Tag Archives: Life

The Crapshoot of Life

When I was a high school student, there was a day that I was walking home. I was at an intersection waiting for the light to change. To successfully cross the street I had a couple of things going against me. First, I was a teenager, and therefore I was tired. Second, I was a teenager, and was listening to music way too loud, so I was down by one of my senses. Third, (you guessed it) I was a teenager, and too cool to do things like wait until the walk signal appeared and verify that there was no traffic. I anticipated the walk signal and started to take a step out and a guy I didn’t know grabbed my arm and pulled me back. My initial thought was that I was angry that someone was grabbing and pulling me very aggressively. A split second later a bus went whizzing past my face. I was breathless. I turned to say thanks and realized that Darwin wasn’t going to give me too many chances like that.

I Rolled the Dice and Won

crapsI learned a valuable lesson that day. It wasn’t calculus or a foreign language, but it was something that would help to keep me alive long enough to learn a little calculus. The funny thing is that I’d been crossing streets for years successfully all on my own by that point, but there was a new lesson that day. I had grown complacent and was using my ho hum attitude to be “cool”. If I was going to survive my youth, I was going to have to ditch my “cool” attitude and replace it with something a little more pragmatic.

Obviously not everyone needs to learn the same lessons in the same way. There are risks in life and you can’t, and shouldn’t, insulate your child from all of them. Taking chances is an important part of what makes life worth living, to a point. Risk management is an important skill that you develop over time. For example, sometimes I still listen to music when crossing the street, but I am aware that this deprives me of an important sense, and I use a lot more caution than I did when I was in high school.

Coping With the Shoulder Season

So, the world presents risks, and with time we learn to manage them with varying degrees of success. This leaves us with some chunk of time when we don’t have the best risk management skills. This period is what my wife and I have dubbed the “crapshoot of life”. Ironically, this period of a person’s life never really ends. To carry on the metaphor, generally your odds of succeeding in this game increase with time and experience.

As a parent, I have found that there is a new skill I have to learn. I have to gauge what “dangers” to expose my kids to so that they can figure out how to make some of these judgements for themselves. The tricky bit to this is that the media bombards us with reasons to fear for our children’s safety. This media induced fear causes a lot of parents to restrict the freedom of their children to the point where they are actually just inhibiting the ability of their kids to develop their own risk assessment skills. Even if you manage to somehow avoid the media induced paranoia surrounding children’s safety, there are social pressures to parent your children in a particular way. Simply “being yourself” as a parent can be quite difficult.

The Uncomfortable Truth

My kids are going to get hurt, both physically and emotionally. There is a chance that throughout their journey they may be permanently injured. There is also a chance that they may die. In order for myself to be a good parent, I feel like I have to fully accept these statements, but not obsess over them. Throughout their lives, I have to make reasonable decisions on their behalf as to how much risk they can accept. I have to accept that, over time, my decisions will have less authority over their actions, and will be replaced with their decisions. Finally, I must be okay with the fact that my kids will make some bad decisions. This is the craps game that I signed up for.

I decided to write this post today because I was reading news on the sentencing of Ariel Castro. It is one of those cases which is very rare, but that the media focuses on to the point that most people think that everyone is out to get their children. It is the sort of story that I think hits an emotional chord with parents and has the effect of working parents up to a point where they lose track of the reality that most people in the world are pretty good people.

Recommended Reading

For a very comprehensive exploration of this topic, I highly recommend reading Lenore Skenazy’s blog, called Free-Range Kids.

Monuments Explained

In my previous post I put up a poem that I wrote when I was a younger punk than I am now. When I wrote the poem my intent was to point out that, generally, people have a tendency to avoid dealing with the larger problems of the world. Children have quite a few unique characteristics, two of which are a remarkable clarity of thought and the inability to edit their thoughts. While this sometimes leads to public declarations like “Papa has a penis” or “Papa toots” it can also lead to fairly profound observations about the world. The final line “Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist” was meant to point out how children often seem to be able to ask very penetrating questions which reveal our lack of understanding and resolve to address such problems.  Therefore, with the clarity of thought that their fresh perspective affords them, children are like pint sized monuments to our ignorance.

What Have I Done for the World Lately

In any fundamental way, am I any less ignorant than my parents, or theirs? Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’d like to say that I am, but the reality of the situation is that I’m not. On an individual level, I have done nothing substantial or significant to end poverty, war, pollution et cetera. My poem wasn’t really supposed to be an indictment of individuals for lacking the moral fortitude to “save the world”. It was really just an interesting observation that children can see through a lot of the crappy excuses that we use to ignore some major issues that exist in the world.

Since children do seem to have this ability to ask very revealing questions, my new role as a father leaves me wondering what approach I should take when these questions are asked of me. I have a plan for how I’d like to address the more often thought of “drugs” and “sex” related questions, but I’m realizing that I have no plan for how I’m going to respond when I am asked why person X from country Y has no food when we have plenty or why it’s okay for people from one country to kill people in another country when it is a “war”, but normally that is murder. I need a plan for this.

The Plan

vietnam-war
How would you explain this photo to your child?

What I would most like to avoid is becoming my own self-fulfilling prophecy by having my children become the monuments to my ignorance. The simple realization that there are no good answers to questions like those above is going to have to be my starting point. I think it is very important for me to not shy away from those questions, even when there are no good answers. Come to think of it, I think the way to go is to become a child again myself. Explore their enquiries with them and ask penetrating questions back. This way you wouldn’t be avoiding the issues, and you would avoid coming off as arrogant. Well, this is where my idea has taken me this time, what are your thoughts on the issue?

Monuments

This post is a bit of a personal rambling. When I was younger, and in university, I had some ideas that I sometimes wrote down. I guess, generally they had the form of poetry. Luckily for you, this particular idea was short and sweet. It encapsulated the essence of a thought that I had when I was a child.

I present to you a “poem” that I wrote that is, in some way, about children. Read it, comment if you like and in my next blog post I will explain what my thoughts were when I wrote this.

Monuments

What things are out there for the normal person? What is with them at the end of their day?

For the most part, the learned seem not to have done their job, but they are not alone in their negligence.

Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist.

-Me

On Death and Birth

VennThat’s right, I’m going there, in my blog which is about parenting and children, and by inference birth and life. On a few occasions, while watching my kids play around, it has occurred to me that they have absolutely no idea that, at some point, they are going to die. Of course I don’t think this really matters since they are only two years old, but it has made me think back to my introduction to the harsh reality that is death and how my understanding of death, and now birth, has grown and changed over the years.

Death

In my life, there have been a number times when I have had to say a final good-bye to a person very close to me, and every time it has been a deeply saddening experience. Just before the twins came along, there was quite a drama unfolding within our family, as two close and beloved family members passed away as a result of unrelated health problems. This certainly cast a pall over the lead up to our children’s birth, but my experience of these two deaths was significantly different to the death of anyone else who had ever been close to me, and it was, in part, because of the imminent birth of my children.

In every instance that I have had to deal with death in the past, there has always been this incredibly simple, yet baffling thought that has occurred to me. There is a person who exists one minute, and then a moment later, all that made that person what they are, is absolutely gone. Every part of their body still seems to exist in front of you, but they are no longer there. What a feeling of loss and emptiness this gives.

Birth

With the arrival of my children, there were a number of thoughts on my mind that seemed somehow familiar. They were familiar because they were similar in form to the thoughts that I’d had when someone close to me dies, but these thoughts were different in content because they gave me feelings exactly opposite to those that surround a person’s death. In this case, first there was no one, and moments later there were two new people that formerly didn’t exist. In the same way that I had always found it hard to comprehend that after someone dies, even though the body remains, they no longer exist, I found it equally perplexing that out of nothing, there was now something.

I have always found it difficult to get used to the reality that a person has died. Seeing something that makes you chuckle, for instance, might make you think “I should give X a call and tell them about this because they’d love it” and shortly after having this type of thought, you’d have to make the realization that there will be no more phone calls to share the details of your day with that person any more. It’s a sad and hard reality to come to grips with after the death of a loved one. With the birth of my twins, however, I was making the realization over and over again that now there were two new people with which I could share the details of my day (once they learned English, that is).

With the death of these two family members, there seemed to be a poetic balance about the situation. Two lives lost and two lives gained. Of course, in a literal sense, my children could not possibly replace the lives of the family that we lost, but they were a reminder that each death is the result of a birth, and we were witnessing the whole process of renewal within a very short time. I remember it being an emotion packed experience, and in this instance there was both intense sadness and joy all within a very short period of time, and a lot of reflection upon the whole event.