Our father who ain’t in heaven

We live in an overwhelmingly religious area. It’s not buckle-on-the-Bible-belt religious — there’s a lot more tolerance than that. But there’s a certain assumption that everybody’s generally with the god-and-church program. That program is a general monotheism in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and anybody in the ballpark gets a pass. The only time I’ve ever seen things turn nasty was when an oddball cult drifted down this way after being pushed out of Sedona by real estate prices. The 49-foot plastic statue of “mother earth” they erected was forcibly torn down after the local mouth-breathers gave enough testimony to fuel a flotilla of First Amendment lawsuits, had the group been so inclined (the cult has its own reasons for staying out of court).

Being (lukewarm) Jewish, my wife gets a pass. But as an atheist, I’m not in the ballpark. Our diverse household makes it a little more interesting not just in social interactions, but also in terms of Tony’s religious upbringing. It’s not that we dwell on religion — quite the contrary — but religious issues pop up in weird ways.

When Tony lost his beloved pink bunny, Mom quickly assured the tyke that the toy was now in heaven with God. Besides being an interesting theological innovation, this left me in a bit of a tight spot. I first conducted an impromptu funeral for the departed plush toy before later, oh-so-gently, and in unrelated circumstances letting Tony know that I don’t believe in gods or an afterlife. He doesn’t seem troubled by the revelation, and I see no reason to make a big issue out of matter.

Not making a big issue of it is important to me. For one thing, religion just doesn’t matter to me in general. I’m not going to have anybody’s zealotry jammed down my throat, but neither am I interested in belittling the sincere beliefs of perfectly nice people who just happen to hold views at odds with my own about humanity’s role in the universe. I was a bit troubled to see the tack taken by one of my wife’s medical school classmates, who is raising her sons in an area as rural as ours, but more rigidly religious. Rather than treat the enthusiastic deism of their neighbors as harmless beliefs that she just doesn’t share, she’s taken to mocking those views, and the intelligence of the people who hold them. I mean, it’s one thing to be proud and open about your beliefs; it’s a bit different to set your kids up for a religious war with everybody else.

For no good reason.

And there usually isn’t a good reason because, unless people plan to turn their views into legislation or jihad, it doesn’t need to matter to me a bit what they believe. As Thomas Jefferson said, “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” If I start looking for unnecessary confrontations with people over religious views they have no interest in foisting on me, then it’s clear that I’m the one who’s a fanatic, or else I’m just a jerk.

So I’ll raise my kid to be a religious skeptic, but respectful of other people’s beliefs. And he’ll eventually come to his own conclusions after hearing from mom, dad and his friends.

On that note, here’s Penn Jillette discussing the same topic:

Stranger Danger … err … Danger

Except for the true fuck-ups among us, who I feel safe in assuming don’t bother to read parenting blogs, we raise our kids in a safe environment surrounded by people who love and indulge, or at least tolerate, the little tykes. That’s a warm and reassuring environment. So I have no excuse for failing to anticipate that pulling my son aside, placing a hand on his shoulder and warning him that some of the adults he encounters in his daily life may want to kidnap him, eviscerate his corpse and wear his skull for a hat might cause a bit of upset.

Tony loved Tae Kwon Do at first, but after about two weeks he started to complain that he didn’t feel well when it was time for class — the usual vague and morphing symptoms you get from a five-year-old trying to get out of doing something. My wife and I pressed him, and sure enough, he still liked Tae Kwon Do — but the brief “stranger danger” portion of the class scared the shit out of him.

We’d briefly addressed “stranger danger” at home, but I didn’t push it because I think it’s overdone. Yes, I want Tony to be cautious of strangers, but the fact is that kids are usually victimized by family and friends, not random predators on the street. So we’ve told him not to get in cars with strangers, not to let people touch him in ways that make him feel uncomfortable, and similar warnings, all handled with a light touch.

His Tae Kwon Do teacher also touches — gently and reassuringly it seemed to me — on stranger danger. He raises a few scenarios, emphasizes that most strangers are good people, and reminds the kids that the techniques they’re learning are just-in-case skills that can help them in the unlikely event that anything bad happens.

The teacher doesn’t talk about it in every class and he doesn’t beat the kids over  the head with the issue, but somehow his take on “stranger danger” triggered fears that mine didn’t.  Tony has been dreading the next warning about monsters in human form roaming the streets of his once-safe world.

Well, I can’t undo what has been done, I can’t change the Tae Kwon Do school’s curriculum, and I wouldn’t completely neglect these warnings anyway. So my wife and I found ourselves exploiting a new and unexpected teaching moment.

Fear of “stranger danger” became an opportunity to talk to Tony about the things that have scared us in the past, but which we did anyway because they were worth doing. They’re worth doing because we end up enjoying them, or because we get something out of them that’s worth enduring the jitters. It’s OK to be scared, we said, and being brave means being scared and doing something worthwhile anyway.

That seemed to do the trick. Tony is still scared of “stranger danger” but he’s on-board with the idea that Tae Kwon Do is worth the occasional moment of discomfort. Good for us for pulling a small victory out of our lack of foresight.

Someday, I’ll find a way to explain to Tony that his old man is usually too stupid to know when he should be scared.

Dress for (childhood) success

My son, Tony’s charter school has a … well … uniform suggests that it’s stricter than it is, and dress code sounds a bit looser than reality. Let’s call it a sort-of uniform. He has to wear khaki or navy shorts or chinos, red, white or blue polos with the school logo, or white button-downs. It’s the U.S. flag, rendered in separates, plus khaki — patriotism, as set off by a neutral tone. The “uniform” is sufficiently generic and locally popular enough that everybody from Wal-Mart to Old Navy to local shops has a section set aside that meets the requirements, and several businesses in town can handle embroidering the logo on the polos.

I can remember a time in my distant youth when the idea of a school dress code, let alone a uniform, would have set my anarchistic heart a-boil. How dare those fascist bastards tell students what to wear!

But that was before I watched a generation of tweens adopt garb that made Times Square hookers look tastefully attired. I’m sorry, but “cameltoe”‘ should not be visible on a 12-year-old girl. And I know that I’m a bit behind the times, but I stubbornly maintain that boys on their way to … anywhere … shouldn’t flash underwear between the boundaries of their wife-beaters and their baggy shorts.

So screw my old black-flaggish sentiments and bring on the polos and chinos. Or, more accurately, watch as I choose to associate with people and institutions who maintain slightly higher standards. And good for them if they still fly the black flag.

Methinks the bunny could use a jacket

Dad and the kid get ready for a nice-casual dinner

It’s not just school — my wife and I are raising Tony to present himself better than seems to be the norm today in the world around us. I’ve been to weddings — and not casual affairs either — where people showed up in jeans (and acted like barbarians). I’d like Tony to recognize that as unacceptable unless specifically invited to dress down by the hosts (the behavior is another matter — he doesn’t ever get to carry on like a Vandal sacking Rome). And I’ve been to nice restaurants where clods showed up wearing t-shirts and shorts and got bent out of shape when they were tucked in by the kitchen. I want Tony to reflexively shy away from doing that because he sees it as disrespectful to the other guests and the establishment (as well as making him look like an idiot).

Manners have to match. That means simple courtesy (really, how hard is it to say “please” and “thank you”?) and a generally respectful attitude toward the people he meets. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to memorize the difference between a fish fork and a … ummm … OK, well at least I know there’s such a thing as a fish fork.  But basic table manners are required as part of our small effort to keep the next dark age at bay for one more generation.

Yeah, I know that I risk stirring up a hornets nest by suggesting that anybody should show a little concern for the people around them and put their best foot forward at anytime, anywhere. That’s tough. I guess I’m just a rigid son of a bitch.

Tony has a P.J. O'Rourke moment at a formal event

To achieve our ends, good behavior is just the expected norm in our house and we’ve treated dressing well as a pleasure. Even at five, Tony has two sport coats — one linen and the other cotton. He picked out his own bow tie and his neck tie. He doesn’t have to dress up, he gets to dress up for restaurants, weddings and other slightly (or very) special occasions.

And it has worked so far. He particularly favors the bow tie.

It’s not like we’re dolling him up like Little Lord Fauntleroy. He mostly wears t-shirts and shorts during the summer and pull-overs and long pants during the cooler weather. But there’s an understanding that nicer clothes is appropriate for nicer occasions. And that it’s respectful (and enjoyable) to wear those clothes. I think that’s a fair standard to maintain.

We’re not breaking the bank to do this, either. His linen jacket cost twelve bucks on a remainder rack and the chino jacket set us back another twenty (mom did indulge him on the ties, though). I also made sure he has a decent pair of brown, lace-up shoes in the rotation — they don’t cost any more than velcro, though they’re getting harder to find. He was proud when he learned to tie them all by himself, too. It’s not exactly black tie, but it sets a decent tone for a kid his age.

I have no illusions that Tony will happily stick to the program throughout his life. He’ll hit his teen years and he’ll rebel. But at least we’re giving him a decent starting point for that rebellion.

Try not to dwell too much on the future

I’m reading Conspiracies of Rome by Richard Blake. It’s one of those rare books set in ancient Rome after the western Roman Empire has fallen. The protagonist, Aelric, is a Briton sent to Rome in 609 to make copies of books to benefit the monasteries and church schools in his home country. Upon reaching the old imperial city, he wanders depopulated streets filled with rubble, poverty and faded glory. It’s a fascinating book in its own right, but especially so since I’ve also been reading the Marcus Didius Falco series of books by Lindsey Davis, which is set in first-century Rome, when the city was wealthy and functioning.

The maintenance staff unionized, didn't they?

Will a future artist capture the rubble of New York as well as Canaletto portrayed the ruins of Rome? Will the paintings just look like the Rotten Apple in the '70s?

In the Davis books, Falco is explicitly portrayed as a plebeian — a cash-strapped commoner. But the carefully researched stories portray him bathing daily, eating Spanish olive oil and other imported foods, enjoying access to entertainments from around the world and generally living comfortably by historical standards, if not at a 21st century level.

Over five centuries later, Aelric rents rooms at an inn chosen, in part, because it’s one of the rare establishments that still has running water. He walks the same Forum that Falco walked, but sees it packed with mud and filled with broken statues. The temples that Falco once viewed with a cynical eye have been stripped of their marble and gold leaf, the Colosseum that Falco watched being built has already had its heyday and is now abandoned. The sewers are clogged, the aqueducts broken and the population a fraction of its former height, devastated by the long decline and collapse of the West, the city’s reconquest by the now-Constantinople-based empire, disease, invasion …

Although the protagonists in both Blake’s and Davis’s books are fictional characters, I can’t help but imagine the descendants of the first-century Falco and his patrician girlfriend, illiterate, hungry and scratching in the dirt, staring at the visiting barbarian Aelric, himself a descendant of the people who smashed Roman civilization in Britain.

And the contrast between the two visions of Rome inevitably makes we wonder what lies in store for my son, Tony, and his children, and so on. What world will they live in as the generations go forward? Because nothing lasts forever. The country in which I now live will, one day, fall or be pushed aside just as Rome was, suffering the fate of all civilizations. There will, once again, be war, poverty, ignorance …

No, I don’t have a crystal ball. I just have a knowledge of history and how it tends to repeat itself. Of course, my history books will one day lie rotting, just like the scrolls Aelric tries to salvage, and the Internet connection I’m using now will likely suffer the same fate as the Roman aqueducts, which were smashed for tactical advantage and left useless because nobody had the resources to rebuild.

And then, after that, a renaissance will start, as some new civilization rises up.

There’s a fair chance, since I’ve already reproduced, that my descendants will be mixed up in all of that decline, turmoil and rebirth as the generations pass. Does it surprise you to know that I’ve had the 3 a.m. horrors worrying that my great-great-whatever may have to dig through garbage heaps in the ruins?

But that’s always been the case, hasn’t it? The option is to toss the dice and trust your descendants to deal with what life throws their way, or else to bow out of the game entirely. I almost bowed out, but ultimately didn’t. All I can do now is to hand Tony the tools and confidence he’ll need to deal with what comes his way, and hope that he’ll do the same in turn should he have children of his own.

This afternoon, I’m taking him to his Tae Kwon Do class. It’s a small thing, but he enjoys the running and kicking and blocks, even if he has no idea he’s picking up the fundamentals of unarmed self-defense, self-discipline and physical fitness. Lots of small things like that can really add up.

Of course, he’s getting trained to kick my ass, if he ever so desires, so my personal fall may come a little sooner than the next sack of Rome.

If he can take me.

Which tribe are you?

I’ve written before about the tribal impulse among people. By that I mean the tendency to flock with those like ourselves and to turn — sometimes savagely — against the “other” that threatens our alike-hood. Well, I’m as susceptible to tribalism as the next person, provided the next person is also as much at home at truck stops as at the opera. Well … maybe I’m a little less tribal than some people. But, I’ll tell you, nothing brings out the instinct to circle the wagons and repel the outsiders like spawning.

It started as an effort to meet people we could just talk to. Most of our friends are (and are likely to remain) childless, and as much as we continue to enjoy their company, there’s a certain disconnect between parents and those who still eat late dinners and keep fragile objects within reach of sticky little hands. Of course, meeting people we could talk to soon became meeting people with whom we’d want to talk, and off to the races we went, building our tribe.

I’m not trying to imply that our tribal quest is a bad thing — in fact, it’s a natural thing. If you’re going to build connections with people, you need to have something in common, and that something seems to become a bit particular when the wee ones are involved. It’s odd how extreme that quest can become once kids enter the picture.

I don’t really know how we’ve done it, but somehow, in small-town Arizona, we’ve managed to build connections with several other families of late-spawning, well-educated, reasonably cosmopolitan types. Given the propensity for even the local gentry to venture no further than Phoenix to acquire necessary educational credentials before returning home to breed as quickly as possible and never again venture beyond the familiar, this is quite a coup.

Most (though not all) of our new friends are, therefore, not originally from around here. They’re college-educated, in their late thirties and forties, with young children. They have cultural interests, are generally secular-ish, or at least comfortable in a room full of secular types. One has a picture on his wall of a well-known bar in which I used to imbibe in New York City, and can not only quote the drink prices, but also evoke the spicy mustard they keep on the tables. At least two, quite serendipitously, have political views similar to my own.

They are, in fact, a hell of a lot more like us than are our pre-breeding friends. Before having kids, I chose my amigos because they were enjoyable people to know for a variety of reasons, including outdoorsiness, wit, good hearts and the ability to be in one another’s company without engaging in violent conflict. Now it all seems to be about finding fairly narrowly defined versions of ourselves, with the connections largely driven by reproductive choices.

It’s freaky, not consciously planned, and yet I can’t claim that this just dropped into my lap.

Tribalism really is natural — so natural that, once a kid is in the picture, you don’t immediately realize that your instincts are pushing you to huddle with a like-minded herd.

Culinary Interlude: Caponata … err … ratatouille

I love food — Mediterranean-sourced food in particular (though I won’t turn down anything tasty no matter where it’s from). And one of life’s great mysteries is: Is ratatouille or caponata the better dish?

The answer of course is “yes.”

Actually, sometimes when I start cooking, I’m not sure whether I’m on my way to making caponata or ratatouille. Either the celery and sugar gets added, or it doesn’t. And maybe I reach for green olives and find calamatas instead. It’s OK — everybody wins either way. Since I tend to split the difference between caponata and ratatouille, a purist might take issue with my recipe, but I’m willing to bet they’re both descended from some dish ancient Romans served up way back when (the preparation of which no doubt involved heated arguments in Latin over the proper recipe), as translated through 2,000 years and shifting regional tastes.

Baked ratatouille topped with an egg and fresh basil. Nobody will know you've been repurposing the same batch of stewed veggies for days.

Here’s my take on caponata:

1 eggplant (diced into 1/2-inch cubes)
2 zucchini (diced into 1/2-inch cubes)
1 cup diced celery
1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 large tomato (chopped)
1/2 cup sliced good-quality large green olives
1 tbs drained capers
1 tbs tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
healthy splash of red wine vinegar
Pinch of oregano, fresh or dried
salt and pepper to taste

Dice and salt the eggplant in a collander (more ritual at this point than anything — I haven’t had a bitter eggplant in years).

While the eggplant does its thing, saute the celery in 2 tbs of olive oil until it softens. Add the onion and garlic and saute that until it softens and gets a bit brown.

Empty the celery-onion-garlic mixture into a large bowl.

Add about a quarter-cup of olive oil to the pan and saute the eggplant and zucchini cubes.

Add the celery-onion-garlic mixture to the pan, along with the chopped tomato, capers, vinegar, sugar, tomat0 paste, oregano and olives.

Let the combined ingredients simmer for about 20 minutes — covered at first, and then uncovered for the last five minutes (use your judgment, based on the amount of liquid present, since you want this to thicken).

If you leave out the celery, vinegar  and sugar, add two chopped roasted red bell peppers, swap the green olives for calamatas or no olives and replace the oregano with basil or thyme, you have more of a ratatouille.

I like making big frigging batches of this stuff, because I get a lot of mileage out of it. I serve it as a side dish, on rice or on pasta. But one of my favorite presentations is to spoon the stuff into ramekins, crack an egg over the top, drizzle on a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and bake the ramekins until the eggs set. Top with fresh basil, add bread and salad and get ready to impress the assembled diners with your artful leftovers.

Oh yeah. And the best thing about caponata/ratatouille? My kid loves it. Especially with the egg over the top.

Kindergarten commences

Tony started kindergarten last week, which partially explains my disappearance of late. Actually, last week was optional kindergarten “camp,” during which his teacher had the students come in before school officially started, to get them accustomed to the facilities and the routine before the big kids arrived and completely freaked them out — a scheme that seems to have worked, since the little beastie worked through his usual social shakes and extreme shyness in the first few days.

This week, Tony is doing fine — better than his dad, who is trying to figure out just how to manage his new schedule. With roughly three hours between dropping Tony off and picking him up, I’m finding much of the AM consumed by my compulsive workouts. Yes, I’m a bit of a body nazi, and I’m not giving that up. Let’s call it therapy.

Afternoons … Well, I’m trying to not settle into too much of a routine.  I want to leave days flexible so we can have fun and explore whatever comes our way — or just get chores done, such as weeding when the tumbleweeds threaten to engulf the house. Yesterday, we started out just running the dogs, but diverted from our usual route to eyeball the 800-years-old stone ruins of an Indian village that occupy a hill not far from our house. That led to a discussion about why the Sinagua Indians disappeared and where they probably went.  I’m a bit of a lost civilizations buff myself, and I see the glimmerings of that in Tony, in addition to curiosity about this particular set of ruins and the people who once lived there.

Today is different — a drive up to Flagstaff to have lunch with a buddy of mine. Of course it’s educational — Tony will be learning the value of chatting with friends over a glass of wine. I don’t want him to be a workaholic, y’know.

Fear of scheduling

I had planned to write before now — really and truly I did — but it took me days to recover from the whirl-wind pace set by my sister and my mother on the East Coast. Before we ever set foot among the too-verdant greenery in the vicinity of the nation’s capital, a week-and-a-half-long itinerary had already been established. My son and I just hung on and hoped for the best. If I listen closely, I’m pretty certain I can hear Tony cry out from the depths of his nap: “No! Please! Not another museum …”

Which is as good a lead-in as any to some musing about parenting style. I’ve never really bothered too much with a formal parenting philosophy — oh sure, I know all about helicopter parenting and the reaction it has sparked in the form of free-range parenting — but I just raise my kid as best I can and don’t worry excessively about what I’m supposed to do.

And my sister is restrained as far as well-educated, urban eastern parents go. She and her husband are pretty laid-back and don’t push their kids to excel, excel, excel. They let them have a good time and do things they enjoy.

But there always seems to be something scheduled. Karate lessons, soccer practice, music lessons, nature camp … And that, of course, is the daily stuff, aside from the very full agenda presented to visiting relatives upon their arrival in the state.

Prodded by my son’s fatigue and growing resistance to planned activities, I was about to mutiny at the end of the week, until it was clear that one of my nephews would mutiny, too, if Tony and I skipped miniature golf in favor of gasping for breath for an hour or two. That ran the risk of ending the visit with a round of recriminations, which I preferred to skip. So off we went, and in fact we had a good time.

But what would we have done by choice …?

Some parents seem to think that an unscheduled afternoon is a lost opportunity, while others think an unscheduled afternoon is a blank slate that can become whatever a kid’s imagination wishes. There’s a certain amount of truth in both approaches, I’m sure. But where my sister prefers more formal activities, with a few hours for fun-with-Legos, I prefer to keep the calendar relatively uncluttered and let Tony fill more time with books and three-way battles among Spider Man, dinosaurs and Jedi Knights.

Part of the difference in styles, I think, has to do with our respective communities. Kids still roam free around me, while meet-ups with friends usually have to be scheduled in my sister’s town. My son and my younger nephew are still too young to be wandering the streets solo, anyway, but the different tones are already set by the culture around us. When kids are unlikely to bump into opportunities for play on their own, the calendar becomes a necessity; if kids wander of their own accord, there’s no reason to fret about playdates.

We talked about that difference in our communities, which led me to ask my mother when I first was trusted out on my own. After a little discussion, we realized that I was darting down the block from our apartment building in the small-ish city of White Plains, New York, crossing the street, and amusing myself with whatever friends I met by the time I was seven or so (my father, in his youth, was tossed out the door of his Bronx apartment at the same age and forbidden to return before dinner).

Oddly, my mother is the uber-scheduler these days.

So, if you live in a community of helicopter-style parents (to use modern terminology), or even just schedulers, you’re likely to become a bit of a scheduler yourself out of sheer necessity. A more free-range environment opens things up a bit.

With the exception of the extremes, I think any well-intentioned approach is likely to end up in a happy and positive childhood, so long as it takes any given child’s individual inclinations and needs into account. That is, there’s no one “right” approach to parenting, so long as you don’t go nuts and/or ignore what your own kids are telling you.

But adjusting to other approaches, however successful they are, can be … exhausting.

Please. No more goddamned museums.

A-wandering I shall go

I’ll be on the East Coast until the end of the month, escaping the desert heat by stepping into a swamp. I plan to post while I’m on the road, but I’ll be on a whenever-it-happens schedule.

This also means that I may be a bit slow to approve comments. Be patient. I’ll soon be along with a mojito in my hand.

To breed or not to breed

Jennifer Senior’s New York magazine piece on “why parents hate parenting ” (hint: in general, it makes them less happy than non-parents) has generated plenty of buzz. It’s a well-written article, full of interesting insights, but I’ll be damned if I understand why an analysis of the down-side of squeezing out yard apes strikes many people as such a revelation after so many generations of first-hand experience.

It’s not like having kids is a recent fad with unforeseen consequences.

The key insight in the article is this: “From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it’s more of a mystery than one might think.” The reason for the mystery quickly becomes clear, as Senior summarizes the rather copious research on the subject of having kids and the effects of breeding on those of us who engage in the activity:

As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns. But some of the studies are grimmer than others. Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.

In past generations, when kids were your labor force, your disability insurance and your retirement plan, all rolled into one gooey and then pimply package, the stresses of having children could be balanced against the pragmatic advantages of having mini-mes roaming around, tied to you by bonds of law and culture.

But today? Today, every dollar put into raising a child is a dollar that doesn’t go into the 401K — or into the new entertainment system, for that matter. Having kids is purely optional, and an expensive option at that. So why do so many people still do it?

In fact, as Senior explains, parenting is, in many ways, more stressful than it once was — probably because it is so completely optional these days. According to one study, parents today spend just nine hours alone together each week versus 12 hours as recently as 1975. The TV series “Mad Men” has stirred interest in the way children of the 1960s are portrayed — largely in the background, and expected to stay out of the way. But while the show puts its own spin on reality, there’s no doubt that kids in the past were much less a focus of familial attention than today’s wee tots who barely have time to catch a breath between their Spanish tutor and piano class. All that modern effort to craft the perfect offspring is likely a bit more stress-inducing than even our great-grandparents’ dilemma over whether having ten kids was enough to make sure that eight survived to work in the fields.

From an economic necessity, child-rearing has now become the equivalent of that meticulously detailed landscape your odd uncle built in his basement around his HO-scale model trains.

Senior’s conclusion is that modern first-world people (because much of the world is still at the labor-force stage of parenting) continue to have children, though at a much-reduced rate compared to the past, because if parenting isn’t necessarily enjoyable, it’s still rewarding.

But there’s a major point that our thoughtful author is missing: A great many people aren’t thoughtful at all.

Oh sure, Manhattan is infested with people who plot against each other for placement in the right nursery schools, and for them, parenting their one perfect child (who is destined to grow up to be a highly talented basket case) is certainly rewarding, in a twisted and obsessive way. But for much of the population, bearing children really seems to come as something of a surprise, to be dealt with only when the unanticipated new arrival explodes from their groins and skitters across the salty snacks aisle at Wal-Mart.

Where’d that come from?

And some of us … Some of us arrived at our current status through a deal-making process of negotiation that completely missed the big picture and, in retrospect, seems almost as arbitrary and ill-considered as the “where’d that come from?” surprise that animates so many of the parents of my wife’s patients (as their disturbingly earnest kin assure them that “every child is a blessing”).

Jennifer Senior’s article thoughtfully points to the competing considerations many people face when deciding whether or not to have children. I wonder, though, if she gives us too much credit in assuming that actual reasoning is necessarily involved.

Some of us, anyway.

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