christmas rituals.

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Girl child relaying her order form to Helper Santa #2,171.


She asked for, and I am not making this up, “a real invisibility cloak that also lets you fly.”

While I doubt the instant availability of such an item in local stores (or even on Amazon Prime), I have to admire her ability to cut right through the clutter and reach for the stars when it comes to gift requests. Aim high, my daughter. Always aim high.

on hitting your children.

“My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay!”

God, how I loathe this argument in favor of corporal punishment.

I wasn’t spanked as a child. If someone had set up a nanny cam in our home between the time I was in, oh, first grade, and the time my mother finally left the no-good sack of shit my father was at the time, it would have recorded frequent occasions of what these days would be considered savage child abuse. My father liked to drink, which was a problem because he was not a happy drunk. As his alcohol level increased, he got in turn gregarious, boisterous, morose, and angry. When he was toward the end of that scale, he could get furiously pissed off at anything.

During my childhood, my father ran a series of pubs into the ground. He liked to be the proprietor of the local watering hole, but he wasn’t a very good businessman, so we moved around a lot as he started place after place with much enthusiasm and high hopes, only to see everything shuttered and me having to change schools again when the initial excitement of a new business had worn off and the money stopped making it to the suppliers and the power company again. I suspect this had a great deal to do with what I now, with my adult knowledge, understand was a latent cycle of low self-esteem and depression. It didn’t take much to put him in a bad mood—a pub patron upstaging him or making a light-hearted joke at his expense, that sort of thing—and then the hair trigger was set.

I was his first-born, and after my mother I was the biggest target around that couldn’t fight back and kick his ass. (The one time he picked a fight with a patron he ended up getting cold-cocked and laid out on the floor of the pub in just one hit. The guy warned him not to be stupid, and only hit my father in self-defense when he didn’t take repeated warnings. That didn’t do much for his self-esteem that week, let me tell you.) It didn’t work in my favor that I was shy, bookish, and in many ways not the rough-and-tough son he would have preferred. Sometimes it was stuff that I said or did, but more often it was something I didn’t say or do and should have, in his opinion. Then the belt would come out, and he’d beat the shit out of me. Not just “a spanking”, or “a slap or two on the butt”. We’re talking five or ten minutes of continuous and indiscriminate application of the belt on any exposed part of the body. Struggling pissed him off and made him hit harder. Staying passive and not showing the proper level of distress was taken as defiance or implication that he didn’t hit hard enough, and that made him hit harder too. 

But here’s what I realized at long last, with many years between me and that wretched childhood of mine: he was never the bad guy in his own mind. He was never an abuser in his own eyes. There were always the classic make-up actions borne of the shame of knowing you’ve gone too far: ice cream consolation, promises of future fun, and half-hearted apologies that weren’t really apologies because they always placed the responsibility for his loss of control in my court. See what you made me do? That hurt me way more than it hurt you. Why can’t you just listen to what I’m telling you? In his own eyes, he was the stern but loving disciplinarian, straightening out a defiant kid that had stepped too far out of line by disrespecting parental authority. I never understood the reasoning, of course, at eight or ten or twelve years old. I only understood that I was a wimpy disappointment of a son who spent too much time with his nose in a book, and that it was wise to become invisible when he tromped up the stairs after a long evening tending bar.

And here’s another thing I realized long after the fact: I don’t remember the good times with him.

I’m sure there were some. I have pictures from my childhood that show us all on vacation, or at local amusement parks, at parties, out playing with cousins in backyard pools on family visits—but I hardly remember any of those moments, and I don’t recall much in the way of happy things from that time. What I do remember are the beatings, and being scared of my dad most of the time, and the physical and mental effort to go out of my way to not cross paths with him. 

I’m sure he loved me and my siblings. But I don’t remember the acts of love. I remember the open hand and the belt, and the tears, and the late-night huddled fear.

And that’s why the idea of hitting my children makes me physically sick.

There is no clear delineation between “necessary discipline” and “abuse”. Physical violence is always abuse. It doesn’t teach anything but fear and resentment, and it will always, always, always come back to you in some form.

 “My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay!”

Bullshit. You turned out okay despite the corporal punishment, not because of it. And don’t say there’s a difference between your spankings and my abuse, because then you’re operating a really slippery moral sliding scale, and I can guarantee you that my father too was convinced at the time that what he was going was an unpleasant but necessary parental duty to recalibrate my moral compass. You know, so I’d turn out okay as an adult. What you need to do is to take that justification of “appropriate” violence and realize that what you’re doing is to establish what level of physical and mental pain is okay to inflict on your child intentionally. The answers should always and unambiguously be none.

My father died over fifteen years ago, in his early fifties, alone and eaten up with cancer. He’s buried in a welfare plot somewhere in Frankfurt. I met him only once after my mom left him. When I saw him again, he was in his early fifties and in bad health, and I was in my early twenties and in prime shape, so the power imbalance went the other way, and there was no animosity. I don’t feel anything other than pity when I think of him now. I should have had a good childhood, and he should have had a loving family and children and grandchildren by his side when he got sick and died, but it was all wasted, and it was all due to things solely in his control, and it’s the saddest fucking thing in the world.

I was hit as a child, and I turned out okay. Eventually. After a long time and much perspective, and after having kids of my own. But that shit leaves scars in the head that won’t heal, ever. And from one parent to another, I’m telling you that you don’t want to risk putting those scars there. Because love and fear can’t take up the same space, and what you want your children to feel when they hear you walking up the stairs is the former, not the latter. Hitting doesn’t teach a child anything, at least not anything close to what you think it will teach them. 

the considerable awesomeness of rainbows.

Two weeks until school starts again. My weirdo offspring are EXCITED about the start of school. I am planning to have their DNA tested next week.

We went to Canobie Lake last week. It's an amusement park in southern NH–not quite Six Flags, but pretty decent, and manageable in one day unlike, say, the Rat Kingdom in Orlando. I dropped $120 on admission for two adults and two kids. Then I took out another $100 in cash for food and such (“just in case”), and ended up spending every last dime of it. EAT YOUR TEN-DOLLAR NACHOS AND CHEESE FRIES, KIDS.

But hey, it was fun. The kids went on rides with their friends for five hours straight, and at the end of the day they were so amped they practically hummed like overwound springs.

Rainbows are Kind Of A Big Deal when you're six.


an educational tale of woe.

On Friday, a certain little daughter-heir here at Castle Frostbite was dragging her feet at breakfast. She failed to heed multiple warnings to finish eating and get dressed lest the carriage to Splash Camp leave without her in it.

And lo, the time to depart came, and the daughter-heir was not yet in her garments and prepared for the day. So the carriage left without her. And there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the cries of distress could be heard all the way in French Canadia.

Guess who was dressed and ready to go to Splash Camp almost an hour early this morning?

ham and cheese.



The goober on the left has her last day of Kindergarten today. The goober on the right has his last day of second grade. Kids in Upper Cryogenica have to make up lots of snow days, which in some years can mean they won’t graduate until late July.

These kids? They’re freaks of nature. They love school, and both are bummed that the school year is ending. I expect that’s going to change by middle school at the latest.

(There’s this girl on their bus who always has the same hopelessly resigned expression on her face, like she’s being shipped off to the gulag every morning. I think I know now why the bus driver really seems to enjoy having my chipper and chatty kids board her bus.)

Next up: five weeks of SUMMER CAMP. Because they have to learn how to swim, the great outdoors never hurt anyone except when they drown or get eaten by bears, and being bug-bitten while baking in the summer sun builds character.

lyra, age 6.

People of Earth!

Your tiny Empress turns six years old today.


<insert obligatory kvetching about how time flies, something something diapers blah blah before you know it &etc.>

The tiny Empress has really made strides this year socially. She’s been in Kindergarten since July, and she loves it with a fierce, white-hot intensity. That kid right there? She will be the Queen Bee or the Chief Delinquent in high school, and possibly both.

Love ya, kiddo. But no, you can’t have “just pound cake” for dinner. We have to throw in some alibi vitamins somewhere.

monday morning post-pinkie pie party action report.

It’s Monday, and the house is QUIET. The dogs are snoozing in front of the pellet stove, which we had to turn on again last night because the temperature was predicted to dip down to freezing overnight. That marks the first day of the year when we had to run the pellet stove and the window air conditioning unit ON THE SAME DAY.

We had a little shindig for Miss Lyra on Sunday. She turns six on Wednesday, so we pulled the party back just a bit to the one weekend this month where most of our friends were available. There was cake and presents and an inflatable 12-foot pool and ten kids in the 3-9 age bracket running around on the Castle grounds, so you may understand why I emphasized the QUIET in the first sentence of this post.

Now back to work. I have this thing called a “contract” that specifies I have to deliver this here novel by the end of the month, and it still needs a little work, so I should probably get to it. But understand that this is not a Monday gripe. Drinking coffee in a quiet house and making up stories beats the hell out of digging ditches or changing diapers when it comes to ways to make a living.

in new hampshire, even our playgrounds are harsh.

Girl Child punchi-sized her face on the school playground yesterday by running around WITH HER EYES CLOSED WHILE MEOWING. Now her upper lip is about the size of a Jeep Wrangler tire, and she doesn’t want to eat solid foods. Good thing she had a dentist appointment this morning anyway.

I know it’s totally un-American these days, but instead of suing the school for not wrapping their playground equipment in three layers of foam and assigning a Safety and Impact Prevention Agent to follow my child around at all times, I advised her that running around on a playground with your eyes closed is not a good way to avoid getting smacked in the mouth by peacefully stationary metal objects. RADICAL, I KNOW.

the kids is playing them vid-jo games again.

January 2013 127

We have now passed that developmental milestone where the kids can out-play the Old Man on the Xbox 360. They each got a new 360 game under the tree last month, and both of them have finished the “Brave” game from start to finish. I know that as children of the Gadget Generation, mastery of a gaming console is practically encoded in their DNA, but it’s still amazing to see how quickly they figured out the Xbox controller and the game mechanics without any prior instruction (and in Lyra’s case, without being able to read the on-screen directions.) This is especially remarkable because our gaming console prior to the Xbox 360 was a Nintendo Wii, which has a controller that’s completely unlike the two-handed/dual-stick multi-button affairs for the Xbox and the PS3.

(I tried a first-person shooter on the console once and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the inside. As a PC gamer, my hands and muscle memory are calibrated for mouse and WASD keys.)

It’s absolutely amazing to see the strides that gaming consoles have made since the days of the Atari 2600. Playing Iron Man or Batman:Arkham Asylum on the Xbox 360 driving a 47” screen with the audio coming from a Bose home theater speaker set would have reduced 12-year-old Marko from 1983 to an incoherently blubbering pile of gamer bliss.

Now I just need to get the kids their own World of Warcraft accounts and teach them tanking and healing, so we can do our own little in-house instance groups on Saturday evenings.