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.

Got him downstairs.

Outside.

Inside his cedar play house.

In the hammock.

Difficulty level: Moses.

Balanced.

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.

Oh, Atticus.

Amazon Review: Squatty Potty

I have recently embraced Amazon.com 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

squatty-potty

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.

Healthcare.gov and Impossible Family Structures

In which I attempted to sign up with healthcare.gov 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.

pirate-ship

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.

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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?”
“No.”
“Do you want to play with that pirate ship?”
“…No.”

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.

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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.”

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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?”
“Yeah.”
“So there will be no more binkies. They’ll be gone. Gone forever. You can’t have them again.”
“Okay.”

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.

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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.

“Dada?”
“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.

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Modern Jesus, by Portugal. The man

Really digging this song.

 Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never givin’ up
The only faith we have is faith in us

Also, hello there, Rdio embeds in WordPress.

Terrorists and pyschopaths as broken machines

Horrific crimes can sometimes bring out the best in humanity. We band together over our shared shock and sadness, forgetting for a minute the banality of our daily concerns. When it comes to dealing with the alleged perpetrators of these crimes, our reaction isn’t always so laudable. After news broke that the FBI had captured suspected Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, some people on Twitter and in Boston expressed variations of the sentiment “I’m glad we got him, but I wish we’d killed him,” and many who were okay with him being captured alive are talking about his potential execution with apparent glee.

Vengeance is a strong desire. But it’s an ugly, primitive, base desire. And it’s a desire we should overcome as a species, as it no longer serves a worthwhile purpose. It might take a shift of perspective to accept that.

People are machines. Nuanced, fascinating, incredibly complex machines. This is not how we normally think about humans, primarily because we are more advanced than any manmade machine and are able to do things that seem very un-machine-like, such as emoting, thinking, and desiring. None of these things render us supernatural. We are subject to the same laws of physics as any other system. Our blood lust regarding evildoers is very much centered around the misconception that we each have an ability to make decisions that lies outside of the determinism of natural laws. A misconception that we are in some way outside of consequence. It’s a convincing illusion. We frequently sense that there is a little person living inside our brain. When we feel an emotion, we can feel the little person — our “self” — reacting to it, as if it is distinct instead of part of the same unit. Thus we imagine murderers and terrorists having a little person in their brain that goes “muh ha ha, I’m going to do something evil today”. But that’s not how it works. Imagine a calculator that is programmed to know that 2 + 2 = 5. The calculator doesn’t know that it’s wrong and merely disregard that fact. It actually thinks that two and two make five. Terrorists and psychopaths are just broken or just have maladaptive programming. They have no more ultimate guilt than a broken clock, or a computer with a virus.

Free will is a hard idea to shut down. People hear of a crime and think “well I would never do something like that”. They might not. But put in the perpetrator’s body, of course they would do it! If no part of them was different, there would be no part able to act differently. It is only because they were born who they were, and had the experiences that they did, that they are them, instead of someone else.

When a machine is broken, and you don’t know why, you don’t discard it. You don’t hate it. You inspect it. You question the circumstances that led to it being made this way. You try to see if there is some way to avoid machines being made this way in the future.

I hope we find some answers with Tsarnaev. Answers are more useful than vengeance.

Link

This is a pretty cool bill. Allows employers to offer employees the option of receiving overtime as 1.5x paid time off instead of 1.5x pay. So if getting additional time off is more important to you than getting a bigger paycheck, you can have that option. If you change your mind later, you can cash out at any time, and employers can’t force you either way. Naturally, unions are furious, because they care about their coffers, not about worker freedom.

Followup on “The Post”

Fifteen months ago, I published “The Post”. I feel comfortable calling it that, because to this day people come up to me at events and want to talk to me about “The Post”. I know what they’re talking about, and they know I know what they’re talking about.

“Why I am an atheist and a naturalist” is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written in my life. It took me 30 days to write it. It was also a huge emotional leap for me. Not only was I putting my personal journey from faith to skepticism out there for the whole world to read, I was also dealing with my own thoughts about my upbringing and my struggles with religion in a very intimate way. Sometimes it takes writing about an experience to realize how you truly feel about it.

My expectations for the post were modest. I thought a few friends would read it, and that most would see its prohibitive length and skip on by. I was overwhelmed with the response by its tens of thousands of readers. I made the decision not to open comments on the post, and I’m really glad I did that. People from all over the world wrote emails to me. Dozens upon dozens of emails. Some pithy, but most quite substantial. The people varied: some were fellow out-and-proud atheists, some were still keeping it private, some weren’t sure what they believed, and some were still fervent believers. They were as young as their teens, and as old as 70. But the one thing that was constant was that they were all supportive. Not a single person told me I was going to burn in hell for renouncing God. No one told me I was a bad person for doubting.

We’re conditioned, especially Americans, to treat the continuum of skepticism and faith as a private topic. This artificial public reticence can have serious consequences. The most heartbreaking responses I got were from people who were questioning their faith or had lost their faith, but who couldn’t tell anyone… because they were depending on their parents to put them through school, or because they were afraid their spouse would leave them, or because they feared being shunned at work, or in their local community. This can’t stand. It’s often said that being religious just requires faith. What is gained by pressuring the unfaithful into lying to themselves and to others about what they believe? That’s not faith — that’s fear. This cannot stand. Social pressure doesn’t make believers out of skeptics, it just tortures them with the pain of living a lie. It makes them feel like they have to choose between their loved ones and their own integrity.

Don’t put people in that situation. Don’t make your love or respect for someone conditional on something they can’t change.

And if you’re having doubts, express them. People may surprise you, and you won’t believe how light you’ll feel, unburdened by the contradiction.

Link

“We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage,” Mr. Leigh said. “Otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for?”

— New York Times “British House of Commons Approves Gay Marriage

The only thing more odious than saying that change is good because it is new, is saying that stagnation is good because it is old.