Lessons learned: a shorter list

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Haven’t watched the Oscars yet … found out I don’t really need to. For one, neither of my unproduced screenplays were nominated, and my unfinished one was completely shut out. Man, it’s hard out here to be a pimp … I mean, a writer.

The selfie heard ’round the world. (Photo via Twitter)
The selfie heard ’round the world.
(Photo via Twitter)

For another thing, social media is so fast to publicize, lambast and lampoon … anything, that I only needed a few minutes on Facebook to know all the important things: Ellen was kinda funny, the pizza gag was good, the selfie heard ’round the world was somewhat staged but still entertaining, Kim Novak either looked great or horrible, and the Liza Minelli joke was either funny or mean.

I watched that clip on FB — I believe a lot of the people who think the joke was mean are feeling that way based on the look on Liza’s face, which indicated total surprise. But I’m also guessing that’s the only look she has in her current repertoire of facial movements.

Oh, and I have a hunch that if John Travolta is invited back next year, he’ll be wearing Mr. Peabody’s glasses. And everyone now has a Travoltified name.

So instead of watching the big show, I spent Sunday night grocery shopping, which was a breeze. Apparently, a LOT of people in L.A. stay home and watch the Oscars — or, go to them, or the after parties — or let’s face it, they’re working at them. Which meant the grocery store was virtually empty.

When I was ready to check out, I could pick a lane — not based on how many people are ahead of me and how much stuff is in their cart like I usually do — but by whether anyone was in front of me — which they weren’t. Make a note: grocery shopping on Oscar Sunday after the show has started? A moment of solitude.

It’s like car shopping on Super Bowl Sunday. Which I’ve done successfully. Twice. I’ll tell those stories another time.

Anyway, if you read my column last week, which took the “list” approach: the Top 10 Questions Not to Ask your Kids, you apparently enjoyed it. I got lots of “Likes” and personal comments. So I thought I’d do another list — albeit a shorter one.

Don’t worry, making a list won’t become my standard format here. As much as I like structure and deadlines, I’m not crazy about endless repetition and routine. Which might explain the 2 wives, 3 “favorite” colors, 4 hairstyles, 5 “favorite” drinks, 6 best friends and at least 7 different job/careers I’ve had.

All in the last year.

I’m kidding. Still, even looking over that list, helped me come up with a new, shorter list:

Three Random Things I Wish My Kids Knew Now That I Kinda Knew Then.

1. Homework actually matters

It’s that time again — progress reports. The link to the site that tells you everything you feared, suspected and/or hoped for regarding how your child is doing this semester.

(Photo provided by Mike Brennan)
(Photo provided by Mike Brennan)

How they did on tests, projects — even quizzes — are things I usually have a handle on. But the everyday homework? That is occasionally another story.

Evaluating my kids’ progress reports, it’s easy to see that for every test they ace — which counts for upwards of 30 percent of the final grade, it’s easy to blow a great test grade by screwing up a 5-point homework assignment here, a 10-point handout there — it all goes toward the overall 25 percent weight.

Say what? Okay, first, I know it helps to have done your math homework to even be able to figure that last sentence out. Not only done it, but actually turned it in.

But I honestly think some kids don’t get this. I know too many parents who talk about their kids needing to “make up homework assignments” — which to me is a foreign concept. I wasn’t a great student by any means — I went for the grades that my last name starts with — but I honestly don’t think I ever didn’t do a homework assignment unless I was very sick or actually forgot. I can remember sitting in the cafeteria rushing to finish an assignment as the first bell rang, or finishing homework on the bus, or even in a stranger’s car on the way to school (for a couple of years, I hitchhiked to school, almost every day. Yes, another story there too).

But the concept of sauntering into class knowing I didn’t have the homework was as likely as me wearing a marijuana leaf T-short to class (at a Catholic High School that required shirt and tie). Yes, I know things are different now. I understand that it has become somewhat accepted that sometimes, a kid simply doesn’t do homework in a given class.

Not saying I approve, but with sports, clubs, distractions, dinner, transportation, etc. I get that maybe once in a blue moon it could happen. But, what in world does it make sense for the kids that do their homework, and don’t turn it in? I don’t get it. This is like packing a lunch, and then not eating it.

Oh wait, that happens too.

Like I said, it’s different from when I was in school. When I was a kid, if I didn’t turn in homework, I knew that I better either have a cast on some part of me the next day, or I’d be packing a hobo kit and leave home forever — just hit the road.

Yes, I said hobo.

2. You want the friends that you don’t have to work hard for

Long time friends (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Long time friends
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

One of my sons has recently spent a little too much effort trying to be friends with a couple of the “cool” kids and it’s led him to a little trouble. Everyone’s different — I was blessed with an abundance of friends early on, and never worried if they were cool or not. Today, one of my sons has a few good friends, and comes to it effortlessly. One struggles to find the right crew, and breaks my heart by trying so hard. Everyone’s different.

Of the eight or nine guys I was tight with in high school — the irreverently named Gutter Gang (or what passes for irreverence at a Catholic High School way back when) contained a wide spectrum of ethnic and financial types, with different interests in music, girls and future plans, but we were tight. And I never had to work hard for their friendship.

Today, I’m still in touch with — or at least aware of — most all of them, through Facebook, or information passed around from the others. Most still live within 25 miles of where we grew up in New Jersey. The low-key, super nice one who came from money and then made a ton more? He died of an illness at a far too young age — that’s a sad lesson for another time.

One has been my friend since second grade, remained that way through high school, was best man at both my weddings and we still catch up every few months. One was my doubles partner in tennis, made out with my best girlfriend at my going away party after high school, and I’m still in touch … with both of them. One dated my sister. One was the lead in all our musical productions (guess what we didn’t figure out back then?)

These were my high school friends. And really, many of them still are. I hope my kids can see the value in real friends, not cool ones.

3. Find a Deal

Facebook meme
Facebook meme

I’m not cheap. I tip well. I know that few things in life are free. I also know few things are priced at anything near what they’re worth. I understand value, and I’m not afraid or ashamed to ask for a better price — the kids have seen me do it. They shrink away … and then nod in appreciation at the better deal.

I take pride in saving money. A lady friend from a more traditionally recognized frugal background has occasionally questioned my religious heritage — and I’m good with that.

I use coupons. I join shoppers clubs at the grocery store, the hardware store, the office supply store — anywhere that asks for my number, email and zip code, they can have it. Why hide it? The NSA is monitoring every call, every photo I send, every text message I receive anyway. If Von’s wants to look through my drunk texts but save me 25 percent on my grocery bill, have at it.

Here’s how I make it fun and a little bit educational for my kids. When I go grocery shopping, I don’t put in the club number until the end. We wait for the total, then play the “Price is Right” game and guess what the total will be after I enter the club number.

The kids get into it, I usually give the cashier a guess, sometimes the person behind me in line will play along. And when that $115 total drops to $77, everyone’s a winner. I’ve saved money, the kids have learned a lesson (and immediately suggest how I can spend the money I just saved), and the person behind me is usually asking the cashier how I did that.

Here’s another way I’ve tried to show my kids how to save money. I’m fine buying something without a logo. In fact, I usually avoid logos. For one, if I pay for it, I’m giving them free advertisement every time I wear it — free to them, not free to me. Mr. Fitch, you can kiss my Abercrombie.

It’s tough to fight the brainwashing these companies do — they find kids and convince them. But I know what a T-shirt is supposed to do — I’ve found there are a lot of them able to perform that function without a Swoosh on them, or some type of geometric diamond.

(Photo via Wikipedia)
(Photo via Wikipedia)

I also know that if you really have to have one of those … you can probably find it at Goodwill. My sons would prefer the mall, where they might see a friend and where I’d have to pay top dollar. But I have had some luck in getting my kids to see the logic in saving money by looking elsewhere.

It definitely helps when we randomly run into their friends at Goodwill. It makes it seem more socially acceptable that one or two of their friends also shop there. By sheer coincidence.

Even if I did “randomly” call the kid’s parent and tell them to meet us there.