Thursday, June 26, 2014

Who Wore it Better?

Fable v X-men's Ororo "Storm" Munroe

Fable is pretty cute, and her most striking feature is her hair. Everyone who meets her comments on it. "She looks like a Dr. Seuss character; She looks like a dinosaur; She looks totally badass, punk rock."

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Modern 20th Century Family

“Having children changes you” is a phrase all new parents hear, but what exactly are those changes?

One side effect of parenthood is an increased susceptibility to nostalgia, especially about your own childhood. This is not surprising. Parenting is like traveling in a time machine that returns you to places and feelings you left behind long ago. Dormant memories of holidays, games played with siblings, and treasured childhood possessions suddenly reawaken. For the first time in your adult life, you suddenly want to do those things again, and recreate those special memories for your children.

Major toy companies capitalize on this desire. Now that children of the Reagan-era have their own children, toy shelves are stocked with millennial versions of My Little Pony, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake, Cabbage Patch Kids, and Star Wars.

I do not wish to share with Ezra the toy chest of my youth, but this does not mean I’m not guilty of romanticizing and repackaging my childhood. Rather than toys, my preoccupation with the past is focused on the households of my generation, and I am inadvertently surrounding Ezra with the cutting-edge home appliances, consumer electronics and gadgets I grew up with. My 21st century son is being raised in a 20th century home.

I came to this realization when it came time for our family to choose a new phone. iPhone, Droid RAZR, Samsung Galaxy … how do you pick which is best?  We didn’t. We ordered a vintage landline (c. 1963) to replace our cordless phone (c. 1990) whose battery could no longer last beyond a ten minutes conversation. Tired of continually hanging up on people, we decided the best solution was a technology downgrade. Perhaps a rotary dial (c. 1919) is in our future?
I then began to notice that our phone was not an anomaly. Not only is much of our home technology outdated (typewriter, record player, and even traditional non-digital books!), but we are also missing pretty standard 21st century household staples. A quick inventory revealed our lack of smartphones, tablet, flat screen or even analog television, microwave, air conditioning, cd player, dvd/blu-ray player, and gaming system.

We may sound like luddites, but we are not philosophically opposed to modern technology. So why are we so slow to embrace what the 21st century has to offer?
My personality can be partially blamed. I do not like to surround myself with miscellaneous things I will not use often. My response to most purchases is, “do we really need that?”  My reluctance is even greater when the new item is a piece of technology. I have never coveted new gadgets; I am the opposite of a tech-geek dad, and convincing me that new tech will enhance my life is not easy. For example, I rarely go a day without using our computer and Internet, but I question whether the cost and distraction of having Internet access available at my fingertips 24/7 via a smartphone would improve my life.

My answer to the smartphone question is “probably not.” Still, I suspect my aversion to new technology is less pragmatic and more sentimental. I, of course, feel less dependent and connected to current technologies than a 20-year-old. I clearly remember my life without these things, and I don't recall that time of my life being particularly difficult.

If I were asked whether advancements in household technology are continuing to improve our lives, I would respond with a non-committal, “meh.” The technology related to our basic needs have not changed much in the last thirty years. When I was a child, we had convenient and effective ways to store and prepare our food (which are pretty much the same as today); easy ways to communicate with people far away; and traveling long distances was not difficult (or slower than it is today). It seems most current advances in home technologies are outlets for entertainment. While these are fun and distracting, I think they are easy to forego. Maybe my generation had to wait and watch Star Wars according to HBO’s schedule rather than on demand, but that is a pretty insignificant complaint about life.

Did the technology that significantly improved our basic needs and comfort really peak during my childhood? That is unlikely. The more probable explanation is that I’m nostalgic for my childhood and early '80s households. Having children has exacerbated the problem.

As I observe Ezra’s childhood, I reminisce about my own, and my childhood was not filled with woeful tales like my depression era grandparents. My memories do not belong in the “walking barefoot, uphill, in snow to school, but we liked it because it made us stronger!” genre. I remember a childhood that was comfortable, simple and happy; those are the same feelings I want Ezra to associate with his childhood.

Feelings are easily projected onto inanimate objects. I suspect that is why I am subconsciously surrounding Ezra with objects from the late 20th century. I am generally not fascinated by “antiques,” and as I previously stated, I am reluctant to buy things that I do not think I will use often. Yet, several years ago I was excited to come across a mid-80’s Conair Air Popper. It reminded me of a Christmas when my grandfather used his new gift to pop corn for my cousins and me. I kept the popper for years even though I don’t really like popcorn and have only eaten it a handful of times in the last two decades. I buy used children’s record albums that are warped and scratched even though I know they will sound horrible and we could easily listen to the same music on Spotify because I love watching Ezra use our record player, and cringe whenever he is using our computer.
Nostalgia is fantasy, and the idealized past is a very seductive place to raise your child. I realize it is a place that only exists in faulty memories, and a place Ezra can never visit. Instead, he will one day be looking back, with nostalgia, at the 2010s. His memories will more closely reflect those of his friends’ childhoods than mine. . . mostly. He might be the only one in his peer group who fondly remembers the exciting day his family bought a microwave.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Who's afraid of quicksand?

Amanda and I both visited the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a National Park near Chicago, as kids. Since it is only a few hours away, I’m sure we will return one day with Ezra and Fable, but unlike their mom and dad, they may not be able to scale Mount Baldy, the most prominent sand dune at the site.

Mount Baldy is temporarily closed. Last summer, a six-year-old boy was swallowed by the 123' dune after investigating a small depression in the sand. The boy was rescued after spending three hours beneath the sand, and scientists are still searching for an explanation to why this happened and how to prevent another similar incident.

When I heard this story I could not imagine a more frightening experience for a child. Sinking in sand was a nightmare come true. I, like all my friends, spent my entire childhood terrified of quicksand. Sand was a dangerous and unpredictable ground covering that should be avoided. Beaches were especially fraught. The only way to avoid sand was to swim in the ocean where you were basically lunch for Jaws. Quicksand was incorporated into our imaginary adventures, how to survive quicksand (don't panic or you will sink faster!) was a common topic of conversation, and all our fictional heroes had at some point faced this peril.

Flashing back to these memories, I realized I have not come across any mention of quicksand in the last 20 years. Is this still on kid’s radar? Are they still afraid of quicksand?

I stumbled across a Radiolab podcast that answers this very question.