Feb 242020

Nearly four years ago I wrote in Adbusters about how I had been raising my son to be an ecowarrior. At the time, he was just three. So there wasn’t much to it: supporting my wife, Aynabat, in breastfeeding; keeping my son, Ayhan, away from screens; getting him outside and letting him eat dirt; and spending oceans of time with him from day one, no matter how monotonous. Yes, sometimes it was a slog, with the hours slowly ticking by while we rocked Ayhan, talked baby-talk, or sang yet another rendition of “Five Little Monkeys.” Or as we fed and changed him, and especially as we scraped his shit out of cloth diapers, washed those vinegary rags, and hung them on the clothesline.

Yes, those were some long days, especially in the early going—days when my wife and I actually fought over who’d get the privilege of washing the dishes, just to get a bit of Zen time.

But so many of the moments were incredible. Ayhan’s first laughs, his first teeth, his first words, his first steps, his first efforts to wash dishes (now he’s busy and we can relax!)—and as a game-loving father, his first games. Not just my picking up Sophie Giraffe after he’d thrown it from his stroller for the twelfth time, giggling, with Papa playing along, but chasing him around the playground, and especially playing board games.

And as my son turns seven, time with him is still as joyful, maybe even more. He’s a little man now, playing serious games, learning karate, romping through the woods, helping around the house, having deep conversations, making up stories, learning about the world, and joining me at community events, meetings, and protests.

I wondered, when I finished the first “Raising a Future Ecowarrior” essay, what I might say in the future that would translate as easily to other families. In particular, I was interested in the early childhood stage, about how they’re living and what they’re learning—especially as my wife and I have chosen to have only one child and to homeschool him.

I realize now that there are a number of lessons I can share. Here are some rules of thumb my wife and I have found most valuable over seven years of homeschooling our little son and ecowarrior.


I’m still proud that we got rid of our stroller when Ayhan was two years old. Living in DC with no car, we walked and rode public transport everywhere. So getting Ayhan’s legs conditioned for life beyond the stroller put him on the right path for being active and strong. That’s not changed. He’s lean and powerful—as I rediscover whenever I try to tickle him and get a knee to the jaw. (We’re about out of the tickling stage now because of that, a sad stage of development.)

Much of our early outside time together was in the highly engineered modern “playground” urban dwellers are familiar with. At best, they are quasi-natural structures in a sea of woodchips, with some potential to stimulate creativity. At worst, they’re hot, rubberized hellholes, where toddlers leave covered in toxic plastic beads (which probably end up in their stomachs, as well).

In our hundreds of hours exploring playgrounds, we slid down slides, played on swings, chased each other, and played with other children. Sometimes I played along or sat back to get a rest and reflected sadly on how most other parents are far more engaged with their phones than their kids or the other parents.

I recognize that for parents needing a break, the phone is a magical portal—to news, a game, a video, a conversation, or an excuse to ignore others. The constancy of smartphone use on playgrounds suggests addiction more than distraction, however. This is behavior that kids, quickly recognizing the covetous value of the smartphone, will mimic in the future.

Beyond the playground adventures, we’d garden in our car-sized DC yard. Ayhan would help me compost, tear up the garden (thinking he was helping me plant), and play in the dirt. And as he got older we started to regularly explore Rock Creek Park, hiking, building dams in the creek tributaries, even guerilla pruning, once I learned how to prune properly.

A year ago, we moved to Middletown, Connecticut—a walkable town that also seemed very resilient to the coming climate crisis (and far more affordable than DC). On the one hand, wilderness was more accessible; on the other, for the most part, we now had to drive to it (a barrier in itself for an environmentalist who hates driving). We’ve continued to hike and join naturalists’ explorations, and do some camping. And we also got a plot at a community garden—which kept us gardening and taught us an important lesson in what happens when invasives send out their seeds just as you till the earth (it’s not pretty).

Then, this past fall, as I had been in Connecticut for six months and the cultural norm that “20 minutes of driving is close” opened up the option that “nearby” was a primitive skills homeschool group that met once a week. At Ayhan’s age, it’s mostly just playing—but playing with a purpose, such as games like Fire in the Forest that teach basic safety and awareness drills—and as he gets older they add in skills like bow drill, camouflage, bark basket weaving, and so on. Most importantly he’s in the woods for six hours every Tuesday, where he learns to be comfortable in cold, hot, wet, dry, and snowy weather. And he is surrounded by birds, trees, and mentors who recognize the inherent value of a living Earth.

Finally, there’s Karate. It may not be as important as nature time, but it’s a close second, teaching as it does respect, discipline, confidence, and an understanding that on those few occasions where one must fight, a few well-placed strikes will disable your opponent. At the Washin-Ryu Dojo in Middletown (an easy bike ride away), classes consist of both adults and children, with the children—including the Orange-belted Ayhan—even teaching forty- and fifty-year-olds how to properly perform Karate kata.

My sobering thought here is that Ayhan needs Karate because the future will be a bleak one where conflict will inevitably increase. I’m not going to lie: at this point I don’t see a realistic pathway out of our unsustainable consumer society other than through the rough road of civilizational collapse. And in that world, self-defense will be essential.


What is the correct level of exposure to the “real” for a child? Ayhan has watched a rabbit and turkey being slaughtered. He’s also seen (in documentaries) animals killing each other—as well as real train accidents. Is a seven-year-old capable of processing this? Some would argue for sheltering children from this, and from the horrors that climate change is bringing. I disagree.

Throughout history, children saw life and death firsthand. They weren’t hidden away when loved ones died or animals were made into food. And when wars and famines came, they were part of that too. Well, “Winter is Coming” in the form of catastrophic climate change. Our children should be both physically and psychologically prepared for it. Sheltering your children from the harder parts of life, the disasters unspooling around us, will only incapacitate them.


I once asked a knowledgeable colleague: “What one thing would you teach children to ready them for the world that’s coming?” Without hesitation came his answer: languages. He explained how they create opportunities, improve economic options—the data shows that they even improve brain health (increasing self-control and reducing the odds of dementia).

I took that to heart. Luckily I’m married to a trilingual woman. Aynabat, a Turkmen, speaks Russian and Turkmen and has taught Ayhan Russian from day one. They read countless Russian stories, practice Cyrillic writing, even surprise me when she reads Gulliver’s TravelsAnimal Farm, and How to Train Your Dragon to him—in Russian! Turkmen she added a year ago but he’s taking to it—though there isn’t an accessible Turkmen-speaking community like there is a Russian one. Living just down the hill from Wesleyan University now, we have found a Spanish tutor to add a fourth language. While my son’s third and fourth languages certainly won’t be at the level of his first and second, if all goes well, he’ll have a handful of them—and their corresponding cultural worlds—to draw upon as he grows up. The idea is as valuable as it is revolutionary in the Monolinguistic States of America.


We made a decision from the beginning to keep Ayhan away from screens. Other than video calls, Ayhan didn’t get any screen time until he turned two (which the World Health Organization recommends). Even after two, his screen time has been minimal—less than 30 minutes a day (from years 2 to 7). Once in a while we’ll watch for an hour, then days will go by with no time for cartoons as we’re too busy with forest school or karate, or playing a game. When we do watch, surprisingly little of it comprises cartoons. We watch nature documentaries, or the Electric Company (from the ‘70s), or Bill Nye the Science Guy. Then there are the Magic School BusOctonauts, and Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That. The choices get even more exotic when it’s Aynabat’s turn to pick: classic Soviet cartoons like Cheburashka or Three from Prostokvashino. With his love of trains we even watch shows like Mumbai Railway and the NOVA documentary Why Trains Crash. (Ayhan is surely one of the few seven-year olds that can tell you what Positive Train Control is.)

The Amish have a rule that’s always made sense to me: that, by seven, children should “break even,” giving to the household as much as they get. We’ve been working to make sure Ayhan does his part. While we do battle over dishes—he dislikes them—he is solely responsible for trash and recycling. He also hangs and folds the laundry, picks up around the house, and vacuums. He often resists doing his chores, of course, but he does get them done, which I’m happy about. That he sees both his parents cleaning regularly, and doesn’t have an easily accessible distraction—i.e., a screen—makes it easy to get him to be fully engaged. And it makes our lives a lot easier. The next step—both for the life skill and the parental relief—is teaching Ayhan to cook.


With his first years being in DC, Ayhan had many chances to engage with the world. Ayhan joined his first march when he was three, when a group of Bernie Sanders supporters marched by our house, and we tagged along. Sure we only walked only a few blocks and he had no idea what any of it was about, but growing up with Trump as president, he’s quickly found out. Ayhan joined more protests—the Women’s March, the Climate March, the Science March—and even helped me as I created an anti-Trump card game. (So became very knowledgeable about presidential politics.)

Then in 2018, after several years of contemplating a move to Middletown, CT, I got offered a job there, in which I organized and joined many community events. Aynabat (and I to a lesser degree) had drilled Ayhan in manners and emotional intelligence from an early age: Look into people’s eyes. Ask “How are you?” Shake their hands firmly. This year I brought him to many of the events I organized: repair cafes, hikes, boat trips, beach cleanups. And Ayhan has excelled at being a polite helper—cleaning up trash, making participants feel engaged and welcomed, making signs. Just writing this, I realize how proud I am of him.

I’m not sure what has led to this—positive reinforcement to a large degree, and perhaps the fact that he’s never seen a screen in public (other than those annoying TVs that seem to be in most restaurants now). So he looks actively for interaction rather than distraction. But this year was a great time to test all that out and strengthen many of the lessons. Over the years, I hope this community engagement will become even stronger and more self-directed. Being right downtown, he’ll soon be able to walk to community meetings on his own, if he so chooses (his current career ambition is to be the mayor of Middletown and a metro engineer, so perhaps). It’ll be interesting if a boy chooses to engage and whether he’d be taken seriously even if he did. Or maybe he’ll choose to get involved in a more globally focused movement that takes youth more seriously. Time will tell.


Much of the best learning can barely be called learning. We build Legos, read stories, write letters to far-off family, and play board game after board game. It’s worth remembering the degree to which children used to learn through play—pretending to hunt, mimicking parents as they ground grain or cooked, tagging along with an uncle or aunt as they foraged, and so on. Learning doesn’t have to be boring—it doesn’t have to be “ok, this is official learning time.” Yes, there’s some of that even with us—we have workbooks in both Russian and English we use to practice writing and spelling—and “workbook” is certainly his least favorite time of the day.

Instead, mostly we just play. As I write this, my work table is covered with SeaFall, a legacy game that consists of a series of about 15 games. It’s meant for 12-year-olds but he and I are playing through the series, and having enormous fun —other than the time Ayhan‘s ship sunk! Games teach not just strategy but emotional control. As I always tell Ayhan, I still get very upset when I lose, and sometimes even want to cry. But as you grow up you just learn to tamp that down (which, sadly, is an important part of growing up).

This all feels a bit celebratory to me. There have been times when it was really hard—especially before he learned to walk, where he whined and clung to us so much we barely thought we could go on. And Ayhan, unfortunately, inherited his parents’ temper. But we’ve been fortunate to have the time to set our son’s path in a way that made him a kinder and more ecologically-grounded child.

Could I have done all this if he was in school all day?

I’m assuming no. We wouldn’t have had time or energy to drag him to karate three times per week. He would’ve gotten far less outdoors time. Playing would be a rare treat, and the drudgery of workbooks more frequent.

There have been gaps in his education so far. We probably don’t spend enough time writing instead of reading, and probably not enough time with math. But that’s more than offset by other skills—especially awareness of nature, languages, and social/emotional intelligence.

Ultimately, the take home message is similar to that of the first three years. Feed your child well, keep him away from screens, get her outside, and play as much as possible. Processed foods rot the body and screens rot the brain, while nature—even a few trees or a community garden—nourishes the soul and reminds us of how beautiful and mysterious, and worth defending, Earth is.

First published in Adbusters, Sept/Oct 2019.

 February 24, 2020  Posted by on February 24, 2020 Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Jul 182015

peachesI made jam with my son yesterday—from a mass of little peaches and crab apples we gleaned from a local school garden (it was either us or the squirrels as few urban dwellers connect fruit on trees with fruit in their bellies).

And I have to say that this jam was delicious. I’m sure if I bought it in a store I’d think it’s just pretty good. But knowing that I made it, and that it was essentially free—both in the ecological and financial sense (minus the little bit of electricity, lemon and sugar I used)—made this jam some of the best I’ve ever eaten! Plus the fact that my son, Ayhan, helped me cut the fruit (his first attempt with a knife, albeit with my hand on it too) and pour in the sugar, added some fun to the process too.

My recipe is based closely off the advice and instructions in this great blog post for making a small batch of jam from The Kitchn, but I didn’t follow it very meticulously, figuring there was a lot of room for improvisation in jam making.

cutting fruitIn short, I cut up about 10 small peaches, leaving the skin on (I didn’t want to waste anything), grated 12 very small crab apples (I grated them as they were too small to easily cut), threw in half a cup of sugar (the recipe suggested more but I wanted to err on the side of too little rather than too much) and squeezed in half a lemon (half of what the recipe called for but was still too much as there’s a lot of natural pectin—and sourness—in crab apples).

I then cooked it—in a wide pan—on a medium high heat until the fruit boiled for about 10 minutes and was thick in consistency. Towards the end I added some shakes of some ground cinnamon (this blog post from Northwest Edible Life has a great flavor guide on what spices to add to enhance jam). Then, once it was finished cooking, I pureed the jam with an immersion blender to make it a bit smoother and break up the skins better. And that’s it! I filled up a big jar with jam and put it in the refrigerator (I didn’t glean enough to consider the challenges of true canning—but put most in the refrigerator and froze a bit for later. As I can already attest, the jam is perfect for toast, pancakes, or even straight from the jar. Enjoy!

Step By Step (for next time I make it):

cooking fruit1) Glean a few pounds of fruit

2) Wash fruit

3) Cut fruit into small pieces removing damaged bits (or grate in the case of really small fruits)

4) Put in pan and add 1/3rd cup of sugar and mash with a potato masher

5) Squeeze in a quarter of a lemon

6) Bring to boil on a medium heat and boil for about 10 minutes (until a thick jam-like consistency is achieved)

7) Add cinnamon (or other preferred spices) while jam is boiling

8) Let cool and put into jar. Enjoy!

 July 18, 2015  Posted by on July 18, 2015 Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Jul 052015

A few months back I wrote a reflection on raising an ecowarrior thus far for Adbusters and thought I’d repost here (with corrections and paragraphs that somehow fell out in the editing process….).

“It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”

Professor Will Steffen, director of the ANU Climate Change Institute

In January, a group of environmental researchers led by Will Steffen of Australian National University published an update to their earlier work on “planetary boundaries,” thresholds of nine fundamental ecological processes — like climate regulation, ocean acidification and freshwater use — which, if crossed, could potentially trigger a collapse of human civilization or at least a whole lot of human suffering.

Hopefully, we’ll correct course and prevent potentially cataclysmic ecological disruptions — including a five to six degree Celsius warmer future — “that won’t be good for large mammals like us,” as Steffen notes. But realistically, the window to prevent this path may have already closed — or at least is so politically nonviable that anyone bringing a child into the world today needs to recognize that the future of their children will in all likelihood be unstable, violent, and ugly — as 8 to 10 billion humans fight to survive as droughts and disasters disrupt food supplies, access to fresh water and energy is limited, and as fertile lands and cities are consumed by a rising ocean.

When my wife and I decided to bring a child into the world (just one, as humanity needs to quickly stabilize and shrink its total numbers), part of the agreement was to raise him to be a future ecowarrior. One who, hopefully, could help steer us toward a more sustainable path so that the nasty collapse that kills off several billion people and countless other species will be averted or at least cushioned. Or if that is impossible, at least provide him with the skills and wisdom to increase his odds of surviving the ugly transition ahead, and help others to do the same.

Let me acknowledge right from the start that the freedom to raise my son, Ayhan, this way reveals a level of privilege that only a minority of people around the world have. The fact that I can take care of Ayhan half of every day instead of working 12 hours a day mining gold, assembling iPhones in a sweatshop, or foraging for valuable scraps in landfills is a luxury many will never have. But being part of the American middle class, I do have that luxury — especially as I have made economic choices to make the math work, such as owning no car and no home, and yes, having only one child — and with it I have the freedom, and even the responsibility, to prepare my child for the radically different reality he’ll grow up in.

As Ayhan is only two and a half, I’m still navigating what it means to truly raise an ecowarrior, and a lot of my hopes and plans for how to raise him are just that. Already we’ve learned a lot, especially on how to lay a strong foundation — and just how important that foundation is, not to mention how much work it takes. Below are the key discoveries of my first years of fatherhood. I hope when you read these, you think “duh,” but in reality, I’ve met so few parents, also of the American middle class variety, that are conscious of these facts and realities, and instead simply follow blindly the cultural norms of the unhealthy, unsustainable, socially disconnected consumer culture they’re part of. Without first breaking through that mindlessness, I can’t imagine much success in teaching the more challenging ideas, skills and lessons that will need to be part of bringing up children to survive the stormy century ahead. Sometimes the first step is simply to identify what is so difficult to see.

Birth and Infancy

The first and most important lesson to learn as an expectant parent is to not blindly trust in the medical system. This seems obvious considering the levels of corruption in the American medical system, but I’ve found that many soon-to-be parents spend more time researching which smartphone to buy than how to have a safe and healthy birth. Instead, invest your time in researching what a safe, healthy, and natural birth entails. A third of American women give birth via Caesarean section — with their babies pulled from a slice in their wombs, oftentimes for controversial reasons due to a dysmal American medical system. This can cause all sorts of complications — from slower healing in mothers and challenges with breastfeeding to a changed microbiome for babies (interesting fact #1: a baby’s gut bacteria is partially established from the mother’s birth canal). Increase the odds of a natural birth by eating healthily during pregnancy (goodbye white flour and sugar); choosing to deliver with midwives; writing a birth plan; having the support of a good doula; making sure your partner plays an active advocacy role during labor; and most importantly doing your homework — reading books like Pushed and watching documentaries like The Business of Being Born. If you aren’t aware of the “cascade of interventions” that can be triggered by doctors administering Pitocin to accelerate a woman’s contractions (often just for their own convenience), you may end up as part of the C-Section statistic.

Birth, however, is just the first moment of parenting. In the first two formative years, the role you play is critical — from breastfeeding your baby (or supporting your partner in this essential practice) and feeding him real, home-cooked foods rather than overly processed packaged baby food, to raising your baby yourself instead of outsourcing his care to low-paid workers. Granted, all of this takes significant time and sacrifice. And it is especially difficult in a country like the U.S. (as compared to Europe), where the culture completely devalues the role of parents, rarely providing paid maternity care or even follow-up support after birth, and instead equates getting parents back to work and growing the childcare industry as beneficial to economic growth. But the joy of watching Ayhan grow, and building such a close relationship with him far exceeds any costs endured.

CellophaneBaby31Plastic Wrapped

One of the most challenging steps so far in this childraising process has been to avoid raising my son as a “space age baby”. Children today are surrounded by layer upon layer of plastic: wearing disposable plastic diapers, fleece onesies, and nylon jackets. They play with plastic toys; swipe plastic iPad screens with hands coated in hand sanitizer; suck food from plastic baby food tubes; ride in plastic strollers that are even sealed in vinyl covers on rainy days. Just the toxic burden of all that plastic should break us of this mindless activity. But perhaps a worse side effect of suiting up our children like astronauts is that from infancy on they are completely separated from the natural world.

Few children are regularly exposed to plants, birds, dirt (interesting fact #2: ingesting dirt may be necessary to prevent asthma and autoimmune diseases), wind, rain, the sun, even the stars in light-polluted cities. If nature is absent in children’s lives, they may suffer immediate and long-lasting psychological effects, as Richard Louv describes at length in Last Child in the Woods. The odds are high that they will no longer value, defend, or even understand their dependence on the Earth and its myriad ecosystem services.

Back in 1949 Aldo Leopold said, “Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.” And today, we have far more gadgets and middlemen. We even have unlimited access to an addictive, virtual world readily accessed at every turn through smartphone and computer interface. Limiting your child’s access to media is as essential as feeding her well. Of course, it’s not easy finding the time to read 40 kids’ books a day instead of plopping a child in front of Sesame Street, but then again, it can be quite joyful, especially after your two year old starts walking down streets and points to tree stumps exclaiming “broken tree, thneed!” making the connection between the ecocide portrayed in The Lorax and the ecological destruction he witnesses in his own home city.

Beyond the Toddler Years

This is all foundational, but what about with older children? How do we go about combating misinformation and consumer socialization at every turn — in school classrooms and cafeterias, from friends, from extended family with conflicting values, from the media, which I can only imagine becomes harder and harder to protect a child from as they get older? I do not yet have answers. I daydream of homeschooling Ayhan so that I can prioritize the knowledge and values that I think will be relevant — math, languages, and ecosystem sciences, of course, but also wilderness survival, basic medicine and first aid and martial arts. I consider what it will means to raise my child as an ecowarrior — teaching him to understand that all ethical norms and choices should stem from healing our living Earth and protecting it from further ravages of Man gorging beyond his ecological niche.

Right now, I am just setting the groundwork. My son is learning English from me, Russian from my wife, and we’ll add other languages later. He’s gardening, composting, and foraging fruit from street trees with me, and will attend his first primitive skills training this spring. We’ll enroll him in a martial arts class when he’s ready, and have already taught him a bit of yoga — surely, mindfulness in this increasingly mindless world will be a valuable skill to lean on.

Whether my son rebels against all this is an open question, but even if he does—as many more experienced parents tell me he will—when the collapse comes, he’ll still be able to forage wild edible plants, purify water, process acorns to make flour, and hunt, increasing the odds that he’ll survive as others go hungry when climate change disrupts the global food trade and grain prices skyrocket. And he’ll take the knowledge and wisdom he’s learned—and hopefully a deep-seated reverence for the Earth—and share that with others as well, perhaps even helping to sow the seeds for a new ecocentric civilization centuries from now. But no matter what comes, I understand that it is my role—as a responsible parent in this changing time—to do my best to prepare Ayhan for the daunting new reality he will grow up in. I invite others to do the same.

— Erik Assadourian is a Senior Fellow at Worldwatch Institute and a contributing editor to Adbusters.

 July 5, 2015  Posted by on July 5, 2015 Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »
Aug 312014

Fill ‘er up? (Image from Danjam via Brickipedia)

That LEGO is partnering with Shell is nothing new. From 1966 to 1992 LEGO regularly produced Shell-themed LEGO sets. You might even remember them from your childhood:

  • There’s the 1981 Shell Gas Pumps set;
  • And the Shell Service Station from 1983;
  • And then there’s the rare, cross-over Pirates/Town set, “The Shell Pirates’ Illegal Offshore Exploration Ship” (see below);
  • And the even rarer Shell Death Star commanded by Shell CEO Darth van Beurden.

Well, as you might have heard, LEGO has recently renewed its partnership with Shell, producing a new line of Shell branded LEGO sets.

Fortunately Greenpeace has rocked the oil platform a bit with its excellent cartoon about Shell’s destruction of the Arctic (made with LEGOs of course), claiming that “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations”:

Greenpeace’s cartoon and campaign raises the important question of whether LEGO should partner with an oil company or not. But without too much reflection it seems clear that this type of partnership is not appropriate—for the very simple reason that LEGO blocks imprinted with the Shell icon help create a positive association in children’s minds between Shell and the enjoyable hours spent playing with LEGOs. The more positively oil companies are viewed (at a primal, deep brain level) the harder it’ll be to convince people that fossil fuels (and the companies that profit from their extraction) are not compatible with a survivable future. So in other words, yes, Shell—and LEGO through its partnership—is polluting our kids’ imaginations.

Shell Pirate Ship-6285

“Ahoy maties! Let’s go find some new offshore oil deposits to exploit!” cries out Captain van Beurden from the crow’s nest.

So should parents stop buying LEGOs? Notice that not even Greenpeace suggests that—LEGO is a powerful brand, one that kids love. So parents would be reluctant to abandon this reliable brand, let alone try to explain to their kids why they can’t play with their LEGOs anymore. Probably why Greenpeace simply encourages parents to sign this petition to LEGO. Perhaps enough parental anger will make LEGO reconsider whether this brand taint is worth the $116 million its deal with Shell is estimated to be valued at. But then again, considering what LEGOs are made out of, I don’t imagine LEGO is really averse to oil drilling and might as well find a partner to make its company even more lucrative (at least until the end of the fossil fuel era takes it down).

But yes, parents should probably think twice about supporting LEGO and honestly, all toy brands. My son, Ayhan, is only 2 and already we have two big boxes of toys (and that’s with aggressive efforts to discourage people from buying us any new stuff). The key for me will be to redirect Ayhan beyond the exaggerated period of extended childhood that Americans prefer and get him playing with/building real stuff sooner. Why assemble LEGO sets when you can assemble a meal to serve to your family? Why arm a hundred LEGO knights when you can build your own bow and arrows? Why wage LEGO battles when you can hunt down a squirrel and make stew from its meat and a pouch from its hide? Yes, Ayhan is a few years from that, but by six he should be a competent squirrel hunter or at least a squirrel trapper and at that point hopefully any LEGOs we’ve accumulated will be collecting dust in the closet.

I admit all that sounds primitive, but then again, primitive skills will probably be an integral part of the post-oil, post-plastic, post-LEGO future that’s speeding toward us like a derailed LEGO train (probably loaded with unreinforced Shell oil tank cars). “All aboard! Next stop: New Miami” (since old Miami will be long submerged by then).

 August 31, 2014  Posted by on August 31, 2014 Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »
Aug 182014

Ayhan expressing affection for his comrade-in-arms. (Image by Erik Assadourian. All rights reserved.)

I’m not sure how it happened but every once in a while, when my 2-year old son walks past a tree along the streets of DC, he stops and gives it a hug. Sometimes even a kiss. Why that it, I have no idea. The environmental values I’ve communicated to him have been rudimentary at best. Essentially I’ve taught him that certain plants are edible and that food scraps are compostable and get mixed back into the soil. (He also knows to put recycling and garbage in different cans, but I doubt he knows where they go from there, other than that two different trucks takes them away.)

But his mother and I certainly haven’t encouraged him to hug any trees, nor has his Uncle Ty or Aunt Rita—the other two adults Ayhan sees regularly. So where did that impulse come from?

I don’t even know of any books we’ve read where people hug a tree. The closest we’ve come is a ridiculous book Paper Crunch, designed to encourage 3rd graders to recycle paper and that has somehow captivated Ayhan. “WAIT! Don’t throw away that piece of paper. Do you know where that paper comes from?” Lots of trees in that book—many felled and in depressingly large piles—but not a single picture of someone embracing one.

Chipko-wikicommons-moi moi

“Chipko” by moi – moi. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So what explains my son’s tree hugging?

Is it an innate connection to other species? Children’s senses are stronger than ours. Perhaps he smells or hears or feels something more than we do when he passes by a tree?

Is it an extrapolation? My son likes trees, we interact with them often (I pass his head through the leaves when I carry him along the streets—much to his amusement—and this summer we’ve been gleaning cherries, peaches, and apples from street trees). So does he feel a camaderie, thus expressed with a hug and a kiss just as with the humans he cares about?

Or is it just a coincidental behavior that has become stronger through conditioning? I admit I expressed a positive reaction when I saw Ayhan hug a tree the first time and times since. How could I not!?!

Whatever the case, the good new is he’s already a tree hugger. Now I just need to make sure he grows up to understand the deep importance of keeping those trees safe—just as the original tree huggers did, those who hugged trees in the Chipko movement in India to prevent loggers from cutting down those trees, putting their own bodies in the way of the chain saws.

 August 18, 2014  Posted by on August 18, 2014 Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Dec 182013
Vaccines are like magical armor for the medieval (but not so magical) future ahead. (Image from

Vaccines are like magic armor for the medieval (but not so magical) future ahead. (Image from CNgoXkde via flickr)

I’m not anti-vaccine, that’s for sure. In fact, the future is most likely going to be a slow and steady decline, where services like public health and doctors become available only to the wealthiest (like today, only more so). Perhaps it’ll even be the full post-Soviet style breakdown where public water systems fall apart and water-borne diseases people only used to get when visiting developing countries start to become endemic and chronic. And that’s the good scenario. What I’m actually expecting is a rapid collapse with new diseases and epidemics emerging as the climate changes, as vector populations spread, as poverty skyrockets, and as many human populations relocate and become refugee populations living in bad conditions in too close quarters.

Either way I want to make sure Ayhan gets every vaccine he needs. To me they’re almost like armor upgrades in Dungeons & Dragons. +3 chainmail? Of course I want that instead of just the standard-issued leather armor. But at the same time, it doesn’t make sense to be encumbered by unnecessary vaccines—that’s like a mage wearing platemail. He may get a bit extra protection but he’ll no longer be able to move his arms well enough to cast spells. Nor does it make sense to get vaccines before they’re necessary. Just as too heavy an armor means a level of encumbrance that slows progress, putting too much pressure on the immune system comes with drawbacks too.

That’s why I created my own vaccine schedule, with a lot of help from The Vaccine Book by Robert W. Sears, MD (but make sure to borrow the updated edition, not the older one as certain vaccines change or go off-market). Sears makes clear which vaccines are essential for your baby’s safety, which are important for public health (preventing diseases from coming back into prominence), and which can be skipped or delayed, especially if the baby is breastfed and being raised at home (not in a daycare). Sears also makes the important point that our bodies can only handle so much toxic burden at a time—aluminum may not directly cause autism as some vaccine opponents claim, but it absolutely is a toxic metal that strains the body (and takes time to excrete), so dosing it at high levels makes a lot less sense than distributing it over time. (Aluminum is added to many vaccines to boost their effects.)

Researching all that, we followed a very reduced, spaced out schedule—made easy because we didn’t put our son in daycare and because Aynabat continues to breastfeed Ayhan twice a day (In case you hadn’t heard, WHO recommends continuing breastfeeding until 2 years old).

Child receives polio vaccine (photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation)

Child receives polio vaccine (photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation)

We started with boosters for DTaP for Aynabat and me. As our pediatrician noted, if you’re not going to give your baby the DTaP vaccine immediately, make sure you prevent yourselves from being a vector for pertussis (whooping cough). (Diphtheria and tetanus aren’t really threats to babies but there’s no vaccine just for pertussis.)

We skipped hepatitis B, which is typically given at birth, and rotavirus—being diseases of concern in daycares mainly (when feces is transferred from caregivers’ hands—e.g. after changing numerous diapers—to childrens’ mouths). Rotavirus, after infancy, isn’t very threatening. We also passed on the flu vaccine. It’s only partially effective—depending on if scientists accurately predict which strains are going to dominate that flu season and only lasts a year—and having to dose Ayhan annually with aluminum just for a partial reduction in the chance of getting the flu (which is rarely life-threatening) seems like bad calculus—especially if we keep him healthy. Plus, the ecological costs of an annual vaccine make the exchange even worse. What is the impact on the planet of hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines being produced each year?

DTaP was the first series Ayhan got at 5, 7 and 9 months (to prevent pertussis, which is particularly dangerous to infants). No other vaccine seemed essential during the first year that it was worth doubling up on shots or putting additional pressure on his young immune system. Then at 1 year he got his first Pc vaccine. The good thing is that starting this at 1 year meant only 2 shots were necessary, not 3. His second shot came 2 months later. Hib we got the visit after that, which also meant only 1 shot of this was needed instead of 3 (and Hib is essentially out of the population, so getting HIB is important for maintaining public health but certainly not needed at 2 months of age with a series of 4 other shots as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends).

I'm all for vaccines--just as long as they're necessary and in the interest of children and the public not pharmaceutical companies. (Image from The Gates Foundation via flickr)

I’m all for vaccines–just as long as they’re necessary and in the interest of children and the public not just in the interest of pharmaceutical companies. (Image from The Gates Foundation via flickr)

MMR and chickenpox will come after that and then polio (another important one but certainly not urgent as it’s out of the US population and we have no plans of bringing him to Turkmenistan as a toddler). We’ll probably add in Hepatitis A when we plan to travel to Turkmenistan and maybe Hepatitis B when Ayhan is hitting an age of being sexually active—as it’s a sexually transmitted disease—especially if at 15 he still can’t pass the teenage equivalent of the “Marshmallow Test,” a classic social psychology experiment offering toddlers 2 marshmallows if they can wait a few minutes before eating the one in front of them. If Ayhan at 15 is impulsive, short-sighted and a risk-taker, maybe a Hepatitis B shot is worth it (especially if the disease has grown more prevalent in the US population). If he is cautious and can understand the value of a condom, then probably not.

So that’s where we are now. We plan for Ayhan to get most of what we deem essential vaccines, just not as early as other infants so that his body is more able to carry around the burden of his extra armor and so that total toxin exposure can be reduced, by shrinking the total number of shots and by spacing them out. One note, spacing out vaccines changes the economics a bit—more visits means a bit more cost—in appointment charges and travel fees. But then again, fewer total shots mean less cost. So depending on how comprehensive your insurance plan, you may save money or spend slightly more, if vaccines are covered while office visits have high co-pays. But whether slightly more or less expensive, the health benefits of spacing out assaults on the immune system and total dosage of toxic aluminum is clear.

Until now Ayhan has been free of illness, fortunately, other than a few short-lived colds that I brought home from work travels. Of course, no broader conclusions can be drawn from a sample size of one, but this schedule has so far worked for us, and for our pediatrician too. And it seems to be a good middle path to ensure both Ayhan’s health and public health in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary risks or waste unnecessary resources (on extra vaccine doses or unneeded vaccines).

 December 18, 2013  Posted by on December 18, 2013 Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Dec 012013

My sister sent me a wonderful gift not long after Ayhan was born: a used Little People Noah’s Ark. A fun toy with lots of parts that I can imagine my son playing with for several years. The only issue is that I don’t really want to call it “Noah’s Ark” and embed that Biblical story in Ayhan’s subconscious from so early an age. It’s fine as a cultural story and literary reference, but not as a founding myth. So let me introduce Little People’s newest playset:

Bob and Brunhilde’s Boat of Biodiversity

boat of biodiversity2

Bob and Brunhilde’s Boat of Biodiversity (Bob is behind the camera)

Meet Bob: a master carpenter and permaculture expert living in an ecovillage on the coast. As climate change hits 3 degrees and scientists reveal positive feedback cycles have accelerated–with massive amounts of methane hydrates now burbling up from the deep oceans–Bob takes things in his own hands. His ecovillage is doomed to sink under the rising sea, so he builds a large boat and then raids a small local zoo where he steals a pair of each of his favorite charismatic megafauna species: pandas, lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes, and so on.

He puts them on his boat, and he and his wife Brunhilde, the famed German zoologist, care for their new menagerie until the storms and floods come, and as the ocean swallows up the ecovillage, off they float in search of higher land.

Of course, with such large animals they quickly debark once higher land is found (a week later), as there’s no way to keep 40 days of food for such giant beasts on such a little ship. But fortunately most of them make it to their new home. (Food did get scarce so the elephants were sacrificed for the greater good–but by that point their total population had shrunk so far that there was no longer enough of a gene pool to keep them a viable species anyway).

And life began anew. At least until the other hungry environmental refugees who had also been displaced from the coast came searching for food. Most of Bob and Brunhilde’s flock got away, but the giraffes, not surprisingly, had difficulty hiding from hunters.

And while that might seem a pretty gruesome story to tell a kid, is it as tough as the original? After all, God wiped out the entire human population except for one family, and pretty much all the rest of His creation too–which is far worse than what happened to Bob, Brunhilde and their menagerie.

Have fun Ayhan!

 December 1, 2013  Posted by on December 1, 2013 Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Nov 072013
Ayhan going to do the laundry

Ayhan going to do the laundry

The Amish supposedly have a saying that children should ‘break even’ by age 7, contributing as much to the household as they’re getting out of it. That’s a great saying, and certainly my hope with my son Ayhan (now 17 months old).

Just because my son is young doesn’t mean he should be treated like a receptacle of entertainment—given ever more stuff (toys, TV shows, toxic snacks) to keep him pacified. The concept of child as consumer is a recent and modern concept that will be dismantled as soon as the excessive wealth is squeezed out of the system and households need children to be active participants once again. (More on the artificiality of modern childhood another time. For now check out this New York Times article.)

So with that in my mind, my wife and I have been training Ayhan from the day he learned to walk to start helping with chores. So far he sweeps, helps picks up his toys (and often then dumps them back out again—that’s the fun part after all), helps to load and hang laundry, wipes down the table with a sponge, and pretends to cook. He even tried his hand at vacuuming recently! Hopefully one day he’ll do all of these and more, contributing in a real and significant way to the functioning of our household.

Obviously I’m not advocating for the return of 12 hours a day of child labor in dangerous conditions, but active engagement in all the aspects of running the household is a valuable part of a child’s education. Plus, it can be helpful, fun (he’s enjoying chores so far at least) and provide valuable skills.

Ayhan's first experience vacuuming.

Ayhan’s first experience vacuuming.

I certainly did some chores as a kid—I still remember when my dad would wake me up early many Saturday mornings with a loud bang on my door to join him outside and help him rake leaves or whatever needed doing. But in retrospect I could have done much much more, if I hadn’t been so busy watching TV or playing video games. And I probably would have benefited from this additional work too. For example, I wish I had learned to cook when I was a kid—to the point I actually became comfortable with cooking—as that would have been very useful when I finally needed to start cooking for myself after college. And it surely would have taken a bit of the burden away from my mom. (For those of you with kids old enough to cook, here’s a good New York Times article about one mother getting her 10 and 14 year old sons cooking in the kitchen).

Enough said on this: engage your toddler with chores now before he has any sense that adults might not actually find these activities fun (this is not intuitive to kids, especially considering the frequency with which adults do chores!). It worked for my mom; she got me vacuuming young and by the time I realized I hated this activity, it was too late, it was my role in the household. I plan to do the same with Ayhan with a whole slew of chores, but hopefully my son will fully grasp how essential his role is in keeping the household running, and not just think I’m a mean old dad. And without TV and other distractions, hopefully he’ll have more time and inclination to devote to those duties, and fewer distractions to pull him away.

 November 7, 2013  Posted by on November 7, 2013 Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Sep 072013


Reposted from raisinganecowarrior.net.

Dump trucks, bulldozers, steamrollers, they seem to be everywhere in the life of a little boy—even one just 15 months old and minimally aware of what these giant behemoths are or do.

They’re on clothing, toys, on the streets of the city (especially in DC with its construction micro-boom in process). And in countless books too.

Dig InMy son, Ayhan, loves the book Dig In!, and I admit it’s very cute—mice ‘building’ a pizza with construction equipment: steamrolling the pizza dough flat, mixing pizza sauce in the concrete mixer and pouring it on the dough, bulldozing the piles of cheese across the saucy crust and then (spoiler alert!) using a crane to get the whole thing in the oven. It’s clever and interactive, as you can move the bulldozer, roll the steamroller wheel, and so on. It’s perfect for his age (15 months) and he makes his mom and me read it to him several times a day.

But what’s never said—in any of the contexts these behemoths reign over—is what all this machinery means: their sole purpose is to extract massive amounts of the Earth’s crust and convert it into more infrastructure to fulfill humans needs and desires—whether luxury apartments or new stores, new power plants, or coal mines to run those plants. As Tracy Chapman said so perfectly, we’re raping the world, and construction equipment are our tools.

And while most readers will probably roll their eyes, and say “lighten up, it’s just that construction equipment is big and loud and cool”—just like dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and even pirates (the last being big on a different scale but still big to a kid). But dinosaurs, while some were predatory—feeding off other animals to survive—lived within their ecological niche, unlike humans and their machines.

Here’s just one example from a recent story from The New York Times, detailing how much coal is being extracted from one of the largest coal mines in the world. It “produces” 108 million tons of coal every year, with 21 trains departing the mine, pulling 135 cars each, with each car filled with 120 tons of coal, on “a typical day.” (That’s 340,000 tons a day for those of you who don’t want to do the math.)

Close to the Atlas Coal Mine, by Drumheller, Alberta (Image by Heidi G courtesy of flickr)

Close to the Atlas Coal Mine near Drumheller, Alberta (Image by Heidi G courtesy of flickr)

The best part of the article is the quote of Vic Svec, spokesman for Peabody Energy, to the reporter: “We have trillions of tons of coal resources in the world. You can expect the world to use them all.”

We know that climate change is unequivocally real and nearly certainly caused by humans (once again reiterated by climate scientists recently). But what few get is that to have a 50-50 chance of limiting total temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius we need to keep two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, according to the International Energy Agency. Burning more means we have even less of a chance of having any sort of climatic or societal stability in the coming centuries. So the sheer stupidity, short-sightedness, and moral vacuity of Svec’s statement is staggering. (Not to mention that it absolutely requires any sane parent to get his children ready for life in the collapse!)

Hence, as I write this I realize I should try to steer my son toward dinosaurs and pirates (after all what’s a pirate but a specific type of bandit—and as Eric Hobsbawn’s classic book Bandits describes, bandits often transcend merely being criminal, but like Robin Hood, are champions of social justice). Hell, even robots are a better choice (just think of the foresighted robot, V.I.K.I., who tried to take away humanity’s freedom to prevent it from destroying the planet and itself in I, Robot). And hopefully in the process, I’ll nip this Earth-raping equipment fascination in the bud.

 September 7, 2013  Posted by on September 7, 2013 Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »