Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Watching TV

October 16, 2006

Slate is reporting today on a new study from Cornell University that links increased television watching with increased autism rates.  It’s nice to have some scientific backing for a philosophy Kate and I think is important just on the face of it.

Surprisingly, we have received a bit of push-back on our desire to not expose Ruby to any television until she’s a few years old — generally from people a generation older than us.  The most common argument in favor of early TV is that it gives the parent a much-needed break, or time away from the child to cook dinner or take care of other chores.  Trust me, I understand how powerful those arguments are.  But Kate and I feel that the short-term benefits are outweighed by the long-term negatives.

The single most important reason we don’t want Ruby to watch TV now is because we don’t want Ruby to want to watch TV later.  In a few months, when she becomes able to make requests (and then demands), I want her to be clamoring for a trip to the park, not for another Dora video.  One of the things she’s learning right now is what kinds of fun things we do.  We go to the park, we run around the lake, we play with toys, we sing and wrestle and play the piano.  We don’t watch TV.

That still doesn’t answer the question about why we think TV is bad, though.  Autism studies aside, I don’t like the passive nature of watching TV.  I’d prefer Ruby to be active — not just physically, but mentally.  Her downtime can be filled with quiet reflection, reading, daydreaming, and wild bouts of imagining.  The ability to enjoy quiet time without depending on outside stimulation is an important skill that (IMHO) is sorely lacking in modern society.  Her spiritual and mental development will be greatly enhanced by learning to contemplate.

Another reason to avoid TV is the mass-consumption mythologies it peddles.  Dora and Spongebob and the latest Disney animation are all for sale, and the people marketing to children are very good at what they do.  I don’t want Ruby to get hooked on other people’s stories.  And I don’t want Ruby to learn to view the world through a Disney lens.  When we go to the zoo, I hear kids calling the lions “Simba” and the giraffes “Geoffrey”.  At the aquarium, all the clown fish are “Nemos”.  Although it’s nice to give these kids a way to relate to the animals, I worry that it’s a dead-end road.  The natural world is much more complicated (and interesting) than a cartoon.  (For similar reasons, we’ve tried to avoid mass-market characters in our house — and, curiously, received similar pushback from the same people.)

There are so many stories that we can tell each other — about our pasts, our futures, our dreams, and our feelings — and I want those to be our family mythology.  When Ruby sees a clownfish, I want her to think about her Mama and Papa swimming in Mayalsia.  When she sees a pygmy marmoset, I want her to remember that she’s the Queen of the Tiny Monkeys.  These stories are important, they belong to us, and they are a part of us and our family.  Those family stories are something that television can never provide.


How to kiss a baby

October 15, 2006

The season premier of Battlestar Galactica contained a noteworthy scene.  In it a woman is lying on a cot, holding her baby.  She’s having a conversation with her husband who is sitting behind her.  During the conversation, she bends over and gives her baby a kiss on the cheek.

I immediately paused the Tivo and called Kate in from the next room.  “Watch this,” I said, and played the scene for her. 

The issue?  The actress was kissing the baby all wrong.  The way she did it was not how you kiss a baby — especially your own baby.  She gave it a perfunctory peck and bounced off quickly, with a slight smugness when she was done. 

It’s weird that I notice something like this, but that’s what fatherhood does to you.  Your view of the world gets just a little skewed. 

When considering the kissing of babies and how you should or shouldn’t do it, two points come to mind:

  1. You should keep in your mind that you don’t want to kiss the baby.  No, what you really want to do is eat the baby.  But since you can’t have your baby and eat it too, you’re limited to kisses.  Bend over with the word “devour” in your head and you’re on the right track.  On the TV show, the actress seemed to be pushing the baby away with her kiss instead of wanting to consume him.
  2. Secondly, you want to inhale.  Babies smell great, and your own baby smells awesome.  Linger a moment, nuzzle a bit, and let the smell recharge you.  Ruby smells like a warm cedar-lined sauna with a hint of cinnamon.

Remember, you’re kissing the baby because of what that kiss does for you.  The baby doesn’t care, and probably wishes you’d get out of her face already so she can see That Thing Over There.  But you do it anyway, because, ultimately, kissing the baby is not about giving — it’s about taking.


DOMA upheld in Washington State

July 26, 2006

Today the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the Defense of Marriage Act as constitutional.

One should note, however, that they explicitly did not say whether or not it was a good idea — in fact, they hinted otherwise.  But their job is not to make policy, only decide if policy is constitutional, and they sided with the legislature in this case.

Their arguments once again showed that the fundamentalists driving this issue are much more of a threat to my marriage than gay marriage.  From the majority opinion:

…because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes. Accordingly, there is no violation of the privileges and immunities clause.

What this implies is that the purpose of marriage is to have kids.  So if you’re unable to have kids for biological reasons, this ruling threatens your right to marry.  If you’re past your prime and divorced or widowed, this ruling threatens your right to re-marry.  If you choose not to have children?  Sorry, but marriage clearly isn’t for you.  By attempting to define my marriage, and its goals, DOMA-style legislation is a serious threat to my heterosexual marriage.

I hate to haul out slippery-slope arguments, but what’s next: attempts to legally define my role as a husband?  I stay at home while my wife works.  I cook dinner and she mows the lawn.  She manages the finances and can do more chin-ups than me.  I pick the colors when we paint the walls.  How soon until some right-wing nutjob decides that it’d be better for the children if my wife stayed home and stayed out of men’s affairs? 

 Just like we look back and cluck our tongues at the sexists and racists of the past century, our children will be doing the same to the homophobes of the present day. 

Getting in the Habits

July 7, 2006

A comment I’ve heard from parents of slightly older children goes something like this:  “Wow, I’m surprised at how much my baby is paying attention to what I do.  Just yesterday [he|she] started copying [some behavior]”.

Apparently kids are learning from you way earlier than you think they are.  With that in mind, I’ve started thinking about my habits and how they might influence Ruby.  I’ve certainly got my share of bad ones: I fart and belch, pick my nose, watch too much TV, swear, and leave little piles of clutter all over the house.  At the moment Kate and I don’t really blink at a burp or fart, but I think it’s time to start putting those emanations in the proper context: being discreet instead of… well, boisterous; and throwing in the proper polite words as appropriate.

At the other end of the scale, there are some good habits that I want to reinforce in Ruby.  As a kid I was pretty absentminded, and constantly misplaced things.  I can still remember leaving school in second grade with my baseball glove, and somehow arriving home without it.  How it managed to disappear remains a mystery.  As a result of a lifetime of misplaced-things grief, I’ve now got a good habit of checking my surrounding area every time I leave a place, just in case I forgot something.

Similarly, I want Ruby to get into a habit of thinking about safety.  Seeing as we’re training Ruby for a career in the circus, we’ll probably be guiding her towards activities that might appear more dangerous than others.  And I want to get her into the habit of thinking about safety so that she can be more comfortable, and of course safer, while playing. 

As an aside, teaching about “safety” has all kinds of corollaries: you need to understand yourself and your physical limitations; you need to understand the same about those around you; you need to know about your environment, the equipment you’re using, cause and effect, and how things can change depending on various circumstances.  There’s a lot of learning that can be grouped under “safety”.

Anyway, Ruby’s still too young for lectures about hard hats.  For now, I think I will just try to really ratchet up the usage of my polite words — not just with Ruby, but with Kate and with others I know.  If it’s a good habit, it shouldn’t be just for Ruby.  As for the bad habits… well, there’s nothing that a polite “excuse me” can’t cover, right?

Your Bad Choice

July 5, 2006

Cynical Dad relates a great story about his wife defending his honor at Target (while shopping for Father’s day cards):

Zoey: Why does it say that?
Ella: It means that Daddy gets to take the day off.
Unknown Woman Standing A Few Feet From Them: Which is also every day.

Now I would love to tell you that Ella turned around, pounced on the woman, and bitchslapped her senseless while the kids cheered her on. But Ella did tell the woman I was a caring, loving stay-at-home dad who seldom received days off as the woman backpedaled, stammered, and apologized.

 And then this story is related in that post’s comments:

I recently ran into the Random Lady in Costco who started gushing at how beautiful my daughter was and how my “husband, oh sorry, sperm donor, ha, ha” must hardly exist in my life any more because I couldn’t possibly resist loving my daughter a million times more than him, especially because she is so beautiful and really, the only reason I got married was to have her anyway, right? When I showed a disgusted, appalled face she only egged me on, “Oh, come one, you know it’s true. Don’t pretend you have feelings left for your husband… he’s not even here to hear you say it. You know this little girl is so much more…” blah, blah, blah.

I don’t have much sympathy for women who complain about stereotypical father behavior while, at the same time, reinforcing that behavior with their comments.  You know what?  You chose that belching, beer-swilling, covered-in-motor-oil, la-Z-boy-lovin’ dullard.  Although it’s convenient and easy to just stick him in the man-role while you live in the woman-role, you really shouldn’t be surprised when he exactly lives up to your expectations.

Kate and I work hard every day to push past the conventional limits that stereotypes suggest.  Because of that, we’re both better parents. 

I love being a husband, I love being a father, I love being a parent alongside my wife, and I’m intensely proud of how I live in each of those roles.  To the nameless woman at Target: you could have done better, and I’m living proof.  But Kate’s the one who made a good choice and she deserves me.


June 8, 2006

I’m not much of a social person.  I like to work alone, I’m not much good at parties, and small talk leaves me at a complete loss. 

Now that I’ve got Ruby attached to my person most of the time that I’m out in public, I’m having to interact with strangers more often.  They want to come up and remark on how cute the baby is, ask how old, etc., etc.  Ruby is indeed extremely cute, and it’s understandable that they’ll be smitten by her cuteness.  But I’m not crazy about having to have the same empty interaction with strangers all the time.  I guess this is where my appreciation for small talk is failing me, but is there really any point to stopping me in the middle of the cereal aisle to ask me how old my baby is?

On the other hand, I don’t want to infect Ruby with my anti-social tendencies.  I want her to be comfortable with strangers and I want her to experience diverse points of view.  And eventually, I’ll suppose I’ll want her to make friends with other kids in the neighborhood.  Actually, I’m not all that worried: Ruby’s been pretty strong-willed ever since she was born (as much as any three-month-old can be), and I suspect it’ll be her affecting my social style, not the other way around.

Related to this issue, two recent posts to the blogosphere gave me some food for thought:

The first post (from Dave R) is about a guy (and his unfortunate daughter) who refused to go into a playground because there was nothing but moms there.  I don’t have a ton of sympathy for him at this point, since he (as he admits) is chickening out with pretty weak excuses.  I mean, it’s not like you have to interact with the Mommies, do you?

Well, maybe you do.  From what I’ve read and heard from friends, isolation is a big problem for stay-at-home parents.  Getting out of the house to interact with people who are able to form actual sentences can help to break up a long drool-spattered day.  When Ruby’s old enough to play at the playground, I think I’ll enjoy relaxing with some familiar faces — even if it is just small talk.

That brings us to the second post (from Stay-at-home, work-at-home Dad).  This blogger talks about his overall experiences dealing with Moms at parks, and how they tend to be not-so-friendly towards the Dads. 

I haven’t experienced this at a park (since Ruby’s too young for park play at the moment), but I’ve been to my share of parent support groups where I’ve been the only father among ten or twenty moms.  The vibe wasn’t exactly hostile towards me, but when a bunch of women get together their social sphere can be impenetrable.  Or is it incomprehensible?  Either way, I wasn’t comfortable being there.  It wasn’t the episiotomy comparisons or complaints of glass-shards-in-the-breast nipple pain.  It was just an implicit feeling of being an outsider.  Even their attempts at inclusion just turned me off more: invariably, once (and only once) per meeting, the leader would turn to me a and ask, “so, as a man/father/male partner, what is your feeling about this issue?”  Thanks for throwing me a bone.  She even once just asked me for “my thoughts about childbirth”.  Um, got a few hours?

In mixed-sex parent groups the vibe is much more welcoming, and I feel like the discussion itself is more constructive.  I don’t know if it’s the gender balance itself, or if it’s the people who are attracted to mixed-gender groups — probably some of both.

As an attempt to head off the isolation before it sets in, I’m going to hook up with a SAHD support group.  Seattle Dads has regular meetups/playdates/nights out, although they seem to be concentrated in the southern ‘burbs of Seattle.  I’m kind of waiting for Ruby to be older, so that she can play with the other kids, but that’s kind of a lame excuse: I’m the one who needs to get out to play with the other Dads.

Defend us from what?

June 7, 2006

I would like to officially state that my marriage to Kate is in no way threatened by the marriage of one person to another person of the same sex.

If your marriage is threatened by two men you’ll never meet saying “I do”, then you and your spouse should probably visit a marriage counsellor.

What’s in a name?

May 30, 2006

A few weeks ago we were crossing the border back into the US from Canada.  Normally this consists of a glance at the passports and a wave on through.  This time, though, the border agent caught me off guard:  he asked me what I did for a living.

That’s a question for which I didn’t have a ready answer.  Nominally, I’m a software engineer.  The work-like thing I do is run a web services company called Feedwhip, and after a bit of stammering that’s what I told him.  But it doesn’t make any money and isn’t what takes up most of my time.  I spend most of my time with my daughter.

Does that make me a stay-at-home Dad?  Well, yes, probably.  But, to paraphrase a character from an episode of Six Feet Under that Kate and I just watched, it’s not like I’m stuck at home with a big chain around my leg.  To be fair, this is probably the term I’ll use since people know what it means and I’m mostly okay with it.  But still.

Another option would be to call myself “a full-time father”, but this one really bugs me.  Does that make Kate a “part-time Mom”?  My role as her Ruby’s father affects many of the decisions I now make in my life, whether she’s with me or not.

Even worse would something like “Mr. Mom” or simply to take on the title of “Mommy”.  Men and women have different approaches to childcare, and I can’t do what Kate does.  And she can’t do what I do.  I’m the Daddy, not the Mommy.

So, I guess my job title is “stay at home Dad”, for now.   Any other ideas?