Sunday, February 22, 2009

Do you have a pet?

In a recent meeting a colleague told me that during a study, doctors tried to find the best way to diagnose the general health of a patient in 10 seconds.  I'll spare you the details and suspense: they asked if the patient had a pet.  I'm assuming it's common knowledge that people with pets generally have better health than those who don't.  Of course this is a huge generalization, but the study bore out the value of such knowledge.  I have a cat, which often acts a lot like a dog.  I'm okay with that because I'm really a dog person.  

Before I had children I liked to joke that I liked dogs better than I liked people.  That still mostly holds true.  I really do love dogs for all the stereotypical reasons.  But having children has complicated things a bit.  I'm not sure that having children can or should be equated to having a pet, but I'm trying to get somewhere with this idea.  Bear with me as I work it out.

The family recently took the twins to get their hair cut at a relatively local mall.  The twins did great at the mall.  They always do.  They aren't ones for large crowds or strangers, so they listen pretty well.  After the haircuts, we spent some time in a large play area.  A very large play area.  It was a Sunday and there were far more kids there than we would have liked, and a lot much taller and older than the designers of the play area intended.  The older kids, ran wildly about, occasionally bumping into other kids.  I stood close by to make sure my kids weren't bumped.  

So if you are wondering where this is going, I'll try to get there quickly. I feel a constant tension when out with my children, or often at home for that matter.  I feel joy watching the amazing things they do and I get pleasure watching their amazement when they accomplish something or learn something new.  I've never felt quite that strongly with a pet's accomplishments, and that seems fairly obvious to explain.  The learning and emotional experience is exponentially stronger, more complicated, and easier to interpret and understand.  But, I also have tension.  It's borne of a tremendous sense of protectionism.  I don't want people to bump them, strangers to talk to them, or worse, touch them.  I worry that the chaos of the mall will upset them, or that we stayed too long and they are too tired, or they haven't eaten enough or well enough.  I worry they won't make it to the bathroom in time; I worry about how upset they will be if they don't make it.  Most of these fears are unfounded, even the lavatory fears, but I still feel them.  I don't have these fears with my cat.  I also don't have the joy.  With my children, I have them at the same time.  

What does one do with these conflicting emotions?  I suspect I am not unique, or even unusual.  But it is vexing that children can bring such joy and tension at the same moment.  And I want a dog.  

Monday, February 02, 2009

Words and Nature

As an English teacher, I admit to having a love of words.  I am not as big a logophile as some of my friends and colleagues (here's looking at you Macy Swain).  I also love nature, am an environmentalist, and I would spend most days outdoors if I could.  So, I was a bit surprised when I stumbled across this on the intertubes tonight.  

The Oxford Junior Dictionary has decided to remove words like dandelion, acorn, and beaver in place of words like broadband, because it seems these words are more likely to be used by youngsters (the dictionary is for children 7-9 years old).  It saddens me to think that we expect children to need to know broadband before beaver.  

Naturalists shouldn't feel singled out, though.  Christians appear to be under attack as well.  Also removed from the dictionary are the words: nun, saint, and psalm.  Where is Bill O'Reilly when we need him?  

I understand that dictionaries can't include everything, so someone will be unhappy with the words removed.  Maybe I'm bothered by the larger implications of the relationship between nature and technology.  Maybe I'm concerned that kids don't get outside enough and eat dirt to develop immunities and resistance to illness.  Maybe I'm distress by the disappearance of the acorn.  I've often told my students that dictionaries are poor sources of definitions for words.  They are static representations of what words meant in the past, often not representing what words have come to mean, or to capture the social meanings that don't fit into the staid explanations that are used in dictionaries.  If I get on a role, I bring in issues of signifiers and the signified, talking about deconstruction without always cuing the students.  So, should I care what a dictionary includes or how it is included?  Should I lament what has already come to pass?  Should I ignore it and not worry since the tech-savvy 7-9 year olds probably use online dictionaries that allow them to find the words they want anyway?

Whatever the answers to these questions, the Oxford Junior Dictionary story caught my attention and has me wondering what the implications might be.