Kid Magic

In parenting on November 23, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The ancients believed words had magic. They were right.

Take the words “mommy” and “daddy.” Two more magical words have never been spoken. Admittedly, there’s not much that’s magical about mini vans and pick up lanes, screaming babies and poopie diapers. For that matter, there may be nothing magical in the parents’ daily grind; but perhaps it’s because we weren’t meant to grind in the first place. Perhaps our daily lives were meant to be lived nearer to the magic.

My wife and I are the proud parents of a young superhero-in-training who sometimes answers to Superman, and other times answers to Batman. Today, it’s Batman.

Batman is four, but don’t let his age fool you. He has every conceivable advantage over the grownups.

For one thing, he’s new here on earth; his heart and mind are still pure. His body, freakishly efficient. For another, he absorbs data faster than the Borg Collective. The world is teeming with exciting lessons he can’t unravel fast enough. Brushing his teeth, using the microwave, putting away toys and generally building self-reliance. He has to learn, and so he learns.

Read that again: He has to learn, and so he learns. Our little Batman is compelled. He wants to do these things, naturally.

Fact is, Batman takes us to school every day. His sense of wonder and intellectual curiosity are contagious. As we pay closer attention, dial into his channel so to speak, we’re learning to be better parents and adults. And it isn’t just brushing and butt-wiping. It’s space and planets. Continents and countries. State capitals and football scores. (As I write this, Batman informs me that cows have one stomach with four parts.) In short, it’s all we can do to get the heck out of the way. At best, we manage a balancing act. When we don’t, we fall. We dress him because he’s taking too long. We put his boots away because it’s easier than calling him back to do it right. Sometimes we can’t figure out how to frame answers to his questions in a way that a four year old superhero can understand. I struggle not to interfere when he’s learning—something apparently even an errant “Good job” can derail. But, mama and papa keep at it.

We talk to him. We watch his body language for cues. We see the way he hops when he learns something particularly exciting. We hear the squeak in his voice when he chokes up with excitement. There are also the sad cues, like when he withdraws silently to the study to sit facing the wall with slumped shoulders. It’s a self-imposed thing he does when he feels defeated. Maybe when mama and papa have put him off for too long. “Just one more minute, buddy,” four hours after the first time we said it.

But, the parenting gig is magical. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes it drives us absolutely nuts, but I think the magic is always there, buried in our brains, to save us from those nuts times. The times when things tilt; dishes go unwashed, cupboards go bare. Sometimes we can access the magic and save the day. Sometimes we lose our way completely. But we’re grownups. We’re the lost ones. It’s not like we’re kids, whose magical compass shines brightly from their DNA. Our handicap is that we have to find a route back to the magic.

For me, it’s hearing the word, “daddy.” It’s kind of my Mjolnir moment, Thor’s magical hammer, which only the Thunder God can wield. Its inscription: If He Be Worthy.

If He Be Worthy.

Mommy. Daddy. Magical words imparting the power to do dishes, scrub tubs and fold laundry. Magical words, just like the ancients claimed. We only need open our ears and hearts and all things are again possible. We are reminded of the sanity that comes from a life in balance—reminded because, when we follow our little Batmen, Wonder Women, princesses or police men and women, it’s them leading us to more balanced lives. It’s them returning our sense of wonder and peace.

Batman is my Superman

Batman is my Superman

Back to School; Lock and Load

In Polemics, Politics on August 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Pencils. Paper. Books. Guns.

Arming teachers is a wild risk for everyone, including gun rights’ advocates, who will have much to answer for when one of these programs goes wrong.

Consider: According to a 2004 joint report issued by the Secret Service and Department of Education, the risk of your child being killed in a school shooting is 1 in 1 million.

To put the problem of targeted school-based attacks in context, from 1993 to 1997, the odds that a child in grades 9-12 would be threatened or injured with a weapon in school were 7 to 8 percent, or 1 in 13 or 14; the odds of getting into a physical fight at school were 15 percent, or 1 in 7. In contrast, the odds that a child would die in school-by homicide or suicide-are, fortunately, no greater than 1 in 1 million.

Today those odds may be slightly different, but consider what happens to those odds when you add more guns.

For starters, there’s the increased potential for accidents. Even experienced gun safety instructors make mistakes (read: accidentally shoots a student). This cop famously shot himself in the foot during a gun safety demonstration in a classroom. We live in a litigious culture, so we need to factor the resulting lawsuits when things don’t go as planned. Then there’s the cost of arming and training teachers. The insurance premiums. And what about the politicization of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin? Imagine that, but in the classroom.

Despite claims to the contrary, no correlation can be drawn between school shootings prevention and arming teachers; the probability of a school shooting is low without armed teachers, so how will proponents measure success? Also, consider Columbine, where armed guards made little to no difference in preventing or slowing down Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. So, exactly what is gained by putting greater strain on teachers?

Then there’s the matter of educational priorities. Is the United States of America a country where guns come before books? Arming teachers represents a major step in advancing our cultural arms escalation. Consider: Teachers aren’t “supposed to be” soldiers or law enforcement officers. They’re not “supposed to be” Wyatt Earp. They are supposed to be scientists, philosophers, musicians, or artists. They are supposed to provide an atmosphere for creativity and learning so that the next generation can do better for their children than we’ve done for ours. They are supposed to teach conflict resolution that doesn’t involve intimidation and violence, and lead by example. Children are supposed to learn that reason has a seat at the table of ideas also. If we abandon these ideals, what’s left?

Clarksville, Arkansas is at the center of a debate just like this. For now, students there can leave their flak jackets at home.

Teachers and teachers’ unions fought to prevent arming its teachers last July. Legislators thought they’d found a work around and sought to cram the program down teachers’ throats anyway. They cited a little known law that allows licensed armed security guards on school grounds, but the Attorney General weighed in later, saying public school districts didn’t qualify as “guard companies” eligible to be licensed armed guards.  The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies agreed and voted to suspend school district employees’ security licenses. For now, teachers in Clarksville remain unarmed.

To be clear: The law in Arkansas is unchanged. Law enforcement and private security personnel may continue to carry weapons on public school grounds. Students are no less safe than they were before, and far safer than they might have been otherwise; teachers may not serve as armed security officers.

We all want an end to school shootings. We all want our children to receive the best education possible. Leaving guns at home is a good start for a calm learning environment at school. Letting teachers do what they do best is even better. Let them teach.

If you are passionate about gun sense in America, visit http://www.momsdemandaction.org. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a non-partisan grassroots movement of American mothers demanding common-sense gun reforms from legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions.

Have an opinion on arming teachers? Please sound off below. 

The Siren Song of Unreason

In Polemics, Politics on May 24, 2013 at 8:43 pm

“The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.”

—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World.


“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

—Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful

Fifteen years after his impeachment, we’re still dragging the ball and chain of Clinton’s impeachment behind us. Capitol Hill is as willing as ever to open a tab in the name of National Disgrace and Congress’ true bipartite purpose is revealed:

  1. Hold “hearings.” (i.e. fishing expeditions.)
  2. Impeach the President.

As the nation waits (well, not really) for all the facts to emerge on Benghazi-gate, IRSgate, APgate or Fox News-Reportergate, fill-in-the-blank-gate, let’s not forget: The whole high crimes and misdemeanor thing isn’t what it used to be. In Washington, “good enough” reasons are as ubiquitous as politicians. “Good enough” even resists logic. Clinton’s transgressions earned him an impeachment on principle in the sharp eyes of the law while Bush’s transgressions sent 4,500 American troops to their deaths, cost $810 billion and began the titanic tanking of our economy.

Meanwhile, the law went blind, deaf and stupid.

Bush supporters hold that the removal of Saddam was worth the lie used to sell the invasion, and they’re consistent in their reasoning. The ends justified the means in every corner of the Bush presidency: the Justice Department’s politically motivated firings, rampant NSA wiretapping program, establishment of “free speech zones,” IRS targeting of Greenpeace and the NAACP, the “war on journalism,” signing statements used to circumvent Congress—the list is virtually endless. Clinton may have been just as corrupt, but we impeached him over his parsing of the word “is” while doing nothing about Bush’s parsing of the word “torture.”

Nevertheless, assessing all three presidencies, it’s readily apparent that this is altogether what we now do: We elect a president, immediately launch the investigation machine, and use impeachment as finish line chalk. We choose a guilty verdict, then search for the right case to build. This is the politics of unreason and fear. The cost is the erosion of public trust, the only power our elected leaders had. Without that power, nothing gets done.

There will be much gnashing of teeth if the GOP is unsuccessful in toppling the President. The right will wonder why the American people aren’t more outraged at what Barrack has done, but what room do any of us have to be more outraged? The public is already in a constant fury. The ceiling has already been hit. An entire generation has grown up knowing nothing but dysfunction in Washington and reason has no seat at the table of fear and hate.

In fact, our politics have little more value than yelling the opposite thing at one another, and what good is that? In a democracy, what good is it to have differences of opinion without the ability to find middle ground? Thomas Paine, on this point, once said, “He who denies to another [the right to a difference of opinion], makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.” And slaves we have become. The unreason of the tenacious minority demands the majority present political unity. Take these gems: Women’s reproductive systems have ways of shutting down rape sperm. There’s no such thing as climate change. Intelligent Design is science. Defund education, but fund teacher weapons training programs. So, we ride the partisan wave while the siren song of unreason grows sweeter.

The fact that Republicans supported their corrupt president doesn’t make the accusations against the Obama Administration baseless, but it should be enough to give Republican voters pause as we go forward. After all, Obama is merely the face they’ve put on corruption, not corruption itself. For that we have to dig deeper. We have to look into our hearts.

We’ve become a nation divided into special interests. The country has signed on to the lobbyists’ rules; it’s every group for themselves, each vigorously defending their turf in the sure knowledge that anything less will do no good. The power of lobbyists against the people demands the resistance of conscience. There can be no “in between position” because “in between” means failure to achieve the Pet Goal. Everyone becomes extremists.

Perhaps term limits and meaningful campaign finance reform are good places to begin. We’ve seen what working within the system does; Congress is a stain on the fabric of our national heritage. This Memorial Day weekend, let us all reflect on the legacy of endless character assassination. At what cost do we continue to elect these people? Is it worth the lives of those who have died for our country, or those who have yet to die for tomorrow’s freedom? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m interested in hearing your answer. For me, the answer looks like this:

Eroding trust is eroding power. Eroding power is eroding function. Eroding function is eroding purpose. What is to be done with a government without purpose?


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