Inviting criticism

Remember that contentment I mentioned yesterday? It’s fading fast. And I blame Cub Scouts.

First is their Academics and Sports Program, aka Belt Loops. It’s a great way for Scouts to earn bling in specific categories — sort of a younger version of Merit Badges.

Last year, the program caused a minor uproar by adding a Video Games award under the Academics column. Leaders and parents alike were skeptical about the value of rewarding an activity that almost seems like the antithesis of what Scouting is all about.

But the award’s requirements are written so as to guide a boy toward making the right decisions, and playing video games in moderation — learning about the rating system, setting up a balanced schedule of work and games, and seeking parental approval. This sounded positive, the requirements seemed easy enough for my new Tiger Cub to fulfill, and it would be something he and his Webelos-aged brother could do together while I worked, right?

Umm, no. Of all weeks to limit the amount of time they can spend playing video games and therefore leaving me alone, I picked the one when I’m trying to work.

To make matters worse, yesterday I let them trade in some old games for Super Mario Galaxy 2 — the video version of heroin. And now I expect them to go cold turkey. In the immortal words of Steve McCroskey, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

Which means I had to find something else to occupy their time. Enter the birthday nexus.

Christopher turned 10 three weeks ago. Matthew will turn 6 in another three. With him, it’s easy — I just asked him to make a birthday gift wish list, and his day was booked solid. He had trouble spelling a lot of the list items, but that’s what big brothers are for. Plus, it’s not like Christopher would mind; helping Matthew spell things like “battle arena” was a good way to stall doing his birthday-related assignment — that dreaded aftermath, writing thank-you notes.

I’ve had to remind him many times to get back on task. Too many times. Yet I can’t seem to call the task by its proper name. I keep saying, “Christopher, you need to write your invitations.”

I’m thinking, “thank-you notes” but I say, “invitations.” I don’t know why; I just do. And he knows what I mean. But he corrects me every stinking time.

“Do your invitations, please.”

“You mean, ‘thank-you notes’?”

Through gritted teeth: “Yesss. Was there any doubt in your mind, being that I made the same mistake 82 times before now, and you corrected me on all 82, that I really meant ‘thank-you notes’?”

“Just checking!”

Time number 84 (five minutes later):

“Christopher, are you working on your invitations?”

“Don’t you mean, ‘thank-you notes’?”

“Yes! And if you don’t stop correcting me when you know what I mean, I’m going to give you an invitation — to come out behind the woodshed!”

“We don’t have a woodshed, Dad….”

“GAH! Just do your invitations!”

“You mean…”


And I wouldn’t have to remind him 85 times if he didn’t make such a production out of writing the stupid things. Christopher’s like me in that he feels awkward making the bare minimum of comments, but he struggles for something more to say.

That’s why I never call anyone unless I know we have a lot to talk about. I’m not comfortable calling to say, “Happy Birthday!”…crickets. And he’s not comfortable writing, “Thanks for the gift!”…inaudible crickets.

So he struggles with his thank-you notes. Especially because, on the other side of the not-wanting-to-settle-for-the-basic-message coin, he absolutely hates writing letters. Sort of a conundrum, no?

Today he brought me one for approval before sealing it in an envelope.

“Dad, what else should I write?”

“Let’s see…you thanked him for the gift and you told him how much you like it; that’s good. How about adding, ‘Have a nice summer’ or something like that?”

“But that doesn’t go with the rest of the paragraph.”

“Then start a new paragraph. Just write it, indented, on the next line.”

“But I don’t want to start a new paragraph!”

“What’s the…never mind. Yes, good job. You’ve reached the pinnacle of epistolary talent. Feel free to write, ‘Love, Chris’ and put done to it.”

“Why can’t I write, ‘Your friend, Chris’ instead?”

“Write whatever you want! I’m trying to do the same thing here, but only one of us needs to do it well enough to justify his continued employment!”

“I still think I should say something more.”


Not all of his invitations thank-you notes were like that today; some were even more challenging. He struggled the most with the all-important second sentence, telling the giver how much he liked their gift. This is the other reason I’m discontented with the Cub Scouts today — they’ve instilled in him too much stubborn honesty.

“Dad, what should I write about the book Jason gave me?”

“Tell him you’re reading it now and you really like it.”

“But I don’t.”

“You don’t like it? I thought you said it’s good.”

“I said it’s okay, but maybe it will get better if I read more. I think I’ll tell him that.”

“No! You can’t tell him that!”

“Why not? It’s the truth. A lot of times, if a book is just okay at the beginning but I keep forcing myself to read it, it gets better.”

“But it might hurt his feelings if he thinks you don’t like his gift. Try to find something good to say about it.”

“I can’t, unless I read more of it.”

“Then go read more of it!”

“I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“Because the schedule we made for the Video Game Belt Loop says this time is for writing thank-you notes! Reading time isn’t until this afternoon.”

“Then trade them up! The schedule is just a guideline, a way to…you know what? Just go play Mario with your brother.”



Dear GameStop,

Thank you for letting us trade in some crappy old games for Super Mario Galaxy 2. The boys played it all afternoon, and I got a lot of work done. Have a nice summer! [He’s right; that doesn’t go with the rest of the paragraph.]

Love, Your friend,



About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at; thanks!
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1 Response to Inviting criticism

  1. Dan Bain says:

    still another test

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