Clarence: Mystery Piñata – A Cartoon Network Home Run

Image credit: Turner Entertainment

Image credit: Turner Entertainment

It’s been quite interesting being the mother of 10- and 12-year-old sons. While there are parts of me that long for the fun of the days of Thomas and Friends, Little Einstein, and Veggie Tales, I have to admit I am more likely to sit down with my sons now to watch some of Cartoon Network’s adventures, such as Regular Show, Steven Universe, and, of course, Adventure Time.

Clarence is one of Cartoon Network’s newer offerings through their Shorts Development program and is one of our sons’ favorite shows. This is a fantastic cartoon for elementary school-aged kids (and their parents), thanks to the show’s positive messages, delivered with a dose of twisted humor. Don’t just take my family’s word for it, the Nielson ratings will tell you the same thing, with Clarence taking the top spot for kids ages 6-14 during each month of the show’s episode premieres.

I was offered the chance to preview the first Clarence DVD compilation, aptly titled “Mystery Piñata” in honor of the original pilot episode that’s included on the disc. My sons would never have forgiven me if I had turned down the opportunity, so we sat down with the DVD over the weekend for a Clarence marathon.

However, lately I’d been pondering the utility of owning a DVD of a television series, especially in the age of Netflix and cable/satellite On Demand services. Well let me tell you where this comes in handy: in the family truckster—if you have a DVD player in your vehicle! Not long after I write this review, I’m sure this one will go into the DVD-holder in our SUV.

Mystery Piñata includes 12 first season episodes, with a “bonus feature” of the original 11-minute short that was green-lit into the full series.

  • Fun Dungeon Face Off
  • Pretty Great Day with a Girl
  • Lost in the Supermarket
  • Clarence’s Millions
  • Jeff’s New Toy
  • Zoo
  • Rise ‘n’ Shine
  • Average Jeff
  • Slumber Party
  • Dream Boat
  • Too Gross for Comfort
  • Neighborhood Grill
  • Bonus: Mystery Piñata

This is a pretty basic DVD and thankfully the suggested retail price will reflect its no-frills delivery.

As for the storyline, Clarence Wendell is a 4th grader who is new in town, living with his mom and her boyfriend who work odd jobs while operating a chicken farm. Clarence is a fun-loving, adventure-seeking young man who embraces everyone in his life as kindred spirits. In the pilot, in fact, Clarence responds to his welcome to class with invitations to a sleepover at his house (although the invitations are a bit quirky). Only a couple kids actually come, Jeff and Sumo. Jeff is the “brain” of the group, while Sumo is more rough-around-the-edges (and looks like an animated version of LOTR’s Gollum to me.)

Clarence is friendly towards everyone, despite some of his classmates not knowing how to handle his sometimes-overwhelming personality (see “Slumber Party,” where Clarence crashes a girl’s slumber party…it starts out awkward but ends up pretty awesome). He has the ability to find the good in everyone, such as how in “Zoo” he convinces party-pooper Belson that a field trip to the zoo isn’t all bad.

“Neighborhood Grill,” one of my favorite episodes, garnered attention when it was first released in October 2014. Most of the episode is set at a local restaurant called Chuckleton’s. Clarence sees his teacher, Miss Baker, seemingly on a blind date. As she’s watching gentlemen come into the restaurant, she speculates whether one of those men might be her date. One of the particularly handsome men she noticed was meeting his gay partner, and the two men greeted each other as a couple naturally would: with kisses* and hugs. I love how easy that scene is integrated into the episode, and Cartoon Network now has a show that joins networks with animated television shows such as The Simpsons, Archer, and South Park with inclusion of LGBT themes.

*Writer Spencer Rothbell tweeted that he originally wanted the kiss to be on the lips, but Cartoon Network resisted that.

Enjoy this clip from the pilot episode:

While the series was originally developed by Skylar Page (Cartoon Network’s youngest-ever shorts creator), Page was accused of sexual assault by a fellow Clarence artist and was swiftly fired by Cartoon Network, replaced by writer Spencer Rothbell. The series is still going strong, and I certainly appreciate Cartoon Network’s swift decision making on the matter.

Clarence: Mystery Piñata is available for purchase starting February 10, 2015 at major entertainment retailers. It’s rated TV-PG (for some toilet humor), has a run length of 132 minutes, and an SRP of $14.97, which makes this a perfect birthday gift for your elementary school-aged kids’ friends. If you’ve never seen the show, this is a great way to binge-watch it, and if you have seen the show and like it as much as we do, it’s a wonderful collection of favorite episodes.

GeekMom received a copy of this product for review purposes.

When Your Adult Child Still Lives at Home and Their S/O Moves In

Your adult child still lives at home and they want their significant-other to move in. What would you do? I said, “No problem!” Why?

With more and more post-secondary students living at home to help cut costs, “empty nest syndrome” is being delayed by many years. For my eldest son and his education situation, he could very well be still living at home well into his mid to late twenties.

My eldest (hence forth called Kid1), has been in a long-term relationship for two years now. Kid1 and his significant-other (hence forth called NKOTB) have discussed marriage after he finishes his BSc, plus his PBDE, while he teaches high school maths and science, but before he begins his MSc or MEd.

We’ve entered a new phase in life; one we weren’t quite expecting. The “empty nest while the adult child goes off to post-secondary education” phase has been replaced with “adult child stays at home and their significant-other moves in” phase of life.

This is a phase I’m sure many parents, and non-parents alike, would take issue with. Different cultural backgrounds, right down to a regional level, are likely to shape opinions.

A Little Bit More Background Information

In our home, we have a rule. The rule is: As long as you are going to school, you can live at home for free; if you do not go to school and want to continue living at home, you must get a job and pay some rent.

I’ve shared a little bit about Kid1’s school situation and his relationship status. Now, on to NKOTB.

NKOTB works very close to our home. Her other house is in a town about a 20-minute drive from my city. She doesn’t have a license—which is very common now in certain Canadian urban areas because of public transportation—and the buses to her town don’t run when she’s off shift, which can be anytime between 8 pm and midnight.

She started staying here a few days a week because it was convenient for work. Then, she just happened to be here seven days a week.

She fits quite well into this crazy household and we love having her around.

And I really like being in a position where we can help them out. Kid1 is helped because all he has to worry about is going to class, finishing his assignments, and passing. NKOTB is helped out because she can save money for their future and be in an understanding and supportive environment.

Present-Day Information

Because of our “no-school-pay-rent” policy, NKOTB pays rent in the form of helping out with the cost of groceries because that is the only bill that increases with her living here. When we brought it up with her, she was completely understanding and happily agreed to the amount. Part of me feels bad because she is so great to have around, but the rules are the rules.

Benefits of Having NKOTB Live Here

I love being able to watch how Kid1 and NKOTB interact with each other. I like hearing how they resolve conflicts and communicate. I love seeing Kid1 walk NKOTB to work or to the bus stop for work; and then pack a backpack with a cool drink in NKOTB’s water bottle, and walk to pick up NKOTB from work or meet her at the bus stop. I love seeing how Kid1 will cook dinner every night and keep a plate warm for when NKOTB gets home from work.

NKOTB made some tweet about how she likes watching Andrew and I interact and how cute she thinks it is. So, I like the fact that Andrew and I are able to model some good relationship qualities and be a guide for communication and conflict resolution and what it means to be in an equal partnership where all parties involved do little things to care for the other.

I also like that we can give both Kid1 and NKOTB a warm and loving environment, and often chaotic environment, as they practice cohabitation. A little bit of experience with chaos and crises—with some support—before venturing off alone is a good thing, I say.

Kid1 teaching NKOTB how to play MtG. I had to sneak attack this photo from outisde, otherwise Kid1 would have ran away. - Photo by Jules Sherred

Kid1 teaching NKOTB how to play MtG.
I had to sneak attack this photo from outisde, otherwise Kid1 would have ran away. – Photo by Jules Sherred

I adore watching Kid1 indoctrinate NKOTB in many things geek. A few things of note: He’s introduced and hooked her on MtG; she’s learning about chemistry because when Kid1 isn’t in class, he does chemistry experiments as a hobby; and Kid1 is introducing NKOTB to Star Wars—which caused much debate in our home over which order she should watch the movies in. I assume he’s already indoctrinated her in all things Doctor Who, and will eventually move to Star Trek.

It’s Not All Positive

There is one drawback. But it’s not a huge one. The drawback is: aside from the animals, NKOTB is the only woman in the house.

For the first month or so, I quietly wondered what it is like for her to be living with four men. One day, I decided to bring it up with Kid1. He said something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s come up a few times. Like, she’ll ask me if you have something she needs, and I’ll respond, ‘There is none of that in this house. You have to remember, you’re the only woman here.’” I assume one of these things is feminine hygiene products.

NKOTB knows I’m a trans man. She has no issues with it. She understands why Kid1 and Kid2 still call me “mum” even though my gender is man. But, I’m not sure she’s aware that I had a hysterectomy 10 years ago.

(Aside: I find it absolutely amazing how many pairs of shoes she has. This is not a negative. But, I’m fascinated over what appears to be a new pair of shoes showing up every other week. I’m a one-pair-of-shoes kind of guy.)

Another slight drawback is: No one gets a quiet night to themselves for some un-muted coitus.

Before NKOTB moved in, Kid1 would spend the odd weekend at her house. A lot of those times, it fell on a weekend that Kid2 was at his dad’s or staying at a friend’s house. So, everyone had some alone couple time.

Now, there isn’t a time when someone outside of the coupling isn’t home.

I not only feel a little stuck (for lack of a better word) in my sex life, but I feel bad that Kid1 and NKOTB also have to be consciously aware of other people being in the house during their time together.

But these things are not insurmountable. They’re just little bumps we have to navigate.

The Possible Future

I can imagine a time when children stay at home long after marriage and the beginnings of their own families. It is more economically feasible to move into a bigger house that has room for adults and new children, than it is for two separate households.

While I’m not sure if it would happen with my family because Kid1 will have a good paying job, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. I have a little bit of envy over cultures where families stay together, despite not liking how women tend to be treated in some of those cultures. If I could be around my grandbabies 24/7, and help take care of them, I’d be stoked! Andrew may have other thoughts on this issue.

What Other GeekMoms Had to Say

GeekMom Rebecca said:

My daughter is 18, and my son 16, so this is certainly on the radar. I don’t have a problem with extended family moving in, including long-term partners of my kids. Twelve years ago we bought a house with an “in-law” apartment above it so my mother could be with us, but have her own place. My nephew moved in with my mom when he started college in the area a few years ago, and with regular babysitting of my two young nieces by all of us, we have already had to deal with the frustrating but rewarding experience of extended family living.

Things like food, paying for WiFi, taking out the garbage, respecting each other’s space, etc., are all constant discussions. If one of my kids needed to live at home, and their s/o moved in, there would specific expectations beforehand. That makes is so much easier. Vague agreements like, “you’ll help out with rent” can only lead to miscommunication. “You will cook dinner for everyone three nights a week and clean the kitchen, do all yard work, and snow shoveling etc…. Having other people over is fine, but no large gatherings unless okay’ed by us, etc. And we will re-evaluate each semester” may sound strict, but is the more peaceful route. Since I’d only agree to this for an adult, serious relationship, I’d assume they would share a room.

My son already announced he wants to take a “gap year” when he graduates high school since college is so expensive and he isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do. So we’re already talking about what that means.

GeekMom Karen said:

I have this fantasy that my kids will (like I did) go off to college and only come home to visit after that. Considering that they’re three and one right now, I’ll be able to hold on to that fantasy for a few more years yet. But I know it won’t be that simple. My parents were always willing to host our friends for extended periods of time when they needed a roof over their heads for various reasons. I expect that I’ll do the same from time to time. For adult kids with partners, I hope in the most hopeful way possible that my kids will pick cool partners who will do their share around the house and cause the least drama possible, if it comes to that.

GeekMom Lisa said:

I have no experience whatsoever on this topic but there was another article recently that touched on this and I couldn’t help but think that in other cultures, children stay with their families their whole lives. Their spouses come to live with them. Multi-generational homes!  It is only here that we force a very particular strain of independence, and then judge others against it.

For the record, my children will always have a home. If it works for a family then why not? Geez Louise!

GeekMom Judy said:

If we had the space, I’m pretty sure we’d be open to it, IF they paid rent and bought their groceries. And it would have to be a privacy-oriented living condition (MIL apartment). When we stayed with our in laws while moving to NH (for a few months) in our early married years, there was an apartment above the garage. Rough, but livable.

But I think we’d always lean toward inclusion. If our kids, adult or otherwise, need help, we are there. If they truly needed housing we’d make it work!

GeekMom Patricia said:

I do think this is something we families need to be prepared for. Except for some very outlying circumstances, my husband and I would have no problem being there for our sons and their S/Os if they need a roof over their heads. Beyond a certain age (college graduate, probably), we will fully expect some sort of contribution to the household, whether it’s financial (if employed) or service (if not employed).

The part of this where I might not have the most popular opinion is for how long we would be willing to have this setup. If our house is big enough I think we can do this for quite a while, but as a military family, we aren’t in the same house for very long. There’s no prediction of how big/small a house we might have next. Many Americans gravitate towards only getting “as much house as you need” just for the immediate members. We tend to do that ourselves. So unless we get a house with the intention of having the extended family living with us permanently (such as is the model in many other countries), we would expect our adult sons and their partners/families to live with us just temporarily.

A GeekMom who wishes to remain anonymous said:

I have no issues with my adult children coming back to the roost, if need arises. As for allowing a long-term partner to move in, that is a little bit trickier because of issues with space. But in a perfect world, if I did have the space, I wouldn’t be opposed. But we’d have the same house rules as my own kids: pick up after yourself, quiet after a certain hour for the younger members of the family, etc.

Another GeekMom who wishes to remain anonymous said:

While I was in college, my parents let my long-term college boyfriend move in with us. They even gave us two bedrooms to use as a bedroom and living room, like a private mini-apartment within the house. It didn’t seem weird to me at the time, but since becoming a parent myself it seems weird to me now! I can’t imagine doing the same for my daughters, but they are so young I can’t even imagine them ever dating. Only time will tell what kind of parents we will become, and what kind of teenagers and young adults our daughters will become. There’s just too many unknowns to make any sort of prediction about our lives in 10-15 years!

It’s interesting though to see how other cultures handle the multigenerational housing issue. It’s easy to think that they do things differently somewhere far away, so far away that it doesn’t affect us in any way. But we live on a small planet and there is always something new to learn from the people directly in our lives! I work with a lot of Indian guys, who were born and raised in India but that have been living in the US for many years. They’ve all gone through with the tradition of arranged marriages, despite living in the US. Then when they had kids, their parents and/or in-laws visited them from India for months at a time to help with the baby, meanwhile staying in their house. Every time I hear about this, I can’t help but sympathize “wow, it must be really hard to have your parents around all the time!” They always respond that it’s no problem at all because in India they would all share a home their entire lives anyway. My own mother must have gotten a taste for freedom since my at-home college days, because when she came to help me with my babies, she took an apartment in my town rather than move in with us. She said we would all appreciate having our own space, herself included!

So, let me ask you something. What are your thoughts about your adult child (future or present, depending on your family situation) bringing their significant-other into your family? Would you consider it, or is it a flat out, “No”? If the answer is “No,” why? If the answer is “Yes,” why?

Trans Parenting: I’m Called “Mum” But We Don’t Celebrate Mother’s Day

"Follow your own rainbow (CC)" by Purple Sherbet Photography Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Some Rights Reserved.

“Follow your own rainbow (CC)” by Purple Sherbet Photography Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Some Rights Reserved.

Ninety-nine percent of people in my life neglected to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. The result: It was the best Mother’s Day of my parental life.

I have two children. They call me “mum.” Mother’s Day is not a thing we do in this house. In fact, because it has never been mentioned, Andrew asked, “Does Canada have Mother’s Day?”

I’m a trans man.

Oh, how confusing all of this must be for some readers. It must be. It can not only be confusing for my immediate family — Andrew, Kid1 and Kid2 — but, also, for me.

Maybe we should rewind time to nearly 19 years ago to when I gave birth to Kid1.

I carried him for just over nine months. I birthed him. The forms I filled out to register birth never asked for “Mother’s Name” or “Father’s Name.” Instead, they asked for “Parent 1″ and “Parent 2.”” The same followed for school enrollment forms, medical forms, passport forms, etc., etc.

However, as the result of biology, automatically, I was given the label of “mum,” never thinking that much about it.

Just over 15 years ago, the same followed when I gave birth to Kid2.

When I gave birth to Kid2, I still didn’t know much about this whole transgender thing. That would come about a year later, once I took my Abnormal Psychology class, as part of my psychology degree requirement. It was at that point that things finally started to click. I stopped praying that I was born intersex and that my parents made the wrong choice, and began my journey to accepting that I was a trans man.

Before I publicly “came out” three years ago, my children always knew that I was different than the mothers of their peers. Without prompting, they would describe me as a gay man trapped in a girl’s body. They just knew. They always got it, on some level. But, because of biology, I was still called “mum.”

Around the time that I came out in public, as my boys were older and could formulate specific questions about what it means for me to be a trans man, Kid2 asked, “Do I have to start calling you ‘dad’ now?

I thought about it for a bit and decided, no, because I am the parent who birthed them. I see the labels “mum” and “dad” more as labels to describe biological functions, rather than societal constructs. Though, most people see them as societal constructs, which can cause so much confusion.

Fast-forward to this past Mother’s Day. It was late in the day and I had realized that neither of my children, nor Andrew, had wished me a happy Mother’s Day. Andrew didn’t even know Canada does Mother’s Day, so that explained that. Late in the day, I decided to ask Kid2 why he hadn’t wished me a happy Mother’s Day for the last few years, and he said, “Well… I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate because, well… you know. It’s just not you.”

Again, my children simply “get it.” They understand all of this, without ever needing to sit them down for “talks.” If only it was that simple with the adults in my life. More on that in a bit.

Then, there was a brief discussion about how wishing me a happy Father’s Day would probably be more appropriate. However, I’m not even sure that fits because I label myself “parent,” and for most of my children’s lives, I was the parent, having to “play” both roles.

Andrew’s mum also had questions about it because they call me “mum” but I’m not a “mum.” Andrew said, “Jules is the parental unit. However, there is no Happy Parental Unit Day, so it’s just not a thing in our house.”

Each year, I get less and less “Happy Mother’s Day!” wishes. This year, I only got one, which made me feel good as, slowly, people are understanding.

Though, part of me wishes it didn’t take people so long. Most trans people I know, it took their friends only six months to stop using the wrong pronouns. Three years later, I’m still having to correct 99 percent of the people who know that I’m transgender in regards to proper pronouns, including my closest friends — the ones who signed relationships contracts.

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

As always, if you don’t know, are curious, or are unsure, simply ask the question. Especially as each transgender person has their own preferences.

Because of biology, I’m okay with the my children making use of the word “mum.” Other trans men may prefer “dad.” So ask. As for the greater world, I prefer “parent.” That is what I am.

As a reminder about pronouns, I prefer the singular “they/them” because it forces people to view me as a person instead of a gender. That said, I love it when people use “he/him” in reference to me. So that is okay, too. Or, just simply use my name instead of a personal pronoun. But, it’s never okay to use “she/her,” “wife,” “lady,” “ma’am,”or anything else that feminizes me.

There are no hard and fast rules. Each transgender person has individual wants and needs. When adding children to the mix, it can get even more confusing.

Maybe one day we’ll have a Parental Unit Day to honor families who do not fit into the “traditional” makeup.

Until that day happens, I’m just happy that I’ve finally experienced a Mother’s Day where I didn’t feel like a complete fraud, and, as a result, had a marvelous day. It may have been a slow road, but I think people in my life are finally starting to see me for me.

It feels wonderful.

If this post has brought up any questions in your mind about transgender parenting, please let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them in a post. While my experiences may not always work for you, like my geeky-queer wedding planning series, maybe it will help you to find the road that works best for you and your family, while knowing that you are not alone in your journey.