Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pretend Princesses: Royalty or Royal Flush?

Pretend Princesses: Royalty or Royal Flush?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I had imaginary friends when I was a young boy. Friends who would help me solve crimes, rescue people in danger, and other situations most four-year-old boys find themselves in, when said friends are Scooby Doo and his gang of meddling teenagers.

As a rough-and-tumble little boy, I was naturally their leader. Our adventures were harrowing and frightening, but were always solved from the comfort of the family couch, or the Mystery Machine, which doubled as my bed.

We saved family businesses from sabotaging ghosts, recovered valuable art from pirates, and rescued helpless damsels from monsters. It was a footloose, carefree existence.

Until I met her.

She was a princess of unknown origin and name. Her name was unpronounceable, so she was simply known as Princess. She was my light, my raison d'etre. At age four, I had found my imaginary soul mate.

We met while we were battling the Ghostly Diver from The Adventures of Scooby Doo. He had chained her to the railing of his ship, and we had to save her. I had Diver in a headlock, while the gang struggled to unlock her chains, when our eyes met.

I threw Diver over the edge and broke Princess' chains. We leapt off the ship, ran across my living room, jumped into the Mystery Machine ("Stop jumping on the bed!" shouted an ethereal voice that sounded a lot like my mom), and raced to safety.

For the next several months, we were inseparable. Princess joined us on our adventures, although she usually got captured. As the leader of the gang, it was up to me to rescue her. Yes, everything was great for us. But then we encountered the green-eyed monster that no teenage gang could defeat: Jealousy.

"She's constantly getting into trouble," whispered the gang in my ears. "Has there ever been a time she hasn't been captured?

But I would have none of it. Princess was one of us, as far as I was concerned, and we stuck together through thick and thin.

"She's such a klutz."

"Is she faking that helplessness, or is she really that much of a moron?"

I finally had enough. I told the group that I needed a rest. I was going to take a break from hero work for a while and just relax. Catch up on some reading, play with my toys, and do all the kid things I was missing. But it never happened that way.

Looking back, I suppose all the signs were there. The walks in dark forests, exploring haunted houses by herself. Imaginary doctors would later diagnose it as Damselitis Distressius, a sort of Munchausen's Disease that was often found in imaginary royalty. The patient purposely put themselves in dangerous situations to be rescued. They said Princess was a textbook case.

After I rescued her from a two-headed monster, the doctors took her to a safe palace where she could get the help she needed.

"Sorry, dude," said Shaggy, as they drove her away in their imaginary ambulance. "Like, we tried to warn you."

I eventually rejoined the gang, but I'd lost the taste for the chase. I didn't get the same thrill. I started hitting the apple juice pretty hard. I took dangerous risks and unnecessary chances. I was even a little rough on some of the perps.

Finally, after I purposely let one of the suspects get away, I retired from the hero business. At five-and-a-half, I'd had a long and distinguished career of pretend hero work.

But I never heard from Princess again. From time to time, I'd overhear whispered fragments of stories from my G.I. Joe action figures. She'd taken up with Batman. She'd been spotted nightclubbing with Hong Kong Phooey. But she was gone for good.

That is, until my son, age four, told me about his own adventures. He spent one afternoon last week fighting a dragon, and rescuing a princess from the dragon's clutches.

"What's her name, Buddy?"

"I don't know."

"Where is she from?"

"I don't know."

"Well, what do you call her?"

"Princess."

Uh-oh. I spent the next several days asking myself over and over, do I tell her, or do I let him find out on his own? A father's job is to protect his children, but at the same time, they need to learn from their own mistakes. Then I finally remembered the immortal words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

'Tis better to have pretend loved and lost, than never to have pretend loved at all.

Good luck, Buddy. I'll keep the apple juice on ice for you.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Confessions of a Four Eyes

Confessions of a Four Eyes
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

"Daddy, how old were you when you got your glasses?" my oldest daughter asked.

"Six."

"How old are you now?"

"Thirty-nine."

My daughter stared at me, amazed that we had vision correction technology all the way back in the early '70s.

"So you've worn glasses for 33 years?"

"Pretty much."

My daughter had just gotten her first pair of glasses that day, and was still getting used to them. More importantly, she was still trying to wrap her brain around the idea that she'll have to wear them until she's old. Thirty-three years is forever to a child.

"They still feel funny," she said.

"After a while you'll forget they're even there."

"Everything looks weird too."

"Don't look at them, look through them."

Judging by her expression, I had either said something profoundly stupid, or her glasses were sliding down her nose. She was getting the hang of them already.

"Think of your glasses like a window. You don't look at the glass, you look through the glass to see outside. So don't look at your lenses, look past them."

She nodded. I had just gotten my own glasses repaired the previous week, after my four-year-old son gave me a "Glasgow kiss" -- what the Scottish call a head butt -- and broke my glasses. He thought I had made some disparaging remark about Robert the Bruce, and let me have it.

"Oh, and remember to keep them safe. Put them in their case when you're not wearing them and don't play rough when you have them on," I warned. "And don't say anything to your brother about the Battle of Culloden."

She made that face again. "I'll be careful."

I continued, "There's one more thing thing you have to watch out for. Don't let it bother you when kids call you Four Eyes."

"Why would they do that?"

Uh oh, I thought. Too late to put those worms back in the can.

"Well, uhh, that is, uhh. . ."

"Kids aren't that mean nowadays," my wife said.

"Yeah, whatever," I said, rolling my eyes. "Kids are jerks."

"But I don't have four eyes," my daughter said in that trusting, innocent tone that I was about to ruin for the rest of her childhood.

"It doesn't matter. When I got my first set of glasses, some kids in my class teased me and called me Four Eyes. They thought it was funny to call any kid with glasses Four Eyes."

"And Poindexter. Don't forget Poindexter," said my wife.

"They never called me Poindexter."

"Nerd?"

"No."

"Geek? Spaz?"

"No! Would you just stop it? You're not helping."

"Fine, don't get your bowels in an uproar. . . Poindexter."

"So what happened to those kids?"

"My teacher told them to stop."

"And did they?"

I forgot for a moment that my daughter was home schooled, and thus realized what little moral authority teachers actually have when it comes to playground behavior.

"Well, no. She was about as useless as a foam hammer."

"What did you do?"

"I finally got used to it after the first four years. I got in a few fights, which was hard, because I had to take my glasses off to fight. So I couldn't actually see who I was supposed to be fighting until I got within arm's reach. That caused its own problems."

"So should I fight the kids who call me Four Eyes?"

"Well. . ."

"NO!" my wife interrupted.

"It finally got better when the worst one of the bunch, David Shane, got his own set of glasses. He got really mad when I kept calling him Four Eyes, but he finally quit. He fought meaner than anyone, so they all quit calling people Four Eyes after that."

"So should I make fun of kids who make fun of me?"

"Only if they're fat or dress funny."

"No, you should not!" my wife said. "Just ignore them."

I scoffed so hard I nearly choked. "Doesn't work. I tried ignoring those kids like my own mother told me, but it's hard to ignore some little punk who keeps poking you in the back of the head going 'hey Four Eyes, hey Four Eyes.'"

"So what do I do?"

I tried to recall a little pearls of wisdom from my own childhood -- They're just teasing you because they're jealous. They pick on you because they like you. If they make fun of you, they're not your real friends -- and discarded them just as quickly.

Then I remembered the one benefit that glasses like mine afforded me. I leaned over and whispered so only my daughter could hear me.

"Keep your glasses on and challenge them to an eye-poking contest."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Three Phases of Parenting

The Three Phases of Parenting
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting this column from 2005.

I recently became a proud father for the third time, and although I love and adore my new son, I've noticed my standards for obsessive care and compulsive hovering have lowered quite a bit.

Most new parents agonize over every little detail about what's best for their child, but they relax significantly after the second and even third child comes along.

My own constant worrying and stress has decreased to the point where my blood pressure is nearly normal, and I think my hair is growing back. And after analyzing the charts and graphs that every new parent keeps, I think I've discovered a pattern in every facet of child raising.

Your typical three-child family goes through three distinct phases, the obsessive phase, the careful phase, and the lax phase, also known as the "Where did she go?!" "Have you seen her?" and "Do I know you?" phases.

You can tell the single-child from the three-child families just by how they react to certain issues that may arise during early childhood. Here are a few examples.

Names
First Child: Your name was inspired by a woman of royalty. She was loved by millions
Second Child: Your name was inspired by a beloved member of the family. Everyone loved her.
Third Child: Your name was inspired by my favorite professional wrestler. He could beat the crap out of anybody.

Holding the new baby
First Child: We're the only ones who can hold her.
Second Child: You can hold her, but you have to wash your hands first.
Third Child: Someone please hold this kid for me!

Food and Feeding
First Child: I will feed you only pesticide-free organic foods that I've prepared by hand in a carefully-sanitized kitchen.
Second Child: I will feed you regular baby food that don't have preservatives or additives.
Third Child: Do you want corn dogs or chili dogs for breakfast?

Safety
First Child: Don't run in the house. You could fall and hurt yourself.
Second Child: Don't run with scissors.
Third Child: Don't play with Daddy's good chainsaw.

Toys
First Child: I will give you toys that are fun AND educational.
Second Child: I will give you toys that give you hours of entertainment.
Third Child: How many times do I have to tell you, wear safety goggles when you're using my table saw?!

Sleeping/Naps
First Child: You need to go to bed by 8:30.
Second Child: You need to go to bed by 9:00.
Third Child: It's 11:30, I'm going to bed. Turn the TV off when you're done.

Clothes
First Child: It's a little chilly. Put on your jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Second Child: It's a little chilly. Put on a sweater.
Third Child: Did we forget your pants again?

Potty training
First Child: We'll start her potty training when she's two-and-a-half.
Second Child: She'll let us know when she's ready to start potty training.
Third Child: He'll figure it out by the time he gets to high school.

Television watching
First Child: You can watch one hour of educational TV per day.
Second Child: You can watch two hours of regular TV per day.
Third Child: My TV is broken, can I watch yours?

Bathing
First Child: Your baths will be a mixture of sparkling spring water and pasteurized milk with essential oils
Second Child: Your baths will be a mixture of warm water and baby oil
Third Child: We'll hose you off in the backyard twice a week.

Education
First Child: You're going to get the finest education we can provide.
Second Child: You're going to get the finest education we can provide.
Third Child: Go ask your know-it-all sisters.

Music
First Child: Turn that crap down!
Second Child: Turn that crap down!
Third Child: Why can't you listen to something decent, like your sisters do.

Illness
First Child: Oh my God!! A temperature of 100?! Rush her to the hospital!
Second Child: A temperature of 100? Give her some children's Motrin.
Third Child: I'm not doing anything until he starts projectile vomiting.

Living at home
First Child: You can live here as long as you want.
Second Child: Wouldn't you like to get your own place after college?
Third Child: What are you still doing here?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Are You Ethical? Take a Quiz and Find Out

Are You Ethical? Take a Quiz and Find Out
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Do you think you're ethical? Do you eat other people's lunch at work? Run red lights at 2:00 a.m.? At cash register "take a penny/leave a penny" cups, do you take or leave pennies? Then probably not.

But how can you be sure? After all, they're just pennies, no one is around at 2:00 a.m., and no one really likes that guy anyway, so what's the harm? But to be really sure, I've developed a scientific test to see if you truly are a good, ethical person, or you're the kind of evil, immoral, and unethical person who cut me off on the highway last week.

So grab a pen and take the Laughing Stalk Ethics Quiz. No cheating, and keep your eyes on your own paper.

1. You're sitting in your favorite coffee house at a regular table, when your favorite table opens up. You move toward it and reach it at the exact same moment as a young woman. As an ethical person, you should:
a. Be chivalrous and give her the table.
b. Arm wrestle her for it.
c.Ask her to join you and hope your wife doesn't find out.
d.Make fun of her shoes until she cries and runs away.

2. You find five dollars on the floor of the coffee house, but no one is around to claim it. You should:
a. Give it to the manager, in case someone comes back for it.
b. Stick it in your pocket. After all, finders keepers.
c. Look like the soul of generosity, and put it in the tip jar.
d. Give it to the woman who's still blubbering about her shoes.

3. For the past two weeks, the paper boy has delivered your neighbor's newspaper to your house. You've read them all, but are troubled about what to do. To fix the situation, you should:
a. Offer to pay for the two weeks yourself.
b. Take them to your neighbor and apologize.
c. Sic your dog on the paper boy. That'll teach the little moron to deliver to the right house.
d. Trick the Girl Scouts out of their cookies the same way.

4. You've been dating two people, neither of them seriously, for a couple months. But neither of them knows about the other. You decide it's time to make a choice. You should:
a. Choose the one you could spend the rest of your life with.
b. Choose the one you have the most fun with.
c. Choose the one with the most money.
d. Dump them both and hope your spouse doesn't find out.

5. You're in the supermarket produce aisle, and you eat a couple grapes. When you get to the cash register, you feel a pang of guilt. What should you do?
a. Don't say anything. It costs more than your two cents for the cashier to ring your grapes up.
b. Pay for the grapes anyway, even though they tell you not to worry about it.
c. Crack open a beer, and see if they're still as generous.
d. Why stop at beer? Stuff a couple steaks in your pants.

6. You work at a retail clothing store. You find a great sweater that you want to buy, but it's way too expensive. You should:
a. Work extra hours to make the money so you can buy it.
b. Wait for the next sale and hope it's still around.
c. Ask the manager to do you a favor and mark it down early for you.
d. Hide it in the back in a box marked, "Danger: extremely poisonous snakes."

7. You're taking a class at your local college. You discover that one of your classmates has been cheating on tests throughout the semester. You should:
a. Write a secret note to the instructor, informing her of the cheating.
b. Pull your classmate aside and tell him you know he's been cheating. Advise him to stop.
c. Demand a bribe to keep your mouth shut.
d. Tell him he's your alibi while you date those two people from number four.

8. You're a weekly humor columnist who takes great pains in writing clever columns with a final joke at the end of every piece. You're running out of time and inspiration on your latest column, and you're stuck for an ending. You should:
a. Work through it until you get it right.
b. Slap something together and promise to do better next week.
c. Tell yourself that no one reads it to the end anyway, so don't bother with the final joke.
d.