The 2015 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro

My history with portable Macs has been all over the place. I started in 2005 with a 15 inch PowerBook G4. In 2007 I upgraded to the ridiculously large 17 inch MacBook Pro. It weighed 6.8 pounds. Yeah. In 2010, in an effort to atone for my sins against gravity, I “downgraded” to a 13 inch “unibody” MacBook Pro (only 4.5 pounds!). In 2012, I got a 13 inch MacBook Air (3 pounds). But way before that, in 2009, I got a Mac Pro tower. A dual quad-core beast of a machine. And I upgraded the heck out of it. I upgraded the video card, upgraded to dual SSDs in RAID-0, upgraded to a PCI-e internally-RAID-0 SSD card, added a Blu-ray drive, bought a 30-inch screen in addition to the 24 I had. I went nuts on this thing. But at six years old, it’s starting to feel its age. It destroys at multithreaded tasks like video encoding, with 16 v-cores. But for single threaded stuff, the GHz weren’t measuring up. The MacBook Air wasn’t really improvement in that regard… it was just massively mobile.

So, last month I decided to upgrade my portable, to a 2015 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.


I’ve enjoyed several of my previous Mac portables, but none so intensely as this.

The form factor

I’ve gone up half a pound from the MacBook Air I was using. And I’ve gained some fractions of an inch in thickness. These haven’t mattered at all. I actually found the knife-sharp front-edge of the MacBook Air to be annoying. Reclining on a couch, it would stab into my stomach, leaving a lovely red line below my belly button. The MacBook Pro has a thicker front edge that feels more comfortable in any position.

The extra weight is only really noticed when I’m carrying the machine around by a corner. In a backpack or a bag, I notice no difference. I wouldn’t call either machine “light” — not in the iPad sense — but neither is either heavy.

The build quality on the MacBook Pro is better than the Air. First, the screen is glass instead of plastic, and the bezel is flush with the screen, whereas it is recessed on the MacBook Air. The recessed screen not the MacBook Air was massively annoying to me, as it collected lots of dust and dirt and lint. The MacBook Pro is easy to keep clean.

Battery life

The battery life is unreal. Apple quotes it as 10 hours. I’ve gotten that. I’ve also gotten more (on a long flight, with Wi-Fi off). I take it places and don’t even consider bringing a power cord. Even if I know I’m going to be using it all day, for serious work. I want Apple to look at the compromises they made for this machine (more weight and more thickness for more battery) and apply them to the iPhone. Let us arrest the tyranny of “thinner, lighter” and actually get devices that last a day.


The SSD on this beast is incredible. It reads and writes at 1.2GB per second. The processor (I went for the 2.7GHz i5, not even the fastest) is quite speedy. I went with the standard 8GB instead of 16GB. It’s plenty, even with running VMs.


This was the first Mac to get the new “Force Touch” trackpad. First know that the previous mechanical MacBook trackpad was probably the best trackpad in the industry. Second, know that the “Force Touch” trackpad absolutely blows the previous one out of the water. The “haptic” click sensation is uncanny. You cannot convince yourself that the pad isn’t clicking. In the Apple store, they showed me two machines, next to each other. One was off, the other on. The off one’s trackpad was a rigid object. The other seemed to bend and delightfully click at my touch. But of course each was moving the same amount (which is to say, almost not at all).

The ability to click anywhere on the trackpad is game-changing. No more lifting your finger and reaching down, or relying on your thumb to rest in a “click-friendly” zone. Glide your finger, and click where ever you end up.


Lastly, the screen on the 13 inch MacBook Pro is phenomenal. Bright, colorful, and super high resolution. You can choose between resolutions. Normally, I choose the 1280×800-equivalent Retina resolution, with perfect pixel doubling. Sometimes, if I need more room for something, I’ll jump into a 1680×1050 mode. Using the fullscreen capabilities most OS X apps now have, I rarely feel cramped.


This is my favorite Mac yet. I find myself taking it everywhere, and I’ve been a lot more productive on it. Don’t be fooled by the outward appearance that seems the same as machines 3 or 4 years old. This is a beast, and it is an absolute delight to use. Highly recommended.

My Sublime Text 3 Packages

I use Sublime Text 3 as my main text editor. It’s fast, keyboard-friendly, and finds a nice balance between a GUI and JSON-driven configuration. But the real power comes from the third party packages you add to customize it. Here are the packages I use:

  • Alignment — Lets me block-align code (so, the equals signs are even, for instance)
  • Better CoffeeScript — CS syntax highlighting and other commands
  • Bracket Highlighter — While over a bracket or parenthesis, it will highlight its matching open/close one
  • DocBlockr — Facilitates inline documentation creation including autocomplete
  • Gist — Lets me publish directly to and puts the URL in my clipboard for code sharing
  • Git — Control a Git repo without leaving the editor
  • Highlight — Enables “copy as RTF” which I use when pasting code examples into Keynote for talks
  • Modific — Highlights changed/added/removed lines in both SVN and Git
  • nginx — Syntax highlighting for Nginx config files
  • Puppet — Syntax highlighting for Puppet files
  • Sass — Sass syntax highlighting
  • SCSS — SCSS syntax highlighting
  • SublimeLinter — Linting as you code… bad PHP, CSS, JS, etc, gets immediately marked for me to fix
  • Theme – Soda — Much nicer looking GUI theme
  • TrailingSpaces — Highlights trailing spaces, and provides commands for removing them
  • WordCount — Tells me how many words, sentences, characters I have

All of these packages can be installed with Package Control. Let me know on Twitter what some of your favorite ST3 packages are!

Tampa eatery explorations, part 1

My wife and I have decided to embark on a tour of all the good places to eat in the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa isn’t particularly the most cultured city out there. It struggles with a lack of a vibrant city center, and a car- and suburb-culture that means most people live in satellite communities, 30 minutes from every other place in the area. Seriously, it’s almost mystical. Even given a linear layout of locations A, B, and C: A will be 30 minutes from B, and B will be 30 minutes from C, but A will also be 30 minutes from C. It’s the least transitive property obeying place on earth. But what Tampa does have a lot of is restaurants. It has a lot of chain restaurants. But it also has local gems. And we are now on a mission to try them all.

So far:

The Refinery — Excellent food and beer selection. Casual hipster vibe. Best if you can get seated outside, on the rooftop patio. Their menu is locally sourced, and changes weekly. I had roasted quail, the best I’ve ever had.

Red Mesa Restaurant — Casual, but with valet parking (huh?). Not much to look at inside. Doesn’t take reservations, but got seated immediately. House margarita is tasty. The food was some of the best Mexican I’ve ever had. The duck enchilada with raspberry sauce was… why am I not there right now?

Fly Bar — A little loud, but otherwise nice atmosphere. The in-house cocktails were delicious, but suspiciously low in alcohol content. Food is tapas style, delicious, and quick to come out (so you can order one course at a time, and have a nice long dinner experience). Really liked the rabbit tacos.

Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe — It’s exactly as hipster as it sounds. The food was good. Large portions. But it was the atmosphere I liked the most. High-backed cushioned chairs and booths, lots to see, and a real energy from the staff and patrons.

220 East — The food didn’t blow me away, with the exception of the toasted brie with walnuts, brown sugar, and apples. But it had a real sense of authenticity. Like it had been there a long time, and always would be. A real neighborhood joint, where I actually saw staff members sitting down with patrons and looking at pictures of their new puppy. We didn’t partake, but they seemed to have a good wine selection as well.

More blogging

I’m going to start writing more medium length stuff here. I write long things when I have time, and they get feedback for years (seriously, I don’t go anywhere without my post about my atheism being discussed). My tweets are good for quick takes. But a lot of what I want to say is somewhere in the middle. So I’m going to do that more. Please do harass me on Twitter if it’s been more than a week.

What Nietzsche Taught Me About Parenthood

You shouldn’t believe anything that people tell you about parenting. Including this. Because no matter what you hear, you won’t truly believe it — truly internalize it — until you experience it for yourself. And yet I continue.

The cliché is that parenthood activates within you vast reserves of untapped patience, empathy, and love. It’s true. It’s also true that children ruin your life in the nicest way. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about this:

“What was silent in the father speaks in the son; and I often found in the son the unveiled secret of the father.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

And this:

“Fathers have much to do to make amends for the fact that they have sons.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

Parenthood makes you feel incomprehensibly vulnerable. It is as if there is your own small, perfect, ignorant, delicate, and infinitely valuable personal avatar out there in the world, who is effectively impossible to fully protect. You well and truly know that the only thing worse for your quality of life than you stepping out in front of a bus, would be them stepping out in front of a bus. This transforms otherwise saccharine moments such as you holding their hand and walking them into the store to buy them their first bicycle into tableaus of terror. The irrational immortality I felt in my twenties was suddenly and grotesquely transformed into paralyzing and near-paranoid levels of impotence and worry.

What if he wrenches his hand from mine and takes two steps to his right as this car passes at far too great a speed oh shit shit shit slow down you ignorant cockwagon, don’t you realize I’m escorting my own intentionally created concentrated meatbag of personal vulnerability mere dozens of inches from your steel weapon of perfect child murder?

Parenthood is that. Constantly. All while your higher brain is telling you to stop hovering and stop insulating them from the world and to stop prioritizing the minimization of your own vastly inflated worries over their development as an independent being.

As much as that whole parental maelstrom of lizard brain v. monkey brain consumes you and makes you want to collapse into a heap the moment they are safely tucked in bed (but also maybe silently choking to death on that toy you forgot to remove from their room you negligent monster), that’s not the thing that has hit me the hardest as a parent. It’s what Nietzsche said.

Getting to know your offspring as people is the most embarrassing, terrifying, uplifting, eye-opening, and utterly unexpected journey you can take as a human being.

Envision every shameful instinct you harbor. Every psychological manipulation you undertake and immediately regret. Consider your bad habits, your deepest fears, your greatest failings as a person. Recall the things you do and then pretend you didn’t. Think about the things you refuse to think about yourself. Go ahead, dig deep. Imagine all the things that only you know about how you’re broken and insufficient. Examine those traits you strive to hide, but which you know have hurt the people you love, and yourself besides.

Now imagine all of those things laid bare for everyone to see, realized through the clear and magnified lens of a child’s emotional experience of the world. Moreover, prepare to learn new terrible things about yourself. Things that you only knew on the level that one remembers a waking dream, months past; the things that are shockingly obvious once revealed, but impossible to articulate while still obscured. Imagine yourself on a fainting couch, confessing your innermost failings to a therapist. Only you’re not in control of what is being said. And everyone is listening in.

Being a parent changes you, irrevocably. But only part of that is due to the experience of parenting your child. The other — and in my view, more potent — factor is the experience of getting to know yourself through your child. It is impossible to ignore, because the presentation of these facets is raw, and unfiltered by social pressures or learned defenses.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche ponders about the advent of science and secular morality rendering the concept of “God” dead, and whether humanity is up to the task of rebuilding a system of morality now that we have destroyed what we thought was its foundation.

Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

So too, is the crisis of confidence suffered after you, as a parent, are utterly deconstructed by a being of one sixth your size and one tenth your experience. So too, are you faced with the task of rebuilding yourself anew on top of the rubble your own flesh and blood has chiseled away from your ego. But you will. And you’ll never see yourself, or the world, the same way again.

Knowing yourself is a necessary step in you being able to optimally function in society. We don’t consume the universe’s raw inputs; we filter them through our abilities and personalities and experiences. If we don’t cast a critical eye on these aspects of ourselves, we will see a skewed version of reality and not even realize we are doing so.

If you want to know yourself, procreate. Much will be illuminated.

Atticus didn’t want to wake up today

My son Atticus, three, is a deep sleeper. Much like his father. He also tends to choose interesting places to sleep. Today we discovered him asleep in a laundry basket on his bed.

Then this happened:

I'm just going to see how far I can move him like this.

I’m just going to see how far I can move him like this.

Got him downstairs.

Got him downstairs.



Inside his cedar play house.

Inside his cedar play house.

In the hammock.

In the hammock.

Difficulty level: Moses.

Difficulty level: Moses.



Finally got him to wake up.

I showed him the photos and videos. He went from sleepy to bemused to incredulous to recounting stories about his adventures.

And that was the end of his adventure. Then, as I was about to post this, this happened:

And… he got stuck in a trash can.

And… he got stuck in a trash can.

Oh, Atticus.

Amazon Review: Squatty Potty

I have recently embraced reviews as a creative writing prompt and have endeavored to write entertaining reviews that nevertheless reflect my true views of a product. I posted this review of a toilet stool that helps you poop a few months ago, and am reproducing it here for safekeeping. Enjoy!

Review of Squatty Potty “Ecco” Toilet Stool


I gingerly climbed on top of the plastic contraption now ringing my porcelain throne. It soon became apparent that I couldn’t keep my britches at my ankles as I normally did. No, they had to go entirely, along with my underthings. And if there is anything more ridiculous on this planet than the sight of a human man wearing a t-shirt and nothing else, I have yet to experience it. So in the interest of saving myself this unfortunate view, I doffed the shirt as well. Now entirely naked, I again attempted to step onto the device. I was unsure, but it seemed to hold. I settled down to the seat, with only the extremities of my posterior touching. My knees were up at my chest. This, plus my complete nakedness, felt very primal. It felt third-world and adventurous. It felt… RIGHT. I concentrated on the task at hand. I had felt a slight urge to go, and had been eager to try out the new purchase. I had been intrigued by the promise that my business would henceforth require substantially less effort on my part, because of the wild beast–man position it forced upon me. But I was still skeptical. It sounded too good to be true. Surely the difference couldn’t be that dras— HOLY HELL I’M POOPING.

Well, let me clarify. It wasn’t so much that I was dropping a deuce. Oh, it was being dropped; that much was undeniable. But I couldn’t really claim agency on said descent. Gravity was doing the work. I was merely the meaty husk from which it made its hasty escape. Used to more of a segmented approach to waste disposal, I was quite surprised that the creature making its egress from my nethers had more the appearance of a python. Smooth, and consistent in width, it coiled luxuriously in a pool of toilet water that is (or at least was) cleaner than the water that most of the people on this planet drink. As it continued to coil, my emotional state flowed from one of surprise, to horror, to amazement, and then again to horror as the snake coiled higher and higher, like soft serve ice cream at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. It was now surfacing above the water line. But still, the snake showed no signs that it was anywhere near finished with its journey. In a panic, I pawed at the flusher. The poor toilet strained, but eventually sent things on their way. But I wasn’t done yet. As the toilet flushed the waste away, more came to replace it. As the flush subsided, the coil started anew. And then I was done. I tried to catch my breath as the toilet flushed a second time. I felt my liver shift and expand, unsure what to do with all the extra space now afforded to it. I cleaned up and stood, almost dizzy after the affair. “Wow. A+++”, I thought to myself. “Would poop again.”

“Very well,” my bowels seemed to answer, “let’s have another go!”

“Surely you’re joking”, I thought, scrambling to once again work myself into proper Tarzanic stance. There couldn’t possibly be anything left inside of me. I genuinely began to worry that what would come out next might be some vital organ, brought to a freedom-seeking frenzy by all the commotion. But no, it was yet another perfectly formed tube of human excrement. I sat, mouth agape, as number two (round two) breached the water line and came to a graceful finish, leaving an improbable conical shape below me. As I flushed the toilet for the third time in what had astoundingly only been about 70 seconds I wondered if life would ever be the same again. and Impossible Family Structures

In which I attempted to sign up with and was stymied by its apparent inability to grok the structure of my family (consisting of me, my wife, and two sons).

Live chat transcript:

[10:18:00 pm]: Thanks for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. Please wait while we connect you to someone who can help.
[10:18:03 pm]: Please be patient while we’re helping other people.
[10:18:07 pm]: Welcome! You’re now connected to Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat.

Thanks for contacting us. My name is Mark. To protect your privacy, please don’t provide any personal information, like Social Security Number, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.
[10:19:37 pm]: Mark Do you have any questions that I can help you with?
[10:20:30 pm]: Mark I seem to be stuck in some sort of redneck family relationship loop.
[10:21:37 pm]: Mark It thinks my wife is my grandaughter, my second son is my first son’s father, and that my wife is the sister of my sons. And now it thinks that one of my sons is his own brother. And also possibly his own legal guardian.
[10:23:53 pm]: Mark I’m also considering the possibility that you are actually me, from the future. Pretty sure time travel is the only way to resolve this neatly.
[10:24:33 pm]: Mark you can call the marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 and they can help you resolve this issue.
[10:24:41 pm]: Mark I apologize for the inconvenience.
[10:25:24 pm]: Mark Thanks for your interest in the Health Insurance Marketplace. We have a lot of visitors trying to use our website right now. This is causing some glitches for some people trying to create accounts or log in. Keep trying, and thanks for your patience. You might have better success during off-peak hours, like later at night or early in the morning. We’ll continue working to improve the site so you can get covered!
[10:26:56 pm]: Mark Do you have any other questions that I can help you with?
[10:27:44 pm]: Mark Nah. I’m probably going to have to talk to my wife and a really clever geneticist to answer my other questions. Thanks!
[10:27:53 pm]: Mark Thank you for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
[10:28:24 pm]: Mark thanks for the laughs, you have a great since of humor about the whole thing.
[10:29:27 pm]: Mark :-)
[10:29:37 pm]: Mark Thank you for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
[10:29:40 pm]: ‘Mark’ has left the chat session.
[10:29:42 pm]: Your chat session is over. Thanks for contacting us, and we hope we’ve answered your questions. Have a great day.

Consequences and the Pirate Ship that Wasn’t

Atticus was only about 3 months old when I knew for certain that he was my son. There wasn’t ever any real doubt — but nevertheless, that one evening as I prepared to give him a bath, I was given an utterly convincing subjective piece of evidence: a look. Right as I plopped his bare buttocks into the warm water, he threw me a look. A look that said “what the fuck did you just do, you no-good ignoramus?!” I know this look, because I give people this look. Sometimes when they’re being no-good ignoramuses, and sometimes (perhaps mostly) when something annoys me and in that moment of frustration I can’t stop my emotions from manifesting as a very precise series of facial muscle movements. My eyebrows lower and draw subtly closer. My mouth opens slightly, as if I have something to say, but just can’t find the words, so appalled am I at the minor transgression that has occurred. The muscles around my eyes tighten, and my eyes themselves become cruelly intense in a way that I can’t explain but would be happy to show you if you were to spill some liquid within 20 feet of my laptop. My right eyebrow stops its descent, but my left one continues onward, making it look like my left eye is contracting in pain and making my right eyebrow look raised in incredulity. It’s quite a look, and here was my 3-month-old son casting it right at me because I dared change the temperature of his body by more than a few degrees without sufficient warning.

This is my son. Indubitably.

The certainty only grew from there. Not only did he start to resemble me physically (facially, hair-wise, in terms of his predicted adulthood height, and in his similarly unfortunate torso-to-leg ratio), but it became clear that in terms of his stubbornness, intellect, interests, and constitution, I might as well have cloned myself. Some amount of parental similarity is to be expected, but this level of gene expression by one parent seemed like an amazing opportunity.

I was given the gift of getting to raise someone eerily similar to me, but with the advantage of knowing everything I have learned about myself.

One of the first things that Sarah and I learned with Atticus was that he, like me, wanted to feel like he was in control of his immediate environment, and in control of the choices that affected him. Of course, we didn’t want to spoil him or always let him get his way — we’ve seen what that does to kids. So began a very carefully orchestrated campaign to create a system of “choices” that would give him short-term control over various aspects of his life but that would also later converge in ways we could predict. For example, instead of telling him he had to take a bath, we could give him the option of taking a bath and then reading a story, or reading a story and then taking a bath. You might laugh, but just letting him choose the order of the events made him feel like he was calling the shots. What would have been a screaming fit about “NO TAKE BATH!” instead became “oh, okay, story first!” This is how you win with a strong-willed child.

Now that he’s a little bit older, he’s grown wise to some of our usual “plays”. So now when we ask him if he wants to take a bath, he says “NO take bath NO take shower.” He knows the script. But as he’s grown enough to understand these “choice” scenarios, he has also started to truly understand the concept of consequences. Enter phase two.

Sarah and I don’t treat “punishment” as punitive. Really, we don’t even use that word. Instead, there are consequences. Consequences are great. Consequences aren’t angry. Consequences aren’t capricious. Consequences just are.

Well, that’s a simplification. Yes, we create many of the consequences, but they are mostly naturally derived or based on solid concepts.

  • If you are leaving the table, you put your plate in the sink
  • If you’re not done eating, you stay at the table
  • If you hit, you sit in time-out
  • If you scream when we leave the pool, we don’t come back for a while
  • If you’re well-behaved at swimming lessons, you get a Ring Pop

There are dozens of these. Atticus has learned them. And he understands that as far as he is concerned, they just are. And that brings us to today. Atticus is three years old.

Atticus has long been a fan of his binkies (pacifiers). He found them soothing as an infant, and continued to enjoy them as a toddler. We had reduced them to only being used at bedtime and in the car, but attempts to take those last strongholds of pacifier use proved difficult. The first thing he asks when I put him into the car is “Have a binky? Green binky?” I would try my Jedi mind powers on him. “You don’t need a binky”. It didn’t work. There would be a screaming fit.

Then it hit us: consequences.


There was this pirate ship he played with at a friend’s birthday party recently. And oh my was this a cool pirate ship. It made noise, it had a working cannon, and a crocodile would burst out the side of it when you pressed a button. It had real cloth sails. He was in love.

We sat Atticus down and asked him if he’d like a pirate ship toy. “Oh yes”, he replied, immediately. “But here’s the thing”, Sarah added. “You have to give them your binkies to get it.” I was pretty sure he didn’t understand what she meant. “That means no more binkies, buddy. They’ll be gone forever.”

We went back and forth a bit. I wanted to give it a shot, even though I didn’t think he fully grasped the concept. He and I gathered his binkies (four in all) and put them in a ziplock bag. “This is what we have to give them to get the ship”, I said. He and I bundled into the car. “Need a binky?” he said/asked, as usual. I lifted up the bag of them sitting next to me on the seat “but I thought you wanted to trade them in for a pirate ship!” He furrowed his brow. “Oh, okay.” I pulled out of the driveway. Target was a short 5 minute drive away. After taking him out of the car, I went to hold his hand for the walk through the parking lot “NO HOLD HAND” he said in his sing-song “I’m being contrary” voice. “You have to hold my hand in the parking lot, buddy. Just until we get to the sidewalk.” He pulled against my hand as we walked. I kept my grip. At the sidewalk I let his hand loose and said he could walk by himself the rest of the way “oh yeah, by myself” he said, strutting into the store next to me, full of independence.

The pirate ship wasn’t in the aisle I expected. We spent a good five minutes going up and down the aisles looking for it. “Do you see a pirate ship, Atticus?” He shrugged “I can’t find it!” Eventually I figured out that it was in an aisle beyond the two pink-painted rows of gender role reënforcing “you’re-only-good-for-childcare-and-cooking” bullshit that makes me so crazy every time I’m in the toy section. I saw the pirate ship from a distance, but said nothing. As we approached it, I stopped, pointed, and said “hey, look!” Atticus turned toward the pirate ship. The pirate ship he had played with before, thought was totally awesome, and really wanted to be his. I was all grins, looking at him to soak up his adorable excitement.

But it didn’t come. His face didn’t light up. His dimples didn’t emerge. He didn’t give me an open-mouthed grin or announce to me “I’m so happy Dada” as he frequently does when we’re out doing a dad-and-son activity. Instead, his little face sank. His eyes turned vacant, and his head turned down until his chin was on his chest. “This is the ship!” I said, kneeling down next to him. “Don’t you want to play—” and then his arms were around me. Turning away from the shelf he was hugging me tightly and burying his face into my neck. Was he embarrassed? Weirded out that I knew about the ship even though it was Sarah who was with him at the birthday party? Overwhelmed? “Thanks for the hug, buddy…”, I said, trying to size up the situation. I waited a good ten seconds and then put my arms down and started to pull back. He gripped me even more tightly.

Oh fuck. He understands. He really and truly understands what is at stake here and doesn’t want to go through with it.

This wasn’t what I expected. I thought that either he wouldn’t fully understand, or that he’d understand and easily make a decision. I hadn’t accounted for the possibility that he would fully understand and then be devastated by the seriousness of the decision he had to make.

So there I was, kneeling on the floor of a toy aisle in Target, engaged in a minutes-long silent hug with a 3-year-old who was doing the first real soul-searching of his life, and I was blinking back tears as the other shoppers rolled by, oblivious of the moment that was transpiring.


Eventually I got him to release me from the death grip. “Are you sad?” I asked him. “No”, he said, calmly, and seriously. He had distinctly oriented his body and his head so that he couldn’t see the shelf with the pirate ship.

“Is something wrong?”
“Do you want to play with that pirate ship?”

But he did want to. I know he did. He just didn’t want to play while having the knowledge that taking it home would have irrevocable consequences.

He took my hand. “Come on, Dada.” He led me to the end of the aisle, where we couldn’t see the pirate ship any longer. He stopped. Still holding my hand, he looked down at the floor. Not sad, but all manner of serious. Shell-shocked, even.

I texted my wife, and relayed what had happened. “My heart is breaking” she said. “Shut it down.”

I didn’t think I could go through with it either. The whole point was to make it his choice, right? He understood what the choice meant. And he wasn’t ready. We’d just try again in a few months. No big deal. It will be better if it’s his choice.


We started to leave. He was walking faster than I was, leaning forward and pulling me through the aisles, like he couldn’t bear to even be in the vicinity of his terrible decision. And then I saw it. The Thomas and Friends Take-n-Play Lion Canyon playset. Atticus is a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan. He knows all the characters, the songs, and the episodes. He knows the difference between a tender car, a freight car, and a caboose. And this was one cool looking Thomas playset, with a roller coaster ramp off of a mountain, divergent tracks that met at the bottom, a gate, a little lion that Thomas was towing as his cargo. Big things for kids his age. “Hey, what do you think of that, buddy?” There was a slight flicker of excitement in his eyes. “Would you like to look at this one?” I asked. “Yeah, okay.” I got it down, and he inspected the set closely. He touched what he could, through the open front of the box. He wordlessly turned it around and looked at the picture on the back.

“Would you like to take this one home?”
“Okay… this one.”
“This is the one you want?”
“This one.”


He wasn’t excited. He was resolved. I knelt down again, and took the plastic bag of binkies from my back pocket. I showed it to him.

“Do you understand that if you get this toy, we’ll need to give Target the binkies?”
“So there will be no more binkies. They’ll be gone. Gone forever. You can’t have them again.”

I handed him the set. He stood there, holding it, looking off into space. Refusing to make eye contact with me. He had made his decision. And he knew the consequences. He was giving up something precious and comforting to him. And even though it was worth it, he still felt the weight of it. As did I.

We started the long trudge up to the front of the store. About halfway there, in front of a display of Isaac Mizrahi-designed housewares, he paused. I didn’t notice for a few steps. When I did, I turned around. He looked like he was in pain. I knelt down for a third time. “You sure you want to do this?” I asked him. He paused. He considered. “Yeah”, he said, quietly, and continued walking with the giant playset, easily twice his width.


I was hoping to find an older, motherly type who might understand what was happening for the actual trade off, but apparently Saturday morning is 19-year-old male cashier day at Target. “Rocco” had a short line, so we queued. When we got to the front, Rocco saw the Thomas playset and got excited. “Thomas! I used to love Thomas when I was young.” The set was scanned. “Okay, here’s the deal”, I started. “He’s buying this set with these”, and I held up the bag. “Can you accept these as his portion of the payment?” Rocco said he could. “Ready, Atticus?” I asked. “Yes”, he said, some of the seriousness lifting. We handed the bag over to Rocco. Rocco slammed the bag into the trash can on his side of the register. The bag of well-used pacifiers hit the bottom with a satisfying thud. “Done!” exclaimed Rocco, smiling, looking at us, and not once having glanced at the trash can. I swiped my card and took the toy under my arm. As we walked out, Atticus wrapped his arm around my leg and leaned against my thigh. My own personal leg splint. On the sidewalk, which had earlier been his zone of freedom from hand-holding, he fumbled for my hand with his chubby fingers. We walked to the car, hand-in-hand, in silence.

As I strapped him into his car seat, he talked to me about being excited to see his mother and his brother. He uttered not one word about wanting a binky. I let the playset, still in its box, ride on the seat next to him, so he could look at it. “I’m so proud of you,” I said back to him on the drive home. “Of course, Dada”, he said — his default pseudo-patronizing I-don’t-know-what-that-means response. We drove on, in silence. “Are you okay, buddy?”, I asked, turning onto the main street of our development. He cheerfully replied “yes Dada!” It seemed that he was at peace with his decision. I took a deep breath. I felt good about it too. And for the first time since his initial hug, I didn’t feel like there was a golf ball stuck in my throat.

Then a small voice came from the back of the car.

“Yeah, buddy?”
“Binkies are at Target now.”

Not once during this entire episode did he shed a single tear. I cried the rest of the way home.