November 06, 2005
Alexander continues to be quite the world explorer. He enjoys going to new places with his mom and dad (like in this shot at "Hurricane Ridge" on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State), totally digs his outings at the zoo and the aquarium and the park, and continues to enjoy trains and planes and dinosaurs.
What with Halloween and various museum exhibits and various illustrations in dinosaur books, he has shown interest in skeletons and bones which we are encouraging. As he plays with "Bonz" -- a kind of erector set with plastic bones instead of beams and girders -- he's showing an aptitude for mechanical motion, as well.
Alex has an understanding of numbers. He can count up through ten (although six sometimes is missing from the line-up), he can display the correct number of fingers when he counts one through five, and he has even drawn the numbers six and seven on more than one occasion. He is happy to tell you that he turned "three" (and he knows that means "three years", even though he may not be so clear on what a year is, and he seems to forget that this event happened a while ago) and that his baby brother is "six" (and now often remembers to say "six months", although whether he understands the concept of month is also open for debate). He knows that six is more than three but that he is older than his brother. And he has recently decided that his mom is "seven".
His speech gets more interesting every day. He's experimenting with modifiers ("quite" is very popular right now, as in "That's quite silly!") and he loves to explain things to anyone who will listen.
Alex began attending pre-school this year, and we had our first parent-teacher conference just this past week. The teacher commented that he is very calm "for a first child"; that he is good about getting his things out and putting them away and he shows a longer attention span than is typical for three-year-olds. The teacher also noted that he seems to be very good with puzzles, and he shows more interest in letters than many three-year-olds.
These are good things for us to know, since we can hardly be objective when it comes to comparing Alex to others at his age group. He *is* learning his letters of the alphabet, but it's good to know that he's doing well with them to the point of being noticed by his teacher. As for puzzles (jigsaw and other physical puzzles) -- he has surprised both Paulette and me with how well he does with them.
Of course, skeptic that I am, I also realize that the teacher is going to highlight what he is doing well and not what he may be lagging at. I wouldn't expect to hear, "Your son is a bit of a dullard when it comes to numbers," or, "Alex says some pretty crazy shit. What language do you speak at home?"
When the teacher asked us if we had any goals for Alex in school, I mentioned "Just that he be able to read War & Peace all the way through by the end of the year." I swear, for maybe a half a moment, I was taken at my word.
I wanted to respond, "No, not really. The first chapter would suffice." But I was afraid that I'd be marked down as one of those overly aggressive parents who expect too much of their children. The teacher *was* taking notes, as we talked, and didn't seem to be sure that I was joking.
Do they have a way of linking your child's permanent record with that of your own? [shudder]
Story idea: Homeland Security gets its hands on everybody's "permanent records" from school. Hilarity ensues when they detain the protagonist at the airport upon learning that the protagonist once got into trouble for "accidentally" starting a small fire in Shop class in high school....
November 08, 2005
In the summer of 1988, I studied Russian language and linguistics as part of a study abroad program at the Institut Stal y Splava in Moscow. I don't think any of us -- neither the visiting Americans nor the resident Soviet students at our dormitory -- would have predicted at the time that the Berlin Wall would fall a mere two years later, but Perestroika was in full swing and change was in the air. It was an unprecedented opportunity for Western students to glimpse at life behind the Iron Curtain... shortly before that curtain fell away.
I learned a great deal during my three months in Soviet Russia, but one of the most amazing things was to observe how passively the Soviet citizenry accepted state intrusion into their lives. The Soviet students I dormed with, for example, needed passports to travel within their own country. Imagine that!
As a child, I had grown up along the border between the US and Canada; I had frequently split my summers and weekends between Fort Erie, Ontario and Erie County, New York. My family would cross the Peace Bridge that straddled the border with almost as little fanfare as crossing the Grand Island Bridge nearby. Some spare change to pay for tolls, and a Hi, Howdy-Do to the customs agents on whichever side we were entering. We did not bring passports. Our car was our passport.
"Cleared to go."
I don't want to get to far down the road of romanticizing the past. But by 1988, I'd flown all up and down the East Coast, I'd driven interstate, and I'd bussed interstate, and I'd driven and bussed internationally. If I was driving, I needed my driver's license. I'm pretty sure I didn't need it for the bus. Or the plane. Perhaps I'm misremembering that.
But to fly to Europe, I needed a passport, and to enter Russia, I needed eleven passport photos for the various visas and such that the Soviet Union required of me. This was all understandable -- I was, after all, to be a foreigner abroad, and that's what passports and visas were all about.
But the very idea that one needed a passport to travel *within one's own country* was as foreign to me as, well, as any other consequence of living in a police state. The Soviet Union had a constitution that purported to establish a democratic government, but just try peaceably assembling in Red Square to petition your government for grievances.
From what I observed during those three months, life in the Soviet Union was obviously hard. Crime was low -- one of the benefits of a police state, I suppose -- but morale was lower. The people were genuinely warm and friendly, and very curious about foreigners. They also carried a burden of weary, wary fear. "If I had met you six months ago," a Soviet student named Max once said to me (in Russian), "we wouldn't be talking now. There'd be two men in grey coats following you everywhere you went. It wouldn't do for me to be seen talking with you."
With the advent of September 11, crossing the border between the US and Canada is no longer as casual as it once was. Okay, I understand that. But the federal government is now saying that my state's drivers' licenses (along with ten other states) are not "secure enough", and that the federales won't allow me to take a commercial flight using my drivers license as my ID. By this time next year, it's a near certainty that I'll have to use a passport to fly anywhere within the United States.
This is but one little development that nags at the back of my mind. One clue in an orgy of evidence that we are sliding toward more of a police state than I would ever have thought possible within the US.
But while we're more of a police state than would have been imaginable seventeen years ago, are we likely to take this trip to its logical conclusion? Are the liberties we have sacrificed irrevocably lost? As the saying goes: have the terrorists won?
I don't think so. Certainly, we have lost a great deal of our liberties -- liberties we have, as a society, handed over just a little bit more eagerly, in exchange for some phantom sense of security, than I think wise. But this isn't the first time the US citizenry has headed down this road -- starting with the Alien & Sedition Acts during the administration of our second president, John Adams, and seen as recently as the Nixon administration's attempts at making it easier for federal law enforcement to share information with each other.
Those attempts were ultimately repealed, and the current Patriot Act is likely to suffer the same fate. Eventually.
More to the point, however, I see reminders every day that our society has not been *completely* cowed by the threats against our liberty from within and without: every day, I drive by groups protesting the war (or whatever it is) in Iraq. And people protesting the protesters. Every day, I read major newspapers opining against or in favor of various policies and actions by the current administration. Every day, television news shows us both attacks upon and support for our troops and our politicians and our way of life.
Friends of mine who support the current administration view the protesters and the "liberal media" as undermining our society. Friends of mine on the other side of the political spectrum view supporters of the current administration and the "vast right wing conspiracy" in the media as likewise undermining our society.
I disagree on both counts.
The very fact that protesters protest and supporters support and occasionally members from opposing camps swap sides is all to the good. It's annoying, certainly, to see your own position assailed by others. It's annoying to watch the tide ebb, even when you know intellectually that it will once again flow. But as long as the voice of dissent can be heard -- is *allowed* to be heard -- we're doing a far cry better than any system our enemies would seek to impose.
As I drive down the road and find a group protesting their cause of choice, whether I share their views or not, I am glad we still have loyal opposition. As long as those voices can be heard, the terrorists have not won.
November 13, 2005
For what it's worth, Alexander still enjoys being a big brother. Nolan still enjoys having Alex to play with him.
...but, where *do* they get their excellent taste in shirts?
November 26, 2005
A quick update on life at Casa Rousselle:
When you have a couple of kids in the house, a cold can take root in the home and never quite get away. A cold has been bouncing back and forth between Paulette and Alex for weeks now (mostly manifesting itself as sniffles in Alex and sore throat in Paulette), but a few days ago it got everybody and it got worse. Congestion. Coughing. Even some more unhappy bodily reactions that I shan't go into. Plenty of physical discomfort to go around.
And yet, we've been doing okay, by and large. Nolan started crawling -- the real deal, not just his "commando crawl" with arms only, but getting his legs into the act -- on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. His two lower teeth are in, and he remains happy as a clam. (How happy are clams, anyway?)
Alex is developing an interest in time -- mostly motivated by his dawning comprehension that Sesame Street can't just appear on the TV on demand the way his favorite videos can (with his parents' cooperation).
We had an excellent Thanksgiving get together with my aunt who lives thirty miles or so away.
Life is generally good. We have much to be thankful for -- especially when it comes to our good health (current colds notwithstanding), our happy children, our comfortable living quarters, and having so many good friends and relatives in our lives.
Time-wise, we remain a bit extended. We hope to get our "Change of Address" announcements (we moved in March) and Nolan's birth announcement (he was born in April) mailed out sometime within the next couple of weeks. This clears the way for us to get our holiday cards mailed out sometime in mid-2007.
But enough about us. How are you?
PS: For the first time I can recall *ever* in my life, I have managed (with my wife's prodding) to purchase a Christmas tree during the Thanksgiving weekend. Yikes! Alex has already announced to us several times today, "I want presents." His wish list on my Amazon account will no doubt get quite a work-out....
November 28, 2005
Am I the only one who finds Barbara Streisand's Christmas Album to be the absolute height of irony?
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