I think I have principles and then I sell out under the slightest provocation.
I want to live car-free and did for six months when I was 28 and living in Los Angeles. When I tell people this, they’re impressed because it meant biking great distances to get anywhere. Truth was, I was jobless at the time and had nowhere to go. As soon as I got a job and needed to take the 10 downtown but instead spent a few hours biking Venice Boulevard, I bought a used Honda Accord.
Now I want to get my kids on bikes, even if just for fun. We hardly ever ride though, because when drivers in Miami see a woman towing kids in a bike trailer with safety flags, they speed up to pass as fast as possible. Now my kids are 10 and 15 and still their new bikes sit in the garage barely used.
I want my kids to care about the environment, but I’ve showed them no outdoor appreciation. I wanted to pitch tents in the Everglades, but my Venezuelan wife had an American dream to take the kids in an RV. Once we did a road trip around South Florida. We parked in a few campgrounds with a smattering of trees and slept in our rented, air-conditioned RV.
I want my children to grow up with a sense of civic duty, but we hardly ever do volunteer work. Once, we volunteered at Ronald McDonald House. It was Christmas time and we were there to pass out gifts to the kids waiting for or recovering from surgery.
All the volunteers got bright blue T-shirts. We walked down the halls, an army of white people in blue T-shirts, looking for kids in need of gifts. The kids were sleeping or resting so no one was in the halls except us. Then a little black girl came out of her room in her pajamas. Twenty blue T-shirts rushed over and directed her to a table full of wrapped gifts.
I want to live in a diverse neighborhood, but I was so indecisive about buying a house (we looked at 130 houses) that when we found one my wife and I could agree on, we bought it. Now we live in Coral Gables, the lawn-care capital of the world. I don’t know for sure if this is the lawn-care capital, but I do know that in my neighborhood a leaf blower blows every single day of the year. According to a New York Times article, “On Banning Leaf Blowers,” a half-hour blow job emits more hydrocarbon than an RV on a week-long tour of Florida.
For a year I operated a push mower. Our yard, the size of a basketball half-court, took about 30 minutes of hard, sweaty work. But the blades rusted and dulled and kept catching twigs, making it impossible to push. Soon our yard looked like a wheat field, which was okay by me, but I’d fallen on my duties, so my wife hired a yard service and now when I get pissed because I hear leaf blowers, I have to remember they work for me.
I’m a public-school proponent, but when my daughter was crying every night because our public elementary school, with its special bilingual curriculum and extra hour a day, stressed her to the max, I put her in private.
I believe in neighborhood schools, but I sent my daughter across town for middle school so she wouldn’t have to start over socially. Now I’m one of those people clogging Miami streets because school is a 25-minute drive away.
What happened to my principles? Why am I a sell-out? My wife says I accommodate the children. Yes, and everyone else, including myself. Selling out is easier. And I can afford to. Every instance has its rationale, but cumulatively, I’ve become someone I don’t admire.
Here’s №46 of the #weeklyessaychallenge I gave myself the day I turned 50. Four essays to go.