Owl Watching is not snipe hunting, it builds character

At my house we employ many routines and rituals. The kids love them, knowing what to expect, and it helps me to enjoy the kids rather than worry about them. While I’ve heard routines are good for kids across the board, it’s doubly effective for my boys as there is already enough chaos in their lives from transitioning between multiple households.

Our big ritual is our weekly “family meeting.” At family meeting, which is right after dinner once a week, we go around the table and give everyone a compliment. The wife and I tend to give compliments that reinforce positive behavior, such as when they help clean the kitchen or whatnot, while the boys are usually happy that I let them play Wii. The baby isn’t quite sure what’s happening. After compliments, we review any old and new business. This is the part the boys really enjoy as it gives them the chance to add/remove things to their lives. In the past, we’ve used family meeting to plan dinners out at Rain Forest Cafe, purchase Minecraft, and plan out upcoming trips. With Minecraft specifically, we agreed as family that we’d each pony up a third of the money to buy the game (I put in a 3rd, each boy put in a 3rd). It was fun watching them work hard to earn money and see the pride in their eyes when we used that cash to buy Minecraft.

Over the summer we decided to implement a sticker / reward system. They are able to earn stickers for various activities, and when they reach 5 they are able to pull a prize out of the prize bucket. These things tend to be cheap or low cost fun activities that we do as a family. Past rewards have included “stay up an hour later” or “watch an extra show.” There is always a bit of drama as well, because you can’t see the prizes and are selecting blindly. It’s fun watching their expressions. The most recent prize was “Owl Watching at Lincoln Park.”

Lincoln Park has many barred owls, and it’s actually quite common to see them at dusk. Last week when we took the boys to go find the owls, however, they were long gone. While I do think it would have been exciting to actually find an owl, my real intent was to see how their minds worked and if they could figure out the best places to find owls. They really had a good sense of things: remembering to bring binoculars, looking up in branches, trying to find less popular parts of the park where they might hide, looking for feathers/droppings, and even hooting. Alas, after all that effort, no owls. Such is life.

I think this outing may have been one of my favorite moments of the summer. We went for a nice walk on a pleasant evening and got to live out some of the nature shows the boys like to watch. There were no more owls than snipes that night, but there were lots of smiles.

My new hobby

A few years ago, as a single father co-parenting two boys, I met a woman who owned a 5 bedroom house in West Seattle. It was a match (made on Match). One concern I had about moving, beyond just introducing the boys to the new woman in my life, was the elementary school that my boys would attend. I was moving away from one of the best public schools in Seattle, to a roll of the dice in West Seattle. After a few weeks at Schmitz Park Elementary, I realized I hit the jackpot.

The school uses Singapore math which really plays to the strengths of my oldest, buys school supplies for all the students, has many community building events such as movie nights/holiday parties, and is constantly looking at ways to improve the kids’ learning experiences. Most important to me as the father of boys, is that they have three recess breaks a day and a PE program. The more my boys move around the better! My wife is quick to point out that the PE program is a bit like clown college, though; the kids learn how to ride unicycles, stack cups, and climb on the climbing wall. I assume juggling and face painting are coming soon.

I learned that many of the things I enjoy about Schmitz Park are funded by a strong, active PTA. Last fall, I threw my hat in the ring to be the assistant treasurer. As I learned about the program, I saw that we have a massive budget ($180K/year) and realized just how much work it is to manage. In addition to what we spend on supplies and activities, we also act as a passthrough account to help run our incredibly elaborate after school enrichment program. The kids can sign up for classes covering legos, robots, animation, karate, dance, foreign language, and scientific experiments, all for $25 – $75 a quarter or so. My role was to cash these checks, and you can imagine that there are lots of $25 checks to cash. Since she would double check my work and help filling out the deposit slips, my wife started to refer to herself as the assistant to the assistant treasurer.

This year, I’ve transitioned into the Treasurer role. I’ve recently discussed the increased responsibilities with my wife, and I know that for the next year I am dedicating every Wednesday night to PTA treasurer duties. The draw back is that this is a night when I don’t get to pursue my actual favorite hobbies (writing/making movies), or spend time as dad. The plus side is that I get to help keep the trains running at this great school. Besides, what is the point of having an MBA and having started a handful of companies if I’m not going to use that knowledge to help my kids?

It’s hard to tell how involved to be in a school as a working dad. Most of the magic around elementary education happens during school hours when I’m at work. I’m involved with helping my kids read and do homework, but it never really seemed like enough to help the school. This year is my year to really push forward and help things at the school itself. I also hope that even if they don’t pick up the specifics, my kids can watch me manage money. I’ve always had these grand dreams that I can teach my kids about the stock market and about being an entrepreneur before they go to college. Hopefully, they can start learning about money early, which may lead to greater successes in the future. That having been said, my oldest wants to close his checking account at Umpqua bank (set up through bank day at the school), because the money isn’t doing anything for him there. Given that the interest rate is practically zero, I can’t blame him. Maybe he is picking up the concepts? Or maybe he just wants to buy a Ninjago play set?

In either event, it’s going to be a long year of managing money.

 

knowing if this thing is the right thing

Most of my worldview is colored by two facts these days: I work in technology and I have an infant.

It was interesting attending my 20th high school reunion recently, and catching up with people I haven’t seen (or in some cases thought about) since we received our diplomas. Since that day, I have focused strongly in high tech. Initially by studying physics with dreams of being an astrophysicist, then by moving to New York and studying computer engineering, followed up by several years of software development work in the financial district and getting an MBA in order to help software startups become successful. Most of the people I meet on a daily basis are like me. Sure we attended different schools and took different paths to get where we are, but we all think in terms of data, software, and the stock market hours. Few, if any, or my former classmates have the same world view. Yet, we all came from a similar starting point, have had the same amount of time in the adult world, and are all fairly successful in very different ways. It was nice to realize that some of my concerns are just that … my concerns. I think they are valid for the world I live in, but are just one piece of the whole that is our society at large.

I also have a baby. She’s cute. She eats, she sleeps, she cries, and she needs her diaper changed. It has been several years since I last had a baby, and I forgot about some of the challenges that come with an infant. I was also reminded of the one redeeming fact about changing diapers. It is one of the few things I do for my child that I know is helpful.

You see, the problem is easily identifiable and the solution clear. She has a dirty diaper, I change her diaper, and she is right as rain. Simple. My oldest son had dyslexia and ADHD, the kid has challenges both in reading and sitting still. EVERYONE has an opinion about how to approach this, and even the experts can’t agree on a single course to resolution. I find myself talking to a few people I trust, maybe a couple that I don’t, and just deciding on a course of action for him. It’s not simple, it’s not clear, I think my decisions will probably help him in the long run, but I’m also sure that I’ll look back years from now and think “if I had only known then what I know now.”

My youngest son is having a hard time adjusting to being out of school for the summer and the arrival of the baby. It doesn’t help that he has two households, either. The kid really wants things to be fair, and is pretty wound up most of the time. He is quite sensitive, and though I can usually talk him through his challenges, I never know if I’m saying the actual “right thing” that will help him in the long run. I say things I think will serve him well, but I don’t really know. Not simple. Not clear cut.

That’s really the world, though, isn’t it? It is so rare to face a problem with a clear cut answer that you know is helpful. Most of my professional training was about how to solve specific problems – solve this equation or write that recursive function. Most of my professional life has involved working in unsolvable problems, which software upgrade is “better”, or which project deserves our attention first. In most of these cases, I try to keep my north star in mind. I think “where are we trying to go”, point that way, and make decisions that take us north. I doubt that every decision I make at work, with my kids, with my wife, or in my writing is the right one. I know many of them have been wrong. However, my hunch is that if I keep pointing to that north star, keep moving forward, and keep bending that arc towards justice, then I’ll be able to look back and know that these little decisions, these little things, ended up bring me to the right place, the right things.

 

Stress Negative

Have I really only been a new father for two months? Our baby girl was born at the beginning of June, and we’ve been so busy feeding, cleaning, and rocking the baby to sleep I find it hard to believe that my life was anything other than this child. I look back at pictures or home movies and I see plenty of evidence that for most of my life I have not had this little girl. Yet I still don’t believe it.

In addition to taking care of my daughter, and frankly the lion’s share of that effort has fallen on my wife, I am spending time making sure my two boys don’t feel displaced, and carrying the weight of the technology enterprise on my shoulders at the office. These days, there is so little time and less energy due to lack of sleep, I find myself feeling more and more negative.

It’s easy for me to identify these issues, too: I’ve gained weight despite exercising vigorously five to six times a week, my head has more gray hairs, my boys are acting quite rudely, and my hobbies have all been cast aside in favor of sleep. Last month it was even worse as the stock market and home improvement project wrecked havoc on my bank statements.

The mind, and coincidence, are funny things. At the same time that I’m facing these stresses I am also listening to an audiobook recording of “Faith of the Fallen” by Terry Goodkind. I loved the Sword of Truth series and have been devouring the novels since I was an undergraduate. Recently, I found that the audiobooks were available to download from the library, and I’ve been listening to the series while I work out. Faith of the Fallen is by far my favorite book of the series.

The main character, Richard, finds himself a prisoner of sorts in the home land of his enemy. Unable to leave, he goes about living his life in miserable conditions. He has no money, and the stuff he earns is given away. He lives in a horrible, cramped house and is thousands of miles away from his loved ones. All that he had worked towards in the previous novels were flushed down the drain. Certainly, he had reasons to think negatively.

During the course of the book, he makes decisions that makes his life better, focusing on what he can control rather than what he can’t. Despite his capture, he lives a very free life and eventually overthrows the villain and frees himself.

So, as I’m listening to this story, it dawns on me that I’ve been playing the woe is me card. Ironically, I’m spending my days at work telling my staff to focus on what they can control rather than what they can’t. Physician, heal thyself!

I’m happy to announce that since that moment a few weeks ago things have been going better. I’ve eaten better, run more, and been more mindful. I received some good news from the doctor last week. When once I was obese, had high cholesterol, and terrible blood pressure I now have a healthy weight, perfect cholesterol levels, and a fantastic resting heart rate.

I still have stress. I am still tired. The weight of the technology department is still on my shoulders. I just feel better about it all. I am inspired to write again, to run again, and take pictures of my smiling baby girl.

 

 

The movies vs reality

Last week, my wife and I greeted our little baby girl into the world. We had the stereotypical rush to the hospital, smiles of relief when the anesthesiologist arrived, and that sense of accomplishment when our baby was born. What really struck me about the process was how different our experience was compared to what you see in the movies and on TV. I think our version may actually make better TV.

In the movie world, when a woman arrives at the hospital a team of orderlies arrive to rush her to the delivery room, professionals run in and out of the room during contractions, and when the dr arrives things happen. The baby is then born screaming, clean (?), and happy.

For us, we arrived at the hospital to find the doors locked. So, we drove to the main entrance which was under construction. A sign directed us to the “after hours door”. That door was also locked with a sign pointing back to main entrance, which is still under construction! Ahh, get me out of the infinite loop! The night security guard was nice enough to let us in, but the rest of the staff seemed bored. My wife was saying “I’m having a baby”, and the front desk lady looked it up in her computer (!?!?). I can imagine her thinking “Would it be under ‘B’ for ‘baby’, ‘D’ for ‘delivery’, or maybe something in Latin?” The orderly showed up to take her up to delivery, by walking as slow as humanly possible. My back started to hurt we were walking so slow. When I thought we couldn’t go slower, he pulled out his cell phone to show us (slowly) pictures of his five year old. Look, the kid is cute, but get us to the freaking delivery room!

A nurse met us in the room and asked how we’re doing. Our response was that we need drugs. Note that my wife was the only one who actually needed drugs, but I thought I’d put in a request in case they weren’t checking. The nurse said okay, then left the room. By that I mean she left the room, the floor, and maybe even the hospital. She’s gone, totally gone. After about 10 or 15 minutes I poked my head out into the empty hallway saying “Um, hello??” A new nurse arrived, and asked how we’re doing?  Seriously! We need drugs.

This nurse jumped into action by slowly strapping up the baby monitor and informing us that they need to start an IV and monitor contractions for half an hour before they can give her the drugs. What!?! Couldn’t you have started that monitor the moment she arrived? I don’t see how waiting half an hour to monitor for another half an hour really serves the best interests of my wife. Nurse number 2 left to get the IV.

Nurse number 1 returned (where had she been?) with the IV kit. She proceeded to poke my wife unsuccessfully on and off again for 15 minutes. At least she stopped during the contractions. I would like to think that she knew something wasn’t working right as my wife was continually cursing in her ear on every failed attempt.

****Skip this part if you don’t like blood! When I say “poke”, I mean she inserted the IV once and then moved it around routinely trying to get it in a vein. She would pull up on the needle, wiggle it around, push it in deeper, etc.  My wife’s skin was so stretched out that it reminded me of scenes from Aliens. Seeing that needle pull and tug from the inside of her skin was quite sickening, and I don’t typically have a weak stomach.*****

The nurse finally got the IV in her other arm. As she was finishing, nurse #2 walked back in the room with the IV. Wow, great coordination here. Nurse #1 left having successfully gotten in the IV, then we never see her again.

The anesthesiologist arrived to give her drugs, didn’t offer me any, and ended up knocking her out. My wife’s blood pressure dropped, and every nurse on the floor walked in to help. We had ten people in that room (though nurse number 1 was nowhere to be seen). After returning to stability, and realizing this incident is actually quite commonplace as people’s sensitivities vary, we had about an hour of just enjoying the rest that the drugs provided. The only thing we heard from the nurses during this time is that the Dr “wasn’t answering her phone.” That’s comforting. We also knew that labor was progressing at a significantly faster pace than is expecting for a first time mom.

Now, our Dr is actually a close personal friend of my wife.  Heck, she cooked for our wedding and threw us a baby shower. They’ve known each other for years and she has been looking forward to delivering this baby. So, I assume the nurses didn’t prepare her for how quickly labor had been progressing, because when the Dr arrived she announced that she would have been here earlier, but the day care didn’t open until 7. She asked me if I got any sleep and started to banter with my wife. My wife is frantic and continually asking to “check her” because she is having a baby. In retrospect, we learn she was ready to deliver for almost ten minutes before the Dr checked her and said “Oh my god, you’re having a baby.”

I don’t need to discuss the rest, as anyone who ever sees me with my daughter can probably figure it out. There was simply a surprising lack of urgency to giving birth for everyone except the mother. Luckily for us, our baby girl was healthy and we didn’t need any interventions. It was also nice to have a friend there to deliver the baby. Since there were two other births at the hospital at almost the exact same time (one delivered two minutes before we did), it felt like we had our own personal doctor. It’s nice to be home now, a week later, reminiscing about the birth and enjoying a really cute newborn.

Purpose

With the birth of my little girl only a few days away, it is unsurprising that I’ve spent many waking hours thinking about purpose. While I’m not new to the parenting rodeo, I think it is natural to think about setting an example, and wanting your offspring to have a good role model. If I’m going to spend time showing my children how to be a good adult, I may as well figure out what kind of adult I am going to be. I’ll let you know when I have that figured out.

In the mean time, while I am working on figuring out my life’s purpose, I am going to spend some time thinking about the blog’s purpose. A few years ago, when I was training to run my first marathon, the theme of my blog was simply stories about running. That event was exhausting, and I had many accomplishments along the way. In some ways, the blog wrote itself in those days simply because of my sheer number of accomplishments.

A newer purpose in my life is to live out loud. This is something I am not good at, as I typically don’t share with people around me. When I got remarried, I only told two people from work about it. Most found out when I changed my Facebook status to married.  I’ve been less secretive about the pregnancy, but even then when work threw a surprise baby shower a dozen of my coworkers told me they had no idea we were expecting. Also, while just about everyone knows we are expecting, very few of my friends and acquaintances know how difficult it was for us to get pregnant. Vicky was told her AMH hormone level was too low to get pregnant with her own eggs, I had an uncommonly high level of defective swimmers, doctors wouldn’t prescribe fertility drugs, and her tubes were blocked. Things were not looking well. We went through several rounds of IUI before writing a large check and starting IVF. I gave Vicky up to 7 shots a day, she felt horrible, and we only had a 40% chance of this actually working. We caught a lucky break when it was time to harvest eggs, and we not only are pregnant from our parts, but have six (6) more blasts hanging out in the freezer just in case. The six months we spent with all the ups and downs were exhausting. Luckily, those six had a purpose, leading to the past nine months that we’ve spent getting ready for this little girl.

I am not planning on making this blog just about my little girl, just about my boys, or just about making a modern blended family work. I do intend to write about those things, as I intend to write this blog with purpose. I am going to write about my family, my job, my writing progress, my exercise progress, and my attempts to pull in some residual income. Here is an early step in living out loud, and making purpose a focus.

A girl is on my mind

11 days.  For various reasons,  the number 11 has always been significant for me.  I always appreciate when things appear in groups of 11, 11 days away, etc.  As of now, Vicky and I are 11 days away from our little girl’s due date.

I’m ready to get this started!  Let’s ditch all the nerves, worries, and medical dramas that my wife carries with her, toss the insomnia out the window, and get started with this new life.

I’m looking forward to this little girl.  I’ve had the boys for many years now, and I feel like I’m doing a good job with them, and having a girl will be a nice, new experience.  Without knowing her, I have many dreams for her already.  I’m hoping that she’ll grow to be strong, confident, smart, and capable.  I wish for her the opportunity to go after her dreams, to speak her mind without fear, to find those wonderful little pieces of magic in life that turn everything into technicolor.  I suppose my dream is that she’ll grow up in a world where girls aren’t told they can or can’t do certain things.  If not that, I want her to grow up knowing she can pursue anything she wants, and that those who tell her “she can’t because she is a girl” are idiots.

It’ll also be weird to be a full time parent again.  Vicky and I were hanging out with a group of co-parents a few months back, a group where everyone shares custodial time of their child with the other parent.  One member of the group looked at us and commented “wow, you’re going to have her every day.”  Growing up, I didn’t think I’d be in a place in life where having your child every day would seem new, strange, and different.  Here I am anyway, regardless of what I thought would happen.  Despite, or because of this reality, my life is good.  I have hope for the direction of my life, I have love in lots of areas, and I continue to be a life long learner.

Ultimately, this is what I want to little girl to be able to do.  Life doesn’t turn out the way we think it should, but she’ll be one of thsoe able to go with those bumps along the way and make it greater.

8 year old’s advice

This week, my eight year old started writing a book of facts.  Being ambitious, he promptly followed it up with a second book of facts.  These facts are lists of things to do that make a good, well rounded person.  I’d like to share some of these, then I’m going to challenge myself to achieve as many as I can this week.

1. Sweat is good

2. Eat your vegetables

3. Never watch scary movies

4. Trust snakes and sharks

5. Never cut down trees

6. Try to make movies

7. Never eat shark fin soup

8. Do not trust people that are doing something in secret

9. Be a friend

10. Do well in school

11. Play sports

12. Pet animals

13. Do art

14. Fight haters

15. Build a submarine

16. Climb trees

17. Write a story

18. Run a lap

19. Swim a lap

20. Keep track of time

21. Eat politely

22. Help others

23. Say please and thank you

24. Get a cat

25. Got milk?

38 and counting

As I write this, I am looking forward to another birthday this weekend.  This time, it’s good ol’ number 38.  I have the honor of sharing a birthday with that American tradition of eating tacos and drinking Corona – Cinco de Mayo.  In college, my birthday was a big hit in the fraternity earning such nicknames Drinko de Mayo, Drinko de Ed, or Cinco de Cuervo.  Earlier this year I asked my wife “what if I don’t want tacos for my birthday this year?” She responded with “that’s no problem, we’ll celebrate your party later, but we’re still having a party on Cinco de Mayo.”

Two years ago I had only been dating Vicky for about a month.  My birthday came at an opportune time as it coincided with a First Thursday Art Walk in Seattle.  I got to meet some of Vicky’s friends, she got to meet some of mine, and I started to appreciate Vicky’s appreciation of Art.  We’re obviously still together now, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve only known her for two years.

Since then, we’ve moved in, got married, created a step family, and are now days away from having our own child together – a little girl.  In that time I’ve also run one marathon, a couple of half marathons, completed P90X (twice!), gotten hired on full time at ShareBuilder, promoted twice, and created two Hansen family original movies (with more on the way).  We bought a mini van, refinanced a house, sold a condo, redid the backyard, and put in a retaining wall on the side yard.  We’ve taken trips to San Diego, North Carolina (twice), Chicago (by accident), Chelan, and Long Beach.  We even built custom furniture for the boys rooms, though I really can’t take credit for that.  I joined the PTA, and became the assistant Treasurer.

When I summarize just the highlights, it’s obvious that we’ve been busy.  I find it funny that I go through my days and feel like I accomplish very little.  It just seems that there is always more to do than hours in the day.  However, now that I take a step back and look at where I am now it’s clear that life is not static these days.

The other day, my family was eating dinner in the backyard, enjoying the first sunny evening of the Spring.  It was a bit chilly, but the breeze was nice and the setting cozy.  Vicky looked at me and said “your hair is really turning gray.”  Happy 38th.

Not about taxes (originally published April 15, 2013)

This is not about taxes.  It isn’t about taxes because I got mine filed in March.  My wife was upset that this wasn’t done in February, or even sooner.  I can’t blame her, she’s always had her returns done in January.  The new rules make it so that brokerage firms have until mid-february to give you your tax info.  Additionally, life in complicated enough we had to pull many, many forms together.

Anyway, we got it done, and this post is not about taxes.  It’s about Spring break.

Last week, I sent a note out at the office informing them of my vacation and how surprised I was to go to Lake Chelan for Spring Break.  Chelan is beautiful in the summer, but cold, wet, and dreary in the spring.  So is Seattle.  When I was younger I thought of Spring Break as a wonderful time to take a break and get someplace warm.  Chelan is not warm, but it’s where I am.

Vicky and I got the boys for all of Spring Break, and opted to head off to spend the week at my mom’s in Lake Chelan.  We recently bought a mini-van.   We bought it because we’re about to add a baby to our world, but it did cross our minds that we’d be driving the boys for four hours.  I won’t say they were perfect angels on the drive, but the mini-van does have a DVD player and they were often quiet and engaged.

After driving for several hours, getting the boys to bed, unpacking, then getting them all organized and active here in Chelan, I am exhausted.  This trip is work!  It’s not even the fun part of work.  I’d stressed, out of comfort zone, and I feel behind in my life.  This is no way to spend Spring Break!

I resolve for the rest of my break to 1) relax, 2) think of the things that make me happy, and 3) take this time to enjoy hanging with my boys.  I think I’m going to go wrestle with them right now.