Sunday, January 13, 2013

I'm A Bad Parent - Calgary Sun Column

By Stephen Lautens

January 11, 2013

I am admittedly a bad parent. To be perfectly honest, my son stays up too late, gets too many treats and is probably exposed to many things more mature than his age.

Oh, to other parents I pretend that I’m strict about such things. I’ll make noises about big, healthy breakfasts, 10 km bike rides and reading nothing but improving books on the weekend, but the ugly reality often falls well short.

Some parents underachieve out of laziness or desperation. I understand. Being a parent is a full-time job and requires constant attention. Every day requires a million little decisions and several large ones, and you can never be quite sure that you are making good ones because it will be years before you know if you were on the right track.

That’s why we make hundreds of little course corrections every day. Parenting is like sailing across the Atlantic with a barely functioning compass. In a storm. While fighting off the Kraken.

The books on parenting? If you’ve read one or two dozen you know they’re useless. Every kid needs his or her own book, because every child is different. And if you find something relevant, your kid changes fifteen minutes later and it doesn’t work any more.

There are times when you wish you could take a parent break and just let them do whatever they want without any adult supervision. Let them eat ice cream all day, paint the dog and wear ice skates to bed? Anything to get a five minute break.

But you can't, or at least you shouldn't. You have to look over their shoulder while they surf the Internet and sit down and watch their favourite TV shows with them. You have to talk to them, especially when they’re trying to figure out the world, other people and especially themselves.

In a word, it’s exhausting.

There are also the parents who take the cautious and easy route of denying their children everything - sugar, cartoons, toys that are actually fun. They are super cautious either because they’re afraid of making bad decisions or they don’t believe their kids can be trusted to make good decisions.

And that’s where the “bad” parenting comes in. Unless our son is making big mistakes, my wife and I don’t sweat the small stuff. We leave candy out on the table and the video game console isn’t locked on a timer. As a result my son walks by them without even a glance.

One of the tests came last week when my son was lobbying for a new video game a few of his friends were playing. It was called “Gut Splatter 7: The Revenge of Chainsaw Jack” or something similar.

I checked it out online. I didn’t like what I saw. It wasn’t just violent. It was sadistic and cruel, and that’s where I draw the line.

I'm not a psychologist - just a father. I'm not qualified to say what makes some kids aggressive or worse and don’t believe video games can make good kids turn bad. But I sat down with my son and talked about the danger of dulling your empathy and compassion, even if you can tell the difference between games and real life.

Bad parent I might be, I was drawing a line. I expected my 11-year old to be upset. Instead he surprised me.

“Thanks dad,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t play it then.”

I’d love to take credit for bringing him up right, if I only knew where I didn’t go wrong. 

© 2013 - Stephen Lautens 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Couple New De-Motivational Posters for Harper's First Nations Meeting

Harper meets tomorrow with First Nations Chiefs and representatives so he can preach at them about the "economic opportunities" of playing along with his government and supporting bill C-45. Somehow I suspect that FN "economic opportunities" would increase during Harper's resource sell off if more of them opened up Chinese takeouts in the north. 

This meeting grudgingly agreed to by the PM comes as the Idle No More" movement starts to gain popular awareness, even though an audit report was leaked about "incomplete documentation" for Attawapiskat's finances no doubt to soften them up prior to the meeting and to take the wind out of the personal sails of Chief Spence during her hunger strike. Of course, other audits slammed the federal Government for their mishandling of funds at their end as well.

I don't expect much from the government side - all they hope to accomplish is to diffuse and divide - but I hope the FN representatives tomorrow have crafted a clear and concise message for the larger audience.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The End of the End

Calgary Sun - January 5, 2013

We’re almost a week into 2013 and so far so good. And by that I mean I have yet to hear anyone predict the end of the world is coming.

Maybe the whole Mayan calendar thing left a bad taste in the mouths of the doomsayers when it fizzled out in December.

My son was pretty convinced the Mayan apocalypse was a sure thing. That was mostly because he’s in grade five and he heard it from kids in grade six, who are always right when it comes to things like video games, where babies come from and the end of the world.

When it’s all anyone talks about, it’s pretty hard to convince a ten year old that there’s nothing to it. I tried to explain that all the end of the Mayan calendar probably meant to them was that they had to go out and buy a new calendar – maybe one with adorable kittens playing in wicker baskets.

I pointed out that sometimes the calendar on my cell resets itself to 1983, but that doesn’t mean we’ve gone back in time, although it would be nice to be 23 again.

However, he wasn’t buying it, and it took some convincing that the world wouldn’t end while we slept and there was a point to doing his homework the night before.

Maybe I’m a little cynical because I’ve seen so many "end of the world" apocalyptic predictions come and go. I’ve lost count of the dire predictions of comets, asteroids and sunspots. 

A couple of years ago self-styled prophet and American radio preacher Harold Camping predicted the end of the world not once but three times.

After originally predicting that the end would come in September 1994, he crunched his numbers again and came up with May 21, 2011 for the Rapture, beginning at 6:00 pm sharp. He came to the conclusion that the Bible says this world only gets 7,000 years from Noah’s great flood, which he pegged at 4,990 B.C.

Even though some of his followers gave all their worldly goods away by May 20th, May 21st came and went with nothing to show for it other than empty bank accounts. After another look at his figures, he said October 21st was it for sure, but that turned out to be strike three. 

Y2K came and went with a lot of people wondering what they were going to do with a small mountain of batteries, cases of canned beans and a portable generator the hardware store wouldn’t take back.

So far so good in 2013. A quick look at the Internet doesn’t even show any wild predictions that the end will come this year.

Surely there is someone out there who is even now adding all the shoe sizes of the saints and dividing by the number of books of the Bible to get 2013.

Maybe someone got a Ouija board for Christmas and is getting messages of doom through the cosmic ether from a cranky alien race on its way to Earth.

Or there must be an obscure monk from the Middle Ages who had a bad day 500 years ago and scribbled “it feels like it will take five hundred years to get this over with” in the margin of some ancient manuscript.

Whatever it is, I’ll be as ready as I’ve ever been to ignore it too.  

© 2013 - Stephen Lautens