Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Three more Jack quotes

He just keeps on dropping gems and I don't want to forget them. And remember, he's only two years old. Comedic wunderkind?

#1 -- Self-control

Setting: Samantha had a big temper tantrum before getting in the van for a trip on Sunday. Screaming, stomping.. the whole nine yards. A few minutes later she came back to the van where Jack was already buckled into his seat and waiting. He looked at his big sister and said:

Jack: "So, did you get yourself together yet?"

#2 -- Undies

Setting: I walked into Jack's bedroom this morning after my shower. I was only wearing boxer shorts:

Jack: "What are you wearing, daddy?"
Me: "What do you think I'm wearing?"
Jack: (thinking...) "Just one panty?"

#3 -- Tengo queso en mis pantalones

Setting: Jack was on the potty this morning. We're on day #3 of potty training, and it's going OK but boys seem to take longer than girls. Jack was in a foul mood:

Jack: "I'm scared, mommy!"
Mom: "What are you scared of?"
Jack: "The ribbit frogs! Do they live in my heart?"
Mom: "No, who lives in your heart?"
Jack: "I don't know."
Mom: "God?"
Jack: "Yeah, that's it. God."
Jack: "So who lives in my pants?"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Family quotes

Here's a lighthearted post with a glimpse into our fun family life. Next week will be one of my trademark stories. :)

Title: Language Barriers

Setting: We were eating at Escalante's, our favorite Mexican restaurant. The kids enjoy the cultural scenery and music almost as much as the food. Almost. We had just given our order to the waiter, and he replied, "Yes, thank you." and walked back to the kitchen. Samantha's jaw dropped, her eyes bulged out and she exclaimed:

Quote: "Wait a minute?!?! He speaks ENGLISH!?!?!"

Title: Like, totally

Setting: I was with the kids at the Kolache Factory for our usual Saturday morning breakfast. I had just parked the van and was walking through the parking lot with the kids. The traffic was really busy and there was lots of exhaust in the air. Jack sniffed the air and said:

Jack: "I smell like a truck!"
Me: "Do you mean you smell a truck?"
Jack: "NO! I smell LIKE a truck!"

All the bystanders enjoyed it.

Title: Out of left field

Setting: I was putting Samantha to bed and it was one of our "quiet" nights. Soft-spoken bedtime story, low-decibel bedtime song and some snuggle time with the light off. We were lying side-by-side in the dark, in a gentle hug, and I was just about to get up and leave her room. The she quietly whispered:

Samantha: "Hey, daddy?"
Me: "Yes, sugar?"
Samantha: "I can feel your nipple."

Title: Say what?

Setting: I had driven the kids to pick up our usual Friday night pizza (yes, several of our family traditions revolve around food). We had been listening to The Beatles in the car, and the kids were loving it.

Samantha: "Daddy, those Beatles are silly! They're almost as funny as you!"
Me: "Thanks, sugar! That's nice of you to say!"
Samantha: "You know who you're funny like? You're as funny as the booty white chicken!"

Apparently the "booty white chickens" were on display at the Houston Livestock Show, which she had visited in a class field trip that week. I went and saw them for myself when our whole family went to the Livestock Show. Frankly I think I'm funnier than they are.

Title: Inappropriate Daddy

Setting: Jack woke up screaming at 6:15 a.m. Jamie was at the gym exercising so I went to Jack's room to check on him. This verbal exchange happened in a tired stupor, and luckily he's still too young for me to cause a lot of trouble with this type of humor:

Jack: "Daddy, help!"
Me: "What's wrong?"
Jack: "I lost my Woody!"
Me: "Don't worry, son, they make little blue pills for that."

He was talking about the other kind, of course:

Image Hosted by

Title: Slammin' Sam

Setting: We had just watched "The Incredibles" for our family movie night on Friday. We were role-playing before bedtime and were pretending to be the superheroes from the movie. Samantha was Violet, the invisible daughter. Mommy was Elastigirl, all nice and stretchy. Jack was Dash, the fast-as-lightning son. That left me to be Mr. Incredible with super brawn.

Samantha: "Daddy, you can't be Mr. Incredible!"
Me: "Why not?"
Samantha: "You're too weak!"


Sunday, March 16, 2008

What I believe about evolution

I have all kinds of beliefs. Beliefs about religion, parenting, politics, music, traffic patterns and what I look like in plaid. Other people have their own beliefs, and believe it or not, they have the gall to differ from my own beliefs much of the time.

To help my mind wrap some structure around this, I break down my beliefs into two levels:

Level One -- Things I believe but my world won't get rocked if I turn out to be wrong. I don't really shape my life around any of these beliefs -- they're just superficial and small things most of the time. For example, I believe that Roger Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone. But it doesn't affect my life whether I'm wrong or right. That's my level one.

Level Two -- Things I believe and am willing to shape my life around. Even if I can't empirically prove that my belief is correct, I will still hold to it and act accordingly. For example, I believe that my wife loves me. Can't prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I've based much of my life on the assumption that the belief is true. This is my level two, and I have very few things at this level.

Not long ago I heard that one of our bible classes at church would be on the topic of science, creation, evolution... stuff I've studied before and found fascinating. A few years ago I taught a class on science and faith, bringing up quantum physics, electromagnetism, even light refraction. I thought this would be something similar.

I was surprised when the class was actually being done using the materials from Ken Ham, builder of the creation museum in Tennessee. The more I dug into his material, the more I realized that it doesn't really matter if my scientific research and ideas don't match his. Because we don't even rate the issue at the same level.

This is all level two to Ken Ham. He's a new earth creationist, a literal interpreter of Genesis chapter 1, and if somehow we prove that the earth is more than 6,000 years old then you can throw the whole bible away. That's his stance. If you leave room in your faith for the idea that the earth may be millions or billions of years old, then you aren't a Christian. And you're on the slippery slope to becoming a machine-gun toting, rampaging atheist. I'm not exaggerating. Explore the link if you doubt it.

To the teacher's credit in our bible class, he did not present this type of attitude. And most of the people in the room didn't seem to believe in a literal reading of Genesis 1, and were merely there to be a personal support to the teacher. So I give them all high praise for avoiding the radical fundamentalism on the issue of evolution that still appears to be alive and well in America.

Here's how I break down my ideas on evolution and creationism:

Level One

1) I believe that the earth is old. Really old. Much older than 6,000 years. I don't believe that the Grand Canyon was formed in a matter of months, that the deep fossil records are there to trick us, or that we walked side by side with dinosaurs. But it won't rock my world if I end up being wrong on this one.

2) I believe that evolution happens, and is happening now. I believe it's simply a natural process that inherently passes genetic information most advantageous to survival in a given environment. You can look up stories for the changing coloration of moths, as they either blend in better with a changing landscape (e.g. buildings that get darker and dirtier by the year) or a dangerous predator (e.g. light-colored moths get eaten by birds while the darker ones avoid detection). Does this "micro evolution" answer for the incredible species variation on our planet, and does it explain how an amoeba could eventually become a human after billions of years of changes? Not sure. Doesn't particularly bother me; this is still my level one stuff.

3) I believe the fact that we can use a telescope to see the light from stars in other galaxies, millions of light years away, is not a trick. It took millions of years for that light to reach us, and for us to see it. Another reason I think the earth is old. But I won't take on a friend through intense debate if he disagrees.

4) That's enough science stuff. I could get really geeky and go off for a while on these, but they're all level one.

Level Two

1. I believe that the Ken Ham approach to this issue is not only irresponsible, but downright harmful and totally ignorant of the history of Christianity. It smacks of exactly the type of fundamentalism that has dealt harsh blows to the church time and time again:

-- In the decades following the death of Jesus, many Christians quit their jobs and waited for Jesus to return again. Because Jesus said things like, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew 16:28). And, "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." (Luke 21:32). They thought it was clearly spelled out and took a literal view of those statements.

--In the 19th Century, some of Abraham Lincoln's biggest opponents to emancipation were Christians. They were using the bible as their proof that God sanctioned the practice of slavery, and even that black people were condemned to slavery as part of the curse of Ham in Genesis 9. There are some of these groups still in existence today. They take a literal view of passages like Ephesians 6 to argue that God approves of slavery and that we should restart the practice in the 21st Century United States.

Why Christians pick battles such as these, I'm not sure. We never really picked "flat earth" as a battleground throughout the Middle Ages, when science was saying the earth is undoubtedly round. How could that be, when the bible says things like "the ends of the earth" in Ezekiel 7:2, Isaiah 11:12 and Job 37:3. How can a round ball have ends and corners? Yet history doesn't record Christians making a fuss of this issue.

2. I believe that the fundamentalist approach to creationism is harmful regardless of which group may be proven right. Let's assume for a moment that in the year 2045, humanity finally proves the exact age of the earth. Either:

a. The evolutionists were right and the earth is billions of years old. New earth Christians like Ken Ham are left looking completely foolish, just like the 1st Century and 19th Century Christians who clung to their literalist views.

b. The new earth creationists were right and the earth is 6,000 years old. Even if this happens, will non-believers flock to the Ken Hams of the world, men who have used their beliefs as a way to attack doubters and divide the church? Somehow I doubt it, and I feel that it's the everyday, tender-hearted Christian who would become a sought-after friend by confused atheists and agnostics.


Although the science is fascinating, none of that is level two, stake-my-life-on-it belief. The only thing I will fight is the idea that somebody has to believe a particular age of the earth to qualify as a Christian. I don't believe that Jesus taught that type of exclusivity. And I'm staking my soul on it, apparently, since I'm daring to believe something other than a literal Genesis 1.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Righteous anger realized

A few months ago I posted an exegesis of Ephesians 4, mentioning the three different types of anger being discussed in the original Greek text. One type of anger was supposed to be nurtured and maintained: righteous anger. An instinctive reaction to injustice or wrongdoing that makes us want to improve the world. It's a powerful motivator.

Until recently I'm not sure I had ever really experienced righteous anger. Sure, I'd see something sad on TV or read an article about abuse and get angry. But it didn't stick with me very long.

Last November 28 was the one year anniversary of Julian's murder. It was also Samantha's fifth birthday, so I took Jack out in my car around 7:30 a.m. to pick up some birthday doughnuts and bring them home for a surprise breakfast treat. I noticed on the way back that there was a vigil forming near Julian's memorial by the school. I felt a twinge of something, like maybe I should stop by, but I kept driving and we enjoyed a good start to the day.

Around 8:15 I finally left the house for work, and the vigil was still going. This time I parked my car and walked over. Julian's dad was there, along with seven or eight of Julian's friends. I recognized three of them who had witnessed the shooting. I wonder what they were feeling as they stood there again?

Image Hosted by
The corner of the shooting, as viewed from my car. Asterisk on where he was laying.

Image Hosted by
The memorial still there more than a year later

For the next hour I talked with Julian's dad, and the conversation covered a ton of ground. This is where my righteous anger started to build, while listening to him. He's a good man, works hard, and I believe he truly wants the best for his family, so I don't want this coming off as overly critical of him. Here's a bulletpoint-style listing of the conversation points that have stuck with me:

--He was still thinking about suing the school for not keeping Julian safe, even though he wasn't shot on school grounds, and class had started 15 minutes before he was shot.
--He was still thinking about suing the city for slow EMT response, even though I supposedly missed the shooting by 15 seconds and had only just started CPR when the medics arrived.
--He said that Julian had already been caught once with a gun, and when Pops (dad's nickname) took it away Julian was caught trying to buy another one. His reason was that "he didn't feel safe" outside the school. Hello! Alarm bells, anyone?
--He said that Julian would often sneak out and have a lame excuse for why he was gone for hours. And that Julian had some trouble with gangs in the past, but that was all over.
--The day before he was shot, Julian called Pops to pick him up at school after an afternoon meeting because he "didn't feel safe" again. Pops remembered it because it was such a rare thing for Julian to call his cell phone during the day.
--He reminded me that Julian lived with his mom for a decade in another state and eventually "escaped" to Houston to live with his brothers and sisters at Pops' house. Julian was physically emaciated and emotionally scarred when he arrived, but he had steadily progressed with his health and his studies.
--He had progressed enough to start taking ownership of his life at age 17, and was scheduled to transfer to a new school in January 2007, by his own efforts and requests with the school district(!). His main reason was safety and better education, because he wanted to join the Army after high school and then go to college.

So to sum up, he had escaped an abusive childhood to finally live with his dad and siblings, only to have his multiple pleas for safety go unnoticed. When he didn't feel safe, he engineered his own transfer to a better school but was killed only weeks before the transfer date.

During this conversation one of the campus police officers came up to us and mentioned that the half-dozen students needed to get inside the school. Class was well underway. Each student had an obviously false excuse for either not having a class that period, or not even being enrolled, and the officer just said OK and left. He didn't seem to care about the kids, and he definitely knew they were lying.

I'm angry that kids can so easily slip through the system, and that the only reason slippage is possible is that one or both parents aren't paying attention. I'm angry that so many kids don't give a crap about their education and about rising above whatever baggage they've inherited. And I'm most angry about one kid who did give a crap, but will never get a chance to see what he could do with his life.

I wish I could say that this righteous anger has focused me into doing some good in my neighborhood, but so far it's just a fire without a target. I'm angry and motivated yet still clueless about what my role, if any, can be in making a difference.

After the talk with Pops, I got in my car and drove to work. A song came on the radio 30 seconds later -- "Youth of a Nation" by POD. Here's how it begins:

Last day of the rest of my life
I wish I would've known
Cause I didn't kiss my mama goodbye

I didn't tell her that I loved her and how much I care
Or thank my pops for all the talks
And all the wisdom he shared

Unaware, I just did what I always do
Everyday, the same routine
Before I skate off to school

But who knew that this day wasn't like the rest
Instead of taking a test
I took two to the chest*

Call me blind, but I didn't see it coming
Everybody was running
But I couldn't hear nothing

*Note: Julian was shot twice in the torso

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Family shrinkage

It was the summer of 2000; Jamie and I had been married for about eighteen months. We were living in a cheap (under $500/month, utilities included) and mostly-safe apartment complex in Houston. Life was going great. I was doing part-time consulting after graduating from business school (the job market wasn't solid for 22-year-old MBAs right after the NASDAQ crash) and Jamie was working almost full-time as an office assistant to a startup company.

I started the discussion and just came right out with it: "I want a pet."

I'd had pets almost constantly throughout my childhood, mostly dogs but two cats as well. Unfortunately our apartment complex didn't allow dogs, but cats were perfectly fine. What I was basically telling Jamie was that I wanted to add a cat to our family.

Less than a week later, after finding a classifieds section on Yahoo's website, we were at a man's house watching his seven new kittens romping through the den. "Pick whichever one you want", he said. Most of the kittens were black and white, and one of them was silverish. One was solid black and seemed to have the most energy. "We'll take the black one." We named her Kara (pronounced car-uh) and she spent the ride home standing on Jamie's shoulders, repeatedly opening her mouth in what we called her "silent cry". She wasn't mute. Just weird.

Image Hosted by
Caught by nightvision camera on the top shelf of the closet

Image Hosted by
After a good brushing

A few months later I was back at school and Jamie's job turned into a full-time gig. Kara was getting bitter at being left alone all day, so we decided to give her a daytime play buddy. The next Saturday at a pet store adoption day, we found Gabriel. All two pounds of him. The foster family said he'd been found as a baby in the parking lot of a convenience store, starving and lonely. A week later he was healthy and extremely affectionate to anyone near him. He fell asleep on my arm while Jamie and I discussed whether or not to adopt him, a cheesy tactic but admittedly sucessful. Kara had her play buddy.

Image Hosted by
His favorite sleeping spot: a human arm

Image Hosted by
Human arm and a belly rub? Heaven.

We had cats long before we had kids. And throughout our kids' lives the cats have been there. Even through Gabriel's fall from our 2nd floor apartment balcony. And Gabriel's "MIA for 24 hours" episode, which ended with him coming home with a broken leg. And Gabriel's fights with the other neighborhood cats. Hmmm... there's a pattern here. If cats have nine lives, Kara gave most of hers to Gabriel and he used about 14 or so.

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

For the past three years Samantha's allergies have been getting worse and worse, and the cats appeared to be a trigger of her reactions. An allergy test confirmed that she was pretty sensitive to cat dander. Even though these days the cats live mostly outside, Samantha was still having problems. "She's on the path to asthma", the allergy doctor warned. "You've got to limit her acute reactions, because each time that happens her body gets more and more ramped up for chronic problems." How fair is it to have pets and then tell your 5-year-old daughter that she can't ever touch them?

A few weeks ago Jamie took the kids on a weekend trip to visit family. I was alone at the house and took the cats to the local animal shelter for a "counseling visit" to explore options to get them adopted into another family. One part of the visit was a blood test, and Gabriel came back positive for FIV (feline AIDS, basically). It's not transmittable to humans, but isn't good for cats and made both of them impossible to adopt.

"We don't have the option to adopt them", the shelter manager explained. "And you'd need to keep them inside from now on".

"That's not an option for me, unfortunately", I answered.

"We can take care of it from here, if you'd like."

"I understand what you're saying. Yes, thank you."

I let her take the cats to the back of the shelter, knowing that when Jamie and the kids got home the house would be unusually quiet. No meowing when the van pulled into the driveway. No furry creatures curling around their legs when they walked in the yard. Nobody to pounce the sticks when Jack drug one through the grass.

I knew it was the right thing, and obviously our child's health comes before our cats. When I watched the cats get taken away, I walked out the door and still knew it was the right thing. I got in the car knowing it was the right thing.

But I still cried.