Happy Birthday, monkey.
This is the first weekend in a long time where we’ve been home. Like, in our own house for two days. Jen has been socked in with work for several weeks, and a lot of it has come to a head, so we thought we’d take a break from driving south to Lexington Park and stay around the homestead. I’ve had a lot of things around the house piling up in our absence, so I took the opportunity to knock a couple of them out.
The first thing was replacing two basement windows that were original to the house. I’d ordered replacements back in March and they finally arrived about a month ago; I’ve been waiting for a solid weekend to tackle the project. Pulling the old windows was pretty quick work—they were only held in by two sets of ancient brass hinges and a hook and eye latch. I cleaned up the wooden surrounds, cut and installed baffles, and slotted them into place. With some careful carpentry the inside baffles got nailed into place, and they got caulked tight. Now we can have open windows and enjoy fresh air in the basement! A miracle.
The second project is one Jen has been asking about since last year: painting the garage to match the house. I started out by scraping the west side and got it ready for paint. After cleaning both my guns and consolidating the remaining paint, I filled the compressor and sprayed out the west side and half of the driveway side before running out. I’m going to have to repair some of the plywood on the front side and do a lot more scraping overall, but it looks pretty good so far.
Finn has been binging a new videogame for the past month, and has been asking me to play with her. It’s a survival/exploration game called Ark, where you land on an island teeming with dinosaurs and have to learn how to gather food, build tools and shelter, and tame those same dinosaurs to help you advance. She’s been playing on her iPad, but I can’t load it on my phone and squint at tiny menus. I saw that it was available for the Xbox so I ordered a used copy on Amazon and installed it on the console. From there it demanded a 100GB update, so we waited days for the console to choke that down (it puts itself to sleep after an hour, so I had to constantly keep it awake) and then two more updates before we could play.
Once that was done, we picked up our controllers and started a new world together. And found, very quickly, that it was almost impossible to navigate in 2-player mode. They split the screen horizontally, so the top half is one character view and the bottom half is another, but they didn’t change the menu system to fit that resolution. So when you go into the menu system (and half the game is spent here) it’s still the size and shape of an iPad and you have to squint at tiny little icons smushed into the narrow space given. It’s like looking at the menu bar of Word 97 through a peephole: impossible unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. I tried for several nights but found it almost unusable.
She then found a new game called Albion and started playing that. Seeing that it was available for the Mac, I downloaded a copy and tried it on my 8-year-old laptop, which slowed to a gelatinous crawl, cooling fans struggling to keep the processor from melting. I thought about it for a day or so and decided I’d pull the trigger and finally buy the iPad Pro I’ve been looking at since they were released. Playing games with Finn was a big part of the decision, but the other reason was that I want to work in Procreate with the Apple Pencil and learn how to illustrate with the system. I bought a new 11″ unit with the Pencil and picked it up at the local Apple Store this past week. The early review is very favorable: playing Albion on it is easy and fun! We spent a couple of hours on Friday getting me set up in the game and understanding how not to die. Now I have to catch up to her character level.
This is the first device I’ve owned with Face ID, and it’s very slick. The Pencil is fast and responsive. I bought Procreate and started fooling around in the program but it’s going to take a lot of time to sort out how I use it and get the most out of it. Getting used to the way the brushes and pressure work is an uphill battle, especially for someone as picky about the tactile feel and orientation of scratchboard tools as I am. I’m going to start out trying to mimic what I know and love, and then see where the app takes me.
Too much going on for updates today, so here’s a picture of my girl from 10 years ago when the weather was warm.
Finn and I are sitting at the dining room table. She’s reading her D&D Player’s Handbook in preparation for the first meeting of the D&D club at school; she just made a new character specifically for the dungeon. I helped her step through the process using an Instructables post that helps one step through the process. The 1st edition Player’s Handbook was pretty terrible back in 1981 about this, and I’m afraid the 5th edition is no better. There should be, as part of the first chapter, a step-by-step explanation of what all the numbers and modifiers and dice rolls and checkboxes are. But no.
I’m still in my pajamas because it’s March 12 and there’s a snowstorm blowing outside, gusting at 50mph. I don’t particularly feel like going outside in that. Thus, I can’t do anything with the Scout, I don’t feel like going out for parts, or really anything else to do with putting real clothes on.
I’ve pretty much reached the end of The Division, my shooter game on the Xbox, so this morning I switched back over to The Division 2 (the one I played first). I’d come to the end of that game as well, but there’s an expansion pack that I’ll probably buy sometime this week to finish it out. I haven’t bothered to go back to my $1.50 copy of Red Dead Redemption after I kept failing the horse-riding tutorial at the beginning, so I’m hoping the D2 expansion pack has a bunch of new content to play.
I took Zachary and Finley snowboarding yesterday, taking advantage of President’s Day and a rare burst of sunny 60˚ weather in our area. We got on the road as early as we could (Zachary stayed the night) and were at the ticket counter by 9:00. Waiting through a long line at the rental counter, we got sorted and were on the slope by 10AM.
Both kids picked it right back up where they left off in 2019 even though they’ve both grown a foot and their center of balance had shifted. Zachary fell a few more times than he wanted to, but I talked to him about the fundamentals and we did a couple of runs together where we just worked on control, braking, and basic steering. He made it off the hill with some bruises but talking about coming back.
Finley surprised me. She started out needing help getting on the magic carpet lift but ended the day riding it herself with no fear at all, threading through traffic easily. By 1PM we’d stripped down to long-sleeve T-shirts under the warm sun.
We left at 3PM, tired and happy, talking about returning next year—hopefully I can arrange another trip this year, before Christmas).
Finley has been going to karate since she was 9. When she was little, we did all the things parents are supposed to do: we enrolled her in dance class, in soccer, and karate. Dance flamed out pretty early; there was an episode where her dance shoes got moved backstage, her anxiety boiled over, and she spent the entire performance crying on the stage, frozen. Thankfully, they say a child’s brain completely resets itself a couple of times before they hit puberty, so I’m glad she doesn’t remember that afternoon; it scarred me for life.
She stuck with soccer for several years, and showed flashes of inspiration while playing defense—playing offense meant she had to run more, and that was not OK. She met some new girls on those teams and did her best to make friends, but those friendships—and soccer—didn’t last. We figured OK, perhaps she’s more motivated by the pursuit of individual excellence, as I was at that age: doing something I could fail at by myself, vs. letting the whole team down by my incompetence and abysmal hand-eye coordination.
So we enrolled her in karate at a fantastic family-oriented dojo in Columbia, where the owners start out teaching kids about concepts like discipline and integrity before the Crane Kick and Sweeping The Leg. She began with a large cohort of kids which slowly winnowed down due to life, lack of interest, and COVID; all through the pandemic we paid our fees and brought her to masked summer workouts in the parking lot. After teens were cleared for vaccinations they went back to in-person training but most of the other kids from her cohort were already gone: they’d all advanced past her, up into the Advanced group. She was with kids who were a foot shorter and four years younger. And she was still avoiding any kind of practice outside of the dojo so all of her forms were terrible. The other part of the test—running a timed mile and a half—has been her cross to bear.
We’ve had multiple conversations with the Master about her situation, and he’s been absolutely understanding. He’s gone so far as to talk with her during and outside of class about her motivation and goals, but as with our family discussions, it hasn’t ever stuck. She’s huffed and puffed through her laps around the building while younger and older kids zip past her. The Master offered her a chance to be a helper during practices, which was meant to inspire her to action, but that didn’t have any effect. Jen started waking her earlier in the morning to get up and run first thing, and after I got over my stay in quarantine I took over escort duty: following her in the car and reminding her to keep running when she stops to walk.
This actually went well for a couple of weeks—there were days where she was able to run almost the entire way without stopping. But there have been setbacks as well. Last week was pretty bad, and she didn’t run over the weekend so I figured Monday would be terrible. I was right.
I’d gone out to clean snow off the car and warm it up, and when I finished I realized she had been standing in front of the house procrastinating. When I asked her why she wasn’t running, she claimed it was too cold and she didn’t want to. I told her to start running or I’d kick her ass down the street (this is not the first time I’ve told her I’d kick her ass, and I was already annoyed that she’d ignored her alarm going off for 15 minutes before getting up). She tested me by looking at me as she walked away down the street, the I’m thirteen, what are you gonna do look on her face we’re seeing more of these days. I walked up and kicked her ass, and she started running.
About an eighth of a mile down the road she’d stopped to walk again, and when I pulled up next to her, she refused to run again. I warned her a second time, and when she kept walking I got out of the car, walked up behind her and kicked her ass again—twice. She just kept walking.
For a moment, I weighed my options. I really wanted to just keep kicking her ass all the way down and back home; nothing would have given me more satisfaction than a tired leg and sore toes from that exercise. I also would have been thrown directly in jail for child abuse. If we lived out in the country with no houses around, my shoe would still be embedded up her ass. But at the risk of doing her real bodily harm, I got in the car, turned around and drove home.
I’m at my wits’ end and supremely, monumentally frustrated with my daughter, for this and many other reasons I won’t get into here. There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt like a good dad. I could, with a glance, read her face and have better than a 90% chance of knowing what she wanted, how she was feeling, or if she just needed a hug. I spent hours with her, trusting my instincts and learning about myself and my own limitations while she taught me how to be a better human—just by being herself. I saw the kind, intelligent, curious little girl she was and my heart swelled with pride just to be with her, just to be her father.
I’ve lost all of that. I’m backed into a corner where I can’t reason with, motivate, inspire, or get this teenager to see common sense. She’s a stubborn mule who gets fixated on particular things to the detriment of herself and all of her relationships. She has absolutely no executive functioning abilities whatsoever. She is pure id and no ego: all cake and no cooking. While I see so much of myself in her every day (and always have, and have always admitted this) I still can’t break through to her. I don’t know how to help her. At some point when I was around her current age I started understanding and accepting the concept of larger responsibilities, and while I grumbled about them and fucked them up, I started doing them. She’s nowhere near this yet—when faced with responsibility she chooses to argue inane logic or feign serious injury and fall asleep on the couch. She can’t learn from her mistakes because she forgets the mistakes and refuses to do things over. We can’t get through to her because she hasn’t realized she needs to be responsible for herself in any way.
This evening, after Jen made us a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner and some homemade dessert, Finn walked behind my chair and put her arms around my shoulders and hugged me tight. I love her so much it hurts, but the line between love and ass-kicking is very thin right now.
We’ve been keeping Finn up to date with world events as much as possible, which can be tricky because we don’t watch network news as a family. I mentioned the Tennessee school district recently banning Maus to her over dinner, and we explained a little bit about what the book was, then asked her to think about why they might be doing that. We had a pretty good family talk. I mentioned something Stephen King said about books being banned—when “they” start deciding what books we can’t read, it’s our job to go right out and read them and decide for ourselves what’s so bad about them. I reached behind me to the library behind our dining room table, pulled out our copy of Maus, and gave it to her to read. She’s currently on page 62.
Here’s a shot of Finn from eight years ago.
Finn had the day off on Thursday due to snow that never really collected here. Part of being in the southern section of Baltimore County is that when the northern areas are hit with snow—thirty miles north of here, at the edge of the Pennsylvania border—it means we’re shut down too. It worked out for her, though, because she had a project for science class due Friday that she’d been avoiding for weeks. After some communication with the teacher via email and phone I got a clear idea of what was due (the paper assignment got lost somewhere along the way) and Finn took the day to finish it.
Friday was a half day, so when she got back home we decided we’d get out of the house as a family and hit the thrift stores for a fun, inexpensive afternoon. There are two in our area worth going to, one in Laurel and one in Columbia, run by the same company and generally a few steps above Goodwill in terms of organization and quality. The Men’s section can often be hit or miss in places like this, and yesterday was no exception. I was looking for a couple more pairs of cheap work pants, and though the Laurel store’s racks are 40 feet long and stuffed with merchandise, I couldn’t find anything there worth buying. Finn and Jen made out a little better, and when we’d checked out there we hit the one in Columbia. Here I was more successful and found two pair of work pants, a copy of Gravity on DVD and a copy of Red Dead Redemption all for about $18. RDR is a game I heard my old boss talking about 12 years ago when it came out, and it sounded like a lot of fun then—an open-ended western with a lot of territory to explore. We’ll see how it goes.
While she was in school, I did some long-delayed adulting. First I made an appointment to get my eyes checked for a new prescription. This yearly-exam shit is a racket that’s really beginning to piss me off; I’ve been thinking I should buy a couple pairs of glasses and skip the exam for the same number of years, as my distance prescription hasn’t changed in thirty years. But the next pair of glasses I get will be progressives for reading now that Warby Parker is covered under my insurance plan.
Then I made a dentist appointment. I haven’t had my teeth checked since before the ‘Rona, and it’s long overdue. I’d also like to price out the cost for getting them straightened: both my upper and lower jaw have done some serious remodeling in the last ten years and I’d like to get things back in line. I think we’re nearing the end of Finley’s braces payments, so maybe I could try Invisalign or one of the other services.