Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Keeping my eye on the prize

My post about answering a question from Pinkie Pie "Daddy, why do we clean up so much for guests?" got an interesting response on Facebook.  Someone I don't know waded in and opined that mine was an example of the disaster that is permissive parenting.  His basis thesis was that children raised in permissive households do terribly in school, both having emotional problems and testing poorly.  I want to break this down into parts to address each of them separately because I think that will be most revealing.

The assumption is that permissive parenting creates huge problems in school, and the conclusion is that children should be raised to be obedient in a more authoritarian style in order to avoid this.

I don't actually buy the assumption but the person writing it claims many years of experience teaching children, so I would be pitting my opinion against the opinion of a presumably better informed person.  I would greatly appreciate it if any of my teacher friends or family members could shed light on this issue from a more informed or even scientific standpoint.  Does permissive parenting truly make school much more difficult for children?

Let us allow the assumption to hold for a moment.  Assume that children raised in permissive households where they are allowed to ask questions and their opinions are given substantial weight have a difficult time in school and make it hard on themselves and their teachers.  Does it then follow that I should raise my child in a more authoritarian fashion?

It does not.

The problem is that the conclusion rests on an unstated assumption that the most important thing I can do is raise a child that will fit into a structured, hierarchical system like our schools are.  Not only do I completely reject that assumption, in fact I think I should be doing the opposite.  I don't want teachers to have a difficult time but beating my child into being the round peg that the system demands is exactly what I don't want.

I want my child to be curious.  I want her to feel that she has the right to guide her own life.  I want her to feel that she can and should confidently ask for reasons for the things she is asked to do.  I want her to be independent in action and thought and to question the dogma and common assumptions that are made all around her all the time.

When the school asks her to stand and sing the national anthem I want her to question why we sing a song that references God in a country that should respect all religions and those who do not subscribe to one.  I want her to have the courage to say no if she wants to, and know that I will back her up all the way.

I want a child who knows that when an elderly relative demands physical affection that she can say no, and that her decision will be supported and respected.  I want her to push past the boundaries of what everyone expects to find her own path.

And none of that comes from teaching her to obey without question.  My job isn't to raise a person who does what she is told.  My job is to raise a person who forges paths nobody else even thought of, who does things people say you can't do, and who builds things that were thought impossible.  I don't get to that point by telling her that she has to obey because I said so and I pay the bills.

I don't subscribe to some Permissive Parent Philsophy, if there even is such a thing.  Children are almost universally given more responsibility and autonomy as they grow, and I know I give her more autonomy at a given age than most parents do their own children.  I tailor her freedom to her abilities and desires as well as my own sense of safety.

I don't want to create difficulties in school for my child, but if raising her to think, to question, to seek to understand, and to resist orders that she thinks are wrong makes school difficult... then school is going to be difficult.  That is a price worth paying.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The big sacrifices

I found a chart the other day that really got me thinking about how we think about environmentalism.  It listed a bunch of the things you can do to help reduce your carbon emissions and their relative impact.  This is something we need more of, I think, because people do often focus on doing easy things that aren't especially useful.  For example, changing all your lightbulbs to more efficient ones reduces your output per year by 100kg.  Recycling reduces it by 210kg.

And declining one single return flight across the atlantic reduces it by 1600kg.

Yeah.  Just think about that.  Did all the things you tried to do for the environment for the entire year get dwarfed by that single long distance flight you took?

Mine didn't quite get zeroed out though, because I live car free, and that gives me a 2400kg bonus, so I am ahead on that count at least.

But the real killer is that a person in Canada emits roughly 20,000kg of carbon emissions per year.  If Wendy and I had decided to be childless then we could own a car and take five flights to Europe a year each and still be ahead of where we are now with our one kid.

And if we didn't have a child we would easily have the money for that car and those flights!

But people who have three kids?  There is *nothing* they can do that even approaches the scale of the emissions that their kids create.  They can go vegetarian, walk everywhere, completely refuse plane travel, recycle, hang their washing to dry, and it won't matter.  Their decision to have children means that the emissions from their family will dwarf the emissions from my family, period.

A really rich family could definitely push their emissions higher even with few or no children.  Buy a yacht and sail that thing around all day every day.  Own five houses and heat and cool the heck out of them.  Have a car for every day of the week, go nuts.

But by and large, it is the number of people that is the biggest factor once you take out the extreme high and low outliers in terms of wealth.

Not that any of this is news.  Overpopulation is the primary driver of basically all of our environmental concerns.  But sometimes you look at a chart and then it really hits you that population is the real thing, and the rest just follows from it.

I don't quite know what to make of it.  I made the decision to have a child without really thinking about it this way, and now it makes all of the decisions I make about environmentalism seem utterly absurd.  Penny wise, pound foolish, almost.

To clean or not to clean

A couple days ago we had a bunch of guests come over to our place to visit.  Pinkie Pie and I were home during the day so I set out to clean the place in anticipation of our guests arriving.  About halfway through Pinkie Pie asked me why we cleaned in anticipation of guests arriving.  I wanted to say this:

"Well Pinkie Pie, we, like most humans, exist in constant fear of losing our status amongst our peers so we engage in ceaseless virtue signalling in a vain attempt to convince those around us that we are superior.  We do this by vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, in a desperate gambit to trick people into thinking we always live in such cleanliness.  I know this, but it doesn't stop me from accepting a foolish social norm that clean floors equates to goodness of character and desperately trying to make my guests feel inadequate by making my home cleaner than theirs."

I could have said that.

It is nearly all true, even.  But she doesn't understand the term virtue signalling, and the concepts there are more than she can grasp in a single go.

So I broke it down a bit smaller.

"Well Pinkie Pie, I needed to vacuum the floor at some point, as it has been a week or two.  Doing it when guests are coming over is as fine a time as any, and if anyone is allergic to the cat then getting the cat fluff off of the floor is a good plan.  We don't *have* to do this for friends, but there are going to be a lot of people and so we will all appreciate having as much space as possible so tidying up is a good idea in any case."

I couldn't find a good excuse for scrubbing the tub.  It isn't like the guests are even going to see in the tub, the curtain will be over it.  I could have thrown buckets of shit in the tub and they wouldn't know except for the smell.

Yet I scrubbed the tub.

So I made sure to include a bit of that.

"Sometimes we are silly and we clean more than we need to.  It reassures me to have a clean place when guests come over, even if it is kind of pointless.  They probably won't notice or care, but I do feel better when I make an effort to show the better side of normal at my home.  I won't do anything unusual, but I feel better when I display an above average version of my home."

Then she got me.  She asked why I clean up for my friends but not her friends.

Touche.

She admitted that her friends wouldn't notice or care, and that she didn't care if I did, but she wanted to know why.

"I guess it just doesn't bother me to not have the place clean if your friends come over because they make a gigantic mess immediately anyway.  And since they don't care what the place looks like, and they aren't going to invite me over in turn, it doesn't matter to me much."

All of which is true, but it kind of sidesteps the fact that in this way adults matter to me and kids don't.  I am not measuring my status against children, so I don't try to impress them in this way.

I know some parents find these questions hard or unpleasant.  I love them!  They force me to articulate complicated concepts in simple words and examine myself in ways that I usually do not.  Plus they let me teach Pinkie Pie about the silly ways that the world works and makes jokes that make her laugh.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The downside of upsizing

The world likes to talk about how great it is to be stronger.  The benefits of working out are many, from being healthier to being hotter.  Much is made of the obvious downside - having to be in the gym all the time - but little is made of another downside, which is clothing and its inability to be multiple sizes at once.

I have seen plenty of diet programs advertised by showing people tossing aside enormous pants that they have given up because they lost so much weight.  Look at me, these people say, I was once a size that needed scientific notation to be properly expressed, and now my size is a number that a six year old can count to!

It isn't nearly as fun when you are getting bigger and having to set aside clothes that simply don't go on your body anymore.  This isn't a problem with shirts because half of the point of working out was to wear super tight shirts, #casuallyflexing but pants are a real pain in the ass.  Or perhaps more accurately, a pain in the gut.  I have been doing lots of core exercises and leg days these past few months and now I can't get into most of the pants and shorts I own.  My stomach basically looks the same, but it is clear I built a bunch of muscle underneath and now things just don't fit.  Or maybe I am building up muscle in my butt?  Hard to say.

On the weekend I even busted through my swimsuit when bending over, and my ass was hanging out of a 10 centimeter rip right up the back.

It finally hit a breaking point when I realized that my shorts were so tight they were messing with my digestive system.  I felt like I had to poop but when I went to the bathroom and took off my shorts there was suddenly drastically less pressure around my middle and I didn't need to poop... or at least I couldn't.  There were three trips to the bathroom over the course of an evening where I really felt I had to poop but my body wasn't in any shape to do so once my stomach was free of its bonds.  Something had to change.  My belly yearns to be free, and I want my properly calibrated lower digestive tract back!

So I went and bought new clothes.  Not a ton of them, but enough that I actually have things to put around my lower bits that don't mess up my body's internal sense of when it is full, at least.  Doing so reminded me of why I hate shopping so much and why I always wear my clothes until they fall to off of my body into a pile of rags.

Apparently it is now normal to produce new pants that have a single hole the size of a quarter on one leg.  I get the thing where pants are made with tons of rips and holes as a 'style' thing, even though I would never buy them, but I am totally flummoxed at who thought a singular hole was a design that would sell.  That isn't 'style', it is just shoddy.

It almost tempts me to yell about teenagers these days... except I remember too well the things some of my contemporaries wore when I was young.  Pretty sure nothing much has changed.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is a book in a series by N K Jemisin.  It is superb and wonderful and everyone should read it for a dizzying array of reasons.  When I review books I try to provide both positive and negative feedback and avoid portraying things as PERFECTLY GOOD or TOTALLY EVIL, but The Fifth Season is just wonderful cover to cover.  There is nothing bad to say.

The story is a fantasy / sci fi crossover.  It is set in a far future Earth, or perhaps an alternate Earth.  It has incredibly futuristic technology as well as magic, although of course when you talk about a story set 20,000 years in Earth's future, the magic could well just be technology that is beyond our modern day comprehension.  The title of the book refers to the fact that in the Earth of the book there is drastically greater volcanic and tectonic activity than today and times of cataclysm are common.  When tsunamis strike and the air is clouded with volcanic ash, when poison rains from the sky and winter lasts for years at a time, this is the Fifth Season.

The world is beautiful and deep and marvellous.  The magic users of the world have incredible power but are counterbalanced by other forces.  Jemisin doesn't just spend her time going over how the magic works technically though because she has embedded it deeply in the political and cultural norms of the world.  The constant catastrophes and the way that magic users can prevent or alter them is a critical part of the worldbuilding.  This isn't Feudal England with Fireballs - it is a completely new world that Jemisin reveals to us, and it is one that makes sense.

I love it when fantasy is done like this.  It is boring when the world is just assumed to be Earth but with random magic stamped in willy nilly.  Far better is someone who twists the entire world to react to the presence of magic and shows us amazing new things that humanity could become in that place.

Jemisin does a great job of having a diverse cast of characters too.  She describes people so that you can see their racial features and understand what the characters look like without simply assuming that everyone is a normal white person like so many fantasy books do.  She also includes queer and trans characters seamlessly and beautifully.  It isn't a story about what it is like to be queer, or even what it is like to be queer in a magical society.  It is simply a story where some people are queer or trans and they are just part of the narrative.  Needless to say women also get to play an equal part in the world, another thing few fantasy or science fiction stories manage.  We need more of this!

Similarly there are love stories that aren't monogamous ones.  This certainly hits home for me because monogamy utterly dominates books and stories of all sorts, but The Fifth Season has characters who end up in non monogamous relationships that are quirky, individual, happy, and loving.  The book isn't about polyamory and indeed the word never appears but the best and most functional relationship that the main characters end up in consists of three people.  Even better, I think, that it isn't a simple triangle of perfect loves because all three of the people have different relationships with one another.  It reflects real life in that it is tricky and messy sometimes, but it works for them.

The technology and magic in the world is interesting and well written.  The history of the world is deep and fascinating to learn about as the book progresses.  The characters are flawed, real, difficult, and compelling.  The diversity of the cast and the way that Jemisin weaves in stories that are so often forgotten or ignored is marvellous.

This is the best fantasy book I have read in a long time.  Maybe ever.  This is also the best science fiction book I have read in a long time.  Maybe ever.  If you like either of those genres, this is what the biggest and best new thing looks like.  The third book of the series comes out this summer and I will be eagerly awaiting it.

You should too.

Dressed down to stand out

Pinkie Pie graduated grade five this week and will soon be moving on to a new school.  There was a fair bit of disagreement amongst parents as to how to handle this change because most of us remember not having any sort of graduation ceremony until grade 8 but the kids were all wound up to the maximum about it.  Even so, lots of parents talked about all the money they spent on new clothes for grad, some of which were never expected to be worn again.

Most of the parents don't really care about it, but we don't want to stomp all over the kids' feelings either.

When this sort of thing happens, even if parents don't care much about it, there is a big focus on dressing up and appearance.  Most of the kids were in fancy clothes and there was a lot of makeup, new haircuts, and extra polish evident.

Pinkie Pie wanted to just wear her normal tshirt and leggings.  

Most parents would forbid this.  I am not most parents.

In fact, I quite like the idea of her refusing to put on a culturally mandated costume for this event, and I quite approve of wearing normal clothes.  I did have some worries eating at the back of my brain though.  I was concerned that other kids would make fun of Pinkie Pie's lack of dress clothes.  I was concerned that she would end up feeling uncomfortable at a table full of fancied up kids in her normal gear.

My solution to this was to tell her she could wear whatever she wanted but that other kids would be dressed up fancy.  I told her that she would probably stand out.  I made completely clear that she was welcome to wear whatever she liked though, and that I personally didn't care.

She chose to go with her regular clothes and as far as I know nobody said a word about it.  If I had seen them give her grief I would have been really tempted to step in and crack some heads (by which I mean I would tell them they are terrible people) but I saw nothing of the sort and Pinkie Pie came home at the end of the evening quite pleased with everything.

Even if they had given her grief about her clothes though I would not have regretted my decision to let her pick her wardrobe.  You have to learn these lessons yourself at some point or other, and learning them in grade 5 is a relatively low impact spot.  

After the grad she went out to a restaurant with her classmates without us and came home telling us of all the wonderful things that the Mandarin restaurant serves.

I suspect many or most parents would be a little sad at watching their kid grow up like this.  Graduating to a new school and going out for dinner without us is a couple of new steps all taken together.  I LOVE it.  

It makes me happy to watch her grow and mature.  I like her every step into independence and freedom and being herself, away from us.  Fly, little unicorn, fly!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poly correlations

I noticed something odd recently about the people I met last summer.  When I went to the World Boardgaming Championships in July I met a ton of new and interesting people and ended up being Facebook friends with 9 of them.  Over the past year I have seen their posts on Facebook and discovered that 3 of the 9 are openly polyamorous.  This is a surprisingly large number because only 5% or less of the population identifies this way and a great many of those are closeted and wouldn't discuss their relationships on Facebook for fear of retribution.  Also some of the 6 rarely post to FB so I have little information and I haven't asked anyone directly about it.

I had a vague suspicion that one of the 3 poly people was poly at the time, but it was nothing more than a suspicion.  The other two were a complete surprise - not that they did anything to suggest otherwise, but rather I received no information at all.  I don't think this is a case of me having some sort of poly radar.

It makes me wonder about the correlations between various character traits.  It makes lots of sense that the people I would like at a convention would have similar political leanings, we clearly have the same hobby, and I might also share values on things like religion.  What I don't know is how much these other things correlate to being polyamorous.  Are political lefties more likely to be poly?  I would suspect so since left wing parties would tend to be a lot more accepting of their lifestyle but I certainly can't offer convincing proof of that.  Left wing politics and polyamory are also both correlated to higher education, and I tend to like talking to people who have been in school forever, so that could be a factor also.

I would also expect a correlation with atheism or agnosticism because religions tend to push traditional family structures.  Not all of them do, and not everywhere, but there is a trend for sure.  People who refuse to listen to authority seem more likely to independently reject religious orthodoxy and mononormativity too.

Before I came out as poly I thought that there were hardly any polyamorous folks around.  Now I know so many!  I wonder how much of that is tapping into new parts of the web of humanity that lean that way, and how much is an actual shift in the number of people being poly and being open about it.  The news is constantly putting out new articles about polyamory so people are more aware, and acceptance is increasing.  Clearly both of those things are changing my social network, but I honestly have no idea how much of the changes I see I can attribute to each.

I don't develop an instant liking for anyone who is poly, that much is certain.  I joined a bunch of Facebook groups over the past few months centered around polyamory and I left the great majority of them while clutching my ears and moaning "No, not like this."  The only groups I stayed in were ones that were built around my social web, so I certainly gravitate towards people that share my values more generally.

Of course I must end with the note that this could quite easily just be entirely random.  The sample size is obviously quite tiny so I can't draw sweeping conclusions.

Also if you happen to be a person I met at WBC and you are polyamorous feel free to send me a message because I am curious if there is more to this trend than I know!  (I won't discuss names publicly, obviously, unless you want me to.)