I wish childless people could rent small children for about a week so they could see how much work it is to be a parent; I bet a lot of them would reconsider parenthood. Unfortunately some folks just blindly procreate merely because "everyone else does it", or to satisfy some biological urge, and they are unable to provide for their kids' needs. Many of these children eventually end up in therapy, prison or New Jersey.

The human ear can hear a small child cry from as far away as Neptune. I am constantly amazed that a human being the size of a small wastebasket can emit so many decibels. This is just Nature's way of making sure that a child who is in any kind of life-threatening situation, such as that someone has taken his favorite cereal spoon, will be heard and rescued by his parents. Unfortunately, when it is somebody else's offspring that's making all the ruckus, the rest of us get quite annoyed, especially when it's in the middle of a movie, and the parent - who apparently has about as much consideration for other people as anthrax - refuses to remove the child from the theater.

Toddlers are not able to do much on their own, except get into trouble. They don't work, can't speak very well, and use up resources. Of course, this also describes Rodney King, so they don't look quite so bad by comparison. One thing that can frustrate toddlers is their inability to tell us what they want. They haven't mastered language yet, so often they must point and make unintelligible noises, the way I usually do at the dinner table. I find that the most excruciating thing is when a two-year-old babbles to me, speaking in what might as well be Martian, but so innocently sincere that I cannot turn my attention away for fear of hurting the child's feelings. So I just sit there with a forced smile, saying the occasional "Uh-huh" or "Really?", all the while pretending to understand, just like I do when my wife is talking.

It is a good idea to keep your toddler occupied with toys and give him plenty of affection. He loves to wrestle with you, hug you, hear your encouraging voice, and be tossed in the air. Just remember to catch him, unless you want him to end up like me.

As kids explore their world, they often do things that we, as more learned and organized beings, consider undesirable. They grab breakable objects, put dirty things into their mouths, and smear our furniture with food. As a result, one of the most common words they hear is "no". Overuse of this word can result in children feeling badly about themselves. Rather than using negativity when a child starts to do something destructive or potentially fatal, simply redirect her to something else. This is easier than you think, since a toddler has the attention span of a ferret. A toddler crying about not being able to play with your lighter will be instantly delighted when you give her a teddy bear, the same way Rush Limbaugh will instantly stop criticizing a convicted felon as soon as he finds out that the person in question is a Republican.

Children start learning to walk at this time of life. A toddler's first step is a wonderful experience that brings joy to your heart and possibly a tear to your eye. Unfortunately some parents use it as a way to brag. For example, "Billy took his first steps yesterday. The doctor said that he's weeks ahead of other children his age in terms of walking." The implication is that this person's child will excel at everything he does in life, while yours will be lucky to get a job at a fast food restaurant.

At this age, kids do not possess the mental capacity to do such things as washing themselves, brushing their teeth and combing their hair. We must do these things for them. We can help them learn by, for example, having them copy us as we brush our teeth. Eventually they will be performing personal grooming on their own, unless they live in West Virginia.

Then there's the issue of potty training. This is a delicate area which causes a number of emotions ranging from anxiety to disgust to frustration. And that's just in the parents; it can be even more stressful for children. It is very easy to simply "let go" wherever you are, so the idea of running to a bathroom, dropping your pants and sitting on a toilet can be difficult to sell to incontinent people such as toddlers and Bob Dole. You must be patient because progress might be slow and there will probably be occasional setbacks. A child might successfully "hold it" until he reaches the potty several times in a row, but then have a mishap. Some parents would get angry, and this can be quite distressing to their child. In contrast, some parents turn their child's use of the potty into a celebration. They smile and laugh and go "Yay!", in the same condescending manner you might use to congratulate Al Gore for not falling asleep during a Senate hearing.




DISCIPLINE


A priest is taking a walk when he notices a very small boy trying to press a doorbell on a house across the street. The doorbell is too high for the boy to reach. After watching the boy's efforts for a bit, the priest walks up behind him and, placing his hand kindly on the child's shoulder, leans over and gives the doorbell a solid ring. Crouching down to the child's level, the priest smiles and asks, "And now what, my little man?" The boy replies, "Now we run like Hell!"


Once a child exits toddlerhood, he needs to be taught right from wrong. I don't mean life-preserving actions such as not petting the doggy that's foaming at the mouth; I'm referring to learning and obeying your rules. Of course, your child can preserve his life by following your rules, such as the one about not touching the loaded gun that you, as a responsible parent, keep in the cookie jar.

Kids think that if you let them do anything they want, you're a good parent. They might grumble when you make them clean their room or turn off the TV after they've been watching for two hours straight, because they're too young to realize that what you're doing is good for them. You won't get any gratitude until they're at least 17 (probably more like 30). In the meantime you'll have to endure their whining as you do what you believe is best for them. As a result, being a good parent is often a thankless job. You'll never hear a child say, "Thanks for making me do my homework and eat fruit and play outside so that I don't become a fat, stupid couch potato."

It is very easy to just let kids do anything they want. If you let them make messes that they don't clean up, watch several hours of TV a day, yell whenever they feel like it, stay up as late as they want, go for weeks without taking a bath or brushing their teeth, eat junk food before dinner, etc, you'll save the mental energy that would otherwise be required to discipline them. But you know what? That's just bad parenting. Lack of supervision is the lazy way to be a parent. In fact, it's downright neglect. There's a lot of press about how spankings and media violence turn kids into monsters, but I've found that the most insufferable kids are the ones whose parents don't discipline them enough. They're loud and obnoxious and have no concept of "personal space" because their parents haven't taught them respect or self-control. Kids need to be taught that they cannot hit, bother, or take things away from others, at least not until they get elected to public office.

Overdisciplining is no good either. Some parents are rigid, uptight, closed-minded people who keep their kids on a strict schedule or punish them way too harshly or constantly criticize them for being imperfect. These kids often become critical, perfectionist or short-tempered, because that's what they observe at home and they learn to be that way. Sometimes they are unable to direct themselves as adults because they were always told what to do and never learned how to make decisions. Overdisciplined children can develop self-esteem problems that make them perpetually unhappy and require psychological counseling to fix. Lack of self-esteem often drives people to overcompensate by inflating their egos via acquiring possessions or writing Web pages that no one will ever read.

Children should be taught to both respect and question authority. Parents and teachers are entrusted to guide them, and they need to appreciate this. However, all people are imperfect (except me) and might therefore be mistaken occasionally, so if a child sees no good reason for doing something he's ordered to do, he should be able to ask "Why?" The adult should then explain the reasoning behind the order. This takes time and energy, and many adults are too short-tempered or tired to explain, so they get angry if children question their authority or they answer with "Because I said so!" This is easier for the adult but not as good for the child, because it doesn't help the child develop a sense of self. Rather, it teaches blind obedience to power, and this learned behavior can be carried into adulthood. Perhaps this is why so many people are willing to join political parties and religions and blindly go along with doctrines that are obviously stupid to the rest of us.

What should you do when your child misbehaves? Slap him? Put him on "time out"? Yell at him? Take away food or privileges? Some people routinely use physical punishment for bad behavior, while others would call the police on you if they saw you hit your own child. Who is right? It's not an easy, black-and-white answer. Physical punishment can be very effective, but just how much is too much? It depends on the child. Different children need different disciplinary methods. Some children are more fragile than others and should only be scolded. Others are rambunctious little devils who need a good ass-kicking now and then.

Routine use of force to stop unwanted behavior usually causes resentment and low self-esteem that fester inside children and often last into their adulthood, possibly their entire lives. How many people in therapists' offices and prison cells are there because they were made to feel bad or worthless by parents who administered physical punishment? Would there be fewer Timothy McVeighs and Adolf Hitlers if everyone were gentle and supportive with their offspring? Would people stop using drugs and putting up with abusive mates? Would we see the end of subversive organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the National Endowment for the Arts?

I was brought up in the "old school". That is, I was given lots of guidance, both verbal and physical. My parents explained things to me (often loudly), and they also slapped, spanked, and locked me in my room when I misbehaved. They were very attentive to my needs, and I never once felt neglected. But did the beatings that I and many other kids in my generation suffered have long-term harmful effects on us? Possibly. In any case, I use only verbal reprimands and "time out" to discipline my kids. I never raise my hands to them, because that would leave my groin unprotected. However, I do not let my children walk all over me. I set rules and they follow them. I work very hard to buy my kids food and medicine, take them to restaurants and social events, and put a roof over their heads, and I'll be damned if I let them run my life. My wife already does that.

Discipline goes beyond teaching kids what not to do. They must also be taught what they should do, such as homework, cleaning their rooms, washing their hands, etc. Unfortunately you can't just teach them once and be done with it. Even after they learn how, they consistently forget and need to be reminded. It does not matter, for example, that you told your son to wash his hands before dinner the past 643 nights; tonight he will forget. Even more frustrating is when he has a school project - assigned three weeks earlier and due the next day - that he has not yet started working on, and he just casually mentions it at the dinner table:

You:"So how was school today?"
Son:"Teacher said she's looking forward to seeing our dinosaurs tomorrow."
You:"What dinosaurs?"
Son:"The ones we're supposed to make."
You:"When did she tell you to make dinosaurs?"
Son:"Last month."
You:"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME EARLIER??"
Son:"I forgot."

He forgot. This from a boy who can remember the names of all 36,781 Pokémon characters. So what do you do? Tell him that he's gonna have to take a zero on the project and that hopefully this will teach him a lesson? Not a chance. You will run out to the nearest fabric store at 7:30 PM and buy some green felt, race home and create a dinosaur with your son. When I say "with your son", I mean "by yourself", since he possesses neither the knowledge nor the manual dexterity required to handle a needle and thread. (Of course, neither do any of the other 7-year-olds in his class, which makes it obvious that a lot of moms have made reptilian models that week.) So you work diligently on this project, worried that failure to produce at least a reasonable facsimile of a giant extinct lizard will ruin your child's chances of ever becoming a lawyer. When at last you finish, long after he has gone to bed, you breathe a sigh of relief. Then you curse the school for assigning such a ridiculous project which your child had absolutely no hand in except to tell you what kind of dinosaur to make.

When I went to school, the projects we had to do were pertinent to subjects like math or social studies. They helped us learn valuable skills that readied us for higher education. Nowadays it seems like projects are assigned only by art teachers. Will this ever be of any use to our kids in their careers? I mean, imagine the following conversation at a law firm:

Boss:"That was a great job you did on the Freenburg case. Now I have another assignment for you."
Lawyer:"Great! A bigger case with more visibility?"
Boss:"Not quite. I need you to make a replica of a stegosaurus. Have it on my desk tomorrow morning."

Kids need structure in their lives. They should have a daily routine of breakfast, lunch, dinner, play time, homework time, chore time, bath time, and bedtime. A lot of parents fail to provide this kind of structure, often because their own lives are so disorganized. A routine gives children direction. It lets a child know what's expected of her, so, for example, when it's 8:30 PM, she knows that it's time to go to bed. This makes it easier for her because she goes through a comfortable bedtime ritual, and easier for her parents because they don't have to convince her that she should stop playing. A routine provides a sensible, understandable environment that is good for all of us. Without it, our lives would degenerate into a chaotic mess wherein we would be nothing more than ineffectual people who never get anything done, much like the House of Representatives.




THE  YOUNG  CHILD


I do community work with children. I lure them into the van.


After toddlerhood our children are semi-functional creatures who have just enough knowledge and abilities to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful to society, kind of like Jim Bakker. We have finished spending about two years teaching them how to walk and talk, which is ironic since we will spend the next ten years telling them to sit down and shut up.

I'm glad that I didn't meet my kids until they were past the age of five. Every time someone's three-year-old child falls down, my heart skips a beat because I fear that he'll get seriously injured. Then he gets up just as happy as ever while I'm recovering from a mild coronary. I continue to watch with an agonized smile, wondering how the human race ever survived with parents being subjected to this kind of mental torture. When the child is done playing, he has had a great time while I have sprouted 163 new gray hairs.

Young children are magical. That is, they use the right side of their brain more than the left side. They have not yet learned the harsh realities of this world, the concrete physical laws, or the fact that the human race is composed mostly of assholes. This enables the young child to have an optimistic outlook, to imagine that impossible things are possible, and to play make-believe games for hours on end. This ignorant view of life should be encouraged. There is no other time of life when humans get to be so removed from reality, so irresponsible, so mistaken about the world they live in, and still live a good life. Unless you count college. Anyway, most parents do a pretty good job supporting this fairy tale way of thinking. In fact, they even persuade their children to believe in fictitious characters such as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, God and Santa Claus.

Notice how I slipped God in there. Now, Iím not saying that religion is bullshit (I'm hoping you'll come to that realization yourself). It's just that the tough part about religion is fooling yourself into believing it, which is why it is important to have parents who will do that for you. I was not fortunate enough to be born to fundamentalist parents who would have had the decency to brainwash me from a very young age that I'm going to Heaven no matter what happens on Earth. Then my endless string of failures wouldn't bother me because worldly accomplishments would be meaningless; all that would matter would be ignorant adherence to a particular dogma. For example, an Islamic extremist who blows himself up along with a dozen innocent people on a bus doesn't care about having a respectable career or paying taxes or keeping up an active social life because he is convinced that Allah will reward his murderous ignorance in the afterlife with 72 virgins. The question of where all those virgins will come from is not an issue; all he knows (or thinks he knows) is that he will spend eternity paying respectful homage to Allah by defiling six dozen young women.

The more our kids develop, the greater their needs become. We can no longer mollify them with shiny objects, the way we do with George W. Bush; now we must provide them with games and have conversations with them and take them on educational excursions to the aquarium or perhaps Hooters. As responsible parents we must monitor what TV shows they watch, feed them healthful food, and make sure they get to bed at a reasonable time. Come to think of it, all these things are good for us adults too, so we are doing ourselves a favor by setting guidelines for our dependents because it helps us live more healthful lives. For example, I make my kids shower or bathe at least twice a week, and as a result I have started to shower that frequently as well.

Speaking of bathing, at what age should children stop taking baths together? Is there an accepted "maximum" age for this, after which, in our society, nudity is considered dirty? And how do we tell our children that it is no longer considered cute for them to parade around naked?

Mother:"Sweetie, please put some clothes on."
Daughter:"Why? The prom isn't for another four hours."

And on a related note, at what age is it no longer appropriate to take an opposite-gender child into a public restroom? 4? 7? 23? All I can say is, I'm glad my kids are boys. Can you imagine what would happen if I had to accompany a small girl into a bathroom that was inhabited by other human beings?

Me:"Now go wee-wee just like you do at home."
My girl:"Okay, Daddy."
Stranger:"Uh, I don't think it's appropriate for you to be in here with her."
Me:"Sorry, ma'am."

Be careful what you let your children watch on TV. There's so much violence and foul language and hatred. Of course, this also describes most major religions, but that doesn't stop people from spoon-feeding spiritual dogma to their kids. Anyway, you might want to use TV to teach your progeny valuable life lessons. For instance, when watching Sesame Street you can instill the work ethic by telling them that Oscar the Grouch lives in a trash can because he's lazy and doesn't want to contribute to society.

If you go to the movie theater with young children, you can't take them to anything you want to see, such as The Terminator Kills Every Son-of-a-Bitch That Deserves It. No, you have to sit through The Teletubbies' Inane Antics or something of that sort. And after charging a family of four upwards of $40 between the box office and the concession stand, those crooks who run the theater have the nerve to show you commercials before the movie. Screenvision Cinema Network, the company that handles those ads, claims that 96 percent of moviegoers have no problem with them. Sure. While you're at it, why not set up toll booths at billboards so people can pay to see those ads too?

Many parents lie to their young children. They tell them that the Tooth Fairy will give them money for lost teeth, that they can achieve anything merely by trying, etc. I'll never forget one December evening when Adam, who was seven at the time, asked me, "Is there really a Santa Claus?" Oh, how we adults hate that question, because it puts us in an awkward position. But it is our own fault for propagating the Santa Claus lie in the first place. We tell our kids about a magnanimous being who, although they never see him, nonetheless exists and knows everything they do, and at the same time we claim to be honest with them. When they grow up and realize that the loving being we told them about was only make-believe, they forgive us because if the Church do it, then it must be okay. Anyway, I thought about how to respond to Adam's question. Should I pop his bubble by telling him the truth because the truth is supposedly best in all situations, and he must learn at an early age that the world is a cold, harsh place where nobody goes around showering complete strangers with toys? Or should I lie to this little boy who trusts me and looks up to me for guidance? I wrestled with this ethical dilemma for a full second and a half until I came up with a brilliant answer - one that would satisfy his curiosity and keep the holiday spirit alive while allowing me to be honest. I looked him square in the eyes and said, "Ask your mother."

Kids are very energetic and exuberant, and as a result it can be difficult to get them to go to bed. A child will never go to sleep on her own until she is just plain exhausted, but allowing this sort of random sleep pattern will usually cause her to be tired and cranky the next day. Plus it will either keep you up late or have your child running around unsupervised while you're asleep. If you won't put your child in bed for her sake, then do it for your own. At 9:00 my wife and I put our kids to bed, not necessarily because it's in their best interests, but because we fall asleep at 9:05. If your child has trouble falling asleep, this is easily remedied by reading her one of my literary works, or perhaps a bedtime story such as Barney Goes Postal.

When you have a young child, your refrigerator becomes the Family Museum. Kids come to us with various drawings that we must not only attach to our refrigerator door for eight months at a time, but also try to decipher. For example:

Child:"Look, Daddy, I made this for you."
Parent:"Thank you. What a lovely hippopotamus!"
Child:"It's a pony."
Parent:"Oh. Well, I'll just stick it here on the refrigerator next to last year's drawing of a turtle."
Child:"That's Fluffy, our dog."
Parent:"So it is! I should have known by the collar."

It takes quite a bit of planning and work to provide a nurturing environment for kids. Probably the most important thing is parental involvement. My heart breaks when I read and hear about all the children who are dropped off at day care every weekday while both parents work. Even some kids who have one parent home all day don't get a lot of attention and guidance, because that parent is either unable or unwilling to spend time teaching and playing with his or her children. Sometimes the television is used as an electronic baby-sitter. Sometimes a small child is left alone in a playpen for hours at a time. Young children need human interaction. Lack of interaction can make it difficult for them to learn how to communicate and socialize, so that when they become adults, their vocational choices will be limited to accounting and the Post Office.

I was fortunate to grow up having a mother who stayed home all day. This gave her time to talk with me, drive me places, cook my meals, supervise me, and whip me with the cord from the vacuum cleaner. This daily nurturing helped turn me into the person I am today: a middle-aged, stressed, graying stepfather, who spends more time making beer than playing with his kids.

I have a lot more to say (don't I always?) about providing a proper environment for children; so much, in fact, that it gets its own chapter...




THE  RIGHT  ENVIRONMENT


A Jewish woman is pushing her two little boys in a pram, and she greets one of her neighbors. "My," says the neighbor, "aren't they cute! How old are they?" The mother replies, "The doctor is three and the lawyer is two."


People are largely products of their environment. Each one of us is a result of both nature and nurture. People with better upbringings tend to be happier, healthier, longer-lived and more successful than their less fortunate counterparts. It's just part of God's master plan which ensures that we are completely helpless in some aspects of our lives so that we feel beholden to Him and are therefore pressured to worship Him and feed His pathetic ego.

Environment brings out and builds upon what is inherent, but there is a lot of disagreement about whether we are naturally good or bad. One school of thought is that we are all inherently evil and that a child must be disciplined or else it will do bad things and end up in Hell. Some fundamentalist religious groups propound this negative view. Well, let's test this theory. What do unattended children do? They explore the world around them, ride their bikes, catch frogs and insects, watch TV and play with other kids. Are these evil deeds? The opposite view is that children are inherently good, and that they will always be good as long as they are not put into a negative environment. I don't know. I've seen many children from good homes steal, lie, and tease other kids. My view is that we are neither inherently good nor inherently evil. We all have both constructive and destructive tendencies, and our environment largely determines which tendencies we act upon. In a moral sense we are pretty much clean slates. We are very likely to adopt the views and ethics we are taught in our childhood. For example, a child brought up with perfectly loving, understanding parents will probably develop into a well-adjusted adult; while someone raised with ignorant parents who teach him to hate people of every racial and religious group except his own might very likely become a maggot like his parents and subject his own children to this bigoted programming. This is why I'm so glad that I'm not Pat Buchanan's son.

A child's health and happiness are at least somewhat dependent on economics, which is unfortunate since it means that not all kids get equal benefits and opportunities. Children of well-to-do parents benefit by living in a safe, clean environment; being able to go to a good college; being fed good food; participating in extracurricular activities; having good medical care; and getting good guidance from educated parents. Since they're so well cared for, they tend to become sensitive, nice, happy adults with good careers. Then again, many of these kids become lawyers and politicians, so we have to ask ourselves just how better off we are for having nice neighborhoods.

Poor children usually grow up in undesirable areas, get mediocre medical care, and eat cheap food which tends to be fattening. In some cases, economic hardship causes the parents to become joyless, which makes them lose motivation to take very good care of themselves and their children because they see themselves and their loved ones as stuck in squalor. Often both parents work, so the children don't get a lot of parental supervision. The kids can forget about soccer or karate lessons because their parents have neither the money nor the time to take them. Lacking money for college and perhaps the motivation to go in the first place, these kids often end up at menial jobs, sometimes working odd hours, and find that they can't afford to "move up" in the world, which means that the highlight of their life will consist of appearing on Judge Judy.

Even in many middle-class families, both parents work and use day care. The reason is simple: economics. In the latter quarter of the 20th century, the cost of housing, vehicles and higher education rose at a much greater rate than salaries. This has made it difficult for most single-income families to afford homes in good neighborhoods. If you're a middle-income person supporting a non-working spouse and children, your family might have to live among people who you can talk about right in front of merely by spelling. Even worse, your neighbors might be part of what I call the "sponge class" - you know, those shady folks who don't work yet always seem to have a few bucks in their pocket, hang around bars and racetracks, take bus trips to casinos, and spend a considerable portion of their ill-gotten income on lottery tickets and booze. These are people who even used car salesmen wouldn't hang out with.

I used to live in a low-income neighborhood. It was fine for me when I was single. Eventually Cathi, Joseph and Adam moved in. The environment wasn't what I wanted for them because the hygiene habits, education level and basic lifestyle of our neighbors fell short of what I considered to be good. In order to illustrate what I'm talking about, I present a short story about our old neighbors.

A Day in the Life of White Trash

The story you are about to read is true.
The names were changed to protect the inbred.

Across the street, Cletus and Louise awaken to a knock at the front door and the dog's incessant warning bark. Cletus reaches for the clock, knocking over a Bud Light can which bangs the floor and sends the cat sprinting out of the room. Louise peeks out the window to see who it is.

"It's the sheriff," she whispers.

"Get down!" Cletus whispers loudly.

She crawls back into bed and lies motionless. Their kids are in their own beds doing the same thing. They've been through this before.

The sheriff can't serve a summons unless it's in person. He tries to peer into the house, but all the windows have sheets over them. Finally, in frustration, he drives off.

Cletus grunts his way out of bed. "I'm goin'a Walmart," he says, lighting a Marlboro. He doesn't have to work because he's on disability - his doctor claims that Cletus's heart can't take the exertion of driving a truck.

Louise has nothing to do all day since she works at night. "I'll go with ya."

As the couple slinks off, their two teenage daughters get up. Samantha, a senior in high school, walks innocently to the bus stop. Maura, not quite 20, with a derriere that's even larger than her mom's, makes herself a nutritious breakfast of eggs, sausage and bacon while Rufus the dog watches intently. Her one-year-old son eventually wakes up crying.

Later, Cletus and Louise return from their shopping. Cletus lifts the hood of his Dodge and gets to work changing the oil with a cigarette in his mouth and his shirt off, revealing a pendulous belly and several tattoos.

Fred, another slack-jawed grease monkey who lives next door to me, crosses the street.

"Hey, Cletus. Nice day, ain't it?"

"Yeah."

"Changin' yer awl?"

Boy, the questions just keep getting more intelligent.

"Yep."

So do the answers.

Fred likes to talk. When I was shoveling out my driveway in the Storm of 1996, he stood there for two and a half hours talking to me about a seemingly endless assortment of trivia, all the while polluting the pristine winter air with cigarette smoke.

Next door to Cletus, Florence rearranges her lawn ornaments. At over 70 years of age it's amazing that she still has the energy to reposition 4 geese, 5 ducks, 3 flamingos, and 2 deer every week.

Two doors down, John and Mildred's dog, who is tied to a pole 18 hours a day, barks at everything that moves while kids jump on a trampoline.

As Cletus works on his truck and Fred yammers about the weather and how he lost his finger, Maura's boyfriend Buford - her child's father - drives up. Two boys about 5 or 6 years of age get out of his pickup truck and start riding their bikes. Maura leaves the baby with Louise and goes off to God knows where with Buford while his unsupervised kids bike up and down the street and my driveway. Louise does her grandmotherly duties while catching up on the latest issues by watching Montel and Oprah. Occasionally the little boy makes her smile, causing her to reveal almost as many teeth as he has. It's a beautiful day outside, but the two of them spend the better part of it indoors, wallowing in a world of pet hair and second-hand smoke.

Fred goes back to sit with his brother Bill, who looks like what Jerry Garcia would look like if he were homeless. What a lovely day to spend sitting on a bench on the front lawn, smoking and drinking and watching people with lives go by.

Florence's husband Ted, a retired and unpleasant person who won't let anyone park in front of his house, putters around the yard. He's wasting his golden years doing nothing, but seeing as how his neighbors live pretty much their entire lives this way, he's not doing badly by comparison.

That evening Louise feeds her family a hearty, fat- and carcinogen-laden dinner of grilled burgers and macaroni & cheese. Then she goes off to serve Coors at Trucker's Tavern until the wee hours. Cletus catches the baseball game on TV with a six-pack. Maura takes care of her future felon. One of Samantha's girlfriends comes for a visit, parking her new, brightly-colored compact car right in front of my driveway. She might be from a more economically fortunate family than Samantha's, but her lack of consideration can rival that of anyone in this neck of the woods.

John brings his dog inside and mows the dirt. Actually there is some plant life in his yard, but it's mostly weeds and crabgrass. Billows of dust rise into the air as he deludes himself that he has a lawn.

Local kids play in the street until well after dark. It's good that the neighborhood is so lively and full of families, but the parents don't seem too attentive to their children's safety. I suppose the parents are too poor and their offspring are too ugly for anyone to worry about these kids being kidnapped for ransom or child pornography. The occasional teenager drives by, sharing with everyone his cool stereo which must have 3-foot woofers. Gradually the Man-made sounds fade and are replaced with the chirping and coughing of asthmatic crickets.

The End


The deciding factor in our moving was the day Cathi and I were talking to one of our neighbors who told us about her "rockweiler" which had been stolen out of her yard, and her son who the other kids in school don't pick on anymore because he hit one of them over the head with a chair.

So I bought a (much more expensive) home in a nice middle-class neighborhood in order to provide a cleaner, more intelligent environment for my kids. It has a community pool, a soccer field, a playground and a basketball court. There are no vehicles up on blocks. People have professional careers and full sets of teeth. Cigarette smoke does not waft into my yard. None of the houses are boarded up. There are other differences too, as illustrated in Table One.

Characteristic Current neighborhood Old neighborhood
Newspaper delivery All-American boy visits each house on inline skates. Fat kid throws newspapers from back of parents' station wagon.
Adult recreation Supervise their kids, jog, and work on hobbies. Make car repairs, sit and smoke.
Child recreation Ride bikes (with helmets) and play sports. Ride bikes (without helmets) and smoke.
Lawns Nicely manicured. Weeds, dirt, trash, or grass that's more than a foot tall.
Socialization Neighbors discuss various topics while children play. Local yokels drink beer in Bob's boat, which hasn't moved from its street spot in over 9 years.
Air quality Clean and pleasant. Car fumes and cigarette smoke.
People's line of work Doctors, lawyers, engineers. Bartenders, cashiers, janitors, drug dealers.

As you can see, my current neighborhood is like a completely different planet from the old one. The public schools are more conducive to learning, there are more recreational opportunities, it's more aesthetically pleasing, the neighbors speak in complete sentences, and the larger home gives each of my children their own room. I also bought a minivan with which to chauffeur my kids in safety and comfort. Of course, I'm gonna have to work til I'm 70 to pay for all this, but it's worth it for my family's well-being.

The result of all this is that my kids are happier and healthier than they were at our previous house. They happily play in the neighborhood, riding bikes and scooters and catching toads. They swim at the pool and are on the community swim team. They love trick-or-treating and going to community block parties. In the old neighborhood they voluntarily confined themselves to the house and the back yard because the neighborhood was basically a series of one-way streets jammed on both sides with cars and rednecks. My wife and I benefit too. We enjoy swimming at the pool and taking walks in the neighborhood, and we like to talk with our neighbors because they're friendly people who are capable of carrying on conversations that don't contain words like "y'all" and "po-leece".

So when choosing a neighborhood in which to live and raise your kids, consider all factors such as the school system, crime rate, type of neighbors and so forth. Gone are the days when it didn't matter where kids grew up because they just worked in factories anyway. Now we have to gear our lives around them so that they can ask us for toys and games, dry up our bank accounts, and then, when they reach adulthood, move away and hardly ever visit. Yessir, all that hard work, expense and inconvenience really pays off.

In case you're wondering how you will be able to afford a home in a nice neighborhood, remember that you get a tax credit of $500 for each child. That's right - the IRS thinks that half a grand makes a dent in a year's worth of child expenses, which just goes to show that IRS employees don't have children. At least not any legitimate ones.

The kind of neighborhood you grow up in is only part of your formative environment. Parents are by far the greatest influence on their children. Many kids who grow up in poverty turn out okay, while some others from rich neighborhoods become assholes. This is largely due to how well (or badly) their parents guided them. So don't worry if you live in a neighborhood where the people have fewer college degrees than arrests; just do the best job you can raising your kids right. You have the power to mold them into happy, successful, law-abiding citizens and make sure that they never turn to a life of dealing crack or telemarketing.




THE  OLDER  CHILD


One Christmas morning two children leap out of bed and run downstairs. Under the tree the little boy finds ten presents for him, but the little girl finds only one for her. The boy starts teasing, "I got ten presents, and you only got one, nyah nyah!" The girl replies, "Yeah, well at least I don't have leukemia."


This time of life starts at about age 7 or 8 and ends at puberty. Children are old enough to run around unsupervised within the house, but not mature enough to walk the streets safely alone. This is a great stage because you can rest while they entertain themselves, and they're still naive enough to think you're cool.

I have a lot of nice memories from my late childhood: recess, chocolate milk, Simon Says, hopscotch, penny candy, ice skating, my bicycle, running through the sprinkler, tree houses, snow forts, playing with my dog, lemonade stands, carnivals, baseball cards, climbing trees, catching frogs, looking at clouds, and eating paste. Looking back, I had a pretty good childhood, and it's gonna take a while to come up with an excuse for turning out the way I did.

By this age you should be teaching your child social behavior and conventions. Everything from shaking someone's hand to saying "Thank you" is cultural, not inherent. It is extremely important to teach these things to children so they don't grow up to be awkward adults with no social skills. You know - engineers. More important, kids need to be taught why certain things should be said or done. A lot of parents fail to do this. For example, on several occasions I have witnessed a rambunctious child throw something at or hit someone, the result being that the parent would do nothing more than make the child apologize. So the little bastard would merely utter the word "Sorry" and resume playing. The parent would not explain why an apology was necessary, the danger that his actions posed to others, or the fact that if he continued to behave this way he would get his ass kicked someday. A child must be taught to understand that other people have feelings and to respect those feelings. Children who don't learn these life lessons often end up as criminals and lawyers.

My parents were good at teaching me social skills. I remember one time a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door. I answered it. One of them asked, "Are your parents home?" I went to go find my mother while they stood there in the foyer looking at the mezuzzah and wondering whether they had picked the right religion. My mother and I returned to the door, and she, in a gentle sweeping motion, slammed the door in their faces.

Teach your kids how to be diplomatic. For example, if your child is unhappy with the grade he got on a project, you can help him write a letter to his teacher. It could say, for example, "I don't think the grade you gave me reflects the work I did." Of course, I'd word it differently, e.g. "Hey schmuck, I'm amazed that the school system hired a cretin like you. I should be grading your papers."

Should boys and girls be treated differently? Some people object to the age-old tradition of giving dolls to girls and toy guns to boys because it somehow forces them into gender roles. Well, it doesn't. Studies have shown that, given a choice, girls naturally prefer "nurturing" toys while boys naturally prefer vehicles and weapons. This is because girls are "sugar and spice and everything nice". They like to nurse dolls as though they were babies, frolic, sing, dress up in cute outfits, and smell flowers. Meanwhile boys are destructive little bastards who like to put firecrackers in frogs' mouths and burn bugs with a magnifying lens.

The modern idea that toy guns will turn children into criminals is pure nonsense. Every generation has grown up with toy guns, and most boys have played games such as Cops and Robbers where they pretend to shoot each other. If this really does cause kids to become gun-toting felons when they get older, then why do only a fraction of them turn to criminal behavior? I'll tell you why: because guns aren't the problem; lack of family support and guidance is the problem. In our immature, self-absorbed, materialistic culture, some parents neglect their children and then buy them expensive gifts in an attempt to compensate. Spending time talking and playing with your child is, in my opinion, the greatest gift you can give him. A bike or a television is worth hundreds of dollars; guiding someone and making his day memorable is priceless. Gun haters are often middle- or upper-class people (the "comfortable class") who were born and raised in insulated environments and never had to face a life-threatening confrontation. They live in self-contented apathy, as soft in the head as in the belly, too busy with their sheltered lives to get the whole truth on certain issues, and quick to go along with feel-good ideas that have no basis in reality. Remember the Million Mom March that took place in Washington DC on Mother's Day 2000? I'll never forget when Rosie O'Donnell, possibly the March's most vehement proponent, said, "I think there should be a law that no one can have a gun in the U.S. If you have a gun, you go to jail." Of course, this hypocritical windbag has armed bodyguards.

As long as I've brought up the subject, I might as well rant for another paragraph. The basic problem with gun control is that, without guns, how can we shoot anybody? How do the Million Mom Marchers think that children are made safer by taking away the means for their parents to protect them? Prohibiting the obtainment of firearms by legal means would ensure that hard-working, law-abiding folks are totally disarmed while shiftless lowlifes enjoy the power of weapons (and I'm not just talking about the Los Angeles Police Department). It is the person and not the instrument that is dangerous. Automobiles kill far more people than guns do. Should we outlaw them? I think what we should do is make people demonstrate that they can safely handle a gun before we let them buy one, just like we make them pass a driving test before we let them operate a motor vehicle. Then again, in light of all the assholes who drive dangerously, maybe a gun-handling test wouldn't help. Even supposedly law-abiding citizens who have families and jobs routinely speed and cut others off, but that doesn't stop us from handing out driver's licenses as though they were supermarket coupons. Maybe we should institute a "point" system on guns the way we do with cars: every time you do something bad with your gun, you rack up points, and after you reach a certain number they take your gun away. For example:

Judge (to head juror):"Please read the verdict."
Head juror:"We find the defendant guilty as charged."
Judge (to defendant):"You have been found guilty of shooting Richard Simmons with a firearm. Two points."

You might choose to sign your child up for an organized sport. Unfortunately, pressure and competition can make sports an unpleasant experience. I remember playing little league baseball. This is a national pastime wherein parents force their child - who up until then had been quite content riding his bike and playing in the dirt - to wear a uniform and compete with other kids his age. This creates psychologically-damaging anxiety as he drops fly balls and strikes out, which causes other children (who used to be his friends) to criticize and ridicule him. Thus youngsters learn just what a sick, twisted world they live in as their fathers try to force them to become the athletes that they themselves never were and make them feel as though their worth as a human being is directly proportional to how well they play this stupid game that they never wanted to play in the first place.

It is possible to sign your kids up for sports and not subject them to the mental torture of competition. Swimming, track, golf and bowling are indirectly competitive, in that they are done individually rather than requiring a competitor's presence. So, for example, a child can run a race and try to beat his previously best time rather than concern himself with who finishes in front of him. My kids are on the community swim team, and it is a positive experience for all of us because my wife and I are always proud when they do their best and they feel good from the encouragement and congratulations they receive even if they finish last. Compare this to a kid having all eyes on him when he misses a shot or fumbles a ball. Shouldn't sports be fun? Kids will have plenty of time later in life to learn what selfish, critical, shallow people most of their peers are; why spoil their childhood too? It is much better to focus on effort and personal development and thereby build their self-esteem and help them develop into happy adults than it is to focus on winning and thereby inflate their egos at the cost of their self-esteem and cause them to become overly competitive. We see the results of overcompetitiveness every day on the road. Lots of road rage and accidents are caused by assholes risking life and limb in order to get in front of one other car. Whenever some uptight guy speeds up and cuts me off, I think, "Okay, you got ahead of me, but you still have a tiny dick."

Of all the little league sports, baseball is the most useless. Ninety percent of the time you could be in a coma and it wouldn't matter. A typical game involves a handful of exciting plays and about three hours of boredom. The kids stand in the field, thinking about how cool Jurassic Park VII would be, and when a ball finally comes their way, they dutifully chase it, still wondering whether a Velociraptor could defeat a Tyrannosaurus rex, and when the ball goes over their head or between their legs, they turn around and run about half a mile to retrieve it, then throw it in the general direction of the infield, which by now looks to be the size of a Gameboy, with tiny little opposing team players congratulating their teammate on his home run.

Sports like soccer and basketball keep kids more occupied and involved, at least when they're not on the sidelines waiting for the cretin coach to put them in the game. Usually the best athletes get to play almost the whole time, while the also-rans are put in only when their team is ahead by about 173 points. But it all evens out in the end, since the non-athletic kids eventually get good jobs as doctors and lawyers, and they hire the athletic kids to mow their lawns.

We shouldn't sign our kids up for so many activities that their lives - as well as ours - become hectic. Many parents have their kids involved in soccer, baseball, karate, ballet, swimming, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, choir, etc. Between school, homework and extracurricular activities, many kids don't have time to just play and have fun for its own sake, and they are thereby robbed of an essential part of childhood. In many families there is no such thing as "family time". Parents push their children in every facet of their being for fear that if one minute of the day is spent not trying to excel at something, they will never get into Yale or land a good-paying job. Meanwhile the whole family lacks the joy that a nuclear unit should have. Why can't they spend some time every day relaxing, playing a game, telling jokes or tickling each other? Have we forgotten how to have fun? Is life merely a series of duties to fulfill? Is succeeding in sports and academics the only goal of childhood? I was a district champ wrestler and I hold a master's degree, but am I someone who you want your kids to emulate?

There's no need to overspend on your children's education. Some parents feel compelled to shell out $9000 a year in order to send their 3rd grade child to private school, as though if he attended public school he would end up with the IQ of toe cheese. Private schools supposedly educate better than public schools because of highly-skilled teachers or more favorable teacher-to-student ratios, but even if this is the case, how many of us (other than drug dealers) can afford to send our kids there? There are much more affordable private schools, but I don't recommend them because they're usually parochial and hence subject the children to some kind of religious indoctrination. ("Yes, Sarah, you got 100 on your spelling test. But if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you're going to burn in Hell.")

Speaking of school, children need guidance in school just as they need it at home. Kids who are disrespectful in the classroom need to be corrected. Unfortunately the laws are such that if a teacher so much as touches a student, he or she can be prosecuted, suspended or fired. This is one reason that some students strut around with surly attitudes, thinking that they know everything or that they're somehow "better" or "cooler" than everyone else. This problem was virtually nonexistent just a few generations ago, because kids were taught discipline, especially in parochial schools where children could be beaten for serious infractions such as being left-handed. I wouldn't last three hours as a teacher if I had any snotty students. In the early 1990s I coached wrestling at a pretty bad high school, where even the wrestlers were disrespectful little shits. They complained about being worked too hard, lost every meet, and still acted as though they were too cool for the rest of the planet. It was fortunate for me that I was teaching them a very physical sport, because when one of them would get out of hand, I'd show him a "new move":

Me:"Hey, I've got a new move to show you."
Wrestler:"But I don't wannnnrrrrgghhhhh!"

Summer camp can be an enriching experience. Kids can do a lot of activities that might not be available in their neighborhood, plus they get to socialize with other children their age. However, I don't recommend overnight camp. My parents sent me to overnight camp (wouldn't you?) for several summers, and I found it emotionally disturbing. The daily activities were fine, but sleeping in a cabin with a bunch of other kids, sharing a community bathroom, and eating meals in a mess hall, like a bunch of Army recruits, was not very fun. I also didn't like some of the games the counselors had us play, such as Feed the Grizzly.

Whether you plan to send your child to day or overnight camp, I would suggest avoiding places that have any of the following names.

Hyalooza Computer Camp
Camp Ritalin
Camp Awannagopeepee
Tonya Harding's Camp Clubaknee
Father Stephen's Naturalist Altar Boy Camp
Bob Packwood's Camp Touchee-Feelee
Camp Lactose Intolerance
Ellen DeGeneres's Camp Lickacoochie
Camp Turnyerheddencoff
Marv Albert's Camp Biteatittie
Lil' Toiler Textile Mill & Summer Camp
Louis Farrakhan's Camp Killawhitey
Monica Lewinsky's Camp Suckaweewee




MISUSE AND ABUSE


A teacher is warning her students against catching cold. "I once had a little brother who was seven years old," she says. "One day he took his new sled out into the snow. He caught pneumonia and three days later he died." There is dead silence for ten seconds. Then a voice from the rear asks, "Where's his sled?"


When we hear the word "abuse" we might visualize a short-tempered man striking his children for no good reason. This is the stereotypical child abuser -- the villain we disdain and wish to kill, incarcerate or rehabilitate. While schmucks like that do exist, there are other forms of abuse that can be not only just as damaging, but also more insidious. Consider verbal abuse. Children are extremely impressionable. The feedback they get from others plays a big part in their view of the world and the development of their self-esteem. A parent who never strikes but unduly criticizes and never praises their child is providing a joyless environment that can create a very unhappy, pathological adult. The sad thing is, many critical parents are the result of having had critical parents themselves, so they might not even realize how damaging they're being, and this cycle of hurt propagates itself generation after generation, much like hereditary diseases such as stupidity and diarrhea.

Neglect is also a big problem. A child needs guidance and love, not merely food and shelter. Some ignorant or lazy parents hardly ever play with their kids or help them develop good study habits or involve them in community activities. Perhaps they haven't the time or the money to be attentive parents, because they work long hours at low-paying, dead-end jobs. Whatever the reason, kids are getting shortchanged. Lack of good parenting is turning them into disorganized, ineffective people who, if they don't get straightened out, will end up working for the government.

This society, like many others, puts a lot of emphasis on female beauty. Girls are told (by their family, schoolmates, TV commercials and/or magazines) that part of their self-worth is determined by how good they look. Boys are judged by accomplishments, while girls can be treated like lepers no matter how smart they are merely because they aren't aesthetically pleasing. This is very damaging to their sense of self. It's a form of negligent abuse in the sense that society unwittingly punishes them for something they can't control. Basically, the prettier a girl or woman is, the more she is valued by our shallow society. Remember the JonBenet Ramsey case? This young girl's murder received national attention only because she was a beauty queen. I guarantee you that even if Bill Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, had been the victim, there would not have been nearly as much public outcry, merely because she has about as much physical beauty as a plate of herring.

I hate when people use kids for their own benefit by playing on our emotions. A perfect example is commercials. Remember that Oscar Mayer commercial, the one where the kid sang that song? "My bologna has a first name, it's O-s-c-a-r..." America fell in love with him and bought the product solely because of his cuteness. Anyone with a hint of objectivity can see that it was nothing more than corporate executives using a child in order to sell an artery-clogging substance and make themselves rich. What a bunch of baloney.

Many parents with ego issues try to mold their kids to be extensions of themselves, or perhaps what they think society or their religion wants them to be. Please let them develop their own natural talents; it is abusive to do otherwise. If your son doesn't like athletics, don't force him to play a sport. If your little girl wants to climb trees and catch frogs, don't force her to wear frilly dresses and take piano lessons. If you squelch their creativity and force them to play roles, they will never forget your selfishness and they will always resent you for it. My dad forced me to play golf when I was a child, and he would actually get angry with me when I made a bad shot, because he was an avid golfer and he felt that my golfing ability was a reflection on him. I will never do that to my kids. Joseph, the older one, is not into sports, and although I wrestled for 18 years, I don't even suggest that he take up this activity. He is a bright kid who loves cars. He knows the features and performance ratings of just about every passenger vehicle made since the turn of the millennium. I encourage his hobby, and in fact his extensive knowledge about the Honda Odyssey minivan was the main reason I bought one and put us another $27,000 in debt. (Thanks a lot, kid.) When he started driving, I offered him my old Nissan Sentra, which he politely refused. This is understandable, as he's over 6 feet tall and he weighs more than 200 pounds, and my Sentra was so small that circus clowns refused to get into it on the grounds that there wasn't enough room.




PUBERTY


My kids brighten up my home. Literally - they keep forgetting to turn the lights off.


God, in his infinite wisdom, decided that somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15 all of us would enter the most awkward state of being that's possible for a conscious organism. We might wonder why a supposedly loving being would inflict this condition upon his most intelligent creatures, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: he doesn't really love us. After all, he brought us the Black Death, AIDS, and Newt Gingrich.

At some point in kids' development their bodies dramatically increase the production of hormones, which are chemicals that cause their voice to deepen, hair to grow in embarrassing places, muscles and bones to enlarge, and sweat to stink. Additionally, they develop the desire to have privacy, to pick out their own clothing and hairstyle, and to listen to music that drives their parents crazy. They become more self-aware, comparing themselves with their peers, perhaps competing in sports or trying to be better-looking than others, and wondering "Am I normal?" They start to become much more independent, and it can be distressing when your precious darling, who used to run to you and jump on you and hug you, now seems to avoid you as though you're an Amway salesman. This is all part of "breaking away" and growing toward adulthood. The child doesn't try to become this way (just like we adults don't try to become gray and wrinkled relics whose idea of a big evening is to read a book about prostate cancer), but it happens nonetheless.

At this age a lot of kids start to tease or physically abuse other kids. Their physical and emotional changes give them a new sense of power, and they use it to victimize weaker individuals. Nerds and late developers tend to get picked on more than others because they lack either the physical strength or the attitude necessary to thwart bullies. Receiving physical or verbal abuse can have damaging psychological consequences because puberty is a critical time for developing self-esteem. Children are so needy and vulnerable all throughout their young years. If they feel rejected by either their parents or their peers, they might not develop enough self-esteem to feel good about themselves. It is right about this time that most kids realize just how random and unfair life is: some people are born rich or strong or smart or beautiful, while others are born Linda Tripp. The result is that some kids become jocks and cheerleaders, while others wallow in misery and obscurity -- tomorrow's poets and artists.

Hormones also cause children to develop sexual urges, which at this age are a big headache since few kids are dating or having sex, and even if they were having sex, they would be risking pregnancy and disease. So they practice the only really safe sex, which is called masturbation. Actually most people discover masturbation way before puberty - often before kindergarten - but I didn't mention it until this chapter because I thought it would be inappropriate to bring it up during the same chapter in which I discussed potty training. Masturbation is probably the most embarrassing of all topics for a pubescent child (even for a lot of adults), and for no good reason. It is a perfectly harmless outlet for natural sexual urges, and yet many people label it as "bad" or "sinful". Parents sometimes propagate absurdities such as, "If you don't stop, you'll go blind." Which raises the question: What did Stevie Wonder's parents tell him in order to keep him from masturbating? Anyway, your child should not be made to feel bad about pleasuring himself or herself. If you accidentally catch your child jerkin' the gherkin or spanking the kitty, just walk away - perhaps apologizing as you leave - and explain later that what he or she was doing is perfectly normal and natural. My parents were very understanding. One time my father caught me masturbating, and he said, "Exploring your body is a perfectly healthy thing for a boy your age. But next time try doing it in your room, not at the dinner table."

Another bodily change that occurs at this time of life is enlargement of the genitalia, although the change is much more noticeable in boys since their apparatus is external. Until this point, boys had thought that the purpose of their penis was merely to aim when they pee; and that their scrotum was just a superfluous sac of protoplasm that no one really needs, like tonsils or Dan Quayle. But now each boy gets frequent spontaneous erections, sometimes before he even wakes up in the morning. This "morning thickness" is merely the first of his tallywhacker's many daily cries for attention. He discovers why it's there as he introduces this new best friend to his hand -- his own Party of Five.

You might or might not choose to have "the talk" with your kids. You know - that rite of passage wherein a parent explains the birds and the bees while a child sits uncomfortably and waits for this excruciating monologue to end. For example: "Okay, so, first there are boys, who have a pee-pee, spectacles, and the prostrate. Then there are girls, who are much more complicated: they have aviaries, fellatio tubes, a unibus, a Lavoris, and a Volvo. The boy takes the girl out to a movie, then to the back seat of his car, and they consummate. His swimmies all try to fertilize her, but only one can, so they race each other and if someone else gets there first, they yell 'Leggo my eggo!' The result is a tiny baby that sleeps inside the girl's tummy for nine months and causes its parents a lifetime of stress." Or you can avoid the talk altogether and let your kids learn this stuff from the classroom or from public restroom walls.

Girls start a process called menstruation, wherein - and this is why I'm so glad I'm a man - blood actually oozes out "down there". This horrific event (also called a period) will go on for days at a time, every month, for the next 30 or 40 years. What's up with that? Isn't it bad enough that girls have to put up with budding breasts and widening hips and being taller than most of the boys their age? Do they have to bleed like a wounded animal too? Furthermore, girls are subjected to monthly hormone cycles that put them through a wide range of emotions and irritability. God must be a man.

The first monthly blood flow can be very distressing to girls who don't know that it's eventually going to happen. Many girls have run crying to their parents that they're hemorrhaging. I think that parents should educate their daughters before puberty so they'll know what to expect. When their monthly bleeding finally starts, parents should celebrate this passage into womanhood ("Congratulations on your first period! Let's go out and paint the town red!") They should then teach their young women how to use special feminine products ("Panty shields up, captain!")

While testosterone is a "male" hormone and estrogen is a "female" hormone, we all have at least a little of both. Many boys have a bit more estrogen than other boys. As a result, some of these boys experience a temporary condition called gynecomastia, wherein they appear to be growing breasts, so that they look vaguely like feminist rally leaders, except without quite as much body hair.

One of the distressing things about puberty that both genders experience is pimples. Puberty is tough enough on us, with hormones and bodily changes and self-esteem issues. "But that's not enough," says God. "I know - I'll make people's faces break out in unsightly bumps filled with pus, so that they can feel even worse about themselves." This is just further proof that He hates us. (Some people suffer from horrible acne, with red, puffy, crater-laden skin that makes them look like walking pepperoni pizzas, so apparently He hates some people more than others.) Tell your child not to squeeze his pimples because all that does is further injure the skin, so unless he wants to look like Manuel Noriega he should leave well enough alone. Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by chocolate or dietary fat or bad hygiene, although these factors can exacerbate an existing condition. Surging hormones are the culprit. A dermatologist might be able to help control acne with prescription creams or shots, but the benefits are limited. Usually one must wait about 15 years in order to completely get over acne: seven years for the acne to go away by itself, and eight years of psychological therapy.




ADOLESCENCE


With cosmetics these days I can't tell a 17-year-old from a 24-year-old. But a jury can.


After the initial shock of wet dreams and menstrual cramps is over, young people enter adolescence. There is really no defining point at which this happens. In fact, some people consider puberty just the early part of adolescence. Either way, adolescence can be a lot of fun: it's a time to explore who you are, flout society's norms, dress funny, listen to loud music, and engage in sophomoric behavior. This phase lasts for several years (thirty years in my case).

Life for adolescents is much different today from what it was like a century ago. By age 11 people were learning a trade; by 18 they were married and productive members of society. Nowadays teenagers are still in school, eating our food and using our hot water. We buy them clothes and let them play that stuff they call "music" on their stereos. If they earn any money at all via baby-sitting or mowing lawns or part-time jobs, we let them keep it instead of having them at least partially reimburse us for all we spend on them. All their lives we have given them lots of toys and plenty of food; driven them to soccer practice and friends' houses; and supplied them with a wide assortment of stuffed animals, computer software, dolls, trucks and other diversions lest one second of their life be spent not draining our resources. Yet despite all that we have done for our teenagers, they think that we are the Most Uncool People on the Planet. The sad thing is, they're right.

I think part of the reason teenagers find their parents so lame is that they grow up with really cool action figures, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. What human being could ever live up to those standards? I think that we, as parents, could make ourselves appear better by providing more realistic action figures, such as Middle-Aged Balding Insurance-Selling Ninja, or Hank the Plumber (with Super Skidmark Action). The only realistic action figures are replicas of little girls, such as Lovin' Care Kelly, who actually develops a rash in order to appear ill ("Kelly is home from school today - she has chlamydia.")

Teenagers are fortunate to be able to go to high school and/or college, because a tremendous number of activities are going on, such as sports, clubs, socializing and dating. It would be a waste for someone to live out his or her entire academic career without getting involved in something other than studies. The type of activity that I'm most familiar with is sports, and in order to help your kid decide whether he or she wants to participate, I present here a list of several scholastic sports and what they involve.

SportDescription
Football
Nothing boosts a teenage boy's testosterone like breaking his best friend's ribs. Watch with sadistic pride as your child turns someone else's kid into a human Gumby.
Cheerleading
This is a chance for your simpering daughter to show off her unearned beauty - which she will destroy by age 27 with fast food, cigarettes and divorce - in front of horny adolescent boys, while homely but intelligent girls resent the entire planet for being so shallow.
Baseball
Let's face it. Your kid is gonna do drugs and scratch his balls anyway, so you might as well have him play a sport in which these activities are actually expected.
Wrestling
The perfect sport for any overweight boy. His desire to win will convince him that he needs to lose 25 pounds by Friday. You'll be both amazed and disgusted as your once porky kid transforms into a Third World refugee, proving once and for all that Richard Simmons and Jenny Craig are morons.
Basketball
Now your tall, gawky, Howard Stern look-alike has somewhere other than the mall to go after school. Turn thyroid disease into fame and glory with baggy shorts and size 14 Reeboks.
Field hockey
Contrary to popular belief, not all field hockey players are dykes. You should be more concerned with whether someone's darling little angel is gonna give your princess a shiner that'd make Mike Tyson proud. Why they don't supply helmets in this sport is beyond me.
Lacrosse
What better way to teach your problem child discipline and respect than by arming him with a netted stick and a rock-hard orb that he can hurl at anyone on the field or in the crowd?
Gymnastics
This is much better than cheerleading in terms of enabling middle-aged men to get their jollies. C'mon guys, admit it: you'd love to commit statutory rape with the luscious 16-year-old you're drooling at.
Volleyball
A great way for your daughter to make friends while playing a fairly mild sport. Except when she's on the receiving end of an opposing player's power spike. That's okay - she needed a nose job anyway.
Track
There's something for everyone in this eclectic mix of games designed to show the world how much more athletic other kids are than yours.
Cross-country
Used to be called "jogging" until it was renamed in order to create interest. For kids who can run but have no other skills.
Soccer
Take cross-country and add a ball, shin guards and several injuries.
Ice hockey
Combines the bone-crunching action of football with the stick-wielding excitement of lacrosse, and adds the occasional fistfight. It's like visiting Los Angeles.

Another popular activity is dating. Well, it's not popular among all people. Certainly not me. If you've read either The Dating Handbook or Relationships for Dummies, you know that dating is not one of the things that I'm good or even competent at. In my entire high school experience I had a grand total of three dates, due to my charming and romantic array of pick-up lines ("Wanna make out?"). But while I'm no authority on dating, I might have some helpful advice to offer parents of dating teens. Of course, by "might" I mean "probably don't".

Dating is one area in which today's teenagers are very fortunate, especially if they're girls, because in the Colonial days the average bridal age was 15. Often girls were married off for financial reasons, and they usually gave birth very young because childbirth was very difficult and often fatal, and the younger the mother, the better chance she had to survive. Today's society is much easier on women, and I think most of us are relieved at that. I mean, the last thing a parent of a teenage girl wants is for her to come home with a ring on her finger and a strange man who says, "Hi. I'll be shtupping your daughter for the next 50 years."

There is probably no activity more awkward than dating. Almost the entire adult population is riddled with emotional scars from embarrassing and anxiety-producing situations caused by saying the wrong thing, being too nervous to say anything, and getting dumped or rejected. These kicks in the self-esteem can cause long-term emotional damage because most teenagers haven't finished developing and accepting themselves. Perhaps we should treat dating like alcohol and tobacco, forbidding people from engaging in it until they reach emotional maturity, say, at age forty-two.

No matter how your child does in the dating world, remain positive and supportive. If, for example, your son is afraid to ask someone out who he has had a crush on for a while, tell him that shyness and fear of rejection are very normal and that the worst that can happen is that she'll say no. If he does ask her out and she rejects him, tell him that he just hasn't met the right girl yet, that he has many years left in which to find someone, and that the stuck-up bitch who turned him down will eventually live a wretched life married to a wealthy but abusive CEO.

Every father who has a daughter fears that she will take an interest in a boy who is not good enough for her, which is defined as anyone who is not an Ivy League candidate. Oh sure, mothers worry too, but dads especially fear that some guy will try to defile his little princess, because that's exactly what he did to girls when he was young. He also knows that his son will do this, which of course he encourages. And so fathers live with the old double standard: it's okay for him and his male offspring to deflower innocent young women, but if anyone else's kid tries that with his daughter, the authorities will never find the boy's body.

Let's say that your daughter has started dating someone and the first time he comes to your house, the following conversation takes place:

Boyfriend:"Sorry I'm late. I had to stop by the drugstore."
You: "Hello there. Please come inside."
Boyfriend:"Please come inside? Wow, you sound just like your daughter."
Daughter: "What took you so long, Hatchet?"
Boyfriend:"Can you believe it? Those shitheads at the corner market wouldn't cash my welfare check!"
You: "Welcome to our home."
Boyfriend:"Nice place you got here. That painting looks expensive. I bet a big house like this came with a safe already built in, didn't it?"
You: "So you like my daughter, do you?"
Boyfriend:"Yeah. My parole officer thinks she has a calming effect on me."

This will surely take five years off your life. But you cannot simply proclaim, "I don't want you hanging around with that cretin. Why can't you find a nice boy who is headed for college and who bathes regularly?" That is exactly the kind of narrow-minded criticism she would expect from an uptight square like you. Remember, teenagers need to rebel, and your telling her to stay away from this felon will only make her want to be with him even more.

There are a few ways to get rid of your daughter's hoodlum boyfriend. The first is to scare him away. For example, make sure that when he comes over, you're cleaning your gun. Or sharpening your hunting knife. Or making explosives.

The second way is to make her lose interest in him. When he comes over, pretend to like him. Build a rapport with him. "Is that a Harley you rode up on? I used to own one. So did my friend Norm Bernstein. We used to take girls up to the mountains, drink a case of beer, have wild sex, and sometimes camp out under the stars. So where are you taking Shelly tonight? The mall? Oh, that's ... interesting."

The last resort is to make him dump her. When she is out of earshot, tell him something like, "She's been a lot more fun since the sex change" or "Her last relationship didn't end too well. Fortunately we were able to get the charge reduced to manslaughter."




COLLEGE


The Catholic Church says that life begins at conception. I say it begins when the kids have finally moved out of the house.


College is a wise investment of time, work and money, for it opens career doors that are otherwise closed. College graduates can become doctors and lawyers and accountants, while the rest of the population is relegated to monotonous labor and clerical jobs that those of us who got our degrees are thankful we don't have to do. College also prepares you for the real world. (That is, if you plan on being a bar-hopping, dope-smoking, worker's comp-collecting alcoholic.)

I looked up college in the dictionary and found the following definition:

An expensive resort wherein you spend four years getting drunk and snoozing through monotonous drivel so that you can obtain a piece of paper that enables you to work half as hard as the average person yet get paid twice as much.
Of course, I found this definition in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and you know that those collegiate folks are gonna focus on the good aspects (i.e. beer and sleeping). The definition doesn't mention term papers, all-nighters or being arrested for public urination, which are all standard collegiate activities. Nevertheless, the four to ten years you spend under the yoke of higher education will pay off in the long run as you perform needless surgery or provide legal representation for obviously guilty clients.

Any decent student can go to college. Even children of poor parents can afford college via the Student Loan Program. All you have to do in order to qualify for a loan is prove that you live in a cardboard box and eat dog food. No, seriously, everyone is entitled to some sort of college loan. Then your child will start paying it off after he graduates and gets his first job. At least you hope he will, because you might have to co-sign the loan, which means that if he decides to live on society's fringe as a beatnik or palm reader, you will be faced with yet another big expense thanks to your brilliant decision to multiply.

Merely coming up with tuition money isn't enough, however. Universities want competent students who will eventually impact the world in a positive way and therefore make their institute of higher learning look good. Obviously, good high school grades are a big selection factor. Participation in extracurricular activities also helps. And then there's the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). This is a standardized test which is designed to compare the abilities of students from all across the nation, and is used as a selection criterion by college admission boards. There are two parts to the test: English and mathematics. The scoring range is anywhere from 200 to 800 points for each part, making the total scoring range 400 to 1600. Would you like to know how some of our leaders did on this test? According to the March 12, 2001 issue of Time, George W. Bush got 1206 on his SAT and Al Gore got 1335. I was pleased to know that I beat both of them, until I remembered that I was comparing myself to Al Gore and George W. Bush.

I did considerably better on the math portion than on the English portion. This is because the English portion always contains stupid questions such as:

   Pusillanimous is to kumquat as pugnacious is to:
      A. combative
      B. fruit
      C. pugilist
      D. Ben Stein
The answer, of course, is D. (Incidentally, Ben Stein scored 1573 on his SAT. What a dweeb.)

Some people want to get rid of the SAT, but these are generally folks who did lousy on it or who are afraid that their kids'll do lousy on it. People who study hard and do well on this test are glad that it sets them above those who don't do so well and thereby gives them an edge when applying to colleges. Some people are lucky enough to not have to take the SAT at all: they inherit fortunes and never have to get jobs, or win the genetic lottery and can therefore become celebrity eye candy. Some folks go into their family's business. Others sell drugs, making more money than those of us who sweat and grind our way through school and pay taxes. Oh yeah, life is fair.

Once your child's credentials are in order, it's time to apply to colleges. This should be done long before her high school graduation, preferably at the beginning of her senior year; if you wait until her final semester, you might find that the good colleges have already accepted all the new students they want. Hopefully, within a few months of applying, she will receive at least one acceptance letter, an example of which I provide here, with my translations in brackets:

Dear Penelope,

I am pleased to inform you of your acceptance into the Johns Hopkins University Class of 2009. The admissions committee has carefully considered your qualifications [you will most likely complete high school] and is confident that you can thrive in the University's rigorous academic environment [if you ignore the fact that 16 percent of freshmen flunk out every year], as well as make a valuable personal contribution to Johns Hopkins [to the tune of $7200 per semester].

We are sure that you will enjoy Johns Hopkins's many extracurricular activities [such as keg parties and wild sex] as well as prosper tremendously from the curriculum [especially on those days when you're a bleary-eyed zombie from staying up all night writing a term paper]. Congratulations on your academic success so far [you've stayed out of jail for seventeen years], and we wish you every success at this institution [as long as you keep the money flowing our way].

Sincerely,

Ed U. Kayshun
Admissions Committee Chairman


All right, so your child is headed to college. She has packed her things and is ready to go. She might be boarding a plane or driving herself, but the best case is that you drive her to college, for this will make the journey seem like the first day of summer camp, except that it's much more expensive and you view each camper as a potential rapist.

The curriculum at college is not as tough as most people think it is. In fact, I heard that Ted Kennedy graduated from college with a 4.0. Unfortunately that was his blood alcohol content, not his GPA.

College can be the best time of your life. It certainly was for me. I look back fondly on my college days living at the fraternity house, partying four nights a week, having fun until the wee hours, experimenting with drugs, and having no one to answer to. Those were the happiest nine years I ever spent.




IT'S  NOT  ALL  SKITTLES  AND  BEER


A family is having dinner on Mother's Day. The mother is unusually quiet.

Father:"What's wrong?"
Mother:"I have cooked and cleaned and fed the kids for 15 years, and on Mother's Day they don't even tell me so much as 'Thank you'."
Father:"Well, not once in 15 years have I gotten a Father's Day gift."
Mother:"Yes, but I'm their real mother."


Some kids are more difficult than others. They're not bad - they're just harder to handle. In fact, the least manageable kids are usually the most intelligent and motivated. It is the same with adults: movers and shakers are highly visible, in-your-face people; while many drones go largely unnoticed as they meander through their boring lives. The more intelligent and energetic the child, the more guidance and stimulation he needs. He might have higher highs and lower lows than most other kids, which can make raising him more challenging, but keep in mind that he probably has a lot of potential, so you should both feel good about this and spend the extra time to work with him. If you leave him to his own devices, you might regret it ten or twenty years later when you're asked to testify at his trial.

Speaking of difficult kids, you might have heard of Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They're caused by neurotransmitter dysfunction. People with ADD are easily distracted, forget things, lose things, become disorganized, and have difficulty focusing, listening, and completing tasks. (Of course, this describes half of all government employees, which is why it's difficult to tell ADD from merely being a screw-up.) ADHD is ADD plus an inability to sit still. No one knows the cause, although there seems to be a genetic component since a lot of affected kids have at least one relative with it. An afflicted child might be able to focus just fine on television or video games because those things stimulate from the outside and thus require only passive concentration. It's active concentration, such as that required to do homework or remember things, that gives the child trouble.

Medications can help improve an ADD/ADHD child's attention span and organization, but there are many possible side effects, including insomnia, high blood pressure, facial tics, weight loss and stunted growth. Furthermore, some medicated kids show reduced cognitive skills and become docile zombies. Drugs should never be employed as a single approach - they should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy and behavior modification. Simply administering medication might make children sit still and pay attention, but they will remain dependent on it because they'll never learn to modify their behavior. Medication isn't always needed either. When I was five I was labeled "hyperactive" (which is what they used to call ADHD). I never received medication, and I turned out just fine. Yessir, when people think of the word "normal", they think of me.

I hate when people assume that their rambunctious, inattentive children have ADHD. Less than 5% of children actually have this disorder. It is up to physicians and psychologists, not parents, to make the diagnosis. The ADHD excuse is a convenient way for irresponsible folks to blame their failure as parents on something else. Rather than spend the time and energy necessary to teach their kids more appropriate behavior, they seek medication to calm their children down and thereby make their own lives easier.

A child's hyperactivity or inability to concentrate might have non-ADD/ADHD causes such as an allergy, a learning disorder, or a thyroid problem. Please get him tested before resorting to medication so that these causes can be ruled out. It is probably no coincidence that I had horrible pollen allergies at the same time of life that I was "hyperactive". I have since grown out of those allergies. Now I have no excuse for my behavior.

Unfortunately, despite all our hard work, our children won't necessarily turn out the way we want them to. If you are considering having kids, then look at the kind of monsters you might create:

Nerd
No personality. Downloads pornography from the Internet. The chess team picks on him.
Pudge-o
Fat and slow. No athletic skills of any kind. The object of ridicule by classmates, teachers and you.
Priss
Mommy's and Daddy's little girl. A beautiful, well-mannered piece of fluff who will never have an original thought and who will someday marry a rich man for his money.
Pretty boy
A male priss. (But at least he'll get a job.)
Bitch
Her short temper and impatient demeanor are partly your fault for not beating her enough.
Demon
Never comes when called. Tortures small animals. Calls you at 3 AM to bail him out. You would have been better off drowning the little bastard in the river. He is the reason condoms were invented.


In light of all the ways that a kid can go wrong, a fair question would be: How is it that virtually all kids - even those that are major disappointments to their parents - survive to adulthood? Well, the majority of them have a genetic adaptation that has enabled them, and hence our species, to survive for millennia: they're cute. As annoyed as we are by their whining and as angry as we get when they deliberately disobey us, we both tolerate them and create more of them because they're so precious. They remain this way just long enough to keep us subservient to them throughout their most needy time of life. In their teens, when they've grown so big and strong that they don't need us anymore and we are no longer able to kill them, they lose their cuteness by developing hair, pimples, a lower voice and an attitude.

It is very important to encourage your children no matter how disappointed you are in them. According to many public school systems, there's no better way to show your appreciation than by driving around with a bumper sticker that arrogantly displays something like, "My kid is an honor roll student at Misdemeanor Middle School". Even if you have a child that is not on the honor roll, you can still salvage a bit of dignity with a "My kid is on the way to the top" bumper sticker. However, if you have a kid that's a total fuck-up, you can't be honest, so your bumper sticker cannot say, for example, "My kid's a moron, and I'm embarrassed as hell about it". You'll have to stretch the truth or at least pretend to be proud of your child's minimal accomplishments. For example:




CHILDREN  OF  DIVORCE


Man #1:"I got divorced recently. Looks like I'll be doing dishes by hand from now on."
Man #2:"That ain't all you'll be doing by hand."


It seems that there is a higher percentage of children of divorced parents than ever before. Maybe there isn't - maybe we're just more aware of the problem than we used to be - but nowadays there are a lot of single parents, and many childless people are getting into relationships with them and thus acquiring "instant families". I am one of these people. Poor Joseph and Adam. In addition to their parents splitting up, they have me as a stepfather.

Historically, custody in divorce cases has usually been awarded to women. Men are often portrayed as bad guys: abusive, neglectful, and not very nurturing. While it's true that there are a lot of "dead beat dads", there are a good number of unfit mothers too. Additionally, it is no longer the norm for women to be housewives, so they don't necessarily have any more free time than men have for childrearing. As a result, women don't have such an easy time winning custody battles anymore. Now judges and social workers make decisions on a case-by-case basis, and often men turn out to be better parents. For example, would you rather be raised by Tom Arnold or Roseanne Arnold?

The loser in a custody battle is often devastated. The parent has lost the right to be with his or her children the majority of the time, and now must suffer the loneliness of not being part of a nuclear family. He or she must usually pay child support as well, adding financial stress to the equation. This is one of the many good reasons to make sure that the person you marry is right for you. If you go into marriage with your eyes half shut, tying the knot because it's a custom rather than because you're deeply in love with your significant other, then it only makes sense that you will eventually divorce. By being extra careful and waiting until you meet the right person, you will be ready for a lifelong marriage at the tender age of eighty-three.

If you have children from a previous relationship and there is a visitation or joint custody arrangement, this will bring additional headaches, most of which result from the fact that the kids no longer have just one set of guardians and one place they call "home". You have to bring them to/from the ex. Every time they go to the ex's, you have to make sure that they have all the school books, homework assignments, clothing, toys, etc they will need while they're gone. The ex might be raising them quite differently from the way you are, and this can make your life more difficult. For example, you might help the kids with their homework, read to them, feed them healthful food and make sure they get to bed at a reasonable hour; but the ex might neglect their educational needs, feed them crap and let them stay up as late as they want, causing them to fall behind in school, gain weight, and be cranky from lack of sleep when the ex delivers them back to you. This is quite frustrating because you don't have control over the kids' home life all the time, the ex is undoing some of your hard work, and there's nothing you can do about it. Well, there is one thing you can do: take your kids away from the ex. This is best accomplished via something called the O.J. Method. All it requires is a knife, a Ford Bronco, and $40 million for lawyers and punitive damages.

The best way to deal with the dual household situation is to impress upon your children that there are now two families and that the rules in your family aren't necessarily the same as the rules in your ex's family. If your child does something that your ex condones but that you disapprove of, let the child know that this particular behavior is unacceptable when he is with you, e.g. "In this family we don't smoke crack."

Some parents try to turn their children against the other parent by saying what a "bad" person their kids' mother or father is. The younger the children, the easier they are to fool (which is why many parents start teaching their kids religion as soon as possible). What these vindictive people don't realize is that they are hurting their children more than they're hurting their ex. A child who is taught that one of her parents is bad becomes unhappy, finds it difficult to have a close relationship with the parent in question, and might feel bad about herself ("If Daddy is bad, maybe I'm bad too"). This brainwashing, which is certainly a form of psychological abuse, goes on behind closed doors where it can be neither discovered nor prosecuted. For example:

Mother:"Your father is Jerry Springer."
Daughter:"AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHH!"

As I mentioned earlier, younger children are more easily duped. For example:

Mother:"Your father is the Bogeyman."
Daughter:"I don't believe you.
Mother:"Why not?"
Daughter:"Because I'm thirty-four."




DANGERS


Michael Jackson's girlfriend accused him of being a pedophile. He said, "'Pedophile'? That's a big word for a six-year-old."


Less than 100 years ago countless thousands of children worked in mills, factories and coalmines; sold newspapers; picked berries; shucked oysters; and pushed peanut carts. Their bosses sometimes kicked them into obedience. They were uneducated because they spent their days working. Many couldn't even remember how old they were. They worked at any hour that was required of them. Some worked 15-hour shifts. They often got paid less than a dollar per day. Many had parents who would beat them if they did not bring enough money home. Ah, those were the days!

These days kids are more sheltered than ever before. We watch them closely for several years. We make sure they get the best medical care we can afford. We keep them well-fed. We educate them all the way into adulthood. They also have too many choices. Remember the old days when you were happy with whatever toy or pair of shoes you got? Now we dangle myriad possibilities in front of our children, which often causes discontent. For example, if your local theater is playing two movies that your kids might want to see, then no matter which one you take them to, one of them might complain that he wants to see the other one. After all you do for him on a daily basis, he still has no gratitude when you go above and beyond the call of duty. I say that the whining little bastard should sit home while the rest of the family goes out, but of course it would not be politically correct to do that in today's kids-matter-more-than-their-parents climate. Anyway, providing for our children's needs isn't enough. We must also be on the lookout for things that can be physically or emotionally damaging, such as fast food and Teletubbies. We shelter and protect them in ways that were unheard of when I was growing up: we transport them in minivans and SUVs with air bags and child safety seats, we have them wear helmets when they ride their bikes, and we no longer smack them in order to get them to shut up. I tell you, it makes me sick.

We can't shelter our kids from everything. They will explore the world on their own and become exposed to things, and we are kidding ourselves if we believe otherwise. Keeping children completely oblivious to life's dangers will only prevent them from knowing how to protect themselves when a potentially harmful situation arises. Therefore the best way to help them is to educate them. I hope you are able to pass the following information along to your progeny so that they can preserve their own lives and thereby continue to aggravate and bankrupt you.

An age-old problem is alcohol abuse. Many kids succumb to peer pressure and force themselves to drink even if they would have no inclination to do so on their own. Forbidding your child to drink will only increase his curiosity and make him even more likely to try it, if for no other reason than to rebel. The solution is simple: reverse psychology. For example, I make beer at home which is always available on tap, and I often encourage my kids to try it. The more I urge them to taste it, the further away from it they stay. I attribute their abstinence to my brilliant ploy, and also to the contorted facial expressions our houseguests make when they try my homebrew.

Drugs are another problem. Some drugs have harmful physical effects or are quite addictive. Using them can make kids lose focus, skip classes and stop doing homework. Kids can overdose when they underestimate the strength of the drug they're using. Shared needles spread diseases. Some kids turn to crime in order to support their habit. The illegality of drugs causes some kids to buy them in seedy areas (thereby increasing the chance of being robbed or arrested). I used to think that legalizing drugs was a viable solution, for it would at least remove the criminal element, free up police officers for other efforts, cause prices to drop, and ensure that private companies could offer cleaner and safer products and delivery methods. Then I learned that the same idea had been put forth by Jocelyn Elders - the former Surgeon General who had once suggested that we teach school children how to masturbate - and as a result I rethought the issue. We have only to look at Prohibition in order to see that legalization is not the answer. During Prohibition, crime organizations produced and sold alcohol illegally, which caused turf wars between rival gangs and machine gun killings that sometimes took the lives of innocent people as well as the intended targets. Some people became very sick or died from consuming poisonous concoctions. Prohibition was repealed after 13 years of violence, graft and death. But now almost half of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related, and there are literally millions of alcoholics. Of course, the term "alcoholic" is open to interpretation. One definition of alcoholism lists drinking by oneself as a symptom. I sometimes sample my homebrew when nobody else is around, so by that definition I have a drinking problem. This reflects badly on you, because you're spending your time reading stuff that was written by an alcoholic.

Lack of family support can cause kids to seek acceptance elsewhere. This is one reason that many teenage children are easily recruited into militant hate groups, cults and gangs. Hate groups lure angry young people by giving them a target (e.g. an ethnic or religious group) to scapegoat for their own failures and toward which to channel their frustration. Cult leaders use ridiculous supernatural propositions in order to recruit people who are so ignorant and who have so little self-esteem that they can actually be persuaded to commit suicide in the belief that they will then be transported to a wonderful metaphysical world. Gangs offer a sense of power and security to frightened youths, but there is no real love in a gang - only allegiance - and so gang members remain unloved and angry at the world. Contrary to popular belief, a gang does not necessarily have similar clothing, tattoos, hand signs, initiation rituals, or even a specific name such as Crips or Bloods. The FBI defines a gang as "a group of individuals involved in continuing criminal activity". Of course, that definition describes half of all law firms, so we have to ask ourselves just how completely the FBI has thought this through.

And let us not forget the Internet, which hosts a gazillion chat groups where millions of no-lifes express stupid opinions and vent their spleens, kind of like I'm doing here. Perpetrators who want to sell pornographic pictures of and/or have sex with children will visit "chat rooms" where they enter false personal information in order to prevent identification. A 51-year-old man, for example, will claim to be a 12-year-old girl and to share one of your child's interests (say, the Backstreet Boys or Pokémon cards) or to empathize with your child's problems. Eventually an innocent child might be lured out of the house and into the grasp of someone who will undress, rape, photograph and possibly even murder him or her (in order to avoid later detection). Because of the Internet, this kind of sick individual no longer has to drive to schoolyards looking for prey; now he can meet children in almost every U.S. state in complete anonymity. Children are very trusting, and it's unfortunate that we must teach them to be skeptical because of the few bad apples out there, but this is a real danger that every responsible parent should both be aware of and take steps to prevent. We need to prevent pedophilia on the Internet and keep it in the priesthood where it belongs.

There are other dangers in cyberspace. Some Web sites contain hateful, violent, or pornographic material that can be quite upsetting and disturbing to young minds. Other sites are designed to recruit young gullible people into cults or hate groups. While a few cyber tools exist that can help prevent children from visiting certain sites or revealing personal information (see http://www.safekids.com), they cannot do as good a job as a caring parent who spends time educating and monitoring his kids. Too many parents are so uninvolved in their kids' lives that they have no idea that their children are viewing unsuitable material, sneaking out to meet strangers, subscribing to extremist ideologies, reading my writings, etc. This has got to be stopped.

To report suspected illegal activities directed toward your children, contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or http://www.cybertipline.com. For information on child safety issues, visit http://www.missingkids.com. For other child-related matters call the National Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-800-442-HOPE.

Merely telling kids not to drink or do drugs or join a gang or believe everything they read is not enough. The most effective thing you can do in order to keep your children from being led down destructive paths is to stay involved in their lives. Be a friend, not just an authority figure: talk with them, not at them. Have regular family meetings to discuss what's happening in their lives. However, don't model these meetings after the typical corporate meeting, with modern-day business concepts, because if you do you're likely to have this kind of result:

Mother:"Okay, the family meeting is called to order."
Son:"I want to complain. As you know, I'm diabetic, and I haven't had insulin for two-"
Father:"Hold on there, son. This is not a complaint meeting. It's a quality improvement meeting. The complaint meeting is scheduled for next Thursday."




HOW  TO  BECOME  A  PARENT


How come we never hear anything about surrogate fathers? I think they were called "milkmen" when I was a kid.


Adoption - A good idea for everyone, even fertile couples -- it would save them nine months of discomfort per child. (Then again, we engage in lots of unnecessary activities that cause needless suffering, e.g. marriage.) There are a lot of children living in orphanages who desperately need homes, and yet the vast majority of fertile couples who want kids choose to procreate rather than give their love and resources to a child who has already been born. Why? Because most people are both racially and genetically discriminating. They would rather perpetuate their own genes than help an unfortunate child. It is usually folks who cannot procreate (single people, gay couples, and heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is sterile) who adopt, and those people usually prefer babies of their own race. Some white people do adopt non-white babies, but that is usually only because supply and demand makes adopting a healthy white baby difficult: there can be a long waiting list for their first choice, so rather than wait, they adopt a baby of another color that is more readily available. I'm not accusing folks of being bigots, nor do I want to label people's choice to procreate rather than adopt as bordering on criminal, but the facts clearly show that few people are as magnanimous and color-blind as they might claim. Look at the Democratic Party.

Stepparenting - Even easier than adoption, this is a simple matter of getting involved with someone who already has kids. You might not have wanted kids, but you got 'em. Hey, look at it this way: you get to screen them. If you don't like them, you can break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend; whereas if you were to have your own children, you would be stuck with them even if they were Erik and Lyle Menendez.

Normal procreation - This is the preferred method, wherein two people (usually a man and a woman) do the Mattress Mambo, and nine months later a newborn baby is welcomed by both parents (unless its father plays in the NBA). One drawback to this method is that sex is no longer a free-and-easy, spontaneous act; now its main purpose is procreation, which takes away some of the romance because instead of just "doing it" whenever the mood is right, you time it with ovulation, which sometimes results in an obligatory shtup no matter how tired the two of you are. If you go months without fertilizing, you might dwell too much on your "failure" to conceive, while the real failure is in making sex a goal-oriented procedure instead of just relaxing and enjoying it. I can't think of any less enjoyable circumstances for sex, except maybe having it with Janet Reno.

Artificial insemination - A very expensive procedure which is not necessary for the maintenance of a woman's health, yet is routinely paid for by insurance companies. The willingness of these women to grow a stranger's seed is yet another example of people putting their own desire to reproduce ahead of the needs of a lonely child who they could otherwise adopt. I understand that women's need to procreate is instinctual and can't be reasoned around, but by the same token I expect women to understand certain instinctual things about men, such as the innate need to watch football.

If you decide to procreate either normally or artificially, you should be aware of a parasitic organism that scientists have studied extensively. It thrives on the blood supply of many women, depleting its host of valuable nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, it often causes nausea, diabetes and abdominal distention, and is occasionally fatal. Treating this condition has cost billions of dollars in doctor visits and hospitalization. The organism is usually removed from the patient after several months with the help of a physician, sometimes surgically. Even after its removal, there can be long-range effects, including energy drain, slight abdominal distention, stress and disturbed sleep. What is this leech that causes all these problems? You guessed it: a child.

Men, if your significant other is pregnant, try to be sensitive to her discomfort. There are certain things you should never say to her, especially during the third trimester. I have listed them here for your convenience.

"I finished the Oreos."
"Hey, when you're done puking in there, get me a beer, will ya?"
"Not to imply anything, but I don't think the kid weighs 40 pounds."
"Your stomach sticks out almost as much as your ass!"
"Get your own ice cream."
"Fred passed a stone the size of a pea. Boy, that's gotta hurt!"
"Geez, you're awfully puffy looking today."
"How come you're so much fatter than the other chicks in Lamaze?"
"Yo, Fatass! You're blocking the TV!"
"I sure hope your thighs aren't gonna stay that flabby forever."




CARING  FOR  LATCHKEY  CHILDREN


An 8-year-old girl asked her father, "Daddy, what is sex?" The father was surprised that she would ask such a question, but decided that if she was old enough to ask, then she was old enough to get a straight answer. He proceeded to tell her all about the "birds and the bees". When he finished explaining, the little girl was looking at him with her mouth hanging open. He asked her, "Why did you ask this question?" She replied, "Mom told me to tell you that dinner would be ready in just a couple of secs."


"Latchkey children" (a term coined during the 19th century to describe children who wore house keys on strings around their necks) are kids who care for themselves when they aren't in school and their parents are at work. They take on the burden of feeding themselves and doing household chores, or they have no one to help them with homework or involve them in extracurricular activities, and this can cause them to feel stressed, lonely, bored or deserted. Here are some tips to help create a safe home environment for them.

Post important phone numbers. Place a list of emergency phone numbers by the phone. For example: your and/or your spouse's work place, police department, fire department, doctor, poison control center, and Domino's Pizza.

Establish house rules. Make a list of the most important rules, and place it in a central location. Example rules are: use the telephone only in an emergency, do not answer the door unless it's someone you know, and don't put the cat in the microwave again.

Teach and practice practical skills. Your kids should know how to prepare meals, use appliances safely, overcome feelings of boredom and fear, and operate a handgun.

Set up emergency plans. Kids should know what to do if they lose a key, are approached by a stranger, discover a fire, injure themselves, or run out of beer.

Return home on time. If you tell your children that you'll be home at a certain time, be sure that you are. Even being a few minutes late can cause them undue worry. So don't make any unscheduled stops on the way home. Unless you hear that the High Noon Saloon's happy hour is featuring 2-for-1 draughts.

Make shared time count. If you are unable to spend a lot of time with your kids, then make sure the time you do spend with them is quality time. Plan special activities such as a neighborhood walk or a picnic. Talk with them. Listen to them. Play with them. Read to them. Take them with you when you visit your psychiatrist; after all, it's because of them that you need to go in the first place.