I took the Front Porch Republic out of my news feed, not because what they had to say was bad, but because it was too good. I was spending 'way too much time reading, and composing comments in my head—whether or not those comments ever made it into print. But then they started sending me their weekly updates....
Here's a good article on immigration. Normally I don't read about the topic, because it's so inflammatory; too many people, as they say, are enjoying the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. This one is different, as are most FPR articles, whether I agree with them or not. For one thing, he lambasts both the Republicans and the Democrats. ("[A]s with nearly everything in establishment Republicanism, even when they are sincere they are still lying"; for the Democratic skewer, see below.) For another, he acknowledges three points that I've long thought critical to the debate:
- Immigration in sufficient numbers inevitably and irrevocably transforms a culture; if we try to ignore or deny this and don't take steps to defend and preserve that which is good about our specific culture, it will be overrun just as surely as imperialism destroyed the native cultures of its colonies.
- We are repeatedly told that we need more immigrants because there are not enough Americans who are willing/qualified to do the jobs. Whether it's a factory owner crying that he'd go out of business without illegal immigrants (shades of pre-Civil War Southern plantation owners' insistence on the necessity of slavery), or companies pushing for more H1-B visas because they can't find enough Americans to do their high-tech jobs (meaning, qualified Americans are asking for higher salaries than Indians and Moldovans)—the bottom line is not that Americans can't or won't do the jobs, but that we value low prices more than fair wages.
- We feel a need for large numbers of immigrants because our own birth rate is too low. This reproductive minimalism is both an expression of our lack of appreciation for our own culture, and a great factor in its demise.*
I wonder if it is even possible to debate immigration honestly. The Democratic party has bet big that the continued use of contraception among white Americans and the admission of peoples from the Latin south will, in the long term, tilt demography permanently in favor of its version of the welfare state, and, consequently, its sustained power. Moreover, the turning away of Americans from marriage and the having of children suggests a lack of investment in, an apathy regarding, the future character of their country. It is no more surprising that Americans should be resigned regarding the future of their culture than it is that Americans should desire immigrants to labor for the welfare state in lieu of the children who could have been. These trends are a tacit vote of assent to the Democratic strategy vastly more significant that any election-day tally. Further, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be capable of giving voice to a genuine love of country: one that does not base itself on being a jingoistic bully abroad, but rather on a reverent care to preserve and cultivate what we have, here, now, at home.
*I commend our children for their valiant countercultural efforts, aka grandchildren. Switzerland also needs help in this regard.
Our choir anthem for May 5 was My Father's World (Gregg Sewell, Tribune Music, 10/2985K). I can't find a performance on YouTube, but there's a version available at sheetmusicplus (jazzier than the way we sang it).
Here's last Sunday's: Cradle Me, Lord (Poorman, Alfred, BSC00283). Just a reminder: this isn't our choir singing; I make these posts as a kind of audio and video diary to help me remember what we've sung, and I'm grateful to those who have provided YouTube versions, because there's nothing like hearing the anthem, even if it isn't exactly the way we sang it.
The Romeikes have lost the latest round in their fight to keep from being sent back to Germany, where homeschooling is considered a sufficient reason to take custody of children away from their parents. The ruling is being appealed.
On the bright side, the court did rule that "parents do have a right to direct the education and upbringing of their children." However, they also said,
“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures the United States Constitution prohibits,” the court ruled. “But it did not.”
[Attorney Michael] Farris said he finds great irony that the Obama administration is releasing thousands of illegal aliens—yet wants to send a family seeking political asylum back to Germany.
“Eleven million people are going to be allowed to stay freely—but this one family is going to be shipped back to Germany to be persecuted,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Actually, it makes plenty of sense—if you consider only political expediency. Immigration "reform" that supports an economy fueled by slave labor is considered a politically savvy move, while offending an important ally—Germany—is not.
I'm having a mid-life crisis.1
Theoretically that's good news, as apparently I'll be living past 120. But it's still unnerving. I'm haunted by the feeling that everything is all wrong. We are not where we're supposed to be, and I know of no way to fix the problem. To put it bluntly, we are too far away from our children and grandchildren.
That conclusion did not come easily. I grew up with a good dose of American individualism and training in the idea that the most important family unit comprised father, mother, and children. My father came from the state of Washington, my mother from Florida; they met in upstate New York, whither they had flown (figuratively speaking) without a backward glance, so far as I know, after graduating from their respective colleges. Their siblings spread out as well, landing in California and the Midwest. Our closest relatives were a five-hour drive away. Cousins? I had fourteen of them, but we were nearly strangers: travel was much more difficult in the mid-20th century than it is now, despite not having to deal with the Transportation Security Administration. Nor did I miss them much, I have to admit: I had my parents, my three siblings, and a multitude of neighborhood friends, all quite enough for an introvert like me. Or so I thought, not knowing any better.
Did my mother miss having her parents close by, especially when her children came along? I don't know; if she ever talked about it, I don't remember. I know my father thought she was better off 1000 miles away: his mother-in-law had inherited a forceful personality from her own mother, who was quite a name in the business, political, educational, and social life of her adopted city. My grandmother was a terrific person and a great cook, and I loved our biennial visits to her home.2 Still, there's no doubt she was a Force To Be Reckoned With, and my mother's personality probably blossomed more freely at a distance.
I had no choice, since my own mother had died by the time we had children. My siblings were far away and much younger than I was. (They still are. Every year, they get older—but I seem to be outdistancing them.) So childrearing was pretty much a solitary pursuit, as far as family went, anyway. It didn't seem so onerous at the time: most of my friends were separated from their families, too, so it seemed normal. Thanks to cheaper, modern transportation and deliberate effort, at least the kids knew their cousins better than I did mine.
It worked out. The human family is remarkably resilient, and our extended family has managed to remain as close as any I know, and much closer than many. It wasn't until I became a grandmother that I realized just how wrong the situation still was.
Children, after all, are supposed to become independent, to take wing, to create their own homes and families. It hurt abominably (and still does) when our children were in pain or in need and we could not reach out to them, could not even give them reassuring hugs, but I learned to be thankful that they had friends—and later husbands—who could lend a hand and who would notice if they didn't show up when expected. Sure, I envied my friends whose children went to college nearby, and who could attend their recitals, watch their games, and invite them home for an occasional dinner. But it never felt quite as wrong as being so far from our grandchildren.
Unlike most animals, the human species lives long past the time of fertility. Some have theorized that this "grandmother effect" had an evolutionary benefit, because the help of the grandparents increased the survival rate of the grandchildren. In modern, Western society surviving may not be an issue, but thriving still is. Grandparents can enrich the lives of their grandchildren not only directly, but also second-hand, by taking some of the 24/7/365 pressure off the parents. Calmer parents are more creative, as well as more patient with their children. This can't be done when you live a thousand miles apart, however. Even fifty miles is pushing it, though my [insert much-needed term for "offspring's in-laws" here] frequently and heroically make the hour-each-way drive to spend half a day with their grandkids.
It is not "helicopter parenting" to want to help out for a day when your daughter is sick: to feed the kids and take them to the playground so Mommy can nap. I survived without that help, but how much better it would have been for the children to bake cookies with Grandma than to watch TV—the last resort of a mom who can't concentrate on anything other than not throwing up.
Even in the healthy times, children benefit from regular interactions with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It's important for children to see the many sides of their own family: how they are alike, how they differ. What better way to learn to eat different foods than to spend the night with your cousins and be served something other than your favorite cereal for breakfast? Making cookies with Grandma, knitting with Aunt Susan, birdwatching with Uncle Don ... mom and dad alone cannot provide the variety of learning experiences available through the wider family. And how much better is it to have a crowd supporting you at your recital, or cheering from the sidelines for your soccer game?
When I was a young mother, I worried about the influence on our kids of family members with values that weren't completely aligned with ours. That was a mistake. Well, perhaps the concern wasn't entirely mistaken, but with experience I learned that (1) the differences were infinitesimal compared with the value, experience, and attitude differences they would encounter with their friends and their friends' families; and (2) such differences in those we love—or at the very least are obligated by the family bond not to merely ignore and avoid—provide an invaluable platform for teaching our children the essential life skill of getting along with—indeed, loving, respecting and learning from—those with whom we disagree, all without compromising our own standards.
It might be argued that with today's smaller families mothers don't need the help they once did. It might be so argued—but I don't know of a single young mother who would agree! And in any case, the scarcity of siblings makes the need for cousins all the more acute. I will defend vigorously the "nuclear family" as an ideal—in the sense of children growing up with their own father and mother who are married in a lifelong commitment—in contrast with the many workable and sometimes necessary but inferior substitutes that abound today. Too often, however, the term is used in another sense: to mean "father/mother/two kids." This I find far from ideal: what we want is a clan.
Certainly there are ways to foster the clan feeling even when living far apart. I'm thankful for modern transportation and communication: for superhighways, jet planes, swift mail delivery, e-mail, and Skype. I'm grateful for siblings and children who make the sacrifices and take the time to encourage extended family interaction. Nonetheless, real physical presence, when it happens, still has somewhat of a "weekend dad" feeling: very intense and somewhat indulgent interactions, rather than the calmer experiences of ordinary life.
Deprived of nearby extended family, we make do. The human race is good at making do. We find substitute "grandparents" and surrogate "grandchildren" in our own communities, and our children become more than ever dependent on their age-group friends. It is good to have alternatives; friends and neighbors have their own place in our lives, and it's an important one. But it's not the same as family. Expecting them to fill that niche can stress those relationships unnecessarily. Granted, in this fallen world there are unfortunate exceptions, but as a rule family implies a much higher level of emotional, psychological, physical, and financial commitment than can be expected of non-family relationships. Churches try to fill the role, even calling themselves a "church family"—but Jesus himself stated that giving to God was no excuse for neglecting your own family (Matthew 15:5-6; see also 1 Timothy 5:8).
I know the problem; what I don't know is what can possibly be done about it. Wendel Berry has written a lot about the importance of place (even more so than of family, based on the little I've read), and the folks at the Front Porch Republic are always talking about the importance of localized community. But even if our children choose to live near one set of grandparents (and few do), most often that leaves the other set—and most cousins—out in the cold. Even if we try to keep families together through the extremity of marrying our children off to other children in the nearby community—nearly impossible if they go to college, or to war, or on almost any other adventure—we're likely to end up small-minded, inbred (in the intellectual sense as well), parochial, and stale.
So we make do with substitutes. But it's still not right. It's like formula instead of breast milk; giving birth at a hospital instead of at home; turning our children over to others for the better part of the day instead of teaching them ourselves; homogenized, pasteurized milk from an agribusiness dairy versus a glass of raw milk from a local, pasture-raised cow; children (and adults!) who spend all day indoors instead of out in the fresh air and sunshine, learning nature's lessons and enjoying her bounty. We're glad to have the alternatives available: each is good in its proper place. But no matter how important these may be, they are still only substitutes for the real, best thing, and it's wrong to pretend otherwise.
I'm grateful to all those who are standing in our stead for our children and grandchildren when we cannot, and for the many ways we can still serve them and connect with them without a physical presence. I'm thankful beyond words for the means to travel to our far-flung family, and for a husband who understands how important it is to nourish these relationships. I also realize that the problem is logically insoluble: even if we wanted to leave everything here behind and move close to some of our grandchildren, we'd still be 3700 miles away from the others.3
So it's not so much a mid-life crisis I'm having, as a muddle. My high calling and career, that which my heart yearns for and longs to throw itself into, I cannot do except limpingly. That which I believe is so important for the health of our nation's children is that from which our society is fleeing with alarming determination.
So what to do? Promote the extended family—the clan—when given the opportunity, do what we can with the means that we have to cultivate relationships, and daily put one foot in front of the other on the path as we see it, trusting that whenever God calls us to a task, he will provide the necessary means.
And take refuge in poetry.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
—John Milton, On His Blindness
1Well, I suppose "crisis" is too strong a word, given that I began this post in 2011, and am still plugging along. Mother's Day seemed like a reasonable occasion to revive it.
2What wasn't to like for a kid? My grandparents lived in a lovely old house two blocks from the World's Most Famous Beach and its awesome Broadwalk! (Yes, Google, that's spelled correctly, even though you tried to change it to "boardwalk." These days people do call it a boardwalk, but it was definitely "broad" when I enjoyed it.) The house is now an attorney's office. Sad, but at least it still stands; many from that era do not.
3Years ago, when people asked if we would consider moving away from Florida, I would reply that I might be tempted, once the kids settled down, to move halfway between them. But it turns out that living on a houseboat in the middle of the North Atlantic won't solve the problem.
It's been over a week since the jury summons notices went out for George Zimmerman's trial, and neither of us has received one, so I'm guessing we're safe. As interesting as it might have been to be part of such a high-profile trial, I'm happy to pass on this one. Don't count on seeing Grandma interviewed by the media any time soon.
Recognizing the approach of Mother's Day, I honor my own with this story. When it comes to sunshine and health, it turns out Mommy really did know best.
According to my mother, children needed "plenty of fresh air and sunshine" to grow up healthy. Fresh air is still allowed, I guess, but sunshine has been anathema for years. Faced with increasing cases of modern-day rickets, doctors are reluctantly allowing small amounts of sun exposure free of sunscreen, hats, and long sleeves, "but 15 minutes a day is enough!"
In a study after my own heart, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found evidence indicating that my mother's advice was right—and not just for kids: sunshine may be necessary for good health. Quite apart from its role in vitamin D production, ultraviolet light interacts with the skin to produce nitric oxide (NO), which reduces blood pressure.
Dr Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.
"We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure. If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure."
Here's a TED talk by Dr. Weller on the same subject.
Thanks, Mom, for sending me outside to play!
Speculoos à Tartiner, in its American incarnation as Biscoff Spread, is now available at many stores here and around the country. Trader Joe's even has its own version, which I will be able to sample and compare because we are finally getting our own Trader Joe's! You can even buy Speculoos in tiny Hillsborough, New Hampshire—which also needs a Trader Joe's, but we'll take one step at a time.
The exploding popularity of this heavenly spread was featured in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday. I don't know what goes into the decisions involving placement of articles and advertisements on the page, but surely this could be no coincidence:
On the bright side, all this publicity may dampen the TSA's suspicious attitude, although there is now less reason to transport it in my luggage.
I've been interested in learning and brain plasticity for a very long time, especially in young children. More recently, thanks to the book The Brain that Changes Itself and the work of Michael Merzenich and the Posit Science organization, I've extended that fascination to adults as well. Specifically, me.
Posit Science is the company that makes Fast ForWord, a training program that worked wonders for a friend who suffered from CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder). When I learned that the company was developing general brain exercise programs for adults, I was intrigued. I even went so far as to spring for one of the (much too expensive) programs. I'll admit that I never did much with it (ouch!): too many distractions, too much to do, plus I ended up getting a new computer and haven't yet tried to see if it works under Windows 7. I was also annoyed with Posit Science—and told them so—for treating the program as therapy rather than software, i.e. not only was it horribly expensive for software, but the license was for one person only. Even Microsoft lets me share Word with others as long as they're sitting at my computer to use it.
One way or another, Posit Science got the message and revised their system. The brain exercise program is now available on a subscription basis, much like my Ancestry.com subscription only considerably less expensive. It's still for one person only, but a much better price: a one year's subscription ($96) is less than a third of the cost of the program I had bought, plus I now have access to all their exercises, not just the limited selection of the previous version. What's more, as they improve exercises and add new ones, I have immediate access to them. And unlike the original program, I can come back and redo any exercise I've already "completed."
I think they finally got the system right. I've been using the program for a month now, and find I enjoy the exercises. Not enough to become addicted, but enough to keep coming back every day. It helps that you can do them on a five-minutes-here, five-minutes-there basis, so they're perfect for those "Quadrant Four" moments when you just need a break. Only this break is doing your brain good!
The program is called BrainHQ, and offers exercises in the areas of Attention, Brain Speed, Memory, People Skills, and Intelligence, with Navigation in the works. Both auditory and visual pathways are exercised. Much as for physical exercise, thirty minutes three times per week is recommended, but whatever fits into your schedule will help.
Does it work? For myself, I can't say after only one month. I've certainly improved on the individual exercises with practice; whether or not it's doing any lasting good for my brain is beyond my power to tell, at least at this point. But I'm convinced enough to keep going. In theory, the exercises are designed specifically for the way the brain works, and do more good than general intellectual activity, such as working crossword puzzles. (I'm still addicted to my World of Puzzles magazine, however.) You can read a lot about the theory, the science, the laboratory test results, and the personal testimonials beginning with Why BrainHQ?
Why am I writing about this now? It would make more sense to do so after using the program for more than just a month. But from now until May 12, Posit Science is offering a buy-one-get-one-free Mother's Day promotion, and I know enough people who might be interested at that price that I decided it was worth posting. The cost for a year's subscription is $96. (You can also subscribe by the month, though I don't think that's covered by the sale.) Even after the sale ends, subscribers can give gift subscriptions at the discounted rate of $69.
I get no kickbacks whatsoever from Posit Science for writing this, nor from any sales; I just think it's a good idea.
I've been working on my organizational system lately, and part of the plan has been to have individual index cards with particular chores on them, e.g. "back up computer." These then go in my Tickler file under the appropriate days. So far so good. But because the system is still under revision, instead of writing directly on the cards, I've been sticking a Post-It note on a card and writing on it, instead. You see, that makes it temporary, and I can replace it with a new sticky note if I want to modify it, only writing on the index card when I'm pretty sure I know what I want it to say.
Then I did some research. There's some variation—depending on where you shop, the quantity you buy, and whether you go for brand name or generic, plain or colored—but the cost of a Post-It note of the size I use is just about the same as the cost of an index card. It doesn't feel to me as if that ought to be the case, but it is. So while my system may, possibly, save a very small amount of paper, basically there's no point to it.
I plan to "sin boldly" from now on and write directly on the cards, feeling free to replace them as desired. Perhaps it will even make my organizational system seem a bit sturdier.
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton (original copyright 1908)
We should have more such nightmares. Wikipedia refers to The Man Who Was Thursday as a "metaphysical thriller," and I suppose that's as close as possible to giving it a label. Like Chesterton's Manalive, this tale of anarchy and adventure is a wild ride, but it is shot through with goodness—not to mention Chesterton's characteristic mental gymnastics and wordplay.
It's hard to imagine that Garth Nix, author of the Keys to the Kingdom series, owes no debt to The Man Who Was Thursday in his use of the days of the week. At least, having recently read the series on the recommendation of my grandson, it was obvious to me, especially since Nix throws in innumerable other literary references. Equally obvious, and more signficant (because closer in intent and feeling), is the influence of the clothing in the final chapter on the gowns worn at the end of C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength.
Such is the nature of The Man Who Was Thursday that I can confidently quote a large section from near the end without fear of giving anything away:
"You! " he cried. "You never hated because you never lived. I know what you are all of you, from first to last—you are the people in power! You are the police—the great fat, smiling men in blue and buttons! You are the Law, and you have never been broken. But is there a free soul alive that does not long to break you, only because you have never been broken? We in revolt talk all kind of nonsense doubtless about this crime or that crime of the Government. It is all folly! The only crime of the Government is that it governs. The unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme. I do not curse you for being cruel. I do not curse you (though I might) for being kind. I curse you for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and have never come down from them. You are the seven angels of heaven, and you have had no troubles. Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I—"
Syme sprang to his feet, shaking from head to foot.
"I see everything," he cried, "everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.'"
It's no secret that I like Michael Pollan's food books, and I'm fifth in line for his latest, Cooked, at our library. In the meantime, here's a chance to hear Pollan speak on the nutritional value of home cooking. (H/T DSTB) I'm sorry I can't embed the interview; you'll have to click on the link to hear it. Here are some quick excerpts:
Why don't people cook at home anymore? Skills have been lost over the last two generations, and people are intimidated by culture of cooking they see on television.
Time is not a valid issue: "people make time for things they've decided are important."
Neither is demographics: "poor women who cook have better diets than wealthy women who don't."
"Built into the very nature of cooking at home is a curb on consuming the worst possible food."
The best diet for an American today? Pollan, quoting a marketing researcher in the food industry itself: "Eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself."
Pollan's final recommendation leaves me scratching my head, however: Cook at home, and get soda out of your house, and obesity is taken care of.
It sounds great, but reminds me of the facile advice I heard years ago that an easy way to gain more time is to cut down on television viewing, or that you can save a lot of money by quitting the smoking habit. What if you don't smoke and don't watch TV and still find yourself short of time and money? What if you already cook at home and don't drink soda?
I can venture more with Davie than with another: he obeys in a moment.
Thus the tutor in one of George MacDonald's novels explains how he dares take his young pupil on dangerous explorations to the roof of an old, crumbling Scottish castle. Davie was allowed the exciting and perilous adventuring because his tutor knew that when he said, "Stay here until I return," Davie wouldn't go wandering and possibly falling off the edge.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lift Up Your Hearts! knows I am a fan of Free-Range Kids and Lenore Skenazy's movement to restore for today's children some of the freedoms enjoyed by previous generations. Parents are hovering over their children as never before: they're afraid to let them out of sight, to walk to school, to ride bikes with their friends; afraid to let them risk getting hurt, even a little, whether they be infants negotiating stairs, children using knives, or teens travelling to a foreign country. (Yet we expect teens to be sexually active, drive a car, and serve in the military. Go figure.) However, manageable risks and small hurts are necessary to growth. Without them, our children don't learn to tell a reasonable risk from a ridiculous one, and we find that sparing them the lesser pain has made them exceptionally vulnerable to serious, even fatal, wounds.
Why do we bubble-wrap our young people? The reasons are many and complex, but one of the greatest surely is that we no longer trust our children. And why don't we trust our children? Primarily, I would say, because they have not learned to be trustworthy.
They are not trustworthy because we have not given them the opportunity to learn obedience.
Obedience is an unpopular concept these days, perhaps because it conjures up images of harsh punishment, restricted lives, and children who go wild at college when released from their parents' strict rules and constant monitoring. Or of totalitarian societies and blind adherence to evil laws. ("I was only following orders.") But no matter what ugliness it has been deformed into, obedience to a trustworthy and legitimate authority is a beautiful thing. It's what makes society work. From traffic to taxes, from banking to environmental protection—when enough people decide that the rules don't apply to them, disaster is not far off.
The Connecticut Science Center has ruled that children under the age of 16 must be supervised by an accompanying adult at all times during their visit. Why such a ridiculous restriction? You can blame the lawyers, of course, but what it boils down to is that the museum has learned that it cannot trust that demographic to obey the rules of the house, let alone the rules of common courtesy. When that happens, people—and expensive equipment—get hurt.
Similar restrictions have sprung up all over, ostensibly for the safety of the children. I'm not sure I entirely believe that excuse. When our children were young and energetic, people would sometimes tell them not to do such-and-such a thing, explaining, "I'm afraid you'll get hurt." Well, maybe; it was pretty clear to me that what they were really afraid of was that the children would break, not their legs, but some material possession. Be that as it may, young people—at an age when some of their ancestors were supporting themselves, raising their own families, fighting in wars, and even commanding ships—cannot, apparently, be relied on to walk through a museum without damaging something.
Thus the free-range childhood movement has two major fronts on which to fight: (1) Convincing society that our children can and should be trusted to handle themselves at least as well as children did a generation or two ago, and (2) Preparing our children to be worthy of that trust.
As we explored Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, I noted that there were no age restrictions on the trails; it was up to parents to decide how much to involve their children. The trails themselves were safe enough, but often a sheer drop or a boiling spring was only a few feet away. A child of any age who could be counted on to stay on the trail, and to freeze at a parent's, "Wait for us!" command, would have the freedom to enjoy an unforgettable experience; one who was accustomed to thinking of rules and restrictions as flexible could easily end up dead. Too many of the latter will cause doors to slam shut for the former also.
"The world has changed," is the spell invoked to justify increasing restrictions on young people. By this is mostly meant external changes, such as more sexual predators, more kidnappers, more terrorists. (I'm absolutely convinced that the problem actually is more news coverage of these very rare crimes, but that's another issue.) The world has changed, indeed, but what has changed most is closer to home: our children are no longer growing up knowing and following the rules of proper use of stoves, knives, guns, hammers, saws, ropes, candles, campfires, boats, and other items they used to encounter—and be required to use—in everyday life. Parents are also more reluctant—perhaps in fear of the evils that have become associated with distorted ideas of obedience—to teach their children respect for authority, and the importance of following legitimate rules. If we want our communities to accept that our children are competent and trustworthy, it's up to us to make sure that they are.
(There is, I acknowledge, the opposite failing—teaching our children never to question authority, never to ask if the rules are legitimate. But that is a different issue.)
Political action can pry open society's closed doors for our children, good publicity can pry open parental fingers from a death-grip on their children's leashes, but only deliberate parental effort can prepare those children for freedom.
This is so cool—and I'm not just saying that because it was done by IBM, even though they do put food on the table and finance trips to visit the grandkids.
I've often wondered why tolerance is considered such a high principle these days. Granted, I have many qualities that cause those around me to exercise forbearance; nonetheless, I hope for more in even a casual relationship than mere tolerance. I'd rate our various neighborly relationships, for example, as great, good, casual, and tolerant, with the last being better than "nasty," but nothing to brag about.
Perhaps the preaching of tolerance comes because we have failed so badly at love. Tolerance—at best—says, "I disagree with you, but it doesn't matter." Love says, "I disagree with you, and it does matter, but I love you, and I choose to believe the best of you. I will pray for you, encourage you, and seek out ways to work with you that do not violate my conscience. I will be alert to any lesson God wants to teach me through you."
Lowering the bar is not the solution. Redefining a C as an A rarely inspires higher performance. Besides, we're not doing so well at tolerance, either. With a hat tip to VP via Facebook, here's a lighter moment dedicated to all who have been slammed by the unloving who preach love, or by the intolerant who preach tolerance.