Raising your children to be good people

helping old lady cross the streetMy parents raised me to be academically successful.  They came from a European milieu that valued intellectual elitism above all other things.  That was my value too, and one I applied to the people with whom I chose to surround myself.

As the years went by, though, I realized that intellectual elites often aren’t very nice people or even very smart people.  All too often, they armor themselves with degrees and disdain.  Some are nice, some aren’t, just like all other people.  When it comes to the ones who aren’t nice, though, what’s so interesting about the intellectual elite is how easily they rationalize away their meanness.  Their knowledge doesn’t lead to morality, it leads to a moral narcissism that sees them as the ultimate arbiters of what’s “good.

Having concluded that my parents’ European elitist values didn’t lead me to the people and places that would have worked best for my life, I’ve tried extremely hard to raise my children to be “nice.”  To me, that word contains within it such  notions as kind, honest, moral, helpful, and loyal.  You don’t have to be the top student or the best athlete, but you’d better not be the kid picking on the unattractive girl or the dorky boy. And when someone asks for help, you give it.

For the children’s entire lives, I’ve operated on the principle that, when it comes to them, I have to “catch them being good” — and that means catching them when they’ve been kind to another person or done the right thing.  I never let such incidents go without saying.

In other words, I agree with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

But here’s something depressing: It didn’t work. For their entire lives, I’ve been doing the right things — modeling good behavior (sometimes with great effort, since I’m not an innately nice person) and catching my children (and their friends) when they were behaving well — but it didn’t work. The hardest thing about the last several weeks hasn’t been the inconvenience of crutches, it’s been the fact that my children have been completely unwilling to step up and help out. I have been beyond disappointed. Despite all my efforts, I was unable to counter other influences in their lives, influences that revolve around grades, money, and self-fulfillment through selfishness.

My only hope now is that, once they’re on their own and life has its way with them, my children will discover the same life lesson that I learned: that at the end of the day, the behaviors that you will value most in yourself and in others are the ones that are rooted, not in money or prestige or transitory pleasures, but in innate decency and goodness.

On raising boys *UPDATED*

Boys playing cops and robbersOn my Facebook page today, two of my friends put up links with advice for parents raising sons.  One link came from an ultra liberal friend and the other link came from a solidly conservative friend.  There is a vast chasm between the two sites when it comes the types of men each post is trying to create.  I therefore thought it would be interesting to offer the two sets of advice side by side.  Please note that I’ve only included the headings.  You should visit both sites to see the specifics behind each heading.  (My comments, which I hope clarify the more cryptic headlines, are in parentheses.)

First, from “Raising Boys,” a subset of “The Good Men Project”, comes a post entitled Seven Memes That Will Change The Way You Think About Raising Boys:

1. We Need To Teach Boys That Being “A Girl” Is Not An Insult.
2. All Boys Are “All Boy” (e.g., it’s not just rambunctious, athletic boys who are “all boy”).
3. But They Should Not Get Away With Bad Behavior Just Because They Are Boys.
4. We Believe In Men, Their Maturity And Compassion
5. Teach Your Son to Respect Women
6. We Need to Showcase More Multi-Dimensional Boys and Men in the Media (e.g., not just vampires)
7. And One Day Soon, We Will Be Using the Expression “Boys Will Be Boys” To Describe This: (followed by a picture of a trio of boys sitting quietly on the floor pretending to give bottles of milk to dolls)

Second, from “Belief Net,” comes a post entitled Ten Things Every Dad Should Tell His Son:

1. Do Courageous Things
2. Work Harder Than Anyone Else
3. Hang with the Wise
4. Stay Away From Porn
5. Reflect True American Character (i.e, fulfill the Founder’s vision)
6. Assume a Gift Is Hidden (i.e., you have to work to get the good things out of life)
7. Remember that Everything Counts (i.e., don’t live your life making careless choices because you assume something isn’t important)
8. Know that Marriage is a Covenant
9. After You Screw Up, Step Up
10. Focus on Stewardship

I’ve often said that the Left wants to feminize boys, while conservatives should have as their goal taking boy’s behaviors (their energy, their loyalty, their drive to leadership) and channeling them into virtuous values and conduct. These two lists seem to exemplify those different ways of thinking about transitioning boys to men.

This is not to say that I reflexively disagree with the first list. Indeed, I strongly believe in several of the items on that list. It’s just that the list’s purpose doesn’t seem to have as its primary purpose taking ordinary, generic boys and turning them into ordinary, generic, and good men. Instead, its primary purpose seems to be to validate those boys who don’t have an excess of what I call “boy energy” (and I live surrounded by lots of very boy energy) and to insinuate that the best boys are the ones who, rather than channeling their boy energy to a more noble way of being, simply sublimate it altogether.

I probably would endorse the first list if it were merged into the second.  If one successfully raised a boy with all of those principles, what would emerge would be a fully-rounded man perfect for romance novels:  tough, but sensitive….  Back in the real world, however, which is where I live, if I were parenting a completely generic boy (which I actually am) and could pick only one list to use to raise my child, I’d pick the BeliefNet list.  I like that list because it recognizes the reality of boys, rather than trying to force boys to conform to a theory.

I’d also pick the BeliefNet list because the good parts of the “Raising Boys” list can be incorporated as subsets of the ideas in the BeliefNet list.  For example, items 4 and 8 from the BeliefNet list (“stay away from porn” and “marriage is a covenant”) incorporate within them the notion that “girl” is not an insult, that men should be compassionate, and that men must respect women.  Likewise, items 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 readily encompass “believing in men, their maturity and compassion,” because guys who step up to the requirements in the BeliefNet list will be mature, reliable, honorable and, one hopes, compassionate.

In sum, for me the BeliefNet list looks at boys as they actually are, and prepares them to become the men that they should be.  Meanwhile, the “Raising Boys” list looks at boys as girls are, and prepares them to become the men that, without being homosexual, nevertheless most closely resemble girls.

UPDATE:  With perfect timing, one of my “real me” Facebook friends posted this on his wall today:

Gentleman

UPDATE II: You may also want to read Kay Hymovitz on the damage single motherhood does to boys.

Who died and made you queen?

My daughter has frequently come home from soccer fulminating about certain girls on her team who keep “yelling” at her.  I have to admit that I didn’t initially take her complaints very seriously.  Being a teen she (a) has thin skin and (b) is prone to exaggeration.  Also, in a good soccer game, there is lots of communication going on.  “Mary, be open!”  “I got it!”  “Watch out, Jane!”  It wouldn’t surprise me if my daughter took “Watch out” as an insult.

And then I saw her team play.

In fact, my daughter was absolutely right.  There are a handful of girls who have taken it upon themselves to tell everyone else on the team what they’re doing wrong.  In shrill, teen girl voices they scream out “You shouldn’t have missed that.”  “You’re in the wrong place.”  “You’re doing that wrong.”  “I told you to be mid field [never mind that the coach said something else].”  As the game goes on, they get more and more shrill and dictatorial.

The person mostly at fault for this is the coach, who should squash this type of behavior immediately.  He doesn’t, though. and the fact that this is a recreational league staffed by parent volunteers means that there’s not a lot other parents can do.  I’ve advised my daughter to pull a sweet-tempered “dumb blonde” in the face of this hectoring.  She should, in dulcet terms, keep saying “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” until those girls are embarrassing themselves by screaming at the top of their lungs.  Meanwhile, my daughter should pay attention only to the coach.  Whether my daughter has the guile and self-control to pursue this approach is questionable.

Why am I writing about this if I can’t change the passive coach and it’s unlikely that my daughter will do anything other than get angry?  I’m writing because I find it almost incomprehensible that there are people out there who think that they have the right to yell at anyone.  This kind of narcissism is so alien to me.  There are certainly situations in which one has the right and even the duty to tell people what to do and to tell them what they’re doing wrong:  a parent to a child, a teacher to a student, a sergeant or chief to a new recruit, an employer to an employee, etc.  What my daughter is dealing with, though, are just ordinary girls (usually popular in school) who believe that they are entitled to tell everyone else not just what to do, but what they’re doing wrong.

It’s narcissism, plain and simple.  One of my favorite romance novels (you know I like them), involves a woman escaping from an abusive relationship to a narcissist.  In Lisa Kleypas’s Blue-Eyed Devil, Kleypas has as good a summary as I’ve ever seen of what a narcissist is, how he or she thinks, and how he or she controls people:

I was welcomed into a small, cozy office with a sofa upholstered in flowered yellow twill, by a therapist who didn’t seem all that much older than me. Her name was Susan Byrnes, and she was dark-haired and bright-eyed and sociable. It was a relief beyond description to unburden myself to her. She was understanding and smart, and as I described things I had felt and gone through, it seemed she had the power to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Susan said Nick’s behavior fit the pattern of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, which was common for abusive husbands. As she told me about the disorder, it felt as if she were describing my life as it had been for the past year. A person with NPD was domineering, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ needs . . . and they used rage as a control tactic. They didn’t respect anyone else’s boundaries, which meant they felt entitled to bully and criticize until their victims were an absolute mess.

Having a personality disorder was different from being crazy, as Susan explained, because unlike a crazy person, a narcissist could control when and where he lost his temper. He’d never beat up his boss at work, for example, because that would be against his own interests. Instead he would go home and beat up his wife and kick the dog. And he would never feel guilty about it, because he would justify it and make excuses for himself. No one’s pain but his own meant anything to him.

“So you’re saying Nick’s not crazy, he’s a sociopath?” I asked Susan.

“Well . . . basically, yes. Bearing in mind that most sociopaths are not killers, they’re just nonempathetic and highly manipulative.”

“Can he ever be fixed?”

She shook her head immediately. “It’s sad to think about what kind of abuse or neglect might have made him that way. But the end result is that Nick is who he is. Narcissists are notoriously resistant to therapy. Because of their sense of grandiosity, they don’t ever see the need to change.” Susan had smiled darkly, as if at some unpleasant memory. “Believe me, no therapist wants a narcissist to walk in the door. It only results in massive frustration and a waste of time.”

(Kleypas, Lisa, Blue-Eyed Devil (pp. 92-93). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

When I look around at the number of people, from the White House down, who believe that they exist on a different plane and are therefore entitled unfettered right to criticize others, I have to ask whether this was always the case, or if the last fifty years — since Marxists took over parenting ideas and education — have created a generation of self-righteous narcissists.  What do you think?

Oh, and here’s just the right video for this post:

That certain something . . . the body language of popular kids

I attended a graduation yesterday and, this being Marin, it was a very ritzy affair.  The boys were nattily attired in suits (with a surprising number of bow ties popping up amongst the newly minted graduates) while the girls were wearing skimpy dresses, many of which obviously cost more than I spend in an entire year on my clothes.  (Of course, since I hate shopping, that’s not saying much.  But they were really, really expensive dresses.)  Kids in this community have clear skin, white teeth, expensive hair cuts, and loving (although often divorced) parents.

What fascinated me was watching the kids walk onto the stage to get their diplomas.  One could tell in an instant, especially with the boys, which were the popular kids.  Their body language was different.  While the other kids looked apologetic for occupying their physical space, the popular kids (and I had someone near me identify them as “popular” so I wasn’t guessing), seemed completely comfortable in their own bodies.  They had a physical assurance about them that was attractive.  Even sitting in the back of a crowded school auditorium, I could see their aura.  And even I, an aged parent, thought, “Wow, that kid looks cool.”

I’ve told my kids over the years not to slouch, and they both have lovely posture.  Looking at these popular kids, though, I could see that more than carriage is involved.  I think it’s innate.  That is, you can’t say to your kids, “Don’t slouch and, of course, carry yourself with relaxed self-assurance so that you’ll look popular and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Like Clara Bow’s elusive “It,” which was a 1920s euphemism for sex appeal, you either have “It” or you don’t.

 

An excellent forum at the Watcher’s Council regarding the decision to let 15 year olds buy Plan B over the counter

As the mother of the Obama government’s Plan B (aka “Morning After Pill”) demographic, I have strong feelings about the move to let 15 year olds just go to the store and buy the stuff.  The Watcher’s Council has a forum up on that subject and, as always, Council members say the most interesting things — and that’s true whether or not I agree with their conclusions.  You can read it all here, but I’m going to reprint my contribution below:

As the parent of minors, I think it’s appalling. The Left will always justify this kind of rule-making or legislation by pointing to those teenage girls who have dreadful home lives, and are at risk of being physically hurt if they confess to a pregnancy. Yes, those are real situations, but I’ve never seen any evidence that they are anything but a small minority. In the real world, parents whose daughters come home pregnant are not going to be happy, and they may yell at their daughter, but they don’t abuse her. They rally around her. In other words, they are family and they are there for her. (In this regard, I think the movie Juno was pretty accurate.)

The facts on the ground mean that the state’s motive in making birth control and abortifacients available to ever younger girls isn’t because it’s trying to protect a small minority of at-risk girls. Rather, it’s trying to break down the family unit. Sex is a great way to force that schism because, next to hunger, sex is the most powerful motivator. By promising children sex, and lots of it — without any messy consequences such as disease or pregnancy — the state ensures that children look to the state as the bountiful provider. The message is a simple one: We’ll make you happy; your parents will make you sad.

Of course, no one is looking at the very real consequences of the state’s handing out sex like an addictive drug. The state pours toxic hormone soups in adolescent bodies; treats those young bodies with powerful antibiotics; alienates young minds and emotions from those who are most likely to love them; and sends the message that human sex, rather than creating powerful, life-long emotional bonds, has no more meaning than (and about as much charm as) bovine, canine, or feline sex. No wonder the girls who graduate from the hook-up culture in college don’t feel liberated but, instead, just feel used and emotionally frozen. They have been used — not just by the men who get the girls, but by an all-powerful state that has as its goal the end of individuals’ control over their own bodies.

Lastly, there’s also something profoundly wrong about a government that, even as it criminalizes adult men and women who have sex with children, does everything it can to encourage children to have sex. I don’t have a good word to describe that. Revolting? Hypocritical? Sleazy? Obscene? Immoral? I think all apply.

Coincidentally, I just opened an email from a friend alerting me to an article that Melanie Phillips, a brilliant British conservative, wrote about the reason that Big Brother has it in for families. Please read it. It’s very important, and provides a counter-narrative to the state’s claim that parents are a child’s natural enemies, rather than their most loving supporters (in most cases).

California taxpayers are funding free condom deliveries to children as young as 12

(I was halfway through writing this one before I remembered that it was for Mr. Conservative and not for my own site.  Now that it’s up there, though, I can reprint it here, and make my friends a part of the conversation.)

You know what your 12-year-old daughter needs? Free condoms. Even better, she needs to have those free condoms delivered directly to her in discrete packing, along with lubricants and other items to facilitate her burgeoning sex life. And you know what would make this free delivery service best of all? If it by-passed parents entirely.

If you’re writhing in agony reading those words, be grateful if you’re not living in California. The California Family Health Council (CFHC) has a Condom Access Project (CAP) that mails condoms to children 12 and over for free. Put another way, California taxpayers are funding a program that purchases, packages, and ships condoms to underage minors. Think about that for a moment: If an adult has sex with underage minors, it’s statutory rape and the adult is imprisoned and reviled. If a state facilitates sex for underage minors, it’s Progressive and admired. Go figure.

An obviously excited CAP recently issued a press release boasting that its program is expanding to teens in Fresno and San Diego counties. All that the kids need to do is go to a snappily designed website called “teensource.org,” fill out a form, and they’re in business.

Showing the cognitive difficulties that afflict career Leftists, that buzzy little CFHC press release is a classic case of the “Butterfield effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with this term, Fox Butterfield, a well-known Progressive journalist, gained notoriety for writing several articles in which he discussed what he thought was an inexplicable paradox: even as prison populations rose because of tougher sentencing rules, crime rates fell. He couldn’t even imagine the possibility that the tougher sentencing rules caused the falling crime rates.

In its press release, the CFHC proudly notes that it’s expanding its condom program, even as it says that “STD rates among California’s youth ages 15-19 are increasing.” Hmm. Could that rate increase be because the State of California is actively encouraging teens to have sex? (Not to leave the feds out of this equation, they used $423,500 in stimulus dollars to study “correct condom use.”) And could it be because teens, once allowed to do risky, are notorious for being irresponsible even if you give them all the necessary tools for playing it safe? This is why young teens don’t get driver’s licenses and older teens have expensive insurance: no matter the rules and the safety devices, teens are careless.

The announcement about the free condom program arrives at the same time that the FDA ruled that girls as young as 15 can buy the “morning-after pill” without parental consent. The morning-after pill is a powerful hormone cocktail that causes the uterus to reject a newly implanted zygote. In most states, teen girls cannot get their ears pierced, shoot paintball guns, or get a fake tan without parental permission, but they can put toxic quantities of hormones into their growing bodies, all without their parents knowing what’s going on.

Leftist governments hate families. The family unit is the strongest statement of individualism. The way to destroy the family is to use that most powerful of all human motivators – sex – to seduce the child away from the family and into the arms of the beneficent state. The state, which doesn’t love you, still gives you what you need for sex (condoms, The Pill, lubricants, instruction books). Then, because you’re a teen, when all those fail the state gives you the toxic medicines (hormones, antibiotics) and risky medical procedures to save you from your mistakes.

Conservative parents understand the message: “Mom and Dad are so yesterday. Turn to the state, which will give you everything you need.” Are those truly loving parents who happen to be Progressives ever going to wise up?

The Left uses sex to break up American families

I had an interesting conversation with my mother, who may be 90, but is still sharper than most people you’ll meet.  We got to talking about the Gosnell abortion/murder trial, which came as something of a surprise to her.  Despite the fact that she watches the news and reads the newspaper, she hadn’t heard a thing about it.  That wasn’t a surprise to me.

From there, the conversation wandered to the moral merits of abortion.  My Mom came of age in a time and place when abortion was neither approved of nor frowned upon.  It just existed.  In the turmoil after the war, when people were starving in cities decimated by fighting, having a baby seemed like an impossibility — and it could be a death sentence for both mother and child.  Nobody approved of abortion in war-torn streets, but they didn’t stop it either.

For that reason, it’s always been hard for my mother to understand the fervor Americans feel about abortion.  To her, it just . . . is.  (That’s probably the case for a lot of people who aren’t committed to one side or another of the abortion debate, which is why the media couldn’t risk the Gosnell trial coming into the open, in case it swayed indecisive people into the pro-Life column.)

While Mom couldn’t quite get the morality of abortion, I was able to get her to understand that the modern American state uses abortion to separate children from their families.  We’ve talked before here about the fact that, in California, youngsters under 16 or 18 can’t play paintball, get their ears pierced, or get a fake tan without a parents’ permission.  They can, however, get birth control, get abortions, and get treated for sexually transmitted diseases, all without a parents’ knowledge.  Putting aside the invitation to the worst kinds of child sex abuse, what’s happening here is that the state promises children the keys to the kingdom of pleasure.

Food and shelter are necessities.  Good food and good shelter are pleasures.  But sex . . . there’s the ultimate endorphin rush.  Mom and Dad, being mean, spiteful people, won’t let you have it, and they’ll give you Hell if there are consequences because you ignored their strictures.  The state, though, it puts no obstacles in your path.  Indeed, it helps you along with condoms, birth control pills, patches, and morning after pills.  If you get pregnant, you get the Morning After pill or an abortion, and if you get an STD, it gives you antibiotics — all without the knowledge or consent of the people who, in 90% of all cases care about you most in the world.

The Left claims that this legislated immorality is to protect young girls from abusive parents who will leave them homeless or beat them if they come home pregnant.  (Again, let’s ignore the fact that everything the Left does actually encourages the sexual abuse of children.)  Using an argument that focuses on an extreme minority, the Left has put us in a position that sees all girls and boys in America get to have free sex courtesy of the State.  The state has driven a wedge into the family unit, using the most potent endorphin driver available to motivate and reorient young people.

When I put it that way (as opposed to debating abortion’s morality), my mother suddenly sat up very straight, looked me straight in the eye, and said “But that’s socialism!”  I practically jumped up and down applauding that she had realized what was going on. It turned out there was a reason for her insight.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad came from a Communist milieu and, while he eventually voted for Reagan, his sister remained a devoted Communist until the day she died.  Although she escaped Nazi Germany and eventually ended up in Palestine (and, after the War of Independence, in Israel), she decided that this young socialist state wasn’t properly committed to true Marxist socialism.  She therefore returned to East Germany, where she lived out the remainder of her life.

She was still living in Israel, though, when my Mom and Dad got married.  One day, when my Communist aunt was present, the subject of children came up.  Mom said that she wanted to wait until she had a nice home of her own and some security before she had children, so that she could have the joy and comfort of really raising her own family.  My aunt was shocked.  “No.  That’s wrong.  The children belong to the State.  You do not have the right to withhold them from the state, which should raise them.”

With this conversation living in her memory, my mother immediately understood the ramifications of a government severing the ties between parents and children.  In some places, such as Mao’s China, it uses coercion.  In America, it uses sex.  No matter the method, the goal is socialist.

Keeping in mind the above, it’s understandable why people who fear socialism (as I do) greeted with howls of outrage the MSNBC contributor who said quite clearly, “All your children are belong to us.”  Melissa Harris-Perry framed it cutely as it takes a village to raise a child, but that soft overlay covers pure, brute-force socialism.  Villages are voluntary communities that share values.  Homes are the ultimate refuge of the individual.  Socialism holds that individuals have no value, except to the extent that they provide bodies to power the socialist state:

The up and coming generation — scarily passive sheeple

When I was growing up, there were quite a few slogans young people were urged to remember:  “Question authority.”  “Never trust anyone over thirty.”  “Power to the People!”  “Tell it like it is.”  “Do your own thing.”  Especially after Watergate, we were a generation that was warned never to trust the politicians.  We were supposed to question everything.

In retrospect, of course, we were being manipulated.  We weren’t really supported to question all of the authorities in our lives, nor were we supposed to disbelieve every politician.  Instead, we were being steered into questioning and challenging a traditional status quo based upon the constitution and Judeo-Christian values.  Nevertheless, the notion of questioning authority was very real.  We didn’t assume our teachers were right.  We were sheeple (all young people are), but we were sheeple that still tried to run in the opposite direction of the existing political class and its agenda.

Today’s generation of young sheeple has no desire to create a break-out herd that challenges the political status quo.  Modern young sheeple do not question their teachers or their politicians.  Instead, they accept hook, line, and sinker every fact — and it’s always Leftist facts — thrown at them.

The best example I’ve seen of sheepleness — the current generation’s complete and mindless acquiescence to the anticapitalist, environmentally insane, politically correct, anti-white racist stuff constantly being thrown at them — is a truly clever, marvelously done video by Jon Cozart, a sophomore at the University of Texas, Austin.

Jon is a talented lyricist and a wonderful singer, with a great range from almost bass all the way up to tenor.  He’s become something of a YouTube star, and it’s quite obvious why.

Jon’s latest effort is “After Ever After — DISNEY Parody,” which uses familiar melodies to imagine what happened to the Disney characters after the movie ended.  It’s good, really good.  Clever lyrics, wonderful performance.  The only problem with it is that it’s a perfect encapsulation of sheeple subservience to PC, Leftist crap.  (Pardon my language.)

In my youth, which wasn’t that long ago, the rhetoric of our time (“question authority,” “never trust anyone over thirty”) would have had us challenging all the stuff that was spewing from Washington, D.C., and inundating us from the front of the classroom.  We would have sneered with youthful cynicism at the Climate Change stuff, the anti-American stuff, the non-gays are evil stuff, etc.

This generation, however, cannot hop on the establishment bandwagon quickly enough. Today’s young people have no curiosity.

If you’ve ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy, you must surely remember, in the first book, the way Meg, Calvin, and Charles are transported to the planet Camazotz, which is completely controlled by the evil IT.  What makes IT so evil is that IT demands complete conformity.  IT punishes anyone who dares to try to be an individualist.  In doing so, it stifles everything that is good and loving.  We have turned our young people into children straight from the school of Camazotz.  They swear a lot, drink, and do drugs, but they are incapable of independent behavior, thought, reason, logic, or analysis.

The Left — criminalizing childhood

The news is filled with stories lately about the way in which Progressive-managed public schools are behaving insanely when it comes to kids and faux-guns.  My friend Mike McDaniel, whose regular home is Stately McDaniel Manor, has an article up at PJ Media today which combines surreal (yet sadly real) stories about teeny-tiny kids caught in their school’s anti-gun cross hairs.  To the extent the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I can only say that the Progressives are making the trip there a whole lot faster and uglier.

Parents are good for children, and children are good for parents (especially selfish parents)

Having babies used to be biologically inevitable.  If you were a woman who had sex, the possibility of pregnancy increased automatically with every act of sexual intercourse.  People have always had birth control (withdrawal, the rhythm method, vinegar-soaked sponges, primitive condoms, etc.) but their success rate was random and limited.

Then came modern birth control — pills, diaphragms, IUDs, quality condoms, etc. — and, for responsible women, sex stopped leading to pregnancy unless they wanted it to happen.

The societal assumption when birth control use surged in America was that women who used birth control would invariably have children.  They’d simply do so on their own time-table, rather than on Nature’s.  Some women waited too long (or just had problems with conception), but science had an answer there too, with increasingly successful fertility treatments, implants, and even complex surrogacies, using a combination of egg, sperm, and womb.

What no one predicted was that, given the choice, women simply wouldn’t want to have children.  This isn’t just because they’re Malthusian environmentalists who are afraid that children will destroy the world.  It’s because they don’t see children as part of their happy (and sometimes selfish) life plan:

For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.

“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be … Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”

I totally get that.  As I hit my 30s, I was living the lush life:  good job, good income, nice apartment, quality boyfriend and, when the long work hours were over, a lot of “me” time.  I had no biological clock ticking away.  I didn’t want children.  In general, I’m not that fond of them.  Yet here I am today, completely defined by my status as “Mom.”  What the heck happened?

What happened was that my boyfriend (now husband) wanted children and I wanted him.  The other thing that happened was that I took a long, considering look at all of the older childless couples I knew, who voluntarily stayed childless, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Without exception, these people were more affluent than their peers, they were well-traveled, well-dined, and well-groomed.  They were also rigid, humorless, thin-skinned, and unable to deal with even the most minor crises.  I realized that it’s not just that (g00d) parents are good for children, it’s that children are good for parents.

I hated the baby and toddler years, and they definitely accelerated my aging (chronic sleep deprivation did not agree with me).  I also hated the schlepping, the endless frustration of dealing with toddlers, and the chaos in my once-quiet house.  I don’t like irrational creatures and there is no creature more irrational (from an adult perspective) than a toddler.  Toddlers, of course, function in a completely rational world, defined by their immediate desires, limited understanding, and somewhat magical thinking.

It got easier as the kids grew up, and now I’m in a really great position where I’m optimizing the benefits that come with being a parent.  I enjoy my teenagers, a great deal.  They’re intelligent, loving, funny people and, while I like it when I’ve got my house it myself, I certainly don’t dislike it when they’re around.  I like their friends too, and am very happy to have (no kidding) the most popular house in the neighborhood.  My son, bless his heart, told me that all his friends like to be here because I’m the easiest-to-get-along-with parent they know.  I’m not a pushover — it’s just that, as with politics, I’m laissez faire.  I have a few fixed rules but otherwise, if the kids are not hurting themselves, each other, my dog, or my house, I leave them alone.

Meanwhile, they keep me young.  I hope I’m not mutton dressed as lamb, but I know the games, music, movies, language, clothing (which I don’t copy), and the general culture of youth.  I am not calcified and I am not rigid.  I don’t get hysterical if there’s no blood or vomit involved in whatever crisis arises — and I don’t even get hysterical about blood or vomit.  I just move a bit more quickly to cope with it.

My point is that the selfish person should want to have children.  I believe that my children benefit from my selfishness, which leads me to a benign neglect that keeps them from trying to grow under the shadow and endless wind of a helicopter parent, and I get to stay young, agreeable and adaptable.  It’s a good deal for me, even though the upfront costs (two miserable pregnancies followed by years without sleep, rest, or privacy) were high.

Is common sense reasserting itself?

Since I like to keep up with current music, when I’m in the car I often listen to Sirius XM Hits 1 (channel 2), which tracks the Top 40 songs.  Weekday mornings, Hits 1 offers the Morning MashUp, which consists of two guys and a gal chatting together about celebrity gossip and taking listener phone calls.

Today, much to my surprise, I tuned in to hear this trio talking about the case of the seven year old boy who was suspended from school for lobbing an imaginary grenade at an imaginary box of imaginary bad guys.  Even more to my surprise, the Morning MashUp gang was infuriated by the suspension.  Their attitude was that kids have to be kids, that children should be allowed to exercise their imaginations, that children have always played cops and robbers, and that the school massively overreacted.

I agree completely with the Morning MashUp gang.  I also wonder if (or, perhaps, hope that) they are the tip of the iceberg, with the iceberg being a backlash against the stifling conformity and inanity of the various liberal ukases that control more and more of our lives and of our children’s lives.

As an aside, I’m also willing to bet that there is, or easily could be, a study showing that destroying imaginary bad guys, whether by lobbing pretend grenades or having a wild game of cops and robbers, isn’t a psychologically necessary way for children to deal with fear.  Children are certainly fearful.  They have very little control over their lives and their world is peopled with danger, both real and (because they are children) imaginary.  Being able to throw a grenade at the bad guys sounds like a perfectly therapeutic imaging exercise designed to empower a fearful child.

Education for the brainwashed generation

I know I’m just grumpy, but this promotional mailing from Ithaca College rubbed me the wrong way:

Ithaca flier

Ready to write environmental wrongs.  Ithaca College will turn your academic passions into unforgettable experiences — and make you ready for the adventure of your life.

I know that the first sentence is meant to be a clever pun, but it’s not.  At first glance, I thought it was a typo or blatant grammatical error.  On second reading, I thought Ithaca was promising to teach students how to plan to create environmental wrongs.  On third reading, I realized that Ithaca is offering to teach students how to “list” environmental wrongs, although I suspect there’ll be a fair dollop of creative writing (i.e., anthropogenic climate change) thrown in.

The whole thing — with the smug girl and the promise that documenting, or making up, environmental wrong is the “adventure of your life” — made me queasy.

Am I overreacting?  I probably am.  But as Kurt Schlichter said about Lena Dunham’s and HBO’s vile, nihilistic show Girls, we need to know what’s out there, because it is out there, and it’s aimed at our children.

“It’s for the animals” — Leftist indoctrination of children

Conservatives often talk about the fact that Progressives use children as a wedge issue for everything.  Changes in immigration law?  It’s to protect those poor children whose parents illegally dragged them across the border.  Changes in health care law?  It’s so that children, right up until the childlike age of 26, can get full health care, regardless of their parents’ economic or lifestyle decisions.  Gun control?  It’s for the children, never mind that statistics indicate that children die in greater numbers when gun control increases even as cultural brakes decline.

Barack Obama surrounds self with children for gun control

Barack Obama, of course, took the “it’s for the children” approach to public policy to sickening new heights when he surrounded himself by a gaggle of youthful darlings to herald his stale and ineffectual “gun control” orders.  He then followed this unsavory photo op with heart-rending videos of children pleading for an end to guns in America.  Yes, children are our future, and yes, we want to leave them a viable world when we pass on, but Drudge was right when he noted that only demagogues surround themselves with children to justify increased tyranny.

I’ve established (to my satisfaction, at least), that Progressives misuse children in order to co-opt their parents.  But how do Progressives co-opt the children?  Easy:  “It’s for the animals.”

In the old days, animal stories and movies used to be about a kid’s relationship with his animal, whether the animal was a yearling, a yellow dog, or a black horse.  The child learned and grew because of his responsibilities for the animals and, often, because of the hard, human choices he had to make regarding the animals.  Animals weren’t better than humans, but they existed artistically to help children learn about love, responsibility, and tough decisions.

Baby Seal

Starting with the baby seal campaign in the 1970s, though, the Left realized that it can bring kids on board by making them feel that ordinary human activity is devastating for animals.  The starting point, and it really wasn’t a bad one, was to focus on the animals that were being driven, quite unnecessarily, to extinction, such as the baby seals beaten for fashion fur, the dolphins killed by careless tuna fishing methodologies, or the various African and Asian animals being minced and powdered for aphrodisiacs (and no, I do not want to hear that there’s nothing frivolous about the man who needs an aphrodisiac).  There really wasn’t a credible reason for these animals to be subject to mass slaughter.

Polar Bear with Cubs

Lately, though, the Left has been using animal education with children, not because the animals are a target of foolish, wasteful behavior, but because their deaths are a byproduct of necessary human behaviors that the Left hates.  Thus, we saw the whole spectacle of polar bears who were supposedly being driven to extinction because Mommy drives a minivan, or spotted owls being driven from their habitat because nasty humans insist on living in houses.  It’s one thing to heed the Biblical injunction that we are stewards of the earth, something with which I heartily agree.  It’s another thing altogether to teach children that, if at all possible, we should vanish from the earth entirely.  (Something that’s looking surprisingly likely, given world-wide demographic trends.)

The reality of life is that anything that living creatures do on this earth affects other living creatures.  This is true for plants (kudzu, for example), animals (the balance of wolves and deer in Yellowstone, for example), and humans.  Because humans have the greatest geographic range and the most inventive minds, we have more scope to affect our surroundings than do plants or animals.  Moreover, even when we seem to be changing for the better, we still manage to mess with nature.  When we had horses and carriages, the world was awash in filthy, germ-carrying urine and feces.  When we got cars, the urine and feces vanished from cities and towns, but we got dirtier air.  When we eat meat, we use resources to feed the animals, the animals produce waste, and we have to kill the animals to take advantage of their protein.  That all sounds yucky, right?  Except it turns out that when we seek protein alternatives (and even Progressives won’t deny that we need protein), we starve indigenous people who are dependent on these alternatives, rather than eating them just because it makes them feel very politically correct.  In the same vein, our decision to use corn for fuel, because it’s “cleaner” than fossil fuels, led to starvation and revolution in the Middle East.

Humans, like any animals, have to fight for resources — we fight with each other, and we fight with animals.  Because we’re human, we have the gifts of a greater, more flexible intellect and of a moral compass, so we are obligated to mitigate the negative effects our actions have on others.  Mitigating those effects, however, is not the same as vanishing altogether — which is pretty much what the Leftists are suggesting to our children is the best solution of them all.

The West’s perpetual adolescence — affluence and socialism create a nation of Peter Pans who refuse to grow up

One of the things I find most distasteful about ObamaCare is its requirement that employers must provide insurance coverage for their employees’ children through their 26th year.  I don’t find this just economically wrong, I find it cosmically, morally wrong that our federal government has officially extended childhood until citizens are 26.  I cannot think of a single reason why our national policy should be to delay normal human mental and emotional maturation.  Progressives seem to have added to the Constitution, right after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a coda saying that being Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, is a legitimate career goal.

I mentioned yesterday that, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I listened (and am listening to) both Joseph Ellis’s American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic and David McCulloch’s 1776. One of the things that comes through so clearly in these books is that the Founding Fathers were adults, not children, and they were adults because, from a very young age, all of them had taken on adult responsibilities, whether as soldiers, surveyors, blacksmiths, booksellers, lawyers, farmers, printers, or whatever other careers the Founders pursued.  Even gentlemen farmers such as Jefferson still had myriad responsibilities for their estates and the people dependent on those estates.

That all of them took on responsibility so early was not unusual; it was the norm.  What would have struck all of them as peculiar was a world view holding that, during your peak years of childbearing, physical strength, and mental adaptability, you should lounge around the house pursuing your bliss and living off of your parents.  Necessity required the Founders to work and grow.  A combination of affluence and socialism ensures that our children can remain adolescent well into their late 20s.

Nowadays, the majority of American children stay in school until age 18.  In Colonial times, but for a few college-bound gentlemen, by 18 most would have been employed for years.  The women would already have had children and that would have been true whether they were ladies of leisure, or working women responsible for a family farm, a washing business, housework, etc.

For too many Americans, though, adulthood doesn’t even begin at 18.  The middle and upper classes send their children to college.  For $20,000 to $50,000 per year (payable by their parents or the government, either through direct grants or guaranteed loans), they attend a few classes, take some tests, meet new people, party a lot, travel (always at someone else’s expense) and generally delay taking on any real responsibility.  Many of them study subjects that will have no measurable benefit on their lives, either in terms of future income or acquired knowledge.  Only once these youngsters graduate, at 21 or 22, do some of them finally start working for real.  Some of them get married and have children.  Too many, however, continue to be adolescents:  they get low-level jobs (although it’s not always their fault in the Obama economy) and they still look to Mom and Dad for financial support and insurance.  Partying remains important.

The degree jockeys further extend their adolescence with further education.  Some actually study things that will prove remunerative (law, medicine, architecture, business, etc.), but many opt for purely academic disciplines, getting advanced degrees in History, Medieval French, Puppetry, Womyn’s Studies, etc.  They do so despite knowing that there is almost no chance that they’ll get a job in their field.  I would never make such a foolish decision with my time and money.  When I finished my undergraduate education, despite my abiding love for history, I knew I would never get a job in my field.  The grad students in the history department told me that, in my graduation year, there were only four PhD level job openings for history majors in the entire United States.  I went to law school instead.

People need to grow up.  They are just as stunted without mental maturation as they would be if a disease or dietary deficiency kept their bodies from growing properly.  I realized the truth of this when I had children.  Although I’d worked as a lawyer for many years, and had my own business, until I had children and truly had others entirely dependent upon me, I was still a kid.  Nothing I did really mattered.  When you have children, everything matters.  Your choices are suddenly monumental, since they affect not only you but a helpless human being, who needs you desperately and looks up to you with love and respect.  I definitely miss the irresponsibility of my youth, but I wouldn’t go back.  I was biologically destined to mature, and it feels right.

What triggered this post about the terrible effect of ObamaCare’s perpetual adolescence factor is an email that has been making the rounds in Britain.  Nick Crews, a British Navy retiree, apparently had a bad Christmas with his three adult children last year.  By February of this year, he couldn’t keep it bottled up any more, so he sent them an email saying that they needed to stop whining and flailing about, and needed to begin taking responsibility for their lives.  Crews is absolutely right, although I believe that, because his children were raised in a socialist nation that turns the state into a perpetual parent who feeds, clothes, and otherwise provides for the citizen-children, he’s fighting a rearguard action:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.

Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.

So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

Dad

Despite the letter’s harsh tone, at least one of his children said it was something she needed to hear.

In Obama’s America, a lot of parents will soon feel like writing to their children the same letter Crews wrote to his.

Obama’s economy and his health care plan come together in the restaurant business

On Monday, I noted that ObamaCare regulations requiring employers to provide full (really full) insurance coverage to all employees may make running restaurants, which have a famously low profit margin, so prohibitively expensive that many will go out of business.

It turns out that we needn’t fear this eventuality, because we’re about to see a perfect confluence of two Obama policies.  Restaurants can avoid the costs of ObamaCare by hiring only part-time employees.  This is so because ObamaCare says that employers don’t have to provide health insurance for part-time employees.  The down side of this is that the poor, part-time employees will have to provide their own insurance (or pay a penalty), not to mention struggling to pay for food and housing on a part-time salary.  Or will they?

As you might have noticed, the economy has not improved measurably under Obama.  Indeed, thanks to Obamanomics, college graduates are barely getting by:

In California, it’s long been the joke that prospective actresses come to the state to become waitresses. Now, thanks to the Democrat-created economy, so do college graduates. The newest census shows that between 2006 and 2011, the number of college graduates working as waiters doubled. Approximately 260,000 California college graduates below the age of 30 worked in low-level menial jobs in 2011, an increase of 60,000 over 2006.

And there you have it:  the Obama economy provides ready-made part-time employees for a restaurant that can no longer afford full-time employees.  Even better, these part-timers will live in their parents’ basements and, until they’re 26, get their insurance from their parents’ employers.  Right now, we won’t worry about what happens when their parents’ employers can no longer bear the cost of providing for their own full-time employees, plus an increasing number of Obamanomics-created dependents.

What we’re seeing is the perfect symmetry of an imploding Leftist-managed economy.

Is the rise of bullying at schools tied to Progressive education policies?

There are a couple of things about modern life that are hard to understand.  The first is why so many more children have potentially fatal peanut allergies than did in my youth.  I have no idea why this is so, and probably never will.

The second thing that’s been mysterious to me is why bullying in school has suddenly become so epidemic.  When I was young, there was certainly bullying (and I, being small, near-sighted, and socially awkward, came in for more than my fair share), but bullying really wasn’t a big deal the way it is now.  For one thing, I don’t recall a single instance of someone committing suicide in San Francisco due to bullying during my school years, and I was one of those wonkish kids who read the paper daily (explaining, no doubt, why I was targeted for harassment). Lately, though, I’ve come up with a couple of theories about the rise of bullying.

There’s no doubt that social media is responsible in part for bullying.  The fact that children can use Facebook and texting to bully from a distance makes the whole process so much easier.  It’s one thing to insult a person to her (or his) face.  That requires a certain amount of chutzpah.  It’s another thing entirely, though, to add your “like” to a derogatory comment on someone’s Facebook page.  That’s practically anonymous and gives one an emotionally safe distance from the emotional damage one is causing.

Even social media, though, doesn’t account for the atmosphere in schools that makes relentless bullying socially acceptable.  And really, when one considers the omnipresent anti-bullying campaigns that are an integral part of every schools curriculum, it seems odd that bullying is equally omnipresent.  Or does it?  Could those anti-bullying campaigns be part of the reason bullying is on the rise?  I think so.

The schools in my community perfectly exemplify the modern educational approach to bullying.  They certainly don’t ignore bullying.  To the contrary, they talk about it constantly.  They hire touchy-feely gurus to come in and have the kids “open up” about their feelings, apparently in the belief that doing so will increase the average 14-year old’s empathy.  They also have peer groups of “specially trained” students who walk around ordering other students not to engage in bullying and who are supposed to mediate school-yard quarrels.  I have it on the best authority — the kids’ themselves — that these peer advisers have all the warm, cuddly qualities of a member of Mao’s youth brigade.  Just as anti-bully campaigner Dan Savage turns out to be something of a bully himself, those teenagers vested with the power to stop bullying tend to let that power go to their heads.  (Not all of them, of course, but enough of them to make other kids sour about the peer advisers.)

Kids who are caught engaging in bullying are counseled, made to do “reparative” work, overseen by faculty members and peer advisers, and otherwise made the objects of a great deal of attention.  Unsurprisingly, when these bullies do get caught, they do not have warm and cuddly feelings towards those students who presumably ratted them out.

Oh, and here’s the really important thing to know about how schools deal with bullies:  self-defense is not an option.  The only recourse for a bullied child is to tell the school authorities.

In theory, this sounds lovely.  It does away with vigilante justice and minimizes the fights that used to be fairly common on school playgrounds.  That’s the theory.

In fact, making self-defense a crime is a bonanza for the bullies.  The alpha child with a mean streak quickly figures out that, if he acts first to create a reign of terror, the other children are powerless to stop him.  He’s figured out that it takes two to tangle sufficiently to get the authorities’ attention.  As long as he’s dishing out the bullying, but no one is fighting back, the bullying is virtually invisible at the adult level.

Schools will tell you that they also counsel children how about how to avoid becoming victims.  This is a semantic gimmick.  To the extent the schools “teach” children how to avoid bullying, it doesn’t involve basic physical self-defense (which includes things as simple as walking in a confident way) or verbal self-defense (ways to take control of and deflect a potentially hostile interaction).  Instead, it’s all about “feelings.”  Well, the only “feeling” the bullied child knows well is fear.  Being told to “express” that feeling doesn’t prevent the bullying. Nor does all this “feeling” talk defer the alpha child who’s intent on doing a bit of no good.

The enterprising bully is also unfazed by the fact that the schools have rules against punishing whistle-blowers.  After all, the schools also have rules against bullying in the first place, but that’s clearly not stopping anyone.

In the old days, school yards meted out a form of rough justice: fist fights.  They weren’t common in my day, but they happened.  Two boys would hit the ground in a tangle of fists and feet, all the other children would gather around hollering “Fight!”, and, after a few minutes, a teacher would come along and break it up.  That was usually the end of it.  Fighting wasn’t encouraged, but it was tolerated up to a certain point, because it constituted community policing.  The kids took care of things themselves and, along the way, they learned how to be responsible for their own safety, rather than dependent on others.  (Please note that I’m not advocating kids beating each other up, nor am I confusing the rather innocent fist fights in my middle class schools with the brutal knife, gun, etc., gang fights that take place in America’s more dangerous schools.)

There is a perfect analogy for what’s going on in the schools:  gun control laws.  Those communities that have banned guns, and that have made even home defense a criminal act, blithely expected crime to go down.  Instead, of course, it went up.  Knowing that potential victims were helpless didn’t make criminals feel a sudden gush of compassion.  Instead, it heightened their hunting instincts.  Even the most thick-headed amongst them was able to figure out that the home robbery situation, rather than representing a risk, suddenly had all the fun and profit of hunting fish in a barrel.

On the street, the saying is that, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.  The same is true in the schoolyard, only it’s worse.  When seconds count, the school authorities aren’t there at all and, if a brave child tattles on the bully, either by telling his parents or by telling a school official, the bully suddenly becomes the center of the kind of attention that can only make the victim quite nervous about subsequent repercussions.

The best way to prevent violence is to have a population that can defend itself.  While Progressives think that everyone who knows how to fight is a potential bully, I believe that everyone who knows how to fight and who is taught about justice, morals, and decency, is a bulwark against bullying, because he can protect not only himself but also those smaller and weaker than he is.

Being honest with children, without abandoning your right as a parent to pass judgment

So much of parenting is about communication.  Because children listen with their hearts as well as their minds, that communication had better be honest.  If it’s not, your child will instantly know you for either a fool or a liar.

Being honest, though, is not the same as being judgmental.  There is a time and a place for both.  Most parents have discovered that, occasionally, passing judgment on someone or something simply encourages a child to push back, thereby turning into a fight something that ought to be a deep and principled discussion.

A good example of the way to be both honest and effectively judgmental (meaning getting your child to acknowledge your principles without pushing back) is the drug talk.  Most parents of high schoolers have made the sad discovery that a certain percentage of their child’s peers are doing drugs.  When you, the parent, hear such stories, you can be simultaneously honest and judgmental by stating your principled position about drug use.  Mine is that drug use is very dangerous for children and teenagers.  Even ostensibly mild drugs such as marijuana have a damaging effect on a young person’s intellectual and emotional development.  (You can imagine the rest of the factual lecture here, because I’m sure you’ve given it yourself.)

What the wise parent avoids, though, is leveling an attack, not against the drugs, but against the drug user.  As sure as the sun rises, if you attack an individual, your child will spring to that individual’s defense:

Mom:  Boy, is that a stupid girl to be smoking pot at her age.

Child:  She is not stupid.  She gets really good grades.

That’s the moment the parent has lost control of the conversation. It’s now going to wend its way through various pointless rhetorical pathways, with the parent trying to prove that a teenager she’s never actually met is an idiot, while the child vigorously asserts that the teen is a paragon of virtue, but for the drug use.

The better way to keep the conversation going is to offer an honest opinion about your emotional response to that errant teen, or your sense of that same teen’s emotional status:

Mom:  That’s so sad.  In her Facebook picture, she looks like such a lovely girl, but drug use, especially when you start so wrong, is damaging at so many levels.  She must be deeply unhappy or insecure to throw herself away with drug use.

Child:  How can she be insecure?  She’s always bossing people around.

Mom:  People who have a genuine, bone-deep confidence, don’t feel the need to throw their weight around, or medicate their insecurities with illegal drugs.  [And so on and so on.]

A parent who is honestly sympathetic to a child’s plight can be judgmental without forcing her child into a defensive posture. Using this technique, you can have conversations with your kids about hard topics – drugs, sex, social challenges – that are deep and without embarrassment, because the kids know that the parent will honestly talk facts, but avoid labels that trigger a self-defense, or peer-defense, mechanism.

Honesty also has the virtue of cutting straight through the euphemisms all people — and especially teenagers — use to hide the fact that a certain behavior is morally wrong or simply degrading. My favorite example of this is the talk I had with some girls I was driving to a high school dance.  They were chatting excitedly about whether or not they would be asked to dance (yes, even in this modern day and age, the boys still ask the girls), and whether they should let a guy freak dance with them.

I couldn’t resist chiming in.  “You know what freak dancing is, don’t you? Freak dancing is when a strange guy masturbates against your bottom.”

From the back of the car came a chorus of disgusted squeals.  “Oh, my God!  That’s so gross.  I’m never going to freak dance.”

(Since they were in the back, they didn’t see my fist pump.)

I doubt I could have gotten such a dramatic, heartfelt response if I’d allowed the girls to think of freak dancing as “just a dance” or tried delicately to address the matter as “a sort of dance where the guy rubs himself against you.”  Also, by going straight to the heart of the matter, without waffling, I also signaled to the girls that the type of dancing they were contemplating is something that they can talk about with me openly, without the need for embarrassment.

I am consistently honest with my children, and I’ve never regretted that decision.  Even when my children catch me being dishonest (for better or worse, I’m a big believer in social lies that enable others to save face when it comes to issues that do not involve core ethics or morality), I explain what my thinking is and why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I’m the magician who shows every aspect of his tricks.  And yet somehow, the magic is still there, because my children have absorbed my morality and values, and apply them to their daily lives.

The joy of the “disabled” child

Earlier today, I wrote that fearing a bad genetic outcome is the wrong reason not to get pregnant.  Tonight, completely coincidentally, I had the pleasure of attending a talent show in which the performers were all developmentally disabled children.  It was the best show I’ve seen in I don’t know how long.  Despite disabilities ranging from autism, to cerebral palsy, to what was to me undifferentiated mental retardation, each of these performers gave his or her all to the audience.  Surrounded by love and approval, they had no stage fright, no performance anxiety, no artistic neurosis.  They just got out there and sang a song, danced, or played a musical instrument.

It is quite obvious that each of these children is a challenge for his or her parents.  Long after their siblings have grown up enough to give Mom and Dad some free time, these kids need constant supervision.  And when a brother or sister is making his way alone in the world, these children will continue to need full-time care.  I’ve known several parents of handicapped children over the years, and all of the parents were worried about what would happen to their children when the parents’ strength and/or money ran out.

Those worries are real . . . and yet!  Those kids brought so much joy.  With fully-abled children, we take their accomplishments somewhat for granted.  We expect them to read, sing, dance, play music, or whatever else.  When they do well, we applaud them, but we also think, “Of course that’s what they’re going to do.”  With the children tonight, however, everything they did exceeded expectations.  Every note sung or played, every dance step, every happy chortle was special, because these kids are special.

I feel blessed every day that my children were born physically and mentally intact.  I honestly don’t know if I would have the moral courage, not to mention the mental and physical stamina, to raise a handicapped child.  Watching the children tonight, though, I was reminded, as I often am, that disabled children are not only a greater burden, but also a greater gift to their parents than so-called normal children.

Incidentally, while I’m on the subject of children whose disabilities are offset by tremendous gifts, I’d like to recommend a website that an autistic young man writes:  Ido in Autismland.  Ido has confounded autism experts because, contrary to theories about an autistic child’s empty mental and emotional state, Ido is an academically gifted young man who is thoughtful, articulate, and an extremely good writer.  Reading his blog provides a rare opportunity to see behind the often blank face of autism.

Is a familial genetic legacy the right reason not to have a baby? No! *UPDATED*

PJ Media has had two interesting posts about whether familial genetic legacies are the right reason not to have a baby.  David Swindle passes on an article about the fact that well-known “comedienne” Sarah Silverman (I use the scare quotes because I don’t think she’s funny) announced recently that she will not have children because she and her family have a history of depression.  Silverman can’t bear the thought that any children she has might suffer the same fate.  Conservative blogger Kathy Shaidle also thinks that her family’s genetic possibilities — in her case, shortness — makes having babies a bad deal for the babies.  (Shaidle offers up a number of other reasons why she wouldn’t have a baby, all of which make it clear that she’s thought the subject through carefully and really isn’t the maternal type.)

Neither woman is concerned about a life-threatening genetic problem, the kind that mandates that the child will suffer terribly and die young.  Both are concerned, though, about traits that have affected the quality of their otherwise successful lives.  Within this framework, Silverman and Shaidle are both wrong.  There are many reasons not to have children, but their genetic concerns aren’t the right reasons.

To begin with, there’s no guarantee that a child will inherit whatever genetic problem exists in the family.  Keep in mind that babies aren’t clones.  They are, instead, the end result of thousands of years of genetic mix-ups.  My great-grandmother had fraternal twin girls.  One was six feet tall, the other five feet tall.  They represented the two genetic extremes in just one family line.  I’m five feet tall.  My (male) cousins on the maternal side hover around 6’7″.  They married short women; I married a tall man.  All of our children are clocking in at average.  Nature does what nature does.  We can make some educated Mendelian guesses about the probable outcome when a couple have a baby, but those are just that — guesses.

Things get scary when we take those guesses out of the hypothetical realm (“I’ll never get pregnant because of this-or-that possibility”) and into the realm of making affirmative decisions about those little fetuses (“I’m pregnant and I know what’s wrong.”).  On the Today Show, Nancy Snyderman, the science correspondent, waxed enthusiastic about plucking “defective” babies out of the womb:

SNYDERMAN: Well, you might learn that a child has a severe genetic problem. It gives parents a chance to decide whether they’re going to continue that pregnancy or not. This is the science of today. It is running fast into the future. And I think the future will be such that you’ll find out that your child may have a genetic hit. You can fix that genetic problem, and improve your chance, a child’s chance of having a healthier –

STAR JONES: When will you know about this?

SNYDERMAN: Well, it’s out there now but it’s too expensive.

DONNY DEUTSCH: But obviously there’s another flip side guys, there’s another flip — Look, I’m a pro-choice guy, but at the end of the day what’s stopping people, “Oh, my son is going to be blond, I want — ” You’ve got to do it for the reasons you’re talking about, but –

SNYDERMAN: I get the genetic-engineering issue. But the reality is we’ve already jumped out of that with amniocentesis.

JONES: Correct.

SNYDERMAN: So, the science is there. The problem is that science goes faster than we have these societal questions. And that’s exactly why we should have these societal questions now.

Donny Deutsch may be a liberal, but he honed in like a laser-guided missile with his question which, rephrased, is “who’s to decide what constitutes a defect sufficient to justify terminating a nascent life?”  Snyderman pretty much brushed him off.  Her answer, rephrased, was “with knowledge comes power.”

Snyderman is obviously an acolyte of the Peter Singer school of ethics/eugenics.  Peter Singer holds an endowed chair at Princeton, which means that he daily gets the opportunity to sell his views to the best and the brightest, young people who move on from Princeton to positions of power and responsibility.  This matters, because his academic output includes such books as Should the Baby Live?: The Problem of Handicapped Infants (Studies in Bioethics), Animal Liberation and In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave.  The title of that first-listed book — Should the Baby Live? — pretty much sums up the man’s philosophy:  he advocates euthanizing handicapped infants.  He is, of course, reviled by the handicapped community (and rightly so).

The moral abyss Singer creates with his euthanasia musings is highlighted by the fact that his animal liberation writings make him a founding father of the animal rights movement — a movement that’s come to full flower in PETA insanity (which analogizes the death of chickens to the death of Jews in Hitler’s gas chambers). Singer explicitly believes that a healthy animal has greater rights than a sick person.  If you need a further insight into Singer’s warped world — and let me remind you that this warped world gives him tremendous status in academia, not to mention worldwide accolades — Singer has no moral problem with bestiality, provided that the animal consents, an attitude that places him at odds with the same animal rights movement he was so instrumental in creating.

I recognize that there’s a difference between refraining from pregnancy because you, the potential parent, are concerned about a hypothetical birth defect, and aborting a baby that is actually proven to have that defect.  The problem is defining “defect,” which leads me to the second reason Silverman and Shaidle are wrong in deciding not to have babies because of family genetic histories.

The fact is that one person’s “defect” is another person’s opportunity.  For example, the Time article to which PJ Media links makes clear that there’s a connection between depression and creativity:

But what the commenters didn’t mention is that the same genes that can cause depression may also encourage the sensitivity and sensibility that gives Silverman her creative talent. Indeed, some research suggests that the same exact genetics that might lead to depression can also lead to mental superhealth, depending on whether a person endured high stress in early childhood or had a calmer, more nurturing environment.

I can actually speak to that point.  Some of you may have noticed that my blogging has dropped off in the past six weeks.  I don’t believe that the timing is random.  Six weeks ago, I started taking tricyclics to deal with chronic, aggressive, and debilitating migraines.  I’m happy to report that the medicine has worked.  My migraines haven’t dropped to zero, but having two mild headaches in six weeks is an extraordinary reprieve from the pain and sickness that was dogging me.

That’s the up side.  The down side is that I’m having a much harder time writing.  The sizzling connections that use to race across my brain and come pouring out onto my keyboard are gone.  I sense them, but I can’t grasp them.  You see, tricyclics are antidepressants.  Although I’m taking a fraction of the clinical dose for depression (about 0.1 of the clinical dose), the medicine is still working on those parts of the brain that would have produced depression and that apparently do produce creativity.  I’m flattened out.  Not completely, but significantly.

I’m currently making the choice to lose some of my creativity in favor of freedom from pain and sickness.  But it’s my choice.  I’m a sentient being and I can make these decisions.  I’m neither a “never was” that never even got conceived or, worse, an “almost was” that got aborted.  In a year or so, I’ll try going off the medicine and see whether my brain has stopped being hysterical, so that I can be both pain free or creative.  Again, it will be my choice.  I live in hope.

Oh, and that bit about hope — it’s the third reason that Silverman and Shaidle are wrong to make genetics a reason not to have children.  Medical advances mean that the same problem that debilitated grandma, and inconvenienced mom, may be nothing to the child.  Having a baby is always a gamble.  We gamble that we’ll stay healthy, that they’ll stay healthy, and that the world will stay healthy.  We gamble that, when we read a horrible headline about a school bus accident, that this type of accident will never happen to our family.  There are no certainties in life.  Just as there’s no way of knowing whether a pregnancy will result in a child with a genetic problem, there’s also no way of knowing whether, in that child’s life, there won’t be a solution.

Anyway, some things don’t need a solution.  I’m only an inch taller than Shaidle, but I’ve found it a problem only when buying a car.  I’ve ended up buying Japanese cars, not only because I like their suspension and reliability, but also because they’re the only cars that have seats that raise up enough that I don’t need to sit on a pillow.  If there weren’t Japanese cars, then I guess I’d sit on a pillow.  Other than that, and the occasional frustration when a tall person sits in front of me at a show, I’ve never felt handicapped by being short.  Heck, I’ve never even felt short.  I have a large personality, which more than compensates for any height deficiencies.  Indeed, it’s so large that most people are quite surprised to learn that I’m “only” 5 feet tall.

Even if medical advances can’t help (or pillows aren’t available), what exists within a person may well be the determining factor in that person’s success.  My uncle was a genius with four fully operating limbs — and he was a complete failure in life, poisoned by a combination of Communism and his own character flaws.  At the other extreme is the amazing, inspirational Nick Vujicic, who was born with only a single little flipper.  Nick does more with that flipper, and with his incandescent personality, than most whole-bodied people can ever hope to do.  We wouldn’t have missed him if he’d been aborted.  That is, no one would have gone around saying, “Gosh, it’s a shame that Nick Vujicic was never born.”  However, his birth, and the message of hope that he shares, is something valuable and, knowing him and what he does, we can definitely say that the world would have been less light-filled without him.

If you don’t want to have babies, don’t have them.  On the down side, they’re hard work, messy, frustrating, and expensive.  (The up side, which all parents know, is for another post.)  Just don’t use your genetic weaknesses as the justification for your decision.

UPDATE:  A true update, regarding an event I attended the same evening I wrote this post.

European Fairy Tales versus American Fairy Tales — and how they affect the American psyche and the school yard bully

I love fairy tales.  I’ve always loved fairy tales.  Growing up, I devoured fairy tale books, with special emphasis on the Disney movies, with their beautiful princesses.  My personal favorite was Disney’s Cinderella.  I saw it once when I was a child and then, in a pre-video era, all I could do was replay endlessly in my memory the wonderful scene when Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a princess’s ball gown.  When I saw the movie again as an adult, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I needn’t have feared.  The movie was as charming as I’d remembered, and the transformation scene was a perfect piece of animation (and, rumor has it, Walt Disney’s own favorite animation moment):

The message in Cinderella couldn’t be more clear.  First, be beautiful.  But if you can’t achieve beauty, at least be a patient Griselda, one who tirelessly toils for cruel tyrants, with the promise of future reward.

That’s the theme in the majority of fairy tales that originated in the old world:  be good, be passive, and some deus ex machina figure, usually magical, will come and rescue you.  Passivity is the name of the game.  In one fairy tale after another, the lead character, usually the youngest child of at least three siblings, prevails by virtue of being nice.

The other way to prevail in fairy tales that started life in the old world was to use guile.  My favorite in this genre is The Valiant Little Tailor:

A tailor is preparing to eat some jam, but when flies settle on it, he kills seven of them with one blow. He makes a belt describing the deed, “Seven at one blow”. Inspired, he sets out into the world to seek his fortune. The tailor meets a giant, who assumes that “Seven at one blow” refers to seven men. The giant challenges the tailor. When the giant squeezes water from a boulder, the tailor squeezes water (or whey) from cheese. The giant throws a rock far into the air, and it eventually lands. The tailor counters the feat by releasing a bird that flies away; the giant believes the small bird is a “rock” which is thrown so far that it never lands. The giant asks the tailor to help carry a tree. The tailor directs the giant to carry the trunk, while the tailor will carry the branches. Instead, the tailor climbs on, so the giant carries him as well.

The giant brings the tailor to the giant’s home, where other giants live as well. During the night, the giant attempts to kill the man. However, the tailor, having found the bed too large, sleeps in the corner. On seeing him still alive, the other giants flee, never to be seen again.

The tailor enters the royal service, but the other soldiers are afraid that he will lose his temper someday, and then seven of them might die with every blow. They tell the king that either the tailor leaves military service, or they will. Afraid of being killed for sending him away, the king instead sends the tailor to defeat two giants, offering him half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. By throwing rocks at the two giants while they sleep, the tailor provokes the pair into fighting each other. The king then sends him after a unicorn, but the tailor traps it by standing before a tree, so that when the unicorn charges, he steps aside and it drives its horn into the trunk. The king subsequently sends him after a wild boar, but the tailor traps it in a chapel.

With that, the king marries him to his daughter. His wife hears him talking in his sleep and realizes that he is merely a tailor. Her father the king promises to have him carried off. A squire warns the tailor, who pretends to be asleep and calls out that he has done all these deeds and is not afraid of the men behind the door. Terrified, they leave, and the king does not try again.

Old world fairy tales do not feature epic battles of good against evil, or even minor battles of good against evil.  They abandon the heroic tradition of Greek dramas or even the mighty warriors of the Bible.  Instead, they present a world of little people who prevail because of good deeds or guile.

Different scholars have theorized that fairy tales originated to keep children in line (hence the emphasis on passivity and good house-cleaning skills as the way to achieve worldly success) or as fireside stories, often quite ribald, that peasants told each other during long, dark nights (explaining the tales that featured otherwise insignificant people prevailing through stealth and guile).  Regardless of origin, the net result is a genre that instructs children that assertiveness and self-reliance are much less important than submitting to tyranny with good grace and being sneaky when possible.

American-born fairy tales are vastly different.  Of course, I use the phrase “American-born” advisedly.  Because America is a nation of immigrants, we imported our fairy tales too, which explains why every American child is conversant with Cinderella, Snow White, and Aladdin.  Nevertheless, Americans did create their own canon.

To begin with, American children dined on political hagiographies of our first leaders, with Parson Weems’ delightful, and untrue, stories about Washington leading the pack.  These tales focused on distinctly American virtues:  being honest, straightforward, and physically brave, virtues that are the antithesis of the trickery or downtrodden apathy in European tales.

American tales also dreamed big.  We had the imaginary Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill, whose size or energy literally changed the landscape in which they lived.  Real figures, such as Johnny Appleseed or Davy Crockett had their actual exploits mixed with a large dollop of artistic license, and these tales opened up the West for Americans.  Popular literature imagined dynamic, self-confident young people who made their own way in the world.  They had help, but it wasn’t magical.  Instead, it came from people who were attracted to the hero or heroines can-do spirit and gave them a helping hand.  (Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger were masters of this genre.)

That notion of the pushing, striving, dynamic American hero got a spectacular boost when Hollywood came into being.  Old Hollywood quickly discovered that American audiences craved big stories, with big heroes.  Western movies impressed upon Americans that America’s fictional heroes didn’t succeed because they sat around waiting for magic to appear; they succeeded because they blazed trails, fought battles, civilized the wilderness, and generally took control of their own destinies.

World War II movies also emphasized Americans’ fighting spirit.  We didn’t have endless movies about our victimization at Pearl Harbor.  Instead, movie after movie celebrated America’s fighting spirit, both at home and on the battlefield.  We had an enemy, said Hollywood, and we valiantly met in on the field of battle.

In the 1970s, Hollywood started feeling terribly guilty about the cultural imperialism in these tales and came up with the anti-hero.  That played well to a guilty middle class, but was never a dramatic trope that had legs.  The anti-hero works only if he acts . . . heroically.  Americans want the little guy to win because he’s got guts.  The artsy crowd may enjoy a Dog Day Afternoon, but ordinary Americans want to see little ole Luke Skywalker take on the empire, intrepid Indiana Jones fight bad guys the world over, or (with a big thank you to the British woman who dreamed him up) Harry Potter and Co. face off squarely against evil, and win through a combination of virtue and martial skills (all nicely packaged in some sparkly magic gimmicks).

The recent staggering success of The Avengers is just one more indication that Americans want their fairy tales to be proactive.  The characters in The Avengers are pretty (it is Hollywood after all), but their attractiveness — an attractiveness that has generated a staggering $1 billion in ticket sales — comes about because they are strong and aggressive.  They defeat the evil alien force by rock ‘em, sock ‘em, beat ‘em up action.  There is no room for negotiation, house cleaning, or even guile here.  The only “goodness” that counts is one that is folded tightly into loyalty, patriotism, and physical bravery.

The Left is busily trying to chip away at these classic American virtues.  Leftist movies have failed at the box office, but the Leftist challenge to the American virtues of physical bravery can be seen in the Left’s wholeheartedly embrace of the anti-bullying campaign.  Many have asked why bullying has seemed to be on the rise in recent years.  I think I figured out the answer when, in a casual conversation with my kids, I mentioned “school-yard fights.”

I got a surprising response to that throw-away line:  “What’s a school-yard fight, Mom?”

“In the old days,” I said (just like a fairy tale), “when kids, especially boys, would get into fights, they started hitting each other.”

“Did they get suspended?”

“Maybe.  But what usually happened was that they’d start swinging at each other.  Everyone in the school yard would instantly circle them and start hollering ‘Fight!  Fight!’  Then, a teacher would wade through the crowd, saying ‘Come on, everyone, break it up.  Break it up now.’  The teacher would then wade into the fight, separate the two kids, shake ‘em out and, more often than not, tell them to stop fighting.  And that would be the end of it.”

“That would never happen today.”

(Incidentally, I am not talking about gang fights, which are a form of urban warfare.  I’m talking about the old-fashioned elementary school playground battle, where two little kids settled the matter with some kicks and punches.)

No, it certainly wouldn’t.  The focus today is on the bully.  The bully gets suspended and the bully gets counseling.  Kids are told that, if they get bullied, they should immediately get teachers involved.  Good kids know that any type of self-defense is dangerous, as it could lead to suspension.

I hate bullying.  I was bullied when I was a child and, I’m sad to say, when I had the opportunity, I immediately turned around and bullied others (verbally).  I had a sharp tongue and wasn’t afraid to use it.  But that sharp tongue was my self-defense.  A well-timed insult, especially one that raised a laugh from the audience, deflected the bully and kept me safe.  I never ran to the teacher.  I got a reputation for being somewhat mean (which was partially deserved), but people left me alone.  Had I been a boy, I might have punched someone and been left alone.

My point is that the best way to deal with bullying is two-pronged:  First, create an environment in which bullying is frowned upon and mutual respect is the order of the day.  This starts at the top, with teachers and administrators.  In too many schools, however, teachers and administrations treat students with condescension, disdain, arrogance, or fear.  Second, teach the victims how not to be victims.  If you take away the targets, you take away a lot of the bullying.  If students see themselves as warriors, not victims, bullying will become a much less enticing activity for those who are naturally inclined to dominate cruelly those around them.

I can already hear people saying that, if you emphasize the warrior spirit, our schools will start looking like a gladiator camp.  Au contraire.  If you emphasize brutality, that’s true.  But if you emphasize the honorable side of the warrior, one that sees him respecting widows and orphans (so to speak), our schools will actually be much more civil than they are now.  I’ve never known nicer kids than those who are martial arts black belts.  They have a quiet self-confidence about them, that makes it unnecessary for them to lash out.  Moreover, their peers respect them, and feel no need to test them.

It times to take the European Leftism out of our fairy tales, and reinstate an American ideal that involves honor, strength, and the willingness to fight for what’s right.

You’re correct if you’re put off by that Time Magazine breast feeding cover

If you haven’t yet seen Time Magazine’s most recent cover, welcome back to earth from your extended journey to some other galaxy, far, far away.

To bring you up to speed, here’s a copy of the famous (or infamous) cover for you to enjoy:

The Mom pictured on the cover has promised to stop breast feeding her son before he reaches college, perhaps even before he reaches high school.

Yes, I’m lying.  She’s actually planning on weaning him sometime around kindergarten.  That, of course, is three to four years after most American mothers wean their babies.  And by “most American mothers,” I truly mean “most American mothers,” not just “those American mothers who breast feed.”  In America, almost 75% of women breast feed their babies for some period of time during baby’s first year, with or without adding solid foods to the diet.

Breast feeding is a good thing.  Moms come equipped with a natural processing and delivery system that is always ready to provide baby with a wholesome diet, one that comes complete with all the required nutrients and immunizations, and that is invariably served at the perfect temperature.  From Baby’s point of view, everything is just right:  taste, feel, smell, and cuddle factor.  From Mom’s point of view, there’s no bottle shlepping, no messy formula, and food is instantly available when the baby’s in an uproar.  Moms also theoretically loses in pregnancy weight faster when they breast feed (I certainly didn’t).  Best of all, Mom gets a chance to sit down and put her feet up.

So what’s the big deal about the cover?  I’ve already established (at least to my satisfaction) that most American women breast feed and it’s a good thing.

The big deal, of course, is twofold.  First, that kid is no baby.  Assuming healthy dental development, a normal digestive system, and reasonable coordination skills, he’s perfectly capable of eating the same food as the rest of us.  Second, that Mom isn’t bonding with her son as she stares militantly at the camera.  Nope.  Instead, she’s telling you off, you narrow-minded, prudish, salacious American you.

My understanding is that the point of the article, which I haven’t read since it’s behind a pay wall, is that Dr. William Sears has managed to convince a lot of American women that they have to hyper-bond with their child, a system that requires co-sleeping and endless breast feeding.  I was not a Sears acolyte.  I stopped breast feeding my two when they had some serious teeth in their mouths, figuring that they were telling me they were ready for something that didn’t scream when they bit down. Co-sleeping left me awake in an agony of fear that I would roll over and smother the poor things (something that, Sears & Co. forget was a common cause of infant mortality in pre-industrial Western society.)

I’ve been following Facebook discussions in which the usual crowd, after roundly castigating evil right-wing Republicans for their prudishness about the cover, go on to cite approvingly to Third World (i.e., pre-industrial societies) as role models for up-tight Westerners to follow when it comes to extended breast feeding or even ordinary breast feeding.  I made no friends when I waded into this debate to point out a few obvious things:

First, as I noted above, Americans breast feed in vast numbers, so it’s no use trying to pretend that conservatives are offended about the article just because they want all babies to drink formula from plastic battles (complete with profits going to greedy corporations, of course).

Second, women in poor countries have limited birth control options.  If they want to avoid delivering a baby every ten or twelve months, breast feeding can slow the process.  It’s by no means a perfect birth control mechanism, as many women will attest, but there’s no doubt that it does interfere somewhat with a mother’s fertility.  Mom’s over-bond with one baby so that they won’t have to have another one.  American women have other birth control choices.

Third, women in poor countries may have limited options for feeding their children solid food.  Even if there’s food around, poor sanitation often means that those women who wean early watch their children die quickly from food-borne diseases.  Where food availability and sanitation are issues, extended breast feeding may be a very reasonable option.  Last I looked, we Americans don’t have that problem.

In other words, I think the arguments people are making up to defend the photo’s apparent message (namely, that American women should emulate pre-industrial cultures when it comes to breast feeding) are silly.  The photo itself isn’t actually silly, because it’s a photo, not an argument, but you’re right if you think it’s offensive.

That woman on the cover isn’t bonding, she’s advocating.  She’s so “in your face” she practically leaps off the cover, clawing at your eyeballs.  This picture can best be analogized to a porn picture.  In those, the woman, rather than gazing lovingly at her partner, turns her seductive gaze to the camera — and to the viewer beyond.  Just as porn isn’t about love, this photo isn’t about bonding with a baby.  This is one Mom’s statement about the “evils” of American culture, nicely captured on the front page of a magazine owned and distributed by vast corporate interests.  (I so love the irony.)

The uncomfortable feeling we slightly old-fashioned romantics get when we look at that exposed breast is also completely reasonable.  Women’s breasts are wonderfully utilitarian objects, in that they’re dual purpose.  They feed babies and they entice men.  How cool is that?

The smart thing, of course, and the way our culture rolls, is to keep the two purposes separate.  Sometimes we’re in Mom mode, in which case we breast feed, ’cause it’s good for us and good for the baby, but we do so discreetly.  I can guarantee you that, despite having breast fed two children, no one outside of my nuclear family (and that includes the kids themselves) got an eyeful of me.  Feeding mode is not the same as flashing mode.  Nor was I at all inconvenienced by maintaining my [physical privacy.

When we’re not in Mom mode, our societal norms applaud, indeed encourage, showing our breasts — provided that we keep the business parts covered.  Indeed, keeping the business parts covered is important, because otherwise we suddenly depart from Western sexy and find ourselves sliding into Third World utilitarianism, where the breast is constantly exposed by Mom’s simultaneously practicing primitive birth control and disease protection on their children.  Once upon a time, these pictures were exciting for the 13 year old boy, pouring over black and white photos in National Geographic, but that day is long gone. I’m willing to bet that any guys reading this post are not feeling libidinous stirrings as they gaze at the photo below.

When all is said and done, the Time cover is nothing but a publicity gimmick, and I have to admit that I’ve fallen for it — I’m discussing the cover and its meaning.  However, I haven’t gone so far as to buy the magazine and I don’t, and will not, subscribe.  I advise you to avoid the magazine as well.  Sure, a conversation is nice, but lets not get inveigled into increasing one American corporation’s profit simply because it publishes a cover that subtly denigrates America and her normative culture.

Mitt the Bully; Obama the Bully; Every kid the bully

Let’s put aside the laughable fact that the MSM has had to go back to 1965, when Romney was a teenager, to find something bad about him (or, more specifically, something bad about him and a putatively gay person).  This ridiculous attack has naturally generated attacks against Obama and Biden, both of whom, either in memoirs or biographies, turn out to have been bullies when they were children.  Not chronic bullies, but they were mean to other children.

This is insanely stupid, and can reflect badly only on the MSM and the general Democrat establishment.  As Rhymes With Right says:

I work with kids every day.

At some point, virtually every single one of them will engage in some activity that can be defined as bullying.

That may be because of immaturity, peer pressure, or simply thoughtlessness.

Some continue their bullying behavior into adulthood, and some particularly warped individuals — like anti-bullying activist Dan Savage — even manage to find a way to justify their bullying as morally virtuous.

I distinctly (and with a great deal of discomfort) remember being a bully when I was in school.  It probably stands out in my mind because I was most often a victim.  Being a skinny, little, glasses-wearing bookworm was not a recipe for social success.  When someone came along who was an even bigger target than I was, I gleefully joined in with my former tormenters.  I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.  Was it just a child’s natural instinct to pick on those weaker?  Was I hoping to ingratiate myself with the power structure?  The answer is lost in the heavy mists of time.

What I do know is the Greg nailed it:  “At some point, virtually every single one of them [kids] will engage in some activity that can be defined as bullying.  That may be because of immaturity, peer pressure, or simply thoughtlessness.”

Watching the Dems implode is proving to be more fun than I expected.  I only hope ordinary voters figure out what’s going on, and throw the bums out.

Maurice Sendak has died, aged 83

At first, I couldn’t understand why people on my Facebook page were posting excerpts from Where The Wild Things Are.  After the third post, I realized that Maurice Sendak must have died.  And so it is — Maurice Sendak has died, aged 83.  He was a prolific writer and illustrator, but he will always be known best for inventing Max and the Wild Things.

I have to admit that, true to my contrarion persona, I was never a Wild Things aficionado.  Whatever else others saw in that short book, I didn’t see.  I didn’t dislike it.  I just didn’t view it as the greatest American children’s book since . . . well, since ever.

I do remember that one teacher at my high school used to insist that children loved the book because they subliminally picked up on the fact that Sendak had hidden in the back of his illustrations pictures of people copulating.  I never did see that in the pictures, so I must have either a pure mind or be in deep denial.  Or perhaps the book worked so well because it’s something of a blank slate on which people can see their own fantasies, ideas, and fears.

Maurice Sendak — you didn’t touch me, but I know you touched others, very deeply.  RIP.

Life does NOT imitate the Simpsons when it comes to handling bullies

From Season 1 of The Simpsons (waaaay back in 1990), comes “Bart the General“:

After defending Lisa from school bully Nelson Muntz, Bart becomes Nelson’s latest target. Sick of the harassment and torment, Bart, Grampa Simpson, and Herman (a slightly deranged military antique store dealer with a missing arm) rally the town’s children into fighting back against Nelson and his cronies.

In real life, ten-year-old boys who try to defend themselves bullies (and, admittedly, this ten-year-old made a less than mature tactical decision), face quite a different situation– not from the bullies but from the administration:

Police say they have charged a 10-year-old Ohio boy after he told them he brought a BB gun to school to intimidate students who bullied him because he wears ankle braces and is small for his age.

Elmwood Place police Sgt. Kevin Vanover said Wednesday that the boy was charged with inducing panic after he took the BB gun to his elementary school in the suburban Cincinnati village on Monday. He remains in his mother’s custody awaiting a juvenile court hearing. No hearing date is set.

Vanover says the principal reported that some children said they saw the boy with the gun and thought it was a firearm. Police say the gun’s orange plastic tip was missing.

Did you catch that the school charged a frail, bullied 10-year-old with “inducing panic”?  Even in Marin County they’re not that crazy.  The other day, when some teenage boys were playing in the hillside wearing camo clothes and using air rifles without orange plastic tips, residents reasonably believed that there were snipers in the hills.  After a police manhunt, the boys were let off with a warning:

Twin Cities police, with help from Mill Valley police, Marin sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol, blocked traffic on Casa Buena and Meadowsweet drives as they searched for the suspect. After about 30 minutes, police contacted two 14-year-old boys with Airsoft rifles, Gorwood said.

“They were not properly marked with the orange tips,” she said. “They were playing on the hillside, shooting at each other.”

Police seized the guns and released the boys to their parents. There were no plans to seek criminal charges, Gorwood said.

Back to the original report, about the terrorized ten-year-old charged with terrorizing, bullying seems to be a lot worse today than it was when I was young.  Incidentally, I don’t have a blinkered, halcyon view of a childhood free of bullying.  As the smallest, geekiest in any school I ever attended, the kid who had thick glasses and always carried a book with her, I came in for my fair share of bullying.  And I’m very embarrassed to say this, but if a child ever appeared on the horizon who was even more of a target than I was, I gleefully sided with my former persecutors, delighted that their attention was on someone else for a change.  So yes, bullying existed back then.

But back then, it wasn’t in the papers, it wasn’t a cause celebre for every TV show or pop star and — and this is a critical difference I think — kids themselves were expected to deal with the bullies.  That’s what makes Bart the General so fascinating.  It’s the last gasp of an era that sees kids turning to grown-ups for advice, but handling the bullies themselves.  Nowadays, kids who try to deal with bullies, unless they’re lucky enough to have a YouTube video go viral, quickly find themselves in police custody, while the bully gets counseling.

I’m not advocating schools that look like Lord of the Flies, with invisible adults who make no effort to protect the children under their care.  I do believe, however, that children must be able to defend themselves.  They also have to be tough enough to take some bullying without crumbling under the pressure.

What we have here is a situation akin to those poor, disarmed Londoners.  In London, criminals know that, if they get caught, they’ll face some kind of punishment from the legal system, although it will be minimal.  They also know that their victims are completely defenseless.  For the bad guys, it’s party time, because there are no disincentives, either from the authorities or from the folks staring into the barrel of their guns.

Here in American schoolyards, the situation is the same.  Because American kids have been psychologically disarmed by Leftist school administrations, the bullies, the ones who have resisted this mental disarmament, know that there is no real downside to their behavior.  They’re like the delinquents in West Side Story who bait poor Office Krupke by telling him there’s nothing he can do to stop them, because they are society’s victims, and therefore deserving of pity, not punishment.  The American schoolyard bully knows that his victims have been trained to passivity, while the administration is trained in amateur, Leftist, 50s style psychology.  It’s a win-win for the mini bad guy.