The “Allure” of American Excess
“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”
This famous phrase is attributed to the first century Roman poet Juvenal. In context, Juvenal is displaying his contempt for the slide of contemporary Romans into a culture of decadence, rather than historical political involvement. This could be interpreted as ‘the richer and more distracted the citizens feel, the less trouble they’ll cause.’
This is utterly fascinating to me, as a single parent trying to guide these four kids into responsible adulthood.
Gaze upon this mountainous thing with me, for a moment-
The craft next to it is a cruise ship from the “Princess” line, and we are docked side by side at Saint Thomas, USVI.
Really, it’s just sort of staggering, don’t you think?I find myself whistling “Down in the Valley” when I walk between ships when they are docked. I mean, I can barely see the sky.
This thing is so gigantic I’m mindful of things like BASE jumps and rappelling down mountainsides when I walk beside it.
So, a bit of history. When Chris and I started our parenting journey, we decided that we didn’t want our children to be happy, we wanted them to be good. Really “Happy” is such an first world notion. I don’t give a plugged nickel if my children are ‘happy’. Just the word is insipid and annoys me. Any parent with more than two brain cells to rub together can get that ‘happy’ is fleeting, and ‘good’ is forever. Why? “Happy” can change if I trip over a shoelace and break my wrist. (True story)
But “Good” lasts. “Good” takes risks. “Good” says to the hurting woman at the well, ‘Yes, you can have any extra that I don’t need. My children are fed and clothed, I have a surplus, it’s yours.’
“Good” looks at the destitute cancer victim and says “Of course, you can stay with me. Yes, you may use my things, and get whatever measure of peace you can find to rebuild some strength for this battle you are waging.”
“Good” says to the college student “Think! You have a magnificent brain! Weigh what your professors tell you, form your OWN thoughts and convictions, develop your OWN identity! You can do this. ”
“Good” looks at it’s children and says “Cause trouble. Don’t be distracted by bread and circuses. Stick up for the rights of those who have less power than you. Question your peers, don’t go with the affluent flow.”
So, what are we doing here? Really, it’s kind of hilarious. Here’s one reason: “Traveling Feet”
We took a day trip in Nassau to snorkel a spot called “Rainbow Reef.” There’s wild country under the surface of the waves, and these mountain children rarely see it.
Here’s another reason. You folks remember my brother selling his manuscript “The Old Man and the Harley ” to Thomas Nelson a couple of years back? (Go to Amazon and get it, it’s great. )
Tradition and identity. Riding Harleys is a wonderful part of John and Dad’s history. How cool to honor that like this?
So here we are on this towering shrine to excess. The Allure is a techological marvel, It holds several thousand passengers, and over two thousand service personnel.
It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The service is impeccable, the food superb, the shows of the highest quality, and the staff seems to be either authentically friendly or extremely well trained.
Our first day was in Nassau, Bahamas. We chose to spend it largely on another boat, speeding out to a good local dive spot.
All of my kids are experienced divers, and have been snorkeling since about age 5, so this was nothing new. It’s funny, I could see them chomping to be let loose to explore the boundary waters, but they could see that would likely tick off the people who’s responsibility it was to keep them safe.
“Safe” is as much of an irritant to my kids as it is to me. I think it was Lucy who once asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion was ‘safe’ (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis) “Of course not. ” replied Mr. Beaver. “But Aslan is good.”
Exactly. If I can teach my kids, in the middle of all this opulence, that ‘safe’ is not the equivalent of ‘good’, I will have continued to succeed in my parenting.
On this trip so far, I continue to have undistracted talks with the self-directed young adults these kids are becoming. It’s a beautiful thing.
I think the best reason to be here has to do with identity formation. Now is a critical time for all these kids to figure out who they are. The death of Chris was a terrible blow to this process, and it’s a very real lack.
So I cast around mainly for time. When I am at home, the demands on my time are pretty big. My job, my sick dad, and Rachael being at home are my main time expenditures, and it’s OK. But, with four kids, it’s pretty much an odds game that someone is going to need some parental input, right this instant.
Running a family is definitely a two person job.
But it is what it is, and I run around finding as much undistracted time to pour into these kids as I can. It helps.
Here are some of the knotty problems to untangle:
Faith is a junior this quarter. Yes, she just graduated last May, but DU finally processed all her honors, AP and additional collegiate coursework. She also obtained a research fellowship with a doctoral student. Med school is screaming down the tracks.
Christopher is really into his construction management studies. Many of the major companies offer internships around the country. Take one in some other part of the US, or part of the globe, for six months or so?
Abi might transfer to Savannah or Manhattan next year. This kid is remarkable, but that’s a big step, and she’s nervous about being away from everything she knows.
Rachael is just taking these first steps, and is dealing with a culture at EHS that frowns upon accomplishment. How to help her without transmitting my own cynicism toward American public school?
If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. This is a ton of work. If you’re my friend, buy me a Starbucks. :)
If you’re a single parent, shoot me back some advice, as soon as you can. I could use it!
Saint Maarten tomorrow!