Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Saved By The Bell

I know this is cheating, but here is another thing I wrote for The A.V. Club. You can see the whole thing with some other, much better writing here: http://www.avclub.com/article/best-pop-culture-get-your-kids-back-school-groove-24142

As my sons inch closer to the school year with the enthusiasm of cats being driven to a waterpark, they’ve become interested in what high school was like when I was young. Was I cool? Did I play sports? Was I a hit with the ladies?

Like all fathers faced with such questions, I lied my face off. I blurted out, “I was exactly like Zack Morris.”

Why should my boys know I was a 98-pound wimp who slept with a Grover stuffed animal when they can envision me as a beautiful rogue with great hair and an ability to stop time?

I sat them down for a viewing of “Saved By The Bell,” which I assured them was a completely accurate portrayal of my culturally diverse friends and me.
“SBTB” aired from 1989 through 1993. It was a retool of a Disney Channel series called “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” and followed the lighthearted exploits of nerd Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond), cheerleader Kelly Kapowski (Tiffany-Amber Thiessen) jock A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) activist Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), rich girl Liza Turtle (Lark Voorhies) and my faux doppelganger Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). A few hapless adults like Principal Belding (Dennis Haskins) were thrown in to hand out advice and catch phrases.
The show was wildly popular among sheltered Midwesterners like me and spawned a few spin offs, a made for TV movie, a pop-up restaurant, mean-spirited book and even a potential felon.
The show was extremely safe and milquetoast and rarely delved into any realistic high school situation other than dipping a toe into drug use (caffeine pills!) and divorce. Exactly the kind of depiction I want my sons to believe in until puberty ruins them.
I chose the classic “Dancing to the Max” episode where Zack and Slater fight over Kelly as their dance partner for contest hosted by Casey Kasem. Crappy dancer Zack ends up with Jesse, Lisa ends up with Screech, we are all introduced to the winning dance called “the sprain” and everyone is in bed by 8:30.
The moment the black bars of the 4:3 aspect ratio appeared on our TV, we were doomed. Before the painfully 90’s intro was over, I had to physically restrain my 6 year old from escaping. My boys hated the awful dialogue, dayglow clothes and canned laughter.
I tried to steer the conversation to guy Zack Morris.  Wasn’t he cool? How about those straight teeth? Doesn’t he remind you of a certain dad?

They wondered aloud why I would ever want to be like someone with such bad hair. We then turned the TV to the far more accurate depiction of teens on current slate of The Disney Channel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

First and Fourth

Last night, I scooped up Luca and sat him on my lap. “You know. It’s perfectly ok to be scared about going to school. Everyone gets scared. Your teacher is scared. Your principal is scared. I was scared every first day of school of my life.”

This did not have the comforting effect I had hoped.

Elijah shouted from the other room, “Not everyone is scared about school!” and I muttered a swear that would be repeated over and over again by the boys throughout the night.

I could not sleep. What is wrong with me? Why do I tie myself into knots about my kid’s first day of school? It’s not my first day of school. I would totally kill it as a first grader. I can write in cursive!

This morning, I channeled all of my anxiety into Grover the dog, who I was convinced was dying.

“If he dies, I am moving to New Mexico to live in the desert,” I proclaimed.

“Why New Mexico and are you planning for us to live with you?” Diana asked.

We made it to school, but not before blocking someone’s driveway with my car and almost slamming into an SUV while parallel parking.

It was raining, so the painful drop off was inside. Eli ejected himself from his family with shocking enthusiasm. But that was fine by me. I needed to concentrate all my efforts on freaking Luca out. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok,” I mumbled to him while squeezing his hand way too hard.

We made it to the gym where kids with emotionally stable parents were waving goodbye and joining their classes.  As we guided Luca to his line, he stopped short and said, “I’m scared.”

He then looked up at me while chocking back tears, looking for some kind of support. This was my chance to set him off on the right track. To give him a speech about manning up and facing your fears and that this will be the best year of his life.

I just stared back at him with my eyes also brimming with tears.

Diana swooped in and grabbed him by the hand. She comforted him in a way that only a normal human can. She also hailed the teacher over for a little chat about first day jitters. His teacher was great and peppy and got everyone out the door, but not before Luca looked back at me with an expression that could level a town.

We drove home in silence. I considered just going back to bed for the day, but I could tell Diana needed a little Rickless time.

After moping around the office for a few hours I got this email from Luca’s teacher, by way of Diana:

“He is doing just great!  He really jumped right in as we left the gym and he helped out a friend who couldn't find their locker.  He's been smiling and participating and looks like a different person than the one you said good-bye to.  

I hope that helps!  I'll keep an eye on him, too, for the rest of the day, and I hope you get a good report after school…”

I felt much better, happy with the knowledge I had a full year before having to go through this again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bro’s Nest Is On The Air

The boys watch an awful lot of Youtube videos. Mostly they watch other people play videogames, but they spend an amazing amount of time watching Family Vloggers. These are regular dopes, from Florida mostly, who point a camera at themselves and share it with the world.

Nothing drives me crazier than when Elijah and Luca watch these things. I find it disturbing that people will reveal the inner workings of their private lives, their most embarrassing moments, for the entertainment of others. There is a little siren going off in my head screaming “Irony Alert! Irony Alert!” Yeah, I get it. I’ve been blogging about E and L and their poops for almost 10 years. Maybe it’s the blatant money grab from some of them, “Ooh. Our family just received an anonymous box of toys and French fries.” Or maybe it’s the fact that they have literally millions and millions of fans.

I like to bellow, “No fake families!” whenever they boys watch.

So imagine my delight when Luca asked me to set up their own Youtube channel. I moaned and moaned about it, but when Luca gets his heart set on something, the human race is simply better off just to do it. The fact they wanted to call it “The Bro’s Nest” in homage to a silly little joke I made sealed the deal.

In an effort to take nearly all of the fun out of it, I declared the following rules:

1.     Never say your name.
2.     Never say where you live.
3.     No comments section.
4.     Tasteful nudity only.
5.     No Dads on camera.

They wanted to do this thing called a Baby Food Challenge. Completely ripped off from a hundred other Family Vloggers. Basically it entails eating baby food and going, “Ew!”

I pointed my phone at them and they said, “Hi! This is Eli and Luca Hamann!” CUT!

Take 2. “Welcome to Evanston Illinois!” CUT!

This went on for a while until we ticked off all of the no-nos. In the end it was utterly cute and funny and they had a blast doing it. The video took 4 hours to upload and currently has 3 views. So they are fast on their way to becoming Youtube millionaires. Let the free French fries commence.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Treasure of Wasps

For a minute I was worried there wouldn’t be enough reasons for Elijah and Luca to stare at screens. Thankfully, Pokémon Go hit the scene. If you aren’t a 9 year old or a jackass hipster, Pokémon Go is a phone game where you locate little digital animals in your neighborhood using your GPS and camera.

As much as I hate it, the game actually gets the boys out of the house and has enabled us to explore more of our hometown than the well-worn trail between our house and Chipotle. I’ve had to grab their collars here and there to keep them from strolling into a busy street like little nearsighted Mr. Magoos, but it has been 99% fun.

On Saturday, we were walking around catching Gooblesnarks or Poopledoodles and I remembered my friend Josh telling me about another game called Geocaching. Geocaching is like Pokémon Go, except instead of digital monsters, real people hide real treasures in the real world. You use your phone like a treasure map and get a little prize like a sticker or the satisfaction of existing in reality.

Eli was totally into it. He may have mistakenly thought the treasure would include gold Doubloons. I didn’t exactly discourage that line of thinking. But there was a treasure located in our neighboring park, so I thought it would be a nice, easy start to a lifetime of adventure.

It was Saturday so the cousins were with us. Eli used my phone to triangulate the thing and I had taken this opportunity to sit by the basketball court and pretend I had next game.

Suddenly, I heard screams coming from a nearby shrubbery. Eli was red-faced and howling. Stupidly I thought his screams were of delight.

“Ooh what is it? Stickers? I bet it’s stickers!”

“Wasps!” he screamed.

As he writhed in pain, I examined his knee, which had a nasty welt. Oh yeah, something got him.

“Are you sure it was a wasp?” I asked, way too calm for the situation.

“It’s in my shirt! He screamed.

“Oh my,” I said. Oh my? Why was I so calm? Shouldn’t I be freaking out? Isn’t this how the kid died in the movie “My Girl?”

The wasp exited his shirt after biting (Stinging? Pinching?) him several more times. It also decided to sting cousin Rory’s nose before it was done.

I bent to ask if he could walk, but Eli wasn’t there. He had already run three quarters of the distance home. I scooped up his flip flops and started across the field.

But then I realized I didn’t have my phone. Eli had tossed it in his attack. That’s when I panicked.

We arrived home a little later and applied ice to Eli’s wounds. Diana recalled the story of when she stepped in a wasp nest as a kid and Eli somehow convinced us this brush with death deserved a strip to Great America.

Where we played Pokémon Go.