I didn’t know anyone at a party I hosted

So there I was, quickly falling asleep with a snoring baby on my chest. The din of the guests hinting at the gathering outside the master bedroom door. I must be getting old, as I’m choosing to snooze with my daughter rather than play the host. My wife enjoys playing hostess; I’m sure we’re fine.

Let me take a step back. My Saturday started off as normal. After picking up the boys from swimming, I drove my oldest to his appointment an hour away for his specialized working memory program that is quite fascinating. I was killing time with my youngest having a coffee and brownie at the Panera Bread. Note, I think of my youngest boy as my youngest, even though I have a baby. He is playing with my tablet while I’m getting some work done on my laptop. My wife sends me a text reminding me to pick up the babysitter tonight at 6:30. Babysitter?  What for?

It turns out, we’re hosting a party. Yay, fun! Who’s coming over?  Are you sure that the entire guest list of full of people I don’t know? I mean, yeah, I kinda know one of the couples but that almost doesn’t count. So, we dropping a couple hundred bucks on food and drinks for a bunch of strangers? Ok, nothing new there. I love ya, honey.

The fuller story is that my wife has friends, who after nine years in Seattle, are moving back to the East Coast to be closer to family. Given that I returned to the West Coast ten years ago for similar reasons, I completely understand the move and wish them well. Of course I will throw them a party. We had a nice time hosting a house full of Physician’s Assistants (and by the way, those PAs can really put back some beer). For most of the party, we were able to pass my daughter around, as all of the guests were also parents and loved the chance to hold the baby.

Finally, for her, enough was enough and she needed to go to bed. I got her in pjs and started to get her ready for bed. Of course, in the process, I fell asleep myself. It’s quite rare for me to fall asleep with a house full of strangers. In fact, that hasn’t happened since my fraternity days! I have no advice for how you yourself would be able to host a party for strangers, but if you find yourself in that situation I highly recommend it.

 

 

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.