Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An interview with Matthew: Part Two

I'm back with the second half of my interview with Matthew, who you might also know as my husband. You can find the first half here.

With Alyce, March 2008

5. What's been the toughest adjustment since becoming a parent?

We’ve talked about Bryan Kaplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. One of the core claims is that there isn’t a lot you can do to change your children--unless you’re a bad parent, because the delta between being an average parent and a bad parent is much wider than between a good and average parent--so, you know, relax a bit. This ran counter to my intuitions, and I am imagine those of most this blog’s readers (who, by the way, are all incredibly good-looking and under-appreciated both at home and work).

I think there is a lot of overstretch in Kaplan’s argument, but I have taken from him and philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith (here more as a moral philosopher than an economist), and Isaiah Berlin that we are not merely soft wax shaped by our environment, including parental decisions. Again, I am not talking about extreme right- or left-tail parenting decisions, but about what is experienced in most childhoods. There is a human nature generally--driven by persistent, deep motivations such as love, joy, anger, revenge, recognition, fear, need, empathy, trust, and awe--that is trans-geographical and trans-historical, and there is a particular nature to each person that is quite impervious to change, except at the margin. Alyce and Shira are who they are, and it’s our job to curb excesses, encourage wisely, hug closely, try to set up the right incentives, promote good habits, and trust that we haven’t misshapen them.

Alyce, March 2008

I guess what I am trying to say is that I’ve found parenting to be much, much easier than I imagined. This is said with the big caveat that they are healthy and happy. I don’t know what my answer would be if the opposite were true. So, I don’t worry about their development much. For one, they have hit all of the development benchmarks, and I believe that most children develop on their own curve. The time commitment has never troubled me. I’ve never developed a rich social life, so that has not been a major sacrifice. We have DVR, and I refuse to watch anything live, including sports. And I watch a lot of baseball and basketball. Other than wishing Shira slept reliably until 6am, I have no complaints about the fatigue that often accompanies parenthood. Of course, I was lucky that you breastfed the girls, and let me sleep while you were up with them. I’ll never be able to pay off that debt. (Editor's note: You're welcome.)

For me, it is the finances that are hard. While the costs of young children are not exorbitant, there is usually an opportunity cost. Bringing another member into the household raises the amount of income we need to bring in, but we made the decision early on that Danielle would stay at home, teach part-time, and I would work outside of the home. We’ve struggled without 2 full-time incomes, and are just now working through the best way to manage our finances. So, we are not just making short-term financial decisions for ourselves, but for a family of four. (And we want more. When we tell friends that our ideal is five children, the response is never, “that’s a great idea! We’re going to do that too!” Our friends are far, far more rational than we are). I wish I had prepared more, thought more about the long-term consequences of our decisions and their financial impact.

May 2011

6. If you could only teach Alyce and Shira one thing about the world, what would it be?

Never go with a hippie to a second location.
The Italians have a saying, Lemon. 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' And although they've never won a war or mass-produced a decent car, in this area they are correct.        
                                                                                 --Jack Donaghy

The foregoing are probably the best pieces of advice that one person could give another, but probably not all that helpful in terms of parent-child relationships.

If I could encourage our girls to take any counsel it would be this: 1) Be serious as children, and light as adults. I enjoyed my childhood, but wish that I would have been more serious, as I feel I am trying to undo mistakes because of bad habits and poor choices I made all the way through undergraduate years. I want them to get a better head start than I did. 2) Don’t be cynical. Be an eyes-open optimist. Piggybacking on this is a clip of Louis CK on Conan:

Can I ask: did Conan O’Brien die or something? I can’t find him anywhere. Wait a moment...oh, here we go. He’s on TBS, on after a showing of Road House. I understand now.

3) Learn to deal with what you can never have, and life will be a joy and not a burden. (This insight I’ve adapted from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution) 4) From an interview Cowen did with Gretchen Rubin:

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?

Tyler: Grudges and blaming other people are very harmful, in my view. Their actions really are determined by forces outside their control and it is time to accept that. Don’t blame them for what is wrong in your life.

7. What ridiculously overpriced splurge do you wish you could spend on your kids?

This paragraph is frightfully pedantic and should be skipped by everyone: In a vacuum (that is, if we are not dealing with market constraint/regulation, whether governmental or monopolistic, imperfect knowledge or other information asymmetries), I guess, nothing can be underpriced or overpriced. Price is value, the cost someone is willing to pay for something. Is a Picasso worth millions? I don’t think so, but some people do and are willing to pay that cost. So price captures value and information. The person buying a Picasso is not buying a painting, but a representation of themselves, a signaling effect to others about who they are, and so forth.

(Editor's note: Eye roll.)

So, if I can, let me restate the question: What would I give the girls that we probably cannot afford? A day school education (Editor's note: day school refers to Jewish private school, for those unfamiliar with the term). For those who know our history, it is not an opportunity that we had or, in fact, could have had. The knowledge curve for our Judaism has been steep, but it can be narrowed significantly by day school. We visited one recently, and we both loved it, and you even more than me! Both through experience and our professions--my post-doctoral work has been in the Jewish world, especially on the academic side--we have gained a great deal of knowledge. But it is more book knowledge than habitual/experiential. Haym Soloveitchik has a famous article--well, famous in some places--called “Rupture and Reconstruction” where he talks about the post-Holocaust Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, and how learning about ritual practice is not passed through parents and family--that is, tradition--but through book knowledge. The yeshiva has replaced the home. And, for us, though we are not part of that world, it rings true. We have no pre-rational sounds, smells, textures, emotions, and intuitions to pass down in terms of our lived Judaism. So we need the day school to help supplement. Alyce and Shira--and may we be blessed by more--don’t have family beyond their parents to turn to, and consequently we need the help and support of the community. I don’t know how we can give this to them, but I know that we are exhausting every avenue to try to do so.

Thanks for the chance to prattle on! Can we have pizza with crème fraiche and soft mozzarella tonight? (Editor's note: If you're making it!)


Thanks, Matty, for answering my questions! And for all the parenting, foot rubbing, and reaching from the high shelves that you do.

One final note: I love reading Matt's answers to these questions. I live with the guy all the time, sleep next to him at night, see his handsome face each and every day, but I learned so much about him through this interview. His response about finances being one of the hardest adjustments reminds me just how much pressure he must feel as the primary earner in our family. I could use a reminder about that, because I think I forget sometimes. I also hope that Alyce and Shira inherit his optimism, a quality that never gets old. Finally, and don't tell him this, but even though I have actually heard all of these jokes before, I still laughed.

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