Archive | November 2013

Uncle Matt Babysits, Hilarity Ensues.

Like most people in their 30’s, I have siblings and friends with children. Generally, I approach children that aren’t mine – or related to me – with a casual indifference. It’s awesome. Kids are life-changing, a blessing, and all those other tangible and intangible effects. I love kids and I would love to be blessed with my own some day, but my feeling is, for the most part, I don’t want to hold yours or look at pictures of them. If this is offensive, sorry.

I am, however, pleased that I have two nephews, ages two and four that adore their Uncle Matt. The four-year-old is my Godson, and I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and figure out the world. The two-year-old, according to my friend Caitlin, is my doppelgänger. He’s almost two, so readers with children will understand the preciousness of a child figuring out the world and his relationship to the things within it. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, I was called into duty to watch them while their parents were at work because of a pipe leakage at their daycare/school. Yes, in the most ironic daycare mishap of all time, a place called “Noah’s Ark” was flooded. I figured I’d be able to write and work while the children played. To some extent, I did so. But, at the end of the day, I found myself with 1,100 words of notes on being a babysitter. For the sake of this story, because I lack the knowledge of etiquette about writing about children, I will refer to them as their ages. I haven’t received proper consent from their parents.

Going into the day, the one thing that truly concerns me is changing diapers. I see the mastery of parents, lifting the baby, smelling their diaper and determining when to change them. I’ve also seen them casually lift and remove and wipe and stitch back up. But you’re talking about a person who gags cleaning up dog pee on the carpet. I’m terrified. Feeding, entertainment, even infant CPR, I got you. Changing diapers. Gross.

However, what I’m not prepared for the most, I’ve learned before 8 a.m., is the noisiness.  It’s loud.  There are toys running constantly, there’s crying and whining, sounds from Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob on the television, the boys talking to each other and themselves, balls bouncing, sounds made by toys that, after a few seconds, would be torturous to you and I, are like a Beethoven symphony to these children.

All of this is compounded by the fact I brought my one year old dog, who has an almost comparable reserve of energy to the kids. The fact, being that if the roles were reversed, kids at my house, is that they’d both be equally as rambunctious and curious. I’d rather have the children in their natural habitat than my dog, though not even an hour has passed and there is a cut below my brother’s dog’s eye from my dog, who cut her while playing, and was subsequently attacked by the much bigger dog. I’m babysitting at Michael Vick’s house, apparently.

So what do we do? Do I teach them something? They’re missing school. In all these songs by Cat Stevens or 2Pac or whoever, they talk about teaching children important lessons.

It’s 8:14 and I’ve been here less than an hour. The kids are staring at me. The two-year-old says nothing; the four-year-old is making noises like a scat musician. They’re on each side of me. Let’s start a conversation.

“What are you learning about in school?” I ask the four-year-old.

Without missing a beat, he answers, “Splinter.”

“The Ninja Turtle rat?”

“Yes,” he says.

“You learn about Splinter in school?”

“Yes,” he confirms. He’s almost definitely lying.

But what’s odd to me is that there’s not a Splinter or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy or book or movie anywhere around us. It was a completely random answer.

8:33 a.m.: I teach the two year old how to balance a shoe on his head. He’s delighted.

As of now, I’m kind of vacillating between one kid and the other. The two-year-old delightedly wearing footwear on his head runs off, the four-year-old comes back and asks me a question; The four-year-old runs off, the two-year old runs back and stands before me.

8:50 a.m.: My mother lives next door to my brother and my sister-in-law, and shares a backyard. A neighbor comes over to let my mom’s dog outside daily, but today there are two dogs running around the backyard.  So, I go out to corral the dogs, so that my mother’s 22-pound beagle can pee in peace. The four-year-old follows. He’s got on a short-sleeve shirt and no shoes. It’s 31 degrees outside. I tell him to go inside. I’m holding the dogs, talking to the neighbor, and look over. The four-year-old is still outside.

“What did I tell you? Go inside,” I reprimand.

“I can’t,” he answers. “(The two-year-old) locked us out.”

And so me and the four-year-old were locked out, the two-year-old smiling inside the sliding door, looking out at us, as proud of himself as if he’d just won a championship.

We get back inside, I sit down at the computer in an attempt to get some writing done. The four year old is looking into the darkened screen of my iPad, which is beside my computer.

“Dude, I can see my face. Dude, I can see my face,” he is chanting. He looks at my screen and wonders “how long” my story is. I explained to him what it is I do for a living. He’s unimpressed. I should just lie.

My dog is needy every day. I sit at the computer and write, or research, and the moment I slid the chair back to get more coffee or go to the bathroom, she jumps from the couch or floor or bed. These kids command roughly 7,000 times the attention my dog does. But I get it. They’re excited. When it’s just them and their parents, I’m sure they aren’t this way. Their uncle is here. They’re not at school. Their parents aren’t home. It’s a field day for them, essentially.

It’s now 9:41 and both of them are standing in front of me, the four-year-old talking to the dog, and just, generally, out loud. The two-year-old, is locking a toy dinosaur into an empty DVD case, then releasing it, smiling and laughing as he does so about 24-inches from my laptop. He presses the home button of my iPad. The screen lights up, as does he. I hit the darken button. He presses the home button. And repeat many times. This is his Woodstock.

Another issue is naps. When do kids take naps? Do they? How do you know when a two year old needs to nap? “Whenever he starts acting like an asshole,” is what Google said. Oh, good, I think. He’s ready.

One of the things I’ve learned about babysitting is that the kids are going to, at a certain age, take complete advantage of you. They’re going to ask for snacks and toys and time outside or inside or upstairs that they would never be granted otherwise. And, like the unproven caretaker I am, I let them do whatever they ask.

“Can I smoke a cigarette in the backyard?  I’ll only be a few minutes,” the four year old asks me.

“Make sure you wear a coat,” I answer.

“And after that can we gamble on horses?”

“Of course.”

Jesus Christ, nap time goes by quickly! The kid goes down, you’re like, “fuck yea nap time!” I spent a little time writing and editing, looked up at the clock and was like, “fuck that was an hour?”

It’s like if time never goes slower than the minutes winding down on a microwave heating up leftovers, time never goes faster than the hour of a nap.

In this case, it’s actually a much better story though.

Around 10:45, the house was silent. The dogs settled into spots on the floor in the sun. The four-year-old sat quietly reading. The nap was going well, and, just as I began thinking, “Maybe I should let him sleep for extra time if he’s that tired. He’s had a busy, fun morning,” the alarm on the door goes off. It’s my 92-year old grandmother, who lives next door, popping in to say hello and to ask a barrage of questions, a skill for which she is famous. She wants to chat, or, at least, to make as much noise as a 60 pound lady can make. I try to alert her of the silence that surrounds us. For now.

The upstairs, silent just minutes ago, becomes a whimper. The two-year-old begins to cry.

“Oh, he’s a handful, huh?” she asks. She leaves. Thanks, Gram.

After nap time, we do lunch, which takes place over a counter top.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, a staple of lunch times for generations, and a chicken sandwich for me. I take this time to explain to them that there’s two types of chicken meat, white and dark, and that I prefer dark. The four-year-old looks at me, as if to say, “I literally care less about that than anything else in the entire world.” One of the only moments of peace, though, was lunch. The kids are stuffing their face, but only after I promised to give them Halloween candy if they finish.

We’re cleaned up. We had a short dance party. I sit down.

“Uncle Matt, (the two year old) is stuck in the cabinet,” yells the 4-year old, 45 seconds later.

And he was.  His sleeve was caught on a nail or a screw and he couldn’t get out.

How about we stop playing the “lock your brother in the cabinet game?”

The kids are relatively calm. They’re self-sufficient, too. My sister-in-law basically told me, “I listen to them to be quiet, then I know something is up.” A good rule of thumb, I supposed. Noise -even screams and moans- are better than deathly silence with two little kids. I sit down to do some work, this time just paperwork that needs to be filled out before we meet with our family’s financial advisor tomorrow afternoon. They’re watching TV, playing in the playroom. Nice and calm. I get two pages into my paperwork.

“Uncle Matt, (the two year old) is behind the TV pulling out wires,” says the four-year old. “And my TV is out.”

Great, now I’m a repairman. And while I try to figure out which cord goes where, the boys will jump on the couch, the two-year-old mimicking the four-year-old, obviously. Let’s add background danger to the indecipherable angst of connecting cords.

Ohhh, first minor casualty, a finger caught in the door. It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a finger. Nothing being held can’t fix, apparently. The two-year-old isn’t truly hurt, he just wants attention. I put him down, he fusses. But I don’t want to hold him all day. I figure he needs, oh no, to be changed.

I settle him down, take off his little pants and diaper and, alas, nothing. A wet diaper, that’s it. No stink bomb waiting for me. I win this round, but he’s still being grouchy. I think a second nap would do him well. He goes right down. Hopefully someone else will come over to wake him up. Maybe we could all jump on his bed.

When the two-year-old is asleep, I thought we could do something fun and silent, like make a puzzle. The four-year-old brings over his Spiderman puzzle and we begin assembling. It’s a pretty challenging puzzle that I get no help on. I try to teach the strategy of flipping and finding the edges and the corners first, but he wants no part in that. He just want to connect every piece, regardless if they go. When I finally get a good grasp on the puzzle, I realize he hasn’t done shit. He’s just standing around, looking at the box, wandering the room.

“We’re almost done, Uncle Matt,” he says.

“Yup.”

“We did a good job,” he adds.

I did a good job,” I answer. “You did nothing.”

“Yes, I did,” he asserts. I’m right, but it’s not worth arguing. I know the real answer. He sucks at puzzles.

My brother came home shortly after this. One finger was caught in the doorway and a bloodied dog were the only casualties of the day. I applaud people who do this every day, and, I’m sure it’s much different when a parent can just push their own child aside and tell them to go away, but I’m the uncle. It’s fun for them. They’re not at school, they’re not with their parents, they’re with Uncle Matt.

By the end of the day, I’m exhausted more because I was on sensory overload the entire day. That is, I was constantly aware of my surroundings. Talk about mindfulness. Watch another person’s kids and you’ll be mindful.

 

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Bullying: Why the Jonathan Martin situation is less complicated than we think

Let’s consider this scenario: You run the day-to-day operations at a company that is worth hundreds of million dollars. One of your higher-paid employees complains that he’s been (allegedly) threatened, made to feel unsafe, and has been subject to racial slurs by another employee. He has voicemails to prove these allegations. This is an easy solution. You fire the misbehaving employee, who probably doesn’t get another job anywhere else, and you hope the first employee doesn’t sue the company.

So why are people getting upset that Miami Dolphins cut Richie Incognito? Because Jonathan Martin, the player allegedly bullied to the point that he quit a job that paid him millions of dollars, is big and tough and should have confronted his bully? We tend to live in this masculine fantasy world where, if someone commits an act that hurts or insults us, we hypothetically confront them, forcefully or physically. But, in reality, that’s never really the case. Martin acted just the way we all would when faced with someone who made going to work each day unbearable, he told his superior. That’s why this is different than, as a friend wondered, cutting a guy with DUI or a gun charge. People don’t necessarily get fired for these offenses. Though they are problematic, they are not something that creates hostility within the workplace.

jonathan-martin

Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin

Hazing, part of the NFL – and sports in general – for many years, is a complicated issue, one that deals with knowing limits, perspectives, and a falsity of assertion that the playing of dues is the only way in which a person, in this case a teammate, can truly demonstrate his or her ability to contribute to the greater good of the team.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was on the varsity football team, playing (very) sparingly, during blowouts on either end of the spectrum, mostly. The seniors on the team were, for lack of a better word, difficult. They hazed us, relentlessly, and to a variety of degrees. They weren’t bad people, in fact, and, they’d claim, we had it much easier than they had had it when they were sophomores. I guess we should have thought ourselves lucky.

Among the offenses: receivers were directed to run certain routes, so that the seniors, acting as defenders would know when/where to make a violent hit.  If we didn’t render ourselves defenseless (that is, if we didn’t try to make the catch, but tried to, you know, defend ourselves), we had to run the routes again. We were subject to “pink bellies,” where you’d be held down by a group of seniors, your shirt lifted and slapped until your stomach was red. This was especially painful in the colder weather. We, when the rains would come, be forced to make a line and slide through a muddy path or puddle. One day at practice, a particularly cold one, there was no puddle. So they found a hose and made one.

The event that frightened us the most was an event named, colloquially, “senior picks,” whereby a senior, having to deal with us pesky sophomores all season long, would designate a sophomore with whom they would like to hit one-on-one, regardless of their size or your size. All season long, we heard seniors threaten us with being their “senior pick.” This usually happened after you made a catch, intercepted a pass, or made a good play in practice. Heaven forbid a sophomore try to, you know, make a play that would encourage coaches to play them more often in varsity games.  It wasn’t uncommon for a senior to threaten multiple players with making them his “senior pick,” which would take place before their last practice as a varsity football player. I feel, at one point, every senior had picked every sophomore.

“Senior picks” never happened that year. A fellow sophomore alerted the coaches, unintentionally, of what was going to take place before practice – as if they didn’t know – but I truly feel that the coaching staff had to step in at that point. It’s bad enough to feign ignorance, but even worse to literally know what’s happening before practice and not intervene. Instead of what would have probably been a couple jarring hits, mostly disappointing ones, though, the coaches came down to the field early, and made us conclude stretching with 100 up/downs, whereby we’d run in place, high knees, and every time he blew the whistle, we’d have to hit the ground then pop back up. It was horrible.

A sign outside of Richie Incognito's locker.

A sign outside of Richie Incognito’s locker.

Alas, eventually, we became seniors and the hazing relented a bit. Sophomores still carried water and equipment, but there was no sideline routes being run, a defender waiting to lay him out. There were no puddles of mud to slide through. We did, however, tell the sophomores that, on the day of our first game, we all wore our game pants to school. Of course, we really did not and did this, in effect, to embarrass the sophomores.  A harmless prank, we assumed.

Most of the sophomores assented and wore their pants, camaraderie. We approved of these teammates, but one teammate didn’t wear his pants and was “assaulted,” inasmuch as play punches and the threat of an aforementioned pink belly. He cried. Football team was punished. The local paper ran a story about hazing at our high school. It was almost the end of our football season, and many of our football careers.

I remember thinking about the regression of our grit as a population. Jumping through puddles, wearing pants on game day, enduring being targeted for one-on-one hitting was part of the coming of age, the paying of dues. You were embarrassed, you got knocked down, but on the other end, there was an older guy with his hand extended to help you up. There was a guy in the hallway of the high school, two years your senior, and sometimes higher in the school’s social order, shaking your hand or sitting with you at lunch. Of course, this wasn’t always the case, and some people took their position as a senior much more seriously than they should have. But, in a larger sense, there was a community of teammates building a culture of respect, of a hierarchy that will ultimately prove familiar throughout our lives.

At least that was my experience.

But perspective makes a significant difference. Some people did feel targeted and, while maybe I was helped up and slapped on the ass, others were pushed down, or forced to do even more reps.

There are many people who’ll use terms like “pussification” to explain the situation in Miami concerning Richie Incognito, the alleged bully, and Jonathan Martin, the accuser. We’ll throw around words like “adults” and “paying dues.” We’ll wonder how someone 24 years old, 6 foot 5 inches tall, 312 pounds and Stanford University-educated could possibly be a victim to hazing that has seemingly been a part of the culture of the NFL for it’s existence. And, like the people who claim the game is getting “soft” for taking a hard stance of violence and head injuries, there will be dissenters who would rather take Incognito’s side. That’s fine.

I’m surprised by my own feeling on this because, historically, I’ve stood firmly in the “be a man, stand up for yourself” camp. But, as I said earlier, we can’t account for perspective. What and how we experience events tends to cloud our own perspective. That is, because we exist solely through the prism of our own experiences, we believe that everyone experiences these events in the same way we do. We don’t know what or how Martin felt. And, while we can use conjecture to determine how we’d react, we can’t do so for anyone else. Maybe we’d have taken the (alleged) abuse in stride, laughing it off and waiting until another rookie came along eventually to replace your spot as whipping boy. Maybe Martin didn’t have that in him. Maybe the hazing really did surpass any degree to which any player in NFL history had gone through. We will probably hear all the delicious details: the voicemails and threats and stories. We’ll never understand, as articulate and thoughtful as Martin may be, how they felt from his perspective though.

And that’s why I think it’s good we’re looking into this situation. I’m sure the NFL will look into the position coaches and other players, histories of both players, just as I’m sure there are a team of lawyers outside of Martin’s door with dollar signs in their eyes. And that’s the sad part: Jonathan Martin may not ever be an All-Pro. He might not even be remembered as a catalyst to change the hazing culture in the NFL. He may be remembered in a more negative light, as someone who violated some unwritten code of player conduct and made away with millions in settlement money.

Update: The report by Ted Wells came out today, as did the transcripts of messages between Martin and his parents. All of this essentially mirrored what I suggested a few months ago when these reports started to surface. We cannot account for perspective. Martin, in his messages to Incognito, was playing a role. He was acting. On the inside, he didn’t enjoy the constant ribbing. It hurt his feelings, hurt his pride, and, in his opinion, confirmed what his very low opinion of his self-worth.

I’m still disturbed by the inclination of some people to suggest Martin is soft here. If nothing else, the comments like that only drive Martin further down the hole he’s already inside. I hope he’s avoided the comment section of some sites, driven by anonymous idiots.

That being said, I wrote earlier this week in light of the Michael Sam announcement, that maybe we were being too presumptuous of NFL locker rooms. When we were talking of intolerance within locker rooms, in those hyper-masculine confines, I thought, we were talking about a time passed. When the major networks started quoting anonymous GM’s or former players or coaches who questioned the “culture” or “baggage” Sam would bring, my immediate reaction was, “Well, those people are of a different generation. An older generation. People my age (incidentally the age of the current demographic of NFL players, actually they’re a bit younger) have been exposed to much more. It won’t be a problem.”

I still feel this way. Does the action of the Miami Dolphins offensive line affect this opinion? Kind of. But I think much of their behavior is a reflection of culture and leadership. They acted like assholes because, well, they were allowed to act like assholes (and probably have acted this way – with no repercussion – throughout Pee Wee, high school and college ball). Somewhere, in some twisted alternative universe, it was okay to make fun of Martin’s race or sister or mother. Maybe too many years have passed between now and lynched persons and burnt churches. Martin is an embodiment of the incredible strides we’ve made in racial relations over the past 50 years.

I’m befuddled that there are people supporting Martin and his idiot teammates. Professional sports, to most people, are an abstraction. It’s a world – a fraternity, they say – that we cannot inhabit. We tend to believe they occupy a different place in the world. Because they’re so big, because they’re so strong. Maybe they do. Maybe we have elevated them to non-human status. Just note that if this behavior took place in any other workplace in the world, we’d be on Martin’s side.