7.05.2009

City Kids


I would love to sic the linguists on my kids. Not sure how many specimens they've studied who have heard exclusively Mandarin/Taiwanese in their earliest months, been relocated to an all-English speaking household, and attend school 50 hours a week in the ghetto. Because Jada is older and her speech is more evolved than Aaron's, her voice is particularly interesting to listen to, especially when she says things like "Them chickens jackin' my style" or reads to herself at night in the sing-song cadence of her speech therapist ("And what is that? A spider. Good!").

Of the many rewards of parenthood, one I'm enjoying is helping our kids find their voice. What a unique one theirs will be.

7.04.2009

Love and Marriage


A friend of mine pointed me to this cover story in Time Magazine about marriage: "Why Marriage Matters." Eagerly, I tore through the article, glad for this major media coverage on the importance of this hallowed institution. Unfortunately, the piece ended on a sour note for me, as it concluded that committing to another through thick and thin is no longer very attractive, so it must be about raising the next generation right.

Um, no and no. Certainly, once two people who are married decide to become parents, raising their kids becomes an important responsibility. And yet that would seem to relegate the marriage itself - the relationship between the two adults - to a functional means to the ultimate end, that of child rearing, rather than a noble and worthy end in and of itself. And of course, the perspective offered in the article essentially devalues any marriages that do not result in children, whether by choice or not.

As for the alleged unattractiveness of hanging in there with the same person through thick and thin: um, isn't that the best thing about marriage? "Best" in an honorable sense as well as in a purely selfish sense: to know you are with someone who has committed to you in good times and bad, and to rise to the occasion of committing back.

Sure, if you always thought of marriage as "this person has the optimal package of benefits among all my viable choices," then you could see why that kind of marriage wouldn't last: your spouse changes, and your own preferences change. From that perspective, it's no wonder marriages don't last: with a clean slate, would married couples choose each other ten years out, twenty years out, thirty years out?

But, to paraphrase a homily I once heard, when people marry, they're basically saying, "Whoever's in that other body over there, I'm committed to loving, being the number one influence on, and having that person be my number one influence." In other words, we assume that people change - ourselves and our spouses - and we choose to evolve and be evolved together.

From a completely mercenary standpoint, far from being unthinkably stultifying, this is quite a liberating thing. Consider the angst you have when you buy a new laptop or car: having agonized over your choice, you are almost immediately flooded with buyer's remorse as new version after new version gets paraded in front of you. If you think of marriage like this, I'm sorry to hear that, since you'll find nothing but regret and restriction and infidelity.

But think of marriage instead as a grand commitment. Two people becoming one unit and tackling life's joys and sorrows together. If they be lucky enough to have kids enter into the mix, shepherding those young lives into adulthood together in the most rewarding collaboration imaginable. Fighting, rolling of eyes, being incredibly mean at times, but ultimately knowing we're in this together and believing that loyalty and honor are stronger than fleeting temptation or pangs of disdain. Growing old together, flutterings of young love replaced with the smooth sureness of daily "falling in like" with another person who continues to command your fascination, respect, and fidelity. And, sparks of passion at times, not meant to sustain a union on their own, but neither non-existent - how could they be, when two agree to become one and do so for life?

That, to me, is why marriage is still relevant. Because, from that perspective, it is the most enriching, liberating, life-giving thing one can sign up for. No matter how besieged it may seem in the eyes of those who chase trivial pursuits and shallow pleasures and instant gratifications.

Hey, it helps that my wife is smoking hot, cooks food that makes my knees buckle, and has a deliciously sharp wit; but it also helps that we value the institution of marriage, and our commitment to it and each other, in the same way. We've had our thick and our thin, our drag 'em out and kick 'em down fights, and our individual and couple wilderness seasons. And, not in spite of but through and even because of these trials, we continue to invest in our partnership, in being each others' number one fan and resource, in being the best we can be and hoping that for the other. I would not wish on others much of what we have had to go through, nor am I proud of some of the things I have said and thought and done through the years as it relates to my wife; but I would not choose any other mate and I would not wish for anyone else's marriage.

I close with wise words from, of all places, the Indigo Girls. Note the last line: "The closer I'm bound in love to you, the closer I am to free." Love, it seems, is full of such profound paradoxes. This was the closing line of the closing song at our wedding reception, and I'll hope to say it to and dance it with my bride for many years to come.

The Power of Two

Verse 1:
Now the parking lot is empty
Everyone's gone someplace
I pick you up and in the trunk I've packed
A cooler and a 2-day suitcase
Cause there's a place we like to drive
Way out in the country
Five miles out of the city limit we're singing
And your hands upon my knee

Chorus:
So we're okay
We're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two

Verse 2:
You know the things that I am afraid of
I not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy
It that we loved each other well
'Cause Ive seen the shadows of so many people
Trying on the treasures of youth
But a road that fancy and fast
Ends in a fatal crash
And I'm glad we got off
To tell you the truth

Chorus

Bridge:
All the shiny little trinkets of temptation
Something new instead of something old
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface
And it's fools' gold
Fools' gold
Fools' gold

Verse 3:
Now we're talking about a difficult thing
And your eyes are getting wet
I took us for better and I took us for worse
Don't you ever forget it
Now the steel bars between me and a promise
Suddenly bend with ease
The closer I'm bound in love to you
The closer I am to free

Chorus

7.03.2009

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles


A nice reminder from the Freakonomics blog that, despite the big news stories plane and train crashes are, driving is a far more dangerous activity. Let's be safe on the roads this weekend.

Pediatricians are Urbanists


Having dog-eared to death my own copy of their "Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5" reference book, and given copies to about 30+ of my friends and family, I think you can call me a fan of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So lo and behold when I learned through Discovering Urbanism that AAP has put out a very pro-urban policy statement: "The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children."

I covered this ground a little in a previous post, but to have AAP sing the praises of walking and density certainly gives the argument a lot more oomph. Maybe parents that automatically assume they must move to the suburbs for the good of their kids will consider that such a move may in fact exacerbate other dangers like obesity, isolation, and anxiety.

Meanwhile, city-lovers should have some take-aways from this paper as well. After all, it is only safer and better to walk to school rather than get driven if you don't find unhealthy nutritional choices, pedestrian-inhospitable stretches, and criminal activity along the way. And video games, iPods, and junk food are no less available in cities, so just because public spaces are more geographically proximate doesn't mean they will be used; hence the need to think about how we can create parks and streets where kids can be active, feel safe, and have fun.

"Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.' Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?' declares the LORD of hosts." - Zechariah 8:3-6

7.01.2009

This Political Cartoon Annoys Me


This political cartoon annoys me. If you can't see the image, it's an ostrich with Capitol Hill for its body and its head in the sand, in a desert with a sweltering sun, and the caption, "212 Congressmen Actually Voted Against Taking Action on Global Warming."

Again, for most politicians, the logic goes something like this: "We must do something. This plan is something. Therefore, we must do this plan." And the corollary: "This plan is about Issue X. You are against this plan. Therefore, you are against Issue X."

But what if the plan doesn't get you further ahead on Issue X? What if, within reason, there's a better plan to get you further ahead on Issue X? (I say "within reason" because sometimes it is better to do something rather than wait to find something better.) What if the plan actually gets you further behind on Issue X?

I have stated my particular skepticisms about the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill (here's a nice post on the bill's flaws)‎. My beef today isn't about that bill or this topic; it's about the presumption that if you're not for a particular piece of legislation, you must be a dinosaur (or, in Tony Auth's case, an ostrich with its head in the sand).

Whatever happened to due diligence, making sure you're not unleashing disastrous unintended consequences, and civilly debating your way to a better policy? It was wrong earlier this decade to say that if you're not for President Bush's policies, you're anti-American; and it is wrong now to say that if you're not for President Obama's policies, you're anti-environment. That's not the sort of public discourse and freedom of speech/thought/opinion we want to encourage.