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Remain Calm

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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