Tag Archives: children

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Fairy Therapy and Other Silly Things

If you don’t have children you may but rarely encounter truly silly things like fairies. Why?  Because unless you go to a bar and hang out with nice inebriated people—and there are all kinds of drunken behaviors, so you can’t guarantee that when you’re spending time at a bar with intoxicated folks that they will be nice—you will not usually find people being silly. Unless, of course, they are children.

Let me give you an example. Recently I was in Romania and I tried to use my credit card in a restaurant. Apparently in that country, which is otherwise quite lovely with people who are warm and friendly and prefer the color maroon to any other color (seriously, they do), if you don’t tell the waiter before you eat that you wish to use your credit card to pay, then you simply can’t do so. I do not know why this is the case. I only know that in the case of one of the restaurants in which I ate, this was most certainly the case. In any case, this produced a grumpy exchange, and left me dithering about to pay and so forth. But this is not a silly thing—it is the opposite of a silly thing. It was a tense moment.   

But had he believed in fairies, maybe he would have been less grumpy. Maybe he would have believed that a fairy spirited away with my cash, and I simply had to use my credit card. Or had he been drunk, he might have been more jovial about the whole things—jovial, that is, if he was a silly drunk. But, as I said, there are also mean drunks. So he might have become belligerent, too, if he were drunk. So alcohol, it would seem, does not guarantee silliness, if you’re hoping to find it. Yet a belief in fairies may just do that.

Take children, for example. Children normally are silly. They like to make faces, dance on their toes at random times, show you with great pride pictures that are to them accurate but to any adult obviously distorted; they seriously believe in fairies, would never deny Santa Claus’ importance, even when such unswerving belief is called out as marginal by the president of the United States. And they love animals, all animals. They love to be tickled. They are brutally honest, but literally mean no offense by their honesty. You can tell them, “Say you’re sorry,” and they will respond, “My sorry,” innocently misunderstanding your grammar. They call the grass vegetables and smile for the camera without having to be coached. Best of all, they often cannot stop giggling. And they love the idea of fairies.

Why? Because children are essentially always drunk. Their minds live in a constant state of pleasant inebriation. They find things funny that other people take for granted or haven’t thought about for years or, even when they see the silliness in them, don’t find funny. And children, like the aforementioned nicer kind of drunken people, will find the same thing funny time and again. You can amuse a child, like you can a drunken person, by doing something silly repeatedly. You don’t even have to find the thing you’re doing all that funny; but they will. And when they do, you’ll laugh, because you find it funny that they find it funny. In short, they don’t need to be told to lighten up, because they are, more or less all of the time (or at least most of the time), lightened up. 

I don’t think adults can replicate quite what children do, their semi-permanent joie de vivre, their belief in fairies or their ubiquitous cuteness. But we can lighten up. I think I will try to do at least that much in 2019, and maybe I will believe in fairies again, too. I know that sounds like a silly thing, but if it works as well as I suspect, I think I will call it Fairy Therapy. 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: A World without Kids

In California especially but also, if to a degree less-pronounced, throughout America a new trend is arising: deferring or permanently putting off, i.e. not having, kids. I am writing about this trend for two reasons: first, a world without kids scares the life out of me. Second, I wish to advance the notion that a child is not a thing, like a house or a car or a Ski-Doo, that one expects to be able to accessorize at a certain income level. Those items are useful or, in the case of the Ski-Doo amusing. A kid, conversely, is a remarkable blessing and a constant reminder to do better.

My thinking about this all started in roughly 1990 in the backseat of a car. I was sharing a cab with a new acquaintance who then taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  A German with perfect English, she minced no words. “So, I see” [but she meant ‘hear’] “that you have children, qvite [so she pronounced quite] a lot of them.” (We had three at the time.) “They must be very pleasurable.”  Now kids are a lot of things, but pleasurable is not exactly at the top of the adjective pile used to describe them. They are challenging, delightful, cute, mischievous, even highly innovative. They bring joy and, sometimes, sadness, hope and disappointment, laughter and tears. But pleasure? And no, the acquaintance in question did not then, obviously, nor did she ever, to my knowledge, have any kids. And if she were looking for pleasure, perhaps it is good thing she never did have kids, for pleasure is, more or less, what a Ski-Doo is for.

But why is a world without kids scary? Here’s why: kids are the only sensible people left on the planet. They are, it seems more and more these days, the only folks who will actually admit they are wrong when they are and say that they are sorry. They express love the right way. They are sincere, cute, and affectionate. They know how to play appropriately. They genuinely like each other. They don’t see color or think in terms of race or other ethno-socio-political differences. They are great. They are adults’ best role models.

Yet people want children less and less. Or if they want them, they want them like they want a Ski-Doo. They want them for the wrong reasons. And, I am sorry to say, they treat them like a Ski-Doo, too, pulling them out from time to time for fun, but then just putting them back on the shelf—in the case of the Ski-Doo a rather sturdy shelf, I suppose—until the next time. The idea of a family qua sacred bond, nurturing trust, blessed haven—that ideal is fading fast. And it is doing so in the name of economic prosperity, aka lucre, filthy lucre, and, ultimately, pleasure. Money can’t buy you love—I heard that somewhere—but it can buy you a Ski-Doo. A kid can do, and indeed is, much more.

 




Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The (In)curable Romantic

One might expect a blog with this title to appear around Valentine’s Day. The next major holiday, in any case, is Mother’s Day, and that’s not usually a “romantic” day—except for Oedipus, I suppose, poor fellow. Yet Mother’s Day could be romantic for the husband of the mother, that is to say the man married to the Mother of the House, for there is something quite admirable and even, I think, a bit romantic about being married to someone who has dedicated her life to being a mother.

Delaroche, Young Mother

I imagine my own wife that way—she is and will always be beautiful to me in no small part because of her unswerving dedication to our children and the family that she essentially supervises. And I would marry her all over again, if I could. And, you know, I think that’s at least a little romantic.

The word romantic nowadays would sometimes seem to have taken on a meaning quite different than what I have proposed here. In the news I recently stumbled upon an article about an actress named Anna Faris. I only mention her particular point of view because I think it is emblematic of a wider trend, not because I dislike Anna Faris—I actually have no idea who she is as I don’t watch television—but I did read that she is, perhaps ironically so, the star of a show called “Mom,” which seems apropos as we are leading up to Mother’s Day quite soon (May 13).

Anna Faris’ use of the word romantic struck me because it seemed to me off the mark, and at any rate certainly contrasts sharply with what I wrote above. In an interview of her by Erin Donnelly[1] from a March 28th publication, Ms. Faris is quoted as having said that she is seeking to “figure out what the purpose” is of marriage is.

“Is it safety for your children? Is it convention? Is it so other people respect your relationship more? For me, I’m just not quite sure where it fits.”

But she did not end her comments there, and this is the bit that truly jumped out at me:

“I am a romantic,” she added. “I believe in a partnership, I believe in companionship. I just don’t know if I believe in a ceremony of a wedding. You’d think that having successfully married parents would increase your odds. But how we’ve justified it is trying to make something work when we weren’t sort of picking up the clues. For me, it was sort of checking it off the list.”

It is most certainly not the case that I am offended by Ms. Faris’ remarks, which for all their lack of cohesion, nonetheless make it abundantly clear that she is highly ambivalent about the institution of marriage. Rather, I just found the bit about how she is “romantic” to be rather incongruous. Isn’t romance something meant to last? Isn’t the whole idea of a romantic movie about finding a special someone with whom you can build a lasting relationship—one that will last “forever”—someone you can ride off into the sunset with, have children with, struggle through hunger, cold, and disease with, and still love at the other end of the journey. But maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe the meaning of the word romantic was transformed along the way into temporary or ephemeral or exciting but not enduring. Or maybe it just needs a qualifying adjective like “curable” in front of it. If there is an incurable romantic, surely there could be a curable one.

Yet I’ll bet even in this modern, frenetically paced, and often all-too-dispensable age in which we live, the word still has its traditional meaning. I think that for the person who is “a romantic” the notion of finding that special person still abides. That amatory affliction would, to my mind, be the incurable type, and that is how even Mother’s Day can be romantic.

Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and to all mothers. May you suffer the affliction of love, as Ovid might put it. I hope it turns out to be an incurable case.

[1] https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/anna-faris-criticized-saying-doubts-purpose-marriage-102401869.html




Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Love and Romance

Roman HolidayI was going to complain about the fact that these days we have crazy politics, or about how people don’t listen any more but just multitask while they talk to you as they’re doing their Facebook or email or something. Yet all that changed when, earlier this week, I read an interesting article on marriage by philosopher/author Alain de Botton in the New York Times. I was suspecting that there might be a political agenda lurking beneath the innocent sounding title. In fact, I was expecting something not exactly uplifting, e.g., Matthew Johnson’s article in the Washington Post about the toll that having children takes on a marriage (“having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together”) or Sarah Wright’s piece in the newspaper which suggests that marriage is greatly overrated and will in any case end by 2042. (I’m not sure, but I think that date is coincidentally one and the same as that on which the current reinterpretation of the Mayan calendar suggests that the world is supposed to end. )

Another article, by Eleanor Stanford, of a few months earlier in that same New York newspaper, is much more practical. Stanford suggests 13 questions you should ask before you get married. Some of them are pretty legit: “How do you feel about children?” “How do you see us ten years from now?” Yet other questions raised there seem to me to make the entire love and romance bit sound rather as if merely the establishment of pre-nuptial parameters: “Is watching pornography O.K.?” “Do we like each other’s parents?” I seriously think if you are not going to marry someone just because you don’t like his or her parents then you are probably not in love with that person. And if your potential spouse is a porn user, then I should caution you to consider that he of she is highly likely to see people merely as objects. You’ll be lucky, in the case of a porn addict, if you even rank high enough to be one such valued object; more likely, you will play the role of mommy or daddy, nagging him or her to give up his vice and behave like a proper adult. (If you are in this situation now and not yet married, I would urge you to ask yourself: “Why am I even dating this person?”)

Yet to return to de Botton’s far more sensible and sensitive commentary. The article, indeed, shows no political bias, at least as far as I could tell, no anti-marriage theme or even a hey-face it-we-live-in-postmodern-times agenda. Rather, that author insightfully explains that being married is about behaving properly—and that the traits that are best to find in a prospective spouse are that of gentleness, civility, kindnesTrevi fountains and the like. Any person you marry will let you down at some point (in fact at many points) and you will let them down, likely, at least at an equal rate—in my case, I confess, at the greater rate. I heartily recommend the article, for it is a good, if brief description of how love evolves and grows. That article stimulated in me further thought on the topic. And so I have been thinking this week about love and romance. I met my wife nearly forty years ago now and I thought in closing that I might, with her permission, share a vignette about our first meeting, which occurred in Rome.

I was drunk at the time, sitting in a hallway. She was just arriving, rucksack on her back, long evenly matched thick braids of beautiful brown hair. She was wearing a white blouse and blue jeans. Along with her friend Nancy, she bounded down the hallway to check into the dormitory that was leased from a convent of nuns dedicated to Saint Mary; the chapel is still there, as is the contiguous building that provides the seat of that study abroad program. I felt that I had seen the most beautiful person in the world. I loved her from the moment I saw her. Of course, the feeling was not mutual. It was apparent to her that I was intoxicated, and as such I was prating away, intermittently, perhaps even babbling. She looked at me with great disdain, a look I recognize even better now than then because over the years I have seen it quite often. That aside, I spent the next several months—for the program of study was a full semester term—getting to know her better and hoping to show her that I was worthy of her love. (It took a while, as I had made a rather bad first impression.)

Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers

Yet then something wonderful happened. I tricked her into going to the opera (Luigi Cherubini’s La Punition); “I just happen to have an extra ticket,” I said. Then we went out for a date “as friends” to eat Italian pepper steaks. Weeks later we tried to meet up in Athens, but could not. Then goodbye on 10 January 1980. Then a reunion in New York on 24 July (sadly, the same day the great comic genius Peter Sellers died). Then some prayers, some more getting to know each other again, and eventually she said yes. No, her dad was never fond of me; in fact, I think that he did not like me at all. And it took Elaine Jakes a long time to warm up to her, as she had always liked better the girl with whom I had been naked in the back seat of a car—a story found on pages 161–164 of The Curious Autobiography. So as for the 13 questions, no we did not ask any of them, and for good reason. We were in love.9781480814738_COVER.indd

Robert Browning
Robert Browning

Love isn’t a contract or a matter of aligning interests or even of checking in on each other’s flaws or checking out each other’s parents. It is, rather, a matter of growing old together aright, as Robert Browning once wrote at the opening of his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be. …” For such growing old together to happen, one has to recognize that marriage is truly a matter of love, and love is a matter of choice—the choice to forgive, to smile, to sow seeds of joy, and to keep faith. And for that love to grow and deepen, one must carefully and thoughtfully permit it to change from mere passion to enduring compassion, from the flame of attraction to the glow of the family hearth.

hearth scene