With the mind of a child our daily walks are action-packed!
(Mine. The childish mind in question is my mind.)
Parents use their environment to help their children. If our crude hut is surrounded by rivers we’ll learn to fish, by forest we’ll chop and build, but in the modern world we’re surrounded by assholes which are neither delicious nor load-bearing. Social media is stuffed with fathers trying to turn their own children into a viral success, which is only slightly more evil if you do it in a bioweapons lab. Idiot online parents are an awfully abundant resource, so we must pan this torrent of idiocy to find golden nuggets of wisdom in how they went wrong. Let us learn the limits of human ability by watching the BAD DAD OLYPMIAD.
We’ll only watch dads who’ve voluntarily entered by uploading themselves for. Mocking a struggling parent in the street is how you advertise it’s okay for Spider-Man to knock you into dogshit while chasing a more dangerous villain. You don’t know what that family is going through. Help if it’s possible or safe. Imagine what you’d do in their situation if not. And now that you’ve happily fantasized about being perfect, imagine what could make you act like them. Then start being useful by imagining how you’d deal with that instead.
We’re only looking at people who wanted to show off how good they are at parenting, because we’re doing exactly what they ask. Every contestant in the BAD DAD Olympiad will be assigned to an event and evaluated. And as with many modern perfomances, we start with a spectacular celebrity appearance!
BAD DAD OLYMPIAD: The Undearing Asshole
The Undearing Asshole thinks advertising their flaws makes them adorable instead of infuriating. They’re the romantic comedy dickhead who burns down some poor woman’s house then gets lucky because he erected a tent on the ashes. As the main character of his own personal reality he believes he can smirkingly shrug at his own shit, possibly on your carpet, and get a laugh instead of a punch in the face.
Our first contestant is Russell Brand and we might already have an eternal champion. He has two daughters, two year old Mabel and six month old Peggy at the time of this article, where he told The Times things that would normally be confessed to Child Services.
Terrible articles start by defining their core concept. In unrelated news here’s Russell Brand defining his parenting.
“Yes, I’m very, very focused on the mystical connotations of Mabel’s beauty and grace. Not so good on the nappies and making sure that they eat food.”
He smashes out of the starting gate in Undearing Asshole Overdrive. This is wrecking your wife’s boss’s car by ramping over your brother’s wedding into an orphanage, stumbling out of the wreckage, then shouting “WOOO!” He sat down and told The Times he was too incompetent to feed his own children. Not as a tearful breakdown in a post-relapse sympathy interview but as a smiley joke. A jollyold “Oh YOU know me, hoho, leaving my starving children covered in their own filth!”
He uses his own children and their overflowing nappies to underline his own spirituality. Our very first entrant in the Bad Dad Olympiad sucks so hard he defined a new type of terrible out of nothing, aka his parenting efforts. I award Russell Brand the foundational gold medal in DIAPERLESS DAD. If someone refuses to change nappies their parenting strategy is literally telling their partner “YOU clean up this shit”.
This is what gave hippies a bad name. This is why spirituality is seen as a con: because their richest practitioners are by definition contradictory con-artists. But enough money winds wires of gold around these idiots to induce them to believe their own bullshit is glittering genius. Which would be enough to tell you his book rEVOLution must suck if you hadn’t learned that from “very-squared spiritual”.
Russell describes being a parent:
“When I looked after Mabel on her own, she dropped two social classes in an hour. In no time at all we’re in a coffee shop, she’s just got a nappy on, she’s covered in stuff because I’m not willing to fight any of the battles. I’m like, f*** it, it doesn’t matter whether she wears trousers, no, I suppose it doesn’t matter if she does that.”
No, sorry, he describes NOT being a parent. Not even a nanny. Barely being a friends’ teenage child making sure they’re never forced to babysit while their stupid parents go to dinner with their stupid friends ever again. In a battle of wills between with an unfinished brain Russell Brand brags about losing.
Your attention might have been pulled from his words by the child screaming in a bag of their own filth, in which case congratulations on parenting her better than Brand, but check out those first words. “When I looked after Mabel on her own”. Special event. Singular. The way you might talk about The War, when starting the story which guarantees you get attention for your suffering. Since it apparently only happened once let’s rewind and look at the earlier again:
“I’m very, very focused on the mystical connotations of Mabel’s beauty and grace”
That’ll be the mystical grace of the starving naked child. There is a certain beauty to the hunt, true, but I don’t think feral infants chasing urban foxes for food and basic fur clothing counts. But counting isn’t so I suppose his daughters don’t need to worry about that, he’s like, f*** it, it doesn’t matter.
At this point The Times’ interviewer notices some slight flaws in Russell’s parenting. Because by this point even a cuckoo would be squirming and awkwardly checking under its wings to avoid eye contact. They ask how long Russell, in two years of parenting, has ever actually parented his own without their mother.
“That’s a good question, isn’t it? Well, OK. The two of them? Well, not long, not long.”
That’s a spectacular answer. But I say that as a comedy writer diving into the rich seams created in the overlap between “an asshole completely fucking up” and “the same asshole absolutely refusing to accept that at great length”. The parent part of me is yelling and sounds pretty angry.
“Um, I’ve done like, a night. But they’re asleep then.”
Congratulations Dr Brand, I award you this PhD in The Most Desperate Answer Ever. In only ten words you’ve summarised more incredible failures to present any positive evidence than the entire scientific search for dark matter. With way more dimensions to be explored by further study. It’s a rare case where “silent glowering” would make someone seem more considerate and self-aware. “Fuck that” would have at least been honest. “I’ve only looked at them when they’re asleep” is not a reassuring answer. That’s never a reassuring answer! It’s the most unreassuring answer possible without pulling out a human-skin mask!
Has he spent even 24 hours in sole charge of his children? He looks at me as if I must be mad.
“No. She wouldn’t go away for 24 hours, Laura. She respects and cares for their safety too much.
“My wife loves my children too much to leave me alone with them” isn’t a real human sentence, it’s a stress test to see if androids have developed empathy and refuse to repeat it.
“Laura’s able to sustain and maintain domesticity in a way that’s astonishing. I didn’t have much experience of how to organise domesticity. I do whatever I’m told.”
I DO EVERYTHING SHE SAYS! is another Bad Dad Olympian feat of fucking up fathering. (You can read more about that idea here). This dude is declaiming “domesticity” as a special skill he can’t learn because he didn’t pick the “woman” class. Painting your own uselessness as your wife’s special skill is a neutron star binary of sexism, a collapsed lump of mass revolving around the light of your life while draining energy and matter off them until something explodes. Russell Brand is now in the running for three separate events in the Bad Dad Olympiad and he invented two of them during the first.
Russell is the loser “I’ve got so many amazing ideas for stories I can’t be bothered writing down any of the mere details”, except for entire human children instead of books.
He breaks off, looking worried. “I would hate for you to leave with the impression that I’m sort of sat watching television, peering over the armchair at what’s going on. I’m not. Yesterday, like, I drove Mabel to the playschool and I drop her at the playschool. But I’m sensitive and awake and aware, so I have to dial a lot of shit down to go through normal life.”
Holy crap Russell noticed a woman unimpressed with his poor performance. Someone get his wife in here! You drove your own child to the playschool AND dropped her at the playschool? I know we should be grateful you didn’t hurl her out the window while speeding past but those don’t count as two tasks. “Giving your child to someone else to take care of” is barely even one task! When the best thing you can think of to tell a doubting reporter is “I don’t hire bouncers to escort my child out of my house for me” you might not be father of the year.
Seeing my expression, he adds: “I feel like I’m doing a f****** probation interview.”
Reacting to anything less than a standing ovation as an attack on their freedom is the signature of the Undearing Asshole, and they’ll still give it as if you’re a fan of their bullshit asking for an autograph.
PODIUM PLACEMENT: GOLD STAR
Russell Brand obviously gets a gold. Not a gold medal, a gold star, a nice little participation sticker for heroically still living on the same planet while his wife looks after three helpless children: his two daughters and him.
Travelling with a child is like flying down to an unknown alien planet. Leaving your calm and carefully constructed environment, you must carry everything you’ll need, keep constantly vigilant against unknown hazards, and no matter what you do the rapidly evolving life-form causing all the stress will be in the vehicle with you. Except babies are so much more terrifying than science-fiction monsters, because “They’re learning from everything you do and growing new abilities from your genetic material” is an obvious fact instead of terrifying revelation.
I just took TNG to Ireland and back to visit my mother in hospital. (Don’t worry, she’s fine and resting at home again). The first stop was my sister’s house and a family visit hasn’t involved this many blades since Game of Thrones ended. My sister is spectacular but her children are teenagers, the incarnated opposite of baby-proofing. In the first ten minutes of toddling I out-dashed any Olympic sprinter, and out-panicked the same sprinter stuck in a small enclosure full of cheetahs who’ve discovered the concepts of jealousy and human flesh. “I’ll just move this battery. And these razors. And this carpet knife.“ was an actual quote, and scarier than hearing it from behind the chair you’re tied to. Because at least that’s only threatening you and really won’t be your fault. Everyone was awesome and everything turned out fine but my heart rate didn’t drop below “person with a pacemaker wrestling power lines”.
We moved on to visit friends with their own young children. Much more relaxing. NOTE: “more” is not “entirely”. For example: a bottle of glitter is brilliant for a seven year old but a flare pistol for a two year old: it immediately draws attention and can cause absolute disaster if misused. Adorably stylish accident averted, I could finally take a breath. Even take my eyes off my child for the first few seconds in three days. And I’d need those moments of rest when little TNG started screaming their way to sleep in a strange house that morning at 1 AM. And I discovered an unexpected modern worry.
Soothing a small air-raid siren in someone else’s house, endlessly crooning of comfort as you cuddle the poor kid, obviously you’re worried whether they can hear. Less obvious is their Amazon Echo. I knew they had one in the house. I’d seen it safely shut in the downstairs kitchen, because household robots aren’t yet capable enough for “the room with all the knives” to be a concern. But did the damn thing have outposts up here? Was that wireless light control a simple switch, or secretly siphoning up everything I said?
Because forget following my shopping or scrolling my social media, if corporations can collect the things that pour out of an exhausted parent stream-of-consciousing into their distressed child at Early O’Clock then they’ve got the master plans of my subconscious. That’s the psychological profile equivalent of the Death Star plans. Next thing I know facebook’s foisting on micro-targeted ads so specifically tuned to my brain that an apparently random smash of words makes me automatically spend our savings into a new kind of cryptocurrency, because the back of my brain interprets it through the logic of sleep deprivation as “soothe my child” and the concept of rest.
Alien vs Midwife put me in an Alien mood!
Alien is the perfect parenting horror movie because it presents the psychological as well as physical effects. Far too many fetal-fear films focus on something being INSIDE you, ooooo, and all kinds of things emerging, because they’re mostly made by men who don’t already have to deal with that shit. And every other bodily fluid. Even Ashe doesn’t endure as much body horror as pregnant parents, and Alien is the one film to get birth scenes right.
Alien is the fear of an unknown new lifeform rampaging through and ending our lives in ways we could never expect. It’s not just that the Nostromo crew couldn’t deal with the alien, it’s that they didn’t want to deal with it. This was thrust upon them as a surprise they were now compelled to deal with, that’s the HARD MODE of parenting terror, and their original drive was still just “get this over with and go back to sleep.”
These weren’t Starfleet super-competent avatars of idealism, dedicating their lives to befriending new beings in an impossibly neat utopia. These were already extremely tired workers now annoyed by screaming and a slobbering monster they couldn’t ignore without risking death. This is real human suffering and endurance. Because “the ship’s gravity drive has torn open a tachyon portal to … something” will never be as terrifying as a sudden loud noise and “What NOW?”
All that horror and human parents should still be jealous of Alien. Not only do they have a better birthing strategy, they also enjoy zero post-natal care. They fob the entire pregnancy off on random passers-by, then the newborn alien scampers off to get out of everyone’s way and grow up all by itself. Within an hour that thing was fully grown and effectively captain of its very own starship and oil refinery*, making Alien Mothers even higher achievers than Tiger ones.
*technically considerably increasing its body count
The least Aliens can do is provide some parenting tips. Listed here!
- The person actually dealing with things makes the short term decisions. It doesn’t matter what wonderful plans someone scheduled, if you’re right there and surrounded by slimy organic matter you get to cancel everything.
- Remember when Ellen Ripley was sternly insisting on the proper rules, but Ash gave up because everyone was screaming and yelling? Remember how that turned out? The “easy” option often makes shit much harder in the long run. Don’t teach your kids that they can get their way by whining and/or biting chunks of your face off.
- The cat’s schedule will be disrupted by the new arrival. If you don’t grab your cat and give it special attention you’ll pay the price.
- A disinterested authority figure who has to be repeatedly poked to do anything sucks ass, Dallas. And one big dramatic physical effort to try to make everything better won’t work and will actually make everything worse. The sooner you start ignoring idiots who think they’re in charge the better it’ll be for everyone, including them.
- Deal with things when they happen instead of just swearing*. Ask Brett if he wished he’d grabbed Jonesy the cat instead of having to wander into the alien-infested ship’s Main Ominous Chamber.
*This deliberately allows dealing with things AND swearing, but only until your baby is learning words.
- The Alien is a simple being and will just keep doing what it’s doing unless you change the situation. This won’t usually be a starship escape pod, but future parenting technology may change this.
- Of course it’s when you’re just about to go to back to sleep that the worst will happen.
- WARNING: opening the door and hurling them outside not a valid parenting strategy.
- Parker and Brett are worker icons. It doesn’t matter if your job is in deep space, GET PAID, do the work you’re paid for and not one iota more unless it personally benefits you. Extremely important advice for parents who now have one infinity more things they could be doing.
- That scene where Ellen is screaming at the “MOTHER!” computer, cursing them out for doing exactly what they had to do? Yeah, that’s good practice. Sit through that a few times.
- Sometimes you’ll feel like just blowing everything up. But that just leaves you having to deal with the same problems in far worse circumstances with much less stuff to help you*.
*Except in Aliens, where it works great, but you need a squad of space marines and a gigantic robot exoskeleton to help you deal with the baby. Which would help! I’d pay a lot of money to watch Colonial Marines and a Baby, if only as scientific research to see if there’s anything they suck even worse at.
All of which makes Alien a perfect representation of parenting: something brilliant and enjoyable which you can’t actually do anymore while your kid is still awake.
As a parent I want to give my child skills which will help them in the future, but as a realist I realise they’re probably the skill list from Fallout 3.
An Alien chest-burster’s trajectory through your ribcage is a hell of an opening line. It’s the most iconic moment of body-horror ever filmed, despite delivering things faster and easier than millions of real human births. Much is made of Alien’s themes of sexual violence* but not nearly enough is said about the brutally obvious birth. Ignoring Alien’s obstetric implications is a more painful excision from pop culture than Darth Vader getting his limbs lightsabered off.
*as opposed to Aliens’ themes of violence violence, the most dramatic apostrophe placement in cinema history
The chest-birthing scene couldn’t be more on the nose if the alien had emerged through his nostrils. Kane collapses, thrashing and bleeding as a living thing emerges from his body, and here’s the thing: he should have been fine. He didn’t die because of the alien, he died because he was surrounded by panicking idiots and an actual corporate machine prepared to kill people if that made more money*. If he’d been in an ER they might have saved him. If he’d been in a maternity ward they’d absolutely have saved him, it wouldn’t even have been the hardest work they’d done that week, and they’d even have caught the alien because a midwife’s most primary skill is “not letting slimy little things drop on the floor”.
* topical for Americans
For far too many people the horror isn’t that an alien emerged but that it emerged from a guy. Because on a scale of one to real human births this xenomorph’s emergence isn’t even a three*. It broke through his ribcage, sure, but it was out and over inside a minute. It was only the size of a decent shit. (Note: if you’re upset by the sudden appearance of shit you’re REALLY going to have to get over that as a parent). If it had just emerged through his digestive system he might not even have noticed, especially if it had waited for the morning after their feast of fast reprocessed food, booze, and an incredibly long cryogenic lie-in.
*though in the context of Alien three is actually really bad
That alien baby punched straight out: no muss, no fuss, no biotopological yoga or umbilical lasso. And say what you will about xenocidal parasites knowing nothing but murder and reproduction, at least their offspring have heads the same size as the holes they have to push through. No pelvis-wrecking headbutts here. That thing was a birth-torpedo. It puts our reproduction to shame.
Some people see human childbirth as a beautiful natural process. Specifically people physically incapable of doing it and mentally incapable of empathy, usually proposing legislation which would lock women in Harry Houdini-style style glass boxes full of chains submerged in shark tanks until their due date. Childbirth is a natural process, because “natural process” means “without a lot of expert help almost everything involved dies early”. Nature is an neverending deathmatch we’re winning so hard some people forget it’s fatal. “Natural” childbirth is leading a conga across a minefield: people started off having fun together but now someone’s leading people into pointless danger.
Safe natural processes don’t have dedicated hospital wards. There’s no sneezing ward. You won’t see a blinking ward. Go to a hospital and you’ll find wards for intensive care, cancer, neurological trauma, and childbirth. Most births go brilliantly now specifically because it’s extremely serious and some spectacular people work extraordinarily hard to help. If the Nostromo crew had included a midwife then stringers of alien drool wouldn’t have been a horrifying reason to spend your last seconds alive slowly looking straight up into a new camera, they’d be happily dabbed with a tissue by a smiling parent.
Struggling to put a square peg in a round hole is an adorable expression of childish incompetence. Struggling to put a square peg in a square hole is a less-adorable example adult incompetence, because some asshole didn’t do their job and there’s no way to even find out who because they already have your money. Behold the toy teaching little TNG this lesson early!
Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it fun? Isn’t it appalling that the sky blue square block isn’t a cube, but also isn’t obviously not a cube. To the untrained eye of anyone but a Terminator that colourful cube-alike is a trap of frustration, almost fitting the hole. And like every other example of the word “almost” it means “annoyingly and absolutely NOT”. Because only the exactly right yet visually indistinguishable orientation of this pseudocube will actually pass through the square hole.
It’s a masterpiece of frustration. It’s the only way of using a lump of wood to damage a baby’s understanding of cause and effect without being arrested. At least Rubix cubes come with colourful warnings that they’re going to make you waste your time twisting things round and round. It’s My First Hellraiser, but more evilly frustrating, because at least the Lament Configuration looks like it’ll be painful to deal with.
This isn’t a toy, this is training new brains to reject Euclidian geometry before raising them to fight Lovecraftian monsters. We can only imagine their teddys would be both amazing and grounds for severe psychological review, the only stuffed toys to require superstring stitching.
This solid chunk of failure is worse than pathetic, it’s apathetic. Everyone involved in assembling this child’s toy plodded through the motions without the ideas of children or joy even occurring to them. Nobody tried a a prototype, nobody picked up a product to play with, not even once, because it’s the most immediately obvious flaw short of making the blocks out of grenades. This toy was pitched, designed, tested, marketed, and sold by the soulless machine of capitalism without one person spending a second on the actual product.
I’ve thrown away the cube. Making me smarter than everyone in every Hellraiser. But it still opened my eyes to a world of terrible realisation.
EVERY peg and hole toy has a similar problem. Not the exact same cubic shortfall, but an analogous carelessness of cash-extraction over actual function. Behold this beautiful shape toy with its circle, triangle, and square.
But it doesn’t have a circle, triangle, and square. It has circular, triangular, and square prisms. Even when they’re perfectly shaped you still need to orient them to fit them through the holes. Which is fine, and fun, but it would be so much more fund and fundamental to have a sphere, tetrahedron, and cube. Those would fit through any face while tactilely teaching kids with shapes which are more basic AND more interesting. But they’d cost slightly more to make so we just don’t. Ever! I’ve never even seen such a toy! Because even our “simplest” activities have assumed and unmentioned conditions interfering with their basic functions just to make more money for someone else.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain that every problem is caused by capitalism. Some are just stupid! Behold that bottom string:
That rubber thread prevents the pieces from falling out, and was designed by someone who hasn’t even heard of having children. They think they’re making props for a diplomatic exchange of concepts with energy aliens who haven’t had solid forms in star-centuries. Because you, an adult, can reach through the gap to pull the blocks out. But any baby young enough to actually play with this can’t. So this cylinder is specifically crafted so prevent your child from playing in peace, instead springing up to demand your help every five to twenty-five seconds depending on their fine motor skills. That’s negative feedback for both child and parent.
Which is why I cut the bottom string. And you know something has to be severely annoying to make man to say that without flinching.
These toys teach true lessons: people will frustrate you just to save money, or because they didn’t actually think. So throw away their mistakes and cut through their obstacles. Lessons which will help the next generation with everything from playing with toys delivered by Jeff Bezos to invading the eco-crash retreat compound of the man himself.
NOTE: both these toys are brilliant in every other way. Simple fixes make everything better!
Walking in the sunshine this morning little TNG picked up a fallen rose petal. He was fascinated by the wonderful softness, entranced by this little slice of perfect beauty, but of course as time went on it was rumpled, and wrinkled, until it was gone and fell away from him as he continued to play, and I was like JESUS I GET IT LIFE I’M ALREADY APPRECIATING THESE FLEETING MOMENTS OF TENDER HAPPINESS AS HARD AS I FUCKING CAN, GOD