Tag Archives: parenting

A Journal of the Plague Year: #8

I think the resident teenager is depressed. He is not content to stay at home or to go without visitors. The company of his parents does not thrill him. They coax him to come out, are successful from time to time, in small doses finding him in good spirits, but more often than not, they find him surly, resistant, sometimes mean. And this is not too terribly out of the ordinary for some teenagers, typically, or for this one, specifically, but the lack of activity due to the isolation seems to exacerbate the problem. Mom and Dad are worried. I don’t know why I am writing in the third person. Maybe it’s that, as he gets older, I am less comfortable writing about my son. Let’s pretend, then, for the sake of argument, that I am not writing about my son. The parents are home, too; they are teachers, and yet, are they asking their son to do academic things? In lieu of any direct instruction from his school, are they creating opportunities for him to continue his learning? It is, after all, spring break officially, but it’s also the second week off from any formal intellectual expectation. The parents wonder if they should be doing something more.

Say that, this particular boy, who is not my son, bought some books at a bookstore the day before the bookstore closed its doors. He has done some reading about Chernobyl and World War 2. He wants to watch the film 1917. He says that he is interested in history. These are good signs. It brings his father an incredible joy to see him reading but he wishes his son would do more of it. He thinks maybe he should invite his son to read with him, a father/son fantasy he has always harbored, but never acted upon, at least not since the boy was a child. How long has it been since he read to his son? It’s been too long. There’s nothing like an extended break, especially one of this nature, unwelcome, potentially dangerous, global, to give parents more opportunities to reflect on the shortcomings of their parenting. Let’s change the subject.

The weather has turned shitty. An attempt was made to walk the dogs but the rain drove us back home. Despite the shelter-in-place order, or, as our Governor calls it, “stay home, stay safe,” I am going to make a foray out into the world today for some “essentials”: music, whiskey, and some groceries. I offered to find my son a snack and he was excited about that. Other than these things, I have crossed off all the items on my to-do list, except for one. I have not yet mopped the floors. They can wait. We must, during these difficult times, have priorities.

My son’s mood has improved. I’d like to think the promise of a favorite snack food had something to do with it, but he has come down to the basement to practice drumming with his mom–a sure-fire antidote. When I return from my errands, I will search for the perfect poem. Still leaning Romantic, I think. Maybe Wordsworth. My first impulse will be “The World Is Too Much With Us,” but I will want to give it a little more thought. I will read that most famous sonnet, and I will think, Jesus, what a terrific poem. But then, I will probably turn to “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” and I will read it all the way through for the first time in years. I will have difficulty getting through it without weeping. For that reason, and because it’s so long, I will not likely choose to record this one, but I will conclude, as I have many other times in my life, that this thing, for me, is maybe the greatest poem ever written in the English Language.

But for now, and apropos of everything: “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Today’s mistake is that “coming” should be “rising.” That’s a doozy, but I catch the error late. Unwilling to rerecord! Apologies!


Addendum: I could not, after all, live with this error. So I’ve done another take–which includes a number of surprises that I have not cut from the video. Let me just say that my confidence in the Folio Society has faltered significantly!



Filed under Family, Poetry, Reportage, The Plague Year, Writing and Reading

#347: A Prose Poem Meditation on the Penultimate Day of National Poetry Month by the American English Teacher in His Potentially Penultimate Professional Year, Ending in a Rhyming Couplet

Andrea Ngyuen

The natives are restless, the 9th graders are rowdy, won’t stop talking, interrupt almost every teacher phrase with chatter, and because my intern has the class, I am completely unruffled. It’s the penultimate day of National Poetry Month and this is my penultimate poem in prose in the April of my potentially penultimate school year as a classroom English teacher.

Over the last three days, I wrote three poems, each about travel, each ending with the same sentence. You are here. I’m reminded of that saying, wherever you go, there you are. Or the Player’s line in the Stoppard play, something like, every exit is an entrance somewhere else. Coming and going, with perfect equanimity, you are always, and I am always, right here.

After next school year, in this moment, I am almost certain that I will not be here. But uncertainty is a constant companion. I said, it feels like jumping off a cliff. Or standing on a cliff, and maybe I’m looking down at a precipitous drop or looking out on some astounding vista. It really depends on the moment. I prefer vistas to drop-offs. In this moment, I choose vistas.

I notice what this poem is doing. Without my being conscious of it, paragraphs are landing in this draft in nearly identical chunks of five lines, four that move all the way to the end of the margin, and one, the last line–two, three, and then four words long. Now, I am conscious of a pattern, and I am planning to end this stanza in prose with a short line of five carefully chosen words.

It all depends on the margins. Type this poem up in a Word document, or publish it on your blog, and things will shift. Our margins shift like this. The only margin that doesn’t shift is the first one–our births are non-negotiable; on this day, December 4, 1964, you were born. Our careers begin somewhere in the squishy regions of early adulthood, and, if we are lucky, very lucky, they end 30-some years later.

My brother worked over 40 years at a job he didn’t really like. His retirement at 62 or thereabouts was an escape. He said good riddance and walked away. And he walked away so late because there were no other options. Again, I have been stupidly lucky. Luckier, and not so lucky, as my father, who retired, like I hope to, at 55. He had full health care from the moment he left work.

But I have loved my job, and I don’t know that my father loved his. He never spoke about it. I could hardly even tell you now what it was that he did for a living. It was a government job and he worked downtown and once he took a computer class and brought home a bunch of punch cards. My son knows what I do simply by virtue of his being a student in a public school classroom. What your teacher does–that’s your Dad.

God, look at all of these books, file cabinets full of 30-years worth of handouts, lesson plans, readings, exams; check out all of this student generated art that I’ve never tossed, that quilt for The Color Purple, the portraits of the family from Geek Love, portraits of Virginia Woolf, the beautiful and huge broadside of William Stafford’s “Your Life”-the treasured haul of an English teacher’s career.

If I take all of this home my wife will murder me.
Health care will no longer be an issue, ironically.  

Abbey Nims

I don’t know who made this. A team of students. Circa 1995ish? 


Abbey Hayes

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry

#224: Early Summer Loss

Saturday night’s carnage

On this hot June evening,
my son and I listen to new music
in the cool basement, staying up late,
having a pretty darn good time.
Before bed, though, one more chore:
fold and put away the laundry
in a pile on the bed upstairs.
O horrors, as I’m folding I see
these little curled up pieces of paper
scattered in the laundry
and soon reach an explanation:
the stack of 12 highly prized Pokémon
cards he’d taken to the restaurant
the night before have ended up in the wash.
I know that, no matter what I do
from this point on, withhold or reveal,
this will not go well, and it does not.
I choose to reveal, and I hold them
in my hands, a pathetic offering, for him to see.
You’d think someone had run over his dog
and then backed up to do it again.
He’s weeping and flailing around
on the floor and saying over and over,
“this is not happening.” At one point,
he leaves the room for a moment
and comes back in the door thinking
he’ll be awake and the crumpled-
up cards, the fanciest ones in his
collection, will be whole again.
I put on my best fathering hat.
I talk him down. I try to help him
see that of all the terrible things
that could befall a boy of ten,
this, actually, is not the worst of them.
A little lesson in privilege and good fortune
but not too far over the top, except the one
reminder that his mother is now cancer free.
There are hugs. A resignation.
Some encouragement that there may be
other Pokémon cards in the future
that may rival these lost ones.
My son encloses his now worthless
cards in a makeshift plastic coffin,
writes an epitaph, and completes
his ritualistic two claps and a bow.
Laundry put away, emotions shifting,
settling back into our cool basement
listening parlor for more new music,
he comes over to my chair for one more
hug and tells me he loves me.


R.I.P. Pokécards



Filed under Parenting, Poetry

#171: Penultimate Poem for April: A Review of Last Night’s Tantrum



Last night’s temper tantrum
was a resounding success.
Let us consider the salient
features of the tantrum and
see to what heights of glory
were reached by last night’s
specimen. Usually, a tantrum
begins with some struggle
right before bedtime, typically
involving the cessation of play
and the transition upstairs.
This was most clearly evident.
Ad electronics.
There must be yelling.
There was a veritable smorgasbord
of yelling, reaching  in several key
moments to the pitch of screaming.
Very nice. Tears are good during
a tantrum, if you can manage them,
and last night’s tantrum produced
puddles of the stuff. Perhaps
one of the most exquisite and
simultaneously painful aspects
of the tantrum is an apparent
absence of anything like squaring
with reality. Last night’s tantrum
included several resounding examples
of this: Why are you being so mean?
Why are you screaming?  Why don’t
you love me? Nobody listens to me
around here!  You get the picture.
Out of a whole season of tantrums
this was one of the most effective and
sustained.  The conclusion, though,
I have to say, was most satisfying,
as the struggle reached a decrescendo
into something like quiet, peace was
achieved, and finally, everybody
went to sleep.


Filed under Parenting, Poetry

#135: The Eight Year Old Uses Tweezers To Pull A Sliver Out of His Daddy’s Hand



This happened yesterday, for real, and it was one of those events in parenting, perfectly mundane, nearly inconsequential, that nevertheless felt poignant in that moment, and today even more powerful as parents in my state again lose their children to guns. It breaks my heart. Love your kids.

The Eight Year Old Uses Tweezers To Pull A Sliver Out of His Daddy’s Hand

I’m digging around in there
with the tweezers but I can’t
get a grip on the thing.
My son, eight years old:
I know how to do it, he says,
because Mommy has taught me
and she is the master.
Let me do it, he says,
and I give over the tweezers.
And then, hand as steady
as a surgeon’s, he digs gently
into the palm of my hand
and successfully, painlessly,
removes a sliver, tiny and deep.


Filed under Parenting, Poetry

#122: To My Son

Fancy Em

Dear son,
whatever befalls you in life,
whichever direction you choose to go,
wherever you go to school and
whatever you decide to study,
whatever religion you choose to follow,
even if you choose, wisely I might ad,
to follow no religion whatsoever,
to be a spiritual non-religious person,
whatever instrument you tackle,
even if you choose, poorly I might add,
to play no instrument at all,
wherever you decide to live,
whatever work at which you endeavor,
and finally whomever you choose to love,
I have one simple wish for you;
sure, call it advice, or instruction,
or admonition–I choose to think of it
as a request, a favor, a hope, a plea:
son, don’t be an ass.

That’s it.  It would be tempting
to list all manner of behaviors
uncharacteristic of an ass,
all the virtues and values and ideals
antithetical to the ass,
but somehow, I doubt this
would neither be helpful to you
nor make a good poem.  So I
say to you once more,
with the proviso that almost
anyone with half a heart or mind
can see and feel and smell
an ass coming from a mile away,
as I hope you will be able
to sense and check the tendency
in yourself, as your father has
tried and sometimes failed to do:

My dear son, don’t be an ass.


Filed under Parenting, Poetry

#79: A Minecraft Poem (Dad’s Understanding Emerges)


As I understand it, Minecraft is a computer game
in which a first person player named Steve
wanders through a seemingly endless outdoor landscape
made entirely of blocks of things. The grass, the trees,
the water, the hills, the clouds in the sky–all blocks
(nothing in this world is curved, arched, or angular-slanty).
In his wandering,
Steve digs holes in the ground, holes that consist
entirely of right angles. In his digging,
he finds things and collects things and stores them
away for future use. This is the mining aspect,
I gather. Steve can then build things with the stuff
he has collected, whatever he wants, again, using
only square blocks of collected stuff: wood, iron, dirt, glass,
brick, grass, and a dozen or more other kinds
of material, the names of which escape me.
Steve can build a house, a restaurant,
a library, a fort, a shelter, a tower,

a tunnel, a roller coaster, he can plant
a garden, he can make any thing that might
amuse him.  This is the craft aspect, I assume.
So he wanders, mines, and crafts.  But Steve is not alone.

The world is inhabited, if Steve chooses it to be,
with blocky entities called Creepers and  Zombies,
cube-constructed animals like chickens, cows, and pigs,
all of which, I think, Steve can “spawn” for his
use and amusement, or even  kill, if he likes.
If he kills a chicken 
or a cow or a pig, the death
of that animal can become 
food for Steve.
It is necessary in this game, I think,

for Steve to consume food.  To kill a Creeper
or a Zombie, or an animal for that matter,
Steve must simply hit his target with something,
some kind of weapon he has mined and crafted,
and as he hits his target it jumps back a few times,
stunned but decidedly unharmed.  But if
Steve continues to hit at the Creeper or
the Zombie or the animal, it flashes red
as it jumps back, indicating, I think, its eminent
demise.  When it dies, it falls over on its side
and then simply disappears.  Not a gory
affair, by any measure, but violent, nonetheless.

But the killing of things, or the fighting of
bad guys, does not seem to be the game’s primary
purpose. The goal of Minecraft, at least from Dad’s
perspective, is allusive, ambiguous.  But he thinks
he may have stumbled on a working theory.
Dad has finally reached the conclusion
that the ultimate goal of Minecraft
is to continue to play Minecraft.

The graphics are surprisingly primitive,
the soundtrack minimal, often soothing,
but what gives the boy  the ultimate thrill
that keeps him going and going until Dad
and Mom pull the plug is this feeling perhaps
of unlimited possibility and unfettered control
to move and manipulate this endless space,
this landscape, this mutable and ever-changing
environment that becomes entirely his
and only his. And if he chooses, if he tires
of being Steve, he can reinvent himself
with a new skin and a new identity.
And, if he is feeling lonely, he can join
others via the mighty web in worlds
they have created and opened up
for visitors.  This is the aspect that makes
Dad nervous, but so far, as far as Dad can tell,
no harm, no foul.  What also worries Dad,
to a lesser degree, is that what seems to interest
his son is a game called Minecraft.  After that,
Minecraft comes in at a close second.
His third choice: Minecraft.  And finally,
in a tight race for fourth place but moving
steadily and stealthily into stiff competition,
are videos of other guys playing videos
of Minecraft.


Filed under Culture, Parenting, Poetry

#69: Screen Dilemma (Left To His Devices)


Not My Kid, But Nevertheless, A Strong Representation

Screen Dilemma (Left To His Devices)

If the boy were left to his own devices
he would be playing a video game or streaming some show
on the damn iPad all day long.
The bad news is that sometimes he
is left to his own devices and I agonize
about my shitty parenting.
Sometimes I rue the day I brought
that device into the house, along
with the Wii box, but not as much,
because the tablet precious,
in all its variability, is
favored over the box precious;
the tablet, portable and powerful as a god,
and just as intoxicating, apparently.
The battle cry, “limit the screen time,”
rings in my ears–and yet, I’m tired
and he’s quiet and everyone is happy,
happy for a long, long time–until
it’s time to put the thing away–and
then the struggles ensue and all that
pent up eight year old energy that’s been
storing itself while the host sits in front of a screen
unleashes itself upon the world.

I think, then, upon the hours and hours
of unmonitored time I spent as a child
in front of the television and figure that by now
my brain should be pure mush, but lo and behold,
it’s not.  I am an active participant in the world,
I am gainfully employed, I read and can think
and I’ve written books.  I’ve stopped paying for cable.
And who’s to say that,
if there were no Wii machines or iPad tablets or
idiot boxes of yesteryear inside the house,
that the struggle to come to the table or
take a bath or do the homework or clean the room
would simply just disappear, that it would not be
just as difficult to pull the resident eight year old
away from his legos, his hexbugs, his rock collection,
or his art as it is to pull him away from the screen?
No one can say with any certainty that
this would not be the case. Anyway, I’m not convinced
that all the hand wringing we do about screen time
is worth a tenth of the energy we exert, any more
than it was eons ago when we thought that the radio, then
the cassette tape, then the compact disc or the mp3
would destroy music forever.
Similar doomsday predictions were made, I think,
about the telephone and the typewriter,
not that they would destroy music, but would
in some similar way bring society low.
In the end, with regard to our screen dilemma,
maybe it’s not about how much
but about what kind, and whether Mom and Dad
have any clue or even give a shit.
Maybe I’m just trying to let myself off the hook;
but I am comforted.  I know my boy is loved
and is loving; I know he has other things to do
at his ready disposal; I know he has interests
beyond the flashing and flickering of the magic bauble
somehow named after a fruit.  He’ll be okay,
one way or another. That’s my conclusion in
this moment.


Filed under Culture, Parenting, Poetry, Self Reflection

#68: On Watching an Episode of My Little Pony with My Son


On Watching an Episode of My Little Pony with My Son

Yeah, I know about bronies.
I was introduced to this term
by a student, an 11th grade boy who wrote an
essay about being a brony,
part confessional, part defense
of the show’s merits, partial
explanation of the idiosyncrasies
of this particular kid. At first,
I didn’t believe such a thing
existed, but a short little research
excursion gave me plenty of insight.
Indeed, the brony exists: a young boy,
a teen, or an adult male who is a fan of the
show My Little Pony, a show
whose target audience seems to be girls,
children, I would say, up through
pre-pubescence, and maybe including
a few outlying teens. Not only are
these boys and men fans of the show,
but they have chatrooms, they go to
conferences and conventions,
they buy the paraphernalia, and they
value, deeply value, the show,
its art, its writing, its characters, and
not least of all, its message to the world.
There’s even a documentary.  Yes,
there’s even a documentary.
So yeah, I know about bronies, but up until
only a couple of weeks ago now,
my eight year old son had not.
It turns out, a friend of ours
has a son, ten or twelve, who is a self-declared
brony, and confessed as much to our
eight year old, who at first, thought this
was strange, and yet, couldn’t stop
talking about it.  Fast forward a few days
and he’s streaming episodes of
My Little Pony, Friendship Is Magic
on the iPad.  “Watch one with me, Daddy,
and maybe we’ll both become Bronies.”

In the episode my boy chose for us,
the main character, Twilight Sparkle,
a unicorn pony, has two tickets to a party
and all her pony friends want to go, and
this of course results in a wild competition
between all the pony girls to win the affection,
and thus the ticket to the party, from their friend.
Twilight’s miserable, of course, because she has to
choose between all of her friends and doesn’t want
to disappoint any of them. Finally, the cut-throat hijinks
gone overboard, the straws that break the pony’s back,
Twilight breaks down. Mortified, one after another,
the friends realize how shitty they have been, and each
in turn relinquishes her claim to the ticket.
In a final act of selflessness, our heroine, Twilight,
relinquishes her own ticket, saying simply,
if all of my friends can’t go, I won’t go either.
And this, in a way, to me at least, seems like a
bold move, a brave thing for our unicorn pony to do.
And yet, her little dragon side-kick (one of the few
male characters in the show) barfs up magically
six tickets, one for each of Twilight’s buddies,
and a seventh for himself despite his pretended
disinterest in the “girly-gala.”

I’m disappointed in the magic barf that
brings forth the tickets for everyone and
the happy ending, I would have been more satisfied
with a sacrifice all of the ponies are making
for their mutual happiness, but, truth be told,
when the show is over, I reflect on my general
response to the show.  Not once did I roll my eyes,
not once did I laugh in derision, not once did I feel
inclined to walk away while shaking my head.
Okay, I said, I can see it.  I can see it.
I can see young boys in an age that has
(not wholly) but more or less shrugged off
the bigotry and sexism of their parents’
and their grandparents’ eras, has embraced
sexual ambiguity and diversity of identity
as a given, and has found great reward,
possibility, and some liberty in the perspective
of the feminine.  And while I doubt my particular
boy will ever grow tired of hitting things with a stick
or staging full on death matches with his stuffed bears,
nothing is lost, and much perhaps is gained, by a
healthy dose once in a while of My Little Pony,
Friendship is Magic.


Filed under Culture, Parenting

#45: The Seven Year Old Understands Adult Psychology (Whispering Across the Table)

Em Hast

The Seven Year Old Understands Adult Psychology (Whispering Across the Table)

So the boy and his mother are bickering,
you know, the usual stuff, it’s time for dinner
and someone won’t put away the iPad.
There are repeated requests, some back talk,
further struggling, the ubiquitous countdown,
and then the final capitulation with
an accompaniment of sass and accusations
about Mom’s bossiness and grump.
It’s uncomfortable there for awhile until the boy
bites down on his kabob and hurts a tooth and
begins to cry–which elicits from Mom
sympathy and comfort–and then when
the hurt’s over, everyone is once again happy
and loving.

The boy, sometime during the meal,
whispers over to Dad that the hurt tooth
was really not as bad as it seemed and that
the crying was a bit of a calculated ruse
“to make Momma happy again.”

Absolute genius.  But disturbing in its way.
I wanted to say that there are other strategies,
perhaps more direct, perhaps more honest,
for restoring the peace, one of which might
have been an apology, another of which might
have been smiles instead of pretended tears,
but I could not say these things because we were,
after all, whispering across the table
and all was once again right with the world.

1 Comment

Filed under Parenting, Poetry