Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frank Wiley’s behind the curve. (And I ramble about some self evident things.)

Picture, if you will, it’s a warm summer evening, the sun is starting to drop and we’re playing Wiffleball in the street. Moreover, the radio in the front yard is blaring “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Yes, yes it is.  Because it’s 1976, that’s why.

Which also means that most of the cars that pass by as we play are driven by dads coming home after having spent a long day somewhere mysterious doing things even more mysterious. “At work” is pretty much all we’ve been told, because at that age we don’t even really care much anyway. All that matters is that dad is back and it’s time to head indoors for dinner.

That, however, was a long time ago and the world in which I find myself is very different indeed. I’m a dad now, but instead of a Buick the size of a nuclear submarine in the driveway there is a small Japanese SUV. There are no bell-bottom pants in sight, and, god help us, we have more than one TV in the house. Alright, more than two.

Inexplicably though, all this may be lost on Frank Wiley as he notes with a slight tone of surprise that more dads than ever are staying at home with their kids. Yeah, I know. In my neck of the woods this is no surprise, as the neighborhood is filled with cops, firemen, and restaurant/food service guys. There are also families in which the wives have the most earning potential, guys in the trades, and guys who are simply “between jobs.” Simply put, this is an average neighborhood and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dude pushing a stroller around while waiting for Starbucks to open. 

Yes, Wiley is simply pointing out that more dads are staying home with kids, but reporting on this trend as if it’s surprising (which it likely is to Frank, since he will admit only that this delightfully vague information has appeared in “a U.S. report” with no further elaboration) seems very… 90’s.

And yet, I must admit a certain nostalgia for the nineties, if only because back then politics seemed harmless, the interwebs were shiny as a new penny, and it had been a full decade since that movie with Michael Keaton had added that phrase to the lexicon. Just saying.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fearless, Hitchens style.

It was about four or five years ago that the boys and I happened to be stuck indoors on a grey, rainy afternoon of the sort that makes you question whether or not the sun will ever actually reappear. You know them: those winter days when the notion that Persephone has been spirited away makes perfect sense. Or, the sort of day during which it seems impossible to not launch yourself headlong from the end of the couch and into your brother’s midsection for no particular reason other than he responded “Did SO!”

Or then again, maybe the cabin fever induced brawl that ensued wasn’t really triggered by a Seasonal Affective Disorder-y event, but rather the maddeningly low level of discourse in which the two little knuckleheads were engaged. It was, after all, an argument that was unwinnable: who deserved time with the Xbox more. In this intellectual battle of less than titanic proportions there were assertions made about the character of the opposing sibling, refutations, counter arguments about the inherent lameness of said sibling, and then retaliatory ad hominem attacks.

It was, in short, rather like watching pundits on cable news in their never ending  race to the bottom of the intellectual pile. Which, it must be said, is why today’s loss of Christopher Hitchens was so unfortunate.

He was an iconoclast who was by turns contrarian, baffling and often maddening, but always intellectually fearless. Early on he was a member of the International Socialists, and yet by the last couple of decades of his life Hitchens spent much of his time decrying what he saw as a soft Western response to the rise of Islamofascism and supporting America's military adventures. All the while, mind you, he remained a staunch “antitheist” and saw himself as a standard bearer of traditional Enlightenment values. Go figure.

As my boys have grown I’ve always done my best to make sure that they not only think critically about the world around them, but how to. By asking questions, and by forging relationships with those who are willing to listen to questions. By talking to kids with whom they disagree. By taking positions contrary to what they’re saying over dinner just to see what they’ve got.

In short, I’d be proud to have my boys grow up to be as fearless as Hitchens. Maybe just with a little less of the drinking, smoking and self inflicted cancer. You get the idea.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crummy weather? Bounce bounce bounce...

There was much to be said for growing up in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. There were the as-yet unregulated plumes of black smoke that periodically belched from the tops of apartment buildings that gave the city a distinctly Dickensian feel; there were the monochromatic,  brick box apartment buildings themselves that lent the neighborhood a slightly Soviet-style dystopian flavor; and of course there were the parks. Parks composed almost entirely of bare dirt, broken glass, dog poop and concrete playgrounds.

Well, yes, now that I think about it there really wasn’t much to be said for growing up in the city. As a kid there were few options that didn’t involve concrete in one way or another, so a lot of my early childhood was spent nursing skinned knees, elbows, hands, and pretty much every other bit of me that I had little choice but to leave unprotected.

But luckily enough it’s not the seventies any more, and here in  the sylvan climes of suburbia we have many more options to keep our kids active, most of which involve the kids getting to keep their skin. To wit: the little ones will likely enjoy bouncing an afternoon away someplace like Bounce City with its 16,000 climate-controlled-square-feet of bouncy castles, slides and obstacle courses.

Bounce! Trampoline Sports is another choice for keeping the kids busy on grey winter days, and it’s one of the growing number of indoor trampoline parks that give the slightly more adventurous set the chance to play dogeball and basketball on court-sized trampolines. Which, if nothing else, ensures a chaos/fun filled day.

There are a growing number of these facilities around the country as well, so odds are that you’ll be able to find a place where ever you may be. And best of all, you can leave the Bactine and Band Aids at home.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nanuet Teacher says there’s no Santa? We’ve got a Nanugrinch!

Holy cats! Right here in Nanuet, a teacher of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed second graders decided yesterday that it would be wisest to let the little munchkins know what’s what; namely that this teacher believes that there is no fat man at the North Pole. No Saint Nick riding the Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick. No right jolly old elf making his list and checking it twice. In short, that there is no Santa Claus.

That’s right, we got trouble right here in Nanuet city. There has of course been a predictably high level of dudgeon directed at Teacher X in the wake of these revelations; the only real question is just how long it will go on. (And yes, I do know who Teacher X is, but we can’t really have angry mobs with pitchforks and torches running in the streets, now can we? That is, after all, Fox News’ job.)

Speaking of which, I really can’t wait until Murdoch’s guardians of all that’s good and right in ‘Merica pick this story up and run with it like a fumbled ball at a Rose Bowl game. This incident was, after all, just another skirmish in the War on Christmas perpetrated by Teacher X in the service of the secular-atheist-pagan-whatever agenda. Right?

Or then again, out here in not-crazy-land this incident may be seen for what it is: a rigid teacher with a reputation for being particularly strident was having a worse day than usual and decided to take it out on a little kid who had the temerity to point out during a geography lesson that Santa lives at the North Pole. And for good measure, Teacher X decided to note that it’s actually the parents who leave presents under the tree. Yeah, I know.

But here’s the thing, either way you choose to interpret this little contretemps, Teacher X is wrong. There is, as all sensible people know, a Santa Claus. Yes, as a parent I do assist in the process by gathering wish lists from my kids, but that’s where it ends. Sure, I’m in my forties and the kids are well into their teens, but that changes nothing. I collect a list and the rest is Magic.

And, I might add, my folks who are in their seventies now are more than happy to point out the same thing to anyone who asks.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, have a great Ramadan, and enjoy the Winter Solstice while you’re at it.

(Oh yeah, and Nanugrinch? Who doesn’t love a new and completely unnecessary portmanteau word?)