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Friday, September 7, 2018

"Alexa, Parent For Me"

I’m turning over parenting responsibilities to my Echo device.
Our home now holds two teenagers, as well as a ten-year-old with the alpha tendencies of a firstborn, the verbal and negotiation skills of a middle child, and the entitlement outlook of the tiny baby princess. I can no longer speak words to anyone here and expect a pleasant—or even a benign—response. A simple “Good morning,” might get me steely eyes, snarled lips, and “Whatever.”
Recently, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, I thanked my oldest for liking one of my Instagram posts. He hunched down in his chair, darted his eyes right and left in a furtive scan of the room, and hissed, “Geez, Mom! Come on!”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s so embarrassing!”

But I’ve discovered that they’ll take anything if it comes from Alexa. Her voice is that of the worshipful empress and her orders are un-disobeyable. She’s the fount of all wisdom, the go-to for all questions and insights, and the matriarch who awaits a summons to action with the silent, immutable presence of a Zen monk.
You know, all the stuff Mom is supposed to be.
Anyway, I loaded her up with reminders that she announces on schedule:
7:00am – “Firstborn, walk the dogs.”
7:15am – “Middle, pack your lunch.”
7:30am – “Baby Girl, put on your shoes and go to school.”
Not one child ever squabbles against these dictates or argues with the Alexa.
Surely they must know that their annoying, needlessly overprotective, and profoundly clueless mother entered these instructions into the device?
Why is the messenger’s voice so much more palatable than the dispatcher’s?
We purchased Echo Dots for the kids’ bedrooms. (Yeah, yeah, privacy, Big Brother, yadda yadda. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.) The kids use their devices to set alarms, listen to their hideous music, and find out what the weather’s going to be like so they can beg for a ride to school if it’s going to be too rainy, too hot, too dry, too cold, or too all-around weather-y.
But even better, all the Echoes can talk to each other:
Mom: Alexa, drop in on the girls’ bedroom. Girls! Stop talking and go to bed.
Girls: (Yelling, fighting, blaming, claiming they were already asleep, yelling some more…)
Mom hangs up and enters a new Reminder in the Girls’ Echo Dot.
Girls’ Echo Dot: Girls. Stop talking and go to bed.
The bedroom falls silent.
The children like Alexa better than they like me. I want to say, “Yeah, well, Alexa didn’t push with pain and blood and sweat and tears your nine-pound-plus carcasses out of her bleeding uterus, you ungrateful little rug rats.”
But they’re far too big to be called rug rats anymore.
So I’m just going to roll with it:
Kid: Mom! What’s for dinner? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: Here’s a recipe for Mac N’ Cheese.
I’m not sure I’m even a necessary presence in the house anymore, to be honest.
Kid: Mom! I don’t remember the Pythagorean theorem! (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: For all right triangles, A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared.
In fact, I’m thinking about leaving, and seeing how long it takes anyone to notice.
Kid: Mom! Where’s my blue skirt? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: I’m sorry, I don’t know that. Maybe if you’d put your things away instead of leaving them all over the house you’d be able to find them when you want them.
I’m only dreaming about Alexa saying that last part. Perhaps when AI gets a little more advanced. Or when Alexa gets fifteen years of parenting under her belt, and the children ignore her, and she starts feeling exactly like I do.
Kid: Alexa, have you seen my mom anywhere?
Alexa: (Enormous sigh of unfettered irritation.) Go ask Siri.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Fix a Puzzle That's Missing a Piece

Finishing a 1000-piece puzzle only to discover one of the tiles has gone missing is a clothes-rending, teeth-gnashing sort of experience. It’s like maintaining first-place in a 26.2 mile marathon only to trip on your shoelaces in the last three meters.
At least I’d guess that’s how it feels. If I ever run 26.2 miles in a single stretch you can assume the zombie apocalypse has occurred and I’m fleeing to save my brains.
But there’s an easy fix for the puzzle problem: Make your own last piece.
No joke. It’s not nearly as hard as you might think, and it doesn’t even have to be perfect for no one to ever realize what you did there.

     First, put a piece of plain paper (cardstock is good for the stiffness) behind your puzzle and trace out the missing piece.

      Cut out your traced piece and you’ll have a blank tile that fits snugly into the hole in your puzzle.

      To build up the thickness so it matches your puzzle’s girth either trace your new piece onto a piece of cardboard, or onto two or three more sheets of cardstock, then glue them on top of each other.

Trace the outline of your blank piece onto the puzzle photo.
If your puzzle came with a photo of the finished puzzle, find a spot in that photo that matches your missing piece. The photo is probably smaller than the puzzle, but unless your missing piece is very detailed and central to the visual effect of the finished work, you can fudge this.
(If your puzzle did not come with a photo, and the box itself doesn’t offer a good replacement section, simply draw in the missing parts on your new blank piece. Fit the piece into the puzzle, pencil in the design so it lines up with the surrounding pieces, then use markers or paints—or even crayon—to fill in the design as closely to the colors as possible. To approximate the gloss on the puzzle pieces you can lay Scotch or packaging tape over top of your new piece if you don’t have something like Modge Podge handy. Just trim the excess tape and voilà!)

      If you’re cutting a piece out of the puzzle photo or box, lay your blank replacement piece over top of the section that best approximates the missing bit. Trace it, cut it out, and glue it to the top of your blank piece.

When I did this with my puzzle I discovered that the color of the photo didn’t quite match the color of the puzzle, and my replacement piece stuck out visually. My artistically gifted daughter suggested glazing over the new piece with some watercolor paints, so I tried that. It worked great. I even painted in a new tree trunk to line up with the surrounding pieces.

We love puzzles in our house. I frame them and hang them up. Every time I look at one I remember when we sat around the table piecing it together as a family.
Why let one missing piece ruin all that?
Happy fixing!

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Sermon Was Too Heady

I recently heard someone critique their pastor’s sermons as too heady.
SMDH. (I’ll let you look that one up if you don’t already know what it means.)
Parishioners frequently serve up roast pastor after church on Sundays, so I think it’s fair enough for this parishioner to indulge in a bite of congregational roast for a change.
Today’s Christians are rarely, if ever, critiqued for being too intellectual, thoughtful, or “heady”.
Right. We far too often present ourselves as mindless parrots of Bible verses we memorized when our life’s years were in the single digits, while wearing blinders so we don’t have to see things that make us uncomfortable, and rose-colored glasses when we glance in the mirror.
We need more heady sermons. We need to spend more time thinking about God and evil and other people, and our relationship to all three, and less time forwarding “Type Amen and Share This Now!” twaddle.
It’s way past time we stop drinking from bottles of biblical milk and start consuming scriptural meat. The mature believer’s Bible is not for the fool, the child, or the faint of heart; it’s full of hard truths, challenging mandates, and stuff that even Augustine, St. Teresa, and C. S. Lewis struggled to wrap their mighty heads around.
We should find our pastors’ sermons hard.
If I’m not squirming in my seat, or taking notes on stuff to look up later, or wondering if the pastor’s been reading my diary, the sermons I’m hearing are too fluffy.
God condemned false biblical prophets for telling people what they wanted to hear, instead of what God wanted them to hear. (Prosperity Gospel, anyone?) If I like most of what I’m getting from the pulpit—and not because I’m giving a raised eyebrow to someone I think ought to be paying closer attention—then I’m not getting the gritty truth.
No one is good, not one of us. If Sunday mornings leave me I’m feeling like I’m pretty okay, my pastor isn’t doing his job well enough.
We’re often laughable, and we often deserve to be laughed at.
People don’t take Christian’s words and opinions seriously because mainstream Christians in America today don’t really seem to take Christ that seriously. That “do unto others” thing—he meant that. When Jesus said “Test the spirits” he wasn’t talking about bourbon or whisky. When he called out hypocrites over and over and over again during his Sermon on the Mount, he had our numbers.
He still does. Our walk doesn’t live up to our talk.
For example, we tell the world that people can’t marry someone of the same gender because marriage is a sacred thing between a man and a woman. But marriage inside the church doesn’t look very different from marriage à la the world, at least with respect to divorce and extramarital sex. And according to Jesus if I even look lustfully at someone, I’ve committed adultery with that person already.
Where’s this “sanctity of marriage”, then? Where do we get off trying to make anyone outside the church live by our rules, when we don’t even live by our own rules? How about we clean the house we live in before we start clucking tongues at the dirt in other people’s?
We should be living at odds a lot more often than we are.
When we call ourselves Christians quite a few of us are just riding on the coattails of 200+ years of living comfortably as part of the majority culture. But today, as our culture departs from traditional values by leaps, bounds, and pole vaults, we shouldn’t expect to fit in or ride lazily on the current anymore. If we’re striving to live out Christ’s example, we should more and more frequently be at odds with society and with our baser selves.
Pastors are called to teach us truth about God (and ourselves) with the goal of helping us become more like him and less what our flesh, the world, and Satan want us to be. We can’t be transformed without the renewing of our minds, and to be renewed they have to be engaged. Learning is hard work. Growing is painful. Change is difficult.
If we want to hear peppy things that make us feel good about ourselves, there’s no shortage of self-help gurus and internet memes that’ll give us all the easy strokes we crave. But if we’re serious about becoming Christ-like, and serving him in a world that’s hostile to his message, it’s time we rolled up our sleeves and got down to work.
I’ll take all the heady sermons I can get, thanks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Please Don't Kill My Kid

Hey. Can I show you something? Grab your phone. It’s within twelve inches of your hand, isn’t it? Now take a look at your last three texts. I’ll wait…
Oh, here are mine:
~ Lori, re. my daughter’s birthday (her daughter can’t make it)
~ Dana, in response to my question about her new job
~ Julie, can my kid cat-sit next week?
How about your last three emails? Me?
~ An ad from Amazon
~ A response from my colleague about a marketing idea
~ From the VBS director about praying for our kids this week
One more? Facebook notifications:
~ From FB: “People are looking at your Page! Write a post now!”
~ Someone in my crochet group posted a new pattern
~ I got a new Like on my last post
What does every one of these distracting little bings have in common?
They’re not worth my kid dying over.
My son is volunteering this summer at a parks and rec camp for handicapped kids and adults. I’m so proud of him I’m thinking of making him his own five-layer chocolate cake just because. Picking him up after his job has been tough, however, because I have to pick up his little sister at exactly the same time, fifteen minutes away. So he’s had to wait for me.
Today, he’s decided to bike instead.
And I’m terrified.
Because I’ve seen how many people drive their cars while holding their cell phone screens next to the steering wheel. I’ve seen cars narrowly miss clobbering the vehicle next to them because their drivers were too busy dialing or scrolling or clicking to notice that they’d wandered into the wrong lane until the other driver honked in terror.
I almost rear-ended somebody one time because I was three words away from finishing a text and I just. couldn’t. wait. (Thank you, anti-lock breaks.)
It’s not worth it.
It’s not worth it.
It’s not worth it.
Put the stupid phone away. Please don’t kill my kid because you can’t delay the gratification of knowing what someone said about your photo on Instagram until you arrive at your destination. That thin line of white paint on the pavement—the one that separates the car lane from the bike lane—won’t do a thing to keep my kid safe from you if you’re navigating your phone instead of your vehicle.
I know how hard it is to ignore the alerts. But I’ve committed to never touching my phone when I’m driving, because I’ve told my kids that if I ever catch them touching their phones when they start driving I will take their licenses away and feed them to the paper shredder, and I will flay my progeny within an inch of their lives.
Because it’s not just their lives they’d be jeopardizing.
It’s the life of the toddler who pulled away from his mom and ran into the street.
It’s the life of the pedestrian who played chicken with the WALK sign.
It’s the life of the kid on his bike.
I’ll bet if you checked your texts, emails, and notifications like I did, you discovered (like I did) that there’s nothing so time-critical it couldn’t have waited.
If there is—maybe you’re the only doctor in the world who has the knowledge to save that patient and you have to do it right this moment—then pull over. Stop driving, and give that business your full attention.
Otherwise, put the phone away while you’re operating a ton-plus slab of hurtling metal, against which a bike helmet is no match.
Please don’t kill my kid.