Monday, June 21, 2010

(Un)Happy Father's Day

It’s uncanny. I posted something just days ago about the parents we saw last weekend that couldn’t control their kids, and then this weekend I ran into their exact opposite. To be clear, when I said control your kids I just meant keep them from running amok. I didn’t mean verbally analyze every move they make with a critical tone.

Mary and I are sitting in Outback Steakhouse Saturday evening. The hostess seats a family at the table next to us. It’s a mom, dad, and four boys, the youngest about 9, the oldest about 13. Before they even get their menus open, Dad turns to the oldest boy and says, “Are we going to have a problem in here, or are you going to be able to keep your attitude in check?” The boy mumbles something, and Dad continues, “Well, you need to tell your face and your body that you don’t have an attitude problem, because your body language is projecting as if you do. You’re all hunched over. Sit up straight like a man, Josh. Make eye contact with the people around you. How many times have I told you how important eye contact is?” The boy engages the other members of the table, and Dad seems satisfied for a moment.

Then he begins to watch the other three boys across the table, who are playing the games on the disposable placemats. The boys are having fun and behaving themselves, but he can’t help himself. “Connor, are you watching what you’re doing? You put your X in the corner. That means Steven can put his O here and by the time you get one row started, he’ll have two rows started, which means he’ll win.” Then to the other boy, “Tyler, what are you playing down there? Ah, the maze. Let’s see how you’re doing. Hmmm. You see this section right here? It doesn’t go anywhere. Did you follow it first before you drew your line? You didn’t, did you? That’s why you’re going to get stuck in this spot here. This is what I mean when I say ‘think ahead’.”

At this point Mary and I are staring, wide-eyed, at each other over our drinks. It’s a look that says, “Oh. My. God.” I lower my drink and mouth the words
control much? and Mary giggles. This guy is the antithesis of the dad from the weekend before. I can’t even imagine this dad being affectionate, what with his rigid demeanor and clipped speech, much less letting a kid crawl on him.

The waitress arrives to take their drink orders. Dad orders a draft beer and gives specific directions on how he wants the head. They also order a Bloomin’ Onion under Dad’s direction. When it arrives, Dad makes sure that everyone has some. Whether they want it or not. The youngest boy agrees to try it, but he doesn’t want the dipping sauce. Dad responds, “Either you take some sauce or you don’t get any at all.” The boy is fine with that, as he didn’t want any to begin with. But Dad ends up forcing the sauce on him anyway.

As they decide on entrees, on of the boys mentions that he wants a steak. Dad says, “No, you’ll order from the kids’ menu.” Mom speaks for the first time of the evening and mentions quietly that it might be all right if the boy wanted a steak. Dad snaps back at her, “Either he orders off of the kids’ menu or he doesn’t order. That’s it. End of discussion.” Mom lowers her head and stares at the table.

I’m beginning to get a more accurate picture of this guy. I can imagine him requiring Mom to arrange the canned goods in their pantry with three-quarters of an inch between cans or making sure that the towels on the towel rod are even and straight like the freaky husband in Sleeping with the Enemy. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he is the one in control. That he and he alone makes the decisions for this family.

As the boys order (from the kids menu), he badgers them while they choose condiments. “Tyler, do you want ketchup and mustard? Then tell her what you want. She has other tables to take care of. Josh, speak up, she can’t hear you when you mumble. And if I have to tell you again to make eye contact...” Then he instructs the waitress about the condiments they order for their burgers. “Ma’am, what’s your name? Shelley? Shelley, go easy on the mustard and ketchup, ok? Otherwise they’ll make a mess.” Then he cautions Shelley about his baked potato. “Shelley? On my potato, make sure it’s baked really well. The last time it was a little firm in the middle. Oh, and you can put butter and chives on it, but bring the sour cream on the side.”

As I sign our check and Mary and I get up to leave, he’s still going at it with the boys. “Connor, can you tell me why your elbows are on the table? You know we don’t put our elbows on the table. Tyler, your napkin goes in your lap. Josh, if I have to tell you again to sit up straight, we’re going to have a problem. Steven, stop playing with your straw wrapper.” The last thing I hear him say as we round the corner is, “You’re making it very hard for me to enjoy my Father’s Day dinner.”

What a jackass.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Smack the Monkey

“Boo!” Mary and I are at a local restaurant, and a little boy in the booth behind us is creeping up over the seat repeatedly. Our lack of participation in his game hasn’t deterred him. Obviously he’s under the mistaken impressions that 1.) Yes, we would love to play, and 2.) We’re hard of hearing. So he does it again. Louder. “BOO!” His mom and dad are right there, but neither of them has said a word to him. He’s climbing in the booth, under the table, and on his parents. The rare moments that he is still are spent leaning over the booth, elbows resting on the back of the seat as if he’s captivated by our conversation.

His younger sister, an adorable little girl with blues eyes and blond hair, done up in a top-of-the-head pigtail like Pebbles from the Flintstones, is sitting in a high chair at the end of the table spreading barbecue sauce on her face as if preparing for a voodoo ritual. Mom and Dad are carrying on a conversation as if the kids aren’t even there. “BOOOO!!” My eyes meet Mary’s, and we share a look that says, “Really?”

I love kids. Truly, I do. I believe that kids are a blessing. However, parents have a responsibility to their kids to teach their kids how not to be hellions. Don’t get me wrong; I know kids will be kids and have boundless energy, and that’s fantastic. But there’s a time and a place for it, and this is neither. This is apparently an ideology that this mom and dad have yet to embrace. As they’re eating, three ladies come in, one with an infant. They know Mom and Dad, so the ladies stand at the table and chat while the boy climbs all over his dad as if he were a jungle gym. And Dad is completely unphased. I’ve seen animal handlers exhibit this same conversational casualness as the creature they’re holding darts back and forth. The difference? Dad is not Jack Hanna, and the boy is not a capuchin monkey (at least in theory).

This is not a behavior you just have to accept because it’s natural. Smacking a capuchin monkey on the ass is likely to result only in your being bitten (plus, it’s just plain wrong—on a lot of levels), but I suspect the same action might just get this young man’s attention and curb his freewheeling attitude. It certainly worked for me when I was a kid. Usually all it took was a look or a word from my father, but in the event those were unsuccessful, a firm hand always did the trick.

As the adults chat, Mom takes Pebbles, who is now covered in barbecue sauce, out of her high chair and sets her on the ground. She looks at Mom, giggles, and totters off toward other tables. Mom doesn’t notice until a waiter almost dumps a tray of food trying not to step on the child. Mom is apparently shocked that this three year old would not stand still at the exact place she set her down. After retrieving her, the conversation continues. Monkey Boy is now climbing on the high chair. He’s standing on top of it—not just in the seat; he’s standing on top of the rails. None of the adults says a word. I’m waiting for him to lose it and hit the ground like Wile E. Coyote, but he manages to avoid a fall.

In the mean time, Pebbles has managed to unfurl about 60 feet of paper towels from a roll that sits on the table, covering each one with little barbecue fingerprints. Dad notices, but simply rolls the towels back onto the roll, fingerprints and all. He passes her to Mom because Monkey Boy is climbing on him again. Mom sets her down on the ground, where she promptly stumbles off to find adventure. She makes it all the way to another table this time before Mom notices. This happens several times, and Mom is just as surprised the third and fourth time that a three year old would wander off. After about 20 minutes, the ladies finally leave and mom and Dad pack up to leave.

As Dad is paying the bill and Mom is scrubbing Pebbles’s face, Monkey Boy spots an elderly man with a cane and a straw brimmed Panama hat waiting for a takeout order.
“What’s that stick for?” he asks him.
“This?” the old man says, lifting his cane. “This helps me walk.”
“Why do you need help walking?”
“Because I’m old.”
Monkey Boy nods, then eyes the hat curiously. “Are you a cowboy?”

The old man laughs. “No, I’m not a cowboy.”
“Oh. OK, bye.”

Neither of the parents even so much as acknowledges the old man. He’s just another object that provides entertainment so they don’t have to. Mom and Dad strap the kids into car seats in the back of a huge SUV, climb in, and drive away.

The moral of the story? If you’re going to have children, be a parent. Otherwise, please do the rest of us a favor and just get a capuchin monkey.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Letters from Home: Uncle Bud at Disneyworld

The latest in the series of unfortunate situations my family is all too familiar with. Enjoy...


Dear son,

How are you? It’s been a while since we wrote. We’re doing pretty fair, but we had kind of a rough few days. I don’t remember if we told you we were going to Disneyworld for Memorial Day weekend, but we did. One of our church members, Madeline Vanarsdall, died about a month ago. She owned the Beauty Barn down there off of 196 and the Klassy Kuts over in Somerville. Apparently in her will she left a whole mess of money to the church, with one condition. Part of it had to be used to take the first and second grade Sunday school class to Disneyworld.

After that, the church could do whatever they saw fit with the rest. The will said that Madeline never got to go to Disneyworld herself (her portable dialysis machine would only run for a couple three hours before she had to charge it, and I guess they don’t have outdoor plugs down there) and since she never could go, she figured she could at least pay somebody else’s way. So last Friday afternoon we loaded up the church bus and took off. There was 11 kids and 5 adults.

Me and your daddy, Shirley and Jimmy Don McQuiddy, and your Uncle Bud. He says to tell you hi, by the way. He’s got him a job working in the body shop down at the Ford dealership. He’s a good man, but he’s just not quite all there. We didn’t expect he’d be much of a help with the kids, but he’s been wanting to meet Snow White ever since he saw her in the Ice Capades down in Selmer year before last (we didn’t have the heart to tell him it was just a group of students from the junior college) so we took him along to help drive. We were planning on staying the weekend and coming back on Monday, but we had a little situation come up.

Once we got all the tickets and got everybody inside, Bud was about to come unglued wanting to meet Snow White. So we decided to let him go his own way and the other four adults would tend to the kids. That Disneyworld is something else, I tell you what! We stood in line for the longest time to get on some ride that wasn’t nothing but some tea cups spinning around. I had to go to the bathroom after that, and the line for the bathroom was near about as long as the one for the rides.

After I got out, we were deciding where to go next when a couple of security guards come tearing past us with their little walkie talkies just blaring. They said something about an incident with Snow White. We figured it must have had something to do with Bud, so we told the McQuiddys to watch the kids and we went off to see if we could find out what was going on. It’s hard getting through that place just walking. I don’t know how them security fellas was able to run flat out like they were. It took us a few minutes to find the commotion, but when we did, it was a little worse than we expected.

There was about ten or twelve security folks standing around, and Uncle Bud was on the ground on his belly with his hands cuffed behind his back. His face was red as a beet and he was yelling at the top of his lungs, “That ain’t the real Snow White!! Get your money back! That ain’t the real Snow White!!” There was a couple of dozen little girls there all dressed like Snow White, and the louder Bud yelled, the more they cried. They finally had to mace him to shut him up. We pushed through the crowd and explained who we were and that Bud was about two fat ladies short of an opera, and they let us through.

Snow White was sitting over on a bench crying and talking to one of the security fellas, and a couple of them little midgets what lives with her were standing off to the side. The security folks were asking how it happened. Apparently Bud was standing in line to meet Snow White with all them little girls. He was the only adult there without a kid. When it came his time to talk to her, he asked her to sign his t-shirt, which she did. While she was signing, he told her how much he enjoyed seeing her at the Ice Capades in Selmer.

When she told him that she didn’t ice skate and had never been to Selmer, he started putting two and two together—only, in Bud’s mind, two and two don’t always equal four—and he figured she was a fake. That’s when he started yelling that she wasn’t the real Snow White. He kinda got in her face a little bit and one of them midgets told him to back off. Now Bud don’t take real kindly to being told what to do, especially by a midget in pointy shoes. So he shoved the little fella down and his big old fiberglass head thunked against the concrete.

Then another one of them midgets shook his little pick at Bud, and Bud told him he was going to “break that handle off in his ass.” The little guy took a swing anyway, but he missed. Then Bud rared back and smacked him square in the head and dropped that midget like a sack of dirt. Snow White screamed, and then all of them little girls screamed and scattered like little blue and yellow cockroaches. That’s about the time the security folks got there. They tackled Bud and handcuffed him and he was hollering about Snow White the whole time.

The security folks were nice enough to let us ride in their little golf carts over to the security office with them. We were a sad looking little parade, let me tell you. Snow White, with her makeup running and eyes red from crying, them two little midget fellas with their big old dented heads, and Bud, snot-nosed and watery-eyed from being maced. When we got to the office, your daddy asked if he could have a minute with Bud before they called the real police to come get him. He was still mouthing off about how he was going to sue Mr. and Mrs. Disney for false advertising.

Your daddy went over to him and whispered something in his ear. Bud looked up at him and asked if he was sure and he nodded. Bud’s face turned white as a sheet, and all of a sudden he was apologizing to everybody in security, Snow White, and even the midgets. He told them how bad he felt for what he did and asked if there was anything he could do to make up for it. He even offered to pull the dents out of them big fiberglass heads. After talking it over, the park decided not to charge him, but they did ban him from the park for a year.

When we got back to the hotel, I asked your daddy what he said to Bud in the security office that made him change his tune so quick. He said he’d just told him that this was the real Snow White, not the one in he’d seen in Selmer. After all, why would the real Snow White be in Selmer when she lives at Disneyworld? Your daddy’s a pretty smart old man. Well, I guess I ought to run for now. You take care of yourself, and we’ll see you later.


Mom & Dad