My daughter is three, broke and unemployed. Time for her to pull her weight.
“You now have a job,” I told my daughter one fine Sunday morning.
“Job?’ she said, bewildered.
“Go get Daddy’s newspaper. It’s at the end of the driveway.” Natalie’s face lit up in a smile. She knows what a newspaper is.
Several weeks ago, I subscribed to a newspaper for the first time in decades. Like many people, I had passed on the recycling heavy, dead tree media medium in favor of digital delivery. But when I was a child one of my clearest memories of my father was him sitting on the couch reading the New York Times, occasionally peering over the page to see what mischief I was getting into. Often, he’d let me sit on his lap and read to me. I enjoyed those moments, hidden behind newsprint from Mom’s view. Of course, I don’t remember much of what was news back in 1971, other than my father cursing out some guy named Nixon.
Eventually I grew up and my father and I ended up fighting over the newspaper – Dad always complaining that I left the paper mangled and out of order. I also became a bit of a news junkie, watching Walter Cronkite, PBS’s News Hour and reading Dad’s magazines; US News & World Report, Time and Newsweek. When I was a teenager I became a champion extemporaneous speaker on my high school’s debate team. During those competitions, we picked a news topic out of a hat and then had 15 minutes to come up with a coherent 5-minute talk on whatever subject we drew. There was no instant access to news in those days and I did well because I was always up on current events – becoming quite the bullshit artist in the process. What can I say? I wanted to be a lawyer when I was fourteen.
Being a thoroughly modern family, my wife and I own smartphones, computers, tablets, enjoy high speed internet access and subscribe to all sorts of streaming media options. But whenever my daughter sees us using any of those things she starts demanding that we turn on Peppa Pig. What’s worse, she already knows how to use my smartphone to watch cartoons: scrolling around You Tube to find Peppa, Madeline, Paw Patrol or The Backyardigans and hanging up on people if my if they should interrupt her viewing pleasure with a phone call. And if you take the phone away from her she freaks like a rhesus monkey in the throes of crack withdrawal. It gets old after a while.
My wife and I do read to our daughter every night, but she still wants to watch a video or two before going to bed, leading to unwanted night time drama. Now I’m not above using my smartphone as a pacifier at times, but I began to worry that my daughter was getting too much stimulation from “free” web sites that record every move you make and then sell that information to the highest bidder. Tired of devices and view screens, I decided to go old school and subscribe to the print edition of The New York Times.
I have a lot of problems with The Grey Lady, often calling it a “lifestyle porn rag” for East Coast elites. Don’t believe me? Just look at the real estate section or Sunday Styles. I honestly don’t care how some chef, actor or other Manhattan luminary spends Sunday morning eating sustainable homemade quinoa pancakes with organic maple syrup and then tooling around the MOMA or catching a jazz concert in the afternoon. It’s all too carefully curated and affectatious. Just give me the news. But I’ll admit, when they just do the news, The Times is good at what it does. Now I just skip the Yuppie bullshit and read what’s fit to print.
One of the best things about reading an actual newspaper, besides not worrying about your battery going dead, is the utter lack of reader comments, Whenever I’d consume news digitally I used to scan the readers’ comments and feel my blood pressure skyrocket. And let me tell you, The Times has some of the most partisan wackjobs chiming in on stories. I miss when reader’s grievances were limited to letters to the editor, when a professional would cull the craziness and let only the most cognizant and thoughtful comments appear on the page. As a longtime blogger, I’m probably a hypocrite for saying this, but just because you can type doesn’t mean you have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. Writing a good article or story is hard work. Internet commentary is usually an impulsive piece of drive by snark. Yeah, the internet has democratized public expression but that always isn’t a good thing. Now it takes more work to separate opinions from assholes. Now, freed from the chattering commenterati, I enjoy reading the newspaper again.
Standing on the porch in my bathrobe, I watched as Natalie toddled down the driveway and picked up the blue bagged paper. “Good job, honey,” I called. “Now bring it back.” When she returned, a look of triumph on her face, she handed me the paper like it was a priceless object. Soon Natalie was on my lap and pointed to the pictures as I read about politics, the crisis in North Korea, religious tensions, healthcare, reproductive rights, gun control, and the messy drama of being a citizen of the United States. Giggling as she hid from her mother behind the pages, I hoped these moments would help Natalie pick up a love of words and stories like I did. That eventually she’d realize you need to be engaged with the world; to know what other people go through and look at different points of view. One day she might remember her old man reading the paper and thank him for teaching her the value of the printed word. Maybe she’ll also have a dim memory of me cursing people out as I skimmed the pages.
Now if you’ll excuse me, its Sunday morning and I have to eat my homemade scones with sustainable Irish butter and wash it down with fair trade coffee while Dexter Gordon plays over the radio.
Starting when our son was one, we sat him down on his birthday to give him a review, like you do at a job. We told him the pros and cons of his year (at one it was, you learned to walk – yay! But you still poop your pants but we can work on that) and how we were giving him a new job – being two. He’s now going to be twelve and we give him an allowance now. He knows what we expect of him every year and what his new chore add will be to earn his allowance (a dollar for each year of his life). Most of his chores are study, read, eat a new food but we are throwing in household chores. At 11 he got – clean the toilets. Three times a week. He makes the mess, he cleans the mess. Teaching them about responsibility is a great thing. You’re teaching Natalie independence also by letting her go to the end of the driveway which is so heady when you’re three. Kudos, man.
I love that idea!
I remember my dad reading the Italian newspapers from time to time and grumbling about this that or the other thing. I think moaning and slapping the paper is great for relieving the stress you get from reading the news. I like newspapers myself. You can ponder a story better and no one is telling you, at the bottom, you are stupid for having the opinion about the story that you do. It’s a good habit to form with Miss Natalie, too. The more you read to a child the better a reader she will be when the time comes.