Monday, January 31, 2022

The Pros & Cons of Co-Sleeping


I’m told by an expert blogger that most readers are scared off by large amounts of text (even if these people read thousands of words per day on Twitter). Meanwhile, I refuse to partake in illiteracy-shaming by providing only a written version of albertnet. Thus, I’m offering this post as a vlog, and as a podcast (click Play and don’t look). The full text follows the video.


Co-sleeping is a very controversial practice: you either swear by it or utterly denounce it. The chances of constructive dialogue between people on opposing sides of this issue are negligible. Here I examine both perspectives to help you make an informed choice.

The benefits of co-sleeping

It’s pretty obvious why co-sleeping seems desirable: there’s no putting-to-bed ritual required, which simplifies the bedtime routine. Even more obviously, there’s the intimacy and bonding that are so crucial—and so sweet! “There is an instinctive desire to be close to your babyface,” says Sunita Gupta, a pediatric RN in Austin, Texas, in this article. “Working people who don’t get this closeness throughout the day often look to bedtime to achieve it.”

This is the easy side of the equation, of course. So why are so many people dead-set against this fairly intuitive practice?

The downsides of co-sleeping

Consider this scenario: you’ve fallen asleep reading in bed, and as you roll over on your side and turn out the lamp, you’re aware of this warm presence right up against your belly, all snuggled up. How wonderful! Perhaps you even sigh contentedly as you drift off to sleep … and all is well until the wee hours, perhaps 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., when you realize something is wrong. You feel this strange pricking sensation against your fingertips. Not quite awake, you move your hand—but then you feel that pricking feeling again. And again. It’s like a very faint electrical shock. And then there’s this warm breath in your face, and you realize your little darling is wide awake. And bored. And biting you.

No, she’s not trying to hurt you … just to wake you up. She seems to think it’s feeding time. And here’s where things get really messy: in the next few moments, your every move is crucial—your good night’s sleep hangs in the balance.

Perhaps your best hope is to the grab the little rascal very quickly so you can relocate her—because no way is she going back to sleep. But you’re delusional if you think this is going to be easy. After all, you’re half-asleep and she’s wide awake, not to mention possessed of lightning-fast reflexes. If that first attempt at a bear-hug fails, you won’t get a second one. And let’s face it, your chances of catching her the first time are minimal to begin with. She’s going to squirt out of your arms in a flash, like you stomped on an uncapped tube of toothpaste, and then she’s leaping from the bed and off and running.

Sure, at this point you could do nothing and just try to go back to sleep … but this is nonsense. You know she’ll be back, poking and prodding you, jumping on your stomach, and running all around the bed. There’s nothing to be done but to run after her—and good luck with that. As you chase her around the house, you’re stumbling and bumping into things, but she’s not—cats have six times better night vision than humans, and at a full sprint can reach 30 mph.

Ideally, you could chase her into another room and then leave, closing the door behind you … but how many cats would fall for that? They’re crafty little beasts—and if you’re devoted to the practice of co-sleeping, you’ve inadvertently left them all kinds of escape routes. The conventional wisdom says that if you simply feed your furry feline, she’ll be satisfied and will come back to bed. This is kind of true, in the sense that she will come back—but she’s not coming back to sleep. She’s bored. She wants to play. Cats never sleep through the night—hence the term “catnap.” Your night is ruined, unless wiggling a piece of yarn for five minutes while your cat gets ready to attack it sounds like fun. Congratulations: you’ve just learned the hard way why so many warn against co-sleeping.

A way forward?

“Okay,” you might be saying, “If co-sleeping is so fraught, do you have a better idea?!” Or maybe you’re saying, “Isn’t this the epitome of a ‘first-world problem’?” Or you’re wondering, “What is this blog and how did I get here?” Well, I’ll concede that decrying one bedtime formula without suggesting another isn’t very helpful. So I’ll do my best.

Note that the longer you’ve been co-sleeping, the harder this is going to be. I’m not saying your cat will have developed a “crutch” or anything, in terms of needing to co-sleep, because it’s established fact that cats barely need humans at all, other than as providers of food and shelter. But they do develop habits, which can make it difficult to end the co-sleeping cycle. When one night your cat finds your bedroom door closed, she’ll just sit there and meow. Don’t bother trying to outlast her—a cat cannot be Ferberized. Cats have evolved to be almost infinitely patient, because patience is useful when ambushing prey. Of course they don’t sound patient, the way they meow almost continuously—but rest assured, they can go on forever. You might as well try to outlast a dripping faucet.

But habits can be changed. Chances are, there’s a way to strand your little kitty in a part of the house where her cries can’t be heard from the bedroom. I know this sounds cruel, but bear in mind this animal would happily eat your eyeballs if you died in your home and could no longer feed her. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. (Okay, perhaps not the best metaphor.)

To be clear, sequestering your cat is probably less Machiavellian than Ferberizing a human, because unlike a human baby whose need for you is existential, and whose developing brain cannot reconcile this sense of abandonment, cats are very straightforward thinkers. For them, this is simply operant conditioning. If meowing at the kitchen door doesn’t produce results, they will eventually shrug it off, like if their cat door stopping swinging one day. It’s no more troublesome to them than it would be for you if the guest WiFi password stopped working at your favorite café, and the barista told you guest WiFi was only available on weekdays. (And good on her, frankly … but I digress.)

But what about your needs as a pet owner (or to be more “woke” about it, as the human guardian of a companion animal)? Honestly, this snuggle time probably means more to you than to your cat. Cats are loners, after all, which is why you can leave them home alone all day without them howling miserably throughout your absence like an abandoned pack animal (e.g., dog).

The solution, I think, is to get lap time with kitty during the day, perhaps after dinner (by which I mean her dinner), when you’re reading a book or watching a video. To many guardians, this seems like a recipe for rejection: here you are, reclined in your La-Z-Boy, blanket across your lap, book in your hand, clearly not going anywhere, but the cat simply doesn’t show up. Happily, this is easy to solve: just turn down your thermostat. You might be wearing the coziest cashmere sweater in the world, but if there’s deliciously warm air gushing out of a heater vent, the cat’s going to choose that every time. Get yourself a warmer throw blanket (I have a down-filled one), nix the central heat, and you should be in business.

This way, when it’s your bedtime, it’s hers too. Figure out a nice place for her to sleep—the crook of an armchair, a gap between throw pillows on a sofa, sometimes even a cardboard box, if that’s where your little darling likes to sleep—and put her there before you retire. It’s possible she will start to appreciate the ritual and won’t even jump up and try to race you to the door as you leave.

Caveat: ssshhhhh!

Whatever approach you take to co-sleeping, I highly recommend you not talk about it with anybody. And why not? Because if your interlocutor agrees with you, that’s bound to be a pretty boring conversation. And if he doesn’t—well, then you’ve got a pointless argument on your hands and all you’ll do is lose face. This is too emotionally charged an issue to discuss rationally … you might as well talk about politics or religion. This other person’s good night’s sleep is not your problem.

(Am I a hypocrite, then? No. This blog post being a one-way broadcast, I am not putting you on the spot here. Sleep with your cat, or don’t … I don’t need to hear about it. If you found this post useful, great. If you disagree with me, just close your browser, and accept my apologies for wasting your time. And if you don’t even have a cat … well, then, why are you here?!)

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Monday, January 24, 2022

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume II


It’s another slow news day. So, taking a cue from Can’t and Won’t, a collection of very short stories, essays, letters, and recounted dreams from Lydia Davis (click here for details), I’m assembling and posting some excerpts from some old letters to my brothers. (My first set of these is here.) These bits and bobs should be better than actual diary excerpts because at least I wrote them with an audience in mind, so I had incentive to make them good. I’ve provided, for each snippet below, the locale I was writing from.

April 24, 1989 – UC Santa Barbara

I went to see this movie, required for my English class, in one of the lecture halls on campus tonight. I planned to hit Gold’s Gym afterward since it was closed at 6:00 this morning when we rode down there (they said due to “water damage,” whatever that means). Anyhow, the movie’s supposed to be at 7:30, but the bozos can’t figure out how to lower the screen. They spend twenty minutes on that. Then, they can’t figure out how to turn off the lights—another ten minutes down the drain. Then, for twenty more minutes they can’t get any sound for the movie. Meanwhile I’m sitting next to this funny looking guy and this stupid girl with him who’s staring at the ceiling and laughing at everything and reminding me of one of one of the groupies I’d have if I were a rock star. Out of the blue, the guy turns to me and says, “You want gum?” Is it okay to accept gum from strangers? It’s Extra gum so I take the risk. It’s really rubbery, really slippery, good for blowing bubbles. Finally, after forty-five minutes they get the movie going. Halfway through, I blow a bubble a bit too aggressively and the gum goes flying out of my mouth, and you know what? I never found it! I was really slouching, with my feet up on the seat in front of me, so I was sure it landed on my clothes, but it was nowhere to be found. Not on the floor, my clothes, anywhere. Gone. Vanished. Anyhow, the movie was great but needless to say I didn’t have time to lift weights afterward.

I’ve got some new music. First of all, and don’t scream, I’ve been turned on to rap music by Captain John Pelstar. So I’m getting into Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy, and Ice-T. You can hate me if you want, but once you start listening to this shit it’ll probably grow on you too.

Jesus, what the hell am I doing? I’ve gotta read Huis Clos (aka No Exit) by Sartre, in the original French; memorize about 4.5 billion vocab words for same; and write a 6-8 page paper on a 400-page book! I’ve got a final exam on Friday, on Saturday, on Monday, on Wednesday, and the following Friday! Holy shit!

But wait, there’s one more thing I gotta tell you. I’m spreading a new rumor through the cycling team. The rumor is: we’re being sponsored by Club Tan this season! Unlimited free tanning for everybody on the team! But you didn’t hear it from me! What’s scary is we’re scraping so low now for sponsors that everybody actually believes this. I told Mike B–, who’s on the sponsorship committee, and even he believed it! Now that he knows it’s just a BS rumor, he’s been spreading it around too. By the time the season rolls around, everybody will “know” about it. Shit, I really gotta go.

October 28, 1989 – Isla Vista

So I’m riding with Brett, a really cool guy on the cycling team (aren’t they all) and we’re exiting Highway 101 toward Goleta. The exit is long and uphill, and we’re going really slow because it’s a rest day. We pass this racer type, wearing some fancy Rincon team outfit, and we say hi but she doesn’t even acknowledge our existence. So we keep riding up the hill, and at the top there’s a stop sign where we turn right. I always run it, since there’s never any cars there. In fact, I once ran it right in front of a cop and he didn’t bat an eye. It’s that much of a blow-off. So I’m behind Brett, and oddly enough he actually starts to slow down. So I decide to go around him on the right, and no sooner do I start to pass him than the Rincon girl comes surging up the right side, without warning, almost plowing into me. Stunned, but still unwilling to brake, I decide to go around Brett’s left side instead. As I’m coming around, I look again at the girl, like, “What is she thinkin’?” Then, I hear a noise behind me. I look over my left shoulder and this truck is suddenly bearing down on us. No problem, he has plenty of room, I think. So I look forward again, and to my horror, Brett has slowed down even more and I’m hopelessly hooked on him. I have nowhere to go because of the truck, and my bike seems to have locked into his somehow. My bike gets pulled out from under me, and my butt is falling towards the rear wheel. If my butt were to land on the wheel, it would drag my balls into the brake caliper and drag me along like that, ruining my chances of ever being a father. In the nick of time, I manage to pull my right foot out of the toe-clip and stand up on it, though the bike is still being dragged along, and my left foot is still in its pedal. My left hand is holding onto the top of the handlebar, and I’m sliding on my right foot now, with my right arm swung high like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. To give you a better perspective of how grave the situation is, I should perhaps mention that the right side of the handlebar is dragging on the ground, while my puny left arm is holding the bike up as I watch my brand new Dura-Ace Integrated 8 rear derailleur coming precariously close to hitting the asphalt. I also need to protect my precious Dura-Ace right brake lever so I’m yarding on that handlebar with all my might. I slide like this for some fifteen feet, before Brett’s bike finally lets go of mine and I grind slowly to a stop. Total damage: to body, none. To bike, three inches of torn Benotto tape valued at 95 cents. (I fixed it up with electrical tape; I don’t use that part of the handlebar anyway.) I can’t believe I didn’t go down; indeed, Brett said later he was just waiting for the terrible scraping sound and my blood-curdling scream. So the end result was that disaster was once again narrowly averted, making me more cocky than ever.

October 31, 1990 – Berkeley

The owner of the bike shop has got a really cute kid, like eighteen months old. The wife brings him by daily. He already seems intrigued with the bike parts, and likes to drag a floor pump around the shop with him. He’ll hold the hose up to his face and point the handle towards you, so you pump it and give him a blast of air. This makes him giggle like crazy. Every now and then he’ll wander into the shop area and look up at me and say “Papa?” Today I said, “Can you say Dana?” and he did, the little rascal. Then he took a few swipes at a bottom bracket with a screwdriver, which is about the level of proficiency of most of our mechanics, so I figure he’ll be doing spot repairs within a year and everything else before kindergarten. That’ll be good for the shop, because he’ll be free to work full time unlike us college kids who only do 10 or 12 hours a week.

September 12, 1991 – Berkeley

So I’m biking down Bancroft, a street that borders the campus to the south, and I see this young female student being heckled by a homeless dude in army fatigues. He’s in the street spitting on a car (presumably hers), and she’s across the car on the sidewalk, and in a rage she throws this jar at him. Of course it misses, and hits the ground like a foot from me, sending broken glass flying across my legs. In shocked disbelief I watch as the homeless dude runs around the car at her as if to attack her, but before I can see what happens this car behind me, totally oblivious to the mêlée, starts honking at me and I have to get out of the way. I tell you, this is a weird place.

September 22, 1993 – San Francisco

Planetary Gear is a kinda dumb name for a really cool bike shop. It’s this tiny, cramped place with a giant Simplex clock on the wall, posters of great racers of the past, and old antique bikes everywhere. All kinds of ancient celeste-green Bianchi framesets, these cool Dutch Mary Poppins bikes like Geoff’s probably riding these days, old Gazelles and Allegros and an occasional Basso. It definitely has that old, retro Euro flavor. Not a click shifter or clipless pedal in the place. The owner, Grant, is this youngish looking guy, as Euro as his shop, who coolly dangles a cigarette from his lips and looks at you with a curious, slightly judgmental look, his eyes twinkling boyishly like Mickey Rourke’s, as if he’s deciding whether to laugh at you or take your money or both. He’s an expert at maximizing the flash and panache of a tired old Italian road bike, and selling it for more than it cost when it was new and state-of-the-art. I’ve seen him really rip some people off, but I figure, heck, at least they’re not being ripped off on something lame, like one of those Allsop Softride monstrosities. Besides, he is selling the last vestige of Western Civilization; he should be well compensated for that.

I drop by every so often, but I never actually do any business. For the most part, my bikes are pretty modern. And then when I finally did go in on Saturday to do buy something—I needed a spring for the ancient Mafac cantilever brake on my commuting bike—Grant wasn’t even there. Some other guy was working who didn’t seem too with it. No shirt, no shoes, no service—and I mean the guy, not the shop policy. Anyway, he ignored me for a while, but after I stared at him long enough he finally said, “Yeah.” I asked if they had a Mafac cantilever spring, and I pointed to an old cross bike that, of course, had them. “For this brake right here.”

He smirked. “Yeah, I’ve got that, but I can’t sell it to you.” This seemed to please him and—oddly enough—me as well. “You gotta come in Wednesday or Thursday and talk to Grant about that,” he said.

          “Why,” I said.

          “Well, because … huh. Let me see your bike.”

          “It’s not here. I’ll bring it in Wednesday and show it to Grant.”

          “Yeah. Do that. Cause he’s real picky about where that stuff goes.”

December 11, 1995 – San Francisco

I started my new job today. They took me out to lunch to a really cool place. It was nice, but not exactly posh—very old-fashioned San Francisco-ey. Our booth was solid oak. There was a button on the wall that rang a buzzer to call our waiter. He was an old but spunky fellow with a mouth. Somebody asked if the lemonade was fresh squeezed; he returned with a glass of water and pointed to a bowl of fresh lemon wedges that had been on the table the whole time. “Make it yourself,” he said. Later, when somebody tried to order a chicken dish, he said, “Come back at dinner. We haven’t killed the chicken yet. It would be way underdone.”

Our discussion during lunch ranged from the industry and technology itself—which is sufficiently interesting that even non-dorks can participate—to the tale of a fellow employee who, when skydiving for pleasure, had a parachute failure. The failure, the raconteur explained, was of the “Mae West” variety: the cord somehow got flung up over the parachute, causing it to fail to fill all the way. The name derives from its looking like a bra. It is less drastic than another type of failure called the “candle,” which is almost always fatal. This colleague lived, but was in traction for a while.

September 18, 2008 – Albany/Boulder

Sorry to hear about [your daughter] Lydia’s bike crash. You can tell her the following story to cheer her up. On the day of freshman orientation [back in 1984] at Fairview High [in Boulder, Colorado], I somehow found myself in the position of getting a ride there from D—. But not in a car, of course, but on the rack of his bike. So we were flying down Greenbriar Blvd, where it drops down from Shanahan Ridge, and D—’s Dr. Who scarf was flying out behind him, and he let out a couple of whoops, for sheer joy. Suddenly, the weak part of my brain, the insecure part, the part that fixates about good First Impressions and whatnot, kind of took over, and I worried about what people would think, since I was starting at this new school that none of my junior high classmates were attending, so I had to make all new friends. What would my classmates think if they saw me on the back of D—’s bike? They’d probably think I was his bitch.

I decided I just couldn’t stay on there, on the rack of this bike piloted by Dr. Who. So I bailed off the back. The weak, insecure part of my brain is pretty stupid, of course, and neglected to notice that we were really flying. How fast? Well, it was a steep downhill, so we probably doing like 20 mph, and I’m thinking maybe even more. I mean, it was enough speed to start D— whooping, after all.

So, you can guess the rest. I didn’t exactly hit the ground running, but I sure hit the ground. I did one of those stage slides like heavy metal rockers were doing during that era, where I slid on the tops of my shoes and—more importantly—my knees. Just ripped those kneecaps right open, like you’d taken a planer or a rasp to them or something. (I was wearing shorts, unfortunately.)

So after that I was going around freshman orientation gushing blood from both knees. I considered for a moment that the girls might be impressed by my toughness and my stoicism, but of course they were just grossed out, I mean just totally disgusted. I’m amazed I don’t have scars from it. And of course I had to try to answer to D— when he asked, incredulously, “What did you do that for?”

I really didn’t know what to say. I guess I just shrugged. “Didn’t realize how fast we were going, I guess.” It was odd, though ... I felt somehow as though justice had been served. I felt like I deserved the pain and the public scorn, for thinking I was too cool for my friend.

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Monday, January 17, 2022

COVID-19: Helping Teens Cope


In case you are suffering a migraine, or your contact lenses are too strong, or you can’t find your reading glasses, or you just plain hate to read, I am offering this post as a vlog. You can even blindfold yourself and pretend it’s a podcast. On the other hand, if you can’t stand the sight of my face and/or are teaching somebody how to read, scroll past the video ... the entire text awaits. Don’t miss the artwork from my daughter Lindsay!


Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is a grind for everyone. It’s tempting to think teenagers have it easier since they’re invincible, invulnerable, and impervious to disease, or at least think they are—but actually, the pandemic could be especially hard on them. Why? It’s because they’re in the very flower of life as opposed to those of us who kind of gave up long ago and are just running out the clock.

If you’re a parent of a teen or young adult, perhaps this post will help you support your child. And if you’re not a parent, but have a taste for schadenfreude, you should read on, too.

The pitfalls of COVID for the young

According to this article, typical teens’ reactions to global crises like the pandemic include feeling “stressed or overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, worried or anxious, restless, agitated, … teary, sad, fatigued or tired,” and they could be “losing interest in usually enjoyable activities or finding it difficult to feel happy.” Unfortunately, these are also totally normal symptoms of being a teenager, so it’s really hard to tell how, or whether, the pandemic is affecting your teen or young adult.

Some problems are undeniable, of course. Outside of the anxiety and stress, there’s the simple matter of not getting to hang out with friends, or doing so with all kinds of restrictions. Resentment can develop when your kids’ friends have cooler, more permissive parents. On top of that, kids are understandably just sick of everything: the online schooling, the distancing, the masking, and the hand washing. Yes, we parents are sick of these things too, but at least we grasp that they’re actually important, since we don’t have delusions of invincibility.

So what is to be done? Articles like this one and this one recommend getting more exercise. This is a fine idea, except that a) it’s so eye-rolling-ly obvious, and b) the likelihood of its adoption is empirically low. According to this article a study has just found that only 1 in 10 teens is getting enough exercise right now, vs. the (already poor) figure of 16 percent who were exercising enough pre-pandemic.

Can parents help? Well, you could start by setting the right example. If you suit up and go running or biking, there’s a chance your kid will notice. Better yet, try taking an online Zumba class with your kid. That should help, I think … though I’ll admit I haven’t tried it. (I just mentioned it because I like the word “Zumba” and am hoping it’ll help this post show up in Google searches.) My wife and I did do an impromptu dance party today, which got our eighteen-year-old giggling quite a bit, while also introducing to her the novelty of actual rock music coming out of actual speakers instead of just earbuds. (I would explore this dance party concept even more, except that my wife made fun of my moves, and my kid gets gobs of exercise anyway.)


As pointed out by this website, you should “teach self love,” starting with self-care. Unfortunately, the advice is given only via an infographic so there aren’t actual instructions, but I have a few suggestions. First off, it’s not enough to just advise self-care; you need to practice what you preach. I’m talking about that stupid COVID beard you’ve grown. It doesn’t make you hip, and there’s too much grey in it, and it lowers the effectiveness of your KN95 mask, for crying out loud. Shave it off already. And if you’re a mom, keep your legs shaved and make sure your daughter notices. (Note that leg-shaving can be a highly political matter; if you leave your legs hairy on purpose, point this out, and celebrate it. Tell your daughter, “I want my legs lush, like I’m a coed at UC Santa Cruz. And I always shampoo them when I shower.”)

Self-care isn’t limited to nice things we can do for our bodies; it’s also about the damaging behaviors we should avoid. Remind your teenager not to seek comfort in drugs or alcohol. According to the CDC, “These substances can weaken your body’s ability to fight infections, and increase the risk of certain complications associated with COVID-19.” Beyond that, it’s obviously harder to remember to wear a mask or socially distance when you’re totally tripping or drunk off your gourd.

You should also bear in mind that there’s more to self love than self-care. Self love can include a bit of good old fashioned vanity and/or self absorption. Maybe it’s time to finally give your kid that “DAMN I’M GOOD” bracelet your dad bought back in the ‘70s and passed down to you.

But don’t go overboard with self love! When people are suffering, there’s always the risk they’ll become insufferably self-absorbed. It’s important to try to remind them of the larger world around them and the unique problems others face. Start with the fiscal waste of the pandemic. If your child is in college, bemoan the already egregious cost of their tuition and dorm fees, which are basically being totally wasted. If your kid is in high school, talk about the heinous property taxes you pay to support that school, and how it’s all for naught because so little actual learning is happening. Explain how you’re being robbed blind on these KN95 masks, and how rising inflation, fueled by supply chain problems, could be the next great economic crisis. (In general you should try to work the phrase “supply chain” into conversation whenever possible, because it totally improves your cred.)

How to draw teens out about COVID

Where can teens and young adults go for advice, sympathy, or just someone to vent to? Certainly not their friends, to whom they have to present a brave, stoic front. And their teachers—overwhelmed with technical issues such as remote learning, COVID tests, and contact tracing—clearly don’t have time. Once again, the job falls to us parents, as if we asked for this. So the question becomes, how do we get our kids to open up?

Here’s one way: announce to your kid(s), “Let’s all sit down in the living room. Your father and I are creating for you a safe space to share your feelings while we listen without judgment.” It might take a moment or two before your kids open the floodgates, but as long as you just sit still, with your hands in your lap, gazing at your children with pure love and devotion spread across your face, they’ll launch right in before you can say “mindfulness training.”

Naw, I was just screwin’ with you. Of course that would never work. Let’s turn to the experts for suggestions. Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist and school counselor, advises here that you should “make space for relief and joy.” Sounds easier said than done, eh? I for one have no idea how such a thing could be accomplished. But remember, our kids are smarter than we think. Why not put it to them to figure this out? You can say to your son, “Brent … I know this pandemic is hard on you. You’re hurting, I get that. But the thing is: you need to make space for relief and joy.” Then just watch as he tries (or doesn’t even try) to keep a straight face. Smirking, giggling, or outright laughing at you isn’t exactly the same thing as joy, but it’s somewhat close. Obviously this is a short-lived pleasure, just a little burst, so follow it up with another: use the word “quaranteenagers” in a sentence. Then hit him with the one-two punch of “lean in” and “show up.” He’ll be in stitches.

It’s crucial to show your support by communicating with your children on their own terms. It’s tempting to hover over them dropping bits of advice here and there, like shaking bacon-bits on a salad, but remember, lots of modern kids are vegetarians, figuratively speaking. (Okay, that metaphor got kind of screwed up … sorry.) Suffice to say, words are not necessarily what our kids need. Gestures, behaviors, and actions “speak” louder. For example, my younger daughter doesn’t exactly gush when I meet her eye and say, as sympathetically and authentically as possible, “How are you doing?” But recently I bought her a totally sweet camera and she really responded well. I mean, she didn’t talk too much (other than to say thank you, having not been raised in a barn thank you very much), but weeks later, she spontaneously kissed my forehead. (I’ll confess I flubbed the moment, because as she approached I instinctively recoiled, but so long as I remain gainfully employed, I’ll surely have other opportunities like this.)

Managing our own distress

This helpful article reminds us not to snap at our teens, pointing out that “this is good advice at any time, but it’s particularly important right now.” Well, this is a simple enough concept, but what about us parents … aren’t we totally stressed too? What if venting like this is necessary for our own coping?

It’s tempting to ignore this “don’t snap” advice as wildly unpractical, but actually, there is a way forward. If you have a cat, you can berate her as a proxy for your child. “Now Fluffy,” you can say, “you’re an absolute disgrace. I’ve seen you washing, which looks life self-care, but I know where that disgusting tongue has been. And I can smell your cat box from here. Ugh.” Fluffy couldn’t care less (unless you raise your voice, which could startle her). Best of all, you’ll feel terrible after admonishing that innocent creature, so you’ll give her all kinds of love, which makes you both feel better. (Well, okay, maybe it only makes you feel better, but still.)

Note: do not try this with your dog! As tempting as it is to say, “BAD Waldo! You are a VERY BAD DOG!” you simply mustn’t. Dogs are very sensitive. At least, I think they are … I’ve never had a dog. Anyway, if your pet happens to be canine, leave the poor animal alone. Go out and buy one of those Hasbro Ugly Dolls, or even a Yoda action figure or something, and just chew its freaking head off! Tell it how awful it is, how useless, how selfish, how lame. You’ll feel a lot better, and if you don’t, then alternately abuse and comfort the doll, in kind of a lather-rinse-repeat style. Or not. I actually have no idea how/if this would work. Forget I said anything. (Man this pandemic thing is hard!)

Confronting fear

Perhaps the biggest problem for teens isn’t how to wash their hands more effectively, or how to best maintain social distance, or how to tolerate the 0.5-second-long pin-prick of being vaccinated. The real issue is their fear. This kind of global crisis has never before happened in their lifetimes, and none of them ever paid attention in History class during that unit on the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. (If my teachers even covered that, I sure as hell wasn’t awake.)

So you need to confront this fear thing head-on. Convey to your teenager that it’s okay to be scared. Note that teens don’t want to be preached to, so it’s important to let this sentiment seem like their idea. The best way to do this is reverse-psychology. Say to them, “Oh, are you scared? Can’t handle a little stay-at-home? Totally freaked out just because your little world got shaken up a bit? Oh, is that needle gonna hurt too bad?!” (Stop short of the old “Chicken! Braaawk-brak-brak-braaawk braawk!” bit because they won’t get the reference.) When your kids push back and say, “Hey, Dad, it’s a global pandemic, I have every right to feel afraid!” then you know they’ve become true believers, because this will be coming from them. (Just don’t ruin the moment by pointing out that “global pandemic” is technically redundant.)

The tech dilemma

Remember my comment earlier, about the problems that can arise when your kids’ parents are cooler and more permissive than you? Well, you should be careful when your draconian policies extend to the virtual world, with restrictions on your kids’ Internet use. Some experts, such as the authors of this article, are actually advising parents to lighten up on “tech time” restrictions. And yet, others (like this one) warn that too much social media, and too much COVID news, can really bring your kid down. Here’s one way forward: if your WiFi equipment is sophisticated enough, consider removing the time-of-day restrictions, but implement a DNS blacklist so that the only site your child can reach is albertnet. This blog is like 99% news-free and all the hateful comments are directed at me … so it’s a safe space on the Internet for your teen.

Surely some experts would find my solution extreme, and that’s fine … but why haven’t they addressed the increase in bullying and other insensitive behavior our kids can expect as their so-called friendships go virtual? It’s much harder to be sensitive online than in person … meaning the pandemic will just compound the problem. If you’re lucky, your kid will mention to you the anguish that is gradually building through this ongoing fusillade of small-scale abuse. This is the time to “be there” for your kid, to make sure he knows you’re on his side. Tell him, for example, “Really, Ricky posted that? Well you know what? He’s an asshole.”

What about videogames? I’ve heard they’re a great way to blow off steam. Should parents be worried about violence and other thematic content? Probably not, so long as their kids don’t actually play these games. I know almost nothing about them, but a little bit of research turned up a game called Boyfriend Dungeon, which (according to this Wikipedia article) is “a role-playing game mixed with a dating simulator, in which the potential romantic interests are generally male characters that can turn into weapons that can be used within dungeons,” with “stalking and emotional manipulation of the player-character.” With games like this, who needs a deadly virus?

Now, I’m probably not being totally fair here, since my knowledge of these games isn’t firsthand. A neighbor of mine was going through a divorce some years back, and I asked how his son (aged eight or so) was doing. My neighbor replied, “Oh, he’s got his [World of] Warcraft, he’ll be fine.” I am happy to report that this kid, who’s probably in high school now, hasn’t yet opened fire on anybody. So I suppose you should go ahead and allow gaming to be your child’s pandemic panacea if that seems to be their thing.

What if the pandemic is helping your kid?

Now, is it possible your child is feeling stress or guilt because the pandemic is going just fine, and in fact has its benefits for her? Of course! This article acknowledges that some kids may have “commitments they didn’t want to keep or some people (classmates, teachers, coaches) they didn’t want to see, so this crisis might actually bring some relief,” but assures us this doesn’t need to be seen as a problem, since “it’s also OK to be happy.” The article suggests you tell your kid, “There’s no right or wrong way to feel.” I actually disagree with this (for example, it’s wrong to feel compassion for anti-vaxxers, those fricking savages) but the overall idea is a good one. You can tell your kid, “Look, the reality is, your standard of living has always been higher than that of most of the world’s population; this country was built on slavery and the eradication of the native population; and all your clothing and electronics are made in overseas sweat shops by underpaid children with no benefits. So there’s ample precedent for you to come out just fine while others across the globe are suffering. Why worry about that now? Just be happy that you’re happy!” I’m sure she will feel much better.

Your teen has COVID … now what?

If your teen gets COVID, he or she is bound to feel pretty humiliated, given all the haranguing you did about staying safe, and all the resources available that he or she obviously failed to take advantage of. In this instance you need to take an honest look at how your teen is doing overall vs. yourself. If you’re in an even worse way, then it may be time to go ahead and rub it in, saying, “I told you so!” and “You should have listened!” and maybe even “You’re getting what you deserve!” This will of course be devastating for your child, but it’ll feel so good for you, it’s probably worth it. On the other hand, if your kid has been suffering even more than you, then his or her feelings come first and you need to do whatever is necessary to prevent guilt or shame from surfacing. “Whatever is necessary” basically means saying, with utter sincerity, “Hey, don’t feel bad—it happens to the best of us.” Now, “sincerity” in this case means you speak from experience. That’s right, it’s time to go get COVID. Head down to an indoor megachurch service, replete with a full choir, preferably in Houston, and don’t you dare wear a mask!

But seriously…

Okay, I had a little fun here, but you might be thinking, “Hey, this is no laughing matter.” I would politely disagree—to me, almost everything is a laughing matter—but I will concede that we should take this issue seriously. Perhaps this post at least has you thinking about how the pandemic affects your teen, and if nothing else I’ve linked to ten perfectly sincere and potentially helpful articles.

More reading on the pandemic

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Saturday, January 8, 2022

The DUMB Approach to New Year’s Resolutions


Well, it’s that time of year again, when people start sentences with “it’s that time of year again.” What’s worse, it’s the time for countless articles about New Year’s Resolutions, and why people fail at them, and how to finally get them right. As you can see, I’m just adding to the problem—but this post is different because I’m right, whereas all those other articles are wrong. So keep reading!

Why not SMART resolutions?

One of the most hackneyed mnemonics for setting the right resolutions is taken from preexisting theory about goal-setting (another quagmire of behavioral theory). We’re told to make our resolutions SMART: that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Even the New York Times published a New Year’s Resolution article on that theme, here. Now, to be fair, that article does go into some other stuff that is useful, like breaking bad habits down into cues, routines, rewards, and alternatives (for example, if the cue is you’re tired, and the routine is you light a cigarette, and the reward is you feel stimulated, the proposed change in behavior is, “Instead of smoking a cigarette, replace the stimulus with something else, like cocaine”). But all the stuff about SMART is so tired (the NYT cited it in another article here, for example), and it’s empirically ineffective. People have been touting SMART goals since 1981 and yet it’s still just this hypothetical notion of what behavioral framework people should adapt to. If it were that great an idea, its actual practice would be commonplace.

(Note: my fact-checker has just alerted me to a typo in the preceding paragraph. The NYT did not in fact recommend cocaine as a nicotine alternative. They recommended coffee. But it’s too late to go back and fix my error now. Also, my fact-checker has just pointed out that “hackneyed mnemonics” would be a good name for a rock band. Fair enough, but this guy is starting to bug me.)

So, where was I? Oh yeah: it’s bad enough how old and tired SMART is, but actually, I think most New Year’s Resolutions fail because they’re SMART. So I’m going to teach you how to succeed by making DUMB Resolutions.

DUMB? Am I kidding? No, for once I’m not. I believe the best New Year’s Resolutions are duplicate, unimpressive, mealy-mouthed, and best-effort. I shall explain.


This article in Forbes declares that the #1 “really bad” New Year’s Resolution is something you’ve failed at before. The writer snarks, “If you haven’t been able to keep a resolution before, what makes you think that things will be different this year?” To me, this is just defeatist thinking. Is that how life works—if you ever fail at something, you should just give up? I’m reminded of Homer Simpson’s advice to Bart (which I’ve repeated, albeit ironically, many times to my children), “If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”

This “fail fast” notion is specifically refuted in another article, in the New York Times, which points out that many Resolutions fail because the new behaviors are difficult and have to be worked up to gradually. The writer advises, “No marathon runner ever steps up to the start line in a big race without putting in the training miles. He or she has been practicing for months, if not years. You should do the same with your New Year’s resolutions.” He recommends starting on your Resolutions in December, so that even if you stumble at first and your Resolution feels futile, January hasn’t even started yet so you won’t get discouraged.

Great point, but why limit yourself to starting a month in advance? If you spent the first three months of last year trying to implement a lifestyle change but abandoned it, you surely learned a lot in that time and there’s no harm making adjustments and trying again. I doubt many smokers have kicked the habit on their first try, but many have indeed kicked their habit eventually.

(Note: my fact-checker has just asserted that “duplicate” might not be exactly the right “D” word here, because a recycled-but-tweaked Resolution isn’t in fact an exact replica. He suggests the D should be for “derivative,” and though he has a point, you may be pleased to learn that I just whacked him and told him to shut up.)


That’s right, I’m actually going to explain why impressive Resolutions are more likely to fail. Why? Well, the question to ask yourself is, why am I even doing this? If your goal is to be able to tout something, that Resolution will probably only last as long as the annual chatter about Resolutions. I read some article ages ago (and I tried to have my fact-checker go chase it down, but he’s not talking to me) which was really interesting: it asserted that boasting in advance can actually lower your chances of achieving something, if the approval of your peers is the main point. Why? It’s because, having enjoyed the accolades already, the person no longer has much motivation to actually do the thing.

I have seen this play out. I worked with a guy over twenty years ago who was, it must be said, kind of a douche. For example, he once called in sick so he could go skiing, instead of just using his vacation time like an honest person, and was found out because when he left his “cough-cough gosh I’m feeling too sick to come in today cough-cough” voicemail for his boss, he was calling from the ski lodge and accidently put the call on hold instead of hanging up, and instead of hold music they had a running ad for the various amenities of the resort. His boss played the voicemail for all of us in the lunchroom, following which another colleague called the guy’s cell phone and left a voicemail of his own: “Enjoy the slopes, dude!” with all of us laughing in the background. (No, that has nothing to do with bragging-in-advance; it’s just to convey this guy’s douchiness.)

So anyway, that spring the douche announced to the whole office that he was going to run some local marathon on such-and-such a date. Seems like a SMART goal, right? And then for the next two or three months I had to endure all his updates about how the training was going, etc., and everyone was really interested and supportive and impressed, which got old since the guy was such a douche. Finally, the day of the marathon came and went but I didn’t hear any updates. So I asked him about it and he said, “Oh, I didn’t end up running it. I got sick.” Where had I heard that before?

An unimpressive Resolution won’t lead you into this scenario, and besides, self-improvement should be private anyway, and its benefits should be their own reward, rather than anything you’d tout. For example, I could resolve to bore people less. You could never try to impress people by sharing this Resolution with them (i.e., admitting something lame about yourself), and isn’t that kind of the point? Instead, if I’m successful with this, people might gradually decide, “You know, I always thought that Dana guy was kind of a tool, I mean just totally boring, always blathering about stupid stuff like farting, or the spelling of “kindergartner,” or his frickin’ colonoscopy or whatever, but lately I find him a lot less annoying somehow … maybe he’s okay.”


Yes, I sincerely contend that your Resolutions should be mealy-mouthed—that is, I refute the idea that Resolutions should be specific and measurable. Consider this: the NYT article says, “If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out.” Doesn’t this seem like exactly the kind of fussy and annoying task that would cause somebody to abandon this Resolution? You’d have to be really organized to achieve this, and I speak from experience. Last year I went to a dermatologist to have some moles looked at. She said they looked fine but need to be monitored to make sure they don’t change, so she took some photos of them as a benchmark and scheduled a follow-up exam six months out. Just because I’m a very thorough person, I asked her to snap photos with my phone as well, which she seemed slightly annoyed by, but nevertheless did. Well, I went in for my follow-up and she breezily confessed she’d lost the original photos. And this is a medical doctor! Who does this for a living! And melanoma is a matter of life and death! It’s a good thing I’m so organized I had my own photos with me for the follow-up … but of course this is a very rare thing (and I can see why you hate me for it). It’s just not practical to add a lot of extra accounting bullshit to a behavior change that’s already hard to make.

But even if measuring your progress isn’t hard to do, it’s a bad idea. Why? Well, for one thing, when your goals are specific and data-driven, that makes it easier to decide you’ve failed, when in fact you may have made some progress. For example, let’s say you’ve resolved to lose five pounds by February, and so you’ve cut out dessert, and cream in your coffee, and are eating out less, and meanwhile you’ve really increased your exercise. Then you step on the scale on February 1 and you’ve only lost three pounds. Despondent, you cry out, “It’s hopeless! Eating right and exercising don’t work!” and then you chalk up another failure, feel bad about yourself, and go back to your previous habits. And yet what if you’d actually (but unknowingly) lost five pounds of fat and added two pounds of muscle, thus improving your lean-to-fat ratio, which is more important than weight anyway? You just let specificity and measurability ruin a perfectly good health improvement trajectory!

That’s why mealy-mouthed goals are better. For example, you could resolve to eat more fruit—and gauge your performance via something vague, like thinking, “Hey, I was still a bit hungry after my main course and saw that bowl of fruit and actually grabbed an apple, I’m doing okay!” or, conversely, “Oh, crap, I just ate a bunch of chips when there’s a bowl of fruit right over there—next time I’m going for that.”

(My fact-checker, seeing an opening to deride me, has just pointed out that I myself keep detailed digital records of my bike ride data, which practice complies with the M in SMART. To this, I’d like to point out that the data about my rides is actually trivial. I’m not measurably fitter, based on average speed and the times I’m clocking on climbs, than I was a year ago, despite riding a whopping 87% more miles in 2021 than in 2020. So you can see how setting a specific goal, such as “improving fitness,” and measuring it using data, can be demoralizing as we age. A truly mealy-mouthed goal like “stay in shape” or “age well” is clearly better. Take that, fact-checker!)


The NYT confidently asserts, “There’s no single reason that most people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions.” This is false. There is a single reason: we fail because we assess. A college student could take a midterm and fill out the multiple-choice bubbles completely at random, but won’t get an F on the test unless somebody grades it. Grading exams is necessary for deciding who passes a class and ultimately gets a degree, but judgment is totally unnecessary where New Year’s Resolutions are concerned.

Instead, we should just consider our Resolutions best-effort. I can decide I’m going to try to eat more fruit and be less boring, and not worry about whether I can ever check these off as “done.” I mean, what if, in late December of this year, I look back and decide I nailed these? Does that mean I can stop now, and go back to eating chips and droning on about Simplex bike shifters or my vasectomy? No, that would undo the Resolution!

Meanwhile, if on March 31 I look back and realize that I haven’t had a bite of fruit in months, and that all winter I’ve been blathering nonstop about family shibboleths and high school wrestling, should I now just give up and conclude that my Resolutions weren’t good ones? Of course not. It’s never too late to try harder.

Finally, if I realize at this time next year that I’ve become truly carpophagous, and that everybody hangs on my every word, I can come up with new Resolutions (though without any fanfare or celebration that would suggest completion of the previous ones). On the other hand, if I’m as boring as ever, still prattling on about mirrorless cameras, epic bike rides, and the metric system, I’ll have my first duplicate/derivative Resolution identified for 2023 … and I already know it’ll be DUMB!

(A final note: my fact-checker, still sulking, has just announced that he’s found a factual error in this post but won’t tell me what it is. If you find anything, please let me know.)

Further reading

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