Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Raise Bilingual Kids?

Big Blue Marble
Well, first of all, if you teach your kids a language that might help them in their careers, that's an easy one. You teach your kids another language to give them more opportunities in life. But what about my kids? I speak to them in Hebrew, so unless they grow up to be the Ambassadors to Israel (or double agent international spies like their dad), knowing how to speak Hebrew will do nothing for them.

So why am I harassing them with Hebrew? They're obviously more comfortable speaking English, so why do I insist? Why not just speak English and stop confusing these poor kids?

But then I remember. When you grow up in a small country like Israel, where people speak in a language that's different from the language of universal popular culture, you become aware of living in a small part of a big world. As kids, we grew up watching movies with subtitles, and for us, there were no such things as foreign movies, because most movies were foreign.

Arguably, when you grow up thinking you're right at the center of civilization, you may end up with a more ethnocentric world view. Sure, this is a generalization that may depend on education and on economic/social status, but still, and I'm saying this with zero judgement, it makes sense that people who live in a place they consider a cultural center would be less interested in other cultures.

That's why I insist. Beyond learning a second language to advance their careers, and even beyond my need for my kids to know an important part of their father's heritage, I need them to know, especially because they do live in the popular cultural center of the world, that there are other cultures, and that other cultures are just as worthy.

I'm very interested in politics, and I wish I could vote, but naturalized Americans can't keep their other citizenships, and I'm not ready to let go of the "Citizen of the World" identity I had created for myself in my less-cynical early 20s. And I'm not ready for my kids to do the same.

Teaching my kids a second language may or may not help their careers, but more importantly, and that's my early-20s-self talking again (because it never really left--it’s just well-hidden by defense mechanisms), raising bilingual kids may make it a better society. I like to imagine I'm thinking globally and acting locally, one Hebrew word at a time.

Israel has many problems, don't get me wrong, and I definitely wouldn't call it a utopia of universal empathy, but at least we grew up knowing we were part of something bigger, and I want my kids to know that too.

Growing up in Israel, Big Blue Marble, from PBS, was my favorite show. It showed kids and teens from all over the world, playing, dancing, and being kids. Here's the opening. If you're as old as I am, as soon as you hear this music, you'll be five years old again, sitting on the couch, dreaming about the big world out there.

We forget that. We grow old and cynical, and we forget our place in the world. And that's why I raise bilingual kids. Because I still believe in the big blue marble.


1. The post has now been published on The Good Men Project: Living in a Small Part of a Big World
2. It was also a part of a blogging carnival about raising multilingual kids, at The Head of the Heard: Raising Multilingual Kids Blogging Carnival: Hidden Opportunities

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Part of the Father's Day extravaganza I had mentioned before, included a family viewing of a movie. It had to be fun for everyone, including me, because it was my day, with not too many scary moments. On paper, the recent Muppets movie seemed like a winner, but I wasn't optimistic. Jason Segel? A new muppet as the star? And really, when you watch a Muppets movie, don't you just want an hour and a half of the Swedish Chef?

This is not a review of the movie, though. If you really want to know, I loved it. It was a perfect Father's Day movie, even if many of the jokes would go over the heads of anyone who hasn't watched the show before. I watched the show as a kid, staying up late with the family every time it was on, and while some kids liked Kermit, and others liked Animal, my favorite was Fozzie, because no one got my jokes either. That part is still true.

But really, this is just a good opportunity to show the world this video I made about a year ago, after watching the Manamana video with my girl:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Red Robin Ad Mocks Vegetarians and Teenager Girls

This ad from Red Robin has offended a lot of vegetarians, including me. I actually like the Red Robin veggie burger, but why would I go to a restaurant that looks down at me? Why, as someone who raises his kids to be vegetarians, would I take them to a restaurant that looks down at them, and calls vegetarianism "a phase"? I've been a vegetarian for 13 years, so either I'm going through a very long phase, or Red Robin has come up with a terrible ad.

I get that a lot. You'll see from every other comment on YouTube and on the news sites covering this mini-scandal, that people are very quick to mock vegetarians. We're self-righteous. We're uptight. We're weak. From my experience, though, and that's a 13 year experience, I've never seen a self-righteous vegetarian trying to convert a meat-eater, but I see self-righteous meat-eaters trying to convert vegetarians almost every day. I'm not sure why my dietary choices are so offensive to so many people, Red Robin marketers included, but I know they do. Thing is, if you make a joke about me to my face, good for you. I'll just go somewhere else. The same goes for companies that makes that joke. So long, Red Robin, and I hope you enjoyed your joke.

So I was thinking of letting it go and just not eating at Red Robin again, but then I realized this was much more than simply an offensive ad. The way this ad mocks young teens is actually dangerous. So I wrote them an email. Here's the relevant part:

Teenage girls go through a long and painful period of unhealthy body-image awareness. Some teenage girls will come out on the other side with a healthier view of themselves, while others will forever be trapped by their own perception of the ideal body for women, and diet will play a part in their self-identity for the rest of their lives. For a company to treat body-image issues for teenage girls in such a flippant, mocking way is unconscionable.

Like I said, my personal offense at being mocked by an ad is important to my personal decision of where to take my family for lunch, but this is nothing compared to the damage an ad like that can do to teenage girls (and boys) who struggle with weight issues, and might feel further bullied and mocked by this ad.

I've read on Huffington Post that the ad may be removed from circulation soon, and I welcome that decision, but I also urge you to go beyond that, and apologize to anyone who may have been hurt by the ad, especially making an effort to reach teenage girls who treat their teenage years as more than "a phase" others can look down at with derision.

I got a reply the next day:

Thank you for your recent feedback regarding Red Robin’s current advertising campaign. Our Gardenburger ad, which is not among the ads in our current TV advertising schedule, was not intended to offend anyone. It was meant to let our guests know we have meatless options available. In fact, we’re proud to offer Gardenburger and Vegan Boca patties which may be substituted on any of our Gourmet Burgers, Sandwiches, Salads, Wraps or Entrees.

We do appreciate you taking the time to share your comments with us. We will be sure to share them with our marketing team.

I guess I can't expect more than that. It seems like a cut & pasted response meant to appease vegetarian customers, and it doesn't really touch the issue of teenage girls' body image, but I also understand why Red Robin wouldn't want to get into that. Personally, as a vegetarian, I feel I can reluctantly go to Red Robin again, hoping that the backlash to this ad has convinced marketers in general to not only stop mocking their customers, but to stop making fun of body issues.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What to Expect Review

Last year, when the What to Expect When You're Expecting movie came out, there were a lot of opinions on the Internet, especially about the way the movie portrayed the stay-at-home-dads' group. Was the movie fair? Was it helpful or demeaning to dads? Was it accurate?

Well, I finally had a chance to watch the movie, thank Netflix, and form my own opinion.

Dude Group
First, here's the plot, from what I remember. I watched it two days ago, and it's almost all gone by now. There were some pregnant women. J. Lo was a photographer. There was a golf cart race. And that guy from Gossip Girl was going out with the girl from Up in the Air. And Chris Rock led a group of stay-at-home-dads that met in the park. They all had a man-crush the wolf-man from True Blood. See, because he was a symbol of their lost masculinity. Ha, I just figured it out. And they had a code about what happening in dad group staying in dad group. And there was hilarity. Oh, I'm pretty sure the dads' group was called a dude group. Because bacon, I guess.

What to Expect bro
But in the end, the transformation of fatherhood into lowest common denominator is expected. Of course it's offensive to dads. It's offensive to moms too. It's offensive to anyone who's ever watched a movie. It's a formulaic romantic comedy, and any relation to reality is accidental. The relation between the parents in the movie and real parents is about as close as the relation between Baltimore in He's Just Not That Into You and the real Baltimore. It's as close as Hugh Grant and a real human being.

Sure, although it's a year too late, I can complain about the depiction of stay-at-home dads as testosterone-deficient men. But what's the point? It's a freakin' romantic comedy. I'm not the target audience of What to Expect. My wife is not the target audience. No one I know is the target audience of this movie. The only reason my brain retained any information about the movie is my need to have an opinion about it. And now, that I know the way this awful, awful movie depicts men in general and stay-at-home dads in particular is as meaningless as its plot, I can instruct my brain to let go. And move on.

Go ahead, brain, forget this movie. Make room for better things. Isn't Breaking Bad starting again soon?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Involved, Active Fatherhood in New York

A couple of months ago, I was invited by Lance and Matt from the NYC Dads Group to be an honorary New Yorker again (I lived in New York in 2000-2001), and join them and other dads in the "Dads' Lounge" of the New York Baby Show. And it's about time I wrote a couple of words about it.

  • It was the first time I took the Bolt bus from Baltimore to New York, and it was great. It was also great to spend the day without the kids, talking about fatherhood. At this point, I'm beyond irony.

  • There was a Dad's Lounge, where we sat around with other dads and their babies. There's a point in every new parent's life, where he or she switches from a desperate "Please help me, I don't know what I'm doing" look, to a "How dare you give me advice??? Do you think I'm incapable of taking care of my own children???" look. And, well... Every once in a while, it's refreshing to be around the first group.

  • There was a Moms' Lounge on the other side of the room, and the moms had sweet sweet lemonade. But they didn't have changing tables, which meant long lines of moms and dads waiting for an available changing table in the Dads' Lounge. Yep, the only changing tables in the whole building were in the Dads' Lounge. It was like the Twilight Zone, but one of the happy episodes, where things don't make sense, but in a good way.

  • I wandered around a bit, and saw some insane products. You know, the stuff that makes you want to shake new parents and say, "You don't need that!!!" Like a body cast of a pregnant belly. Can you imagine a woman telling herself, "I want this reminder of the most miserable period in my life on display in my house. I want to look at my pregnant belly every day!" Let me see if I took a picture of that... Nope. But this is from the website. Hey, whatever works for you.

  • I also talked with a couple of people about possible product reviews and giveaways, and hopefully I'll soon be able to give away a cool humidifier like the one in the picture, from Crane.

  • And then I walked around Manhattan, somehow found myself in a street festival, got drunk, and took the Bolt Bus back in style.

It was great to meet all these people again, many of whom I've met many times before. And it was great to see that despite what the media is trying to teach us about fatherhood and about dads who "lean in" to parenting, equal parenting by involved and active dads is alive and well in New York.


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