It’s a mistake

Over my recent vacation to Canada to introduce our new baby to family we had one of those frightening moments.  He was sitting next to me on the sofa as I was watching him play with a toy.  Thus far he had been a pretty stationary baby.  He was starting to move more and I was paying more attention to him so he didn’t fall.  My aunt asked me a question and I turned my head and just like that I hear people yell out and I turned my head back to see him dive onto the floor, landing head first, his head bending backwards.  I picked up quickly and held him close, his cry was different.  My wife then grabbed him from me, not because she was mad at me (I think) but just her own motherly need to hold him.  I was on the verge of tears.  My head was swimming with thoughts that I had broken his spine and he’d be paralyzed or that I had caused some other brain damage…perhaps even fatal.  Thankfully he was fine, although if he gets a B in math class I’m sure I’ll feel responsible.

In reflection I thought about how quickly such horrible tragedies can happen.  What if the fall had been a bit harder?  Hit a different part of the head?  At times, life seems to be a matter of fractions of seconds and millimeters (inches for my American friends). It made me think about some recent stories I read about parents who have lost their children.   Earlier this year a bookcase killed a 3 year old girl as she tried to climb it and it tipped over killing her.  These kinds of things happen often enough now that we should be more aware, but there are literally a lot of possible dangers out there and I am not sure it’s possible to prepare for every one of them.   Very recently, footage at a London train station showed a baby carriage blowing onto the tracks as the parents stopped to help someone with their bags.  Fortunately the mother was able to get the carriage off the tracks in time, but the stroller literally gets turned by the gust of wind caused by the approaching train and quickly ends up on the tracks.   There is nothing remarkably different about these two events other than some fortune in spotting the trouble before it was too late.  I am sure there are many more parents who have been fortunate that a similar accident has not killed the child only injured them.  Or perhaps they caught the impending accident in time by catching something before it fell or moving the child out of harm’s way.  Perhaps when the child was a little younger and lighter, or the bookcase a little heavier they saw it teeter a bit and said “Hey, I should secure that.”  The positive outcome is most often the outcome.   Children can take more bumps and bruises than we think, and tears are often temporary.  No child dies from crying no matter how much we don’t want to see those tears.  But we simply can’t predict or foresee all possible dangers.

These two incidents and the one I experienced are good examples of how habit influences our lives.  We often get used to routine and what we consider as usual that we don’t take into account the unexpected.  After 7 months of my son not trying to roll off the couch you come to sort of expect that it won’t happen, even if that seems stupid in hindsight.  I am sure the parents who lost their daughter to the falling shelves, never thought she would try to climb it, or never had seen her try before.  I’m sure all of us who are regular train travelers are well aware of the gust of wind that rushes ahead of a train, especially in an enclosed station.  How many of us might think about how that wind might push a stroller?

The routine can even lead to more unfathomable mistakes.  Such as not realizing your child is in the car seat behind you and leaving them in a hot car for hours.  If you are a parent or just a compassionate person it takes just a second to imagine what the infant must have gone through.  There is no way your mind can take you through that slow death.  You will hit a wall before it gets really terrible and all you know is that unspeakable darkness comes after.

These incidents unfortunately also end up serving as a reminder of the lack of compassion that is so visible in society today.  The comments that people make to these parents are truly horrifying.  Scores of “perfect parents” who think they’ve done everything right and would never make the mistakes these parents did.  These perfect parents are calling for the gallows instead of realizing that the person you are criticizing is in a massive amount of pain.  If it could be displayed as a physical wound it would be a chest wound to the heart with the patient ending up in the intensive care unit in critical condition.   And how “perfect” are these parents anyway? Have these parents never had their kid fall? Driven over the speed limit with their kid?  Driven in a busy city with their kid?  Have they never lost their kid in a crowd?  Have their kid’s sweaty hand slip from their grip in a dangerous situation?  Did they never have to watch their kid after having a couple of drinks, perhaps affecting their judgment or reaction time?  There are more possibly dangerous scenarios than I can list, and the fact that nothing ever happened to them during that time is the only reason they are not one of these tragic stories.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are terrible parents out there.  There are parents who do unspeakably horrible things to their children, or who are just irresponsible and are neglectful to their children causing them great harm, mentally, physically, and sometimes fatally.  It is actually the harm to children that led me away from the idea of their being a loving deity out there, but perhaps that is a post for another time.  The point is that the death of a child is always a horrible thing regardless of how it happens and so it is understandable that we would get angry.  That feeling, however, does not give us the right to lash out at other people in pain.  We all make mistakes, and many of them go unnoticed because nothing bad ever comes close to happening while we are making them.  You want to get angry, direct that energy into something useful; education, better safety standards, helping others.

These perfect parents, even if it were possible often sound like the kind of parent who hovers over their kid, never letting them play just because they might get a bruised knee and keeping them so far from danger that they are more likely to get brought down by the simplest things in their adult life because they’ve never had to cope on their own.  And here’s the rub – as parents we must walk that thin line between protecting our children and giving our children the freedom to overcome their own obstacles in life.  Children need to face fear, and they need to solve their own problems and make mistakes while doing it.  Children also need their parents to be good people, and not just good guardians.  The London couple helping out somebody with their baggage is a great act of kindness that kids need to see.  If you think that you are a positive individual who is a good role model for your children then part of you must continue to be the person you’ve always been.  Kids may take over your life, but you are not your kids.  You have your own identity and, again, if you value yourself then part of being a good parent is just being what you think is a good human being (good luck in getting an agreement on that anytime soon).

Finally, I want to quickly express my concern for the trend in wanting to criminalize every parent for these mistakes.  All the details of the case rarely get reported and unless you are intimately involved in the case you really don’t know the truth.  Furthermore, even though many parents do not face criminal charges thankfully for these horrific mistakes, some do simply because they don’t have what society considers having a “good character”.   Maybe you occasionally do some marijuana, maybe you flirt a little with other girls or had an affair. Maybe you just aren’t a rich white person.

All I can tell you is that had my son truly been severely injured or killed in his fall, I can guarantee you that no prison would have walls stronger than the one I would have built for myself.  Nothing you could say would be harsher than what I would be telling myself.  I will guarantee you that you do not love your child any more than I do and though your negative judgment would be despicable, I would still never wish on you such pain in my anguish.  So if you can’t direct your anger and sadness to the loss of a sweet child into something helpful at the very least remember the golden rule, which I hope you are teaching your children, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine

There are some topics which completely perplex me, and this is certainly one of them. It seems strange to me for many reasons why people subscribe to the

From http://www.hydramag.com

possibility of the world ending in a sudden almighty purge.  This post has been a long time coming and I am sure I will not blow many people’s minds with anything I say here, but I will try to address the topic a more serious tone rather than the rant I feel like doing.

This post was prompted by an article my colleague quite humorously ranted about on Facebook about the blood moon being an indication of the end of the world. I quote: “People, it’s a freaking rock, orbiting a slightly wetter rock, orbiting a hot mess called the Sun! Shadows happen!” This end of the world prediction is just one in another line of many that have been made in human history. This Wikipedia listing gives a pretty good run down of whom and when end of the world predictions were made and you can see that there are around 150 listed in addition to ones that are supposed to still happen.  I am also sure there have been many more in human history that have not been documented. Most rational people would wonder why anyone would still buy into any more predictions about the end of the world when none of them have come true before. You know the whole “fool me once shame on you, fool me 150 times…” But it’s not enough to say well it’s obvious that these people with apocalyptic imaginations are wrong, the fact that they keep popping up should tell us that there is something in our psychology that causes some people to subscribe to such scenarios.

I read an interesting article in a great journal called Daedalus called Apocalypse and The End of Time by Richard Fenn who tried to analyze a lot of the commonalities between end of the world predictions and what societal influences seem to make them most likely. These are some of the things he came up with:

  • Many apocalyptic predictions come from people who feel society is in moral decay. This can arise from greater secularism in society, or because one culture feels that they are being influenced by an outside culture. Both of these represent cultural shifts in which an old way is being replaced by a new way.
  • Decreased economic conditions and oppression (or perceived oppression as is often the case by more religious zealots).
  • A fear of change in general. The young , people who think for themselves, and in more patriarchal societies, women all can represent a change to a current way of life.

Of course many of these things are interrelated and I think we can easily see how many of these things boil down simply to change and our inability to deal with an increasingly complex world. Thus it is not completely surprising to me that those who are more prone to believing in a fixed set of rules that govern the universe which are immutable and prescribed by the supernatural are also more likely to subscribe to end of the world predictions. As a scientist, to me change seems natural and inevitable and though some change is less pleasant than others I hope that the world will be propelled forward more than it is pulled backward.

For those who know me, you also know how fascinated I am with the subject of time, and, to me, time is also the study of change. Thus it comes as no surprise that Fenn argues that the apocalyptic imagination is an attempt to move away from the passage of time. With this timelessness we also lose change. We also lose individuality. Many of the apocalyptic prophecies involve the destruction of corrupting influences and the preservation of those who fit a prescribed moral code, merging with the one true God. Thus this desire for end times also perhaps plays to our psychological desire to remove complexity from the world to some harmonious state of peace in which nothing is changing and everyone is like everybody else.

And I can understand this desire.

There are plenty of times in which I wish I could freeze a moment and time and make it last longer. There are times in which I wish the world wasn’t so difficult, that there was no pain and suffering, and that I didn’t have to argue and fight.  This of course is fantasy. And fantasy has its place and I believe we need it from time to time to stay sane. Adhering to a fantasy for a prolonged length of time, however, is insanity. More importantly we should not forget that there is real beauty in change. The fact that I am an example of change, from a fertilized cell to a grown 40 year old man, that I have strived to learn and grow wiser and more moral with time, indicates that change can be a good thing. Change is inevitable, so let’s not fight change, let’s keep fighting to make things better. We still have a long way to go.

Wonderful thoughts

I consider my first love, a girl who did not even love my back and who didn’t know how I felt.  It’s not the same, and I’m not going to even claim that it was as intense as the first time I fell in love with someone who was in love with me, but this girl changed my life.  Before I met her, I never even dreamed someone so beautiful would talk to me, and more importantly that I would have the confidence to talk to her.  I had a lot of self-esteem issues growing up and that may surprise some who have only known me in my 30’s and it took me a long time to even have the nerve to even ask a girl out.  I didn’t do that until I was 18.  She was very kind, said she felt flattered but that she had a boyfriend.  Of course I was disappointed, but it gave me some confidence. I then went on my first date at the age of 19.  I was a mess on that date, and she didn’t want to date again, but it was another confidence builder.  Yes it took me until the age of 20 to even have the nerve to really talk to a girl I found that beautiful like a normal human being.  We became friends though, and she had a boyfriend at the time and so it was really inappropriate for me to really express my feelings anyway.  And she was extremely beautiful and I don’t regret at all that I didn’t express myself because if you can’t also be friends with someone you find attractive than you have no business getting into relationships anyway.  Because of her I gained so much belief in myself it’s hard to describe.  And she is out there with absolutely no idea what she did for me, and I will forever feel grateful to her.

Stories of my boring early love life is not the point of this post, but what is the point is that we all have these kinds of memories.

From http://the07.deviantart.net

Incidents and people that touched our lives and trajectories have moved us apart without them ever knowing how they changed us.  It doesn’t always have to be a positive experience.  It could be negative at the time, but upon reflection we learned the right lesson from it.  It could be an acquaintance sharing a tale of woe and from that we have an extra piece of knowledge that may help us avoid that situation in the future, hurling us on a different trajectory than we otherwise would have taken.  These moments can happen so briefly and the other person has no idea the changes they’ve caused in you. And who knows, some of these small moments may even plant the seeds of greater change.

As I reflect on these people and these moments it makes life feel absolutely amazing because if I’m feeling a bit down on myself, feeling a bit invisible, or feeling smaller than I like in the vast universe, I remember that I also do not know what impact I might have had on others.  Whether I have been at my best or at worst I still may have helped someone grow, change, lead a better life.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to know, but given how people have changed me without them knowing, I don’t know need to know exactly, I can simply be confident that at least some people out there have benefitted by my existence.  I think that as long as I keep trying each day to be more than I am, then good things will always happen.  And it’s good to know that at 40, I’m still an optimist at heart. 🙂

Just a number

I hit that age on this past Sunday.  The big 4-0.  I celebrated in in a fashion that can be best described as lame.  But more aptly as a new parent, in the middle of the semester with work to do.  I relaxed,  had some delicious waffles and stayed in my pajamas most of the day except when I had to go take out the garbage.  Normally I do that in pajamas too, but it was cold and the snow was a bit deep. 🙂

The age I am sure doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it did to my parents or my grandparents.  There is a good chance it will not be on average the half way point to the end.  We stand on the precipice of some amazing advances in science (as perhaps anybody could say I suppose from any time) that may allow us to live longer lives.  Society makes a big deal of round numbers in our base 10 numbering system.  Personally I think perfect squares would have been a numerically more satisfying way to mark off “big” birthdays.  You have a lot of them while you are young, but thankfully get much further apart as you get older.  So I’ve decided to fear the age 49 instead. 🙂  Society tells me there is something special about 40 so I thought it was a good time to reflect and so I gave in to society and tried to take a look at my life.

The reality is that today is only a few days different from when I was in my 30’s and honestly I loved my late 30’s.  There is a certain peacefulness that comes in your late 30’s when you’ve sort of experienced a good portion of the crap that life throws at you so that it doesn’t really throw you for a loop anymore.  Things unexpected happen, but I guess you just learn to expect the unexpected.  Things don’t seem quite as hard.

When I was a teenager I saw the person I wanted to be, but I felt like that person was trapped inside.  It was only once I moved away from home and took my own path in life that the person I wanted to be has come out.  I think I’ve become that person, but I am better than what I envisioned because when I was a teenager I saw that person as an endpoint.  But for any human being who walks through the world there is no end to the journey.  You will always change. At least you always should.  Most importantly I’ve learned how to see the ways in which I want to be better and have the patience to realize that these things don’t happen overnight.  I have given myself the identity of an unfinished project and that is who I always will be.  Because I’m comfortable with that, I think that has given me the ability to enjoy the moment that always worry about the future.

Of course just having a child gives one much more pause for that.  I am sure there are many at my age who are close to seeing their children move out into the world on their own.  For me that journey is just beginning.  In some ways it’s tiring to think about.  Thinking about how old I’ll be when my son graduates high school and all those other landmarks events in a child’s life.  Wondering whether I’ll even see grandchildren if my son chooses to have children and if he waits as long as I do.  But mostly it’s rejuvenating.  At 40 I get to see through the eyes of the young.  At 40 I am reminiscing about my childhood in ways I have never done before.  And if I wasn’t so sleepy I’d feel so completely young right now. 🙂  I’ve decided though, what does sleepiness have to do with the joy in my heart.  And much of the sleepiness is of my own making.  He is sleeping right now and I could too, and simply wake up with him when he needs fed.  But I love just being able to look at him, to watch him sleep.  To be reminded that there is peacefulness, and the simple joys in this world that we forget far too often.

And there is nothing like having a child that makes you take stock of who you are.  That peacefulness that he represents is because is innocent.  Unaware of hate, and racism, and all the things that make the weight of the world seem so heavy.  His shoulders are completely free of it all.  I think we all know a time will come when that innocence is lost.  I get why people try to preserve it as long as they can.  There are things in life that you cannot unlearn or forget, and so it is almost with envy that I look at my child.  I do not begrudge him though because all will happen in its own time.  And maybe it is only in our eyes that we see them so free of the pain we all carry about the harshness of the world.  But perhaps tears over being hungry or a wet diaper is no different than the tears we shed over death, misery, and tragedy.  Our pain is all relative to what we know.  Nevertheless, knowing what is to come and what he will learn, I must look inward.  Knowing that I will be one of his primary examples of what a man is.  He will learn so much just from watching me.  So I know that I must continue strive to be a better man, because the world needs better men.  Gender inequality still exists in almost all corners of the world and even in the freest of societies.

I shall end this off with the obligatory advice that my 40 years of wisdom has brought me and that is simply to tell you to embrace change.  Take it to heart.  Change is evitable and so if you embrace it, it becomes as comforting and secure as anything else.  Life passes us by when we trade away change for the security of the static and predictable.  Variety is truly the spice of life.  Keep trying new things.  Learn something new.  Get inspired.  You will find that time begins to slow down and then you won’t wake up when day and you’ll be 40 or 50 or 60, because you will have enjoyed each moment.  And remember one of the best ways to enjoy each moment is to make each moment better for others.  I am well aware that I am truly blessed for where I grew up, and the family and friends I have had along the way.  Always share that joy if you have been fortunate enough to have that joy shared with you.

Agrajag: Defenseless

Being in Australia you’re supposed to represent my near future, but your blogging into the wee hours of the morning sounds more like my recent past.  Thank you for your wonderful reply. 🙂

Your post can certainly be about racism as it has been on my mind obviously a lot of late.  Not only the last few days, but ever since the Travyon Martin verdict too.  Not sure if that news story hit Australia, but it was a rather sad case where a 17 year black kid was shot by a Latino man on a neighborhood watch because he thought he look suspicious.  He called the police and the police told him to stand down and that they were on their way.  Instead he went after the kid and when the kid attacked him after a forced confrontation and the guy pulled out a gun and shot the kid, claiming it was self-defense.  While I don’t believe the guy was racist, the judicial system certainly is, not to mention the gun laws in the state of Florida supported this man’s actions and he was acquitted of any wrong doing.  Racism is a fine topic to begin with.  Who knows where we will end? 🙂

I don’t think 24 resilient, thinking humans is going to be enough.   We’d probably be exiled, because that would be the stupid thing to do to your last 24. lol What you describe is the premise for a movie called Idiocracy actually.  Not sure if you’ve seen it.  Basically since non-thinking people seem to be outbreeding the thinkers that in the future the population will be dominated by idiots. lol  It’s quite amusing actually. 🙂

Human babies are quite defenseless.  It is true.  I suppose there could be lots of reasons why.  The first thought that comes to my mind that the simple bonus of having a higher intelligence as an evolutionary advantage allows us a greater variety of options in protecting our young, so the young don’t need to just get ready to flee like a fawn or colt.  In addition the fact that we are social animal means that children are also protected by the community and not just by parents.  Humans developing physical attributes quickly simply wouldn’t have been a necessary adaption.

Defenseless Baby (Photo Credit: http://www.dangerouscreation.com/2009/02/so-innocent-so-defenseless-so-gullible/)

If intelligence was favored by our species then we have the ability to also teach more through communication and personal guidance.  We can communicate more complex thoughts and ideas than other animals, but this learning too takes time and perhaps at the cost of the development of physical skills as well.  I would imagine that a human child growing up in the wild with parents would be more independent than ones growing in a more sedentary lifestyle.  That being said, I think it’s interesting how the helplessness of the human child promotes a more sedentary lifestyle.  I guess we were destined to farm and create civilization.  lol

Guns, Germs, and Steel in addition the Douglas Adams speech that I linked you really are the two things that led me down an intellectual path of looking at society in a completely different way.   They were an intellectual springboard I have to say. 🙂  I completely agree with your statement “that change is the only constant”.  It’s especially a good statement because of its seemingly paradoxical nature. 🙂  And you also expressed it quite beautifully when you were talking about using the physical universe to guide our decisions.  It seems so odd to me that, it is quite fearful to people.  It is grand and always changing and I guess that is the source of fear.  It’s probably the change most likely, because after all God is a fairly grand idea and many people believe in God.  Of course the nature of God has changed throughout history but people prefer to see him constant or unchanging.