Thursday, July 26, 2012

(Classic) Because I Said So: Team Alley dreams of gold in 2024

This isn't the week for a new Because I Said So, but in honor of this year's Olympic games which began yesterday, I take you back four years – to that gold medal year of 2008 – and a classic Because I Said So celebrating all that is Greek and competitive and sponsored and wearing a unitard.

This column originally ran in The Commercial Appeal on August 28, 2008. Enjoy!

Team Alley dreams of gold in 2024

Five events my kids would excel in if they were actual Olympic events:

  • Sofa jumping
  • Spilling things
  • Bath procrastination
  • Falling down
  • Screeching

We've been watching some of the Olympics at home. Not all of it, mind you, because there is just too much.

Not even my children, who are Olympic-level television watchers, could be expected to direct so much time and concentration toward the hours and hours of coverage that are available.

The kids are learning a lot from these games, though. They learn about hard work and determination, teamwork and patriotism. And nutrition; they have learned that eating McDonald's every day for lunch will set you on the road to gold.

They've also learned that their mother doesn't care for their father watching women's beach volleyball.

There have been some athletic dreams in the past week and a half. My kids know their potential and have pictured themselves running and swimming on an Olympian plane. They've also been known, though, to dream of eating a wall of Pop-Tarts and of being contestants on "Deal or No Deal."

If they ever expect to compete, it would probably be in 2024 when they'll be 18 to 26 years old. Although Somerset, who is now 5, could probably join the Chinese gymnastics team for the 2012 games.

As long as the Olympics coverage runs some nights, it would probably seem even longer with my children winning, due to the photo session following each medal presentation. After every snap of the shutter, the kids would find it necessary to run down off the podium and see the picture in the camera's little LCD monitor.

I would allow my kids to go through the grueling training regimen of an Olympic athlete only if I was sure we could stay focused, as a family, on what is truly important.


I would dress my son up like Cap'n Crunch and push him into the deep end of an Olympic-sized pool if I thought it would get him a Michael Phelps-sized payday.

You want exposure? I've got a 5-year-old I'd strap to the back of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and paint Coca-Cola red for his next shot at the 100-meter record.

No major sporting event like this is scandal-free, of course, and the 2024 games would be no exception. The difference is you'd have my kids there to let the officials know who is doing what. To tattle on Australia should they take Uganda's spot on the couch when Uganda gets up to get a drink from the kitchen, or on Albania should they call Botswana a "stupid head."

Just rest assured that my kids would be there to give that extra amount of effort when it comes down to it, when they need to cross the finish line or pass off the baton, because they'd understand that the only way to come back home is with a gold medal around their necks.

And a Nike check in their pocket.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On Cotton Row

From Peter Taylor's short story "A Friend and Protector":

I stood at the top of the stairs watching the three old people ascend the two straight flights of steps that I had come stumbling up half an hour earlier – two flights that came up from the ground floor without a turn or a landing between floors. I thought how absurd it was that in these Front Street buildings, where so much Memphis money was made, such a thing as an elevator was unknown. Except for adding the little air-conditioned offices at the rear, nobody was allowed to do anything there that would change the old-fashioned, masculine character of the cotton man's world. This row of buildings, hardly two blocks long, with their plaster facade and unbroken line of windows looking out over the brown Mississippi River were a kind of last sanctuary – generally beyond the reach of the ladies and practically beyond the reach of the law.

From my piece on unique museums found within the Mississippi River Corridor of Tennessee for the River Times magazine:

Cotton Row in downtown Memphis was the hub of worldwide cotton trading in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cotton Exchange – at the intersection of Union Avenue and Front Street, firmly in the center of the Row – was a place for sellers, traders and buyers to meet, discuss the issues of the day and industry, and keep track of the most up-to-date pricing. "A lot of our history, art and culture comes to us as a result of the people who gathered here," says Melissa Farris, special events coordinator for the museum. That exchange floor now is home to the Cotton Museum and welcomes those interested in agriculture – and the Southern way of life – from around the world.

Visit the Cotton Museum on Front Street and at

Read Peter Taylor's story in his fine collection, The Old Forest and Other Stories.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Because I Said So: Don't worry kids, Dad is watching whether you want him to or not

Watch me copy and paste today's Because I Said So column over onto this weblog! Just watch.

Don't worry kids, Dad is watching whether you want him to or not

Hang on: My kids want you to watch them do something.

They want you to watch them jump in the pool. They want you to watch them swim across the pool. They want you to watch them jump rope, climb a tree, play a drum, eat a peach and act a fool.

Nothing happens with these children unless someone else is watching.

Did I do this? Did I instill this need for attention in them? Or did they miss the point of George Orwell's "1984"? The constant surveillance of Big Brother was supposed to be a bad thing, kids. ("Hey, Dad, watch me misinterpret a theme in classic literature!") Or perhaps it is Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook and his culture of "look at me, I'm doing this right now" that has infected and inflated their egos.

I've heard a lot of talk recently about "helicopter parents," those parents that hover over their children, noticing every move, nudging them in the right direction, keeping them as safe as possible in the dangerous world of play dates and roller skates. Is this helpful or ultimately detrimental to a child's well-being and sense of autonomy? I have no idea. You raise your children the way you see fit, and I'll raise mine by shouting commands from the sofa in my office.

But then they find their way into my office. "Watch me tie a shoe. Watch me count to 100. Watch me spill this milk." They advertise their every anticlimactic activity in a manner even more irritating than television promos during sweeps week. It's as if Dave Brown was going to not retire every single evening at my house.

I don't recall this need for attention as a child, though it's possible I begged my parents to watch me struggle with my Stretch Armstrong, become more and more confused by my Rubik's Cube, or watch "The Six Million Dollar Man" again.

I know I don't do it now. You won't see me saying to my kids, "Hey, watch me come up with another metaphor. Watch me Google up a thesaurus."

I suppose we parents all hover to a certain extent. It's become part of our buckled-up, helmeted, surveillance-heavy society. But I try to mitigate it. I send the kids outside to the backyard, down the block and to the park in an effort at encouraging them to do things on their own.

I know they'll go off on their own one day, far away to live their own lives. And they won't travel like helicopters then, but like jets feeling the need to get away. Or more accurately, as teenagers they'll ease out of the driveway onto a Memphis city street in a 26-year-old Volvo with no air conditioning and a missing taillight, and whispering to themselves, I'm sure, "Please don't watch me. Please don't watch me."

But I will be. Left there in the driveway, finally landing after a lifetime of hovering, I'll be there hoping they call soon to tell me what they've been up to.
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at . Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Because I Said So: Dad sees library card as ticket to new worlds for daughters

World explorers

What I left out of this Because I Said So column was that on the day we were at the library, there were kids who appeared to be unsupervised running throughout the children’s section of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. So, on top of getting S & G their very first library cards, and some good books to take home, I also had the opportunity to make the point that they should never act like that in a public library.

Be kind to your books, people. Be kind to your libraries and be kind to your librarians, they’re not daycare facilitators.

The girls had been asking for a couple of days to go to the library and there’s no better request to get from your kids, is there? It’s better than “can I get a new video game?” or “can we go somewhere?” or “why can’t you just have a pool put into our backyard?”

G read through her books and a few days later was asking for more library. The next step, of course, is to teach them both how to use public transportation so that I can stay on the sofa in my air conditioned office the rest of the summer.

Today’s column:

Dad sees library card as ticket to new worlds for daughters
On a recent summer day, it came to my attention that my children were bored. This alert was not a subtle one; these are not subtle kids. The two syllables of "I'm bored" came out in the droning, whining tone of one of those French police sirens: "I'mmm bored … I'mmm bored."

Because the temperature was creeping up toward 100 degrees, I packed up my two daughters and took them to the coolest place I could think of: the public library. Once there, I filled out enough paperwork to either get them their very first library cards or to buy a whole other child.

The proud girls were handed their new cards to sign on the back, and then each stared at the shiny rectangle of plastic as if wondering how to turn it on and download something. I told them that with those cards they could take any book in that building home with them.
And that they could now drive a motor vehicle within the city limits. "Really?" they said, wide-eyed and expectant. No, that's fiction.

Is there anything we can give our children that is more exciting, more educational, more free than a library card? It is Alice's rabbit hole, Dorothy's yellow brick road, a winged Pegasus. That little piece of plastic can teach them how and where to satiate their curiosity, the responsibility of keeping up with the card and borrowed books, and that if they sound the alarm "I'm bored" within earshot of me, that they will be forced to better themselves.

Through the colorful forest of trees, we went into the children's section of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, that gleaming glass and steel lodge of literature. The girls perused titles, pulled out some books to get a sense of them, put some back and found a few to take home. My youngest, Genevieve, leaned toward oversize picture books with their tales of tigers, bugs, little boys and girls, and fables from far away. Nine-year-old Somerset focused on her folded-up summer reading list from Richland Elementary School.

During summer breaks when I was a child, my mother would stop by the main library when it was at the corner of McLean and Peabody to pick up a stack of books recommended for a boy my age. It was like a 100-degree Christmas for me. I would make my way through the pile, and she would then return them for another. I don't remember my first library card, but it must have been like being given a license to the world.

Watching my daughters and their growing excitement was especially heartening in today's world of the Internet, Google and the immediacy of knowledge — some good, some bad.

As they walked among the rows of books, their heads crooked slightly to read the spines, it was like the slowest web browser imaginable. Yet it was a great way for me to learn of their interests and to see where their curiosity, if unleashed in a room full of history, science and stories, might take them.

Will there be other milestones as exciting? Sure. They will both one day receive a driver's license, be accepted into college and get married. Those will be days of triumph and of excitement, days when boredom will be as forgotten as that overdue library book underneath Genevieve's bed.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.