Month: March 2013

Lord of the Fleas

LOTF cover

And now for a dramatic reading of Lord of the Flies, that classic psychological study by William Golding, as seen through the eyes of my six-year-old:

Hayden picks up a copy of Lord of the Flies that he finds in my car while we are driving to swim lessons.

Hayden: Oh look, Lord of the Fleas.

Me: It’s Flies.

Hayden: Lord of the Flies. Here, I’ll read page 106. (He begins to make up words while pretending to read the print). And the boys came and farted on the Lord of the Flies. And then they watched as farts came out of the flies butts. Then all the boys said, “Ewwww. That’s gross!” Then the fleas–I mean flies–and the boys all started farting at the same time.

Me: (Rolling my eyes while driving–and laughing on the inside.)

I apologize for another post about farts, but the boys are in full swing with their fart jokes and potty words. And I can be as gross as they come, but the constant barrage of fart/pee/penis/butt/burp references is becoming a bit maddening. And speaking of maddening, I had to laugh at Hayden’s dramatic reading of the book, because he proved a theory that Golding was positing when he wrote this classic novel: all boys are freaking crazy; they are one plane crash away from a descent into madness.

I recently finished teaching Lord of the Flies (LOTF) to my ninth graders. The book is so captivating and eerily believable. I read the book (ish) in high school–I bet I read mainly the Cliffs Notes back then. But I did honestly read it in my twenties, then I taught it to juniors my first year of teaching high school. I was only 24 and I know I did not do the provocative themes justice. This year, we added it to the curriculum, and I became immersed in the island and its inhabitants. I shared with my students how different I felt teaching this book now that I am fortysomething and have young boys of my own.

In the month that I prepared for, and then taught, the book, I watched the behavior of boys through a different lens. I noticed how, in many ways, boys are so primitive in their need to be physical, to compete, to gain your attention, and, ultimately, your respect. As a teacher, I have the privilege of witnessing gawky freshmen boys grow  into confident, aware young men. And with my own boys, I see their constant battle of wills and wits. And whether they live as survivors on an island or siblings in the suburbs, boys everywhere are gross! They smell, they have sick senses of humor, and laugh at the most inane shit.

I had started to put the book behind me, having just finished it in time for spring break, when Hayden’s little literary serenade made me examine its impact on me again. We just happened to be on our way to swimming class, where last week I had an epiphany while reading the book. As I sat in the steamy pool area, I watched my boys begin to swim with the instructor. I brought my LOTF with me to re-read for the coming day. For the next few minutes, I was transported from the steamy discomfort of the Y, to an island in the Pacific, where a group of privileged boys were in a frenzied state, feasting on the succulent pork from their fresh kill. It was the crucial scene where Simon–sweet, innocent, Simon– runs on to the beach to tell the boys that “the Beast” is really just a dead parachutist. In the mayhem and confusion, some boys believe he is the Beast–although some knew he was not–they KNEW! He is pushed into the circle and brutally, fatally attacked. Too late, his fellow schoolmates realize it was one of their own that they have murdered.

As I come to the gruesome end of this chapter, I find I am distracted by another group of boys– the ones at the other end of the pool–the group of boys that includes my two sons. They are being loud. They are splashing a great deal. And they are hitting each other “playfully.” The instructor ( a mild-mannered man in his early twenties) has no control of this rowdy bunch of “Littluns” and is in the middle of the pool assisting the only girl in the class. I pick up my book and make my way down to the other end. I am glad to see that my sons appear to be merely bystanders in all this, but my anger with the boys in the novel is seeping through as I look at this lot. “Boys are crazy,” I think. “All boys. Crazy!” I watch as one of the swimmers taunts the weakest one in the pool. “He would be Roger,” I say to myself. I see another boy screaming song lyrics at the group while making violent waves in the water, “Baby you’re a firework!” he hollers. “And he would be Ralph,” I think. Two boys begin to hit each other with their kick boards. “And there are Jack and Piggy.” Owen, my eight year old, looks back at me, aware that I am watching and sensing that I am not comfortable with how his class is being conducted. He smiles at me, sitting on the edge waiting for the teacher. “And who would you be, Owen?” My eyes pass over to Hayden, the more volatile of my two sons. “And what about you, Hayden?” I wonder. “Would you be leaders or followers? Would you remain good or cross the line into evil? Would you be victims or perpetrators.” I shudder at these thoughts.

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I share this incident with my students the following day. “That bunch would not have made it until the end of the week if they were stuck in that pool arena with no adults.” They laugh nervously, and then they become somewhat reflective. Throughout the teaching of this book, we’ve talked at length about human nature and what human beings are capable of. Sadly, I share news articles with them–articles that I simply came across from the daily paper. No need to look very far to read what humans can do to one another. The first is about a boy in our area who was beaten by two others in the school yard and died the day after his twelfth birthday. Next, I reference the atrocity of a European woman gang raped in India while on holiday with her husband. This serves as a  parallel to the killing of the sow by the boys, a performance that is likened to a gang rape by the diction Golding uses in the scene. I tell the students how infuriated such atrocities makes me. I reiterate how literature acts as a mirror for society. And I remind them that, yes, there is evil in this world, but there is also good. We can be agents of good. And ultimately, our challenges will probably not manifest themselves on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere, but in our neighborhoods, our school yards, our streets, and yes, even the steamy poolsides of the local YMCA.

Thankfully, I remain hopeful. I believe that humankind is inherently good. And I realize that we all are all things: good AND evil, leaders AND followers, victims AND perpetrators. It is my goal as a father to teach my boys to lead when necessary, but not be afraid to follow the right kind of person;  to stand up for the Piggys of this world who are victims of cruelty; to seek enlightenment like Simon who communed with nature on the island and realized there was a higher power in all of this; and to keep the fire burning on the shore, to never give up hope or the belief in their fellow man. If they can gain all of this, I can put up with all of the fart jokes they can muster.

Uh-oh, My Little Leprechauns…

…are learning how to text. This is the exchange I had with my boys one day last week as they were trying out Pam’s new emoticon app:


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Dental Lie Gene

I had the boys at the dentist this week. I’m more afraid of the visit than they are. It’s become my nighttime refrain when I am trying to force them to brush their teeth well: “Now be sure to get every tooth. I don’t want Dr. Jane yelling at me!” And they certainly don’t know how good they have it: video games in the waiting room, sunglasses on for teeth cleaning, prize bags filled with several small toys. This place reeks of happiness. I could not even get them to leave after their cleaning. They ran back in the waiting room and hopped on the comfy chairs to play more games on the wall screens. Can you remember being dragged out of the dentist? How times have changed.

First off, I have more metal in my mouth than some hardware stores. I could set off certain detectors at international airports. And my childhood dentist was an older man who looked like CharlesNelsonReillyCharles Nelson Reilly, who–get this–had horrible teeth! I still remember the dread of going to his office. His waiting room had a few ratty copies of Highlights magazine–where someone had already il_fullxfull.204295662-001found and circled all the hidden objects–and a pretend animal circus cage. I’m not kidding. There was a wall with a lion painted on it and a platform where we could walk up and sit behind bars waiting to be called into the exam room. What a great way to get excited to see the dentist–feeling like a trapped animal. And I’m sure we got a new toothbrush, but I don’t  remember being introduced to floss until I was at least ten. And when I did learn what it was, I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s only for rich people–like Saran Wrap.”

So, the boys are enjoying Disney World, I mean the dentist, and I have to fill out another medical history form for Hayden. They say they need an updated file, yet all the information is the same. What a waste of time. He’s six for Christ’s sake. And I hate these forms. Not just because I don’t know his social security number, but because some of the questions are so passive aggressive. The whole time I’m answering the list, I’m thinking of things I’d like to put down. The following are some sample questions from the actual form, with my thoughts in italics:

DENTAL HISTORY (please circle the appropriate answer as it applies)

Was your child bottle or breast-fed? Pam was a trooper and breast fed both boys. But, oh, the judgement for the women who puts down bottle fed. It’s like asking a mother to rate how much she loves her child:        Somewhat        Enough         More Than You Love Yours

Did he/she take a bottle to bed/nap time? YES / NO  No, but daddy sure needed a bottle or two to get up the nerve to let them “cry it out”. Paging Dr. Ferber.

At what age was he/she weaned to solid food? Still working on it.

Does your child or did your child suck his/her fingers/thumb or use a pacifier? YES / NO Older one fingers, younger one binky. Poor Hayden had to give up the binky because it was a sign to the world that his parents were bad, yet, Owen can still suck his fingers when tired or stressed. Apparently you can cut the nipples off the binkies, but you can’t cut the fingers off your child.

Does your child use a sippy cup other than at mealtime? YES / NO Yes, we like our furniture and boys spill everything. Of course, now we call them “sport bottles”. Yeah, sport bottles.

Does your child eat between meals? YES / NO My child eats more between meals than he eats meals. Piss off.

Does your child eat sweets, such as candy, soda, or gum? YES / NO LMFAO (first time I’ve ever typed that). Are you freaking kidding me? Does this question mean at the same time? Then, no. Otherwise, a big, fat John Mellencamp-ain’t-that-America YES to all of these essential food groups.

Will your child eat fresh fruits and vegetables? YES / NO Yes, thank God. Sometimes, it’s the only consolation I have for all the processed crap they consume in a day.

How does your child receive fluoride? θ Community water θ Drops, tablets, or vitamin θ Toothpaste θ Rinse or gel Hot pink bubble gum rinse–just another way we obliterate the essential nutrients of one thing (fluoride) with the chemical dyes and flavoring of another (neon pink “bubble gum”).

Have there been any injuries to teeth, such as falls, blows, chips, etc.? YES / NO If so, please specify Oh, you just HAD to go there. We WERE watching him get out of the pool. He slipped on the damn ladder rung and crashed his chin on the cement. I was just about over the guilt til YOU bring it up frigging nine months later! Bite me.

How long has it been since your child’s last visit to the dentist?   Child–6 months; Dad–going on two years.

Were any dental x-rays or radiographs taken? YES / NO What’s the deal with X-rays again? Radioactive or not? I should know this stuff.

When does your child brush his/her teeth? θ Morning θ After eating any food θ After each meal θ Before bedtime    Define “brush”? A  toothbrush enters their mouth for a few seconds in the morning and again before bed. But if you’re talking a three-second, circular motion on each pearly white while at the same time sweeping away the plaque from the gumline–NEVER! And by the way, does anyone really brush their teeth after each meal?  Even people who own Saran Wrap only brush twice a day, right?

Does your child think there is anything wrong with his/her teeth? YES / NO If I have any control about it, he better. He needs to fear the cavity creeps so he doesn’t have to endure a lifetime of drilling and filling like his father. Fear = Fewer Cavities.

“The boys are all finished, Mr. Trainer. Their teeth look excellent. Thanks for all your hard work at home.”

“No problem, Dr. Jane. No problem at all.”

“See you in six months.”

“You betcha!”

“Way to go, guys! Let’s go celebrate with one of those in-between meals meals.”

 

Oedipus Rex is in the house.

This is my son Hayden’s worksheet for Top Frog of the Week. He has been counting down the days to this since September. He wanted to fill out the form as soon as he came home from school today, even though his frog title is not official for another two weeks. As I went over to the table to view his hard work, I was somewhat bothered by his misspelling of my name–the only one he struggled with, apparently. Do you think six is too young for me to explain a Freudian Slip?

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