Toddler Teleology

Okay, as I keep trying to tell you, I’m a smart guy, right? And what’s more, I appear to have signed some kind of contract before birth so that, just like Sherlock Holmes, I would agree to be abysmally stupid in some things (I cannot find my way out of a paper bag), in order to be good at others (I remember almost everything I learned in middle-school science classes.) How’s that for a tradeoff? WHICH WAY TO THE MALL AGAIN.

One of the things that I had been looking forward to is that, when I had a kid, and they pestered me with lots of questions, I would actually be able to answer them all. “Daddy, why’s the sky blue?” No problem — I can begin with the properties of a photon as both a wave and a particle, work up to the varying wavelengths of visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum, how we interpret those as color, and then talk about how air scatters particular wavelengths BLAH BLAH BLAH but at least I’d, you know, know it. “Daddy, what makes an air conditioner work?” “Well, young whippersnapper, let’s make a piston out of a two-liter bottle and DERIVE BOYLE’S LAW, shall we? DEAR ACADEMY: YOU MAY SEND THE FATHER OF THE YEAR AWARD TO THE FOLLOWING ADDRESS.

Arrogant, smug fool. My child has absolutely no intention of asking questions like that. All the preparation I had done in middle school science (and later, as a schoolteacher, albeit one on movie sets) was to be able to answer cosmological questions. And then the work I did in college and grad school was all epistemological.

My daughter, clever little minx, is blinding me with teleology:

  • “Daddy, why is Freddy the Frog a toy?”
  • “Daddy, why the Farmer in the Dell?”
  • “Daddy, why is not a shoe?”

Now, you can try to make a kids’ explanation of Boyle’s law (“well, honey, when you squish things together, they heat up!”), but try to make an explanation of Husserl!? (“well, honey, you see, the world can be divided into the things as they actually are, the cogitatum, and the representation of that thing in our perceptions, which is itself a predicate of thought…”) (“Well, sweetie-pie, Heidegger says that we enframe the object of Freddy, understanding it as a standing-reserve of play…”) THAT IS BULLSHIT. It’s one thing to salt your dialogue with words you picked out of Continental philosophy, with extra jerk points earned for leaving them in Latin or German. It is another to actually make sense. So I finally asked her:

“I don’t know, sweetie. Why is Freddy the Frog a toy?”
“Because he’s not a real frog.”

I was just philosophically OWNED by a two-year-old. Sheesh, I should have been a damn Buddhist.

Toddler Teleology

Garden Post Two: The Diggening

Okay, this is where the rubber meets the road: we have just 17 days until Harlan Holmes, Gardening Bodhisattva and Cruel Taskmaster, holds his first spring gardening class. By that time, we will need to have: dug some beds in the back yard. constructed a seedling rack (complete with lights), purchased a bunch of seeds (lettuce, onions, shallots, parsley, kale, and celery), and be ready with some half-flats to GROW US SOME PLANTSES.

Actually, the “bed-digging” part isn’t crucial, but it was so warm this weekend that we got inspired. So I rented a tiller from Home Depot, and Kate and I got to work:

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As you maybe can see if you click on the Flickr pictures, the tiller just kind of eggbeats the top couple of inches of soil. Well, it did slice up the turf, which saved us having to compost a big pile of turves for the next six months, so on the whole I’m glad I rented it. BUT NOBODY BETTER WARN US ABOUT WEED SEEDS IN THE TURF we know about that already, and decided that a meatball garden that actually, you know, exists is better than a perfect one in our heads.

Then Kate went through and actually DUG the edges, making a nice, clean “Shallots go HERE, grass stays over HERE” line. The garden is four squares, each five feet on a side, for a total of 100 square feet. The soil amendment recommendations we got from the Penn State Ag lab are in 100sf units, so that makes the shopping easy, and I now have several bags lined up to dump in when we re-dig the beds later. I’d list the chemicals, but that would give a misleading impression of knowing what I’m doing. Penn State says a half-pound of THAT STUFF.

I don’t want to be a sanctimonious “Oh, the joys of gardening” blogger, since I’m already insufferable enough. Fortunately, it’s easy: 80% of gardening, like 80% of parenting, pretty much just makes you feel like an incompetent fool, especially when you step on the rake. The other 20% makes you feel happy and productive, though, and it’s a good antidote when you’re visiting a family member in the hospital, and the news is sad and scary.

Okay, promise to future dinner guests: I WILL NOT TELL YOU WHAT KIND OF LETTUCE YOU ARE EATING UNLESS YOU ASK. But then, all bets are off.

Garden Post Two: The Diggening

Just in case a monster truck tries to run over my DPNs

I brought my knitting project (gauge swatch for Michelle Stern’s baby’s sweater) to Nicole and Dave’s excellent New Years’ Party last weekend (we celebrate New Years at exactly 9PM with a secretly prepared videotape of the ball drop. The kids have an excellent time, since for them New Years is really just a Pavlovian mechanism: Shiny ball! Numbers counted loudly! Blow party horns and SCREAM!!! Exhausted sleep. And we actually ARE celebrating the moment of the new year, we just happen to be celebrating it for our fine neighbors to the east in the Azore Islands. Dave and Nicole, I salute you.

I knew that Kate’s friends would be bringing their husbands, so I just threw my knitting in, you know, whatever was handy. No big deal, it’s not like I’m overcompensating…

TRUCKZILLA, NOOOO!!!

Yeah, that’s right, I put my yarn in a milspec, waterproof, and monster-truck-resistant Pelican 1200 case. In Hazard Orange. With a Firefly ACR/4F SOLAS distress strobe epoxied to it (“Warning! Per US Code, distress signal to be used only in case of emergency. Fine or imprisonment for unauthorized activation.”) You know, just the sort of thing that a fellow has lying around the house to carry his knitting in. I’m not overcompensating or anything. Really. Do I sound defensive? I’m not defensive.

I’d show you the case that I carry my My Pretty Pony collection around in, but it requires a full environmental protection suit in order to approach within camera distance.

Just in case a monster truck tries to run over my DPNs

“You can’t stop progress, Mister DeWeese!” “BOOOOOO!”

Kate, Lydia, and I were sitting on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives yesterday, jammed in among a hundred other new representatives’ family members waiting for the swearing-in ceremony. This, apparently is supposed to go very smoothly: the new legislators take an oath, the new speaker is elected, and everyone goes for coffee.

Our first clue that things were going to go differently was when a silver-haired man in suspenders walked up to the podium, leaned w-a-a-a-y into the microphone, and in a “now-let’s-just-see-here-folks” Atticus Finch voice, asked for a half-hour caucus. Muttering from around the room.

What happened over the next few hours was a really awesome legislative coup, in which the incumbent Republican speaker, John Perzel, had the carpet yanked out from under him despite convincing three Democrats to split from their party and promise to vote for him, a minority party member, to back him for Speaker.

There was shouting, there were veiled intimations made with smiling faces, and we were sitting six feet from the Republican speaker’s podium, so we got to hear how Perzel was parroting things said by his aide. As DeWeese was negotiating with the Chief Clerk to see whether or not Perzel would be entitled to second his own nomination (essentially, giving him the chance to make a stump speech), his aid whispered “you can’t stop progress”, and Perzel then repeated this sententiously into the microphone, and then all the Democrats on the other side of the floor booed and threw beer bottles at him. Well, figuratively. That was the audio clip that ended up on all the radio reports of the day.

So it was AWESOME, even though I had to leave with Lydia halfway through the proceedings to find a bathroom for her; we got to use the members’ bathroom, which is just what you’d expect: half shoe-shine joint, half off-track betting facility, half turkish spa, filled with burly attendants in red V-necked sweaters. Barb got sworn in, escorted the new Speaker (Denny O’Brien) to the podium, and then we were off to shake hands.

Favorite part of the day: we arrived with only SECONDS to go before the doors closed to the ceremony, and so we were whisked through the back halls of the House by Barb’s legislative assistant Kendall: running through curved subterranean hallways, kicking pages off of elevators, taking the shortcut through the governor’s lobby, and finally squeaking in JUST as the door was closing (well, just after it closed; Kendall yanked it open at the last second and endured a stern lecture from the bailiff, nodding contritely and waving us past with the hand hidden behind her back. Kendall, you rock.)

Then, back home to visit Bob, who (and this is the reason I haven’t been blogging lately; how do you say this?) is in Chester County Hospital with a carcinoma in his pelvis. He’s been in a lot of pain the past few weeks, mostly physical, but also mental, as the diagnoses have been flying thick and fast (“hell, it’s just an infection!” “Dear lord, get the priest in here AND HURRY!”), and right now, he’s hooked up to an epidural and going through a two-week course of radiation. Matt is taking care of Bob’s business right now, driving all over the county installing and servicing high-tech water filtration systems, and Lydia, Kate, and I have been making regular visits to the surgical wing.

Bob puts Ferris Bueller to shame, and his room has been filled day and night with motorcycle buddies and other well-wishers. We’re really hoping that something that grew this fast will respond quickly to treatment; after five or six more radiation sessions, we’ll know something.

So it’s been a roller-coaster, as you can imagine. Thank goodness Barb got confirmed (her contentious recount process ended up giving her four new votes), because now her health insurance is, apparently, the best you can get. Keep him in your thoughts!

“You can’t stop progress, Mister DeWeese!” “BOOOOOO!”