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Remain Calm

Published on: May 01, 2005

I will remain calm.

A guy was smoking
at a bus stop the other day and, as we passed, Rachel held her nose in
disgust. I had mixed feelings on the matter and wanted to share my
thoughts with her about people's rights, the ability to "get a buzz
on," and the fact that alcohol, red meat and Prozac can also kill ya
over time, but are far less frowned upon.

I kept the notion to myself -- a good move, in hindsight. No reason to
encourage deadly behavior when I'll just be grounding her in a few
years over the same issue. I'm learning.

When I was a kid (a little older than the twins are now), I burnt down
half of Lopez Island in a pyromaniacal moment of glee while attending
Camp Nor'Westor. A house of matches, a dare and dry summer conditions
-- say no more. (Helicopters had to be called in to douse the flames,
but by that time I and my pack of matches were long gone.) Point is,
I'm a little worried about -- and quite familiar with -- moments of
childhood stupidity, in a karmic kinda way.

Yet I will remain calm. I will not jump ahead to their teen years, or
obsess about unwanted pregnancies, driver's ed or jail time. I will
focus and enjoy the moment.

I recently read a story in a local paper about WASL and SAT scores that
indicated kids who crammed and purged in school -- like I did -- were
far less successful than ones who had ongoing lesson plans with tutors.
SYLVAN! NOW! Have you seen the ads and how HAPPY those people are!?

Remain calm. They're cute little people who are healthy and fine.
Though Riley fidgets and tosses balls 24/7. ADD! Hey! Calm.

Then I read a study that showed a majority of sexually active teens
watched TV shows with sexually active characters, and those that
didn't, well...didn't.... and we let them watch "Friends." And they
listed "Friends" in the report. And now "JOEY!!" That damn Joey will
turn them into permissive pre-pubescent pervs!

Calm. Tranquillo. The good news is that having small children around is
making me take deep breaths and slow down. Not because they're making
me old and gray (they are), but because of safety concerns. There's no
running out of the house -- we need to make sure we've "got
everything." I take the time to explain survival skills, emergency
exits and how hitting your sister, while tempting, is wrong and may
lead to world violence.

Driving to the park, I thought about how I used to be the guy who
hauled 100 miles per hour in the school zone. And that was just a week
ago. I'm now cruising slower -- and that's a good thing (just ask the
West Seattle Police Department). But what about the other guy on his
cell phone, shaving in his rear view mirror and juggling a steaming
triple latte in his lap?

Child seats! They'll kill ya! Airbags! They'll kill ya! Shopping bags
can kill ya if you put them over your head! Hell, shopping can kill ya!!

Remain calm.

Even when we have the perfect parental outing, it's scary. Vanessa and
I took the kids to the Seattle Art Museum for an educational excursion.
Standing in front of a Van Gogh, I began talking to Riley about how
insanity can generate brilliant output. My idea was to encourage
artistic ability while demonstrating that madness is next to Godliness
or some such thing. I ended the conversation imploring him never to cut
an ear off. Did you know that inhaling the fumes from paint can turn
your brain into mush? That's probably what happened to poor Vincent!
And I had the kids recently paint their own rooms!

Remain calm.

Have ya seen those ads from a particular financial institution that
show a couple sitting at their dining room table late at night trying
to balance their checkbook? One of the Yuppie actors says, "Can you
believe how fast the time went? I just thought we'd have saved more..."
Well, so did we! Do the math, Einstein -- the tennis shoes, pizza and
SpongeBob DVDs will suck your paycheck dry without leaving a penny for
college tuition. Plus room. Plus board! Plus new threads! Times two!
Chill. Breathe.

After my yoga class, there was a "60 Minutes" piece about a trend
called "Cuddle" parties. Sounds innocent enough, but when I wanted to
cuddle as a teen it was actually about grinding, and had bad intent.
BAD! "Good Morning America" did a story on runaways. Dr. Phil had a
show on junior high students selling themselves for shopping money.
Oprah scares me just by lookin' at her. To top it off, "Cape Fear" was
on the other night. Sleep tight.

Remain calm. It's TV that's bad for you. Cool down.

Did I mention The New York Times
just had an article about the national percentage of grade-schoolers
getting it on being over 50 percent? Remain calm? I'm heading to Home
Depot and buying some chains and padlocks -- to keep my kids in and the
skank out. We're getting a bunch of Julie Andrews movies, passing
around the Jiffy Pop and not goin' anywhere.

Head lice is making a comeback. Global warming is a fact. The Chinese
are buying our national debt. Social Security is a goner. It's getting
harder to keep our kids off (prescription) drugs and motivated about
career goals and academics. There aren't enough hours in a day to be a
good parent, a loving partner and an educated citizen.

Has reading this made you less calm than you were a minute ago? Well,
ease your mind, cuz while the world may be hurtling out of control
through the Universe, we don't need to be. Moment by moment, things are
manageable. A hug has an immediate payoff, as does a sunset reflecting
off Mount Rainier. Yeah, we're all behind on the college savings, and
our kids will be tempted by the class idiot with a fast car and a
kegger, but we can always pack 'em up and move to Milan -- or call
Juvie on Bad Seed Sammy.

For a few more years WE'RE IN CHARGE -- and my first order of business
is going to be to remain calm, then buy four hot fudge sundaes and
watch people get dragged around Green Lake by their stupid dogs. We'll
sit on each other's laps and point and laugh and lick the fudge off our
faces. And I don't care what Dr. Phil, Ted Koppel or three out of four
dentists have to say about it. Life, for the moment, is damn good.

"The Accidental Parent" is a column about a lifelong Seattle bachelor, Michael Stusser,
who recently became engaged to Vanessa, the mother of 9-year-old twins.
The essays follow his pending marriage, cohabitation and blending into
a new insta-family. Be advised, this is NOT an advice column. Think of
it as like watching a roller-coaster. All you have to do is sit back
and listen to the laughter-and a little screaming.

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