Taking Back the Family

This year, more and more retailers are pledging to open on Thanksgiving with special deals designed to do one thing: further destroy the American family.

It is easy to make this purely a labor argument.  Those people working in retail are forced to go in on Thanksgiving day.  That robs them of the chance to spend family time together, and often may deny them from traveling to see family on the one day they previously could.  Sure, they can use vacation leave if they have it at some point, but the reality is that isn’t easy to accomplish.  If we really think about this, though, it’s far more than just an unfair labor practice.

It’s more of an attack on families than it is about simple corporate greed in trying to attract business.  So many corporate executives love to tout how “family values” oriented their companies are as corporations.  It’s been at the heart of so many debates, up to and including debates about same sex marriage.  However, these same “family values” oriented corporations are willing to pull their workers from their families by forcing them to go in on Thanksgiving day.  They are willing to lure Americans away from their families with the promise of a handful of deals designed to make people go shop at their stores.  If Black Friday wasn’t despicable enough with its obvious bait-and-switch tactics, it now happens a day earlier.  It’s sickening.

So why exactly are they doing it?  Because it works.  Because they can.  Because in typical fashion, the more the upper 1% can weaken the family unit, the more control they continue to have over the country.  But we can stop it in this case.

Here’s my pledge, and my challenge.  There are lists of retailers remaining closed on Thanksgiving.  One such list can be found here.  Not only do I pledge to not buy any Christmas presents from any  store open on Thanksgiving, but I pledge to not shop at any of them for all of December.

Anyone who knows me knows I love Target, but I’m crossing Target off the list for all of December, because they have announced they will be open on Thanksgiving.  I’ll stick to the stores on the list above, and those that remain closed on Thanksgiving day.  I believe in the right of American workers to have family time, and I believe that families should spend time together instead of shopping for deals that make us feel like we’re part of the upper class to keep us quiet.  That’s my pledge, and I challenge everyone else to do the same.  If we all did it, the stores would stop opening on Thanksgiving, because they would lose money.  More importantly, we all would successfully have defended precious family time for all Americans.

Join me, if you think you can make it through a month without some of your favorite stores.  That’s my challenge.

#NotBabysitting

Here we are, 11 months and several weeks into this experiment called parenting.  It’s had its ups and downs for sure – way more ups than downs – but we, like many billions before us, are surviving just fine.  Maybe even thriving, but I don’t want to be cocky.  Yet.

Something did happen a few weeks ago, and it is one of those things that has made a big impression on me.  I’ve thought about it over and over, and I’ve had several discussions.  Of course, to relate the whole thing the right way, there’s a little bit of back story.

My wife took 11 months leave from her job (we’re very fortunate she could do that for lots of reasons).  So, she’d been home with our daughter for 10 months, doing everything for her during the day.  The plan was for me to take 2 months leave (we’re very fortunate I could do that as well, for lots of reasons) and we’d have one shared month as a family, and one month where I am home Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  My wife is back to work part time, three days a week, so I get to do everything three days a week while she’s at work.

That’s the back story.  Here’s the catalyst.  My daughter and I were in the grocery store on one of our afternoon jaunts.  She rides in the shopping cart in this special cart protector we inherited from my niece, who is too old to use it now.  She loves it because she gets to look around and see everything and everyone, and I love it because she loves it.  Often, while we are shopping like this, she attracts lots of attention from admirers, some of whom stay afar, and some of whom approach us.

On the particular afternoon in question, we were approached by a very nice, lovely grandmother (I know, because she told me she had a son who had a daughter).  She came over to admire my daughter, telling her how beautiful she was, and then asked me how old.  Now, in no way do I mean to disparage this nice old woman, and she was surprised at my reaction to what she said next, and admittedly if I could redo the conversation I might have scaled it back just a little.

She half asked, half stated “so you’re babysitting her today?”  Quite more abruptly and curtly than I meant to, I shot back “no, she’s my daughter.  I’m parenting her.”

We did go on to have a lovely conversation after that, too, but she was clearly taken aback by how brisk my response was to that one question.

Afterwards I started thinking about why my reaction had been what it had been, and I realized exactly what it was very quickly – societal conditioning.  I think the first reason it got my back up is because of the connotation of the word ‘babysitting’ versus ‘parenting.’

Babysitting implies a temporary job.  A babysitter is someone who watches the baby for a specific period of time.  It could be a family member or a friend or someone else altogether, but a babysitter is, at the core, someone who is doing a job – temporarily providing for and watching over their charge.

Parenting is something very different than that.  Parenting is a lifetime endeavor.  It starts sometime before conception, with planning and preparation.  I don’t want to be dark and talk about the end, so I’ll just say it never ends and we just will all agree.  It never ends.  There’s no reprieve, a parent is a parent forever.

What this woman did to me (and to be fair, this is society, not her) is reduce me to a temporary, capable but interim solution for my daughter.  Sure, I can handle her for a few hours, but only her mother can parent her.  Think about it for a moment – nobody in the history of the earth has ever walked up to a woman with an infant anywhere and said “oh, you’re babysitting?”

That both saddens and angers me.  It saddens me that people are conditioned to think that only a woman can truly parent their children.  I’m taking nothing away from my wife here – she’s the most amazing parent my daughter could have.  But that doesn’t mean a child can’t (or shouldn’t) have two amazing parents.  In fact it works better that way, because one parents strengths may compensate for the others’ weaknesses, and the child benefits.

It angers me because there ARE too many fathers who just consider themselves babysitters, especially with infants, because infants don’t “do” anything.  Which isn’t true at all, by the way, and if you don’t believe me, come play a game of ‘swazzat’ with my daughter.  ‘Swazzat’ is where she points at all sorts of things, often the same things over and over, and says ‘swa-ZZAT’ and I tell her what it is.

More fathers need to reject the idea they are just a temporary fill-in and accept the idea that they are a parent.  When that becomes true, people will no longer be able to ask if fathers are just ‘babysitting’ and we would all be a lot better off for having rejected the idea that it is ONLY a mother who can provide loving, nurturing care for a child.

#NotBabysitting should be a movement.  It should be a movement of involved, caring, active fathers who have no problem shouldering the #parenting responsibilities that come with an infant.  Whether it’s changing diapers, feedings, putting the child down for naps or bed, simply sitting there and playing with them, or determining why they are crying, fathers, too, can do it.  They should do it.  It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it IS far more rewarding than it seems.

So, join me, and let’s make #NotBabysitting a movement that changes the way we view how parenting works.

50 Shades of a Bad Way

Yes, this is about 50 Shades of Grey.  A movie I’ve never seen based on a book I’ve never read.

Hear me out, please.

Don’t dismiss this as a hypocritical rant about things I have no direct experience with, because it isn’t directly about the content of the book or the movie.  I am not a conservative person, nor have I ever been.  I am a firm supporter of free speech, and artistic expression, and if nothing else, 50 Shades of Grey opens the door for a lot of different conversations we probably should all be having anyway.

What I’m writing this about isn’t necessarily the content of the book or the movie.  It’s the mainstream coverage it’s gotten, and the portrayal of it in commercial media.

First: I get it.  I get that it’s fantasy.  I get that this never happens, in much the same way I understand that a porn where the leading man meets a beautiful, voluptuous blonde who immediately drops her skirt and panties with no real formal introduction is pure fantasy.  Because it never happens that way in real life.

But as for the above: let’s write a book, and make a movie out of it.  In this movie, the lead character is a charismatic, sexual, powerful and voluptuous woman who knows what she wants – to dominate a man.  She wants to tie him up, bind him, gag him, and have her sexual way with him.  The man submits and is treated to his wildest dreams.  It sounds like a porn, right?  It is.

It is, and so, by the descriptions and portrayals, is 50 Shades of Grey, for the same exact reason.  It’s just that the roles are reversed.

In fact, it’s darker, and worse than that.  It represents a VERY dangerous fantasy in which women believe they can change even the worst of men.  In my example above, there’s no misgivings that the man involved wants to change the woman involved.  He just wants to be sexed.

In real life, for every Anastasia, there are probably a thousand women who are psychologically terrorized, or flat out abused.  Organizations that assist women who are victims of this are always busy; and those are just the ones who have actively sought help.  So many more have not.

What’s even worse is this movie only has an ‘R’ rating.  If, as I noted above, this movie were about a domineering woman and a submissive man, regardless of how much actual sex or skin was shown, it would be slapped with an NC-17 rating, and probably never would see a movie theater, much less mainstream publicity.

Yet this movie, which portrays the fantasy of a young girl who signs up willingly to be sexually exploited, not to mention stalked and possessed (at least from everything I’ve read and heard from people who have read it),   gets an ‘R’ rating and more publicity than any other movie currently out.  The Today Show, which airs every morning, did not just a day, but multiple days featuring this movie.  Imagine if the Today Show did a multiple day feature on a porn?  What would the outcry be?  Nothing, I suppose, because they did it, and there was no outcry that I have heard about.  Oh, but this movie, this is pure fantasy, everyone knows it isn’t real.

Except they don’t.  If teen boys are impressionable, and shouldn’t be subjected to porn and video game violence because they can’t separate it, then what teen girls, who in many ways are MORE vulnerable to mass media?  THIS is the message being sent here, in clear terms: “It’s good for you to fantasize about a controlling, possessive billionaire who starts off only wanting you sexually, but eventually he’ll fall in love with you and you’ll change him for the better and make him into a husband.”  Wow.  And we thought Disney was bad for suggesting women should be peasants who marry princes to rescue them?  Somehow suddenly Cinderella’s stock just rose significantly.

This is NOT about a woman being portrayed as the strong one.  This is about confusing passion for a domestic abuse situation.  This is sending the message that, as fantasy, it’s OK to let yourself be sexually exploited, and possessed, because it might eventually lead to love.

It does NOT.

Again.  I am NOT saying “don’t write this book, don’t make this movie.”  I’m asking, why as a society, it’s getting the attention and publicity it’s getting.  I’m not a woman, but if I were, I’d be angry about it.  I’d feel like it somehow sets the entire women’s rights movement back years.  I’d feel like it has the potential to raise an entire generation of young women who think that it’s ok to be sexually exploited and abused, and that that equals “passion” at best or “normal” at worst.  In the movie, supposedly Anastasia signs a contract that allows all this to happen, and is told she can get out of it at any time.  In real life, it doesn’t work like that.  Women can’t just simply walk out of an exploitative relationship.  If they could, things would be drastically different.

It doesn’t work like that when a woman says no to an abusive man’s advances.  The way it REALLY works is he hits her.  Or beats her.  Or worse.  The way it REALLY works is she says no, and she is raped, humiliated, terrorized, and shamed.  The way it REALLY works is she is isolated from friends and family, loses self confidence, loses any identity she may have had, and becomes a broken shell of a woman convincing herself that the man she’s with is really a decent, kind, wonderful person just trapped underneath hatred that isn’t his fault, and if she just hangs on a little longer, the inner good will surface.

If it worked like that, I wouldn’t, for the past 9 years, have been involved in fundraisers for The Unity House of Troy, an organization that, among other things, offers all sorts of services for victims of domestic violence.   If it worked like that, there wouldn’t be a need for domestic violence services for women, because they could all just break the contract when things get too intense.  Yet every day, stories of abused, raped, violated, and unfortunately, even murdered women surface.  Stories where they felt like they could just hang on a little longer, because “everyone can change,” or they just plain felt too trapped to try to do anything about it.  Where could they go?  Who could they turn to?

And along comes a movie which portrays this as possible, even “good.”

Again, I’m not saying don’t write the book, or don’t make the movie.  But why in the world has there been millions of dollars, daytime airtime, and countless other avenues of publicity been granted to marketing this thing?  Besides the obvious of corporate exploitation of moviegoers everywhere.It’s good, though, because now we can have a conversation about the drastic difference between being “passionate” and being “controlling.”  There’s a HUGE difference between a man making a woman feel attractive and desirable, and making her a sexual possession; everything I’m reading is that this movie is confusing that line, especially among younger women.
I, personally, never want to have to try to explain to my daughter why a man who demands sex from her on his terms isn’t “passionate,” he’s “exploitative” or “possessive,” at best, or “abusive” at worst.  That’s a conversation I hope to God never to have to have.  I will have my hands full trying to teach my daughter to avoid potentially dangerous and abusive situations as it is, because despite the fact that it’s 2015, they are still everywhere for women, and then this comes along and glorifies it, making it that much harder.In the end, this movie receiving only an ‘R’ rating and being publicized so heavily tells me a few things.  First, it tells me that the MPAA ratings is a complete and utter joke.  Actually, it doesn’t tell me that, it just reaffirms what I already knew about that.  Second, it tells me that corporate America doesn’t care one iota about women or young people, they care more about making money.  Third, it tells me that now we can all just admit how depraved, sick, twisted, and erotic our society really is, and forget about being so repressed, because at this point, that’s our only chance: to make stuff like this no big deal, an everyday occurrence, so that people don’t think it’s fantastical and desirable any more.  If it’s everywhere, it no longer rare and alluring, and so it becomes boring and mundane.  And fourth, it tells me that we need to renew the effort for awareness of just how bad things can be for women, even in the year 2015 with all the advances that have been made for equality.  It just highlights what Hollywood and the masses apparently think women should want: male mates who, sure, may be possessive, jealous, controlling, and even abusive, but who come around, fall in love, and turn into fairy tale husbands in the end.God help my daughter.  I sincerely hope she defies the 50 Shades fairy tale in every way.

Change Nothing (Except Diapers)

Parenting babies in the 20teens is an interesting endeavor indeed.  My friends who are married have children who are already hitting double digits, and the most direct access to parenting I would have had before this was either my pets, or being on hand to watch my best friends’ children grow up, and they are now 11 and 9 (the kids, not my best friends).  By no means are they adults, but they are certainly not babies and haven’t been in a while.  10 years may not seem like much, but things change drastically in 10 years.

10 years ago, Google wasn’t even 10 years old.  It had certainly not reached the status in 2005 it has today of answering every single question ever conceived of by a human being.  Facebook was an amazing 1 year old (and even though it’s now 11, there’s still more crying there than with my kid).  Twitter, Pinterest, and many other sites weren’t around yet, if they were even thoughts.  When my parent-friends wanted to know something, they either had to rely on the expert advice of other parents (their own) or research things in magazines or the library.  Or, do what every parent since the beginning of time has ever done in most situations: trust their instincts.

In 2015, we don’t trust instincts any more.  We trust Google.  We read information on every single possible thing that can happen, sometimes as it happens.  Baby burped!  Should she be doing that?  How often?  What causes it?  What is the best technique for burping baby?  Seriously, search Google and there are 638,000 results.  I haven’t read them all.  Or, honestly, any of them.

So, for any given thing that can be thought of, there are pages in the hundreds of thousands to millions just by searching Google alone.  It’s also true that parenting in 2015 means we’re supposed to better at it, since we have this amazing wealth of information at our fingertips, right?

Wrong.

I’ll be the first to admit my guilt here, and I’m coming clean right here, right now.  My wife said this to me, and I’ve come to realize she’s right: I kept trying to fix things that were never broken.

I blame the Internet.

First, let’s deal with the obvious stuff.  Babies behave in all manner of different ways, because babies are all different from each other.  Go search Google, there’s probably millions of results that back that up.  Humans by nature, and certainly Americans, are in love with the idea of ‘average’ for two basic reasons.  1.  We want to know, for the most part, we fit in with everyone else and that means being close to average on things.  2.  We want to believe we’re actually better than others, so we seek the average to know we’re above it.

Here’s the thing, though.  There’s no such actual thing as ‘average.’  It’s just a concept.  Nobody is actually average.  Sure, someone may test ‘average’ on a standardized test, but that’s just one tiny minuscule aspect of them weighted against the hundreds of millions of other traits and abilities that are NOT average.

When it comes to our babies, we want so much for them to be average, normal, healthy, and have a great chance to get ahead in all aspects of life.  We want them to sleep through the night, not just for our own sanity, but because it also means they are happy and healthy and well-adjusted.  We want them to eat and play and crawl and talk, as much as everyone tries to tell us we don’t, because those are all normal developmental milestones.

So it’s no surprise the Internet is full of advice on the best way to handle all the things that can come up with a baby to move them closer to average for their age.  One great example is how baby sleeps.

Our 5 month old daughter tends to go to sleep between 6 and 6:30pm.  She wakes up every couple of hours, feeds, and goes back to sleep.  She does this until between 5:30 and 6:30am, when she’s up and ready for the day.

At first, I (like many parents) was hell-bent on trying to get her to sleep long, feed less, and maybe sleep a little later.  I sought all sorts of answers from the magical Internet, I proposed monkeying with her bedtime (later, then earlier), I thought we could try all sorts of things to answer the question “how can we get baby to sleep better?”

Then I realized, I was asking the wrong question.  My question should have been “why am I trying to fix something that isn’t wrong?”

Our daughter sleeps.  Unless she gets a little overtired (which she sometimes does) or a little hungry (which she sometimes does) she’s a very happy baby.  She plays, she laughs, she is engaged and alert and curious about the world around her.  Sure, my wife and I are a little bit tired, but that’s not a function of not sleeping so much as having 97 extra chores added to our daily rituals on top of being in our late 30s.  It isn’t the lack of sleep that’s tiring.  We sleep just fine.

So what exactly is so wrong I should be seeking to change anything at all?  If she were not sleeping, and was always overtired, or getting sick, then yes, it would be worth investigating.  But she’s healthy and happy.

To really understand this, it makes sense to think back to that concept of ‘average’.  As we can see from Kubashi, here’s what the average man looks like as of 2013.  If I compare myself to all those numbers, I can find some I’m close to, and some I am farther away from.  However, I have 39 years of life to draw from.

What if I only had 5 or 6 months?  The variance on what could happen would be drastically different, because in the first 5 or 6 months of life, so many milestones are reached.  Baby is constantly developing, constantly changing, and almost everything she does is new.  And every baby does it at very different rates.

Put a different way, let’s say the average baby is supposed to cut their first tooth at 6 months.  Not cutting a tooth until 7 months might seem like she’s late, but to a 6 month old, that’s the equivalent of something I’m supposed to have happen when I’m 40 not occurring until I’m over 46.  If she waits until 8 months, it may seem like she’s way overdue, but that would be the same as a 40 year old waiting until 53.  2 months to a 6 month old is, relatively speaking, the same as 13 years to someone my age.  All because there just isn’t as much time there to measure.  And it may seem drastic, but it’s not.  It’s 2 months, and it isn’t usually that big a problem.

So we do all these things to try to change and modify things that aren’t broken, because they are based on the ‘average’ baby.  If I were to apply the ‘average’ logic to the page linked above, I’d need to gain 5 pounds, have another kid, take a massive pay cut, sleep an extra hour on work nights, consider myself physically fit, not actually be physically fit, run 1.5 miles in 12:45 seconds (or 7 seconds slower than I did it yesterday), bench press about 60 pounds more, do about 10 more situps per minute, do about 7-10 more push-ups per minute, and slow my resting heart rate down by 14 beats per minute.

I’m not going to gain 5 pounds, or start running a slower mile, just to be average.  I’m also not likely going to ever be able to bench press 160lbs, even once.  100lbs with my physique and frame is pushing it.  So, if I’m not going to make myself into a truly average man, why am I trying to make my baby into an average baby?

The point of ALL that is I have accepted I need to stop trying to change or correct things with my daughter that aren’t broken in the first place.  She sleeps what she sleeps; in a week or two it will change again.  She eats how much she eats; she’s gaining weight at the exact rate she should.  She does what she needs to do for the baby she is, and she’ been deemed healthy by her pediatrician.  There’s no need to change anything about her.  Except, of course, her diapers.  And clothing.  And that’s it.

So, Urgent (Not the Foreigner Song)

Yes, we went to Urgent Care with our daughter last night, but let me preface this by saying our daughter is 100% perfectly fine.  That may deflate some of the drama here, but I always hate reading overly dramatic posts, and being lured in just to find out the last line is “but everyone was perfectly fine.”  So I’m starting off that way.

Our 5 month old is in a pattern of waking up every hour for much of the night.  We’re not sure why.  Nobody is.  Nobody could ever know.  It’s one of those things not even the Internet can solve, despite its best efforts.  Sure, there are theories, ideas, techniques, tricks.  Some work for some kids, but not for others.  Who knew infants could be so different?

In any case, one of our (many) theories about why is that she’s teething.  It’s not an unreasonable conclusion – even if teeth don’t pop out, she can apparently be suffering for weeks.  The amount of drool that comes out of this baby in a day right now could fill a corporate water cooler bottle (good thing it’s not March 31).

One of the negative side effects of teething is pain.  In fact, the nice doctor last night told us that if an adult were to go through the pain in teething, it would require a medically induced coma for 2 weeks to get through.  After having fractured a root on a tooth in my mouth, I can only imagine he wasn’t kidding.

Now, it wasn’t the possible teething itself that led us to Urgent Care.  Like many new parents, we worry.  And we theorize, but one advantage of being a little older is we don’t freak out simply because her poop changed color from one day to the next, or because she managed to put a little cut on her nose with her fingernail.  I’m NOT making light of parents who race to the doctor with those things, by the way, I’m only saying a little age and experience makes those things a lot less scary.

So, it was a reasonable conclusion for my wife to come to last night when she woke up at 1am, 2am, and 3am screaming that maybe she was suffering night time pain from teething.  It’s very common.  My wife proceeded to try to dose the baby with infant acetaminophen, which is recommended by everyone.  It’s also important to note here my wife did absolutely nothing wrong, and I feel bad because I know she blames herself when she shouldn’t, but the baby managed to accidentally inhale a bit of the medicine.

I wasn’t here for this part, so it’s hearsay, but I believe every word when my wife says she didn’t choke, she was breathing and coughing a little bit, but that seemed to be it.  Then she went back to sleep, and it was then my wife noticed a wet-sounding rattle, and became concerned.  So, she made the call to our pediatrician, who happened to actually be the on-call doctor last night.  Our doctor advised my wife to take her to Urgent Care as a precaution, just to make sure no liquid had actually made its way down to our daughter’s lungs.

That’s when I was woken up – around 3:30am.  I listened to the story, listened to our daughter, and came to a few conclusions.  1.  The doctor had made it pretty clear we should visit Urgent Care, and I wasn’t going to play superhero Dad turns doctor and knows better.  2.  Better safe than sorry.  3.  Being woken up that way at 3:30am does not lead to as much grace as I usually exhibit under fire, and I probably didn’t react QUITE as well as I could’ve.  I have to give credit to my wife, she was perfectly calm and reasonable while telling me what happened.

So, we bundled up the baby, warmed up the car, and headed to Urgent Care (which is fortunately only 5 minutes away, and dead quiet at 4am).

We learned a few things there.  First, she was fine.  As our doctor put it, (I’m paraphrasing this), if humans as a species were so fragile they couldn’t deal with a little bit of inhaled liquid, we never would have made it.  Yes, she had inhaled a little liquid.  No, it wasn’t ideal, but it was likely no big deal – she might cough some of it up here and there for a few days, but that would be the worst of it.  And, we were warned by both the doctor and the nurse that this WILL happen again, as anyone who has kids or has been around kids, or has been a human being around food or liquid knows – sometimes stuff that should be eaten gets inhaled.  We’ve all been there.  They said as she starts eating food, she’ll mess it up sometimes, and advised us to revisit the infant CPR training we had, and not to panic at most of it.

In the end, I’m convinced the Urgent Care trip advice may have been highly precautionary, as well as more to put us at ease than help our daughter, but I don’t regret one bit going.  It’s an important step in the process, and I’m proud of my wife for not overreacting at all which would be easy to do with our first and only child.

The positive in all this is that she’s fine, we learned at least 3 new things, much of what we thought was justified, and we didn’t overreact, we just did what we were advised to do to be safe.  We lost a few hours sleep, but that’s far better than the amount of sleep we could have lost if something worse had actually been true, or if we hadn’t taken her, and been wondering all day and night if she was ok.

Being A Superparent

Really, the title of this one is a one line post: to be a superparent, just become a parent.  The rest will follow easily.

Seriously.

Every parent develops almost superhuman abilities.  All it takes is active parenting.  For example I’m writing this with a 15 lb baby strapped to my chest while eating the remains of last night’s tenderloin pork around her, all without stabbing her with a fork, or spilling a single drop.  This is now about as effortless as when Neo figures out The Matrix and stops the bullets aimed at him dead in their paths.

Oh, there’s more.  I can bound up the stairs with her bounce chair in front of me, complete with her in it (strapped, of course, for safety’s sake).  I can go down the stairs, too, though I don’t tend to take them 2 by 2 on the way down.

I’ve developed superhuman senses, too.  Despite music playing (there almost always is during the day when I’m home) and conversation going on, I can hear when she’s pooped her diaper from two rooms away.   “I think she just pooped….”  I’ve been right far more times than I’ve been wrong, though someone could argue that’s largely due to the fact that 5 month old babies poop every 47 seconds while awake.  Don’t worry, it slows down to a minute 15 when they’re asleep.  And speaking of superhuman senses and babies being asleep, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when going into the darker baby’s room from a well lit hallway.  Even though I can’t see, I can sense where everything is in the room, almost like I can echolocate.  I can pick her up and change a diaper almost by feel alone now.  Even more, I can take my 175 pound body and make it quieter than a ninja when I leave the room after she’s fallen back asleep, and that’s no easy task, either.

Not enough?  Ok.

How about when we go out for our weekly Saturday morning excursions to shop?  We often go to the grocery store, Target, or any number of other places.  This morning we ventured to an Asian Supermarket.  I love the Asian Supermarket; it’s time she learned some culture at 5 months!  Unfortunately she slept through the whole thing.  But from there, arises yet another amazing superpower – the ability to unlatch her carseat from the stroller, whip it into the car, land it perfectly on the base, and latch it, all with one fluid, smooth movement that never moves her a millimeter.  This is followed by the noiseless, vibration-less car door slam, trunk opening, breaking down of the stroller, insertion of said stroller into said trunk, and another noiseless, vibration-less trunk lid slam, the likes of which would baffle physicists and kineticists the world over.

These will never go on a resume.  I’ll never toss on my glasses and assume a completely normal human identity that everyone is baffled by.  All it really leads me to be is “Dad,” but it’s really cool nonetheless.  I’ve developed the quiet of a ninja, the relative strength of an ant, the reflexes of a major league baseball player sending a fastball into the stands, the navigation sense of a bat.  Oh, and one more – the stamina of a double marathoner – I can not only do all this stuff all the time, but often much of it at 4, 5, 6am straight on through to when I get home from work, and before I go to bed at 11pm.

If that seems impressive, find out what her MOTHER can do…

Random Thoughts

One of my wife’s Christmas presents this year was a robotic vacuum cleaner.  She used it on a few rooms and really liked it.  I was curious to see this thing in action, so I fired it up yesterday and let it run around the family room.  In that room, we have an ‘L’ shaped couch with a number of legs touching the ground, and we also have a baby swing that has two semicircle feet on the floor, each about 20″ in length, but curved to support the frame.  As the vacuum was powering around the outside of the room for the second time, I thought to myself, “I wonder what it thinks of our house.”

Today, while listening to a 5 Seconds of Summer song (What I Like About You from the Live SOS album), I reflected on my wife’s comment that when our daughter gets older, I can take her to concerts.  Then I felt bad for our daughter.  Most kids, as they get older, rebel in part by listening to music that will annoy their parents.  I like everything.  She can’t find stuff I won’t listen to.

I like more boy bands than I should admit.

I’m happy to say our daughter started off 2015 in true child fashion: making me wake up at 5:50am, instead of 7am like she had been.  It’s almost like she KNEW I was partying the night before and would be exhausted, and wanted to torment be… but then she smiled, and I was fine.

Oh, and random parenting tip.  I figured this one out, but apparently a lot of people don’t: newborn and infant onesies are designed to be slipped on and off over the feet, not the head, hence the little “slits” on the sides of the shoulders near the head hole.

That about wraps it up for now… can’t really think of anything else… so, um… bye for now!

The State of Police, or a Police State

Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.  The details are very sketchy, and it’s impossible to outright condemn Darren Wilson based on the conflicting reports of what happened.

Cleveland, Ohio.  A 12 year old boy brandishing a toy gun is shot and killed by a responding officer.

Brooklyn, New York.  A unarmed man is shot and killed in the stairwell of a police station.

Staten Island, New York.  An unarmed man is taken down by a police officer, put into a choke hold, and dies as a result.

Saratoga, New York.  A video surfaces showing an officer demanding to search a car, and slapping the owner of the car.  It makes national news in the wake of several events surrounding it highlighting problems with police in the country.

There has been much discussion in recent weeks about the police.  Some are quick to indict all police officers as power-hungry, abusive individuals who believe they are above the law.  Others are quick to point out that the incidents represent a small fraction of all law enforcement officials who are otherwise mostly decent.

Both of those are the wrong way to look at things.

Someday, I’ll send my daughter out into the world.  And someday, inevitably, she’ll end up confronting an officer.  If I’ve raised her right (and I really hope I have) she won’t have done anything horribly wrong.  She won’t have broken serious laws, committed felonies, violently attacked anyone, destroyed property.  So how do I tell her not to be afraid to be pulled over by a police officer?

Yes, there are more police officers who behave than don’t, but as long as there’s even ONE who doesn’t, and gets away with it, there will potentially be many.  Police officers have likely always behaved they way they are behaving.  They’ve always killed people.  They’ve always intimidated people, probably even physically or sexually harassed people.  Friends tell me stories of how police officers forced them to perform sexual acts, and these are friends I consider reliable.  Who could they report it to, the police?

The difference today from 20 or even 10 years ago is everyone has a phone with a video camera.  Police aren’t doing any more or any less; it’s just being recorded and distributed more.  What we’re seeing in 2014 is a representation of what has always been, but could never be confirmed.

It isn’t completely their fault, though.  From the start, the entire system is weighted against anyone who wants to be an honest police officer.  Often, their first assignment is to be a traffic cop, stopping people for speeding, running red lights and stop signs.  Every police department from Maine to Arizona will deny having quotas; officially they don’t, but functionally they do.  It’s unwritten, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, especially in smaller towns and municipalities, which have come to depend on traffic tickets as a revenue source.

Police officers will walk up to a car, and even if they aren’t threatening, if they’re respectful and calm and appropriate, they often will flat out lie.  They’ll increase the speed they pulled the person over for.  It’s a little lie, but the system encourages it, and when it goes to the courtroom, the actions and lies of the police are beyond question.  Right from the start, the system turns police officers into liars, and backs them up by making them an authority that cannot be questioned in a legal setting.

From there, it can only escalate for some, or maybe even many of them.  They fabricate things because that’s what they were taught, that’s what’s been reinforced.   The justice system encourages it, because public, incorrect justice is sometimes, or even often, better than slow, correct justice.

It isn’t a stretch from fabricating events to taking more inappropriate actions.  There’s a psychological phenomenon that occurs that makes it easier for humans to do something bad each new time they do it, and it often leads to escalation.  We tell a little lie.  We get away with it.  We tell a bigger lie.  We get away with it.  Finally, we do something really bad.  Maybe we get away with it, maybe we don’t, but the path was determined long before that.

Let’s be clear.  Being a police officer is not an easy job.  At any time, an officer could face a potentially dangerous situation that could lead to loss of life, either theirs, or others.  It’s a very stressful, very difficult job.

However, that doesn’t mean they should be turned into liars by the system they serve, whose words and actions are beyond question, or review, or even discipline.  That doesn’t mean they should be permitted to run around thinking anything they do that’s bad will be ignored, and they have protection while they’re doing it.  It’s long past time when the entire justice system needs a good overhaul, to get rid of all the built-in corruption we’ve allowed to permeate it for years.  Police won’t investigate police; if they do it’s going to be haphazard and bungled, because the brotherhood of the badge is more powerful than the quest for justice.  We’re asking police to investigate and make cases against each other, and it’s just not going to happen.

Add to that improper training (a single police officer should be able to subdue a single unarmed person without the use of deadly force regardless of their relative sizes) and the fact that police officers should be working in pairs at a minimum anyway (which would only make it easier to subdue a single unarmed individual) and the whole thing turns into a big mess fast.

In any job that isn’t sports or meteorology, performance dictates continued employment.  A police officer who shoots an unarmed person has demonstrated they cannot perform properly as a police officer.  If proper training was the problem, it needs to be fixed system wide, but if the problem is that the officer made a poor decision, they need to be removed from the police force.  They have demonstrated they cannot function well in that capacity.  In no other profession but the military can causing a death result in keeping one’s job.

All this turns into a question, actually.  It turns into a question as to whether or not we should respect, or just fear, the police.  It turns into a debate in our minds, and that should NOT happen.  It turns into a fear that even though we didn’t do anything that wrong, we’ll be intimidated, lied to, harassed, physically abused, and possibly even killed, all over things that should never lead anywhere near there, like walking down a street, using a stairwell, or exercising the right to protect oneself against unreasonable search and seizure.

Ironically, of all the incidents listed above, the only one that resulted in an actual criminal charge was the incident in which a Saratoga officer slapped a young man after demanding to be allowed to search his car without just cause.  The officer would have been better off shooting him, apparently.

If one officer behaves improperly, it IS an indictment of all police officers, because the police can only function in society if they have the trust of good, decent, law-abiding citizens.  The incidents in recent weeks have highlighted why, for years, that trust has evaporated, and even though the majority of police are decent, the ones that aren’t are destroying the credibility.  And so it falls onto the shoulders of decent police everywhere to clean up that trust.  If they want to do that, they will have to begin seriously investigating, charging, and disciplining fellow officers.  They’ll have to clean up precincts and departments country-wide, and none of them are ready to do that, simply because the system hasn’t created them that way.

It IS time for an overhaul of the law enforcement system in this country, so when my daughter gets older, I can tell her to respect the police instead of fearing them.

Making the Roads Safer

The ad campaigns are everywhere – on TV, in magazines, on billboards.  We’re subjected to an onslaught of them on a regular basis – all telling us not to text and drive, citing statistics of deadly accidents that happen as a result.  The same is also true for drinking and driving.  Those that promote these campaigns claim they target practices that can be deadly to motorists, and claim some degree of victory in the decreasing number of accidents caused as a result.

What about the elderly?

A local story that happened over the weekend in the area highlights the need for better practices when it comes to the driving privileges for the elderly.  According to this story, an 88 year old woman was driving along, struck a 66 year old man with her car, killing him, and had no idea she’d hit him at all.

If we take that at face value, and it is true, there’s no reason she ever should have been driving.  We’ve made such a big deal in this country about how safe the roads should be, and yet we’re missing a constant source of potential danger, just because nobody wants to tell the elderly “I’m sorry, you can’t drive.”  Doctors won’t do it, for fear of lawsuits.  Politicians won’t legislate it, because the elderly vote more than anyone, and have extra money to contribute to campaigns.  Caregivers don’t want to do it, because it requires more dependence on others to drive them around.

That’s entirely hypocritical.

Let’s be clear, here.  I’m not suggesting we automatically deny anyone driving privileges just because of their age (even though our country is very ageist when it comes to privileges for younger citizens).  What we need are better testing and evaluation procedures, on a more regular basis, and enforcement of those standards to keep our roadways safe.

According to the US Census, in 2009, drivers aged 75 and older had a higher fatal accident rate than drivers between 25 and 74.  Drivers 19 and under had a rate of 38 fatal accidents, and drivers between 20 and 24 had a rate of 36.  Those aged 75 and over had a fatal accident rate of 28, higher than the overall average of 23, and significantly higher than every other ten year age range.  If our goal is to make the roads safer, and we’re targeting young people, we would do well to equally target the elderly.

The reality is we need to get tougher about who we allow to drive.  Simple eye examinations are no longer sufficient.  Between 25 and 74, road test evaluations should be given every 15 years to ensure the proper skill is still there.  Once a driver reaches 75, tests should be mandatory every 5 years to ensure everyone’s safety.

If we’re serious about safety, we should be consistent with it.  We shouldn’t make exceptions simply because of age.  That’s unfair, and in this case, dangerous.  There’s a clear pattern of a higher number of incidents with an age group, and yet nothing is being done about it, which makes it ageist as well.

This is certainly not a campaign against the elderly.  It’s just simply a call to make our roads safer by being consistent in identifying hazards.

Losing My Religion

A school district in Maryland is making waves by removing the names of all holidays from their calendar.  The full story can be found here.

The fun thing about having a child is one starts to think about all the different conundrums of parenting, and there’s probably no greater, more passion inspiring, and more dangerous aspect of raising children than dealing with religion.

Of course there are a lot of people who are very upset with the school’s decision to remove the names of religious holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur, instead calling things “Winter Break” and “Days Off.”  However, as the story points out, part of the district’s logic is that they don’t endorse or celebrate these holidays; they simply recognize if school were open on those days, there would be incredibly low turnout, which amounts to wasting taxpayer money by running bus services, food services, etc. for only a handful of students and teachers.  To the district as an entity, it has nothing directly to do with recognizing the holiday.

People have decided to interpret it as “we’d rather list nothing than Muslim holidays” and it’s caused a bit of a cultural sensitivity spark.  However, I see it a little differently.  Listing all religions on the calendar would seem to flaunt the fact that Christian and Jewish holidays are officially recognized as days off, while Muslim, Wiccan, and other religious holidays are not.  That seems to send a very bad message.

The school district’s point reaches another tenet of American society: the separation of Church and State.  Because public school are funded by taxpayer dollars, they are considered an arm of the state.  As such, they are not supposed to endorse or discriminate against any religion over any other.  This gets VERY tricky when it comes to teaching history, since so many historical events have religious elements to them.  Regardless of how objective the curricula might be, it’s likely that one group or another will interpret the curricula as either pro or anti in a way that upsets them.  We’ve seen case after case of this, and the result is history doesn’t get taught the way it should in this country.  We can’t even agree on whether or not to say the pledge in school because of two words, let alone can we agree on how to teach historical events with religious themes and ties.

So all this begs the question – how DO we teach religion?  It’s a hard question facing parents of a 3 month old.  Do we baptize our daughter?  Do we not?  Do we start her down the path of Catholicism and begin the process of first communion?  Do we start her down the path of Judaism?  Both of those represent halves of my family.   Or do we wait until she reaches an age where she can learn intelligently about all religions and choose for herself?

There’s probably a better way to look at this, and the school district highlights it with a blank calendar: it’s up to the parents to decide what to fill in.  Not just on the calendar; but with their children.

Our daughter, like the calendar, is blank right now.  She doesn’t understand concepts like faith, beyond just that when she cries, my wife or I will hold her and feed her, change her diaper, and soothe her, but that’s more instinct right now.  Over time, she will learn that those things will always happen; that’s faith; that’s where it starts.  Will she associate that with God?  Yahweh?  Jehovah?  Allah?  Who knows.  It’ll take a long time before she’s ready for those ideas.  But the main point is when she’s ready to start filling them in, it’ll be my wife and I who start to write on the blank calendar, not the school district.

In a well argued Facebook discussion, the point was made that it is the job of the school to educate, and one form of education is simply to create awareness.  By placing all religious observances on the calendar, awareness may be created, which can lead to a discussion, but it’s just possible there are parents who don’t WANT to have that discussion.  After all, as stated above, people are awfully protective of their religions.  So much so that major wars have been fought over that very idea.

I like better the idea that a school district would leave the decision in MY hands as a parent, and it would then be up to me to say “this is Christianity, this is Judaism, this is Islam, this is Buddhism, this is Hindu, this is Wicca, and there are others, too.  Learn, and choose for yourself.”  But that’s MY way of thinking, and it can’t happen for a long time yet.

The ultimate takeway from all this is regardless of what is or isn’t on a calendar, it’s up to parents to handle exposure to religion and the choices that come from it.  I’ve never been a fan of “believe this because you’re told to,” choosing instead to want to explain myself when and where possible.  I realize that is not always or even possible with a child – sometimes they lack the vocabulary, or the capacity, to understand.  It’s even harder to explain something one doesn’t quite understand for oneself, like “if there’s a God, why do we go to war,” or “why would God allow Ebola to kill people?”  Those are difficult questions for ME to answer, let alone explain to a child.

It would be nice if, as children age, they could be objectively taught about religions and the ties they have had to major world events; that will not likely happen in this country anytime soon, because for all our push for tolerance, when it comes to religion, we ourselves just can’t seem to be objective enough to let it happen the right way, choosing instead to lobby, cajole, and even bully for our own religions to be the ones at the forefront.

I have no idea how to explain to a child why a god in any religion would let that happen.