Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Living in Fear of the Big Question

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a 5-year-old and 3-year-old son. (To be clear, it’s not that I have one son who is both 5-years-old and 3-years-old, which would be impossible, but rather two separate sons who are 5-years-old and 3-years-old respectively.) In any event, I have a blast with them. We play with Legos and action figures, watch cartoons, draw pictures, and generally do all the stuff you would expect to do with kids at that age.  But the thing I enjoy doing most with them is teaching them new things.

Young kids are full of wonder. They are curious about everything and aren’t shy about asking questions. And for my part, I love to explain things to them. A sampling of some of our Q&A sessions includes:

Q: Why aren’t there any dinosaurs on the earth?
A: Because they all died out millions of years ago.

Q: What’s the fastest animal?
A: Um…a cheetah, I think.

Q: What are eyeballs made out of?
A: Some sort of jelly-like substance.

Q: Why is the sky blue?
A: Because of…you know…gases…and, um…the angle of the atmosphere…and…uh…wanna watch cartoons?

Okay, so maybe I don’t have a perfect track record, but at least I’m happy to take a stab at answering whatever childlike queries come my way. That is, at least, I’m happy to right now. The problem is that I know that sometime in the next few years I’m going to have to field that one question that puts fear into the hearts of parents all over the globe.

You think it’s the obvious question, don’t you? You think the question I’m referring to is “Where do babies come from?” Close, but not quite. See, my kids have already asked this question and I gave the seemingly obvious response of, “Mommies’ tummies.” For a while, at least, this satisfies their curiosity. But at some point the follow up question is destined to dawn upon them—“How in the world do babies get into mommies’ tummies?” That’s when I will run and hide. Unfortunately, kids are great at hide and seek, so you can only use that tactic for so long.

I have no idea what the average age is for asking about the “birds and the bees.”  I was around 11-years-old when I asked. I think this may be on the late side, because I distinctly remember feeling foolish for even asking. In fact, I have a vague recollection of starting the conversation by saying, “I feel like I should know this but…” This conversation took place at a diner that I was at with my dad and 18-year-old brother. I remember my dad looking nervous and saying, “Really? You don’t know this?” In retrospect, I’m sure what he was thinking was, “Crap, I thought some kid at his school would have told him this at recess by now.” Years later I don’t remember the specific words my dad used (although I do remember him using a really bad metaphor about hammering nails) but somehow he managed to stammer out an explanation that made sense to me—with my brother snickering the entire time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Secret to Raising a Politician

This morning, while I watched my 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons play together, I realized that they have all the makings of future politicians. They are constantly arguing, they call each other names, they change the rules in the middle of playing for their own advantage, they try to get away with stuff they know they’re not supposed to, they refuse to participate when things aren’t going their way, they scream and shout to be heard over each other, they crave being the center of attention, and whenever they’re done with something, it’s a much bigger mess than when they started. Of course, most kids in that age range do the exact same things, so perhaps it’s not so much that my kids are future politicians, as it is that politicians are simply kids who have never grown up.

Interestingly, politician is one of the very few careers in which you can act like a 3-year-old and actually get away with it. Think about your own job for a moment. How long would you remain employed if you openly belittled your coworkers, or covered up your mistakes, or simply stopped working because you didn’t like a particular project?  I know that if I did any of those things at work I’d be kicked out of my office faster than a chimp could open a banana.

And yet we accept this behavior from our politicians. Does no one else see the irony in the fact that we spend a tremendous amount of effort trying to teach our kids NOT to do the exact same things that we have come to expect from the people who run our country? Makes you wonder if the parents of politicians just didn’t even bother teaching good behavior. Perhaps politicians are simply the products of lazy parenting. Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t so much lazy as intentional.

I can picture it now—little Johnny rips a toy out of his sister’s hand, wings it across the room shattering it into a thousand hopeless shards, then points at his forlorn sis and shouts as loud as he can, “She did it!” The mom is about to discipline the holy terror when the dad stops her and says, “No, no. Let him be. Maybe one day he’ll be a senator!” Sure enough, 40 years later little Johnny’s taking political contributions from special interest groups and sponsoring a bill to open up a nuclear power plant next to a preschool.

As for my kids, my wife and I are at least attempting to teach them good manners, so if they wind up pursuing a career in politics it’s not our fault. I’ll blame it on their teachers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Potential Vice President Sets Off Personal Crisis

As soon as Paul Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s running mate I did what 100,000,000 other Americans probably did—I rushed straight to his Wikipedia page. While the entry was of decent size, and I’m sure filled with many relevant tidbits about his life and career, I found that I could not read past the very first factoid right after his name. Paul Davis Ryan’s birthdate is January 29, 1970. This man was born the year AFTER me.

I know it’s ridiculous, but somehow I just can’t wrap my mind around the possibility of having a Vice President younger than myself. I mean, what if Romney wins the general election? And what if, a week after being sworn in he chokes on a pretzel while watching a football game like the last Republican president, and isn’t as lucky as his predecessor and ends up buying the farm? Then the baton would be passed to Paul Ryan and suddenly, instead of a Vice President younger than me, we would have a President younger than me. This just cannot be.

Why am I so hung up on this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Paul Ryan was born the year after the first moon landing, and Woodstock, and the Miracle Mets. Or maybe it’s because he was born in the same decade that brought us disco and Space Invaders. Or maybe it’s because he’s younger than people like Adam Sandler, Pauly Shore, and J.Lo for crying out loud!

But who am I kidding? Really this is about the horrifying realization that I’m getting old and that there really can be people in positions of responsibility who are younger than myself. I remember having a similar internal freak-out the first time I went to a doctor younger than me. I was in my early 30s at the time and my new doctor assigned to me by my HMO was a young woman in her mid-to-late 20s. She was probably a year or two removed from medical school and all I was able to think throughout the entire physical exam was “are you really qualified to stick that thing where you’re sticking it?”

This boils down to ageism, I realize—the absurd notion that if I’m not qualified or experienced enough to do something, nobody younger than me can possibly be qualified or experienced enough to do it either. I know it’s not rational, but I can’t shake it. And I suspect that as the years go by it will only get worse. When I’m 60 and have a 55-year-old lawyer I’ll wonder how he possibly could have passed his bar exam already.

I know I need to get over all this, and perhaps extensive psychotherapy is in order. For now, though, there is really only one question at hand: Do we really want a Vice President born the year after the debut of Sesame Street?