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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ramona, The Champions, and Parenting

Recently I realized that my son has already hit the age where he has discovered that his dad isn't the hero he though he was when he was little. My middle daughter might be there, too. Heck, even my youngest has probably known it for a while. 

The problem is that I am often not great at doing anything. They see me lose my temper while playing video games and get tired and yell at them when it's bed time. The other day I was trying to write a blog post and my youngest girl wanted to sit by me and I said, "I'm sorry, I can't write with someone sitting right here." She wanted to know if I would play a video game instead and she can just watch, but I was like, "the fans need a blog post."

We both know that this last part is a lie and life would have gone on just fine sans said blog post, but also that writing them is something I do for me and sometimes a dad needs to do something for him. That's what I tell myself, but it's a bad look. I'm not proud of it. I'm not proud of how many times I've been reading or watching Rube Goldberg machines on YouTube and one of my kids has sweetly asked if I want to play a game and I say "can I just sit still for a minute because I'm exhausted."

I just read Ramona and Her Mother to said youngest girl and that wasn't what I was planning on writing about but it's actually not a bad idea. I've loved Beverly Cleary since reading Dear Mr. Henshaw in elementary school, but I didn't read Ramona books because duh, I was a boy. Now that I'm reading them to my kids I find that they are wonderful and I cry always.

Ramona's mom and dad get angry sometimes, and it really affects her. While I was reading, my wife would come in and out of the room, and afterwards she'd tell me how the book made her feel when she read it as a child. One part she remembered perfectly: it's when Ramona's mom and dad get into a fight and go to bed angry. Ramona can't sleep, so she climbs into bed with her unfortunately nicknamed sister Beezus and they wonder aloud if their parents are getting a divorce. That's heavy stuff for a little girl and it's heavy stuff for adults, too.

Even with their fights, though, her dad is clearly a better dad than I am. The book was written in 1979, and it's clear that he does as much housework as her mom does. That's pretty remarkable for the time and according to a recent study, leads to ambitious daughters. He is "cross" sometimes (I wish we'd bring back the word cross), but soon is ready to laugh things off again. He doesn't like his job, but he leaves his work at work and is ready to love his kids. I often felt bad reading it to my little girl who just wanted to sit with her dad while he wrote or played Stardew Valley.

I know, you guys. I know that she'll grow up and not want to play games with her dad anymore and I'll look back on every single time I turned her or her sister or her brother away when all they wanted was to spend time with me. I'll sing "The Cats in the Cradle," and I will probably cry like I just read a Ramona book. I definitely will not look back and say, "but that blog post was pure fire," because by then it will be something I only reflect on with embarrassment.
Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come. She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half hour was the slowest part of all. - Ramona the Pest
That's something that happens with parents and kids, we know that. Some kids idolize their parents even though their parents are demonstrable garbage piles and spend the rest of their lives trying to love them again in spite of it. There are kids whose parents are driven and disciplined and create unbelievable achievers and maybe pushed too hard on violin or sports or whatever and their adult kids eventually look back in awe at everything they did for them.

And then there's the ones in the middle. Kids of parents who most of the time are doing their best but blow it as often as they don't. These kids promise that they will never make the same mistakes their folks' made, but at some point in their own parenting hope that they can do at least as well with their own kids. At some point most of us look back on our lives in amazement that we survived and that we are as happy as we are, whatever level of happy that is. Not because our parents were flawed but because this world is a meat grinder and it will tear you to pieces and we look around and see the casualties every day.

As a dad all I want is my kids to do better than me. I want them to know at a young age the things it took me a life to try to figure out, and like scientists taking over for the generations before them, build on it and do even more. If that means they look back on what I did and critique it honestly and find me wanting and make some changes and unlock more secrets to living a happy life, I'm glad they're doing it differently if that's what it takes.

That's what gets me to the book I really thought I was going to write about, which is Book 1 of Champions. Whoops, I tricked you into reading a post about a comic book. Not sorry at all. Comics are good, and you can put that on my headstone. In fact, please put that on my headstone so that bored kids on Memorial Day who explore the cemetery looking for anything interesting would revisit mine every time and wonder who I was. Maybe they'll leave comics there and I can read them as a ghost. This is literally the best idea I've ever had. Oh my gosh. If I don't ever write a will I hope this blog post is legally binding because I want this bad.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Champions. Here, look at the cover that I have verified I can use according to copyright law because it illustrates the comic book in question:


Here's what you're looking at here: in the front is young Cyclops who was brought forward from the past to remind old Cyclops (who had turned villainous) to see his young optimistic self and change--which doesn't work--and who is now stuck in a time he doesn't understand. Then there's The Totally Awesome Hulk, who is Amadeus Cho, the 7th smartest man in the world. Then there's Nova. You know Nova. And the floating pink girl is Vision's daughter Viv who is like a robot? And then of course in the middle with the lightning bolt is Ms. Marvel. I don't need to talk more about Ms. Marvel, do I? Read Ms. Marvel.

Matt Howard
Born: 7/23/1979; died whenever of Mountain Dew poisoning
Comics are Good

Summary: a Korean-American, a Pakistani-American, black Spider-man, a robot, a white guy, and the son of an alien and a Mexican housekeeper team up after quitting The Avengers because The Avengers don't get it anymore. The Avengers are old and wrong and disappointing and it's up to the young kids to fix the world. This book is the worst nightmare of baby boomer journalists who pay their house payment exclusively with columns about how Millennials are to blame for everything.

They kind of have a point, though. If you're not following the comics because you're not insane, this is coming right after Civil War II, where Captain Marvel and Iron Man get in a war and drag everyone in and terrible things happen. The Champions vow to do things differently, and they do. They rescue girls being trafficked in Baltimore, fight for the rights of Muslim girls in the Middle East, and take down a racist sheriff in a small town.

Yeah, you guys, they're wearing costumes and one of them is giant and green and another is pink, but the thing that's awesome about Champions so far is that they fight real-world problems, and they don't do it with their powers. Instead they empower the people who live there to solve their own problems and just provide some very, very powerful backup. Because they've figured out that a superhero can fly into a city and stop a crisis right then, but not protect everyone all of the time (and also because in real life the people who are reading these don't have super heroes to save them so they have to do it the old-fashioned way).

They don't have everything figured out because they're just kids. They definitely screw up and argue, but also they don't let the fact that they're just kids stop them from trying. This week I was in a meeting with some high school kids who want to do science on a property I manage. They don't know a lot, but that doesn't mean they can't discover something that's never been discovered before. I saw a presentation this year by a kid who frickin' blew the roof off of badger behavior and got worldwide attention. He didn't know that's what he was looking for, but recognized it when he found it and advanced science.

We spend all of our time wringing our hands about how the next generation is making our world uncomfortable for us, but never stop to think about the world they are inheriting. It's a different place, and the kids who are growing up on smart phones and unpaid internships and fidget spinners and racism didn't invent those things, the generations before them did. They're just stuck with them.

The most boring thing you can say is that young people's adaptations to a world we created but are rapidly losing touch with are wrong.

Books are scary!
The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison? - Reverend Enos Hitchcock, 1790
How about chess?
A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages...chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises--not this sort of mental gladiatorship. - Scientific American, 1859
Here's the thing: we complain all day about how kids are so cynical but don't take any credit for the cynicism. We could argue that our entire nation is still recovering from a president who hired criminals to break into the opponents office while kids who should be in college or learning how to be carpenters or artists or whatever were dying in jungles and there were less than 500 bald eagles left in the United States. Even Captain America was so disgruntled he gave up the costume for a while.

Just in my lifetime I've seen a presidency where 138 members of his team were investigated, indicted, or convicted for various scandals and his administration thought that the AIDS epidemic was funny. Then we get a president who appoints a sex-offender to the Supreme Court, then a president who commits adultery and lies about it, and has been accused multiple times of rape, then we get one who attacks a country in response to a terrorist attack that country had nothing to do with, then a president who ramps up US drone programs responsible for killing somewhere between 400 and 800 civilians. And those are the conventional ones. I can't imagine the lasting imprint this current administration is going to make.

If our government officials are (heaven forbid) our parents, and we the kids, we've got plenty to complain about. The signs of abuse are all there. The effects of trauma last generations. And we have the right to want something better for the future. But sure, let's blame the historic amounts of marches and protests on the fact that millennials want free stuff. That works, too, I guess.

Ramona Quimby isn't a real person, but I still think she turned into a great woman because her parents were doing their best. They're always poor and Ramona has to spend time with the neighbor and her pill of a granddaughter and sometimes they fight. But they love her and they're good examples. Her mom gets a job because the family needs it, but stays at the job because she loves it. Her dad scrubs the bathroom after work. They are just barely making it, and I know as a parent that they want their kids' life to be easier and better and more fulfilling and sacrifice to get there.

The Champions have super powers, but want to do something new with them. The old stuff isn't working anymore. While The Avengers are saving the universe and fighting among themselves, somebody has to save the neighborhoods in a way that makes it so they don't need saving anymore. Of course the internet is losing their mind that comics are suddenly filled with social justice warriors (here's a rebuttal, btw). But guess what, they always have been.

Every generation overstays its welcome and gets real sad about it, but that's only because most of us don't spend time with actual young people other than being annoyed by them on public transportation. It doesn't take much to realize that maybe they aren't like us because we were wrong sometimes and they're figuring out how to be right. It's not the craziest thing I've read in a comic book.