Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Generation That Time Forgot

Okay, so when I made my mid-year resolution (as it were) last year to write more on Monster Dad I had a brilliant idea. I knew that even if I could get back into the swing of writing again it was unlikely that I'd be able to generate enough content to satisfy the four-to-five-posts-per-month target that I kinda-sorta set for myself. The problem? I generally only write detailed, long-winded posts that tell a complete story and which tend to take a long time to think out, research and (especially) write. I've noticed that many other blogs tend to be more in line with the current short-attention-span world we're currently living in. Everything today has to be immediate, quick, to-the-point and bite-sized. Blurbs and Tweets are where it's at. My brilliant idea was to expand my horizon (and blog post output) by joining in on the modern world. I've seen other bloggers post a photo with a caption (or sometimes just a photo, without so much as a caption to go along with it) or similar short posts that are insanely quick to generate and post, and at the same time very digestible for an audience looking for quick and instant gratification before moving on to the next thing. I decided that I would start to share things like this on Monster Dad. Any time I saw something that struck my fancy and seemed to fit into the admittedly wide subject area of Monster Dad I would simply create a short post and share it here. This has always been the kind of thing I've done on Facebook (there IS a Share button right below every post on Facebook!), but it always seemed like the opposite of what I wanted to do here--namely to generate new and original content that was actually mine. But content is content, right? I figured that I could still write my usual one, two or three long posts per month and at the same time boost my numbers by adding  a bunch of quick and easy posts. It seemed like a good way to be more relevant and even potentially improve my standing in search engine results and such. But a funny thing happened on my way to becoming a "blurb poster"--I simply couldn't bring myself to do it. For whatever reason I just kept generating my own content, even if it was at a snail's pace. I'm happy to say that I'm still committed to writing around eight months after making that commitment, but also kind of disappointed by my total output. So today I'm finally going to publish my first "blurb post"! Ironically enough, since I've also decided to explain in detail why I'm posting something very short and easy-to-digest, this will still end up being a standard, long-winded Monster Dad post by the time it's done. How quaint!

The Huffington Post recently put up the story Generation Xers Have The Most Gen X Response to Being Left Off The List. Interestingly enough this piece is actually based on a Twitter post by Bill Evenson, and most of the body of the story is made up of Tweets and memes responding to that post. Sounds like this is another example of generating content by sharing something someone else did and making it your own. [Confession: I am NOT currently on Twitter. I signed up for it about a decade ago and then realized that it simply wasn't for me. I know that at some point I'm going to have to join in on the fun, but now it's complicated because of having a closed account and all.]

Anyway, the story is about a graphic by CBS meant to define all of the generations from "The Silent Generation" to "Post-Millennials" by birth year. The graphic was supposed to illustrate a story about crises being experienced by the various generations. But that little graphic ended up being a story unto itself thanks to being noticed and pointed out by Mr. Evenson. As can be seen above, CBS simply skipped from Baby Boomers to Millennials with no mention of the people born between 1965 and 1980--a generation known as "Generation X". As a member of that generation (born in 1969) I was curious about why CBS decided to leave us out. It certainly seems like an oversight. I mean, there were definitely people born between 1965 and 1980. I don't think anyone would refute that fact. And it doesn't seem like there's any real reason to dis, dismiss or deny the existence of Gen Xers. Or am I missing something?

I remember when they first started to refer to my generation as Generation X. It was the first new "generation designation" since the Baby Boomers. It seemed like a pretty cool designation too. I mean, it had "X" in it! It was a time of grunge rock, Nintendo and the early days of the Internet as a regular thing that regular people used. It was a pretty cool feeling knowing that I was a member of this newly-named generation. But now we're the old folks. We're the ones seeing the Millennials taking over the world and complaining about them. Perhaps it was a Millennial who created the graphic that started all of this. Perhaps he/she did it on purpose to belittle Generation X via omission. Or perhaps he/she was just being a "lazy Millennial" and was more concerned with where they were going to hang with their friends after work--or wondering why they even HAVE to work in the first place--to check their graphic before submitting it. Who knows?

Whatever the case, we now have this story to ponder, muse about, question, make fun of, laugh at, post Tweets and memes about and share ad nauseam on social media. I wasn't actually planning on writing about this story myself (it's already written about in HuffPost after all). My intention was simply to share the story and link here, let everyone who sees this have access to the original story and count one more post as being "written". But when you get right down to it, I'm still Monster Dad and I still have my own style of writing. Is it a style likely to get me legions of loyal readers clamoring for more and more posts? Probably not. But it IS me, and I AM a Gen Xer.

Monday, December 31, 2018

That New Year's Eve When I Washed My Own Mouth Out With Soap

I grew up in a different time. Which I suppose is my way of admitting that I'm kind of old. We won't get into all the things I didn't have back then or all the problems I have with "kids these days", but it really was kind of different growing up in the 1970s and 80s. I almost feel like some aspects of my childhood were closer in spirit to the 1950s than today. Having said all that, I will also say that I never had my mouth washed out with soap as a form of punishment for the kinds of shenanigans that kids get into. That seems like a good preface for this little story (especially considering the title and the photo above).

I have written about celebrating New Year's Eve as a kid here before. In Happy New Year 1976! I was able to do some detective work to confirm a vague memory of a New Year's Eve party from my childhood. In this post we will explore another ancient New Year's Eve memory from around that time. But this one doesn't need to be confirmed through research--I don't think there would be a way to even attempt to do so. In the recent post Reliving an Embarrassing Moment from My Youth I wrote about something that happened to me as a kid that I found so humiliating that I had always kept it to myself. In reality what had happened was kind of a small thing (I wore two different sneakers to school one day back when I was in middle school) and I don't think anyone other than myself even noticed. I realized that my mind had categorized this as a traumatic event when it really wasn't. It was kind of a minor event that was built up to be something big by my psyche--and the blog post itself. It felt like I was baring my soul and putting something "out there" (airing my dirty laundry as it were) by writing about it all these years later. It almost seemed like a cathartic thing to share (maybe even therapeutic in a strange sort of way?). But I'm sure that readers were left feeling kind of like "that's it?"

Before we get any further it's worth mentioning here that this is another example of an embarrassing moment from my youth. And it's once again a quite minor thing that was more of an embarrassment in my mind than it was in reality. In fact I had never shared this story with ANYONE from the time it happened until probably 10 or 15 years ago or so when I shared it with my best friend and his wife. It was probably during a New Year's celebration of our own and I felt enough time had passed that it was more of an amusing kid story than anything else. Well, my friend's wife has gone on to say that THIS is her favorite story of mine from when I was a kid! So it's probably a good one to share here, now that I seem to be opening up and writing about all the embarrassing moments of my youth.

I was part of a big family. I have eight siblings (seven sisters and one brother). When I was a kid my family had pretty substantial New Year's Eve parties. They kind of petered out before I hit my teenage years, but I do have some fond--if hazy--memories of them from when I was little. One of the most important parts of these parties was the food. My father would go out of his way to put all kinds of interesting and exotic shacks out on our kitchen table. Frequently there would be things you (especially as a kid) had never seen or even heard of before. It was fun, but there was also something kind of mysterious and even intimidating about it. What is this strange stuff? Should I dare to eat it? Will I be made fun of if I DON'T try it? Not everything was exotic and foreign of course. I dimly remember there being standard cocktail party fare like olives, pickles and cheese & crackers on the table next to things like Vienna sausages (with burning Sterno fuel to heat them up) and chocolate covered ants or grasshoppers. Here's a couple photos from one of our New Year's Eve parties (December 31, 1977) that my sister found and put up on Facebook a while back. This is probably a couple years after the events of this blog, but certainly close enough to be a great illustration for the story:

New Year's Eve celebration 1977-78
Me partaking in some New Year's Eve snacks
In "Happy New Year 1976!" I was six years old. While I don't exactly remember when this memory came from I know I was quite young and it seems fair to estimate that if it wasn't December 31, 1975 it was probably within a year or two of that New Year's Eve. Among all the food choices on the table was something that doesn't seem especially odd or exotic. It was a container of cottage cheese. Of all the things spread out on the table that's the ONE item I recall in this memory. I remember seeing this clumpy, white substance that was called "cottage cheese". I knew cheese (especially varieties like American and cheddar) but had never seen something like this lumpy, almost liquid substance that was referred to as being "cheese". It certainly didn't look good, but it seemed like I should at least give it a try. The only problem was that...I couldn't get myself to actually go through with it. It seemed too off-putting for some reason (It looked gross? It seemed like something too "grownup" for me to be eating? It looked more like cheese that someone had already eaten and thrown-up?). Whatever the reason I simply couldn't bring myself to take a little sample of the cottage cheese and try it out for myself.

But it kept bugging me for some reason. I can't imagine that anyone who was there that night could have though back then that forty-plus years later that little container of cottage cheese would be pretty much the ONLY thing I would remember from that night. But it's true. Well, actually it's almost true. There was one other thing that stuck with me, and that's because it was (or seemed) like it was related in some way and would become forever linked to the cottage cheese in my memory.

Here's our kitchen table around 1972
As has already been mentioned, I was pretty young (and thus physically small) at the time. I vaguely remember being one of the smallest people at the party and able to navigate through and around all the bigger people semi-unnoticed. While that strange cottage cheese dilemma (should I eat it or should I not?) played out in my mind I kept seeing it sitting there on the table. But I also spied something else too. This something else wasn't ON the table, but was instead UNDER the table. On the floor under the table nearly against the wall was something white. My size made it pretty easy for me to see it hiding out in the dark. I decided that it was a bit of cottage cheese that had managed to find its way onto the floor. And then I made the decision that this new "floor cottage cheese" was my solution to the problem. I would sneak under the table and try out some of the cottage cheese in private where nobody else could see me. Why I felt that this was necessary when there was a whole container of the stuff sitting on the table available to anyone (including myself) that wanted to try some I can't really say. The fact that I couldn't bring myself to eat the stuff on the table seems to have morphed into the belief that I wasn't SUPPOSED to eat it. It somehow became something that I needed to SNEAK a taste of. It's almost like cottage cheese was an adults-only kind of a thing (like the beer, wine and champagne that the grownups were drinking).

Whatever the reason I suddenly felt a need to sneak under the table and try some of that forbidden cheese! Finding the right moment I ducked under the table--not a terribly difficult thing for a little kid to do. Once I was sure no one was looking I made my way toward the back wall and my prize. There it was--the mysterious and tempting cottage cheese. I reached out and picked it up. My mind didn't seem to notice that the consistency of this particular bit of cottage cheese was quite different from what I had seen on the table. It was solid--more in line with what I had traditionally thought of when I thought of cheese. But it was indeed white. Probably the only thing on the table that was that white was the cottage cheese, so this MUST have been cottage cheese too, right?  I brought the object closer to my mouth and I took a bite. Well, it turns out that this thing WASN'T cottage cheese, and I knew it instantly (even having never tasted cottage cheese). No, this out of place object was actually a piece of soap. Why a piece of soap was sitting on the floor under our dining table in the kitchen I have no idea, but there it was. And while I have never had my mouth washed out with soap for doing something "wrong", I suddenly found myself in the odd position of washing my OWN mouth out with soap. There certainly wasn't a "reason" for me to be doing so beyond mistaking one white object for another, but in a way it almost seems like I was unconsciously punishing myself for coveting that forbidden cottage cheese. However one might choose to define my actions I had indeed unwittingly taken a bite of soap. And it wasn't a pleasant experience. Not at all. But it did become one moment of a long-past New Year's Eve celebration that I still recall to this very day more than forty years later. I can't say that anything else from that night was stored in my long-term memory, but that strange cottage cheese/soap incident is forever etched in my mind.

And as a postscript it might be worth mentioning that cottage cheese is STILL something that I don't like. Actually, I don't think that I've ever even tried the stuff to this very day. I don't expect that it will taste like soap or anything, but I DO still find its appearance and consistency to be off-putting. It just looks lumpy and gross! It might seem that the appropriate way to end this post would be by saying that in honor of finally sharing this memory I also finally went ahead and tried out some cottage cheese. That could be a good way to illustrate some form of closure or something, right? But...well...no. Just, no.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Elf Pants: A New Holiday Tradition!

Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have started this post off with the photo above. It may have been more effective to instill a bit of a sense of intrigue and build up some mystery about what this "New Tradition" I speak of is all about. But you can't really title a blog "Elf Pants" without showing some elf pants, can you? Anyway, let's get to the point.

This little story about the genesis of a new holiday tradition for our family started back in August while we were at The In-Laws' house. And I should probably mention here that this "Family Tradition" is really probably only considered to be a tradition by me at this point. I'm going to try my best to make it ring true for the rest of the family...but it could prove to be a bit of an uphill battle.

The Tiny Creature is big into tiny things. Pretty much anything that is in miniature form will appeal to her. She has a collection of tiny erasers of all different kinds of foods and animals. She also still plays with her American Girl dolls. At nine years old she might not necessarily be considered "too old" to do so, but she did seem to be losing interest in all things American Girl a year or two ago (American Girl Burnout?). But then she rebounded and found a renewed interest in the stuff. I think the reason for that is the simple fact that American Girl dolls have so many accessories. And said accessories are all tiny versions of real, normal, everyday kinds of things. That's right in her sweet spot.

Some of The Creature's tiny eraser collection

The Creature is also very much into crafts and crafting. She goes to a weekly after-school art program where she makes all kinds of works of art. One of her favorite ways to express her creative side is through duct tape. Her grandmother has a large variety of craft supplies (including many different colors of duct tape) at her house. Whenever we're visit The In-Laws the Creature will almost always enlist Grammie into some sort of craft-making exercise. They have engineered a number of interesting duct tape creations. The most impressive of all was the duct tape dress they made a couple years back. Yes, they made a full-sized dress that the Tiny Creature could actually wear...out of duct tape!

Yep, that dress is made out of...duct tape!

Now that you know of these two interests that the Creature holds dear it might not come as a huge surprise that she really enjoys combining the two interests by making tiny things when she's crafting. She really loved making boxes of miniature doughnuts out of Cheerios and putting them into matchboxes decorated as doughnut boxes. And you can make all sorts of tiny food models with that Sculpey clay stuff! But what does all of this have to do with what may or may not be a new family holiday tradition?

Tiny foods made from Sculpey and glued to a sea shell

Well, as I mentioned earlier, we were visiting The In-Laws back in August. The Tiny Creature spotted a miniature wicker basket that was part of a centerpiece display on the dinner table. It was just a little (1 1/2 or 2 inches across?) empty basket, but she really focused in on it and just HAD to do something with it. She got some trusty duct tape and asked me what colors could be found in a watermelon. Next thing I knew she was putting different colors of tape together and cutting up a storm on a counter top in the kitchen. I looked down and saw what can be seen in the photo above. With no hesitation my mind tried to figure out what it was, and it came to the conclusion that The Creature was fashioning an elf out of duct tape and she had gotten only as far as the (red) pants and (green) shoes. It didn't occur to me that it seemed an odd thing to be making in August, and I also didn't seem to realize that she was done with whatever project she was working on. I just told her she did a good job and that I liked her "elf pants" (or something to that effect).

Then she showed me her actual finished project. It was a tiny slice of watermelon (with red fruit and a green rind) that was sitting in the tiny basket that had spurred on this sudden creative outburst in the first place. Suddenly and instantly I realized how ridiculous my "elf pants" conclusion was and I found it to be absolutely hilarious! I couldn't stop laughing, and the Monsters were also quite amused (or at least laughed along with me to humor me). What I saw as elf pants was of course the remnants of the tape the Creature had used to cut her watermelon out of. But to me it was more than a remnant waiting to be tossed into the trash. To me it was a pair of hilarious elf pants and I couldn't let them get thrown out. I slipped them into my pocket with plans to bring them out once again in a few months.

This brings us to December and our new Christmas tree. We all went to pick it out at a local farm and brought it home on top of our car. Once it was set up I put the lights on it and we all decorated it with our collection of ornaments we've put together over the years. Nearly all of the ornaments have special meaning to us--from some of the earliest examples of ornaments The Wife and I got when we were first started going out to multiple "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments for both of the Little Monsters.

Once it seemed like we were pretty much done trimming the tree I announced that there was one special ornament that still had to go up. Everyone wondered what I was talking about as I pulled something out of a box that it had been hidden in for three months. Yes, it was the infamous Elf Pants! It was greeted with mixed reactions, from amused to confused, but I proceeded to find a choice place on the tree to prop up the "ornament" on the tree (as it didn't have a hook or any other way to properly hang it). And it has just occurred to me that this "ornament" was actually considered to be the leftover material from an unrelated project--something that should have been thrown away and forgotten about. But now the "Elf Pants" are hanging on our Christmas tree and I have no idea what became of the miniature slice of watermelon that was the actual intended purpose of this combination of red and green duct tape!

We haven't really acquired many new ornaments over the past two or three years, but the Elf Pants "ornament" is now something that should become a regular part of the annual trimming of the tree in our house--at least as far as I'm concerned! Hopefully it will be accepted by the rest of the family as a new annual tradition. I guess we'll see next year...


Monday, December 17, 2018

Important Dates in History: December 17, 1987

Okay, so this isn't really about an important date in the history of the world. But it IS about an important date in MY history. If you were around 31 years ago, do you remember what you were doing on December 17, 1987? It seems like a pretty random date to pluck out of the air, and it doesn't seem like there was very much happening in the world that day which was particularly newsworthy. Obviously SOMETHING important happens EVERY day SOMEWHERE in the world, but overall December 17, 1987 seems to have been relatively quiet. Nevertheless it was indeed an important day for me, and one which I still remember, even 31 years later. If you'd care to learn just why it's so memorable for me please read on...

I graduated from high school in June of 1987, so that year itself was pretty important and kind of monumental for me (a bridging from childhood to adulthood). Upon graduation I didn't really have any idea what I wanted to do with my life and I didn't really have a good plan for the future. Most of my classmates were going on to college, but I had fallen under the spell of the Army recruiters who prowl around high schools looking for kids with no plan and no real direction. I enlisted for a two-year hitch through the DEP (Delayed Entry Program), spent "one last summer" with my friends and headed off to Basic Training in September. I had signed up to be an Infantryman (long story behind that decision), so Basic Training would take place at Fort Benning in Georgia. Having never flown before, taking a big plane ride from Boston to Atlanta was a pretty new (and kind of scary) experience for me. Needless to say, the three months of Basic Training were also a pretty new and scary experience too. I had left friends, family (and my girlfriend) behind and gone further away from home than I had ever been before. Three months isn't all that long a period of time of course, but you have to remember that this was all happening to a seventeen-year-old (my parents had to sign something to allow me to join up a few weeks before my 18th birthday) who didn't really have a lot of life experience, and was moving a thousand miles from home to get yelled at 24 hours a day while learning how to kill people and clean bathrooms.

After three long months of training, which included eight weeks of Basic and four more weeks of AIT (Advanced Individual Training), my company of recruits graduated on December 10th. Because of the timing none of us had yet accrued enough leave time to be able to go home and spend Christmas and New Year with our families before reporting to our new posts (I would be heading to Fort Knox in Kentucky). In what seemed an unusual move (but which was probably pretty common for graduates in that awkward window of time right around the holidays) they actually let us stay in Ft. Benning for one more week so we could go home for the holidays. It was a very strange week. We were no longer trainees, but didn't really feel like real soldiers either. We were still living in the same barracks we had been in during our weeks of training, but we weren't yelled at as much or required to do as much PT (physical training). They sent groups of us off to various places around the base to do work details during the days, but otherwise there wasn't much to do. I was able to read pretty much all of Steven King's "IT" during down time.

 I also had a brand new Sony Walkman that I had bought during an ill-advised 24-hour pass that the Drill Sergeants had given to everyone who didn't have family show up for a mid-cycle "Family Day" in October. A few of us headed out by taxi to the nearest city (Columbus), blew a chunk of our first paychecks at a mall, bought some beer and got a hotel room for the night. When we got back the Drill Sergeants confiscated all our new gear, including my Walkman and the few tapes I had bought to play in it. During that last week I listened to those cassettes over and over (I believe I had albums by Yes and Van Halen, as well as The Pretenders' "Learning to Crawl" album).

My parents came down by train to see the graduation ceremonies on December 10th, and they brought my girlfriend with them. It was so great to see them all. Other than that one special day I was able to spend with them I had been away from home in a strange place for three months. I spent most of that last week at Fort Benning thinking of home, friends, family and Christmas--which was only a little over a week away. The Pretenders' "Learning to Crawl" album was a relatively recent release (January 1984). It had a couple huge hits with "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Middle of the Road". Those songs were part of the soundtrack of my high school years. I bought the album mainly because of them, but while listening to it in December of 1987 I discovered the song "2000 Miles". At the time it hadn't yet become the "Christmas Classic" that it is today. Listening to it then almost made me feel like it had been written for me. True, I was closer to 1,000 miles away from home rather than 2,000 miles, but I was still about to travel a long distance to come home, the snow was indeed falling down (we even got some in Georgia that week!) and it was most certainly Christmastime!

Well, December 17th finally came around and it was time to leave Fort Benning. Those of us who had stuck around for the extra week got on buses to head to the Atlanta airport and then scatter to various parts of the country. I had made the expensive decision to fly into the airport in Worcester, Massachusetts (closer to home) rather than Logan airport in Boston. Doing that meant I had to transfer to a little puddle-jumper at JFK in New York. That was quite the adventure. I was such a novice at flying that I didn't realize my checked baggage went directly to the second plane (this was the first time I had ever had a connecting flight). I waited so long at the luggage carousel--thinking my duffel bag was lost--that I nearly missed my second flight. By the time I realized my mistake I had to run through the airport in my dress greens, wait for a shuttle bus and then walk out onto the tarmac to climb aboard the tiny plane that would take me home--in a much less of a smooth fashion than the big jets I had flown on up to that point.

Those are the tangible events that happened on December 17, 1987. I think that in itself makes for a pretty memorable day. But there was something else that happened which only adds to the importance of the day for me. I've mentioned that I was heading home for the holidays. As it turned out, being away from home for three months in such an alien and hostile environment really made me appreciate simply being home with family and friends (and my girlfriend of course). When I left home I was just a seventeen year old kid. It was only a little over three months later, but it seems like I had changed a lot. Up until that point Christmas had always been a special time for me, but it was really mostly all about the commercial side of it more than anything else. The only things that really seemed to matter to me were the gifts and material things that came with the holiday. As corny as it might sound, I really didn't get the "true meaning" of Christmas. But now, as an eighteen year old and only three months removed from home, I had really acquired a greater appreciation of that meaning. I had learned that all of the important people in my life were what really mattered. And the coincidental discovery of the song "2000 Miles" at just the right time really helped me to see that. Thirty-one years later it still remains one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time.

Two thousand miles
Is very far through the snow
I'll think of you
Wherever you go

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reliving an Embarrassing Moment from My Youth

How many people can say they never had an embarrassing moment when they were young? I'd wager that pretty much everyone has had at least one or two (if not dozens or hundreds). Once you grow out of the days of diapers, cribs, car seats and strollers you become more aware of your surroundings and start to realize that the world, in fact, doesn't revolve around you. I believe that has something to do with the whole idea of the development of the id, the ego and the superego. But what I'm mostly concerned with is what happens when you realize that there are other people who have their own point of view, and, more importantly, that THEY can see YOU doing embarrassing or stupid things. And when you do have an embarrassing moment it can feel (especially when you reach the teenage years) like, once again, the world DOES revolve around you--in the sense that everyone is aware of your embarrassing moment.

This story is about one small, rather isolated embarrassing moment that happened to me when I was a kid which unexpectedly came back recently to haunt me in the present. The funny thing is that there's certainly no reason that I NEED to share this here. I could simply never tell anyone about this event and it would just go to the grave with me, never to be known by another person. But what's the fun in that? For the sake of future history I will now tell you about my formerly private embarrassing moment memory!

That's kind of a big build-up. Now that we're at the point of laying things bare I have to confess that this is indeed a VERY minor moment that probably won't seem very meaningful (or even embarrassing) if you weren't there--and if you weren't a kid at the time. But I WAS there! And I WAS a kid!

When I was in middle school I used to have to walk down our street and then another street that went down a hill to the little convenience store that was at the bottom of the hill to catch the school bus. Thanks to the magic of Google Maps I can show you the exact site of this embarrassing moment--or at least the moment it started anyway. This "moment" actually lasted for an entire school day. Perhaps "moment" isn't really the right term for this experience, but we'll stick with it. And it's also possible that the extreme length of this particular embarrassing "moment" is a big part of the reason it has stuck with me through all these years.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I was in middle school at the time. I don't remember the exact year, but it was probably around 1980 or '81 and I was probably in 5th or 6th grade (give or take a year). Since I had to walk a pretty good distance to get to the bus stop I always seemed to be in a rush to get up, get dressed, eat something for breakfast and get out the door to make it to the bus stop on time. This day most likely wouldn't stand out from all the others and I'm sure I wouldn't even have any recollection of it at all if I hadn't made one minor but embarrassing mistake while rushing to get ready. Unfortunately I didn't notice that mistake until it was too late. I was already at the bus stop and certainly didn't have the time to run back home and fix it. And, here's the spot where I noticed that mistake:

This is Charlie's Variety, the little convenience store located close to my home in the little town I grew up in. There was actually a Cumberland Farms store/gas station on the opposite side of the street too. It seemed like a luxury to have two such convenience stores so conveniently close to us. Anyway, around this time the school bus would pick us up right at the corner where Charlie's was located. I remember sitting or standing on or near the concrete steps you can see on the side of the building. At one time there must have been a door there (or maybe it was a pedestal of sorts for an ice machine or vending machine or heating/cooling equipment?), but for as long as I could remember (not a terribly long time, as I was only about ten) they were simply steps to nowhere--a convenient place to wait for the school bus.

Here's a view of the hill that I'd walk down to get to Charlie's:

 At other times I recall the bus stop being on either side of the road at this little bridge just before Charlie's. You can see the fence on left side and the old railing on the right, as well as the concrete decking of the bridge under which a little stream would run.

But in this case the bus stop was right at Charlie's Variety. I remember that because this is where I made the discovery of my mistake. As I stood or sat on that little "stoop" waiting for the bus I happened to look down at my feet. Not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary I was mortified when I realized that I had managed to put on TWO DIFFERENT SNEAKERS when I was getting ready for school! I couldn't believe my eyes, or my stupidity! There were my two feet, just where they should be. But on each one was a different sneaker. And they were noticeably different too. I don't remember the brands (maybe one was a KangaROOS and one a New Balance?), but the colors and styles were certainly different, and it was quite plain to see that they didn't match.
Whatever brand, style and color they were I was flabbergasted. How could I have done something so dumb? Surely the entire school would notice my mistake and laugh at me all day long! Did I have time to run home and fix my mistake? Not without missing the bus. I didn't dare try. Apparently having to walk to school and being very late was not something I was willing to do. I just sucked it up, got on the bus when it showed up and...waited to be humiliated.

To be honest, I don't really recall many specific details from that day, other than sitting at a desk (in math class?) and crossing my ankles hoping to keep my mismatched footwear as unnoticeable as possible. I probably did that in every class. I spent the day petrified that I'd be called out for my ridiculous and unintentional fashion statement. But, in the end I don't think that ANYONE even noticed. Or at least nobody said anything to me. Somehow I survived what I thought was going to be the most embarrassing moment of my life! Needless to say, there were plenty more that followed over the next few decades.

After making it through that long day the memory of the incident stayed with me for a long time. Over the years the sharpness of it dulled and it receded further toward the back of my mind--but it never quite left altogether. Which brings us to the present. The title of this post refers not only to that old embarrassing moment, but also to "reliving" it. I've written quite a few times about "Resurrecting the Past", where I attempted to bring some part of my youth into the present. Sometimes it was a specific object, like an old drive-in speaker or a rotary dial telephone. And other times it was more elaborate, like when I attempted to recreate a specific night from 1983 (Resurrecting the Past: January 21, 1983). That one took two parts to fully tell the story.  But why would I want to "resurrect" a memory like this embarrassing moment? Well, I wouldn't! But sometimes life has a way of surprising us.

The old adage says that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" (or something to that effect).  I think this saying is mostly in reference to major events in history--stuff like World Wars and other conflicts, controversial and dangerous political decisions and stances... As mortifying as my little embarrassing moment felt to me at the time, it certainly didn't rise to the level of being something "historic". And I do believe that I learned from it--at least as much as one can from such an incident. I certainly never completely forgot it. But for whatever reason, the universe decided that it was time for me to repeat my past. And here's how it happened...

We currently live within walking distance to our  church. It only takes about ten minutes to walk there from our apartment. The Wife is in the church choir. She will sometimes take the Little Monsters with her for Sunday School while she goes to choir rehearsal at 9:00AM. This gives me an extra 45 minutes or so to relax a bit and get myself to church in plenty of time for the 10:00 service. But some things never change. Just as I did as a kid when getting ready to head out to the bus stop, I always seem to find myself rushing out the door at the last minute to make it on time. One recent Sunday was no exception. I grabbed my jacket, put on my shoes and headed out the door. I was able to get to church just in time to take a seat and settle in a bit before the first hymn started. I stretched out my legs, looked down and...realized that I had managed to put on TWO DIFFERENT SNEAKERS! In this case I was lucky that I don't have a very diverse wardrobe, and both of the pairs of sneakers I picked from looked very similar in color and style. But I knew the same mistake had been made once again, and it felt like everyone else around me would know it as well. What a familiar feeling, dredged up from so long ago.

Without having any intention to do so, I had unwittingly managed to resurrect that same uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment that I had felt when I looked down at my feet at the bus stop all those years ago! I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at the realization, but I was quick to cross my ankles and put them as far under the seat as possible to prevent people from noticing my mistake. I'm pretty sure that nobody else realized anything was amiss. But that did little to make me feel better about the fact that I had managed to do it once again, some forty years later! The more things change the more they stay the same I guess. At least this time I was able to take some pictures and save the embarrassing moment for posterity. Why? I have no idea. But there it is, for all to see.

Nothing to see here!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Draclea vs. Frakenstein

Let me start off by answering a couple questions that the title "Draclea vs. Frakenstein" might understandably raise. First off, no, the title is not misspelled or a typo (even if I'm seeing the little red lines under the words as I type them, indicating that I need to fix them!). And, no, this is not a post about the 1971 movie "Dracula vs. Frankenstein". And, to be honest, this post actually isn't even about either Dracula OR Frankenstein at all! I'm sorry for any confusion and I apologize if anyone feels misled or is concerned that this entire post might be some sort of clickbait. So, let's get to what this post really IS about, shall we? Hopefully all will become clear very soon...

Today is The Little Monster's birthday. As some long-time readers may recall, the biggest impetus for the launch of this blog was to share my experiences raising our two daughters as a stay-at-home dad. In June of 2010 (when Monster Dad went online) The Little Monster was actually little. She was only five years old at the time, with a lot of growing and life experiences ahead of her. We've had a lot of adventures since then and she has already done a lot of growing. She has had quite a few birthdays since then too. What makes this particular one special enough to write about? Well, it's actually a pretty major one, and one that I'm finding a bit scary to think about and even kind of hard to fathom. Today The Little Monster turns THIRTEEN! Today she is a TEENAGER! Where has the time gone? How has this happened? And, what the heck does all this have to do with "Draclea" and "Frakenstein"?

Well, I've chosen to celebrate The Little Monster turning into a not-so-little teenager by remembering something she used to do when she still WAS little. Since a big part of being home with her for me was to share some of my childhood interests in movies, music and TV shows with her, it's probably not too surprising that she would gain a certain knowledge or awareness of both Dracula and Frankenstein. Most of that knowledge came from the movies "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (which featured Dracula and the Werewolf in addition to Frankenstein) and "Young Frankenstein". We used to watch films like those pretty regularly back in the early days.

But, as happens to many kids, my Little Monster had a tough time pronouncing some words when she was young until she figured out what they were supposed to sound like. One of her little quirks was that for some reason she had a tough time with certain words that featured a "U" in them. And another thing she would sometimes do (also not particularly uncommon for young kids) was to randomly drop a letter or two from some words.

I noticed both of these traits pretty quickly after she started talking. When a word had a "U" in it she would skip the "U" and then change the sound of the word after where the "U" should have been. I think she must have just thought she had heard some of these words a certain way and stuck with that as her pronunciation. After all, she wasn't spelling or reading yet, so it's not like she'd say "Wait, this isn't how the word is pronounced, it's spelled completely differently!" Everything was pretty much based on sound at that point. The most obvious example of this quirk was when she'd mention "Dracula". Instead of saying it the familiar way, and how it's spelled, she'd pronounce it as... "Draclea" (Drak-Lee-Uh). And this wasn't the only word with a "U" that this happened to. She also pronounced Regular as "Reglea" (Reg-Lee-Uh), and Ambulance as "Ambleance" (Amb-Lee-Ance). Those are the only examples that I can think of, but you can probably get the point.

The dropping of letters when pronouncing words also seems like a common thing for young kids just learning to speak. I can imagine that the word Frankenstein would most likely be pretty intimidating for one of those new-talkers. It's a rather long word that has many letters and three syllables. And if you saw that word spelled out on a TV or movie screen it would probably look kind of scary (even from just a pronunciation standpoint), especially when you don't even know how to read yet! The Little Monster would drop the "N" and pronounce the word as... "Frakenstein" (Fray-ken-stine). I don't have too many examples of other words that she would do this to, but the one that I can think of is very similar. I used to always read books to her at bedtime (a ritual that I really miss, though at the moment I'm still doing it with the Tiny Creature--at least until she decides she's too old and grown-up to be read to). Some of the books we used to read included the series that featured Franklin the turtle. You can probably guess where this is going. Yes, The Little Monster pronounced Franklin's name as "Frakin" (Fray-Kin). She went ahead and dropped both the "N" AND the "L" for that one.

Here's our copy of the book Franklin's Halloween:

In which Franklin goes to the Halloween party as "Franklinstein"

Time passed and The Little Monster continued to grow, learn and experience life. She eventually found herself in Preschool and then Kindergarten. By that point she was starting to really learn her letters and words, as well as how to read. I was constantly surprised that as she aged she continued to use her "Dracleas" and "Frakensteins" in conversation. When I first heard them there was an impulse to correct her. But it just sounded so cute that I didn't want to "ruin it" by making her grow up too fast. However, after a while I did start to get a bit concerned that she wasn't figuring out the correct way to pronounce certain words. It didn't seem like too big of a deal (like a learning disability or something like that), but I was kind of wondering why she hadn't grown out of it. And I was getting worried that maybe I should have stepped in earlier to correct her. But in the end it STILL sounded kind of cute to hear her talk about how something was "Reglea" and that an "Ambleance" was coming down the road.

She did continue to grow though, of course. As her age was reaching double-digits and she was learning all kinds of new things at school something happened that I managed to miss in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. Somewhere along the line she did indeed correct herself and started pronouncing the words correctly. I have no idea exactly when it happened or how it happened. Did she realize her mistake and correct it on her own when she was able to read? Did a teacher or friend at school correct her? Did she simply "grow out of it"? Whatever happened, the days of "Draclea" and "Frakenstein" were suddenly over and she was just that much less of a Little Monster. I'll always be her Dad of course, but I do find it kind of sad to think that at this point she's closer to things like college and getting married than she is to the days when we'd hang out and watch stuff like "Draclea" and "Frakenstein" movies together.

...even if you're not so little anymore!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Marking a Minor Milestone for Monster Dad

2018 has become the year of The Return of Monster Dad, to some extent. I have made a lot of noise about the fact that I have NOT been making a lot of noise around here for some time now. While I never intended to stop writing Monster Dad posts, it just kind of happened. As chronicled in many posts over the past year (including "The 2018 State of the Blog Address") Monster Dad has always remained in my mind, and I've have many, many post ideas in my head over the years--even if they've never managed to get out of my head and posted here.

So what "milestone" are we marking here? Well, it's admittedly a pretty minor one, but one that I think is a good sign for things to come. On Halloween (October 31) I posted the blog "My Favorite Halloween Costume of All-Time (Ben Cooper Star Wars Stormtrooper)". It was the fourth post of October and the 11th post of 2018. Those aren't very impressive numbers by any means, but those numbers are exactly what the minor milestone is all about. Please allow me to explain why those seemingly meaningless numbers mean so much to me.

Monster Dad started in June 2010. I was new to the world of blogging and didn't really know what I was doing at that point. But I considered it a success that I was able to write 23 posts over the last six months of that first year. 2011 was the highlight year of Monster Dad. I kind of got into a groove and ended up writing 62 posts that year. My unofficial goal was to average a post a week, so with 62 I was actually over that target by ten posts! But then things began to change...

I was still writing regularly at the beginning of 2012, but my YouTube channel really began to take off. The focus of that channel (mostly videos reviewing military rations) was quite different from the kinds of things seen at Monster Dad, but I really got caught up in the numbers and statistics there (video views, subscribers, comments, likes...) and ended up spending a  lot more time filming, editing and posting videos than writing blogs. Then in September 2012 we moved to a new town and I just couldn't seem to find the time to write any more--despite the fact that the ideas for blogs kept flowing. 2012 ended with 35 Monster Dad posts. That was a huge drop-off from the 62 in 2011, but still the second highest monthly total to that point.

By the time 2013 rolled around it probably seemed like I had pretty much completely abandoned Monster Dad. That was never the intention, but it certainly did appear that way. In 2013 I wrote a grand total of four posts. 2014 saw a complete year without a single post (I still find that kind of hard to believe). There were three posts in 2015, followed by two each in 2016 and 2017. So after totaling 23, 62 and 35 posts over the first three years, I was only able to muster a total of ELEVEN posts total over the next FIVE YEARS combined. That's an average of barely over two posts per year--a far cry from the one-post-per-week target from a few years earlier.

So now perhaps the reader can start to see why I'm celebrating the fact that I've written eleven blog posts this year (2018). That number--while pretty lean by any account--actually equals my output over the past five years combined! And, the four posts from October equals the highest number of posts for any complete YEAR between 2013 and 2017. I'm certainly not suggesting that those numbers are good or acceptable, but it definitely counts as a good start--or should I say a good "re-start" (and there's still two months left in 2018). In Hollywood this might be considered a reboot of Monster Dad. Or, in computer terms, maybe I should think about re-naming the blog Monster Dad 2.0? However it might be classified, I think the bottom line is that the blog is finally moving in the right direction for the first time in a long time. And that makes me very happy!

The totals for each year that Monster Dad has been online

And the output for the month of October 2018 (which equals or exceeds the total for any year between 2013 and 2017)