Here’s How to Get the Latest… on Everything

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Kids are great. They offer so much. They give you a reason to excel. They force you to look deep inside yourself. They make you laugh, smile, and (sometimes) cry, but, always leave you filled with a sense of satisfying purpose.

They also do one other thing. Kids, especially those that are a little older but not too old, act like a canary in a coal mine.

Now, before you get to scrunched up in your high heels, I don’t mean they’re something you can use as a sort of human shield. (Truth be told, when they were very young, just before they went to sleep our children would often ask us why we had them. Even before Betsy could break an adoring smile, I blurted out my quick, simple, and direct answer: “To be there so the monster could eat you first.” Soon after, Betsy insisted that only she tuck the children in for the night. I love it when a plan works.)

Here’s what I really mean. They may be the clue to the Fountain of Youth. Kids act like a canary in the coal mine of popular culture. We weary parents, consumed with matters of far greater import (something about “food, clothing, and shelter”), find we cannot keep up with modern culture. Like canaries, kids have an innate ability to smell what’s coming before the rest of us.

You know what I’m talking about. One day, you know every single record on the Top 40. The next day, you find out there’s no such things as records anymore. Heck, there’s no such thing as “Top 40” anymore either. Everyone has their own personal playlist on Spotify.

How do you react to this?

At first you resist. “That’s not the way we did it in my day.” Then you come to realize it is the way you did it in your day. Only better.

You used to make your own playlists. You put your favorite songs on cassettes. You called them “mix tapes.” After all that hard work, you couldn’t help but feel amazed the first time you listened to your new mix tape.

That feeling didn’t last long. You got bored with them really fast because the songs always appeared in the same order. So, you went back to listening to the radio. The radio might not play all your favorite songs, but at least the anticipation of not knowing what song was coming up next would keep you interested, if not excited.

Close your eyes and imagine combining these two wants: all your favorite songs coming at you in a random order. It’s the best of all possible worlds. Sirius Radio attempts to offer this, but, then again, it’s Sirius Radio. Personalized playlists on platforms like Spotify truly do offer the best of both worlds.

And, if not for your kids, you’d never know this.

For those of you who are still bothered by the canary metaphor, allow me to offer a more erudite analogy.

Children are like the Plato’s shadows. You know the shadows I’m talking about. They’re the ones that reflected on the walls in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It’s from one of his most-read works: Republic. You might remember Plato’s Republic as that thick book you didn’t read in college. It’s probably most famous for convincing people they didn’t need to take philosophy courses.

Anyways, Plato presents the Allegory of the Cave through a dialogue between his brother Glaucon and Socrates, who acts as narrator. He begins by describing the inhabitants of the cave. They are prisoners, forever chained to the wall of the cave. They cannot see the activity going on outside the cave. They do, however, see the shadows of that activity reflected on the cave wall.

Only, they don’t understand the shadows are only shadows. They think the shadows are the reality. In a way, for the prisoners, this doesn’t matter, for the shadows – real or not – do show what’s going on outside the cave.

In a way, parents (or, for that matter, all adults) are like prisoners in Plato’s Cave. The duties and obligations of everyday life bind them like prisoners. These chains make it impossible for them to see what’s happening in the outside world, especially popular culture.

We’ll tweak Plato a bit to say adults once kept up with popular culture – when they were kids. But now, as adults, they’re shackled. They’re unable to keep abreast of the latest. And not just in pop culture, but in fashion, interior decorating (or is that the same thing?), and technology. At most, all they can see are the shadows.

And the shadows are the kids. Kids have idle time. Their naivete allows them to disregard standard operating procedures of life. After all, they’re not of age and aren’t yet expected to have memorized life’s operating manual. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to run life’s machinery. It just means they haven’t been formally trained.

To fill this void, curiosity leads them to explore (often strange) new options. This is the behavior represented by the shadows on the cave wall. These shadows introduce adults to new ways of doing things. Watching what the children do helps adults keep up on the latest.

Every once in a while – and here’s where the Allegory of the Cave is most revealing – an adult breaks free of his bondage and re-enters the world of youth. But, as Heraclitus said, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”

For those of you who have had enough of Ancient Greece, that’s what Ella Winter meant when she asked Thomas Wolfe: “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” Thomas Wolfe – not the same person who wrote The Right Stuff – asked Winter for permission to title his last book You Can’t Go Home Again, which was published posthumously in 1940.

Like Plato’s escaped prisoner, that adult who attempts to re-enter the world of youth quickly realizes the modern world is much more complicated than the kids make it seem. That adult accepts there remains only one safe space – living in the cave with the shadows. Alas, the Fountain of Youth remains elusive.

And that’s why we adults rely on our kids to run the VCR (or DVR or Hulu or On-Demand or what ever they call it now).

Summertime Stargazing

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the July 5, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

 

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259I love the summer. Longer daylight hours means we can do a lot more. It also means, after a good day’s work, we can still spend some relaxing time with our family and neighbors.

Sitting on the porch gently taking in the sights and sounds of nature and our community, we savor the twilight of the day. The last lick of sunlight long since set, we slowly mellow with the sky. Our light conversation goes as smoothly as the transition from dusk to dark.

It is this time of day I enjoy the best. Surrounded by close comrades and all the chores done, I can now look heavenward. For some reason, I still get a kick out of finding the Continue Reading “Summertime Stargazing”