Friday, February 12, 2010

He's an animal

My son would like to wish the Internet a happy Darwin Day. Also to let the world know he wants this book, and to talk his mother into purchasing it, like, yesterday. Also a new X-Box controller.

My son, as you may know by now, loves animals. Not just looking at them or touching them or who could win between a roadrunner and a snake (my money's on the roadrunner), but just ... them. The whole of them, the interconnected, beautiful messiness of it all.

He was trying to share this with his friend. The friend believes dragons existed, dinosaurs and humans coexisted, and Venus flytraps are sentient and eat larger mammals, so it should have come as little surprise to David that the tree of life was a foreign concept. Still, he thought his friend would think it was cool. We're share an ancestor with chimps and gorillas and, further back, elephants and mountain lions. If you go far enough back, we're connected to everything.

"I'm not related to animals," his friend retorted.

"You are an animal," my son shot back. The friend's father took issue with this, and much discussion and nice-making ensued. The dad just sided with the friend against my son and shot him down. I only found out about it later.

"Well, I thought it was cool," he told me on the way home. "I'm proud to be an animal."

And you know? We talked about that at length, and I was going to recount some of it here, but just, here:

Tell me you're not proud to be an animal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stuff I say, Part Deux

(Part un is here.)

Without context this time. It's not really necessary.

Guys, that's gross. Quit licking each other's butts.

I am most definitely not a beat boxer.

Can we talk in a little bit? I really wanted to watch this, and you're not going to any more or less hurt five minutes from now.

Guys, I know it's not "nothing" when I hear a huge crash, followed by dripping and "don't say anything to Mom."

I put lotion on your butt too many times today already.

How about, just for five minutes, no talking?

Yes; I said you were being stupid. You claimed you weren't wearing pants just so you could argue. I'd say that qualifies.

Well, my favorite Bakugan is the one with six heads.

No. Not knowing how to classify igneous rocks based on silica content does not make someone "dumber than a butt." I can see why he called you a poophead.

Because it's not nice to say you're "way smarter" than someone, even if he does think Venus fly traps eat tigers.

That's better. You don't just go biting someone's head.

OK; I'm holding the tip. Now push it in there. Quickly!

Well of course I was a know-it-all. I'd already said five times we didn't want air conditioning service, and she said "tempeture." Tempeture? Come on. She was asking for it.

I'm sorry, but I draw the line at butthole on camera lens.

You're right; it can be tough to keep them humble. Your daughter and my son really are quite a bit smarter than ... Oh, look. They forgot where the front door is.

Hey! Quit licking my pie!

It works the same as anyone else's sphincter. ... Yes. The pink part. ...  You know what? I don't think he likes that. How about we leave his butt alone while he eats.

Your teacher was really interested to learn about tarantula hawks. Just not in the middle of a math lesson.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I don't make resolutions, but I decided early this year that I wanted 2010 to be largely about giving, in my own life and in what I teach my son. Giving to others, to nature, to ourselves. What does true generosity entail? My son has further kicked off the theme, though I can't take the credit, as I've been pretty negligent in imparting any lessons so far.

So it was both fitting and extremely humbling that this was my first story this year.

Thomas Chappell didn't know Rita Van Loenen. When he met her (he as a cab driver, she his charge), things didn't go too well at first. A few weeks later, he was offering up his kidney to her. Go read the story. Good people, going about the business of trying to live.

Tom Chappell's life is, on the surface, largely incomprehensible to me. Take his profession as a cab driver. (On a list of "People who should never be in charge of driving others to unfamiliar locations," I'd rank just below the couple who trusted their GPS more than their eyes, and got lost in the forest for three days.) Or take the fact that, for thirty years, Tom missed out on a father-daughter relationship. I can't even imagine that. Or take, even, shoe shopping. Only one of us likes it. (Hint: It's not me.)

But there are two things about Tom that immediately struck a particular chord in me.

First, there's getting lost. He may not freak out at the task of driving others around, but he does miss a turn or two. After a conversation with him last month, I was busy copying down his taxi number and missed the freeway turn. That's OK, though: When he was in his cab, telling his story to CBS, he missed the freeway. He knows about missed turns, in the car and in real life.

Second, there's this idea that Tom and I seem to share, that if there's something or someone about which we know little but kind of wonder, well, why not see what's what? Libraries, honesty, and pointed questions are our friends.

These traits led me to become a writer and chronicler, of my life and others' -- but one who, more often than not, becomes lost on the way to or from stories. (Yes to and from. That means I can't find my own house, on a regular basis.)

Those same traits in Tom, plus a huge dose of generosity, led him to Rita.

After these small similarities, I realized Tom really wouldn't be incomprehensible to the most different of people. Because he's so honest, so much there, that you can't help smiling and nodding at everything he says, and then you find that you're still thinking about this guy, this stranger who didn't really try to befriend you but still stuck with you, weeks later. 

Thank you, Tom and Rita, for sharing your story with me. It's pretty amazing.