Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#271 In which our hero discusses the manner in which the man decides if his oldest child is fit for school or not.

Several weeks ago my 5-year-old, Lily, was evaluated for acceptance into Kindergarten. We were briefed on this evaluation at the mandatory parents' meeting (along with dress code, religious requirements--it's a Catholic school, after all--etc.). We were to drop off our kids at the scheduled time, then leave. They would be tested in 10 areas.

A brief aside about language.

At the meeting, the principal told us several times not to refer to this evaluation as a "test" because he didn't want our children to be apprehensive about it. He said to just tell our kids that they would be playing some "games." Again, he didn't want a bunch of 5-year-olds freaking out about a "test." Now, what kind of anal, too-tightly-wound child is experiencing test anxiety at five? I know my kid has never been tested for anything so far, and even if she had, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't care if she passed or not.

It just strikes me as a self-fulfilling prophesy when you start talking like this. "Don't call it a test, they're freak out if they think they're being 'tested'!" Instead of avoiding "scary" words like test, why not just teach your kid to deal? "Look, Jimmy, it's a test, and you might do well on it or not. But even if you blow it, it's not a huge deal. You'll face LOTS of tests in your life."


The kids would be evaluated in 10 areas, the results being grouped into three categories: Strength, Average and Need. If you kid shows a "need" in four or more areas, you're supposed to sit down with the kindergarten teachers and principal and devise a plan. I kinda think this means that if your kid is struggling in four or more areas, you might not be invited to attend this particular school.

So, Lily has her test and it's no big deal. She says she had fun for the most part, but some of the games were boring.

Couple of weeks later, we get the official letter from the school. It doesn't say she "passed" because, presumably, that would put undo pressure on the administrators or some such shit. But it is a "welcome to" letter, so my kid is in!

Here are the categories Lily was tested in, and the results (I've included some of the definitions that were included with the letter because, frankly, if I hadn't read some of them I wouldn't know what my kid was tested for):

Visual Motor Integration ("the ability to coordinate vision with motor movements")
Result = STRENGTH!

Visual discrimination ("ability to recognize differences and similarities among things that we see")
Result = STRENGTH!

Auditory Memory ("refers to how well one listen and is then able to repeat what he has heard")
Yeah, that should be "how well one listenS" and also, nice sexism, school board!
Result = Average

Draw-A-Person ("used to help assess visual-motor ability along with visual-memory")
Result = STRENGTH!

Test of Auditory Analysis Skills ("refers to hearing sounds and auditoraly discriminating individual sounds within words")
I think when I was a kid this was called "listening."
Result = STRENGTH!

Peabody Picture Vocabulary ("refers to one's understanding of words that are heard")
Why does this one get a brand name? Who's this Peabody, anyway?
Result = STRENGTH!

Articulation ("ability to express thoughts and ideas.")
Result = Average
"Average"? Holy crap... anyone who spends more than a couple minutes with my daughter knows she has NO trouble expressing her thoughts. In fact, after a while, you might wish she'd STOP expressing her crazy, creative, endless thoughts.

Fine Motor ("ability to plan and perform movement using small muscles of the hands and/or fingers)
Result = Average
Again, maybe I'm just the doting father, but you wouldn't believe the detailed little clay creations this kid has made.

Basic Concepts ("major ideas, generalized from particular instances or experiences")
Result = Average
I'm not even sure what this category is telling me. Additional examples make it seem to relate to colors, letters, numbers, shapes and the like. And if that's the case, my kid has it down. She knows all of her colors, shapes, numbers and the like.

And that's the entire test. I'm clearly biased, but I suspect that Lily just got bored of all the questions and started to slack off. I've seen this before.

But, we'll see how she does in Kindergarten. I'm sure she'll do great. As long as no-one mentions the word "test."




#270 In which our hero invites Oprah Winfrey to go fuck herself.

On Google! News this morning I saw this headline: “Oprah apologizes for slamming author James Frey.”

If you don’t remember, James Frey is the guy who wrote “A Million Little Pieces” which was purportedly his wholly true autobiography; but later it came out that the author had altered some events, and completely made up some others.

There was a bit of hoopla when this information came out. And honestly, I understand none of it. I mean, I never read the book, but apparently it was good enough that people got something out of it, and well-written enough to shoot up to the top of the best seller charts (and, of course, Oprah had a lot to do with that).

But, apparently, the people who read it, and were moved by it, suddenly found all of their enjoyment negated by the fact that it was, in part, fabricated. Stories came out that they felt “betrayed” and “mislead” and other bullshit that seemed completely overblown for a book. I mean, these people weren’t duped out of the last penny of their retirement money… they spent $20 on a book which—up until the instant they learned about the made-up parts—they really enjoyed reading. Nevertheless, many of these disgruntled readers demanded their money back and—unbelievably—got it!

Now, I’ve read my share of shitty books. Some of these books were by respected authors, people who had written other books that I enjoyed. But never once did it cross my mind to demand my money back from the retailer because the “reading experience” didn’t live up to my expectations.

So I had no respect or sympathy for these dillrods who wanted some sort of retribution for reading this book. And Oprah Winfrey was at the front of the fucking bus when it came to seeking revenge.

She named “A Million Little Pieces” to her book club, which naturally catapulted it to mega-best seller status. And, to a degree, I get why she was so pissed. She talked him up, fawned over him, related how inspirational and moving the book was… and then she found out that some of BS she was spouting was based on, well, BS.

It’s her reputation on the line, and so she should protect it. But Jesus, she raked this guy over the coals. She had him on her show so she could spout venom at him and humiliate him on a national stage. For an HOUR. She was relentless in tearing him down. I felt bad for the guy; he took his lumps like a bad puppy and did little to defend himself.

Shortly after the televised beat-down, Stephen King wrote an editorial in Entertainment Weekly that I found very interesting. You can read it in its entirely here, but the part that jumped out to me was this:
“The amazing thing is that anyone—including Oprah—believed any of Frey's stories once they realized he was trying to manage good sobriety without much help, because this is a trick very few druggies and alcoholics can manage … Substance abusers lie about everything, and usually do an awesome job of it.”

King, as a recovering addict and alcoholic himself, writes with an insight that Oprah could never have. So, should Oprah have suspected ahead of time that Frey’s book just might be embellished a bit? I dunno… most non-cynical people tend to assume the best, I guess.

But I do think that when you start up the massive book-selling machine that is the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and you pluck books out of the rank and file of mere mortals and invite them into the halcyon company of the gods (especially those books written by admitted drug addicts and liars) that you just might get burned every once in a while.

But Oprah was pissed and wasn’t shy about letting people know about it. And his guy suffered considerable fall-out. Lost his publishing deal. Had to give back millions of dollars. Was branded a fake and liar. And, let us not forget, that the part about him being a recovering addict was absolutely true… having your world crumble around you like that cannot be good for your sobriety.

And honestly, I’m willing to give Oprah her you-fuck-with-me-I’ll-fuck-with-you moment. But now, she’s going public with an apology SIX years after the fact? That reeks of hypocrisy and disingenuousness.

Let’s break it down for a moment: Oprah was angry because she took James Frey at face value… that he had a hard battle with drugs and alcohol and, through amazing force of will, emerged on the other side better and healthier. She really believed that he could stand as a shining example of what people can achieve if they put their mind to it. But then it turned out that it wasn’t (all) true.

Now, let’s go back to 1988, when Oprah revealed her amazing weight loss on her show. I don’t watch The Oprah Winfrey Show, but this event was all over the place, you could hardly miss it (wheelbarrow full of fat and all). Oprah had a long and difficult battle with her weight and, through amazing force of will, emerged on the other side better and healthier. Not only had she lost the weight, she was now committed to a healthier lifestyle that would keep the weight off. She stood as a shining example of what people can achieve if they only put their mind to it.

Only, she gained the weight back, didn’t she?

Where are the people demanding their money back for show tickets? Where are the outraged women who thought, just like Oprah, that they could lose the weight, only to find out that their example had stumbled? Where the hell is Oprah’s public lambasting for saying one thing, then doing another?

As far as Frey goes, he’s taking the high ground. He’s quoted as saying, “It was a nice surprise to hear from her, and I really appreciated the call and the sentiment.” What he didn’t say was what he was probably thinking: “But, y’know, I’m still a little pissed about her aggressively dismantling my career and life six years ago.”

I’m waiting for her to do an hour long special in which instead of the gentle platitudes about how she “let down her fans” with her yo-yoing weight loss and gain, she really tears into herself and says how she has lied and mislead everyone about her commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

THAT is an Oprah Winfrey show I’d tune in for.




#269 In which our hero’s children pose with a giant anthropomorphic rabbit.

Let me tell you about Easter. Yeah, not exactly timely, I know. But worth it. Stick with me.

The in-laws came up for Easter. It’s an eight hour drive from Maryland for them so, to make it worth their while, then generally stay for a week or so. For the most part I like my in-laws, so that’s not a big deal. But sometimes, after a week, it starts to get old, y’know? Mostly because they mess up the carefully orchestrated routine we have in the house. And this sometimes leads to no nap on the weekends, which is just not acceptable.

Anyway, by the time Easter rolled around, they had already been here for five days, so I was getting a little on edge. That Saturday was a jam-packed day: swimming lessons, Easter egg hunt at the church, going out for dinner… it promised to be a busy day. And potentially a nap-free day which, again, is just no good.

So we load up the entire family (in-laws included) and head out for swimming lessons. A little about that first.

We signed up Lily for introductory swimming lessons. The class is for five- and six-year-olds. Macey, who is four, was obviously too young. There was a class for younger kids, but it was full-up when we scheduled. Being that we think it’s important for our kids to learn to swim, we went ahead and signed-up Lily, thinking that Macey would catch up the next year.

I wasn’t in town for the first class, so The Scientist took both girls. Lily’s class isn’t parents in the water, so my wife stayed by the side of the pool with Macey and watched. Long story short: when Macey figured out that she wasn’t getting into the water, she had a huge fucking meltdown. This lasted, apparently, for the entire duration of the class (45 minutes) and well into the ride home.

A helpful employee of the pool saw this happening, and offered to let Macey into the littler kid class, even though it was full. So, my wife explained to Macey that NEXT TIME, she can get into the pool, too. This did little to stem the flow of tears, from what I’m told.

Flash-forward one week.

The entire family (in-laws included) shows up at the pool, only to be greeted by a group of parents and kids standing outside a locked door. It turns out that the powers that be decided to cancel lessons over the Easter weekend and not bother to tell anyone. Macey, as you can imagine, was NOT pleased by the news that she would have to wait another week to get into the pool. It’s worth nothing that she wasn’t nearly as displeased as The Scientist, who was ready to tear someone’s head off.

We go back home, kill a little bit of time, then head off to the Easter egg hunt at our church. We did this last year, and it was about an hour of crafts which were met with poor to middling enthusiasm from the girls, followed 15 minutes of Bible lessons, follow by 15 minutes of screaming, running around looking for plastic eggs filled with candy. The last part, as you might imagine, was the best received.

The entire family (in-laws included) show up to the church, and it’s strangely quiet and empty. We ask a fellow parishioner who happens to be there and she says, “Oh, the Easter egg hunt was cancelled. No-one told you?” This is mostly our fault, being that we’ve been more than a little lackadaisical about our church attendance in the last, oh, year, and we hadn’t bothered to add the girls names to the sign-up sheet, assuming that two more among the droves that would be there wouldn’t make any difference.

So, for the second time in one day, the activity that our girls were really looking forward to was cancelled. They’re grumpy, my father-in-law is grumpy, and I’m maybe the grumpiest of all. I don’t like to see my kids disappointed, which sucks, and I didn’t get my nap, which sucks ever harder.

The Scientist and I do a quick huddle to figure out what to do next. We both feel like we owe the girls some sort of entertainment; to just slink home and plop them in front of the TV seems like a cop-out.

I suddenly remember that I saw the Easter Bunny at the mall last time I was there. So we pack up the entire family (in-laws included) and head off to the mall.

When we get there, there’s no Easter Bunny.

Thankfully, he’s just on a break. We have 15 minutes to kill, so we wonder around the food court, get a pretzel, buy The Scientist some underwear at Victoria’s Secret, and head back.

When we get back to the photo area, suddenly there’s a line of 20 people. My comment at seeing this was something akin to, “Oh, fuck me!” But we get in the line. And wait. And wait. And wait. You wouldn’t think it would take so long to sit a couple kids on a guy in a bunny suit and click a photo. But it is taking a long time. The kids are restless and bored. The in-laws have bailed on us and are resting on a bench away from the madness. I’m just about at the end of my rope.

But then something happens which turns everything around.

There are two families in front of use, each with two little kids. The first family gets up there and the older kid sits down next to the bunny, no problem. But the other kid wants nothing to do with it. He’s got that three-year-old version of “no fucking way” written all over his face. He literally digs in his heels and his father ends up dragging him beside the Easter Bunny. And this kid is howling the entire time.

Now, it probably makes me a very bad person, but I find this incredibly funny. I mean, I sympathize with the parents; like us, they’ve waited a half hour or so, and now their kid is blowing up. Finally they station this screaming, tear-streaked kid on the opposite side of the bunny and say, “Just take the picture. Just do it.”

This is absolutely the best part of all, because they’ll have that photo to embarrass the kid with for the rest of his life. Priceless.

So the next family gets up there, and it’s the same deal. The old brother hops up, no problem, but his brother is screaming protests the entire time. His parents try to talk him down, but he’s not having it. At one point, the older brother looks at us and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “whatya gotta do?”

They also receive future photographic blackmail.

Then I start to fret a bit that MY kids are going to freak out (making it 3 for 3). But they don’t, they’re total professionals.

Oh yeah. Thumbs up for the Easter Bunny.