There is no “curing” the teenage brain. Teenagers, and children in general, were sent here to be our replacements. Therefore, as their brains are getting into shape, ours are decomposting, as it were. So unfortunately, it is hard to judge and gauge them because for every ridiculous thing they do -pierce their cheekbones, drink 16 beers in a row- they actually have the excuse “my brain is still developing”. Similarly, when we forget the name of that band we worshiped in high school, or that we had a therapy appointment yesterday at 4pm, we too can say “i’m getting older.” So- my advice to you, noble parent, is that you ignore as much as you possibly can- and remember, you only have three real responsibilities– to feed, clothe them and put roof over head.
Regard everything else -hugs, laughs, movies, allowance- as special benefits and privileges to be dispensed or not at your discretion.
I won’t bore you with details of my no frills upbringing in Estonia- but it entailed lots of cleaning sheep ship and no video games.
Recently a reader, Mike Z, asked me, “Dear Zamboni, it seems like I am always failing at being a parent, why is this?”
Well, Mike, it might interest you to know, that in the ancient and obsolete -spoken by nobody anymore except Zamboni and my grandmother- Estonian provincial dialect known as Gershvartz, the word for failure and for parenting is indeed the same, “kornfeldtx”.
Why is this? Because children are very hit and miss. It’s sort of like toasters before the Singing Revolutuion when my Estonia lived under iron fist of USSR. The Russian-made toasters were very inconsistent and unreliable. Some worked, some blew your face off. It is like that with children. Yes we “made” them but really they are gifts given to us for temporary custodianship and what we get is what we get. Smart parents can get a thick-brained nogoodnik- dense parents may get a Nobel prize winner.
Does the environment they are raised in count? Sure, look at me and my identical twin George Clooney. George was raised in the Hollywood mileu and became great actor. I, Zamboni was raised by illiterate cheese farmers and then adopted by a great Baron- see?
My point is this Mike: parenting is a rough road. Your children will have as many problems as you, just different problems. You can’t prevent this. Well maybe some you can, but no one is perfect. My advice to you is this- change the way you think of this concept of, “failure”. Also, if you aren’t the brightest bulb in the six pack or maybe you wear Crocs with socks- then get your child to be around friends and family who are a little wittier or at least have nice shoes with some style. Your child will always look up to you most and first- but that doesn’t mean they don’t need coaches, cool aunts, cool teachers, and groovy grandparents…
So…. I encourage you to keep failing, keep failing…
Like my old Squash coach used to say at Estonian A&M: “Zamboni, you either learn to fail, or you fail to learn.”
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?”
Hello friends- there is an old story once told me by a mushroom forager from the Purple Forests of Estonia. He had owned a dog names Procrus, a faithful mutt who accompanied him on his fungus hunts for almost 20 years..One day, accidentally, the mutt ate just a crumb of a very potent poisonous cap of Fungicidus Orientalis Cryptus- a mushroom so powerfully virile and petulant that Hannibal used one of them to slay an army. The dog became very ill, while having strange hallucinations, speaking in fluent Latin, and spinning its head in circles while the paws tapped out in Morse code, “holy sheepshit” over and over again… Then, my forager friend -who became misty eyed at the telling of this- let his dog go free in the forest, and that was the last he saw of him.
“How could you do that? ” I, Zamboni asked of this wandering micologist.. His answer was cryptic.
“Sometimes the best way to cure someone is to let them go.”
Now the moral of the story is this my friends. Zamboni is no old mushroom hunter, but I am wise enough to tell shit from Shitake. This old idiot let his dog get torn up by wild boar in the middle of a very bad trip. And karma is a bitch because a week later, the man himself mistook a shroom and became stiff dead.
He did the wrong thing. Don’t give up, never give up.
“Can I see em? Can I open your drawer and see em?” I asked through the door.
This was tonight. They were bundled in a grey mothy ball in the corner, under some new skinny jeans and a bra. I unfurled them and held them up to the light. They were barely the white onesie with pink and blue bears they’d once been. They are now an almost green raggedy rag that smelled of mildew dust and worse.
I needed to see them and remember. Maybe briefly she’d actually worn them with legs, perhaps at age five, but when she outgrew them, she merely wore the arms and let the legs trail behind like tails. She grew – six, seven, nine years old…. even as the “jammie” arms crept past her elbows and up to hug her shoulders and she worried away the sleeves with a habitual little lip nuzzling, she continued to wear them. She wore them into pre-teen- hood so far we contemplated stealing them, burning them, just so as not to embarass her on sleepovers. May as well have tried to burn Anne Franks diary. The Jammies were her. Grandma tried to convince her to sew them into a quilt. No. If she couldn’t find her jammies, there were screams and cries… her jammies were her blanket, teddy bear, they were everything.
Why did we fret so hard about getting her to give them up? What were we rushing her for?
Then one night she didn’t wear them. One night without explanation they went into the drawer. Eight years, every night- then mothballs. Sleeping in sweats and Hollister like everyone else.
I washed them in a sink tonite with clorox, trying to get something back, trying to get her back.
“If a fourteen year old suddenly finds out his dad was previously married and lied about it, how should one proceed?”
This one comes to Zamboni from a young reader named, “O”.
Young reader, be kind. The cardinal rule of parenting is “do no harm”. What information your dad guy did not give you, well this did not hurt you right? To stories like this (which happened long ago in a world in which you did not exist!) there is always more muffins than the ones you see…
Look at it this way, my adoptive cheesfarming parents, after making me milk goat from dawn until noon, used to make me -after a lunch of breadcrumb- do a thing called “gassers“. They had a hairbrain idea to turn me, just me (yes, my eleven adopted siblings all got to go down to the mudhole after lunch and swim) into an Olympic fencer of great strength. So, they would make me run all the way up Smolenka Hill (covered with thorny Carpberries in Summer!) and run down and repeat 25 times without stopping. My point is, there is cruelty, and then there is cruelty.
What makes Humans so beautiful is not beauty. It is frailty, mistakes, misteps, mishaps, omissions, forgetfullness, and ultimately, the mighty heroism of simply getting up in the morning and trying to do the right thing.
Zamboni has a good friend, “C” who recently lost her father. She is a young woman and she really loved this guy. He is gone and will not come back. She very strong, but this doesn’t change the loss.
So your dad disappoints you- suck it up and move on. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure he has complaints about you, so spend less time wanting your parents to be perfect, and like Voltaire said, “cultivate your own garden.”
You don’t like the advice Zamboni give? So run a gasser, you’ll feel better. (And by the way, I did make Estonian Olympic team, 1936! Thanks mom and dad)
The root of your problem my friend is this very scary realization: your dad is a person, and had a life before you. I, know, strange.
I woke up and said today is gonna be a fun day, and Dash said why and I said, I don’t know I just feel like it is, and it was and maybe that had something to do with it, saying that, or it could have been the actual records-stacked-side-by-side jukebox in the Peninsula Fountain and Grill in Palo Alto, that actually works, green and red buttons lit up I can’t believe it works, yes if you hit the letter and the number buttons and hold them down at exactly the same time- and hearing “Shout!” a little bit louder now, “Shout!” as we ate our trio of pies Chocolate Pecan, Blueberry and Chocolate Cream, this after seeing Maltese Falcon at the Stanford Theatre, a 194o’s little town movie palace complete with chandeliers and Wurlitzer organ, but we were hungry as hell so we didn’t stay around for, I know I know, yes we skipped out on Casablanca which was part 2 of the double bill, we were hungry (short ribs with mash, turkey Pot pie, even Dash who’s the King of Blase says, “this is my favorite restaurant ever!” but as we paid the check the kids said “why not go back and see the end of it?” and we did, though it’d been a long day, and earlier laying flat on the ground outside Stanford Practice Football field where in a knothole in the fence we watched a coach dwarved against a defensive line of giants putting them through some stamp on the ground flip over then stamp on the ground and flip back over again drill, yelling, “it’s not so fuckin hard is it? You wanna get the hell outta there on third down right?” and we all felt right at home then, back on our couch plowing through all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, and then we’d tossed the pigskin around ourselves in the sun on the grass and buzzed over to the theatre for Maltese Falcon which isn’t one tenth what Casablanca is, sorry Dashiell Hammet, but now we’re in the balcony, about as high as that chandelier watching Casblanca and i’m filling the kids in where I can, whispering (“see, I told you we’d probably come in right at the flashback to their week in Paris” and “those are the Nazis who are kind of in control but the french are sort of too”) and we watched until the end and Faye laughed when Rick said don’t forget i’ve got the gun pointed at your heart and Louis responds, “that is my least vulnerable part” and the fog rolls in so fast as that movie steams to it’s conclusion and the propellers start spinning, I notice the kids aren’t fidgeting and when Louis says, “captain Strasser’s been shot…round up the usual suspects” I could tell they understood that some sticky situations can work out alright with friendship thrown into it and when the two walk off into the fog and, “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and the applause rises from the crowd and in the car on the way home you hear them tell their mom on the phone, “it was such a cool movie” and I know that the first time they saw it was there, with me- and maybe three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this life but this is us three and it’s our damn beans, and Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, but we’ll always have this night, walking out as the mighty Wurlitzer plays it again Sam and fades away.
here’s my question for the Z man: Where are all the cool parents? My husband and I desperately need cool parent friends…but we can’t find them. While I was never a parent in California, I remember feeling very conservative while living there and now that I live in the East..I feel like a freak.
We just need that other couple that are not all about their things or their yards. The couple that can let kids be kids and not hover, the couple that are happy to let the kids play, while the adults enjoy a glass of wine…with out being total tramps! the couple that don’t over manage and over schedule their children’s lives and think public school sucks.
Dear Reader, I will try and help.
This phenomenon is quite a blight on parenting in the US but quite unfamiliar in my home Estonia, where parents continue to smoke cigarettes and stare blankly out at the world in existential way even while their children climb perilous, outdated and rusting jungle jim.
In this country parensts think they must pay close attention always and so are unwittingly bringing up little neurotic praise leeches who can’t function on their own.. Today we have teens who can get 1600 on SAT but not fry egg or clean toilet because they’ve never been trusted with any work.
But I digress. Most of the cool parents go to spawn in Alameda, Ca. This is a small island town near Oakland where you see more hotrods and Betty Page hairdos than Baby Bjorns and Hummer-Strollers with sippie cup holders.
But since you are on East Coast, I suggest this:
Go where cool people are who you wish to meet. Rock climbing gyms, stock car races, naked bowling alleys and the like. And seek out on Craiglist, “wanted: parents who aren’t total dorks for two martini playdates” etc. Seek, and ye shall find says the bible.
In short, when the lame parents call, lie and say you are busy. Or, invite them to a cocktail party, “with Bugs Life Showing On Loop in Den” and see who shows up – these you keep as friends. Good luck- and be the parents you wish to meet!
(Thanks to Katja for aiding me in my confusion on this one…)
I recently had the honor of playing Friar Laurence in a production of Romeo and Juliet. The Friar is the brilliant thinker who marries the two teens on the sly, hustles one out into the country, gives the other one fake poison, over-relies on the postal service, and in about 48 hours ushers each one to a dramatic suicide. This after giving a boatload of advice including, “wisely and slow; they stumble who run fast.” That’s fer sure.
Each night, as things inexorably rolled from happy to shitty, I’d joke backstage, “well it seemed like a good idea” or “Jesus friar, they’re thirteen for fuck’s sake.” Questions arose, like why does the friar have a SuperRoofie that can put someone totally out for 48 hours anyway? Another actor said, why not just get Juliet outta Verona and put her on a bus headed for Romeo’s hideout? Good question.
The best morals I can draw from this are: 1)beware of trying to solve other people’s problems, and especially, 2) beware of people who are bent on solving your problems for you.
I personally am guilty of the first. I’ve been an uber-listener and giver of advice all my life. In fact when I was ten I put a sign on my door, “the Psychiatrist is IN” Not a good sign.
The second I guess Zamboni himself could be guilty of. But he often makes clear in his advice to people that he is merely getting people to admit what in their hearts they already know. At least when he’s at his best he is.
Friar Laurence takes it upon himself to bring two lovers together, which is ironic since he can’t have this himself. He loves Romeo, absolutely, but he ends up destroying him. Is all his “help” just a subconscious way of destroying what he loves? A revenge for his own celibacy? I don’t know, but as the good book says, I think, “by their fruits shall ye know them” and the fruits of his help be rotten.
So beware of those bent on helping you, and beware of asking for help. You might be better off reading Shakespeare, and then just going it alone.
Then again, don’t listen to me, I’m the friar. -jw
Todays question comes from Saul P. from Paris Texas.
“Dear Great Zamboni, I am concerned that with our over-connected culture, my children will be multi-tasking over achievers capable of keeping many windows open at once but unable to follow one thread of knowledge to where it ends. Is my worry legit?”
Dear Saul, this is a good question. Strangely enough, only one or two scientists have been studying the effects that all this online-all-the-time living has on us. And the findings are inconclusive. Luckily for you, and the others, Zamboni has truth to reveal.
Recently I was at a small lecture about Economics and the Third World. While the grad students sat around a table, half of them had laptiops open and were doing many things while “listening” to each other. The person I was behind, I could see them check their facebook page, a blog, and some sports scores all in two minutes, as well as the past papers and biography of the very guest who was lecturing to them at the other end of the table. I also had a friend, a shepherd named Le Quark, who used to happily while away hours of grass-munching time for his sheep while he texted , until one day he walked off a cliff. There are pluses and minuses to all this technology.
But the answer to your question is Yes, you should be worried, but after you worry, here is what you should do.
Lead by example. Don’t tell your children to read more while you get fat watching TV on couch.
Make decision. Give your house a “24 hour online sabbath”. At house of Zamboni, I cover the ancient blueberry imac the size of a turkey with a sheepskin from 10am sat to 10am sunday. No miniclip, facebook, Pandora, nothing. Encouraging boredom, reflection, and then also we go outside and throw hammers at the old Roman ruin in the backyard. This is athletic and satisfying. We also cover television, but not in football season.
So Saul, remember that the only thing we have of value is time. And also remember that your children’ s brains are changing every day, and what they do with their time, this is what builds their brain.
And seriously, what isso good about this multi-tasking? Did George Washington or Abe Lincoln or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. need this? No, they needed single minded years long laser focus on one goal. Take heed.
Are we breaking up, we have bars? you getting this signal? good. Now disconnect.
I, Zamboni was recently asked by someone, “why do I always feel I fail as a parent?” This was my response:
Yes, you are a failure as a parent.
But this is not only good, THIS IS your job as parent. I explain. We will all fail, Zamboni included, as parents, in various degrees. But is good to remember, not many interviews with genius artists do I read in Estonian Times when people say, “yes, my parents paid me much attention and always supported every dream and desire I ever had.” No. Is much more common you read, “my father spoke to me twice and my mother talked to the silverware.” Then the person explains, “so I retreated into my own special world of imagination and that is why I have now Nobel Prize.”
So, Zamboni is not saying to mistreat your child, just to ignore them a little more than you do, for their own good, not just for your own web surfing or golf time.
Zamboni have young son, Zamboni jr. I play much baseball with him, but sometime I say, “no, i dont feel like it”, and then I see young Zamboni pout a bit, then lie on floor and make little pieces of dust talk to each other. Now, you might say, “oh Zamboni, you are cruel, you make son talk to dust on floor!” But I say, no, Zamboni jr. having very valuable time talking to dust on floor. In those moments he builds mental strength, imagination, self-sufficiency. After all, who do we have to spend most time with in this life?
How would Zamboni jr. make it in life if he never learn to friend himself?