Not Leaving Park Slope

Time Out

Hey Brooklyn parents, can we huddle for a moment? We’re getting a bad rap around here, especially those of us in Park Slope. Daryl Lang is not the first person to complain about parents taking their kids everywhere, including bars, nor about the demise of some mythical sense of community. I would think bringing your kids everywhere would actually contribute to a sense of community, but perhaps the fault lines lie in his third complaint, that we parents lack adult social skills. You’ve heard it already: we’re insular, pretentious, entitled. Do we agree? Maybe when it applies to other parents. But just as a self-identified “shy and socially awkward” individual will come across as an arrogant jerk, so can overworked, fatigued parents come across as, well, insular, pretentious, and entitled.

So what to do? Ignore the haters and move on with our lives, letting the fault lines deepen? Is this the price we pay for choosing to raise our kids in the city — which always means raising them in public? Many of us are raising kids here in Brooklyn in reaction to growing up in the suburbs. I know I am. All I ever wanted when I was a kid was to grow up and move to the big city. We’re clinging to our faith that bringing up children in New York is good for them and for us, that our children will benefit from exposure to world-class museums, music, art, ideas, and a kaleidoscope of people from everywhere and anywhere.

Ellen Witzling Roff raised her two kids, Jessica (who’s opening Cafe Verde, a green coffee house, in either Clinton Hill or Ditmas Park/Kensington) and Matthew (who co-owns Southpaw, Franklin Park, and Public Assembly), in Park Slope a generation ago for the same reasons. “The whole urban environment is culturally rich, and you just can’t help but be exposed to different things, different kinds of people. It’s easier because you don’t have to drive to get what you need—you can walk anywhere and your kid learns that he or she can do it, too.”

When Ellen became a mother she didn’t know anyone else in the neighborhood with children. (That may just be the best example of how much Brooklyn has changed in 30 years.) So she put up notices inviting other parents to form a playgroup. First there were three families, then five, and eventually Ellen went on to form a childcare collective. She found herself spending time in the homes of people from different cultures. She helped care for her neighbors’ children, and that’s the biggest difference she sees between old Park Slope and new Park Slope—a somewhat diminished sense of community.

“I think now almost everyone is working,” she says, comparing this to her stay-at-home mom experience. “You don’t have the same connection to the kids. And when you do have time you want to spend it with your child and not with someone else’s because your time is limited, so it’s a different mindset. I don’t think people are more materialistic or less parentally motivated—I think it’s a function of the way you have to live.”

I spent a few years as a stay-at-home mom, and I still had a very different experience from Ellen. I did playdates, usually with just one other mom, and usually more as an excuse to socialize with another isolated adult than as an opportunity to connect with other children. Do we find a deeper sense of community when we tend each other’s children? What about the rest of the community?

Our self-managed, six-unit co-op is its own little community, and I’ve learned my hardest lessons about being a good neighbor from my fellow co-operators. When my son was a wild, late-night, rabble-rousing three-year-old, my downstairs neighbor started ranting about the noise (“It’s like living in a drum!”) We offered feeble excuses, until finally, our neighbor suggested a sit-down with our son. He explained to him (and us) how early he had to get up in the morning, how he needed his sleep. We set ground rules. The pounding stopped at 8:00 p.m. My son and my neighbor are now pals.

Sure, we neighbors still have occasional feuds, but we’re all acutely aware of our dependence on each other, the web that holds us all—and our crumbling building—together. And it’s that sense of dependence, the vulnerability and the strength, that I think we as parents need to recapture, not just with fellow parents but with all of our neighbors. And I think we need to get out some messaging—I’m totally serious about this—to our fellow Brooklynites: we are here, raising our kids in Brooklyn, because by and large, we like our neighbors.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that our neighbors like us. A few of you might remember the famous Declaration of Co-Dependence. I love this list of rules, except the Community Bookstore has a kids section for a reason, and bars that serve great food (Flatbush Farm) don’t quite count as bars before 8 p.m. So rather than replicate the already perfect I just want to point out something—all of these come down to having adult social skills. As we raise our kids in Brooklyn, we should be a little more cognizant of how much space we claim, and teach our kids this awareness too. This could mean being more aware of pedestrians with places to go when you and your stroller-pushing friend are enjoying a side-by-side amble down the sidewalk, or stopping your toddler from clambering over the legs of laptop freelancers trying to work at Tea Lounge.

There will always be assholes who hate kids because they want to be the only kids in the city, or because we parents remind them of their parents, or whatever. And there will always be genuinely self-absorbed parents with an incurable sense of entitlement. But us sane folks, let’s win the hearts and minds of the majority, people who don’t hate kids but who are sometimes irritated by the little inconveniences brought on by kids in the city. Let’s remember that we’re raising kids here partly to engage in a brotherhood and sisterhood with multitudes, to delve together into the soul of Brooklyn, and to pass it on to new generations.

A Brooklynite for 14 years and parent for 6 1/2 years, Adriana Velez is Communications Coordinator for the Brooklyn Food Coalition and a freelance food writer.

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21 Comment

  • Thank you! These are my sentiments as well.
    Why does America have such an anti-kid vibe? My husband is Italian and never have we felt unwelcome or like an outcast while visiting. In fact, we get extra attention and affection… that nearly NEVER happens here unless we’re at an Italian restaurant. Kids are loud, run around, break things, get over it!
    I just ignore anti-children sentiments now. If you don’t like kids – move to the country or your own island or just wait until you have one…

    • I have no problem with children and have no intention of “moving to the country or my own island or just waiting until I have one.” What an annoying statement. To be honest, my problem is not often with the children, it’s the parents. No, you shouldn’t have to stay indoors and never leave the house, you should be able to take your kids out to a cafe, bar or restaurant… that’s the way I grew-up… in Europe and the US. But, seriously, my parents would never dominate a space the way some self-absorbed parents do. Nor would they assume that everyone is thrilled to be sharing space with their children. For varying reasons people don’t want to have children/cannot have children. The same as I show respect for your children in public spaces, show respect for the fact that I have made a choice to not have children.

  • Thank you! These are my sentiments as well.
    Why does America have such an anti-kid vibe? My husband is Italian and never have we felt unwelcome or like an outcast while visiting. In fact, we get extra attention and affection… that nearly NEVER happens here unless we’re at an Italian restaurant. Kids are loud, run around, break things, get over it!
    I just ignore anti-children sentiments now. If you don’t like kids – move to the country or your own island or just wait until you have one…

    • I have no problem with children and have no intention of “moving to the country or my own island or just waiting until I have one.” What an annoying statement. To be honest, my problem is not often with the children, it’s the parents. No, you shouldn’t have to stay indoors and never leave the house, you should be able to take your kids out to a cafe, bar or restaurant… that’s the way I grew-up… in Europe and the US. But, seriously, my parents would never dominate a space the way some self-absorbed parents do. Nor would they assume that everyone is thrilled to be sharing space with their children. For varying reasons people don’t want to have children/cannot have children. The same as I show respect for your children in public spaces, show respect for the fact that I have made a choice to not have children.

  • I think those who believe the sense of community is gone here in Brooklyn need to look a little harder. A relative newbie (2.5 years here) I’m a member of a large group of neighborhood Moms, both stay at home and working, who are incredibly supportive of one another in many ways. We look after each other’s kids, we bounce all kinds of ideas and questions of one another (parenting and non-parenting alike), we bring each other meals when someone has a new addition in the family, etc. Perhaps those people who feel the neighborhood has lost it’s sense of “community” need to become a bit more introspective. Or, just get out there and be friendlier to your neighbors.

  • I think those who believe the sense of community is gone here in Brooklyn need to look a little harder. A relative newbie (2.5 years here) I’m a member of a large group of neighborhood Moms, both stay at home and working, who are incredibly supportive of one another in many ways. We look after each other’s kids, we bounce all kinds of ideas and questions of one another (parenting and non-parenting alike), we bring each other meals when someone has a new addition in the family, etc. Perhaps those people who feel the neighborhood has lost it’s sense of “community” need to become a bit more introspective. Or, just get out there and be friendlier to your neighbors.

  • Adrian,

    That’s a great post. The rules are hysterical! I am a father of 3 boys in Park Slope, all under 5 years old. I agree with a lot of what you say here. It’s tough to take kids out, so we don’t do it all that often. When we do, it’s always early, and it’s always a kid friendly place, like Two Boots.

    I think you’re right about having some social skills and common sense. I am not 100% sure that it’s a problem of being parents. Might it be coincidental, and that it’s just a lot of folks living here lacking social skills, which obviously becomes highlighted by the kids?

    I am going out with my wife, and neighbors, who are also parents, Friday night. We collectively have 5 kids, and none are coming. I really hope that where we go doesn’t have any. That’s not because I don’t love kids, I do, but because I also very much enjoy the small time that I get with my wife, or with friends, without them. And this brings me to some of the things that annoy me in Park Slope:

    1. That some restaurants, like Fornino, get strongarmed into changing menus to accomadate kids. There are PLENTY of kid places. Suck it up.

    2. The overly aggressive big government progressive agenda that seems to permeate every inch of the neighborhood. (Apologies to those who I just offended.) I am a libertarian, kind of the live and let live type, so I find a lot of the chatter to be a bit oppressive. (Food coop, anyone?) I was in the tea lounge, and the graffiti in there says “Dairy is still rape.” It’s just a bit extreme for me, and ironic that someone would be so self righteous while defacing property.

    3. The PSP hit squad. Some poor sould made the mistake of applying gender to a hat that someone had left somewhere. I can’t remember if it was pink or blue, and the good samaritan who said that they had found it said his or her, but you get the point. She was castigated mercilessly on the blog for indentifying gender to pink or blue. Now, I wear pink all the time, and I like blue, and I think they are great colors for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that an assault is warranted.

    4. Pulling up to connecticut muffin, after playing golf, and seeing the parking spots blocked off by protesters, in lounge chairs, taking a stand against cars. News flash. Cities are far greener than the rest of the country. Back off.

    Having said all of that, I do on whole love the place, great diversity, great park, lots of kids, all of the things that we all love.

    Ok one last thing. I am sure that this applies to the men as well, and I hold myself to this standard. Can we make some attempt to look good? grandma unie lines and baggie sweats, crocs, no shower, no nothing? Is that the best that we can all do? I am sure that this will offend someone, but hey, I think people should try a little harder.

    There are so many things that I love, and on the whole the neighbors are all fantastic. I think some people just need to loosen up a bit, and try to be more considerate of others.

    Thanks again for a good article.

    • We weren’t protesters — we were celebrating taking back a little street space to make a park for a few hours. And probably 100 people came and hung out for a while. We were there first, and we fed the meter, so why would that upset you? Would you have been upset if someone had stored his car there? We weren’t protesting against cars, but making the point that precious space in the city is over-allocated to automobiles, and highly subsidized, to boot. You want to pay market rate for that spot? Then be our guest.

      And while cities are greener than a lot of other places, that’s a factor of density. They’re also dirtier — which is why asthma rates are so high. So back off? No.

      And yes, I own a car, and I play golf. But when I get home, I’d much rather see a bunch of people enjoying a sunny day than another hunk of metal taking up a parking spot 98% of the time.

  • Adrian,

    That’s a great post. The rules are hysterical! I am a father of 3 boys in Park Slope, all under 5 years old. I agree with a lot of what you say here. It’s tough to take kids out, so we don’t do it all that often. When we do, it’s always early, and it’s always a kid friendly place, like Two Boots.

    I think you’re right about having some social skills and common sense. I am not 100% sure that it’s a problem of being parents. Might it be coincidental, and that it’s just a lot of folks living here lacking social skills, which obviously becomes highlighted by the kids?

    I am going out with my wife, and neighbors, who are also parents, Friday night. We collectively have 5 kids, and none are coming. I really hope that where we go doesn’t have any. That’s not because I don’t love kids, I do, but because I also very much enjoy the small time that I get with my wife, or with friends, without them. And this brings me to some of the things that annoy me in Park Slope:

    1. That some restaurants, like Fornino, get strongarmed into changing menus to accomadate kids. There are PLENTY of kid places. Suck it up.

    2. The overly aggressive big government progressive agenda that seems to permeate every inch of the neighborhood. (Apologies to those who I just offended.) I am a libertarian, kind of the live and let live type, so I find a lot of the chatter to be a bit oppressive. (Food coop, anyone?) I was in the tea lounge, and the graffiti in there says “Dairy is still rape.” It’s just a bit extreme for me, and ironic that someone would be so self righteous while defacing property.

    3. The PSP hit squad. Some poor sould made the mistake of applying gender to a hat that someone had left somewhere. I can’t remember if it was pink or blue, and the good samaritan who said that they had found it said his or her, but you get the point. She was castigated mercilessly on the blog for indentifying gender to pink or blue. Now, I wear pink all the time, and I like blue, and I think they are great colors for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that an assault is warranted.

    4. Pulling up to connecticut muffin, after playing golf, and seeing the parking spots blocked off by protesters, in lounge chairs, taking a stand against cars. News flash. Cities are far greener than the rest of the country. Back off.

    Having said all of that, I do on whole love the place, great diversity, great park, lots of kids, all of the things that we all love.

    Ok one last thing. I am sure that this applies to the men as well, and I hold myself to this standard. Can we make some attempt to look good? grandma unie lines and baggie sweats, crocs, no shower, no nothing? Is that the best that we can all do? I am sure that this will offend someone, but hey, I think people should try a little harder.

    There are so many things that I love, and on the whole the neighbors are all fantastic. I think some people just need to loosen up a bit, and try to be more considerate of others.

    Thanks again for a good article.

    • We weren’t protesters — we were celebrating taking back a little street space to make a park for a few hours. And probably 100 people came and hung out for a while. We were there first, and we fed the meter, so why would that upset you? Would you have been upset if someone had stored his car there? We weren’t protesting against cars, but making the point that precious space in the city is over-allocated to automobiles, and highly subsidized, to boot. You want to pay market rate for that spot? Then be our guest.

      And while cities are greener than a lot of other places, that’s a factor of density. They’re also dirtier — which is why asthma rates are so high. So back off? No.

      And yes, I own a car, and I play golf. But when I get home, I’d much rather see a bunch of people enjoying a sunny day than another hunk of metal taking up a parking spot 98% of the time.

  • Meant to say Adriana that was a typo..I am not Rocky!

  • Meant to say Adriana that was a typo..I am not Rocky!

  • This is a perfect example of the reason that people without children (and even some with children) get frustrated with parents.

    “When my son was a wild, late-night, rabble-rousing three-year-old, my downstairs neighbor started ranting about the noise (“It’s like living in a drum!”) We offered feeble excuses, until finally, our neighbor suggested a sit-down with our son. He explained to him (and us) how early he had to get up in the morning, how he needed his sleep. We set ground rules. The pounding stopped at 8:00 p.m. My son and my neighbor are now pals.”

    So, you offered excuses to your downstairs neighbor for disrupting him and waited until he talked to your child to get him to stop. Isn’t it your responsibility to identify the fact that your child is being a nuisance? Why is your neighbor involved in the parenting? This is how it feels when eating in a space with unruly children. Why should I have to tell the child to stop? Isn’t that the parents job?

  • This is a perfect example of the reason that people without children (and even some with children) get frustrated with parents.

    “When my son was a wild, late-night, rabble-rousing three-year-old, my downstairs neighbor started ranting about the noise (“It’s like living in a drum!”) We offered feeble excuses, until finally, our neighbor suggested a sit-down with our son. He explained to him (and us) how early he had to get up in the morning, how he needed his sleep. We set ground rules. The pounding stopped at 8:00 p.m. My son and my neighbor are now pals.”

    So, you offered excuses to your downstairs neighbor for disrupting him and waited until he talked to your child to get him to stop. Isn’t it your responsibility to identify the fact that your child is being a nuisance? Why is your neighbor involved in the parenting? This is how it feels when eating in a space with unruly children. Why should I have to tell the child to stop? Isn’t that the parents job?

  • Aside from being able to walk everywhere, how is Park Slope different than raising your kids in the suburbs nowadays? It’s a bunch of rich white people who work crazy hours and subcontract parenting out to nannys. I love how Ms. Velez speaks of wanting to raise her kids in the city b/c it’s a “kaleidoscope of people from everywhere and anywhere” – yeah, right. Try a ton of pretentious white people from different variations of rich white suburbs that somehow think they’re doing something noble by raising their kids in “the city” (not sure if Park Slope still qualifies as the city?). What a horrific place Park Slope has become.

  • Aside from being able to walk everywhere, how is Park Slope different than raising your kids in the suburbs nowadays? It’s a bunch of rich white people who work crazy hours and subcontract parenting out to nannys. I love how Ms. Velez speaks of wanting to raise her kids in the city b/c it’s a “kaleidoscope of people from everywhere and anywhere” – yeah, right. Try a ton of pretentious white people from different variations of rich white suburbs that somehow think they’re doing something noble by raising their kids in “the city” (not sure if Park Slope still qualifies as the city?). What a horrific place Park Slope has become.

  • @e-lovely,

    That’s remarkably ignorant. I’m not sure where you grew up, but I grew up in the suburbs. I know live in Park Slope, where my wife grew up. We have a lot of friends that have been there for a long time, from all walks of life.

    I am white. My wife is a combination of things, but laregly identifies with being Puerto Rican. We have friends across various religions, and from lots of different countries, ranging from Europe, Central America, Asia, Afrcia, South America, on and on.

    So many kids that we see in the neighborhood, as a bartender, or a waiter, or a real estate agent, went to 51, and frankly most of them are not white. I don’t really care if they are white, black, brown, purple, or whatever.

    Diversity represents a lot more than race. It’s gender, it’s sexual preference, it’s language, and in general, it’s just a vast array of life experiences.

    What I think people like about Park Slope is not just the diversity, but the RICHNESS of diversity. The celebration of whatever culture you are. I personally proudly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Have you been to the West Indian Day parade? Amazing!

    “pretentious white people.” It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Oh, and by the way, certain people have to have a nanny as they need two incomes but want children. My wife happens to stay home and raise our kids, bilingually, I might add.

    Is that pretentious too? teaching them spanish? I’d love to meet you. I bet this white guy could bust your nose open.

  • @e-lovely,

    That’s remarkably ignorant. I’m not sure where you grew up, but I grew up in the suburbs. I know live in Park Slope, where my wife grew up. We have a lot of friends that have been there for a long time, from all walks of life.

    I am white. My wife is a combination of things, but laregly identifies with being Puerto Rican. We have friends across various religions, and from lots of different countries, ranging from Europe, Central America, Asia, Afrcia, South America, on and on.

    So many kids that we see in the neighborhood, as a bartender, or a waiter, or a real estate agent, went to 51, and frankly most of them are not white. I don’t really care if they are white, black, brown, purple, or whatever.

    Diversity represents a lot more than race. It’s gender, it’s sexual preference, it’s language, and in general, it’s just a vast array of life experiences.

    What I think people like about Park Slope is not just the diversity, but the RICHNESS of diversity. The celebration of whatever culture you are. I personally proudly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Have you been to the West Indian Day parade? Amazing!

    “pretentious white people.” It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Oh, and by the way, certain people have to have a nanny as they need two incomes but want children. My wife happens to stay home and raise our kids, bilingually, I might add.

    Is that pretentious too? teaching them spanish? I’d love to meet you. I bet this white guy could bust your nose open.

  • @e-lovely,

    That’s remarkably ignorant. I’m not sure where you grew up, but I grew up in the suburbs. I know live in Park Slope, where my wife grew up. We have a lot of friends that have been there for a long time, from all walks of life.

    I am white. My wife is a combination of things, but laregly identifies with being Puerto Rican. We have friends across various religions, and from lots of different countries, ranging from Europe, Central America, Asia, Afrcia, South America, on and on.

    So many kids that we see in the neighborhood, as a bartender, or a waiter, or a real estate agent, went to 51, and frankly most of them are not white. I don’t really care if they are white, black, brown, purple, or whatever.

    Diversity represents a lot more than race. It’s gender, it’s sexual preference, it’s language, and in general, it’s just a vast array of life experiences.

    What I think people like about Park Slope is not just the diversity, but the RICHNESS of diversity. The celebration of whatever culture you are. I personally proudly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Have you been to the West Indian Day parade? Amazing!

    “pretentious white people.” It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Oh, and by the way, certain people have to have a nanny as they need two incomes but want children. My wife happens to stay home and raise our kids, bilingually, I might add.

    Is that pretentious too? teaching them spanish? I’d love to meet you. I bet this white guy could bust your nose open.

  • Pingback: Open Letter to Parent Haters « Brooklyn Based

  • @par(king) ranger -

    Well you fed the meter, so it’s your right to stay there, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to me. You are right that it’s your right to stay. But where I disagree is your notion that there is not enough space and you made it a park. TWO BLOCKS AWAY IS PROSPECT PARK! Have you ever been there? It’s a great place.

    I was there, I saw it. It was a fossil fuel don’t drive your car event. Maybe that wasn’t your intent, and you were miraculously in the bathroom when I came by, and your friends hijacked the mission.

    I pay a carbon offset. And yes, it is a density issue as to why cities are greener, yet still, per capita, they are much greener, and that is the bottom line. I am much greener than I would be if I lived further from mass transit.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to find that annoying. I am not saying that you are anyone else has to agree, but let’s face it…when I pull up, it’s one thing for it to be taken…it’s another for it to be taken by lounge chairs. I would defend your freedom to do it, to the death, believe me, I respect your right. I just wonder how effective that is, and frankly, I feel like all it does is piss guys like me off and you get no benefit for it.

    Additionally, it’s not just one event…it’s a series of events, in the neighborhood. It’s statements, it’s shirts, it’s the park slope coop vibe, the tea lounge.

    I am not as articulate as I’d like to be, but there is an enforced liberalism vibe that can be downright oppressive. I’d rather see people work towards a coordinated cause. I am sure that there are a ton of carbon offset groups that you could contribute to or join.

    Here’s a contrast. I think smoking is terrible, and cancer is a travesty..what am I doing about it? I am leading a fundraising group and we have raised 10k in just 4 days. By the end of this, I think we are going to raise nearly 50 thousand dollars to go to the Lance Armstrong foundation, and prostate cancer research fund. That is positive action with a result.

    If I took your approach, I guess I’d stand on the corner and talk to people that walk by that are smoking. But I just think that would annoy them, and might not change anything.

    Do you understand what I am saying now? It’s how you address the issue, how you enact positive change. I think what you did was counterproductive, although well within your rights. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that you should.

    That’s why I feel the way that I do.

  • @par(king) ranger -

    Well you fed the meter, so it’s your right to stay there, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to me. You are right that it’s your right to stay. But where I disagree is your notion that there is not enough space and you made it a park. TWO BLOCKS AWAY IS PROSPECT PARK! Have you ever been there? It’s a great place.

    I was there, I saw it. It was a fossil fuel don’t drive your car event. Maybe that wasn’t your intent, and you were miraculously in the bathroom when I came by, and your friends hijacked the mission.

    I pay a carbon offset. And yes, it is a density issue as to why cities are greener, yet still, per capita, they are much greener, and that is the bottom line. I am much greener than I would be if I lived further from mass transit.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to find that annoying. I am not saying that you are anyone else has to agree, but let’s face it…when I pull up, it’s one thing for it to be taken…it’s another for it to be taken by lounge chairs. I would defend your freedom to do it, to the death, believe me, I respect your right. I just wonder how effective that is, and frankly, I feel like all it does is piss guys like me off and you get no benefit for it.

    Additionally, it’s not just one event…it’s a series of events, in the neighborhood. It’s statements, it’s shirts, it’s the park slope coop vibe, the tea lounge.

    I am not as articulate as I’d like to be, but there is an enforced liberalism vibe that can be downright oppressive. I’d rather see people work towards a coordinated cause. I am sure that there are a ton of carbon offset groups that you could contribute to or join.

    Here’s a contrast. I think smoking is terrible, and cancer is a travesty..what am I doing about it? I am leading a fundraising group and we have raised 10k in just 4 days. By the end of this, I think we are going to raise nearly 50 thousand dollars to go to the Lance Armstrong foundation, and prostate cancer research fund. That is positive action with a result.

    If I took your approach, I guess I’d stand on the corner and talk to people that walk by that are smoking. But I just think that would annoy them, and might not change anything.

    Do you understand what I am saying now? It’s how you address the issue, how you enact positive change. I think what you did was counterproductive, although well within your rights. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that you should.

    That’s why I feel the way that I do.