the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

You Know Kids Better Than I Do

Not having children is bad for my writing career. Everyone loves stories about families. It is bad for my social life. People with kids stick together. Mommybloggers ignore me, thinking me unworthy of their time. I’m stuck in a limbo blog-niche world, somewhere between dating bloggers and daddy bloggers. Separated husband bloggers? Eh, it has no ring to it.

I’m an only child, so I don’t have nephews or nieces. How am I going to write about a character who is ten years old when my childhood references are from decades ago?

Imagine that I’ve been hired to write a story for The New Yorker.

The New Yorker Editor: “We love your blog, Neilochka. We want to hire you to write a story for us, sight unseen.”

I hand in a short story that begins like this:

“It was 3PM, March 12, 2007. Young Taylor left school, his lunchbox in his hand, and entered the local pizzeria to play some Ms. Pac-Man.”

The New Yorker Editor: “What is this crap? It’s supposed to be 2007? What kid carries a lunchbox anymore?”

Neilochka: “Kids don’t carry lunch boxes? Where do they eat?”

The New Yorker Editor: “They eat at McDonald’s.”

Neilochka: “You mean ten year olds go out for lunch?”

The New Yorker Editor: “No, the McDonald’s is IN the school!”

Neilochka: “Oh.”

The New Yorker Editor: “Don’t you know any kids?”

Neilochka: “Not really.”

The New Yorker Editor: “And seriously… no one has played Ms. Pac-Man since 1984!”

Neilochka: “So what would Young Taylor play at the pizzeria?”

The New Yorker Editor: “What pizzeria? What is this — Saturday Night Fever? He’d be playing World of Warcraft at home and getting a pizza delivered from Domino’s!”

Neilochka: “Wouldn’t that ruin his appetite for dinner?”

The New Yorker Editor: “Dinner? It is his mother who ordered the pizza. She’s too busy running her sex blog to make dinner. Get with the times! This is the worst story I’ve ever read. You’re fired. Never come back here again!”

Sad, isn’t it? Do you really want this to happen to me?

Luckily, I have YOU. Finally, you can feel happy about having your ungrateful, overly-expensive, snot-nosed children who have ruined your sex lives and careers. You can be MY resource for questions I have about children, 2007.

Let’s start simple. Have the cool TV-show themed lunchboxes disappeared forever? Is there such a thing as a “Lost” lunchbox? Did kids even bring their own lunch to school? Do they still eat tuna sandwiches or are they eating sushi for lunch?

I get the sense that most current lunchboxes are made for nostalgic baby boomers —


I was never a big baseball fan, but I have the fondest memories of playing with Topps baseball cards. The baseball card games were as intense as any Texas Hold-em tournament on TV. We would “flip” them and play games to win each other cards. Did anyone else do this? Is this as antiquated as wearing a suit and tie to a baseball game? I’m beginning to think I sound like I just walked out of an old Bowery Boys movie.


(Barry? Tuck? Are you reading this? Sophia asked me how we “played” with the baseball cards, and for the life of me, I don’t remember. How was one kid able to “win” a bunch or cards from someone else? Was one baseball team worth more than another, which enabled you to win the pile?)

Here’s one thing I’m sure hasn’t changed — going shopping with Mom for new “school clothes” in September. Am I right? Is wearing the “right” brand of sneakers and jeans also important?

I remember spending hours talking with my friend Barry on the phone about math problems. Do kids discuss their homework assignments on phone, or do they do it now via IM? Do kids get regular ol’ paper report cards or are they sent to the parents by email?

What time does a ten year old go to sleep?


On a related note, I watched “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” for the first time tonight. It’s a good idea for a show, but Jeff Foxsworthy is totally wrong as host. The show would be much better if the host was a little more “teacher-ish.” And while ten year old Kyle may be smarter than me (who remembers earth science?), I can still kick his ass.

A Year Ago On Citizen of the Month: Ask the Amateur Sexologist


  1. Not Faint Hearted

    My youngest takes his lunch to school. Same thing since 1st grade and now he’s in 7th! Peanut Butter sandwich, chips and 2 oreos. Occasionally, he will take left over sushi.

    I don’t know what they do with those damn baseball cards but they’re all over my house.

  2. ExpatJane

    I never got into Pacman. I was completely into Tempest though:

    Cultivate friends with kids. They come in handy…at times.

  3. better safe than sorry

    but you have a penis co-host on your blog, how many others can say that!
    my kids take their lunch to school, in an insulated lunch bag. there is a no peanut butter rule, have to be real careful when it comes to cookies and granola bars as well. it’s pizza lunch every wednesday and there is hot lunch available every friday, you have to pay, but we always participate.
    my kids also go to a catholic school, with uniforms and a dress code that includes shoes, so the back to school shopping is at the uniform store.
    my kids teach me all the latest in gadgets and on line features, the internet can be a great help with homework, but also a very scary place.
    you know, you could always get a dog!

  4. ekramer

    i forgot to tell you i found your baseball cards in the closet.

  5. plain jane

    Your mom found your baseball cards! You can probably retire now.

  6. not supergirl

    My older daughter turned six last month, and the one thing she kept asking for was a lunch box with flowers on it. I expected this to be as simple request, but as it was March rather than August, it wasn’t simple after all. She has taken her lunch to school every day since then and takes a small sandwich, a piece of fruit or fruit cup and sometimes a treat of some sort. However, if she takes pudding, it’s not in a single serve can that requires a tetanus shot after use; she gets handy plastic containers. Hope that helps with the authenticity of your hypothetical story. Congrats on the baseball cards!

  7. Jessica

    This post cracks me up….not only do kids not carry lunch boxes anymore, but many cringe over the idea of having to step on a school bus.

    I totally want to see you kick Kyle’s ass.

  8. Karl

    Shows how old I am…I saw a kid walking into a pizzaria with a lunchbox to play some Pac-Man and it seemed perfectly right to me.

  9. Dagny

    Most of my students (fifth grade) do not bring a bag lunch but instead have the school lunch. Occasionally a relative will deliver Subway or McDonald’s to the school right before lunch as a treat.

    I have never seen baseball cards. Most of the boys in my class are more into soccer. And occasionally I have to hear lots of chanting about Chivas. (That’s a team out of Guadalajara, in case you didn’t know.) They are also huge 49ers and Raiders fans.

    My school is a public school but the kids are required to wear uniforms. They get a free dress day once a month.

    And Ms. Pacman? Nope, they’re walking around with their PSPs these days.

  10. Dagny

    Oh, and Heelys are the in thing in shoes — or at least they were until we banned them at the school.

  11. Neil

    Heelys? That’s not even on my radar.

  12. Jazz

    I’d love to help with the kids thing, but like you, to me kids are an almost totally alien species. And I don’t mind keeping it that way. We are our own little microcosm.

  13. Ariel

    Kids? Pah… Haven’t a clue. Along with my hymen growing back, my ovaries are also shrivelling.

  14. mrsatroxi

    No kids. Unless you count my Corgi and my Chihuahua. And I doubt they would be any help with your article.

    Heelys are shoes with wheels in the heels, the kids sorta lean back on one foot and push off with the other. I want a pair myself. Except for the falling down and killing myself part.

  15. Finn

    Apparently I’ve done something very wrong as I cannot answer these questions, yet I have an eight-year-old son. He’s eight going on 30; I think that might be the problem…

  16. Raqi

    My youngest (12) goes to private school and takes a lunch everyday. Peanut butter and jelly, fruit cup and juice.

    Here is what the school’s lunch menu consist of. Nothing like it was when I was in school.

  17. Bre

    I’ve got nothing on ten year olds. College students who act like ten year olds however….

  18. sbukophile

    A couple years ago my teenage niece wanted a lunchbox. I naively thought for school. Duh… she wanted it as a retro style purse! She’s sort of an almost goth musician type teen and this was cool.

  19. Otir

    I’d love to be your resource, Neil, as I have a fourth grader turning 10 next July and an eleven yo. As you already know you can’t get your material from my blog, that’s too bad, as I am as disorientated as you are about their culture.

    My elder does not really count as he is severely autistic, but he takes a lunchbox to school everyday, and he is very limited in his choices, no peanut butter and jelly, but he likes bread and oatmeal, pretzels and pop corn, and chocolate cookies.

    My 9 yo prefers to eat at the cafeteria but he still brings a lunch bag, because they have “snack”, that is banana bread and grapes or strawberries, or cookies and carrots, because although I sell them, I don’t want my boys to eat junk food (and there is a strong policy against it at their school too).

    He is not into baseball – probably my mistake, noone around him got him interested, I still don’t know how it works very well – but he avidly followed the World soccer cup last summer, and plays soccer too.

    They play with Pokemon cards, and they go online on “safe” websites like Club Penguin. The huge hit now is the Webkinz, but I have asked him to clean up his bedroom before he is allowed to buy one or use his own money. That was months ago, and the bedroom is still not cleaned up, so I don’t have to endure the Webkinz thingy yet.

    Here is the poem he wrote yesterday:
    Friendship looks like a bright pink
    It tastes like sweet candy
    It sounds like the beats of a heart
    It smells like the flowers of a gift
    It looks like a chain of happiness
    It makes me feel very comfortable

    Today, he had to write Haikus for homework, he did that with the paper on his knees while waiting for the schoolbus.

    He is not shopping for clothes with me, because I don’t go shopping for clothes and just get the cool stuff that cool neighbors give me when their own have outgrown them.

    He want to become a car designer, or at least that was what he was into last summer. He watches the Daily Show, and likes Steven Colbert better than I do (I prefer Jon Stewart personally).

    I am taking them tomorrow to the City because I am voting, so he is very excited to “participate” in a poll, but wants me to become a citizen so that he can vote himself here. He was sorry not to ever be able to become President.

  20. psychomom

    My boys only packed a lunch for field trips and eat pizza or burritos at the concession stand at the public school.
    New Yorker editor was wrong about the pizzeria. While waiting for the pizza I ordered for dinner (so I have time to knit) my son and his friend played Pac Man on an old school video game. Their dad is the one who plays with baseball card.

  21. V-Grrrl

    My kids sometimes pack lunch but the preppy monogrammed lunch boxes from Lands End are no longer acceptable.

    We back to school shop in August and then again in January because the little darlings go through two complete school wardrobes a year because they grow so fast. Oh yeah, and in March I buy their spring/summer clothes.

    They have no idea about brands in jeans and sneakers–thank God.

    And bedtime for the 9 and 11 year old is 8:30 p.m.

  22. Kate

    Hey, that’s why I got a dog. Cats aren’t active enough to create material to write about, but DOGS – well dogs are a handful enough to still get that Mommy Sympathy vote.

    It’s a sub-category: Dog Mommy Bloggers. 😉

  23. Neil

    Expat — I don’t remember Tempest, but it looks a bit like Asteroids. You should see Sophia at Ms. Pac-Man. She is the best I’ve ever seen. I suck at all video games. I’m also bad in pinball. But pick me for trivia games.

    Better Safe — Do your kids like wearing a uniform?

    Mom — No, you found the crappy baseball cards. You gave all the “good” ones, like the Thurman Munson away.

    Jessica — I can understand the school bus not being cool. It’s like wearing a dorky hat.

    Karl — There is a burger place in West Hollywood where you can still play Ms. Pac-Man, but Sophia informs me that they have “souped it up” [?] so it is hard to get a good score.

    Dagny — I think baseball in general was more popular when I was a kid. Now, I think basketball is probably the cool sport. I wonder if there are basketball cards. There used to be cards for everything, including movies and TV-shows, and always with that stick of awful gum. Baseball cards are now two bucks, which sound pretty expensive, especially when you can download “real” games from the internet.

    Mrsatroxi — Oh yes, the first time I saw those, I was like, “Holy crap, that is the best thing!”

    Raqi — I thought maybe peanut butter was banned from school like guns in fear of lawsuits.

    Sbukophile — That is the only time I’ve seen lunchboxes in use anymore. I’ve seen twenty-somethings using “A-team” lunchboxes as purses.

    Otir — Pokemon is still popular? Are there Harry Potter cards? And it sounds like you have a professional poet in training!

    Psychomom — Yeah, but does your husband have a Thurman Munson?

    V-Grrl — 8:30?! Yeah, that’s what they tell you. I bet you they get up again when you leave the room.

  24. Churlita

    Of course, because they are my spawn, my girls are still into playing Pacman and my youngest daughter even has an Archies calendar. They also have iPods and cell phones, they just have been WAY too exposed to the retro stuff from me. I figure they can take it up with their therapists when they’re older.

  25. fringes

    Thanks for the blogiversary shout-out. Lunch boxes are collector’s items even for kids. But for everyday, it’s the insulated bag. JA’s is Batman and even has a little cape flowing down the back. Didn’t your blog turn two right around your birthday?

  26. psychomom

    Please, he is not my husband, just the father of my children. I have no idea who Thurman is but I know he has Bob Uker. “I must be in the front row!”

  27. Postmodern Sass

    I played with hockey cards when I was a kid. You and your friends stand about ten feet from a wall, and you throw the cards toward the wall. Whoever’s card lands closest to the wall wins the others. Then you go again.

    I acquired four Wayne Gretzky rookie cards in this manner.

  28. Neil

    Fringes — Yes, on my birthday. I forgot about it.

    Sass — Hockey cards?! Canadians…

  29. nelumbo

    Lunch still comes in a jar for my baby. One difference these days with the “big kids” I teach is the cell phones. They are constantly texting in class and taking photos, even calling mom or dad in my office and asking what class to sign up for!

  30. Lou P.

    The 1987 Topps cards were great. Plus, it’s always fun to see a pre-HGH Barry Bonds.

    Agreed on Foxworthy being a bad choice for the WSTAFG Fox show. The problem: TV programmers are a copycat bunch, and when Deal or No Deal hit with a comedian host, the response was for a slew of new comedian-hosted game shows to come out (Bob Saget, Jeff Foxworthy, Penn Gillette, etc.)

  31. Pearl

    Neil, even after nearly 12 years of parenting, I cannot say I know kids better than you. They don’t come with instructions, or a warranty or a money-back guarantee. It’s trial & error all the way…along with many silent prayers and some other LOUDER moments.
    But I know I’m among the richest people in the world with Avi, Adina & Noam in my life.

  32. Tuck

    Boy – it’s been a long time since I saw so many responses to your post…must have struck a chord (or a fiber). Too tedious to describe playing baseball cards and chances are we had our own criteria…but, this is pretty much it –

    Other thoughts on today’s kids and school…today’s lunch boxes are probably purple teletubbies, Sanjaya, George Bush, and Snoop Dogg.

    They didn’t have gun detectors at school in our day though they probably should have.

    Kids are probably purchasing their nickel bags with credit cards or PayPal.

    Kids are no longer ridiculed by their gym teachers anymore (think robe climbing) due to PC and the current praise frenzy.

    In our day, were were learning in music class songs like We Shall Overcome and Blowin’ in the Wind. Who writes such songs anymore?

    Nobody had a peanut allergy.

  33. Neil

    Thanks, Tuck. Even though we called it “flipping” cards, we were wrong. That was our parent’s generation. We were playing “colors,” according to that website.

  34. kapgar

    Ms. Pac-Man is out? Bummer. I still wanted to load up my future basement with that 20th anniversary arcade cabinet version of Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. Would that just bode poorly for my cool factor?

  35. Tamara

    Well, being the youngest of 7. We were like the brady bunch. My mom and dad had 4, step mom had 3. Go figure. With 6 older siblings, all married with children, I am an aunt 11 times over…and I’m only 33!

    Not to mention, I teach high school.

    And so, as far as new wardrobes, kids just don’t dress up for first day of school or school pics anymore. That goes for all ages.

    School lunches are more for suburbs and parents who can afford to pack a lunch daily. I teach in L.A. and 75% of my students are on the free lunch program. So, it’s greasy sweet n sour chicken bowls, pizza, burritos, fried chicken fingers, french fries, salad shakers, pretty much crap!

  36. wendy

    Ten year olds can be greatly effected by older siblings…those w/o any..usually are free spirits, still kids. They may or may not carry little insulated lunch bags. All will complain about cafeteria food. The one’s w/ older sibs, tend to be little mini teenagers. Lot’s of them dress the part..and flash alot of attitude. Kingdom of hearts is big for a game around here.. And i don’t know one ten year old…who is not obsessed with Harry Potter. Oh, and turning the big “1-0..” is still a big deal. Ten year olds still occasionally cry.. boy and girls alike..and this is when “crushes” start in earnest.

  37. Dagny

    Tamara, I totally get you on the lunch thing. At least 60% of my kids are on the free or reduced lunch thing. The only time I have seen them all with a bag lunch is on a field trip. They get so excited over convincing their parents to go out shopping for stuff that does not come from the cafeteria. That reminds me. I must set up a time for my room parent, who is a nutrition teacher, to do a cooking demonstration in my classroom.

    And thank you to Mrsatroxi for explaining Heelys.

    Oh, and my kids dress up for picture day. Not the school picture one in the fall, but the spring pictures. Because that falls on a free dress day.

  38. Caron

    Maybe a volunteer gig, like the Big Brother program would get you lots of background material for your pulitzer prize winning article.

  39. CiCi

    I have taught high school for 12 years now, and I don’t think I’ve seen a student with a real lunch box ever. I’ve seen a few insulated lunch bags, but not many.

    I’m not sure just how many of them would know what Ms. Pac-Man is since they are so unaware of just about everything except what directly involves them. Though they are all up on the latest cell phones and car stereo systems.

    Right now it seems as though new clothes shopping must involve buying clothes that look as ratty and outgrown as possible – holes all over the jeans, faded T-shirts, shorts from cut off sweat pants, and for the girls, jackets that stop just under the boobs, like it was meant for someone two feet shorter. They keep trying for uniforms at my school, but it hasn’t been voted in by the parents yet – we’re 1 of 4 schools in the 53-school district that doesn’t have uniforms. Everyday I wish the school board would come to its senses and mandate uniforms. In the words of a co-worker “I’m tired of seeing the ‘twins’ everyday.”

    If nothing else, high school provides my daily dose of entertainment (and frustration). Especially when I have 18 year old whining because they didn’t get a sticker or stamp on their paper.

  40. Cynical Girl

    The husband and I decided that strollers should be banned. Kids can wear those roller shoes and be pulled around via leashes until they’re old enough to get a job and pay social security taxes.

  41. Neil

    Hmmm, Caron… a Big Brother program. Sounds interesting. Maybe I could get the kid to help me understand Google Analytics.

  42. Dagny

    Caron, thanks for the mention of BBBS. Many agencies are flailing due to the lack of volunteers. Right after 9/11 everyone wanted to sign up but now? More kids than volunteers.

    So if you have a clean criminal record (This includes DWIs.), you should contact your local agency because most of them are hurting for volunteers. And if you can’t volunteer, please donate.

    And if you haven’t guessed yet, this is something a little personal to me.

  43. rach

    I’m a mommyblogger and would never ignore you. You are very worthy of my time, and you rock! So there!

  44. Neil

    Rach — That’s only because you know I have the hots for British women.

  45. Kofi

    Kids cramp styles. Just temporarily steal kids from siblings or cousins or friends then give them back when you’re starting to feel homicidal. My sister might have kids someday… but they’ll probably be FAS babies or crack-addicted at this point…

  46. Jack

    My kids provide more blog fodder than I can possibly use.

  47. Kiki

    I know it is already May 2, but I wanted to participate in your kids questions! My three go to a Catholic school, and wear uniforms. They don’t seem to mind, at least they rarely complain! They are more interested in how something looks than the brand name (thank god). They wanted a North Face style jacket this winter, but were perfectly happy with the much cheaper Columbia version. They like to play on the computer (games), but also like their nintendo ds’s (ie gameboy)including Pac Man!. “Hot lunch” is served at our school, but I think it is junk and overpriced. They bring lunch in soft sided insulated lunch boxes–pb and jelly(or banana or honey) fruit cups, apples, chips, cookies or Little Debbie type snacks. Sometimes, my oldes brings a bagel, and the two older ones (10 and 11 yo girls)often bring turkey. The 11 year old likes vegetables and ranch dressing too.

    My kids are pretty restricted in what the are allowed to watch on tv. I hate Nickelodeon and Cartoon network. they watch the news, discovery, history, PBS (antique roadshow)etc. They are very nerdy becasue of my influence, I’m sure. They do have MP3 players–loaded up with music I have chosen, or they ask for certain songs, and I oblige. I love the “80’s too, so lots of old U2, Paul Young, English Beat, old Dolly Parton etc., and then bluegrass and other stuff I just like. They seem to like it too. They are big readers, and my 11 year old is big writer as well, of short stories, poetry and a novel she is in the process of writing. The 10 year old plays piano, both girls sing in the church choir, and are in the school band (flute and clarinet). They are active Girl Scouts. They love pizza(especially NY style, hard to get in B’ham Alabama, but there are some Manhattanites with a very good one down the street! I’m a native LI’er myself) and my kindergarten boy loves McDonald’s. He is like a little addict. The girls were disgusted by Super Size Me (which I let them watch on MSNBC), so they are becoming a little more health conscious than 6 yo boy. They swim, play soccer and ride on their scooter. I think they are different from most kids these days, but please do know not all kids are spoiled brats telling their parents what they are going to be doing! Mom and Dad are still the boss around here.
    Their report cards are printed out by computers, but everyone still gets a hard copy! They talk about homework on the phone (the 11 yo gets a lot of calls, being a real smarty pants in her class). Baseball cards? Well, 6 yo is a little young, but he does have some kind of monstery looking cards. I recently heard Pokemon is making a come back with the high school age kids. The girls have no interest in that right now. They love webkinz and still check on their neopets. 6 yo loves Spider Man, Pirates, etc.
    They’re cool I think! Having kids has been fun for us, over all. Yes, there is pain and suffering involved, but the joys are immense as well.

  48. Kiki

    PS I was an only child also. So all the sibling stuff is wonderful to me. The two girls are best friends, and the 6 yo boy and his 10 yo sister are best of buddies. He worships her.

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