Questions you don’t want to ask your kids

I’m not a big Astrology guy — at all. Just like in the old George Carlin — or was it Robert Klein? — bit (“If I had a job, today would be a good day to ask for a raise!”). I believe in my horoscope only on the days that it says what I’d like it to say.

Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

And, of course, on the days that I remember to read it. That happens maybe three times a year, including my birthday — when it’s always a nice read. It has to be nice. “If today is your birthday …” always reads like an annual employee self-evaluation: nothing but glowing praise and optimism. “You are smart, beautiful, and respected and admired by your peers and colleagues. You are destined for greatness. This year, you will be incredibly successful, wealthy and satisfied.” See? HAS to be nice.

Can you imagine if the Horoscope column deviated from that formula? “If today is your birthday … you are not well-liked, and for good reason. Darkness and despair follow you everywhere, family members wish a plague upon you, even your pets are not fond of you, or loyal.” Kind of a birthday downer.

I will admit I’ve taken a peek a little more frequently at the Horoscope of a lady friend, because, like most men I know, I will gladly take whatever worldly or other-worldly help is offered. Whether it’s a nationally syndicated generic horoscope, the sifting of tealeaves, a Magic 8 Ball or the Farmers Almanac, it’s good to know what’s ahead. “Am I going to be in trouble this week? Oooh Wednesday looks bad, Friday looks good!”

All this is a round-about way of saying: I am a Virgo, whatever that means. I’ve also been told I’m an anti-Virgo, because apparently, I don’t conform to all Virgo characteristics. I’m never sure if I should be proud of that, or apologize for it.

The Virgo sign (Photo via free tattoo designs)
The Virgo sign
(Photo via free tattoo designs)

In any case, one of the traits that I do apparently adhere to is that I like to make lists. Lots of lists. Lists of things to do today. Lists of things I need to buy. Movies I want to see. I made a list once of previous lists I’ve made — and lost — and then lost that list. That’s the unorganized anti-Virgo in me, I guess.

Anyway, I was having a discussion (sounds awfully civil, right?) with one of my two teenage sons recently and found myself stuck on the wrong end of a question I immediately knew I shouldn’t have asked, regardless of volume. I should have known better. There are several of those kinds of questions. So for today, class, I have a new list:

The top 10 things you should never ask your kids, and why:

1. Why didn’t you do your homework last night?

There’s an obvious answer that I’d prefer not to acknowledge, which is: because I didn’t sit his butt down and make him do it in front of me and check it. He’s in high school, I really shouldn’t have to do this anymore, should I? I was probably busy doing important things like writing a fatherhood column, making dinner, or watching SportsCenter during the first of it’s nine consecutive one-hour broadcasts per night. These are, unfortunately, the same reasons I didn’t get my taxes done on time, the garage cleaned out before the rain came, and why they make Belated Birthday cards — because stuff happens. So, I shouldn’t have asked.

It could also be that he said he didn’t have any … and only remembered on the way out the door in the morning. That can especially get the blood pumping on a Monday.

Teens don't call, they text. (Photo via YouTube video)
Teens don’t call, they text.
(Photo via YouTube video)

2. Did you call him/her?

If you see a TV show or current movie and see teenagers talking on the phone, remember that it’s a work of fiction. It’s a generational thing. Calling your friend instead of texting them is apparently as unlikely as sending a hand-written note thanking your teacher for more homework. They text. And they do it quickly. And they respond. Except when they don’t, and you’re left dangling without certain information you need. We just have to live with that.

3. Why didn’t you call me?

The thought that your desire as a parent to have immediate information regarding the location and activity of your child, who they’re with and how they got there, is not overridden by the previous statement is absurd. They text. If you’re lucky, you will get incredibly detailed texts like “here,” “all good,” or the all encompassing “k”  in response to your queries. Remember: they don’t call. Unless they need money. Kind of like how we were in college with our parents.

4. Where are my keys/sunglasses/other children?

I am constantly reminding my sons that as much as it may appear otherwise, I am not the personal assistant they’ve been assigned and they need to take care of their own stuff. Yes, sometimes I say “I’m not your maid” — I’m channeling my mother. But you get the point.

So I really can’t expect my son to know where my wallet, my cell phone or his brother is when I’m going bat sh*t crazy looking for them before I get out the door. I still ask … but I shouldn’t.

5. Do you have any idea how much that costs?

This can apply to anything — whether it’s wasted food, a broken glass, flowers in the garden, a lamp …. anything that has or will be wasted or broken. In most cases, the item could pre-date their existence — well, except for the food — so how could they be expected to know? Or, in most cases, care.

Now, if there’s a scratch on a video game … that they know the replacement cost. And have a coupon. And know the store hours. And the sales guy’s name.

Remember the good old days when your teens would huddle around computer monitors to watch their classmates doing things? (YouTube screen shot from "American Pie")
Remember the good old days when your teens would huddle around computer monitors to watch their classmates doing things?
(YouTube screen shot from “American Pie”)

6. Do you know what it was like when I was your age?

See above. They don’t, and they don’t care. My freshman is barely interested in my junior’s stories about what it was like when he was a freshman — why would either of them care what life was like when I was their age — which in their mind, is during the time of President Lincoln.

7. Things you already know the answers to.

This falls under the category of trying to score a point … which usually backfires. Questions like “Did you do this,” “Where did the cookies go” and “Did you sit on your brother?” are only asked when you obviously already know the answer and are trying to draw a confession out of the perp, even though you already have the cold hard facts.

But they are really as useful as asking things like, “Did you wash the car without me asking you to,” or “Are you voluntarily putting half your birthday money in a high-yield, long-term CD account?”

Not only do you already know the answer, you look ridiculous. And as parents, we have enough ways of already doing that. So don’t add to it.

8. What are the other kids doing?

This is usually an attempt to discover what’s going on at school, or for an event, or what classes are being taken, or what the average grades are — often after your child seems either hesitant to surrender information, or is ignorant of it. Smart detective work, Clouseau, except here’s why it doesn’t work:

What are the other kids doing? (YouTube screen shot)
What are the other kids doing?
(YouTube screen shot)

Because it reinforces the idea that not only is it okay for your child to be just like one of the other kids, but that you care what the other kids are doing. Didn’t you just proclaim very loudly last weekend that you DON’T CARE WHAT THE OTHER KIDS ARE DOING?! Can’t have it both ways. Go ahead. Try.

9. Are you wearing that?

We as parents — even ones who pride themselves on keeping up — have no clue what the latest trend is, other than it being annoying to us. But isn’t that what we were too, to our parents? Do you remember flared, striped, circus-looking bell-bottom jeans? Platform shoes? Tube tops? Peasant blouses? Leisure suits? Parachute pants? Mall hair?

If that’s the outfit he came out of his room in, then, yes, apparently, that’s what he’s wearing. If your kid wants to go to school looking like a lumberjack, don’t be surprised if that’s what his friends look like too. Live with it. At least he’s going to school.

10. What do you want to do this weekend?

Most parents I know try to squeeze every activity into a tightly structured, hour-by-hour box. We have to know, in order to remember who has what sports practice, science project, birthday party, religious activity, social event, etc., how they get there and back, and when there just might be a minute for ME …

But asking a kid on Monday, or Tuesday …. or any day before … Saturday … what they want to do this weekend is like asking them what their second career is going to be after their midlife crises. They haven’t really thought about it — haven’t really thought about anything except whether Family Guy tonight is new or a re-run and which one it is if it’s a re-run.

So as much as it may bother the Virgo in you (if there is any), it’s not going to be as organized as you like.

Chillax, parent and realize that when something comes up, they’ll dress like a lumberjack, ask for money, blow off their homework, text their friend for partial details, and maybe text you when they get there. K?