Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Reflections of Generation X

Hey, I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day!

I should probably get my ducks in a row by preparing timely holiday posts, but I’m too busy celebrating with my family and am apparently not great at planning ahead. We had a nice time swimming and eating a good meal with my folks, at any rate.

Watching my kids with their grandparents got me thinking about the different childhoods we various generations have had. My folks are Baby Boomers, the young adults currently dominating the scene are Millennials, of course, and my kids will be part of some generation that doesn’t even have a name yet. You know, the one soon to be characterized by all their robot friends or teleportation skills or whatever.

crawford_lang1And me? I’m late Generation X (the “whatever” should’ve clued you in). We used to be all the rage, back when we were waiting to see if Winona Ryder would pick Ethan Hawke or Ben Stiller before rocking out to Nirvana while wearing our long-sleeved plaid shirts and brown lipstick.

We gave you cynicism, MTV, Rap and Grunge Rock (it was a backlash against those flashy 80’s. Plus, we had AIDS & crack epidemics on our hands and all watched the much-hyped Challenger explode when we were little kids).

We questioned the American Dream and debated all existing philosophies without worrying much about PC language, beyond a few obvious terms (we just turned everything into sarcasm and irony if someone got annoyed). We figured we had the racism deal mostly licked by the time The Cosby Show came out (oh, how different that seems in retrospect) and sexism practically beat with Title IX and Puritanism was clearly on the wane since Bart Simpson started swearing in family cartoons (that’s right, folks. You so wouldn’t have Family Guy and Robot Chicken if it weren’t for us. Honestly, I can’t believe The Simpsons is still on TV).

See, Gen Xer’s are young enough to have been introduced to email, smart phones, and the internet relatively early, (early enough to master them without frequent bouts of cranky belligerence, at least) while still old enough to remember what growing up without them was like.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about how they made life different, for better or worse:

Video Games

I’m… ahem… old enough to barely remember when playing a video game meant loading a tape for 45 minutes then smacking pixelated squares around with a joystick. Or dumping quarters into an arcade while avoiding the much older, friendlier men.

I can actually remember trying to sort out Zork commands. Those games always had long, tedious maze sections.

And I also remember when hitting a snag in a game meant possibly never finishing the game. I got stuck in one that doesn’t exist anymore while trying to get my rich family to travel back in time to their medieval selves, hoping for the chance to type in the “sneer” command. I hit this puzzle that I couldn’t solve and still don’t know how that story ended.

You couldn’t look up walkthroughs. You would just sit there, stuck, unable to finish your game and running to the nearest comic book store to find whatever local nerd you figured had the best chance of having figured it out.

I played Sim City back when it was a bunch of red and yellow rectangles and Age of Empires, back when it was just minuscule cave men saying, “Rooooooh-gan!” before cutting down a tree. I remember when Castle Wolfenstein was a bunch of stick figures shouting angry German amidst the hiss of walkie-talkies (surprisingly terrifying at the time) and when Doom began setting the standards for awesome graphics and superficial, blow-everything-up game play.

And now… well… I still love video games and modern graphics make the ones I grew up playing look like something a drunk toddler worked out on an Etch-o-Sketch, but we did have elaborate stories and had to mentally fill out those stick figures with our wild imaginations. We also didn’t have those massive multiplayer online role-playing games that now suck up years of people’s lives with their thin storylines and continuously-regenerating VI opponents that make you button-mash like a laboratory chimp jonesing for its next cocaine hit until it starts peeing itself and finally forgets to mate or eat.

So… there’s that.

Plus, we’re now seeing a strange return to those earlier simplistic games with FarmVille and similar phone apps, now combined with the addictive qualities of MMORPG’s. Hey, it doesn’t really matter if your pumpkin crop fails, people. Get on with your life (and get off my lawn).

Smart phones

chandler
Yeah, they were pretty goofy.

For a while, when I was growing up, personal phones were around but not something most people had access to. They were really popular in Italy and we all found that really funny (Psh, those crazy Italians and their crazy cell phones and wild hand gestures and protection rackets).

They were also roughly shaped like a shoebox and cost a ton of money to use, so only businessmen were using them to make sure everyone knew that their time was really that important and those guys were probably also shelling out for those exorbitant plane phones while flying Business Class or getting their suits tailored or otherwise worshipping at the altar of Ayn Rand.

But normal people had landlines. If you wanted to showcase your whimsical, Bohemian self, you’d get something like a hamburger-shaped phone (Hell, I remember when cordless phones were a big deal because they’d you let you walk outside a two-foot radius).

People couldn’t contact you outside your house. Sure, we had answering machines so you’d find out if someone called, but you wouldn’t know about it before you came home (and you could be on vacation). You could feasibly put off calling someone back for several days, because you hadn’t had a chance to check your messages.

On the one hand, texting is really convenient. You can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time.

On the other, now anyone can reach you, anywhere, at any time. They now expect you to get back to them right away, or else they’ll be mad. There’s no excuse, because you’re wearing your phone at all times, or should be. You can never totally escape into the activities of the present moment, because in a way, you’re always leashed to a device that keeps you perpetually “on call.”

And you can’t heighten romantic tension anymore by making your significant other think you’re running around having an awesome time, innocently oblivious to all of their attempts to contact you. Now, you’re just ignoring them, which is rude. It used to be much easier to remain mysterious.

But I sure wish I had Google maps back in college because it would saved me from so many crying jags on L.A. freeways. Thomas Guides were absolute crap.

Downloadable media

It was once much harder to get your hands on entertainment. You had to buy compact discs for $16, so they’d better be worth it. You either had to catch shows when they were on or make sure you programmed your VCR correctly, and also that no one accidentally taped over your show, because once you missed it, you could be waiting years for it to come back on. If ever.

blockbuster
However, there used to be more comedy scenarios about people you wanted to impress catching you picking up embarrassing films.

If you wanted to see a movie, you’d drive to Blockbuster Video. You could rent movies for just a dollar, but they’d triple in price if you returned them thirty seconds after 8 PM the next day. For some reason, your rental bill always ended up being $8, which was roughy the same price as a couple of fast-food dinners, so renting several movies meant having to order fewer pizzas that month.

It’s a bizarre equation, but trust me… that’s how it was.

It’s nice to be able to instantly access whatever you’re interested in without having to rearrange your schedule. But on the other hand, we probably watched less TV and spent more time outside, doing stuff during which no one could contact us without getting into a car and finding us.

We also had fewer channels, which means we couldn’t as easily live in the polarized political echo-chambers people live in today, with internet sites, news channels, and Facebook groups completely devoted to upholding whatever one-sided world views we’re aligning with. We tended to argue more face-to-face.

The Internet

It’s pretty great to access whatever information we want, across international borders, within a minute or two. You can fall into rabbit-holes of infotainment that you once had to tackle walls of library microfiche to navigate.

We can also fact-check more easily now. If someone warns you about the guys at the Walmart parking lot knocking unsuspecting women out with chloroform disguised as perfume samples, it now takes 30 seconds to debunk the idea on Snopes.com, whereas it used to remain an unconfirmed rumor, forever.

So you’d think people would get less paranoid, right? Except now we have entire websites devoted to whatever whackadoodle conspiracies people take as Gospel Truth, so I’m not sure.

Today, anyone can also write anything on the internet and get lots of attention for it. I don’t think we had as much of a troll culture back in the 90’s. We spoke much more earnestly back then.

trollNow, it’s hard to tell if someone’s a jerk or just trying to get a rise out of people, which inherently casts doubt upon any unconventional opinion. If you start taking on someone’s nasty argument, you get worried about becoming the sap that’s playing into some obnoxious troll’s hands, so we now hear increasingly crazy, unchallenged opinions on a regular basis that go half-ignored by most because we’re unsure of how to best distinguish idiocy from narcissism.

Maybe that’s why people seem more outraged these days… they have to convince everyone that they really, really mean it.


So, any other Gen-Xer’s out there who want to weigh in on what I’ve been saying? How about some Boomers or Millennials?

Or even the Greatest Generation, if you guys are actually perusing blogs right now instead of discussing the mechanics of WWII planes. I’d love to hear your insights as well, since you guys definitely have the long view in this equation.

 

 

 

 

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Love in Darkness

Sometimes, I wish I lived in my five-year-old’s universe. It’s a magical land of unbridled optimism.

Just the other night, she proudly announced that the moon loves her.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because it’s always following me,” she said. Pointing to the sky, she hopped up and down with excitement:

“Look, it’s doing it again!”

Weekly Weirdness

Lately, I’ve been admiring the Weekly Roundups some of my fellow bloggers have been posting and I want to try it too!

But here’s my spin: I’d like to share a few funny exchanges I had with my weird kids this week, then mention some reactions the week’s topics:

Our Ridiculous Dog

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-2-36-25-amBrontë (looking very serious): Mommy, I need to talk to you about something.

Me (sitting down): What is it?

Brontë (deeply sighing, then taking my hand): Well, Douglas chewed up the cushions, ate our toys, barks at the kitties, and keeps knocking us over when we play outside…

Me: I know. He’s a very frustrating dog.

Brontë: And I think we should change his name from ‘Douglas’ to ‘Butthole.’

Kids Who Won’t Nap

 

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Bidgie pokes her sister in the eyeball as she naps

Brontë: So are we gonna go on a walk and then swim?

 

Me: That depends on you. We’ll have time if you guys take a nap when we get home. If I keep having to go in there because you’re playing, then we’ll probably run out of time.

Brontë: We’ll be good and take a nap but first, I want to make a bunch of noise and have you run in and say, “SHUT IT DOWN, BABIES!” Then we’ll be quiet, okay?

Me: That works.

Refugee Lemurs

IMG_5215Brontë (upon seeing her stuffed lemur in my room): What are you DOING here??

Me: He’s been hanging out here lately.

Brontë: Why? To pet Violet the kitty?

Me: Yeah. Plus he said your room smells like farts.

Brontë: WHAT!? Okay, that’s fair. Can you come open my window?

Weekly Feedback

  • Got props on Twitter this week for being the mommy blogger who actually worked the phrase “Angry Rabbit Perverts” into an article.
  • Turns out, most parents are still firmly in the pro-sharing camp. I think that’s probably wise.
  • According to my kids, Bubbles and Beebots remains painfully short on bunny captions.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Tales of the Lizard People

Maybe I’m psychic, but the other day I got a distinct feeling there was something going on in our closet.

Or, maybe it had something to do with seeing this:

IMG_5176

 

And then, this:

 

Yup, this wasn’t looking coincidental in the slightest. Next, Frodo the Cat got involved:

 

Let me just zoom in here, in case you missed it…

IMG_5169 3.jpg

Yep, there was a cute little baby lizard hanging out in the closet, delighting my kids. It ran in a graceful S-shape, seeming rather shy.

“CAN WE KEEP IT AS A PET?” Brontë squealed.

I had nearly picked it up so the kids could hold it before my husband came racing over  with a bowl and paper to trap it. “Are you SURE that’s not a SNAKE?” he shouted.

“YES. It has LEGS.”

Still, he promptly walked it out the door and dumped it into some bushes. The kids were disappointed.

But it ended up being the right move, because we eventually figured out that the little guy was an alligator lizard.

And alligator lizards, it turns out, are NASTY.

Good thing I didn’t try to grab it, because alligator lizards are really aggressive and will hiss, chase, attack, and bite you HARD. Like this:

lizardbite

See? It’s so common, they have free stock images of alligator lizard bites all over the web.  Here’s a YouTube link about some guy looking for alligator lizards and another one, where some guy thinks it’s hilarious to get his finger bitten multiple times (!?).  I wouldn’t recommend this, btw, because apart from the obvious unpleasantness of getting bitten by a lizard, they also spread a lot of infections and Lyme disease.

The one we found in our closet was small though, clearly a baby. He may have been harmless…

BUT, after my parents came to visit the next day, they found THIS one sitting on their car when they were leaving to drive home:

IMG_5186
**Shudder**
I’m convinced it was the closet lizard’s mom, giving everyone a stern warning. “Don’t even THINK about messing with my kid!”

Ugh, okay. No problem. You guys just go do your own lizard thing, okay?

 

Getting Fat and Dealing With French Condescension

I haven’t been keeping up with my blog for the past few weeks and ho boy, did the comments, postings and emails blow up. It’s like that old episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy lets everything pile up on the chocolate factory, only I wasn’t seeing the chocolates threatening to avalanche because it was all happening in the mystical, invisible land of the internet.

lucy.jpgSo, today I literally tackled 4000 emails. They weren’t entirely my blog’s fault because I also spent half the day unsubscribing from various marketing assembly lines, which was a dragon whose slaying was long overdue.

I mean, what else was going to happen to an openminded, very curious (likely undiagnosed attention-disordered)  woman like myself? SURE, I’d love to learn about the world of cycling and how runners should eat. How about the mysteries of ancient civilizations and Abraham Lincoln’s private letters while we’re at it? Of COURSE, I want to hear about whenever your breakthrough mascaras that will change my life forever go on sale (shockingly perfect eyelashes -> ? -> perfect life!) And WOW, you’ll tell me whether I have a fire, air, earth or water personality with your free quiz if I just enter my email that you promise not to share with anyone? (So weird, because Six Flags over Georgia keeps telling me about their promotions, though I’m almost positive I never asked).

frenchsnob.pngAaaaand on top of that, I started taking a French class with my mom and working out early in the morning, which screws up my powerfully creative middle-of-the-night writing time more than you’d expect. You see, mom and I thought I would be nice to do something together, like take a French film class. Except she’s a retired French teacher and I… well, I learned some French from hearing her speak it when I was little and later studied it in school, but I haven’t used it in quite some time. Picking a class that would neither bore mom to tears nor be ridiculously over my head was a true challenge.

So, I took a placement test and according to the Alliance Francaise, I’m an Advanced Intermediate, but it hardly feels that way when I’m watching French war films from the 60’s, paying extremely close attention to everyone’s body language in the desperate hope  of figuring out a gnat’s wing of context, and reading out French dialogues in class while feeling about as ashamed as I’d imagine feeling after just peeing on the public floor. (Why do they have to talk SO FAST!?)

The entire class is in French, including the instructions, and while I understand about 87% of it, I nevertheless have to hear myself answering the teacher in cavewoman grunts while watching her look at me with that pained, patronizing expression that means she’s pretending that I don’t sound like an idiot so I won’t get discouraged. When it’s just too rough, I occasionally break into English again, whereupon she looks mildly startled by my capacity for abstract reasoning, as though she’d assumed my aching attempts at normal French conversation reflected my general aptitude. This must be how blind people feel when others shout at them in slow, simple language. Or immigrants, when natives assume that their fractured grammar represents how their whole brain operates.

Eh, I complain because it’s entertaining, but I’m actually enjoying this class a great deal. I like being forced to learn something new. You see, I spend most of my time around toddlers, and while I love my kids to pieces and cherish the time I spend with them, it’s not exactly an intellectual challenge, right about now. For example, I spent the bulk of today’s afternoon helping my 3-year-old practice writing her name, which consisted of her randomly scribbling on a paper then looking really proud of her alphabet mastery. Essentially, she was me in French class, except she’s blissfully unaware of how far off she is, whereas I can’t help but catch every micro-condescension in my French teacher’s eyes.

But in addition to taking the French class, I’ve also started waking up early to work out. You may be wondering why, given my obvious night-owl tendencies…

You see, I decided to start exercising more and eating better after my five-year-old started asking me if she was going to get a new baby sister.

“No,” I told her. “Daddy and I are happy with two girls. We aren’t going to have another baby.”

“But your belly is sooo… BIG. Like when you were making Bridget.”

Sigh.

“No, I’m not having another baby.”

“But it’s getting BIGGER and BIGGER!”

Frankly, I think she’s being a bit of a weight Nazi, because I’ve only put on around ten pounds or so.

Maybe 15. Okay, maybe it’s 15 and I happen to think 15 pounds from skinniness is a little premature to start asking your mom whether she’s pregnant. Still, I read something about how only yoga pants and toddlers tell the truth and figure if your belly is getting big enough for your kids to notice it, it’s probably time to jump on it before it becomes a larger issue.

And it could be worse, given that she’s also been asking her dad if he’s making her a baby brother, since she assumes women make girls while men make boys. Which makes primitive sense, assuming you don’t fully understand the process.

So, I’ve recently embarked on a P90x exercise routine in the mornings, because doing it anytime later throws off my entire day, as well as a bold attempt at eating better. The whole process has made me reflect on how much easier it is to get fat and out of shape once you have kids.

I plan to talk about it in my next posting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways I Like To Pretend I’m Filthy Rich

“Gratitude is riches” -Doris Day

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re browsing your Facebook feed when you come across a bunch of photos of your friend Alex deep-sea diving in New Zealand. Why look, the whole family is there… all bronzed and smiling.

vacationYou’re happy for Alex. Really. Because Alex is your buddy and you think it’s awesome to go to New Zealand, just like it was awesome when he went to Copenhagen a few months back.

Not that you’d know, having never been to either place yourself. (You start counting the years since you’ve been on vacation…)

And then, before checking your bank account to make sure the Netflix charges cleared, you read about how Gwyneth Paltrow believes in steaming her hoo-ha before  advertising $900 casual slip-dresses made for 5’9” models with 32” chests on her website Goop, like these would be reasonable options for any normal person to consider.

Does it bug you? Does it bug you that it bugs you?

Well, don’t worry, because it’s completely normal. You see, researchers have found that money doesn’t buy happiness after all… unless we have more of it than our friends and colleagues do. We care most about how we’re doing compared to everyone else around us.

Which makes sense. I mean, if everyone in the village has two goats and your family has FOUR, then you’re probably feeling pretty successful and respect-worthy until someone in the village builds a skyscraper.

But that skyscraper family needs love too. Look,  I’m not trying to be intimidating, but I’ve  got some pretty impressive resources myself. I have assets that have only been available to an elite percentage of lucky people…

That is, as long as you’re counting all the people who have ever lived since the beginning of time. Which I am.

Laugh at my adorably child-like imagination if you must, but comparing myself to people who lived hundreds of years ago makes me feel a whole lot better than reading about the Kardashian sisters’ weekly armpit-bleaching (I may have made that last part up, but you get my drift).

Plus, it means feeling filthy rich every time that I:

1. Eat Oranges

My darling mother-in-law from North Carolina recently visited, seeing our new house for the very first time.

She was most gracious about it, but what seemed to truly impress her most was the orange tree we have in our backyard. Imagine seeing an orange tree through your bathroom window, she sighed wistfully.

Now, growing up near towns with names like “Citrus Heights” has left me somewhat oblivious to my backyard citrus privileges, but seeing her perspective helped me realize how unusual it actually is… Oh yeah, people used to receive oranges in Christmas stockings, back when they were an enormous deal because non-local goods were really expensive. 

In fact, Marie Antoinette, who’s the very symbol of whimsical decadence if anyone is, had orange trees from Spain and Portugal wheeled into the gardens of Versailles in planter boxes every morning from their warming rooms, as a statement of her fabulous access to luxury goods.

And here I am, staring at oranges from my bathroom window. Like a BOSS.

2.  Drink Hot Chocolate

History-of-chocolate-franceThe-Family-of-the-Duke-of-Penthièvre-tasse-du-chocolat-jean-paul-charpentierI like to start my day with a nice cup of hot chocolate, like it’s no big deal at all.

But this habit would’ve once pegged me as a pampered aristocrat.

 

Because chocolate used to be unbelievably expensive. The Aztecs believed it was a divine gift and used it for currency.

It first appeared at the French court of Versailles in 1666, during the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Versailles, of course, was world-renowned for ridiculous self-indulgences and nearly pornographic levels of luxury at the time.

And even THEY were impressed by chocolate. After Louis XIV’s married Marie Thérèse of Spain, who loved the stuff, the king granted the first chocolate manufacturer in France, David Chaillou, a monopoly, which kept chocolate unbelievably expensive for a very long time.

Yet here I am, starting each day with a heaping cup of chocolate, the 17th century equivalent of breakfasting on Beluga caviar sprinkled in gold dust while setting hundred dollar bills on fire.

3.  Pepper My Food

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is the dried spice everyone keeps in half of their salt and pepper shakers. Nowadays, it’s the bare minimum of any spice collection, something found on every table at any truck stop in any random backwater town.

But it used to be something only insanely wealthy people could afford to use.

In fact, the Dutch still use the expression “peperduur,” which means “pepper expensive,” to refer to outrageously costly things. It’s a holdover from earlier times, when pepper was literally more valuable than gold. It’s rumored that Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, and Attila, who ruled the Huns, both demanded ransoms of black pepper in exchange for stopping their attacks on Rome during the 5th century.

4.  Salt My Food

What-Salt-Bae-MemeThe word “salary” is actually derived from the word salt, coming from the Latin “salarium,” or “money to buy salt with.” Apparently, people used to picture incomes in terms of how much salt they could buy.

Salt is vital. It preserves food and makes it taste good. People care about it so much that salt taxes lead to revolutions… like how the French Gabelle led to the French Revolution, or how Gandhi’s defiance of the salt tax led to Indian independence from Britain.

Salt is sacred. Greek, Jewish, Catholics, Buddhists, Tibetans,followers of Shinto, Southwest Native Americans, and other religious groups historically involved salt in holy rituals.

And yet, I can boast an embarrassing wealth of saltiness. I have table salt, Kosher salt, and two kinds of sea salt at my disposal… I can throw salt into my baths, as well as on my food. I can buy a HUGE amount of salt, more salt than I could use in years, and I don’t even run around bragging about it.

5.  Flip On the Air-Conditioning

For most of human history, we’ve had to live in the elements the best that we could.

If it was snowing, we could build shelters, sew thick clothing, wrap ourselves in furs, or build a fire.

But if it was blisteringly hot, there wasn’t much we could do, except not wear a bunch of clothes (I’m talking to you, Victorian England).

Or we could buy ice.

Thing is, ice harvesting used to be extremely dangerous–huge blocks of ice could accidentally slide onto the workers and crush them–yet incredibly profitable. Ice merchants got rich during the 19th century, reaching peak competition in the 1860’s when the industry pulled in $28 million ($660 million in today’s terms).

Before that, there wasn’t much people could do to deal with the heat, apart from jumping in the lake or making someone wave a fan at you.

So whenever I flip on the air-conditioning, it’s basically the new world equivalent of filling the room with expensive ice cubes or having a team of servants waving a bunch of ostrich feathers in my face.

I should probably be reclining on a couch and eating grapes whenever I do it.

Don’t Hate

These are just a few of the ways I like to pretend I’m a powerful empress in the ancient world. Just think about how impressed medieval people would be if they travelled forward in time to behold the splendor of my lifestyle.

But don’t be jealous. You’re probably an aristocrat too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Un-Adult Confession

I’m afraid of ghosts, even though I don’t believe in ghosts.

37af72ca372988ff32069e05ff3bc797
Ghosts are usually Victorian children.

To start with, it doesn’t make sense that most ghosts come from the 19th century. Where are all the old guys in Bermuda shorts? You never hear about mundane ghost problems like Uncle Rob eating all the mixed nuts every time you leave the room.

It’s never Aunt Josie hanging her orthopedic bra over your shower or some 80’s kid who keeps flipping the stereo to Michael Jackson hits. No, it’s always some  creepy little girl in a white dress staring you down in the hallway, or an axe murderer writing blood messages on the mirror. What about Neanderthals?

The rational part of my brain doesn’t believe in ghosts for a second, but that doesn’t stop me from flipping the light on every time I think about them too long.  I’d never be able to sleep in a haunted house because I’d be too busy curling into a quivering ball at every random noise (Being a ball totally protects me from supernatural powers, right?)

So, I have a completely irrational fear of ghosts and to make matters worse, I now have two little kids running around. There’s a fine line between kid stuff and haunted ghost paraphernalia.

dolls.jpg
How thirsty are you?

These days, if I need to walk across my house in the middle of the night, there’s a very good chance of encountering a discarded doll along my journey. She’ll just be lying on the floor, staring at me in the quiet darkness with her menacing dead eyes as I crab-walk sideways to grab a glass of water.

And it was in this creepy hellscape of frozen dolls and off-key music boxes last night that my four-year-old daughter Brontë asked me, “I don’t like dead bodies, mommy. Do you?”

“NO. I do not like dead bodies,” I told her while wondering what put this idea in her head.

“Where have you seen dead bodies?” I asked.

“I’m seeing them right now.”

Aaaand that’s when my blood turned to ice.

Heart pounding, I looked down at the Wii balance board I was fixing up for her, sorting out what direction to insert the double AA’s. Something clicked.

“Dead… BAT-TER-IES?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Brontë says. “Dead batteries means your stuff doesn’t work! You don’t like them, right?”

Okay, maybe I overreacted.

Gorillas Can tell Us Whether The World is Good or Evil

If you ever find yourself on an airplane near a screaming child who is thrashing around in  his seat, desperate to zig-zag through its narrow aisles, you’ll discover there are two kinds of people in this world:

  1. Those who think the child’s behavior is intolerable, angry about children being on planes at all, and
  2. Those who think the first type of people are horrible, because For heaven’s sake, weren’t they once children themselves?

The crazy thing is: both of them are right.

Just ask a parent. We know better than anyone just how infuriating children can be. They scream, they whine, they repeatedly kick you when they’re too hyperactive to sit still before suddenly pretending their legs don’t work when you need to get somewhere, to the point where sometimes “You need a time-out” is actually code for “I need a time-out, before you throw that toy in my face one more time and I end up teaching you the rules of the jungle.”

Any parent who says otherwise is lying. Possibly to themselves and probably out of guilt, because there are two kinds of parenting experts in this world:

  1.  Those who believe children are all born perfect, eager to please us, and will only be derailed by our failure to love or support them enough, and
  2. Those who believe kids begin as sinful, selfish sociopaths who will one day wreak holy terror on the rest of us, unless they’re properly guided with enough firm, consistent discipline.

And in this case, I believe neither extreme is right.

Kids are BOTH. Loving and selfish, wild and innocent, insecure and bold… all human potential rests in these budding balls of hyperactive, overemotional people-larvae. Child development experts might act as though raising children were a science, but I believe it’s more of an art form. You’re the maestro of a complex orchestra, making sure the delicate winds and higher strings are neither shrill nor overpowered, while the thumping bass gives enough structure without drowning out all of the nuances.

And OF COURSE we were all children once. We still are. When we look at them, we’re looking at ourselves… before we learn better ways of hiding our motivations or understanding the unspoken social rules about defining our place in the hierarchy.

Do you really believe wanting an impressive handbag or car is sophisticated or altruistic?

Do you think tailgating a slower driver to teach them a lesson represents a practical, mature attitude?

Do you think fighting for a closer parking space is a productive use of our energy?

When we deal with children, we’re dealing with human beings stripped down to the essential truths. Yes, child brains aren’t fully developed, but the foundation is there if you’re brave enough to consider it.

People who reject the theory of evolution are often put off by the idea that we descended from primates, even though primates are incredibly intelligent animals. If you dig into it enough, it gets harder to reject the theory…

koko.jpgLast week, I watched “A Conversation with Koko,” a PBS special from 1999 about a lowland gorilla who learned over 1100 words in sign language. Since gorillas can’t “talk” the way people do (based on gorillas’ physical limitations) this vast language acquisition allowed her to communicate with her teacher, Dr. Penny Patterson, in ways previously unknown.

As a parent, I found myself weirdly identifying with Dr. Patteerson. We were both dealing with wild subjects who could throw fits and poo with reckless abandon, yet were probably more capable of tender emotions than the subject’s rough exterior would suggest.

Koko the gorilla liked to paint, as do my toddler daughters. None of them paint with much sophistication, yet they want to express their creative vision in a way we should probably appreciate and respect.

Koko invented new words, calling her hairbrush a “head-scratch,” for example. My daughters also invent new words, calling socks with stars on them “outer space rocket socks.”

Koko adopted a kitten. She named her “All-ball,” because she would ball up. When the kitten died, Dr. Patterson tried to explain it. Koko quietly nodded before Dr. Patterson left the room. She closes the door to Koko’s room, and then you can hear Koko screaming in agony on the video. She holds it together until the moment she thinks she is alone, then sobs and wails in grief over her lost kitten.

And this is an important point, I think. Gorillas are animals, and remain animals even though they are our closest relatives in the animal world. They have no reason to care about anything that isn’t selfish or self-sustaining, yet Koko was tortured by the thought of never seeing her little kitten again.

Koko used practical signs to get through her day, but sometimes she would go off script and ask her trainer something impractical..

She would say:

“Koko is good. Koko is a good gorilla. Love me. Love Koko. I’m good.”

And there, folks, is the window into our soul. And the souls of our children.

We want to be loved. We want to be good. Despite all of our flaws and selfishness, we desperately want people to love us. Because it matters.

And if it matters to primates, then it definitely matters to kids and to the rest of us.

Kids are imperfect, but they want to be loved.

And maybe the way we react to them says a lot about how we feel about ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World From Three Feet Up

My four-year-old daughter snagged my phone the other day. It was the huge pile of blurry photos at weird angles in my photo library that tipped me off.

At first, I was annoyed by all random shots, but the more I looked… the more I realized what an interesting window they were into how our enormous world appears to a tiny child.

My daughter doesn’t know anything about framing or technique or what she’s supposed to find beautiful. Her take is still completely authentic and unfiltered… and involves following cats.

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