A Brief Interlude Before Christmas
I was in a bit of a hurry with the last entry, and there
were some things I meant to flesh out a bit better than
I did. Also, the holiday season has brought new
excitement into our lives. So, in an effort to keep
Games and Entertainment
My parents took Theron down to the park last Sunday.
This was part of our usual Sunday routine, which allows
them to spend time with the baby and allows my wife and
myself to get things done. It was a nice day (around 75º
F, in December, but why worry about Global Warming?) and
the park was full of people.
Theron doesn't mind playing with other kids. He's a
little juggernaut; he doesn't much care about falling or
being knocked over, and he isn't terribly intimidated by
kids who are twice his size. That's partly because
nobody's ever been deliberately mean to him; most little
kids are basically nice, if they notice him at all.
While they were down there, my father -- who is friendly
to a fault -- was accosted by a five-year-old who
apparently wanted, more than anything else in the world,
for someone to pay some attention to him.
The boy's father was present, but talking on his cell
phone (at least at first), and didn't seem to be a bad
guy. He tried to set limits for the child, (e.g. "Don't
bother the nice man.") and he wasn't mean or anything.
He'd brought the kid out to the park, so he was at least
trying. He just didn't seem to know how to actually
play with his son.
(I suspect that hanging up the phone would have been a
very good start, but I may have that backwards. That is,
he may not have trouble playing with his son because he
spends all his time on the phone. It may be that he
spends his time on the phone because he has no idea how
to interact with his son. Either way, it's pretty sad.)
Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I covered my
expenses by working the night shift at a drug and
alcohol rehab center... in the unit where they housed
the teen boys. (Say it with me: "May I never be so
desperate for money again.") As a job, it was much like
the punishment of Sisyphus, but with additional scorn
from the inmates. Most of the kids were there because
they'd gotten into legal trouble, and had elected to try
rehab in order to avoid actual sentencing. The majority
were upper-middle class kids; a few were there because
of alcohol, but most had at least some experience with
drugs, and almost all of them smoked.
Among the other things they had in common (lack of
respect for authority, no understanding of the concept
of a social contract, a nearly desperate interest in any
glimpse of the teen girls at the facility), the one
which I found most striking was this: while they wanted
to be constantly entertained, they had almost no ability
to entertain themselves. They would occasionally tell
each other stories, but those were short and basically
just conversational. ("Oh, yeah? I knew a girl like
that. She once...") We had "game night" once a week, and
they essentially had to be forced to play. They didn't
really tell jokes -- not that they didn't have any sense
of humor, just that it tended to crude and kind of dumb.
The idea of a good joke -- a play on words or a neat
connection of ideas -- was basically foreign to them.
They could repeat what they'd already heard, but not
come up with anything new. They didn't read (dare I say,
"Of course"?) unless forced to it. Substance abuse was
the closest thing to a hobby that most of them had.
Theron, by contrast, is quite capable of entertaining
himself -- and he gets better at it every day. As I
write, he is fiddling with the kitchen sink. (He likes
playing with water.) Earlier, he was playing with the
(unplugged) telephone. He's starting to get interested
in books, though he's still a bit young for actual
reading. He loves getting attention from his parents,
and he likes television (Muppets, at least), but he
doesn't actually need them. He's quite
capable of inventing his own games.
Austin, the five year old who joined us for
Thanksgiving, was not only capable of entertaining
himself; he was also quite willing to invent games to
play with Theron -- despite the large difference in
their ages. (Three and half years isn't much between
adults, but for kids... Think about it: Austin is over
three times Theron's age.) At one point Austin crawled
into the cardboard playhouse and waited inside. Theron
would drop stuffed animals in through the hole in the
roof, and then giggle maniacally when "the house"
(Austin, actually) spit them back out through the front
window. They even had sound effects for the different
stuffed animals. It was really fun to watch, and a clear
indicator that Austin is a good kid.
Having laid out that contrast... I don't want to make
too strong a connection here. I am not suggesting that
the kid on the playground will grow up to use drugs
because his father can't seem to play with him. Nor am I
suggesting that substance abuse is caused by a lack of
hobbies, or that people become addicts because they're
too stupid to find better things to do. Even a passing
acquaintance with Al-anon, AA, or NA will demonstrate
that such is not the case.
That said, I do worry a little that... well, let me come
at this from a different angle. In the present-day
United States of America, it is very easy to be
entertained. A substantial piece of our economy is built
around entertainment. We broadcast
television and radio every hour of every day of every
week; books, magazines, and newspapers are readily
available; movies and video games are constantly being
created (or recycled); and that's not even glancing at
the manifold possibilities offered by the Internet. In
an environment like this, it's very easy to rely on
other people to entertain you. I worry that with so much
entertainment so readily available, people will forget
how to entertain themselves.
...And maybe 'worry' is too strong a word for it. It's
not the end of the world if modern people get most of
their entertainment from modern sources. Back when they
first invented writing, there were people who worried
that if it caught on, everyone would come to rely on it
and people would lose their ability to remember things.
The scenario I just described strikes me as somewhat
similar. Also, if you want to worry about the fate of
Mankind, I can think of many better reasons to worry.*
However... I do want Theron to be as self-sufficient as
possible. I'd like him to have a solid foundation of
survival skills. Many, perhaps most, will be skills for
survival in the modern world: how to find for a job; how
to change a tire; how to balance a checkbook (or
whatever electronic equivalent he grows up with); how to
avoid getting diseases. Other will be for those
(thankfully rare) times when civilization isn't working
quite right: how to fight effectively, and when not to;
how to ride a bike**; how to find or create potable
water; how to administer first aid; how to live in the
woods, at least for a little while.
I feel very strongly that knowing how to entertain
yourself is a big part of being a well-rounded human
being -- not to mention being quite rewarding in its own
right. It may not be a survival skill, precisely, but it
is an important part of being self-sufficient. I want
Theron to grow up feeling the same way.
The Cosmic Horror That Is Santa Claus
Some of you may have noticed that the holiday season is
not my favorite time of year. I've mentioned my reasons
for this before*** so I won't repeat them again. Last
Christmas, Theron was still basically at the
Eat-The-Wrapping-Paper stage. This year, I expect he'll
have a lot of fun playing with the boxes. With luck, by
next year, he'll appreciate the actual presents.
As a ritual part of the Christmas holiday, as decreed by
G-d or Natural Law or something equally mysterious,
primal, and essentially perverse, we took Theron to get
his picture taken with Santa Claus.
If you are a new parent, I will warn you now:
Don't do it!
Kids like the idea of Santa Claus. They enjoy getting
Santa letters, they like seeing pictures of Santa, or
watching cartoons or animated specials with Santa and
his reindeer. Unfortunately, the reality of a large,
bearded man in a bright red suit sets off all kinds of
primal warning signs in the toddler brain. Children know
instinctively that anyone dressed like that is going to
do horrible, terrible things to them. Things too awful
to be imagined by an adult. Things that would shred your
very soul if you even considered them. Bad
things. The toys are just a front, to fool the gullible
adults. The reindeer are really horrible monsters, the
elves are secretly cannibals (or worse),
and this big guy on the chair is the leader of
their evil cult!
Sure, there are some children who actually
like Santa. I don't deny it. But if you look, you'll see
that they're usually the older ones. Their primal
instincts have been dulled by long-term exposure to
advertising and Holiday Specials, orchestrated by the
North Pole Propaganda Mill. The little kids... they know
Still don't believe me? Fine. Click on the image below.
But don't say I didn't warn you. And if you're at work,
you might want to turn your volume down first.
Caught in Santa's Claws
(Click for video.)
* I'm still hoping for a plague of zombies, personally.
I have equipment to deal with that.
** Yes, this is an important emergency survival skill.
Think about it: a good bike will allow you to cover a
great deal of ground relatively easily. Even in modern
American cities, the roads are not sufficient to
evacuate an entire city in a limited time frame using
automobiles; Hurricane Rita demonstrated that fairly
clearly. Bicycles can bypass traffic jams, and be
carried through areas where they can't be ridden. Even
an amateur can handle routine maintenance and repair on
a bicycle. They don't carry as much stuff as an SUV, but
that's easily solved: don't bring so much stuff.
*** In last year's
Christmas entry, come to think of it.