Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Are Middleschoolers So Annoying?

The past few times we've gone to our local playground it's been swarming with middle school aged kids. Of course they are in the area that is specifically for toddlers and pre-schoolers, so as they climb up and down the pint-sized jungle gyms and hog the swings and jump over the little kids this has lead to a certain amount of conflict between us and them.

Typically it seems to go like this way; it's an average nice day and the toddlers are doing their thing in the tot lot. Then the local middle school gets out and they start to swarm into the playground, so far so good. It's their playground too.

Soon, though, in fact inevitably, they start to filter into the tot lot despite there being a gate that separates it from the rest of the playground. They know they shouldn't be there, but they really don't care. Many of them, in fact, probably played in this very same tot lot when they were kids. Soon they are swarming on the big fake rock, running up and down the jungle gym, sliding down the slides, gossiping, and cursing too. They are being, in short, typical middle schoolers but it's way too much for the little kids to handle.

I see big kids jumping over little kids, the gate starts to swing open fast, the gate gets left open, allowing little kids (who's nannies are inevitably on the phone) to escape. I see big kid feet within inches of little kid faces. Soon the Brooklyn Baby Momma and I are having a conversation about how to get rid of these kids.

It's not like they have nowhere to go. They actually have the entire rest of the playground for themselves, including an entire other, and larger, jungle gym. They just like the taboo feeling of being in the little kid area, and having it for themselves.

By now we've confronted groups of older kids about two or three times. This is invariably what happens.

We see a group of kids dominating the jungle gym, climbing over our kid to the get to the top, and using foul language. After a while of this, and seeing other parents do very little, for the most part, we decide it would make sense to talk to these kids. So we explain that this is a tot lot and not for them, that they have other areas to play.

Invariably they agree with us. Time after time I've heard kids tell me that they know there are other areas for them, and that they know this area is for little kids. But, there's no real harm to just letting them do their thing here, they're not hurting anyone, they're being careful, what's the big deal?

In other words they do the same thing people always do when they get nailed doing something they know they should not be doing: they say it's different for them than for other people who are breaking the rules, the rules don't really apply to them in this case and why are we being like this to them?

Sometimes it gets a little more heated from there, as we persist in telling them that, no, in fact it's not okay and we don't want to make exceptions for them, especially as they were the kids that we just saw a few minutes ago climbing over our toddler to get to the top of the jungle gym and we heard them using bad language.

In lieu of a pointless argument with a gaggle of extremely defensive middle schoolers (because they quickly and inevitably go into shutdown mode and refuse to see that their actions could accidentally hurt a little kid) we have to get the security guard.

He's an older guy named Joe, and he radiates a security guard authority that makes the kids snap to right away. He goes over to the tot lot and you can immediately see the kids become crestfallen, "here comes The Man." That Joe is older, frailer and smaller than I am, for example, means nothing. They respect him, me? Not so much. Me, I'm just some generic white guy dad. Randi they respect much more, as she can use her TEACHER VOICE, but it's just so much easier to get Joe and stay out of it.

A couple of days ago, as Joe marched a group of middle school aged boys out of the tot lot, I saw one boy look at us, with anger seething in his eyes and he said to me that ultimate middle school put-d0wn, "Snitch!" At one time, way back when, this might have hurt my feelings, when I was in middle school, I guess. But now that I'm almost 38 and have a kid to worry about I can only laugh and remember.

But now we're the parents who snitch on the kids. So we're now obligated to do it each and every time they overdo it in the tot lot, which happens all the time.

But what is it about middle schoolers that makes it so easy to feel irritated with them? It's such a strange time in life. The kids are definitely out of their little, cute, cuddly phase, yet they still want to do little kid things. They aren't high schoolers yet, who are off doing their own thing, for better or worse. (In NYC this is too often for the worse.)

I actually understand why these kids are so defensive. For the boys they have suddenly become painfully aware of the opposite sex, at precisely the moment when the opposite sex has become even more painfully unaware of them, or so it seemed so many years ago. Your friends become your whole world, and acceptance means everything. Pushing boundaries and defying authority becomes more and more important. At the same time you become more sensitive to everything.

I will never forget the hurt of being excluded from a birthday party in seventh grade, for someone who lived up my block. From my window I watched kids, in some cases my own friends, walk up my own block and past my window, but I couldn't go. You know why? Because in seventh grade you're finally allowed to choose your own friends, and aren't obligated to invite all the kids you were forced to hang out with when you were toddlers and pre-schoolers. In other words, your parents can't set your social calendar anymore. It's liberating and terrifying.

At the same time you start to resent the way certain authority figures still put the squish on you whenever they feel like it, and they still don't treat you any different than when you were a little, little kid. That's probably why the kids seemed, in part, so hurt when Joe has to crack down on them.

The question then becomes when does it end? It ends, for the kids we see, when they go to high school and they become too old to go back to their old playground. By then they might even be tool old to "play" anyway, which is kind of sad in it's way.

As for now I've realized the best thing I can do is probably let Joe do all the heavy lifting and make it as little about us versus them as possible. The middle schoolers can be rude, crude and annoying but hopefully it's just a phase. Right, it's just a phase?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dads Wanted For Storytelling Show

Hi All,
I am producing a storytelling show featuring dads in NYC. We are going to do it live on Father's Day and it's called ... Father's Day. If you are a dad and have a great story, or know a dad, send this on to him/them.

I love stories that are fun, funny and truthful. If this sounds like you and you feel confident doing five minutes in front of a friendly crowd email me at

The show will be at Ochi's Lounge, downstairs at Comix.

If you wish to participate send me a short version of your story, and tell me a little bit about yourself, and your history as a writer, performer, dad or what have you. You don't need a ton of stage experience to be in this show, you just need to want to tell a great, heartfelt story. :-)

--Dave, the BBD

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nuclear Family Fallout

About a week, or so, ago I went out for some drinks with a pair of local dads, here in the borough of Windsor Terrace/Kensington, Brooklyn. After we moved from the very cool and highly regarded bar Double Windsor we ended up sharing a pitcher of $9 Bud at Farrell's, which has been around, I believe, since Prohibition.

After a little while the subject of "help" came up. By help I don't mean domestics who clean the apartment. I mean simply having family members around who can help you with the child on at least a semi-reliable basis. None of us had any and all of us believed this is one reason why it's been so challenging and at times stressful for us as parents.

For us here in BBD Mansions this has meant that we almost never go out to see the movies, because baby sitters are prohibitively expensive. Since we don't have any family help we simply stay in instead. It's meant that we can't ever get a break from our adorable child. Not that we want a break from her, but other than the two days a week she's in daycare it is all us, all the time. And daycare just started in September. So for the first year and a half of her life we were the ones with her 99% of the time.

When Stella was born we also didn't have any real family help. So when she was colicky and not sleeping (which lasted more than a year) we simply were spent. No one came to relieve us, no one helped us with our apartment when it was a wreck. No one gave us a hand or cooked us a meal when we were wiped out from months of stress. It just didn't happen. This made the first year, and change, of our lives as parents extremely hard, and put a lot of strain on us personally.

I spoke to my mom about this, and she remembered how it used to be different. She raised our family in the suburbs, but back then baby sitters were cheap, something like 50 cents an hour. Today we pay from $15 to $25 in our area. That makes a movie cost something like $70-$75, conservatively. We really can't justify this, because I've been unemployed and Randi works part time. But even when I worked we couldn't do this very often.

When we want to see family we drive at least an hour to get anywhere, with traffic that can become two hours. So we don't do that a lot.

These days we've learned to switch off nights when either one of us have Stella. If Randi wants to hit the town, I can feed Stella, bathe her and put her to bed. No big thing. She does the same for me. We do this maybe a few times a month, maybe.

But when Randi was breastfeeding, and Stella had already rejected the bottle (so it had to be the breast) we didn't go out. We just didn't. Because without the breast Stella would cry all night until we got back, making us doubt if it was worth it at all to get some dinner down the block. We didn't have our first "date" after Stella's birth for, I believe, at least five months.

What I've come to realize is that all this is highly, highly unnatural. The nuclear family, in extremus, is just not a socially healthy way to raise a family, or indeed be a family.

Our situation is extreme, I realize. My wife's family is in Kentucky, and my parents are both almost 80. So most of the people who would be there for us are not able to help all that much. Most other people I know in NYC aren't in our boat.

This is a tough town when you don't have any real help with your kid ever. When no one can help you carry all your stuff up and down your third floor walk-up. When you never have an extra pair of eyes or hands on your kid. When you, or your spouse, is the only one ever there, ever, to feed your bundle of joy, wipe her, or clean her. Ever. It takes the pressures incumbent upon living in an intense town and makes them about 1000 times more real.

At the same time it also makes it so much harder to appreciate and enjoy the things about NYC that are so great. A lot of this is the social and nightlife. When you can't see your friends you start to feel isolated, as we did for almost a year straight, maybe more. When you can't see shows, or do improv comedy or any of that stuff you used to love you start to wonder if all the extra expense of life here is worth it.

Again, I do realize that our situation is not the norm. Many people have more family help than we have. But the model that our modern families are based upon I believe is a faulty one. I believe kids benefit from having a lot of family love around, not just love from mom and dad. I believe parents who get a semi-regular break from parenting are probably better parents. I believe all this is a symptom of a society that has evolved towards more and more isolation from one another, which is not good.

All this is a long way to say that over the past four days we had my mother in law Judy in, and it was great. Although the child rearing burden was 1/3 less due to the extra person it felt like a much, much greater relief than that. If I had to go to the bathroom if we were out I would simply ask Judy to watch Stella. She was happy to. If I was wiped out and needed to lie down for 10 minutes it was okay, Stella was with her mom and grand-mom, keeping Randi from getting worn down, or me, if the tables were turned. If we went to the playground there was another person watching our girl and playing with her. These might seem like little things, but the ability to relax for a moment, catch my breath, help my wife, have her catch her breath, was a godsend. It really was.

We've done the best we can, and I believe we are good parents. But I know we've also been stressed ones. I wonder, sometimes, if we would have turned out that way if we'd simply had just a little bit more help.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Link To My Huffinton Post article!

Hi All,
The piece about Glass-Steagall was posted on the Huffington Post!

Check it out, leave a comment, show the BBD some love!