A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday night, my family and I attended a Shabbat dinner at our local synagogue. Shabbat – the Sabbath day – is observed on Friday night through Saturday evening in Judaism. It commemorates the seventh day of creation, when the Bible says that God rested after having spent the previous six days creating the world. Jews observe the day by taking a break from their regular, day-to-day activities to pray and spend time with family and friends.

The dinner was sponsored by the synagogue religious school and preschool and my wife happened to be one of the organizers for the event. Approximately forty families from the synagogue school community came together to pray, eat and enjoy each other’s company. The event started with the usual Friday evening prayer service and then led into the Shabbat meal. Parents shepherded their children into the synagogue ballroom, where tables had been prepared for the meal. The rabbi led the group in singing Shalom Aleichem,1 recited the kiddush, the blessing over the wine, and helped all of the parents recite the ritual Shabbat blessings for their children.

The evening was beautiful. We got to spend time together, not only as a family of three, but as a community. My wife and I end up working into the evening so frequently that eating dinners together as a family are rare occurrences during the week. Shabbat, though, is a sacred time that we use to be together as a family. The dinner at the synagogue gave us the opportunity to reconnect, not only with each other, but also with our friends.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday evening, in Paris, France, at 9:20 PM, local time, two bombs exploded moments apart at Stade de France, a stadium where France was playing Germany in a soccer match.2 Over the next half hour, terrorists carried out additional attacks using bombs, shrapnel and assault weapons at four different Paris restaurants and Bataclan, a small concert hall where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, had been performing. By the time the terrorists had been subdued, 129 people had been killed and over 350 people had been wounded. The world watched as information began to emerge about the terrorists and the lengths to which they had gone to create fear and to publicize their messages of hate.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Even though the attacks began around 4:20 PM Eastern Time, I had not heard anything about them until much later in the evening. I came home a bit early from work that afternoon so that I could spend some time with my wife and son before we had to leave to get to the synagogue to finish off the last-minute preparations for the dinner. In fact, it was not until at least halfway through the actual dinner – probably around 8:00 or so – that I heard anything about the attacks.

It was a flashbulb memory, to be sure. I know that, years later, I will be able to remember the exact spot where I had been sitting when Trudy told me about the tragedy that had taken place in Paris earlier that day. I will be able to feel my elbows leaning on the table and my chin resting on my fists as my eyes, tired from the week of work that had just finished, stared lazily into space and then suddenly became laser focused.

I’ll remember the feeling of ease and relaxation that I always appreciate so much during the singing of the Shabbat evening prayer services. I’ll remember the connection between Trudy, Eitan and me as Trudy and I placed our hands on Eitan’s head to give him his weekly blessing. And I’ll remember the way my shoulders suddenly tightened and my heart sank as I heard the news.

I’ll remember wondering how it was possible that people could be inflicting such terrible pain at the same time as such wonderful experiences were being created. I’ll remember wondering how people could perpetrate such terrible acts at all. I’ll remember feeling utter sadness as I realized that I was starting to feel somewhat numb to the idea of this type of a tragedy, since I had already lost count of the violent acts that had been carried out in the few years since Eitan was born.

Most importantly, though, I’ll remember the silent determination, the internal resolution, to keep teaching Eitan about love and respect for other people, no matter what evil they might try to carry out against him or anyone else. I’ll remember that Eitan has a pure, empathetic heart that is destined to make the world a better place. I’ll remember how thankful I am to have my family and my friends around to help me try to make sense of the circumstances that some people face on a daily basis.

I’ll remember reinforcing my decision to help Eitan see the best of times, even when it feels like the worst of times.

 


1. Shalom Aleichem is a Hebrew song that portrays the singers welcoming angels into their midst to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat.

2. My notes about the timeline of the attacks came from here.

Brushing Up on Color and Gender

It was a year and a half ago, just before Eitan’s second birthday, that I first wrote about color and gender. That post was a bit of a manifesto about gender bias coming through in clothing and toys that are marketed to young children. I took exception to the Spider-Man toys that were being given out at McDonald’s along with kids’ Happy Meals and to the way Party City had divided up the merchandise for kids’ birthday parties. I re-read it before sitting down to write this post and I’m still pretty proud of it, especially considering the fact that I was still fairly new to blogging at that point.

The reason I’m bringing it up again is that the concept of certain colors being associated with gender came up for us recently regarding Eitan’s toothpaste.

Eitan has moved beyond the fluoride-free, training toothpaste and is now using the junior version of “real” toothpaste. The idea is that, once the child knows how to keep the toothpaste in his mouth instead of swallowing it, it’s safe to start using the toothpaste with fluoride because you don’t have to worry about the child poisoning himself. The first tube of this toothpaste that we bought happened to have characters from the Disney movie, Cars, on it, and the toothpaste itself was blue. Eitan liked it and was using it properly so I never thought much of it.

Then, one weekend, we spent a night at Trudy’s parent’s house. We bought an extra tube of toothpaste for Eitan so that we could leave one with Trudy’s parents so it would be one less toiletry to remember to bring if we knew we were going to stay there or, at least, be there late into the evening. The store had the brand that we had been using, but the only kind they had was pink and had the Disney princesses on it. We bought it anyway, brought the pink toothpaste home with us and left the blue one with Trudy’s parents.

The next night, when I went to brush Eitan’s teeth, I took out the new toothpaste and we had the following exchange:

Eitan: That’s not my toothpaste. Maybe Brooke left her toothpaste here. (Brooke is a friend of Eitan’s.)

Me: It’s not Brooke’s toothpaste; it’s yours. It’s the same, it’s just in a different tube.

E: But it’s pink. My toothpaste was blue.

Me: That’s true, it is pink. And who’s on the tube?

E: Ariel and Cinderella and… I don’t know who that is.

Me: That’s Sleeping Beauty. I think her name is Aurora.

E: I think that toothpaste is for girls.

Me: What makes you think so?

E: It’s pink and there are girls on the tube.

Me: Is pink only for girls or can boys use it too?

E: (thinks for a second) I don’t know.

Me: Don’t you like Ariel and Cinderella?

E: Yeah.

Me: And don’t you sometimes use a pink bowl and a pink plate and a pink fork and spoon?

E: Yeah.

Me: So can you use this toothpaste even though it’s pink?

E: Umm… okay.

We ended up having a similar exchange for the next three or four nights. Eitan kept questioning the use of the toothpaste on the basis that it was for girls and I kept convincing him that the color didn’t matter because the toothpaste works the same way as the blue one. After using the pink toothpaste for the first time, Eitan also exclaimed that it tasted even better than the blue one. Now, he barely even notices the princesses on the tube and just refers to it as his “pink bubble gum toothpaste.”

This was a pretty easy win for me. Toothpaste is a pretty minor thing, especially since it’s used in the privacy of our home and no one else is watching when I help Eitan brush his teeth. I work hard to steer Eitan away from the typical gendered associations with colors. That’s why I rotate the different colored bowls for his cereal each morning and why I let Eitan tell me which dolls we should play with in his doll house. It’s why I’m proud of him for sending tennis balls over the fence in the backyard and also for feeling comfortable putting on a princess costume with his friends.

Even so, I’m still thinking about what will happen if Eitan says that he wants to go against the typical gender norms in public. I know it doesn’t bother me if Eitan decides that he likes a pink shirt or wants to wear a tiara at an amusement park or even if he wants to have a princess-themed birthday party. Eitan likes what he likes and it’s not up to me to steer him one way or the other.1 I can’t help but wonder, though, how other people would react to some of those circumstances and how that would affect Eitan. Even if I know that I would stand up for Eitan’s right to wear what he wants and play how he wants, I could see another parent telling their child not to play with Eitan because of something as insignificant as a wardrobe choice. And I would hate having to tell Eitan that his friend can’t play with him because Eitan was just wearing or playing with something that he liked.

It’s possible that I’m building up this potential scenario in my head and that nothing of the sort is ever really going to come about. Parents want to protect their children, so we come up with these scenarios so we can plan accordingly. And, let’s be honest, the most likely scenario is that Eitan continues to internalize gender norms with regard to color and just falls in line with what he sees from the world around him. Either way, I just want Eitan to feel like he is making his own choices. If he chooses to wear the typically male greens and blues, that’s fine. If he wants to wear the typically female pinks and purples, that’s fine too. But I would hate for him to want to wear pink and feel like he has to wear blue because the world tells him so or for his peers to treat him differently because of his color preferences. I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, we’ll just keep focusing on toothpaste and on letting Eitan play however he wants to.

Because Eitan having fun is really all that matters.

 


1. Except the Yankees. Eitan, I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again: you are not allowed to become a Yankee fan.

We Do Not Hit, No Matter What Greg Hardy Says

Dear Eitan,

I’m angry.

I’m not angry with you, don’t worry. You’ve continued to be the happy, fun-loving, wonderful little boy that you are. You play and you sing and you tell me about the things you’ve learned in school. You’re so eager to show off your new knowledge and the skills you’re developing and I can’t help but be captivated by your initiative and your growth. Even when you do things that are frustrating, the feelings never last long. You remind me every day how thankful I am to have you and how amazing the world can be when everything is new.

But still, I’m angry.

Your mom and I work very hard to teach you the right ways to behave. We’ve had many conversations about the appropriate ways to react when you’re upset and how to ask for things without whining. We’ve talked about how it’s important to listen to what people are telling you, even if you don’t like what they’re saying. We’ve practiced using your words when you’re upset, rather than growling or crying or running away.

Most importantly, we’ve told you that it’s not okay to hit people.

Again, I’m not angry with you. Sometimes you have an easier time remembering these lessons than others, but that’s natural. You’re still only three years old, after all, and you’re still learning where your place is in the world. There are going to be times when you remember to use your words and other times when you scream and run into the bedroom and slam the door. And all of that is okay.

Part of the reason I’m feeling angry (and frustrated and a bunch of other negative feelings) is because there are some grown-ups who still seem to have trouble with these behaviors. Some people still think that they can hit someone else when they get angry and that there’s nothing wrong with it. They think that violence is acceptable, whether the person is a stranger or a friend or even a loved one.

The real reason I’m angry is because some of these people keep getting rewarded, no matter how disgusting their behavior is.

I’m bringing it up now because, earlier this week, Greg Hardy, a defensive end in the NFL, had his criminal record, which included a bench trial conviction for domestic assault, expunged. Hardy was originally charged because he did some really terrible things to his girlfriend. Even though he was arrested, charged and convicted in a bench trial, he appealed and requested a jury trial. The jury trial case was dismissed, however, because Hardy’s girlfriend had refused to continue participating with the prosecution. Then, this week, Hardy’s request to have his criminal record expunged was granted.

Aside from the legal processes that gave Hardy extra chances, he also continued to be rewarded by the NFL. Hardy was initially suspended for ten games when the details of the assault initially came out. Hardy appealed and the sentence was reduced to four games. He had been cut by the Carolina Panthers when the initial charges were made but he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in the off-season despite the looming suspension. He has played in four games so far this season and has had some issues keeping his cool. But, even with all the negative behaviors and Hardy’s apparent refusal to take ownership of his mistakes, Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, is referring to Hardy as a “leader” and talking about giving him a contract extension.

So I’m angry. I’m angry because Hardy is still getting to play and isn’t getting punished for his crimes. (A four game suspension for almost killing a woman is laughable.) I’m angry because people are defending him, despite visual evidence of the harm he inflicted on his girlfriend. I’m angry because media outlets like ESPN support personalities who have implied that domestic violence against women can be a woman’s fault.

Eitan, I know that your mom and I have taught you better than this. I know that we will keep teaching you the right way to work through your feelings, no matter how upset you are. I know that your heart is too pure and too good for you to ever commit any sort of violence against anyone, let alone against someone you love. I’m not worried about you turning out like Greg Hardy or about you even thinking that such behavior is somehow acceptable. If anything, I know that you’re going to be the person who stands up against such crimes and works to keep people safe.

But I’m still angry.

Love,

Daddy

Losing Online Friends

It’s weird thinking of myself as an online personality.

I’ve been writing this blog for about two and a half years now, so you’d think I’d be a little more used to it by now. I write these posts about my family, my sports allegiances, my beliefs about parenting, my views of the world around me and, the truth is, nothing much happens afterwards. I get the chance to process my feelings and let people in on the “secret” of what thoughts are swirling around in my head and that’s usually the end of it.

I don’t usually feel like I’m making a huge difference in the world with my fledgling little site. For one thing, I don’t exactly have the highest number of regular readers. People don’t recognize me on the street or ask me for my autograph or beg to take selfies with me. For another, so many of my posts are so small-scale, so individual, so specific to my family and my experiences. I’m hardly writing manifestos about how people should live or describing proper parenting techniques or even reviewing children’s books or toys. I’m telling stories about playing with my son and connecting with others and, occasionally, about sports.

Before you think that I’m complaining about not reaching very many people or that I’m feeling anything negative about this site, let me be very clear: I really enjoy this blog. I like being able to share stories with other people about my family. I enjoy exchanging ideas about parenting and relating to other people. I feel guilty when I see that an extended period of time has gone by without a new post because I feel a responsibility to the people who follow the blog regularly. I’m still surprised – pleasantly, of course – when people tell me that they read my posts and I jump at the chance to find out which posts struck their fancy and why.

The reason I mentioned being an online personality is that the internet has a weird way of helping people feel connected to those who put their thoughts and their experiences out there for public consumption. For instance, I listen to a number of different podcasts during my commutes to and from work and home visits. I’ve been listening to some of them for years and, over time, I’ve “gotten to know” the hosts. I’ve never met any of them but, after hearing them talk about their families and their work in the course of the podcasts, I find myself feeling like I know them. I feel like I could invite them to my house to watch football (you know, if I had time to sit at home and watch football) and it wouldn’t be weird at all because I’ve already gotten to know them.1 I’m happy when I hear about their successes and I feel sad when I hear that they are going through hard times.

It feels like these internet personalities, whom I’ve never met, are my friends.

On Friday afternoon, ESPN released a statement that it was suspending publication of the sports and popular culture website, Grantland. Grantland was started in 2011 by Bill Simmons, a sports writer who had been employed by ESPN at the time. Over the last four years, its writers covered sports in a slightly different way than conventional beat reporters and commentators. Grantland made statistics more accessible and expanded on the human sides of the athletes. The contributors put out quality content in multiple forms, including written articles, audio podcasts and videos. They approached stories in unique ways and no topic was off-limits. The site wasn’t always perfect but it was always thought-provoking and entertaining.

Some of these contributors fit into the category I was describing earlier, the group of Internet personalities that I’ve grown to love. It’s that relationship, odd and one-sided as it may be, that spurred this post. Some of these writers and podcasters will reportedly be staying on with ESPN in other capacities, which I’m happy about because it means those people won’t immediately be out of a job and, selfishly, because it also means I get to keep reading their content that has drawn me to them for the past four years. But there’s still that nagging feeling like I’m losing something.

I realize that this is ridiculous in a lot of ways. Nothing is really changing for me. My job is the same, my family is the same, my commute is the same. I’m still going to listen to podcasts and follow my Chicago teams and read about sports if I have a spare minute or two. For all intents and purposes, the only way my life is really affected by any of this is that I’ll have a slightly smaller selection of podcasts to choose from. The people who are most affected by ESPN’s decision – the Grantland staff – have never met me and have much more pressing matters to attend to than worrying about how I’m going to learn about the most efficient NBA shooters or the reasons why the Mets faltered against the Royals in the World Series.

They actually need to figure out how they’re going to continue making a living.

Like I said, the Grantland staff don’t know me. We’ve never met in person, never Skyped, never had any real interaction to speak of.2 And still, I feel sad. I don’t know these people and they don’t know me. But they are my friends, just the same, and I hope that they all find a new place where they are able to speak their minds and express themselves in the ways that attracted me to them in the first place.

The internet is a less fun place without them.

Many many thanks to Jonah Keri, Robert Mays, Bill Barnwell, Katie Baker, Zach Lowe, Rembert Browne, Rany Jazayerli, Alex Pappademas and everyone else from Grantland for the cumulative hours of entertainment and procrastination that you provided. And, of course, thank you, as well, to Bill Simmons, who brought all of you together to begin with.


1. Never mind the fact that it would likely be really uncomfortable for them

2. Katie Baker and Jonah Keri replied to me once or twice on Twitter, but I think that’s about it.