Posts Tagged ‘lessons’

Find Your Bliss

15 December 2011

Dear J-

I woke up early enough but managed to hit the snooze button just right (or somehow reflexively used it just enough) to make me a whole hour later where I desperately tried to get out the door fast enough but not before gettting caught by figgy who told me she had to go potty and change her pajamas this made me just late enough to discard any serious notion of riding the bike (which.needs repair again, anyhow — broken spoke) and so of course I kicked me feet a little in a tantrumy protest instead for a few minutes. The pint is that uultimately if I just got up when the alarm sounds I’d have no problem with additional wrinkles to the schedule and that’s my goal (along with getting enough sleep for once) for now.

Years of bad sleeping habits have meant that I’m wholly reliant on naps in the vanpool and elaborate preparations (making lunch the night before, laying things out so I don’t have to fumble in the dark for clothes and wallet) in order to broadcast the responsible punctual adult image. It feels like a sham, though; I catch myself saying “when I grow up …” at least four times a day and I suppose at this age, thirty-six and change, it’s time to put that away. I tell myself that the lessons are not always the ones I overtly sit down and teach figgy and Calcifer, but that they’re sponges who watch what you do and how it’s done and then strive to do it to the best of their abilities. The unspoken lessons by example are the ones I have to watch most.

Someimes I wonder what life would be like without kids but not often; that’s always been in the back of my mind ever since I was twelve or so and heard that my cousin was on the way; hard to believe that she’s twenty-four now and off to grad school; hard to reconcile the adult with the child I remember and I suspect that part of me will always think of figgy and Calcifer as the same too. I wonder what we used to do with all the time we had, I wonder if the these lessons are sticking, I wonder what we’d do without us. It takes me a minute to get calm again but the exercise is worth it: I’ll find peace.

Mike

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Father’s Day

19 June 2011

Dear J-

I’ve been a father for all of four years but in that time I’ve had ample learning opportunities that I think I should share. Worse yet, I’ve only had two for just over six months, so my expertise is quite limited I’m sure. Plus this whole blog thing is all about oversharing, so why not?

  1. People like pictures. The more pictures the better.
  2. Family will want to hold your babies. Let them.
  3. There is a stage when babies like other people. Bring your family around this time so that they don’t stay too suspicious of other people.
  4. On the other hand you can’t force some kids to love all the attention. Make sure there’s an escape plan.
  5. They’ll be sure to let you know when enough is enough. Be able to read those signs.
  6. Rule number one: don’t get in grandma’s way. Rule number two: see rule number one.
  7. Rule number three: Grandpa is a fine person to hang from. But watch their antics, they were dads first and you know how that is.
  8. Why are we numbering rules anyway? Kids love kids.
  9. Of course, the age gap matters. There comes a point when the younger kids become only a burden to the older ones and step in when you see it.
  10. Take any offered help when it’s offered. Pride goes before a fall.
  11. Enjoy the times when the kids get along. Help them understand what it means for the future.
  12. Any opportunity for a nap should be pounced on. Immediately.
  13. Don’t forget to focus on the older kids too. Their world is suddenly much harder too.
  14. Take time out of your day to spin a little. Then spin some more.
  15. Seriously, did you think I was joking? You need the break for sanity once in a while.
  16. Set your boundaries and stick to your discipline. Make sure there aren’t loopholes as all kids are natural lawyers.
  17. Be on guard constantly. But have fun with it too.
  18. Sometimes you need to sit back and let things develop. Learning opportunities are everywhere.
  19. Sooner or later the kids will get together and plot. Don’t be too paranoid about it.
  20. After all they learn as much from each other as they might from you. And it’s probably more fun that way too.
  21. Don’t be afraid to go all the way out to the end. Someone’s got your back.
  22. There will be times when you don’t recognize your own children. That means a nap is needed in that gentle dark.
  23. Don’t be too afraid to brag! But don’t brag too much, either.

Mike

Illustrated too!

Skyline State

26 May 2011

Dear J-

The news is immediately shocking: family of four found dead in the house they were renting. Later yesterday details leak out as we wait for an explanation. It was a murder-suicide they say, worries about the their finances that drove them to it despite not showing any outward signs. What desperate straits abandoned them on that shore? There are so many concepts both immediately familiar and strange that I can’t help but try to crawl into their heads to unravel their reasons. I draw parallels in our lives with the important distinction that we’re doing all right — we’ve definitely got enough to live on and a house to live in, the cars are paid off and having that removed from over our heads gives us tremendous luxury and freedom — and that in itself removes me from being able to judge their actions.

If you go by calendar dates alone theVet and I could have potentially been the parents of a fifteen year-old by now and I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure that would have put on us — would we have even been able to graduate from college? Graduate & professional school? I suspect that our parents would have pitched in to help us, but would I have been a capable parent at 21? I distinctly remember that when the Wings were swept in four by the Devils I went out and busted up abandoned furniture on the street with a sledgehammer at that age; what would I have done faced with providing for a family with half an education and rage issues I’m still working on?

They say the eldest daughter was slated to graduate from High Tech High (which had been a finalist to get a graduation speech from President Obama) and head off to a four-year school in the fall, Sonoma State. What kind of world is it to have pressured them into extinguishing that normally wonderful news? “Hey dad, I got in!” “How will we pay for it?” Without knowing their reasons we can only speculate and that’s as useless as shutting the barn door after the horse got out. What can we do to help those in need? Have we already done enough? And will we learn fast enough from this object lesson? Do you change the way you do things as a result?

Mike

PS I’m starting to idrntify as a San Diegan — this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I graduated from high school after all — so when I say we please forgive the assumption that I speak for the city.

Queue Quota

15 May 2011

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Dear J-

If you go to many of these tourist attractions you’ll soon grow to dread the lines and the testing of wills and patience. After a few times through the lines you find out what kind of person the kids are made of: are they stoic sufferers, voluble complainers, comic geniuses, or some kind of sociopath? The longer the line the better an opportunity. No one likes having to wait but is there anything you can change about it? Think about the difference between action and reaction. We can coach and cajole but there’s only so much learned personality you’ve developed at four and if it’s not happening right now, figgy’s not going to listen to your rational explanations in lieu of wish fulfillment.

She passed by the carousel initially and said she wasn’t interested but as the day wore on we kept circling back in decaying orbits until she declared that she just wanted to watch. Watching turns into wanting and two minutes (and two bucks) later she’s on a zebra ready to ride in circles. Glad times indeed; after a day that starts off extra-early thanks to Calcifer’s inconsolable fuss, she finally brightens the day with a smile and the sun comes out after a brief drizzle. Longer days lie ahead and more dramatic lines — we plan on hitting up the big theme parks in SoCal later this year — so the lessons won’t go unlearned.

We had a recurring zebra theme today in fact. The moment we walked in we watched a show put on by an animated zebra who explained that zebras were black with white stripes — you can tell because the nose is black. After she rode the zebra we got back in line for the tram to see more ill-tempered beasts (cape buffalo and zebra outside, figgy within) and eventually we came upon a baby zebra lying at its mother’s feet, either too tired or not able to stand, and it reminded me that no matter the sophistication of her speech or the depths of her tantrums she’s four and it’s too easy to start concentrating on the black and white of actions leading to consequences leading to reactions leading to escalations. Gotta nip that in the bud.

Mike

Patient Zero

13 April 2011

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Dear J-

If you read some of these medical drama-type novels where the antagonist is not some terrorist or ideologically-opposed character but a faceless disease — think hantavirus or dysentery — they like to trace the origins back to some hapless Patient Zero who serves the same cannon-fodder role as the anonymous Security redshirt on Star Trek. Imagine the agent’s call: good news, you’ve got the part, but unfortunately you perish in a matter of moments*. Likewise in our family we note with some dismay the emergence of symptoms that only mean sickness is coming our way sooner or later. Invisibly, though, we’ve come to resemble one another in subtle ways both flattering and not.

One of my most terrible character traits is a lack of patience: if there’s something I want I seem to find a way to wheedle until it’s mine, sooner or later. Well, it’s not so much wheedle as make everyone’s life miserable until I get my way, whether it’s as simple as badgering people to stop what they’re doing and help me with this or looking for something I’ve lost and getting the rest of the family involved looking. For what it’s worth I feel immediate shame and remorse but it’s a hardwired response: everyone stop, we’re not doing anything until I get this done. In the end you find it eventually but it’s the asking everyone else to help because of my impatience that drives me nuts sometimes.

At the same time like some kind of mental disease I see myself reflected in figgy’s demands: as crazy as I deem her she has learned** the lack of patience from me. From the abrupt silences to plosive exhalations and final dramatic declarations (“Fine! I’m NOT going to be your friend any more!”) all the tricks of dear old dad are on display. I don’t remember my parents acting that way so I suppose that makes me zero patience Patient Zero. The mirror is sharp and painful even when it’s only a truthful image of myself. As much as I do want to teach the next generation I’m always crippled with paralyzing fears that the lessons I give are poor quality and off message to boot. So if I’m Patient Zero I’ll embrace it and instead become the change I want to see.

Mike

* There are times when I think that as part of the break in this tradition that The Next Generation afforded, along with the swap of Command gold and Security red, they installed Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) as a charismatic, major-character Security chief. Of course they went and killed her off later that first season so that puts that to bed somewhat.

** Things she has also learned from me:
– how to curse at cars on the freeway
– how boys pee
– obsessive collection habits
– immersing yourself in technology to the exclusion of others
– poor sitting posture
– knee to the groin

Latest News

16 March 2011

Dear J-

It’s impossible to check anything in the news lately without some breathless prediction of imminent nuclear doom from Japan. The nuclear plants, they say, are one wrong step away from becoming the kind of dirty bombs that terrorists would give their eyeteeth for. Explosions and inadequate analysis prove that everyone who’s ever worked on design analysis for a plant is either incompetent or has some kind of hidden agenda to pollute the earth for generations to come. And the American plants must be even worse, right? Surely if we can’t screw a car together reliably, what hope do we have with a nuclear power plant?

The truth is somewhere in between. At least where I work we drill regularly for these accidents: in the case of a complete station blackout, where the grid goes down and the backup generators fail, we have the capability to provide cooling water through a steam-driven pump. Yet while this was also a design feature at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, I don’t know why they couldn’t get their steam-driven pump running. The safety systems are all designed to maintain complete submergence of the reactor and spent fuel pools, and they’re set up with redundancy and reliability, tested regularly. We tell ourselves that nuclear power is safe and reliable for it along with the regulations we have to comply with but the mystery of what’s been happening in Japan has everyone rethinking the conventional wisdom.

I realize it’s fashionable as late to bash nuclear power as something we just shouldn’t be messing around with if we don’t understand the consequences and haven’t accounted for every contingency. And the industry keeps having these black eyes every ten years, along with a tradition of secrecy and coverups which gives the nuclear plant spokesmen the credibility of used car salesmen. Believe me, Fukushima Dai-Ichi will be dissected and disseminated industry-wide until we can recite the precursors and causes in our sleep just like Davis-Besse and TMI. Whether or not those lessons stick is another question entirely and one I hope gets incorporated with alacrity.

Mike

Double Feature

12 February 2011

Dear J-

figgy has been sick the past few days so I’ve come home to see her sacked out in front of a movie — it seems as though for as many animated movies that have come out in the past ten years we have a good portion of them — and that’s okay. I’m well aware that lots of folks use their online presence to broadcast how wonderfully perfect their lives are (and probably just as many are as proud of how imperfect they are) but it’s nice to see a relative sense of normal descend on the house for once. When I was little and got sick I would demand outrageous treatment: pajamas all day, in bed, warmed liquids and carry carry carry all over the place.

figgy has learned from me. I don’t know how but she’s gotten a time machine, hopped in, and taken lessons from the master of whinging complaints. I suspect that just as there are new parent classes for childbirth and delivery so are there new grandparent classes: strategies for I-told-you-sos and ways to not-look-like-you’re-enjoying-the-taste-of-your-child’s-own-medicine. I wonder sometimes if we keep our distance from parents to prove that we can do it ourselves or to hide the damning shameful evidence of what we’re doing wrong. It’s strange that I feel a greater kinship with my folks knowing how difficult it was for them — new country, strange customs, and two kids keeping them on their toes. We are the lucky ones.

Mike

Lesson Plan

10 February 2011

Dear J-

We are separated from our parents geographically and linguistically (theVet’s parents are an hour north and in their retirement have pretty much adopted Korean exclusively, while mine are in San Jose and similarly chat in Mandarin for the most part when they call). For parenting advice we’ve turned like they did to books. My parents are proud for the most part that they raised us as Spock* babies but I think it’s funny that the times we have asked how they dealt with issue X or problem Y they can’t remember. It’s funny because I can see the same things happening with us later, especially since we already can’t remember the lessons of figgy except in bits and pieces of vague tales. For instance we aren’t too afraid of giving Calcifer a pacifier given that figgy gave it up over the course of a couple of days without too much fighting, but we also reason that if he doesn’t start he won’t have to deal with the withdrawl later so no pacifier so far, and so far so good.

I don’t know why every generation has to reinvent things for themselves — this is like denying that your folks ever had sex, as that’s something you discover on your own — but parenting advice seems like one of those things that people can’t wait to share amongst peers but not across generations. Well, you think, that was thirty years ago! Surely things have changed by now, right? Sure, corporal punishment is right and strollers have gotten way cooler, but those are just the accessories. We keep publishing studies that seem to underscore common sense** truths that we’ve already learned, as a species, in millenia past. It just so happens that some folks have written this stuff down and the real question is how to decide what works best.

There is a baseline for good and those who fail that — witness the young wife from South Carolina who claims amnesia regarding giving birth at the circus and abandoning the newborn — are widely condmened without knowing details: how could you or what’s wrong with you, right? But addressing things like letting figgy continue to be rude to adults is a subtler point. How do you deal with the subtle social niceties at three? Or do you refuse to use age as an excuse? You shold know better, we can say, but does she? I sometimes forget how old she is, as we’ve come so far in the last two years, speaking and interacting. I forget that though she is a little person the permissions we set and things we excuse teach her just as much as things we acively do together. And though a part of me remains horrified at the thought of an IMPOLITE KID another part of me is secretly cheering — take that, meek Asian stereotype — and still another part of me wants to coddle and excuse, trying to take that hurt away.

Mike

* Dr. Benjamin Spock, not the Vlucan from Star Trek, but how cool would that have been?

** Breastfeeding is best! Children crave contact! C’mon, I hope serious research money wasn’t spent finding this stuff out.

Time Counter

3 January 2011

Dear J-

The day starts off early in the dark, with the night broken into two parts: before the small-hour feeding, and after. I figured out I’m getting roughly half the sleep during weekdays that I do on weekends — where I get to sleep before and after that meal, when I go to work it functions nicely as a wake-up call to start getting ready. So I’m up. With the return to work comes a complete absence of news in my life — current affairs fall by the wayside as my Google Reader is loaded up with technology junk, sports, and comics rather than erudite talk of current events and world headlines.

There was a time — in school — I would avidly read the newspapers, first for Mr. Larson’s current events quizzes and then as an escape from the grind of studying, once I figured out my parents didn’t consider newspaper reading as egregious a break from schoolwork as reading fiction. It would set the tone in college, where I’d be the first one to pick up the paper from the front porch, bring it in, and sit down with a bowl of cereal before setting off to do battle with 8AM classes. Grad school changed that with a fight theVet and I had, resulting in me storming out to catch the first bus to Cambridge and missing out on the whole breakfast routine. Eventually the papers were retrieved only as a matter of appearance; they’d sit piled up next to my front door as a reminder of things to do, stories to catch up on when there was more time than now.

It always seems to come back down to the luxuries of time, where and how you spend it, what to do with the hours you earn. The rise of helicopter parents* exaggerates the virtue of spending all day every day as a family, but perhaps that’s my own guilt speaking at sneaking off for a few minutes break a few times a day. It is breathtakingly daunting at times, the endless well of come-here-do-this but I need to remember how short this time is, before school, and all we have are weekends and holidays which works out to a grand total of, let’s see, 48 hours minus 16 times 50 or so is 1600 hours a year quality waking time I have available to spend — it sounds like a lot, but you give up 2080 hours to a full-time job and 2500 hours to sleep or so. How are you spending your budget these days?

Mike

* Helicopter parents hovering over their children at every moment I think is a bit of a reaction to the latchkey generation I grew up in with both parents extending benign neglect through full-time jobs and kids with keys gradually vowing to not repeat those lessons. It has extreme results, as seen at the La Jolla park we went to yesterday, where there were nearly as many parents as kids on the playground equipment, trailing along and ready to steady a wobbly walker.

Room Prep

13 November 2010

Dear J-

We’re closing in on the final date for Calcifer, who’s due out on the 18th, and as a result we’re starting to put the room together, finally.  Much of the mess ended up in the closet for now (there’s some bulky blankets and comforters that, short of a stuff sack, just won’t fit anywhere else, but that’s not saying I’ve found it incredibly difficult to let go of, say, the board games I haven’t been using, or the scads of LEGO models gathering dust overhead) and I was able to paint the room as well.  Last time with figgy’s room we chose a Disney color; that line’s now gone and we found ourselves contemplating Martha Stewart colors this time, ending up with a shade called Muscari, which is a bit darker than baby blue.

Some things for you to think about if you’re going to tackle your own painting project:  two coats are always recommended (there’s lots of paints that claim one-coat coverage, but you’ve really got to be detail-oriented to eke out a single coat with full results), masking off the trim is easy enough (and outrageously helpful), and assuming you want to save the flooring, get a flexible covering (if you’re masking carpet).  Since I haven’t yet made up my mind on getting rid of the existing carpet (but hate carpet in general with a burning rage) I tried to cover it up with the heavy paper you can get, taped to the walls with masking tape.  Yeah.  Not great, unless you like the idea of the paper literally pulling away from the walls in the midst of your rollering.

figgy did help out with the painting, though the smock we used (one of my old shirts) ended up being closer to a full-body stocking, and she lost interest after a few minutes, but not before painting giant patches on the temporary paper flooring, acting as traps for me to step in and skid around the room on in comical fashion (with my hands as full-of-paint as they were already, it was a quest for things I could touch.  So certainly, it was a productive day, but another sign of the end:  the world that’s revolved around her continues but skips a beat, and she’s starting to feel it.

Mike