Parent Peeves

I love being a dad. But the job is not without certain minuscule details that make me want to remove my clothes, climb the exterior of the Hyatt Regency and do birdcalls until someone takes me to a nice, safe place where I can't hurt myself.

For instance:
Plastic-strip thermometers. These space-age devices make swell bookmarks, and some of the thinner ones are helpful in removing food that's lodged between your teeth. As thermometers, however, they're worthless--except in cases where all you need to know is the vague probability that your child's temperature is somewhere between 62 and 136 degrees. This product was almost certainly invented by the same idiot who brought us those colorful little plastic-band "watch protectors" that also protect the wearer from the time of day.

Mystery matter. The unidentifiable, semibuoyant brown crud your child leaves behind whenever he takes a sip of your iced tea. What is that stuff? Where does it come from? How does he get it through the straw? Is it alive?

Waiters and waitresses. Specifically the ones who look at you as if you forced your child to knock over his milk glass, mistake his straw for a French-fry launcher and see how much silverware he could throw on the floor. Juice-in-a-box. Surely another fine product from the plastic-strip thermometer guy. These "convenient" little cardboard containers remain convenient until you hammer the accompanying straw through the steel-reinforced aluminum siding that covers the straw hole. That's when the juice (usually grape, cranberry or grape-cranberry) squirts all over your shirt. At that point, you hand it to your kid, who squirts what's left onto his shirt, the furniture, the carpet, the cat, the car upholstery and the neighbor kids.

Toy prices. As I've said many times before, I don't mind buying my son's affection. But for this kind of money, I could buy Kathleen Turner's affections.

Toy commercials. The way I figure it, what my boy doesn't know he doesn't own won't hurt him. Well, he knows. Not only that, he gets reminders and updates every three and a half minutes. And while he has never even seen an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he's threatening to leave home if he doesn't get the entire line of merchandising for his birthday.

Toy packaging. Step one: You give your kid a two- by three-foot box for Christmas. He beams. Step two: The lad opens the box to find three ounces of plastic and two pounds of Styrofoam that cost you $17.95. He looks at you like you've kept all the good stuff for yourself.

Playing Simon "Daddy" Legree. Your son waits hours for his neighbor pal to come home from preschool. When his neighbor pal finally returns, ready to play like he's never played before, you're the one who gets to step outside and announce, "Time to wash up for supper!"

Imitation suicide. This usually occurs directly after you've ordered your child to perform some unthinkably horrible task (i.e., washing up for supper after his neighbor pal has finally come home). In between caterwauls, your kid appears to stop breathing. Just when you're about to see how much you really learned in CPR class, he starts caterwauling again. This cycle can repeat for hours.

Disposable diaper tape. Babies need baby powder. They also need diapers. But if you sprinkle baby powder within a half-mile radius of disposable diapers, the tape won't stick. The diaper is now worthless. But it costs too much to throw away. So you spend the next twenty minutes looking for something that will hold it together. Like rivets or a soldering gun. To no avail. So you throw the diaper away. This cycle can repeat for hours.

Music boxes, stuffed animals, greeting cards, books and any other merchandise that plays "It's a Small World." Whip me, beat me, put burning bamboo shoots under my fingernails and make me swap brains with Evan Mecham. But please don't make me listen to that song again. Airline fares. I don't get it. A plane ticket for a forty-pound kid who doesn't know where he's going or if he's coming back costs just as much as a ticket for a 300-pound adult who cares where he ends up.

Coming attractions. You take your kid to the only G-rated movie to hit town in six months. Prior to the main feature, he's treated to previews for Sorority House Blood Bath, The Arkansas Electric-Screwdriver Massacre and Missing in Action IV: The Disemboweling. Then you've got to deal with the child's disappointment when he finds out he's there to see Bambi.

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Michael Burkett