Sunday, December 21, 2014

The annual family holiday portrait: bloody nose edition

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------


As we drove toward the oversize closet in the department store, fancifully called a portrait studio, my wife and I briefed our three sons.

No fighting, we said. No goofy faces. And no horseplay, a word that has been ready to roll in my frontal lobe since having multiple kids.

Given enough reminders, and sometimes bribes, the boys usually behave well. But the window of opportunity is small for the annual family photo, which goes in an album and gets sent out with Christmas cards. (Just so you know, we don’t include one of those obnoxious holiday brag letters. I think the photo clearly shows that my kids have genius IQs and are working on a cure for cancer.)

My wife and I were part of annual family portraits growing up, and we’ve continued the tradition despite living in the photo-saturated digital age. It’s nice to have one family portrait that serves as a sort of yearly steppingstone through our memories. My wife looks at the portraits from her childhood and can remember, through haircuts, clothing, smirks and smiles, all kinds of things that were going on then. I can do the same, and also pinpoint the start of the awkward years of my childhood, which have blended seamlessly into awkward years of adulthood.

* * *

My kids don’t like posing for the photo, so the clock is ticking when we walk into the studio. The goal is a photo in which everyone is smiling and looking great. But I’ll settle for a photo in which most of us are smiling, or at least not smirking, or at least looking toward the camera, or at least not snapped in a mid-blink look of intoxication.

As time passes during the photo session, I lower my standards. “Just take the picture,” I telepathically message the photographer as he or she moves us around, tries different poses and fiddles with the lights or the backdrop. Forget the attempts at perfection. Just … (smiling through gritted teeth) … take the picture.

If you don’t take the picture in the first 10 minutes, it’s like the clock striking midnight on Cinderella. Our 12-year-old’s smile goes from sweet and natural to forced and plastic. My 9-year-old’s smile and dimple will morph into a look of surprise or “what’s that smell?” My 6-year-old, generally Mr. Photogenic, can lock into this intense stare in which he appears to be trying to melt the camera. They all start looking like malfunctioning puppets, and I probably look worse.

I looked worst of all this year when the photographer, in a burst of creativity, suggested that my wife jump on my back for a photo. I thought the photographer was joking, especially since the studio was already behind schedule, as portrait studios always seem to be. Through the door to the waiting area, I heard a baby crying, getting warmed up for his or her shining/torturous moment in the studio.

As my wife jumped on my back for the piggyback photo, I’m sure my kids were thinking, wait a second, isn’t that horseplay? So … are we now allowed to jump on each other’s backs? Can we spin around on the stool? Pull down the backdrop?

* * *
Fortunately, the kids held off on the horseplay until we left the studio. We ended up with a family portrait that is pretty good, and as far as accurately freezing a moment in time, it’s close to perfection.

Look closely and you’ll see, on my 6-year-old’s red sweater, a small dark spot. What’s that from? Well, on the way to the portrait studio, here’s what Nathan called out from the middle of the minivan:

“I’ve got a bloody nose!”

Of course he did. There had been no bloody noses in several months, despite a considerable amount of horseplay. And now, a few miles from our annual visit to the oversized closet in the department store, Nathan was looking up, sniffling and looking like a boxer who’d absorbed a hard jab.

The bleeding stopped quickly, and amazingly, Nathan cleaned up nicely for the photo. It could’ve been much worse. The spot is barely noticeable. And you know, I’m glad that the spot is at least a little noticeable.

Now our small Christmas miracle is frozen in time forever.

***
You can use the buttons above to share the column. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!

 
ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders
 
a

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is Black Friday dying? If so, it's a slow death

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2005, I set out to write about the wildness and weirdness of Black Friday. The plan was to be in the thick of the frenzy, experience the adrenaline rush as bargain hunters shifted into turbo mode and be on hand for any moment when Black Friday turned into black-eye Friday.

Which is always possible, of course. Sleep deprivation plus competitiveness can lead to a willingness to get physical over a particularly dazzling item, such as a Sesame Street 2-in-1 Giggle Guitar.

Nine years later, the thing that stands out most about that day – other than the amount of abandoned shopping carts rolling across parking lots -- was the time when the stores began opening. I had to be there at 5 a.m., and I thought that was crazy early.

Now 5 a.m. on Black Friday, at least in terms of when the holiday shopping season begins, is crazy late. Most big stores are open on Thanksgiving, a.k.a. “Gray Thursday,” and big sales and extended holiday hours start before Thanksgiving. Give it a few years and shoppers will be lining up for door-buster specials while kids are trick-or-treating.

Or maybe shoppers won’t be lining up at all. Not on Black Friday, anyway, because it seems the longstanding starting gate for holiday shopping is losing its mojo. Some retail analysts even say that America’s iconic day of excitement, excess and exhaustion is headed for extinction.

Could it be true? Black Friday is dying?

If so, one reason is the steady increase in online shopping, which is expected to pull in about $89 billion in sales during this holiday season. That would be a 13 percent increase from last year, when online shopping was already thinning the crowds a bit at the brick-and-mortar stores.

Yes, online shopping is huge. It’s always less hectic, often more convenient, and as often pointed out in references to the growth in online sales, you can shop in your underwear.

That’s true, but clearly, nobody’s getting scared away by a Black Friday dress code. I’ve seen people in slippers, pajamas, robes and hair curlers. If you’ve got a credit card, you can wear whatever you want.
 
* * *

Online sales cut into the Black Friday madness, but the biggest threat to its iconic status is the way the holiday shopping season is stretching out like a post-Thanksgiving waistband. According to the National Retail Federation, 40 percent of consumers now begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. The main reason for that, according to 42 percent of those shoppers in the NRF survey, is that deals are too good to pass up.


Years ago, we thought it was impossible to beat the deals on Black Friday. It was a no-brainer. But now, who knows? There might be a better deal next week. Or maybe we already missed the best deal when we were wearing shorts and buying fun-size candy bars.

I’m not sure Black Friday is dying, considering some of its chaos can still be mistaken for the Running of the Bulls. But if it’s beginning a slow fade, that’s a little sad.

That’s crazy, right? Black Friday is a showcase of greed. It’s the commercialism of Christmas. It’s gluttony on parade.

All true. But it’s also kind of fun.

It’s a guilty pleasure for sure. I rarely do more than dip a toe into the quagmire, but I like watching the shoppers, with their frenetic energy and enthusiasm. It’s a great people-watching expedition, much like a walk down the Las Vegas Strip.

Yeah, I just linked Christmas shopping and Sin City. Now it seems even crazier to bemoan the potential extinction of Black Friday.

But you know, Black Friday is just the start of the holiday season. When the day is done, and you’ve made it through the last checkout line, there’s still plenty of time to get in line with the true meaning and important messages of the holiday season.

Chances are, you’ll see one of those messages on a bumper sticker in a parking lot, right next to an abandoned shopping cart.

***

Black Friday Scavenger Hunt!
Score points as you score deals amid the craziness:

Humor Me: Black Friday Scavenger Hunt
 

***
You can use the buttons above to share the column. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!

 
ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders
 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Want my feedback? I've had it with surveys

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------


In my tweens and early teens, I had the typical jobs of the original MTV generation. I mowed lawns, although probably not well, and I delivered newspapers, although definitely not well. (Extra! Extra! Read all about it: your paper might be in the bushes, or on the roof, or somewhere in the nativity scene you set up for Christmas).

A much more exciting job, which I had sporadically over a couple of years, was as a market research consultant. That sounds less impressive when described as “guy who gets paid to eat stuff,” but it was in that role that I helped bring to the American consumer – ta-da! – Hot Pockets.

Yes, I really contributed to one of the most iconic microwaveable products to ever burn the top of your mouth. You’re welcome. And I’m sorry.

Obviously, this Hot Pockets role requires more explanation. But first, although this might seem like a no-signal turn to another subject, won’t you please take this brief survey to help us improve your Humor Me reading experience?


Take a bite ... and then we'll have 100 questions.
On a scale ranging from one, for very high, to five, for very low, how would you rate your level of satisfaction with the column so far? Also, using the same one-to-five scale, how would rate your level of frustration with a column that asks a series of annoying survey questions?

I’ll stop before you begin suffering from survey fatigue, which is a real thing – and becoming common in a world that constantly asks for our opinion.
 
* * *

Every business wants feedback. Surveys come in the mail, they pop up on websites, and they’re bundled with products. Contact customer service for something, and after waiting 10 minutes because of “unexpectedly high call volume,” you’ll probably be asked to take a survey.

After online purchases, merchants almost stalk you with requests for feedback. Sometimes you’re asked to give feedback on the product and then also answer questions about the shipping. And, while you’re at it, won’t you please rate the packaging?

No, sorry. I don’t have time. The restaurant I went to for lunch would like my feedback, and I get a dollar off my next meal if I cooperate. Also, my auto dealership would like to know if I was “highly satisfied” with my last oil change.

Yeah, I guess so. I rarely give much thought to my oil-change satisfaction levels.

I do know that businesses are giving the surveys a lot of thought. They keep firing them at us, so the data must be valuable. But I wonder how accurate the feedback is once we are pushed into “respondent fatigue,” a term used by survey creators and analysts.

Respondent fatigue is what happens when a survey participant gets tired and his or her responses degrade in quality. It’s what was happened to me as a prepubescent research consultant.

It started off great. Ten bucks was a lot for me in the 1980s, and all I had to do was give feedback on microwaveable foods such as cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and what would become known as the Hot Pocket. I had no idea research could be so tasty, as well as greasy enough to ignite my great teenage war on pimples.

* * *

But then I had to start rating everything, and I mean everything. The crust, the cheese, the meat, the sauce, the saltiness, and even the aroma of the item before and after I started eating it. There were pages and pages of questions asking me to bubble in ratings for the texture of everything, and the amount of seasoning and whether something was too moist or too dry. I think I even had to rate the appearance of the “crisping sleeve” that held the Hot Pocket in the microwave.

It was mind-numbing. I stopped giving my answers a lot of thought, and while I don’t think I went totally rogue and randomly selected A, B, C or D, my responses certainly degraded in quality. Respondent fatigue hit hard.

And now it hits us all, at least in some way.

I don’t want to add to the fatigue, so I won’t ask any more survey questions. That might prevent me from getting some valuable information, but on a scale of one to five, with one being very important and five being not important at all, how would I rate that information?

I better end this. Now I’m giving myself respondent fatigue.
 
***
You can use the buttons above to share the column. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!
 
ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders

Friday, October 10, 2014

80s Flashback: Revenge of the Nerds

It's Friday, which is always a fun day for an '80s Flashback.

This week's flashback is brought to you by Fun Dip, the candy that is still around now but was especially popular in the '80s. It was recommended by four out of five dentists who wanted to make more money by filling cavities in kids' teeth.

OK ... Can you remember the '80s movie that featured a fictional university called "Adams" with the fictional mascot of "Atoms"?

Also included these lines:

First guy: "Where are they?"
Second guy: "I think they're talking about us."


Ah yes, they were talking about nerds. Revenge of the Nerds -- I know it well.

I also know that it was filmed on the University of Arizona campus, where I would later attend college. In the clip below, the freshman dorm shown is Cochise Dorm, where I lived for two years. That makes sense, because I was a nerd. But I at least dressed a little better than Louis and Gilbert.

Here's the Revenge of the Nerds movie trailer.

***
You can use the buttons above to share. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!

ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nobody's in my class: memories of the first day of school

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------


Children may be the leaders of tomorrow, but as another school year begins, they’re the grumblers of today. It’s back-to-school time, when kids bemoan the end of summer and parents look forward to seeing their little Einsteins learn new things, strive for new goals and leave the house for eight consecutive hours.

For students in the elementary grades, the learning begins before they even get to a classroom. They arrive at school, scan through the names on the class lists, and then learn that the world has ended.

I don't have any friends in my class!

I remember feeling that pain, and that’s saying something because I don’t remember much about elementary school. My recall of the first through fifth grades is a spotty mental slide show of classrooms, teachers and playground equipment that was so fun it was later considered unsafe. I also have scattered memories of fundraisers that made me a door-to-door salesman for Cajun summer sausage, jalapeno cheese spreads and pecan logs.

Most of it is pretty hazy. But my memories of the first day of school are still pretty sharp, probably because it was such an emotional event. For pre-teens, finding out who is in your class is like playing the lottery.

At Horizon Elementary, home of the fightin’ Panthers and famously injurious merry-go-round, the class rosters were posted on a brick wall near the main entrance. Parents and kids gathered around the dot-matrix printouts, squeezing together near one of the water-fountain troughs. Remember those old-style fountains? They allowed up to four kids, thirsty from running around on the playground, to be simultaneously repulsed by lukewarm water.
Now, everyone stand up and then jump off at the same time!

Dressed in a polo shirt and corduroy shorts (ah, the Eighties!), I walked up to the lists. My heart was pounding. My stomach was twisting. And then my eyes were scanning, just like the kids around me, to discover my fate for the next nine months (aka forever).

No matter what the lists revealed, I tried to absorb the news well. But there were always kids in tears. It was like a group audition for one of those melodramatic ABC Afterschool Specials that taught children important lessons about drugs, teenage pregnancy and bad acting.

The fightin’ Panthers ... yes, we were ridiculously overdramatic. But the students involved didn’t feel that way. When you’re 7, 8 or 9 years old, it’s difficult to have perspective on anything. Everything is over the top and bubbling with emotion, good or bad. Everything rates just short of euphoria or armageddon.
 
When I was placed in the same third-grade class with my two best friends, it was that amazing. I had been attending church and Sunday School classes for years, but having my best friends in my class was the confirmation that God existed. Not only did God exist, He had enough time in his busy schedule to sort classes at Horizon Elementary.
 
But then came the next year. My friends and I were split up, probably not coincidentally, and the world was totally unfair.

“Now you can make more friends,” my parents said.

As a fourth grader, I didn’t want to hear that. But as a parent, that’s the best advice I can offer my kids when the class lists disappoint them. It’s what I would tell any back-to-schooler who feels cheated by his or her new class.

Your best friends weren’t always you best friends, you know. You didn’t bond in side-by-side bassinets at the hospital. You were strangers when you met, and then you got to know each other and became friends. You cemented your friendship through time spent together in class, at recess, and in some cases, at the nurse’s office after daredevil jumps off the spinning merry-go-round.

I’m sure no kid wants to hear that “look on the bright side” lecture. But the students surrounded by unfamiliar faces, especially those kids starting at a new school, can think of it as an advantage. The ability to meet new people, make friends and get along is a great skill to have in this world. This will be a way to improve those skills.

Will that make sense now for the leaders of tomorrow?
 
Maybe not. But by the time their elementary-school memories are turning fuzzy, it should be more clear.
***
You can use the buttons above to share the column. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!

ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The classic family road trip is still fun, and yes, mind-numbingly boring

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------
On the first day of the road trip to Arizona, we loaded the minivan with our three kids and topped off the gas tank for a 10-hour drive. My wife and I knew it would be the toughest day.

The first big haul came on a stretch of U.S. Highway 287, highly regarded for its scenic views of cattle, abandoned gas stations and billboards for XXX video shops. We were just past Decatur, about 75 miles into our planned 650 miles for the day, when my 6-year-old asked a question from the middle row.

No, it wasn’t the classic “Are we there yet?” 

Nathan had already asked that. He was on to bigger things.

“Are we still in the same country?” he asked.

Obviously, Nathan isn’t quite ready for a geography bee. And I’m not sure he was ready, along with his 9-year-old and 11-year-old brothers, for our trip to see cousins, uncles, parents and grandparents. Our trip included a stop at the Grand Canyon, which as you probably know is one of the world’s natural wonders, and we also visited a place that had ice cream in large waffle bowls, which as you might expect is more exciting to kids than a gigantic hole in the ground.

The Grand Canyon
The trip began on Father’s Day – ha ha, super prank on Dad! – and ended eight days later after more than 2,500 miles. Five exhausted family members returned home in one shuddering minivan splattered with hundreds of unfortunate insects.

It was the kind of road trip that families across the country will take this summer. And after seeing all the positives, such as the learning opportunities and family bonding time, I’m left with this thought:

Next time, I think we’ll fly.

So, so much easier. Instead of distracting your kids while passing a car with expletive-laden bumper stickers, you could be perusing SkyMall magazine for a six-foot Bigfoot Garden Yeti statue.

And, hey, after three hours of flying, you might be at your destination. Three hours of driving got us to a Subway restaurant with a broken icemaker. It was in Vernon, which is in Texas, and sadly for Nathan, still in this country.

We’ve flown with the kids before, but driving made sense this time. Flights were expensive, we had a lot of stuff to bring and we needed a car to get around in Arizona. And, despite how draining a road trip can be, it’s really something everyone should experience.

A road trip gives you a long – yes, sometimes too long – look at the vastness and diversity of our country. Big city then small town; mountains followed by deserts; waves of grain, fruited plains, maybe some graffiti on a train. In this world of short attention spans, a long road trip is a good mental workout. And when you’re finished, you feel a real sense of accomplishment, even if you traveled with your iPhone, iPad or other iTimeKiller.

I’ve also learned a lot on our road trips, including how to drive on a road of marbles. That’s what it felt like three years ago when a hail storm hit as we were driving on a winding road in the Colorado mountains. I think my fingernail imprints are still on the steering wheel.

The grander ice cream
On the road trips since then, I’ve learned that you can never have too many trash bags, that you will always need more cupholders and that when kids get bored, they can pretty much eat their weight in snacks. Once the snacks run out, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button phenomenon kicks in.

Do you remember that movie with the main character who ages in reverse?

In the final hours of our long first day on the road, Nathan was doing the same. He started talking like a preschooler, then whining like a toddler, as was ready for a baby carrier as we finally made it to the hotel. Shockingly, at least to Nathan, we were still in the same country.

It was a long day for all the kids, but I wasn’t worried about them. A swim in the hotel pool lifted their spirits, and like with our other road trips, I knew permanent scars could be avoided with the soothing medicine of ice cream.

Preferably in a large waffle bowl.



***
You can use the buttons above to share the column. Click "Follow
@wixonhumor" to get a Twitter update for new columns. To get columns by e-mail, type your address in the box under "Receive columns by e-mail" near the top right of this page. Thanks!

ARCHIVED COLUMNS

Humor Me: A questionnaire for your crazy roommate
Humor Me: If you could, would you be a kid again?
Humor Me: Calculating your own personal heat index
Humor Me: For queen, Olympic smile would be royal pain
Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide
Humor Me: Truth in customer service
Humor Me: 12 CDs for the price of 1 (with nothing more to buy!)
Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July
Humor Me: Yes, my 4-year-old fainted at the hospital when he thought his mom had been turned into a robot
Humor Me: Happy Father's Day, buffoons of America
Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and ugh ...
Humor Me: Lights, camera, spell it or else
Humor Me: Man's best friend at any age
Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out
Humor Me: 90s music in commercials
Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters
Humor Me: One light goes out ...
Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion
Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial
Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares
Humor Me: Sleeping on the job
Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids
Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble
Humor Me: Yoga dropout
Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous
Humor Me: Lover, find your match
Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old
Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout cookies
Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions
Humor Me: Attention frantic shoppers
Humor Me: Here come the carolers
Humor Me: Christmas decorating tips
Humor Me: Holiday brag letter
Humor Me: Dude, I'm getting old
Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating
Humor Me: Where's the actual cat?
Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this
Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas
Humor Me: This might not be a drill
Humor Me: My old friend needs some help
Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge
Humor Me: An appointment men hate
Humor Me: Red, white and Rubik
Humor Me: Your Father's Day future
Humor Me: Swimming with the kids
Humor Me: Spelling out success
Humor Me: So long, old friend
Humor Me: Planning a cheapskate vacation
Humor Me: Florence, Minn., population 61
Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!
Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life
Humor Me: The lost Kit Kat opportunity

Humor Me: Taxing times for Americans
Humor Me: Retirement won't be a tearjerker
Humor Me: A degree in schmooze
Humor Me: Dawdling to a better life
Humor Me: Spring cleaning for the brain
Humor Me: Bring on the energy drinks
Humor Me: Your baby needs an airbrush
Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust
Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too
Humor Me: Baby, it's a world of wonders