Friday, August 17, 2018

Talking About Mortality With Kids

On a recent gloomy morning, my son and I were sitting in my car waiting to turn left onto a main thoroughfare. Across from us was a large cemetery and, as we waited to turn, we witnessed an elderly couple placing a floral arrangement on a headstone.

We pass this particular cemetery every day, but none of our children had ever asked about its function and we were understandably reluctant to be drawn in to a conversation about the internment of human corpses. However, the couple caught my five-year old son’s attention and, for the first time in his life, he asked “What is that place?’

Taking a deep breath, I replied that it was a cemetery and foolishly hoped that this would be the end of this line of inquiry. It was not. Then came the inevitable follow up question, “What’s a cemetery?” I delicately tried to explain that when people die, they would be buried in a cemetery. He then wanted to know how they died, so I responded that sometimes people get sick and do not get better.

He then wanted to know if the couple we had seen was about to bury someone who was sick. Doing my best to abstain from any references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I explained that they were probably visiting the grave of someone who had already died. It might have been a relative or friend of theirs and this was how they remembered them.

He then asked about the purpose of the concrete markers coming out of the ground. I explained that these were called headstones and usually contained information about the person who was buried there. At this point, I began to speed up in the hope that we would arrive at his school before our conversation progressed to embalming techniques.

Then, as if processing the weight of this information and the implications of his own mortality, he furrowed his brow and looked out of the window before asking, “Are there kids there?”

I was certainly not prepared for this line of inquiry, but I also did not want to mislead him if he was asking an honest question. So, I hesitantly admitted that it was certainly possible that there were kids there because sometimes (although it is rare) kids get sick and cannot get better. This was met with silence as he looked out the window. Concerned that I had upset him, I tried to gently steer the subject away from kids. I told him that there was even a section for dogs.

Upon hearing this, he turned away from the window and asked, “Why would they have sick kids and dogs at a daycare?”

Confused, I responded that I was not talking about a daycare but rather the graveyard we had passed. He then - visibly taken aback - exclaimed “There are kids in the cemetery!?”

It was at this point, I realized that he had wordlessly changed the subject mid-conversation and I was a varsity-level moron. Furthermore, when I had seen him looking out the window (and assumed that he was pondering the breadth of human frailty) he was looking at a daycare along the same road and simply wanted to know if they were open.

About this time, we pulled up to the school and he jumped out of the car. I immediately called my wife and tried to explain what had transpired (in case he came home from the library with a copy of Pet Cemetery). She listened in silence before responding in her flawless “you had one job to do” voice:

So let me get this straight. While driving our nervous son to school on his second day of Kindergarten, you managed to get into a conversation about dead children buried near our house. Is that correct?

It was a rather damning (though not inaccurate) summation and I feebly replied that it was never my intention to discuss the burial of deceased children; that is just where the conversation went.

Well, when the school sends home a note wondering why our son keeps telling people, “My daddy says that when children do not get better, they bury them by our house” I am going to let you handle that.

You can imagine my trepidation as I went to retrieve my son after school and half-expected Haley Joel Osment to wander out mumbling about “the things none one else could see.”

Fortunately, he seemed no worse for the wear and made no mention of cadavers or graveyards. I am sure this, like many of our conversations, will make valuable therapy fodder later in life.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Toilet-Seat Justice

Several weeks ago, I sat down in our bathroom to conduct some intestinal business. Upon settling in, I felt a rather sharp pain in my dominant buttock and quickly dismounted the toilet. What I found was that the wooden toilet seat had been cracked completely in half. The fissure was almost consistent enough to have been the result of a power tool.

I immediately set about solving this mystery and I knew just where to begin. I went to my five-year-old son and casually asked if he recalled witnessing any structural trauma related to the toilet seat. He got a strange look on his face and categorically denied all responsibility. This, in and of itself, was not unusual; what did surprise me is that he did not immediately suggest his sister as a suspect. He once blamed her for making him fall out of his chair when she was in a different room, so it was odd that he did not wish to speculate upon her culpability.

Undeterred, I found my three-year-old daughter playing in her room and breezily wondered aloud if she knew anything about the broken toilet seat. Assuming the same look of forced nonchalance displayed by my son, she denied any knowledge but also declined to incriminate her brother.

While I found my children hurling around baseless accusations to be annoying, I found their silent collaboration terrifying. Over the next few days, I went back and forth trying to get one of them to cave with no success. I suggested plausible scenarios, “Maybe you guys were trying to get something from the cabinet and it fell….” and even stopped to offering bribes, “there might be some Sour Patch Kids in it for whoever can help daddy solve the mystery….”

After a week I had nothing. Out of sheer stubbornness, I left the seat in place as a reminder that daddy would have his justice. I assumed that it would keep pinching them just as it did me and eventually someone would turn state’s evidence. This was a terrible miscalculation on my part since their tiny little bodies did not separate the halves of the seat enough to cause discomfort. They barely noticed.

Dejected and unwilling to subject myself to further discomfort, I went to Lowes one evening to procure a replacement toilet seat. I was unprepared for how many different colors there were. When I indicated that it was more of a “tan” color I was given options like “biscuit” “bone” sandbar” and “dune”. Kohler even has a color called “Thunder Grey” which might be apropos in some situations we have had in our restroom.

Even narrowing it down to quiet-close hinge models - which are worth the extra price if you have ever been jolted from slumber by a preschooler dropping the entire lid apparatus at 3AM – I was left with too many options. I agonized in the isle for a half-hour trying to take into account environmental variables like the color temperature of the store’s fluorescent lighting system before deciding to go with “biscuit.”

By the time I had paid for my purchase, it was pouring rain and I had forgotten where my car was. After several minutes of running through the parking lot while brandishing a toilet seat, I located my car and stuffed my drenched frame into the front seat.

Soaked and already regretting my decision to choose “biscuit”, I walked into the front bathroom and began the process of swapping out the toilet seat. Midway through this endeavor my daughter wanders in, glances at the broken toilet seat now resting on the floor and – without a hint of irony – asks what happened to the old toilet seat.

If I am fortunate enough to get to Heaven and find myself at the throne of the Almighty, the toilet seat mystery has now surpassed the JFK assassination as my most pressing supplication.

I Believe

I believe immigration laws and enforcement to be necessary, but the cruel or inhumane application of them is beneath us.

I believe that people should not be refused service simply because of who they are or what their political affiliation may be.

I believe that the terms pro-life or pro-choice dramatically oversimplify an issue important enough to merit nuanced consideration.

I believe that the reflexive canonization of every police officer or the suspects they interact with does both groups a disservice and undermines objective justice.

I believe that we should completely exhaust diplomacy before we ever consider sacrificing the lives of those who serve.

I believe we can honor the second amendment while simultaneously refusing to succumb to a self-imposed paralysis when it comes to mitigating acts of senseless violence.

I believe that not everything that is immoral is illegal and not everything that is illegal is immoral.

I believe that the term “pro-family” is one of the most insultingly vague and asinine declarations to ever emerge from a political marketing conglomerate.

I believe that those who insist the Earth and all creatures contained therein were crafted by God should be leading the way to conserve His handiwork.

I believe that legislation rooted in fear tends to be the antithesis of good governance.

I believe that two consenting adults have every right to have their relationship legally recognized by a secular government.

I believe that incarceration without meaningful rehabilitation often becomes hopelessly cyclical.

I believe that God has no political affiliation or nationality.

I believe that depth of character and wisdom are the result of being willing to build relationships with people whose experiences you cannot duplicate.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Genius Children

All parents have had those moments. The moments where, against your better judgement, you come to believe that your child is “extraordinarily gifted.” They say or do something that you convince yourself is unparalleled in the entire history of human development. You are cautious, and even preface your declarations with, “I know I am not entirely unbiased, but…..” and then you proceed to lay out your case for intellectual sainthood.

A week ago, my five-year-old son and I were reading his exhaustive encyclopedia of Marvel Superheroes. We were discussing the origin story of The Incredible Hulk and when we got to the section about anger being the catalyst for transformation, my son seemed to retreat into deep self-reflection. He asked me to re-read the passage again, with special emphasis on the part where Hulk returns to Bruce Banner once his anger subsides.

Without a word, he rose from the couch and disappeared into his room. After several minutes of searching, he emerged with a Little Golden Book about The Avengers. After manically flipping through the pages, he finally stops and turns the book toward me. Pointing accusatorily toward the illustration of The Avengers, he observes that The Hulk is pictured with a smile on his face. How, he demanded, could Hulk’s anger have subsided to the point that he was smiling and yet he still had not returned to Bruce Banner? This book stood in clear defiance of the parameters outlined by the Marvel Encyclopedia.

As he stared at me expectantly, I mumbled something about there probably being a time-delay since The Hulk might be momentarily pleased with something without fully being devoid of anger. This seemed to temporarily pacify him and we were able to move on, but I could tell that he wanted to dig deeper into it.

That evening, as I was relating the scene to my wife, I could barely contain my glee. After all, think of the cognitive horsepower necessary to discover and questions such a seemingly insignificant discrepancy. I began to worry that the specialists may want to start him at Princeton before he is ready. How would he handle being away from home at such a tender age? One of us would have to quit our jobs to accompany him to the inevitable television interviews and TED talks.

When I woke up the next day, I got my future Macarthur Genius Grant recipient a cup of milk and went back to take a shower. Still glowing from the forthcoming accolades from the academic community, I walked back into the living room and heard the sound of laughter.

Following the source, I found myself in our guest bathroom. What I found was my son and his younger sister knelt over the toilet bowl with their heads barely visible. I immediately demanded to know what was going on, but both of them had become incapacitated by giggles. Certainly, given my son’s recently demonstrated cerebral acumen, this was the gleeful conclusion to some sort of breakthrough experiment.

When the laughter finally subsided, he explained to me that when he “went pee-pee really hard” into the toilet it made bubbles. Upon discovering this, he had invited his sister into the restroom to see which one could pop the most “pee-pee bubbles” by blowing on them within a given span of time. He indicated that the “pee-pee bubble game” was already one of his favorite things.

Somewhat dejected, I made a mental note to cancel the calls to Good Morning America. When I rejoined my wife in the bathroom, she asked what the noise was and I barely had the heart to explain that our son had invented a game that revolved around the creation and popping of urine bubbles.
In hindsight, I obviously fell into the trap that all parents are subject to. Certainly there had been warning signs that “Pee-Bubble-Pop” was on the horizon. Just a few weeks prior, I had received a note from his teacher asking us to address the fact that our son had repeatedly referred to another young man as “fart-poop.” I had managed to keep a straight face the following morning while looking a grown woman in the eye and assuring her that we have “addressed the fart-poop.”

I cannot help but think that God had some hand in the juxtaposition of my son’s Hulk revelation and the toilet-bowel incident. Several years ago, he had exhibited a trait (which I cannot recall the exact nature of) that I had interpreted as a sign of his accelerated intellect only to have it canceled out within the hour as I had to implore him to stop licking dried paint from the sidewalk.

The truth is: I am thankful to be his father. He is every ounce a 5-year-old boy, capable of both great leaps of cognition and prodigious use of bodily-function terminology. If he is ultimately categorized as extraordinary, I hope it is for his courage in the face of injustice, his integrity in a world seemingly devoid of it and his kindness to those who have no reason to expect it. In the meantime, I will work tirelessly to perfect my ability to say "fart-poop" with as much gravity as such a situation requires.