Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Raise Your Hand if You Fail at Lent

It’s Lent everybody!

So, in the event that you’re Catholic, it’s that time of year that you solemnly observe the liturgical calendar and, for 40 days, you fast or otherwise abstain from some indulgences, apart from the gross consumption of fish on Fridays.  

Or, if you’re like me and simply married to a Catholic, you make some half-assed proclamation that you too are going to sacrifice something for 40 days.

As strong as the tree she's hugging, Mrs. Blackwell's will isn't
to be underestimated — nor is her capacity to scorn those who
fail with in their lenten vows. Kidding. She's obviously quite
tolerant — of many things.
Solidarity, right?


Besides, there’s something to be said for abstaining from at least one pleasure for a period of time. 

If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to prove to oneself that you can do it. That you’ve got the will power, fortitude, whatever you want to call it, to deny yourself something that you enjoy.

If you want to get philosophical about it, I suppose you could view it as an assertion of free will. You know, nothing has control over me, right?

For this year Mrs. Blackwell is giving up sweets and is refraining from using her phone between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. for anything other than conversing with people. So, in theory, she won’t have her eyes glued to Facebook while she’s eating dinner.

For my part, I am giving up chocolate and the consumption of beer on more than one occasion per week. I know, I know, I know what a monumental sacrifice — however will I do it?

Well, the answer is, I won’t.

You see, as quickly as I make my “Lenten vow” I forgot I’ve made it and do this, seemingly, every single year. This year was no different.

The day after Lent started last week, I was at an office potluck two bites into a huge slice of chocolate cake when I remembered my vow. To be clear, not 24 hours after beginning this exercise, I’d forgotten it.

A few years ago, I was enjoying my second beer at a happy hour when I remembered that I’d made the vow to not drink beer. Then too, it wasn’t more than a couple days after I’d made the vow that I’d forgotten.
The fish fry. The very picture of restraint and sacrifice we
Wisconsinites make with great regularity during Lent.

Now, would seem an appropriate time to circle back to my previous comments about will power and fortitude.

More accurately, now might be a good time to acknowledge that I have neither. But, I’m not going to stop trying. I quit smoking, so there’s something inside of me that’s capable of this sort of resolve.

When you’re at this point, a big, beautiful piece of forbidden chocolate cake sitting in front of you, like a sweet slice of failure, you’ve can perceive your goal as irrevocably lost or you can choose to perceive it as altered.

I’ve opted for the latter and am tying a metaphorical string around my finger to remember my promises to me.

While the boy isn’t yet old enough to remember these practices, it’s never too early to get in the habit of occasionally stiffening one’s resolve. By the time the boy is old enough to know what’s up, his old man will be a pillar of perseverance, a veritable oak of a man.


That is, until someone offers me a beer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm Judging All the Fat Kids

We’re in the midst of an epidemic, or so we’re frequently told.

The 2015 Rascal. Your kid's gonna love it. 
Childhood obesity is everywhere.

Blimpish kids are proliferating like plump, mushrooms, and there’s no way we can stop them.

Soon, the aisles of Toys R Us will be clogged with toddlers on Rascals, fighting their way to the newly established “baked goods” aisle. 

There’s been a rash of media reports in the past few months proclaiming childhood obesity to be a top threat to America’s children. And, no doubt, it is.

The numbers from a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are astonishing.

“The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012,” the AMA reports.

The same AMA report notes that: “Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.”

What’s of interest to me is, how this discussion is framed.

Childhood obesity is a disease? Really?

It’s not as if this is a cold or a staph infection. A kid doesn’t just go out and catch a bad case of “the fats.” Obesity isn’t spread from person to person, at least not literally.

The boy during one of his frequent sugar rushes.
If we’re talking about addiction, that’s one conversation. Most of us have seen addiction, some, no doubt, have been afflicted by it. 

But, common sense tells us that one fifth of America’s children aren’t addicted to overeating and eating poorly.

And, despite my son’s best efforts to be the exception, kids aren’t doing the grocery shopping. That’s mom and dad. And it’s mom and dad who put the food on the table; and it’s mom and dad placing orders at the drive-thru.

This isn’t an epidemic of obesity; it’s an epidemic of poor parenting isn’t it?

This sweeping generalization of mine slapped me in the face the other day when the boy woke up on the wrong side of the crib.

To help dry his tears and allay his furious anger, I made him some chocolate milk with Hershey’s syrup.

Shortly thereafter, I opened the pantry and he noticed the bag of M & Ms on the top shelf, and he asked for some. I gave him a couple and then proceeded to pop a waffle in the toaster, which was later doused in syrup.

At some point I snapped out of my stupor and began to take stock of what the boy was consuming before 8 a.m. 

I drink coffee, the boy drinks this. It's all relative, right?
Then I remembered that this was the second day in a row I’d given him chocolate milk at breakfast. (And to think, I was under the impression the boy enjoyed mornings with Daddy because of the stimulating conversation.)

I thought about all of this and then I considered my opinions on childhood obesity or, more candidly, my judgment of the whole “epidemic.”

Specifically, I ruminated on my judgments of the parents of chubby kids and how, when you’re giving your kid chocolate milk for breakfast, you probably shouldn’t be judging anyone.

I considered just how much I’ve got it all figured out” and how — once again — my attempt to understand something by passing judgment on entire segment of the population failed. 

The fact is, it’s harder — much harder — to eat well. It’s more expensive. It takes more time and, let’s be frank, everything tastes better when it’s deep fried or doused in something made with high-fructose corn syrup.

We’re supposed to be the change we want to see in the world, right? I’ll start by trying to stop judging and start conceding that things are never as simple as they seem.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It's Tough Staying Humble When Life is This Easy

Between the infinite trappings of fame and celebrity status yielded by this blog and the obvious benefits Mrs. Blackwell enjoys being PhD student, we struggle for ways to stay grounded.

After another long week of jet setting, or conducting field-shattering research in another outrageously exotic location, the Mrs. and I like to remind ourselves each Sunday of our humble roots by engaging in a full day of housekeeping. 

One's life can't be fabulous all the time, after all. 
Pictured: exotic.

Aside from keeping us firmly grounded and spiritually centered, this weekly ritual of manual labor has the additional benefit of ensuring that our home doesn’t slip into a state of degradation and decay that would cause authorities to remove the boy from our custody.


Our Sundays start off at a leisurely pace with any combination of breakfast, CBS Sunday Morning, or a trip grocery shopping. (When it’s football season, this routine suffers somewhat.)

But, the inevitable course of action always sees us beginning the laundry and housework around noon.

For our part, Mrs. Blackwell and I have organically delineated our duties. We’ve never really discussed it, rather our approach just sort of emerged. 

I attack the clutter, shuttling odds and ends back from whence they came, while she attacks the dust, dirt and grime which accumulate ceaselessly, especially so during the winter months.

Throughout this process, I adopt the demeanor of a man watching a YouTube file of his favorite sports team losing over and over and over; which is to say, I’m long on annoyed and short on patience.

Pictured: preferred viewing for young jet setters
like Mrs. Blackwell and I.
For her part, Mrs. Blackwell is all smiles and sunshine — mostly. 

She can get a little frustrated from time to time while dealing with the vacuum and, if she ever comes upon a spider in the midst of her work, the world comes to a halt.

While we soldier through our chores, trying our best to make it seem fun, life proceeds uninterrupted for the boy.

Such are the benefits of not being even three years old.

While we labor, he lounges, enjoying the benefits of our toil.

He’ll walk around, observe and occasionally take a moment or two to appear engaged.

Eventually boredom sets in and he demands attention from mom or dad. In search of any reason to not make my 100th trip up the stairs I’ll usually stop the moment he asks — ditto for Mrs. Blackwell.

We’re always thankful for the break that playtime with the boy provides. Though, it’s tough to match his energy level when we’ve been on the move for a couple hours.

It was a productive day of work — until he showed up.
And, at the end of the day, when the sun has retreated and we’re exhausted, we exhale and sit back to relax and contemplate all the extravagances and merriment we'll enjoy at our jobs in the next five days.

It’s as if sensing that his parents have it a little too good that the boy takes it upon himself to keep us grateful and humbled.

For it’s then that he decides that the folded laundry sitting in the basket looks much better unfolded on the floor and with a simple flip of the basket, and swipe of his hand, he makes it happen.

And it’s then too that he decides that the perfectly pristine white sheets are the perfect spot in which to place his grape lollipop.

I’m not sure where we’d be without the boy’s help, but I can only thank him for making sure we don’t have it too good.