The Tale of a Monster Chair

About a year ago, I was finishing up school outside of Boston and we were living in the sort of tiny little apartment that comes with being a student again. We received some various handed-down items from a sister-in-law who lives a few states away. If you’re a parent, you know how this works. Toys and clothes are outgrown at the speed of light, and are thus passed down to other children in the family. This distributes things out a bit, and keeps all of you from going broke.

The issue with this system is that you don’t always like what you get. Of course, it’s a gift, and can be re-gifted if you don’t like it, either further down the family tree or out of the family altogether, if you think you’re doing someone a favor by doing so.

When we received a red Elmo chair, that was basically the immediate plan. The thing had to go. Karen and I hold the view that Elmo is…well, he’s basically evil. He is linguistically challenged (incessant third-person, anyone?), he giggles at everything whether appropriate or not, and his voice makes fingernails down a chalkboard sound musical by comparison. There’s nothing educational about Elmo. Watching him destroys brain cells. The last thing we want is for our daughter to ever even know that he exists.

Of course, she liked the chair the first time she saw it, sat in it, asked us about it. She began to refer to it as her “monster chair,” and was quite enamored with the thing, as fate would have it.

Karen and I conferenced (if you’re a parent, you also know how this works…sort of like the huddle in the middle of the game). We agreed to roll with it until our daughter lost interest. As soon as she diverted (or we could divert) her attention to something else, the Monster Chair would quickly be whisked away, never to be heard from again.

The issue was that, every time we attempted to get rid of it, were just on the verge of finally letting it vanish, our daughter would spot it, delightfully proclaim that her Monster Chair was back, and sit in it to watch something or play. So, we would wait until it faded to the background again.

The strategy changed a bit. We would wait longer, give her longer to forget about it. She saw it as we were packing to move into our most recent apartment and latched onto it again. so we moved it with us, and slipped it into a closet to be forgotten about. Except that it was seen when that closet was opened for Christmas decorations, and had to be tolerated again for a few weeks. Most recently, it had been shuffled back into that closet after being seen when another toy was brought out.

The day before I write this, we finished packing our entire collective life into a moving truck yet again, this time heading south toward warmer climates once more. For the next year or more, we’ll be living in the Raleigh area. During the packing process, Karen came across the Monster Chair. What followed was something like this.

I came home one evening to find the Monster Chair in the hallway outside of our apartment. Karen and I exchanged knowing glances when I arrived inside. The offending thing was going away for good this time. Karen left for work that evening, and took it all the way downstairs to the first floor hallway of the apartment building. When she came home, I went to the laundry room, also on the first floor. The Monster Chair came with me, transferred to the folding counter. In our apartment building, this was where odds and ends were placed that were being given away. Toys were frequently left there, we had noticed, so it seemed logical. Someone would find a use for the Monster Chair, and we would never have to see it again.

The following morning, Karen had ran an early errand and I got up with our daughter. After breakfast, I was focused on cleaning tasks that needed to be finished as we packed for the move. One of those tasks was still laundry. Our daughter came downstairs with me. I opened the door to the laundry room, and immediately saw the Monster Chair in my peripheral vision. I kept the look of realization from my face, and kept moving, hoping she would miss it. She closed the door behind me, one of the “big girl” things that she likes to do now, and I watched as her eyes traveled across the room to rest on the chair. She paused. Her mental gears turned. She tilted her head to one side, and formed her words carefully.

“Daddy, that’s my Monster Chair,”

I changed the subject. We walked back to the stairway, just as Karen came into the building from the outside. Our daughter ran to greet her with a big hug, and the question, “Mommy, did you put my Monster Chair down there?”

Karen stared. I shrugged. Our daughter talked about it all the way upstairs, after which I walked back downstairs to retrieve the chair.

When we moved yesterday, it was on the moving truck.

So, it appears that this Monster Chair is just something that isn’t going away. Karen and I have officially given up trying to rid ourselves of it. We’re stuck with the Monster Chair. It’s just one of those amusing tales of moving that we’re accumulating. I suppose that, considering we’ve still managed to avoid letting our daughter ever watch Elmo, then maybe this isn’t’ that bad.


Lost in Translation

A couple of years ago, I encountered a middle-school-aged kid who was listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine, a song with arguably one of the best guitar lines of all time. The song is inexplicably beautiful to me, a rough but poignant emotional tribute. I was so impressed that this kid knew this music. After all, we know how I feel about most of the music that you hear on popular stations these days, if you’re ever unfortunate enough to listen to such things. Here was someone, barely a teenager, who appreciated good music, music with poetry.

Then I found out how he knew it. It’s apparently attached to a video game called Guitar Hero. He knew nothing else of it besides that.
Karen and I were talking a couple of days ago about generational changes in references. This was actually part of her master’s thesis, so I’m borrowing from her, here. Phrases used today by fresh college grads, for example, mean completely different things than they would have to me. Similarly, phrases used that carry a contextual meaning to a person of a particular subculture won’t carry that meaning to someone outside of that subculture. And, these sorts of things morph over time.

Take a yellow ribbon, for example. At one point, it was a popular symbol of remembrance for loved ones who were at war.  Before being drafted into a memorial of battle (a fate befalling many symbols in our country), however, it was simply known in a song about a prisoner returning home to find he was still loved. In other times, both pre-dating and post-dating that particular song, it’s become a symbol for…well, you can almost insert your cause here. It’s been granted theological significance, military significance, symbolism of popular causes. That yellow ribbon has certainly made it’s rounds in our culture.

The lover of language in me wrestles with this, because I have a knee-jerk reaction against re-contextualizing things. Of course, it takes me about two seconds to realize that this is ridiculous, that everything is re-contexutalized, and that this is how language continues to dynamically meet the needs of those by whom it is spoken and written. The curious thing about these sorts of metamorphoses is that they tend to leave behind their bits of history. The roots of linguistic bits and pieces that slip so naturally from our tongues is sort of a specialized interest, studied seriously by only a niche of academics and occasionally pursued by geeks such as myself. My problem, I guess, is that, just like that kid listening to one of the greatest rock songs of all time and not even recognizing where it came from, we use expressions without understanding their significance and how they came to be.

I think it’s important to embrace the (respectful) evolutions of language and cultural symbols, because they allow us to communicate on a much higher level than we otherwise would. I also think that it’s important to remember the history of how we arrived at where we are, because a good deal of the power in our language is it’s history. Like us, it stands on the shoulders of what came before it, and is nothing without it’s past. Our language is so, so much more than empty words and phrases (even though it’s often carelessly used as such), and keeping in touch with where it came from is how we maintain our stewardship of it’s strength.

Cops Debriefing

Firearms Training Officer

The street outside of our apartment complex entrance is a busy one, especially during a weekday morning. Two schools are on that street, among other public facilities, and the speed limit drops accordingly within a block. I learned within our first week of living here that the local police department, seemingly having nothing better to do on any given day or night, has two favorite spots into which they like to tuck their cruisers and wait for someone not paying attention to the speed limit drop to happen by. I’ve seen them in the dark standing to the side and pointing their lasers over their hoods at oncoming cars to check speeds. These guys take this stuff seriously.

This morning, two cars ahead of me, the inevitable happened: the blue lights flared to life, the cruiser emerged from hiding, and someone likely running late for work was made significantly later.
I spin the stories in my head: someone who had the battery die in their alarm clock, who is struggling to make ends meet and has a boss that refuses to understand anything but punctuality and is having a bad day himself, now 30 minutes late instead of 5, terminated on the spot and left with no income, sky-rocketing insurance and an expensive citation, all because they were in a rush to keep their responsibilities.
And, yes, I know that it is never that simple, that driving is a privilege, and that there’s public safety to be taken into account.

When I was in college, my guilty pleasure became watching Cops. My father and I used to watch it, actually, on a many a Saturday night, for years. We found the antics of the individuals being arrested and the crazy situations to be no end of amusing. Karen found my Saturday night Cops-watching habits to be…less than tasteful…when we were first married. Watching the show through her eyes is interesting, because, as the suspects (“innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” of course) offer their excuses, she hypothesizes ways in which they could, in fact, be true. And, so, my mind wanders to all of the situations in which I’ve found myself in life, and remembered myself thinking that I would have a ridiculous time explaining the situation to someone (like a police officer) were I to have to do so. I was completely innocent, but we’ve all had those…awkward…moments.

There’s something troubling about our sweeping tendency to assume the worst, to disbelieve the awkward explanations, to make up our minds as to guilt, regardless of the legal standing. I’m the worst at not trusting people, but I know that it does harm to not do so.
I’ve had many friends who were police officers in my life, mostly because of my old career. They’ve generally all told me the same thing: It’s difficult to not become jaded because everyone lies to them. Everyone. They never hear the truth the first time. I understand how it would become so easy to distrust everyone with whom you have contact if you had that experience.
And, so, it becomes cyclical. We assume the worst.
And then I read of tragedies such as this.
Trust isn’t easy. It has to be earned, yes, but it also must be given. I don’t want others, be it my family, my friends, or the officer who just stopped me for speeding (because, let’s face it, that’s happened a few times in my life) to assume that I’m going to do something nefarious.
There’s plenty of reasons out there for us to not trust. Those reasons make trusting difficult to do. Nothing important is ever easy. At some level, we really must stop assuming that everyone standing next to us is evil.
Photo Attribution: West Midlands Police under Creative Commons

Trains and Wonder Women

Batgirl Extreme by JD Hancock, used under Creative Commons

Our daughter’s obsession for about the last year has been Thomas and Friends. We allow a very rationed amount of screen time each day, and are quite picky about what constitutes that screen time. Thomas has impressed us, because each story is a morality tale. She’s receiving good lessons along with entertainment.

As a result of this, Karen and I know essentially every single character involved in the Thomas series. We’ve started a collection for our daughter, gifting a train to her on special occasions. At Christmas, we gave her Emily, one of the few “lead” female characters in the series. We like Emily because she’s smart and bold. We want our daughter to see smart and bold female characters.

Sadly, the Emily that we purchased at Christmas was broken when we opened her, and had to be returned. That particular figure is apparently rare, and we hadn’t found a replacement since. Randomly, last weekend, I took our daughter into a store specifically to check the Thomas collection. She always finds several that she wants to take home, to be followed by a discussion of how that can’t happen at the moment due to budget. At first glance, I found nothing. I dug. I persevered. Finally, at the very back of one of the racks…an Emily! We had been waiting for that since Christmas! Budget went out the window, and I snatched it up.

And our daughter has been ecstatic ever since.

She now has all three of the female trains that are available in the line. That’s really cool. It’s sort of sad, though, too, because there are only three main female characters in the entire line. All those characters…three girls.

Until having a daughter was the best chaos that ever happened to me, I appreciated the importance of strong female characters in any story at an artistic level, and I thought that I understood it at a social level. Now, though, trying to see the world through her eyes…I really want her to have strong female role models. It’s taken on a different level of importance to me.

This has driven me to be even more irritated with both DC and Marvel studios for their lack of effort in giving a strong female superhero her own film. It’s not like they don’t have a lot to choose from. To Marvel’s credit, they have given the Black Widow increasing amounts of screen time, and she played an extremely important role in the Avengers, as well as taking the ultimate heroic action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Joss Whedon, of course, appreciates strong female characters.

The Black Widow, after all, has held excellent readership in her own limited series time and again in print comics. Hopefully, Lucy (assuming the film is what it promises to be) will prove that audiences will respond well to female heroes.

DC has even less excuse, and more of which to be ashamed. For all of their excellent print titles, they have yet to place Wonder Woman on the screen, although she apparently will have a small role in the upcoming Batman/Superman film.

Wonder Woman. A small role.

I really hope that our daughter grows up to love the superhero genre. Perhaps, though, she’ll take after her mom and love the fantasy genre. Whatever genre she loves, I want her to see strong female role models in the books she reads and the movies she watches. She is blessed to have a strong female role model already: her mother.

I can’t wait to see the woman that our daughter grows into.

I really hope that she gets to see and read cool characters along the way.

Photo Attribution: JD Hancock under Creative Commons