Thursday, June 07, 2007

Liam's last day of preschool...

We're in the final countdown. And among the big milestones this week, Liam had his last day at Cambridge-Ellis. Here's an overly long clip of their last circle time at the end of last day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

About that trip to Miami...

One of the reasons my blogs have occasionally ceased for weeks at a time is because I've been working on a grant proposal for a project since last Fall for The Chronicle, my old student newspaper at Duke University. Though we'd found out the Knight Foundation had selected our proposal several weeks ago, we weren't really allowed to talk about it until they announced the winners last week at an Interactive Media conference in Miami. The Miami Herald did a story about it here.

The project will attempt to design a "newsroom of the future" for The Chronicle through a web site that invites anyone who is interested to collaborate in the process. In addition, as we gather research and make decisions, we'll post everything on the site so that it can a resource for all campus media as they begin to grapple with how to overhaul their own newsrooms.

There's a temporary version of the site that I built here: . But let me assure you, we're working with some folks to develop the real site now that we have a bit of money...So please, don't mock mine...

So how did I get into this mess? Well, let me tell you...

Last fall, I took the kids down to Chapel Hill to visit Jen's parents. Over the weekend, I stopped at a Chronicle alumni event where a Duke administrator was giving a presentation on a proposal to build a third campus at Duke. The new campus included plans to create a student media center that would bring The Chronicle, the student TV station, and radio station, under one roof. The Chronicle was nervous because it has a great location on the main campus and was worried that the administration was trying to force it out.

My reaction was quite different. I thought this was an incredible opportunity for the paper: Someone is offering to build a new building from scratch. How many other campus papers would kill for that chance? But more importantly, given all the radical changes going on in the news business, this seemed like an amazing opportunity to create an ambitious plan for the center. At lunch that day, I argued to the Chronicle folks that they should embrace this moment as a fantastic opportunity for the paper.

When I returned to Cambridge, Jen mentioned something about a new Knight Foundation Challenge Grant. She was taking a class with John Carroll, the former LA Times editor, and he had told his students about it. I suggested to The Chronicle that they ought to apply for some planning money. And of course that evolved into me writing the grant application, with substantial assistance from another Chronicle alum, Kath Sullivan. Lo and behold, the Knight Foundation picked us, though we were one of the smaller grants. We get $40,000 for the project. Some guy at the MIT Media Lab is getting $5 million. So, there you go...

But, back to the project. I hope to use this project to reconsider just about every aspect of what The Chronicle does. What should its role be on campus? What should be the relationship to other campus media? How can it prepare journalists for the radical changes that are occurring in the industry? What should it be doing with new media? Should the paper play a role in developing citizen media throughout the campus? Or helping all students develop media literacy as they become producers and not just consumers?

We're not necessarily pushing an answer or an outcome. Rather, we hope to create a process to study these questions that will lead to an ambitious proposal. Among the things I'll be doing over the next year is visiting various newsrooms that have attempted some type of convergence, interviewing lots of experts, and managing what I hope will be a substantial number of alumni volunteers. At the site, we're planning to try using a f interactive features that are in the works, such as a wiki to let folks actually help us write the proposal, a forum for discussion and commentary, and a few other things.

Among the more daunting aspects is that the Knight Foundation attached one condition to our grant: We have to build a version of the proposed newsroom in Second Life, the virtual community. I have no experience with this sort of thing, but I guess I'll have to get some quickly.

Beside the site, we will be holding a conference on the "Newsroom of the Future" next spring at Duke. And next May, we have to deliver an actual proposal to Duke...

Oh, and I'll be doing all this outside my regular full-time job at the Mercury News, where I report for duty on June 9.

So, there it is. I'm probably completely insane. But on the other hand, I'm incredibly excited. The trip to Miami last week was unbelievably thrilling. We met the other grantees for the first time, and they are an incredible group. Oddly enough, I'm the only grantee of the 30 or so who works full-time at a daily newspaper. People were incredibly excited about the Next Newsroom project and kept stopping me, asking for details, and how they could get involved. The folks I've contacted at Duke are also incredibly enthusiastic about the possibilities...

Perhaps the best part of last week, was the support and encouragement among the various grantees. It's a been a grim few years in the world of journalism, especially at the Merc with multiple rounds of buyouts and layoffs and our paper being sold -- twice! -- last year. It was nice to be surrounded by folks last week
who were so optimistic about the future for a change...Whether that outlook is warranted, I guess, we'll have to see...

Friday, May 25, 2007

A week of Lasts and Firsts...

Monday was officially my last day as a full-time, stay at home dad.

On Tuesday, I flew to Miami for three days, returning on Thursday night. I was there to receive my first grant. More on this in the post below.

Friday was my last shift as a caregiver at Kids Coop Cambridge.

On Friday, Jen also completed her final work as a mid career masters candidate at Harvard's Kennedy School of Governmnent.

Each of these deserve a post unto themselves. But for now, I'll leave it at that.

It's now just two weeks until we return to the Bay Area. Lots to do between now and then. There's all the logistics, of course, packing, arranging, planning. There are a ton of people we want to get together with our here before we leave. And it seems like time is running short.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The First - and probably only - SAHD Podcast

Well, after fumbling around for months, I've finally recorded a podcast. And as the title suggests, this may be the one an only as far as stay-at-home dad life goes. Anyway, give a listen and any feedback will be appreciated. Enjoy:

I'll keep this permanently posted in left-hand column, for those of you who just can't get enough.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The New Human Body...

Today, I spent my morning over at a conference at MIT called "Human 2.0" or h2.O. It was hosted by the MIT Media Lab. I had hoped to do more stuff like this while I was out here. But it hasn't worked out that way, and that's fine. Still, I really wanted to check out the Media Lab. I've interviewed lots of folks at the Media Lab over the years, and have always been fascinated by the work over there.

When I called the press office, they invited me to attend this conference, which frankly I didn't know much about. But the two speakers I saw were both fascinating.

The conference looks at how to seamlessly move "technology into our bodies and minds in ways that will truly expand human capability." So what does that mean?

The first speaker I saw was Rosalind Picard who works on "affective computing." This includes things like trying to break down how people express emotions and teaching computers how to interpret that. It was a fascinating speech. But in particular, because it turns out that one of the potential applications was for people with autism. Picard's group is developing wearable computers that help autistic people respond to other people's emotions. It's called an "Emotional Social Intelligence Prosthesis."

I couldn't help but think of Liam during the speech. While he's not autistic, he faces many of the same social challenges. He can't make eye contact with people, which it makes it hard for him to receive all the signals they send and process them. Inevitably with other kids, this means he ends up walking away or getting left behind.

Picard made the analogy of a chess game. There are 20 possible opening moves in a chess game. By the fifth move, there are almost 5 million possible combinations of moves. Compare that to the human face, which can register 44 expressions. In just a simple back and forth, there are already millions of combinations. And rather than having minutes to process like a chess game, a person has milliseconds. If a person takes just a few milliseconds too long to process, like an autistic person, or like Liam, then they get lost very quickly.

I'm not sure if wearable computers are the answer. But it's an interesting emerging field.

The second speaker was Deb Roy who works with the Cognitive Machines group. What does that mean?: "Our goal is to create machines that learn to communicate in human- like ways by grasping the meaning of words in context and to understand how children acquire language through physical and social interaction."

How are they doing that? By trying to understand how kids acquire language. And how is Roy doing that? Well, he just happens to have a son who is just under two years of age. And since the kid was born, Roy and his wife have had video cameras installed in every room of their house and have recorded virtually every moment of their son's life. Now they are trying to analyze the millions of hours of digital video to better understand the mechanics of language acquisition. He calls it the "Human Speechome Project."
At the conference, Roy showed video collages of every time his son said "ball" over the course of a year. It was both sweet, and a bit disturbing. I wonder how it will affect that kids when he's older?

Monday, May 07, 2007

What I'll Miss...What I Won't Miss...

Okay, here's what I'll miss, and what I won't miss about life out here:

What I'll miss:

1. Darwin's. Our favorite cafe, conveniently located around the corner from Liam's preschool.
2. Full Moon Cafe. Remember that kid-friendly restaurant with a play area for kids, and kick-ass kinda-gourmet food that you have fantasized about? They have one here. I want to eat there every day.
3. The Museum Of Science.
4. The renovated Children's Museum. It rocks!
5. Boston Commons. Frog pond.
6. Summer. Heat. Not wearing a sweater on the 4th of July.
7. Having extended family nearby.
8. Candlepin bowling.
9. Cambridge-Ellis (Liam's preschool).
10. Coop! Kalian just learned how to say it ("Tow-op.")

What I won't miss:

1. Cash only. A shocking number of places out here only take cash. Really. No ATM or credit cards. It's Darwin's only flaw.
2. Pumping gas. For some reason, the gas pumps don't have that hook on the nozzle that lets you squeeze it, and then lock it. Instead, you have to squeeze and hold the nozzle the entire time you're pumping. Yes, I'm spoiled. But I like my conveniences!
3. The Drivers. They've invented their own system of driving out here, and it involves a lot of horn honking. I fantasize about carrying a club in the car now. It's a sickness.
4. The Boston Globe. We live in Cambridge, and they can never deliver the paper before 7:30 a.m. And they wonder why they're dying?
5. The T. Not kid friendly. Not stroller friendly.
6. Our apartment. Great location. But no yard. Not very big. We've had ants. We've had mice. Ick.
7. The desperate hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. when Liam and Kalian draw swords and attemtpt to simultaneously kill each other, destroy apartment, and unleash the apocalypse.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I need a raise...

As part of a mother's day promotion, has posted a salary calculator for stay-at-home moms. Of course, on some level, this is nonsense, right? Still, I couldn't resist working my through their data:

Based on a survey of more than 40,000 mothers, determined that the time mothers spend performing 10 typical job functions would equate to an annual salary of $138,095 for a stay-at-home mom.

So how do they break down those job functions?

The job titles that best matched a mom's definition of her work are (in order of hours spent per week): housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist.

Even better, there was a wizard that allows you to adjust the salary based on location. So based on that, in theory, when Jen was a stay-at-home mom with 2 preschool kids in Oakland, her salary would have been: $161,557.

Of course, I was a bit miffed that the focus was exclusively on moms. Then I noticed a small link at the bottom that said, "What about dad?" When I clicked, it took me to an equivalent calculator for dads. My salary as a SAHD in Cambridge: $144,081. Hmmm. I wonder if I could use that to haggle for a whopping raise when I return to work next month? Probably not.

In any case, the other interesting thing to note is the difference in the ways they break down the task for a mom versus a dad. For instance, the wizard lists "housekeeper" as a mom's top ask at 18.9 hours per week. Dad's top task is "day care center teacher" at 17 hours per week. The calculator assumes a dad spends half as much time doing laundry, but more time cooking. A mom spends 5.8 hours per week being a psychologist, but a dad only spends 2.3 hours. On the other hand, dads apparently spend 2.3 hours as a groundskeeper, while mom spends none.

To see what you're stay-at-home value is, check out the calculator here.


I took Liam (and Kalian) to a Cambridge T-Ball class this morning. Liam had a ball, and two of his classmates from his pre-school were there, Reed and Sammy:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Going to Boston?

So, there's some band named Augustana which has a song that's a hit, at least out here. It's all about leaving life in California and going to...Boston. Uh, what?

Let us hear from these poets:

She said I think I'll go to Boston...
I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name,
I'll get out of California, I'm tired of the weather,
I think I'll get a lover and fly em out to Spain...
I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice... oh yeah

Tired of the weather? Nice in the summer? Some snow would be nice? Yes, some snow would have been nice. However, this past winter, I think we got snow four times, and it was either ice or slush. And in either case, it was mostly a nuisance.

Other notable tracks on their lastest album: "California's Burning."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I love this guy...

I've been doing a little bit of research to reflect back on my year as a stay-at-home dad. And in the process, I came across this little treasure. It's a great Washington Post video project called "onBeing." And in this segment, we meet Jeffrey, a SAHD, and his son, Beckham:

Monday, April 30, 2007

I don't think we're cursed, but...

Last year, just before we set off for our Cambridge adventure, a section of Boston's "Big Dig" collapsed and killed a woman. The tunnel was closed for months causing traffic nightmares, especially if you wanted to go to the airport...

Now, here we are in April, about to head back to the Bay Area. And we see in the news that a gasoline truck has exploded on one of the major interchanges, collapsing part of the highway. Traffic nightmares are expected for months to come.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Going to Carolina...

Last week, I made a whirlwind trip down to North Carolina. Normally, it's the kind of travel that I hate, and I'm glad I don't have the kind of job or life that involves constant business travel. But, of course, after 10 months with Thing One and Thing Two, sitting in the airport for four hours feels like liberation.

On Thursday, I picked up Jen from her class at MIT, and then walked to a nearby T station to get to the airport. I was three hours early for my flight. But no matter, I sat at the gate, reading the paper and listening to my iPod. Weeeee! I arrived at Raleigh around midnight, picked up a rental car and drove to Jen's parents house in Chapel Hill.

In the morning, I had a bunch of appointments at Duke for a project I'm working on for The Chronicle, the student newspaper. (More on this later). It was a glorious North Carolina day. The kind of mild spring day, when the sun is shining, and everything is just blooming, that makes me miss that area terribly.

I was back at the airport at 4 p.m., back on a plane, and back home just before midnight. Within about 30 seconds of walking in the door, Kalian was awake, screaming. I dropped my backpack, laid down in bed with her, and fell asleep. Back to my real job, as it were.

Go West, young man...?

Recently overheard in our car:

Liam: "Kalian, do you want to go back to Oakland?"

Kalian: "Yeah."

Liam: "Well, Kalian, we are never going back to Oakland. We have to stay in Cabridge. Okay?"

Kalian: "Otay."

Me: "Liam, are you trying to say that you're going to miss Cambridge?"

Liam: "Yeah."

Me: "What are you going to miss about Cambridge?"

Liam: "Nothing."

Me: "Are you excited to go back to Oakland?"

Liam: "Well...I don't know."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Meet the band....

Coming soon, to a Bay Area venue near you, the musical stylings of Liam and Kalian. Hit it:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Liam sings: Willy Was A Whale

Here's Liam singing his favorite Justin Roberts tune: Willy Was A Whale. He's getting close to mastering the whole thing. When I was showing him how the microphone on the computer worked, he just picked it up and started singing. He's pretty proud of himself.

One word of warning: This is the extended long-play Puff Daddy mix of this song. In other words, it goes on for awhile, so you may not make it all the way through. Still, here it is:

Fun phrases that Kalian has learned...

Kalian has become quite the chatter box these days. Just to make it more fun, Liam has taught her all sorts of delightful phrases. Here's some of my favorites:

"Go away, daddy!"
"I want milk...RIGHT NOW!"
"Yeah, we shoot."

And just added today:

"Stupid, daddy. Stupid, Bubba."

Only 16 more years until college...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

Last month, Jen had her spring break. And we actually managed to take a trip. This is a bit dated, now. But I'm still clearing out a backlog of my half-composed posts. I've been busy with work-related (read: non-kid related) stuff. But more on that in another post.

For now, I'll just say we had a great time. We hopped in the car on a Tuesday, not sure exactly where we were headed. In that sense, it was much like our other New England trip, last August, to Vermont. Only this time, we were headed in the opposite direction, toward Rhode Island.

Initially, we thought to go to Mystic, sort of near the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. But we got a late start, and somewhat randomly decided on Newport. I had wanted to go there last fall, but never go around to it. And so there we were, headed to Newport, with no idea what exactly was there, or where we would stay. And somehow, again, it all worked out.

The drive was just over an hour, and after circling around town, we found an open room at the Jailhouse Inn, which as the name implies, was a former jail. Newport is a boating-beach-richie-rich sort of town. So going in late March was officially off season. That meant we got the room, which was a suite, for $60 per night. Normally, the same room would be $300 per night, post Memorial Day. Woo-hoo!

We stayed about three days and mostly did walks around town, found more great eating bargains. It seemed the locals were quite happy to have anyone in town during this time of year, even poverty stricken grad student types such ourselves. Newport had plenty of colonial history for us to wander around. And during the turn of the 20th century, it was apparently the hotspot for the Guilded Age set to build ostentatious castles. There's a spectacular walk along a cliff that takes you past the former residents of the Astors, Vanderbilts, etc.

Here's one of their little love shacks, known as "The Breakers":


Anyway, we had long walks along the water front. More cheap eats. And just a fun, relaxing time away from the madness. I wish we had time for more exploration. There's so much more I'd love to see up here. We haven't even touched Maine, New Hampshire...Ah, well. So much of our focus is no one returning to the Bay Area. That's already feeling epic enough...

Well, we definitely need the money...

After our income-free year in Cambridge, we'll have a nice debt to welcome us when we get back to Oakland. How should we pay it off? The answer may lie in this item posted to the Boston Burning Man listserv:

Hey there folks.

So I am friends with the producer/casting director for a tv series called "Wife Swap" and they are sick and tired of little cookie-cutter suburbanite families. They are looking for a "circus-esque family" that is quirky, extreme, creative, and/or different. They are looking for a family with flair and style. If your family is selected you will be paid $20,000 for doing the show which is an 11 day commitment, 6 of those days which you are seperated from your spouse. The rules are this *must be a Mom and Dad. They dont need to be married but they do need to live together *There must be at least one child between the ages 5-18 but they would love for there to be more than one child

I thought this could be an interesting and prosperous gig for the right folks. If you fit these parameters and are interested in more information please contact me and I will send along the information.

If only Liam were a few months older. Oh, well....

Brush with greatness...

Well, not exactly. But one recent dinner companion has had a moment in the spotlight.

We've finally come out of our shell and been more social in recent weeks. Something that's been tough to do out here given our schedules. But we've had some wonderful dinners in recent weeks, including a nice visit with Tim and Sarah, parents of one of Liam's classmates.

Another weekend, Jen brought over a guy from her MIT class and his wife. Sam, it turns out, specializes in studying...professional wrestling. He's a very interesting guy, actually, and we had a great time with both of them. Then, just a couple weeks later, Sam was featured in this story in The Boston Globe. Here's a taste:

Such discussions are a normal part of the newest full-credit course offering in MIT's Comparative Media Studies program: "American Pro Wrestling." The class explores the history of an American institution that brings athleticism, theatrical performance, and choreographed stunt work together in a square, roped-off ring. During the semester, students watch dozens upon dozens of wrestling matches, from 1980s clashes between Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage to modern-day battles on "Monday Night Raw." Students examine how technology has transformed wrestling into a multimedia business, and how the styles and storytelling methods have changed over the years. The required reading on the syllabus includes colorful titles such as "Steel Chair to the Head" and "Sex, Lies, and Headlocks."

This quirky addition to the MIT course catalog was the brainchild of grad student Sam Ford, who designed and teaches the curriculum. The class has created buzz on the campus and beyond. One blogger called it "The Undisputed End of Higher Education." Ford said a radio station in California called the class "a sign of the apocalypse."

Why study wrestling? Ford hopes students "use the class to learn more about how to critically analyze, discuss, and write about the popular culture they consume." And he's not the only one who sees the academic value of it.

Read the full story here.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

We'll be back...

Though there was never much doubt...As I mentioned in my email the other day...Yes, we're coming back to Oakland.

If folks haven't heard, Jen has been accepted into the University of California at Berkeley in the Sociology Department where she'll be a PhD candidate for the next 50 years or so. I am scheduled to return to the Mercury News in June, assuming it hasn't been sold yet again in my absence.

In fact, last night, we even booked our tickets...Our scheduled arrival is June 9. Prepare the parade.

When we return, you'll a chance to meet this short-haired weirdo:

Whoever he is...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Kalian's special brother...

Back in February, there was a fascinating piece published in the New York Times Magazine, "Her Autistic Brothers," by Olsson.

It's worth reading. In a nutshell, the piece looks at a teenage girl who has two slightly older twin brothers, who are autistic. It uses her as a case study to look at some recent research that shows that rather being a detriment, having siblings who are "special needs" can in some cases cause their brothers and sisters to become "supersiblings." That is, they become more advanced emotionally and developmentally.

The piece struck a chord. While it's too early to tell whether this is true of Kalian, it's been interesting to watch her rapid development, and how that may affect her relationship with Liam. Although she is only 21.5 months, she has mastered some things that Liam still struggles with, like holding a crayon with a tripod grasp, or her balance, which is phenomenal. We always try to avoid comparing, but can't help it sometimes. They both learned how to put on their jackets about the same time this year(the classic dip-and-flip).

Liam doesn't seem aware of this, or to resent it. Still, it can be difficult to watch at times. A couple days ago, I had to take Liam for a physical therapy evaluation at Cambridge Schools, to see if he qualifies for physical therapy. His skills were apparently all over the map (ie, throws a ball fine, can jump okay, can't stand on one leg, has trouble walking up stairs). Kalian was there, and of course, stood right up one leg while watching her brother try - and fail - to do that same.

At home, Kalian has slowly taken the dominant role in their relationship. They play together a lot more. But she'll instigate things like trying to provoke Liam by hitting him and then running away, looking over her shoulder to see if he's chasing her and giggling. And she constantly gets Liam in trouble by doing things like throwing her food, or dropping her cup, which makes Liam laugh and which he then imitates.

Perhaps the sweetest element of their relationship at the moment, though, is that they've started sleeping together in the same bed. Kalian has simply abandoned her crib, now that she can escape. She demands to sleep in her brother's bed ("I wan Bubba's bed"...Yes, she calls him "Bubba.")

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dad's day off...

Jen is on spring break this week. So as a bonus, I got a "day off." It's a Sunday, and after she got back from yoga, I took off. I was officially free for the day. Of course, it was quite chilly. But a I grabbed a backpack, my iPod, newspapers, books, and trekked on down to the T. I headed into the city, just wandering a bit, unencumbered. If that sounds less than exciting, let me assure you, it wasn't. Except for attending a journalism conference back in November, I hadn't really just experienced the city by myself very much. So this was liberating, wandering around Boston Commons, Copley Square, Quincy Market.

Near Boston Commons, I ducked into a movie theater, simply because I could. I saw "The Host," an excellent South Korean monster movie. Outstanding, really. After that, I toured some more, making my way to the North End, the Italian district. I stopped for an espresso, and then picked up some canolis to take home. I stopped in the old North Church (where Paul Revere got the infamous signal...)

But the funny thing was, all this alone time gave me time to think about how my time with the kids is coming to an end. As dinnertime neared, I knew I had permission to stay out as late as I wanted. But I decided to head home, because I missed the critters and Jen, of course. It was a surprise to me. Okay, maybe I'm just a masochist. But I know I'm going to miss spending all this time with them when we're back in Oakland. And so I got back for dinner and bedtime, glad to see them, and glad for day off.

Dan Zanes...

We had a fabulous time at our first Dan Zanes concert today. We went with a big group of folks, 20 including us. Somehow, I had gotten it into my head to turn this into a big production. Given the general craziness of our lives, I probably should have just bought us a few tickets and been done with it.

Still, I had originally thought that it would make a good outing for the kids in Liam's preschool. But it sort of morphed into something else. There was us, and two other Blue Room Families. Then there was a friend from Coop, our friends Anita and George, Bay Area transplants, Debbie, another SF refugee. In all, a diverse group, and lots of fun.

Our seats weren't stellar, but the kids were still into it. Here's a bad video clip, via my camera:


Father and sons...

By coincidence, I just read two consecutive books exploring relationships between father and sons.

The first was "Lay of the Land," by Richard Ford. This is the latest in Ford's epic "Frank Bascombe" trilogy. While the first two are among my favorite books, you don't need to have read them to appreciate this one. In any case, in this latest installment, our hero is 57, and gearing up to host a Thanksgiving weekend that will include a visit from his son, who is in his late 20s. While his son makes a decent living writing for a greeting card company in Kansas City, Frank, who lives on the Jersey shore, can't escape his disappointment over the way his son has turned out. It's not that the son is a failure, in any measurable way. Rather, for Bascombe, it's the small things, like his son's mullet, or that he lives in in the Midwest (gasp!), or that his worldview is considerably different. Despite good intentions, both father and son can't seem to connect, or understand each other. In the previous book, the son was a teenager with growing troubles in school and life which Frank tried -- and failed -- to repair.

The second book was "Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson. This was our latest book club pick. It's a slim, slow read. The father in this case is an Iowa pastor who got married and had a son in his late 60s. It's now the 1950s, and having just found out he doesn't have long to live, the father is writing a long letter to his young son, telling him all the things he will never have a chance to say when the boy is old enough to understand them. It's a subtle book that sneaks up you at the end.

I really enjoyed both, on their own terms. Of course, it's hard not to read them and not have the vague anxiety that all parents probably have at one point or another about how their kids will turn out, and how much you can even influence that. Will Liam be able to make friends? Will Kalian mellow out? Will Liam be a trenchcoat wearing, skateboarding, smoking-behind-the-school kid? Will Kalian continue along the path to becoming a girlie girl?

I guess the real question is this: Will I be able accept them for what they become, and not measure them against some ideal I had in mind for them? I hope so.

The Wisdom of Liam

The other day, I got a bit frustrated with Liam for spilling something. Frankly, I can't even remember exactly what it was. But I let loose with the "F-word" and immediately regretted it.

Liam then stuck his hands in pants and got a sad look on his face.

"Liam, are you sticking your hands in your pants because you're upset with me?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. And then: "Daddy, don't say f--k. Next time, just say, 'Liam, please don't do that.' Okay?"

Yes, buddy. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hair Today, part 2...

Speaking of hair (see Kalian's below), I had a radical makeover today. I got the SuperCuts special. And I shaved the Grizzly Adams beard that had sprouted. So I look 15 years old now. Jen is shell shocked. I'm sure my mom will be tickled. Kalian ran away from me when I picked her up at Coop today. Liam's friends ran over to check it out when I got him at preschool.

Noted one of the kids: "Hey, you're not going to be able to do a ponytail anymore."


Liam's vision...

As were eating tonight, Liam announced:

"I have something fun I want to tell you guys. After dinner, I want to build a truck that blows up cars and houses and makes ice cream."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Kid Logic

I've recently become obsessed with listening to "This American Life." I know I'm the last person on the planet to discover the show. But I mention it because the show last week was on "Kid Logic." It's an amusing and interesting look at how kids experience the world.

I've posted a link to the show to the right if you want to give a listen.

One commentator noted that little kids are like scientists, constantly conducting experiments on objects and people around them. I'm going to have to keep that in mind next time Kalian is chucking her bowl of food on the floor.

Hair today...

Apropos of nothing, we've been talking a lot about Kalian's hair. We have now dubbed it, the "Rod Stewart Hair." It may look like she just woke up. She didn't. This is just what it's like. It's growing in 50 different directions quite naturally, thank you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hey, Huckleberry...

Great parenting moment tonight. I was putting Liam to bed. His usual routine is that I offer to read him three books. He insists on four. I give in. But tonight, he noticed one of Jen's books sitting on the night stand: "Huckleberry Finn." He picked it up and asked me what it was. There were some rought sketches every few pages to hold his attention. I asked him if he wanted me to read it, and he said, "Yes."

So we lay back on the bed, and read the first two chapters of Huckleberry Finn. Liam seemed to follow along fine and understand a good bit of it. Though it was tricky explaining Jim's relationship. But Liam totally understood that Huck didn't like to follow the rules, and so he snuck out in the middle of the night to meet his buddy, Tom Sawyer.

Hopefully that didn't give him any ideas....

Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday, Monday...

Jen elbowed me in the ribs.

"Can you take Kalian to go pee?"

It was 6:45 a.m. A good morning. This is about as late as we can hope she sleeps. I rolled over, and Kalian was peeking over her mother's shoulder. I slid past Liam, who had crawled into our bed sometime in the middle of the night.

"Pee-pee?" I asked Kalian. She replied, "Yeah!" I walked to the bathroom and she followed, pulling down her PJs and sitting right down on her potty. I was slowly waking up. Kalian, did her pee, then reached down, lifted the basin out of her potty, dumped it in the big toilet, and then replaced it. After washing hands, we headed to the kitchen.

"What do you want for breakfast?" I said.



"Yeah!" and then "Bo--" as she pointed to the bowls.

I complied. I made coffee. I ate. I catered to her whims ("Mo' wa-wa.")

This is the rush morning. We have to be out of the house by 7:30 a.m. to get Liam to his occupational therapy appointment at 8 a.m. across town. I make lunch for him. I get her diaper bag ready. I change a shirt, brush my teeth, in a half-hearted nod to personal hygiene. I gather some food Liam can eat in the car. He's still sleeping and it's 7:20 a.m. I lift him up, now he's screaming. I change his clothes, brush his teeth, and carry him down to the car. It's 7:30 a.m.

Liam, Kalian and I fly through the Cambridge traffic. I'm driving and handing them bananas and rice cakes with almond butter at the same time. We get to the school early for a change, and head down the therapy room, where we find Tina, Liam's occupational therapist. For the next 45 minutes, Liam runs through a variety of tasks to build his coordination and planning skills. He swings from a harness while picking up stuffed frogs; he pulls putty apart to dig out little plastic animals, and he paints a mural by dipping a toilet plunger in some paint.

Then we're back in the car, scrambling back across town to his preschool. We arrive at 9:10 a.m. I park and we escort Liam to his room (the Blue Room), which is already packed with kids. This is an overwhelming time for Liam, and he wanders from group to group, trying to figure out who is doing what, before finally settling in. We hug, and then say goodbyes.

On our way out, we bump into one of the other Blue Room moms, Julie. She invites Kalian and I to join her for coffee around the corner at Darwin's, our favorite cafe. Julie's son is about Kalian's age (21 months!). We make stabs at adult conversation in between subduing the kiddies. And then we have to go, across town again, to Trader Joe's. It's 10:00 a.m.

I plow through the aisles, grabbing food, stuffing snacks into Kalian's mouth. We check out, and drive home where we unpack the groceries. It's 11:15 a.m. We play for a bit, then eat some lunch. Then it's back into the car to pick up Liam at preschool.

A new feature of our Monday is Sports Class at the Little Gym in Woburn. The Little Gym is a local chain of gymnastic studios. We signed up Liam for a "sports class" which is a mix of gymnastics and learning basic sport skills. The current focus is hockey. Liam loves it. He's enthusiastic, coordinated, focused, and follows direction during the hour-long class. In other words, he becomes a kid I hardly recognize, but in a good way.

Only drawback: The class is in Woburn, a 30 minute drive north. We're in the car. Again. I'm handing food back over the seats as we work our way to the highway and then up to Woburn. But once we're there, Liam is bubbling with excitement.


The class is over and Liam is still bursting. I coral him and we get back into the car to drive home. We arrive, ramble up the steps and sit down for a snack. It's 3:30 p.m. We play. Liam wants to build a car wash and begins furiously cutting some paper which we tape to a box. We also play some music, which Liam is rediscovering. Kalian is coloring. Then it's time to make dinner.

Jen's schedule is even crazier this semester. She doesn't get home until 6:30 p.m. on Mondays. So the three of us eat. Fish sticks. My ambition was once to prepare an elaborate, well balanced, home cooked meal every night. That lasted a few weeks last summer but was abandoned by Fall. The bar for meals continues to drop. After eating, I do the dishes while the kids run around.

Jen arrives at 6:30 p.m. I am already putting on my coat and packing a backpack for the gym. Monday nights I've been taking a Scottish fiddling class. I haven't played the violin much since high school. But the class has been great. It's taught by an oustanding local fiddle player named Hanneke Cassel. The class is a blast, though my playing is woeful. Judge for yourself. Here's me practicing a tune we're learning, "Stella's Trip To Cam Loops":

After class, I rush to the T which I take to the gym for a quick workout until the gym closes at 10 p.m. I take the T back, and then walk home. It's just starting to snow. I arrive home and Jen says she's feeling horrible. She asks me to go out and get her some heartburn medicine. I drop my stuff, get back in the car, and drive slowly to the pharmacy through the snow which is really coming down now. I get home with the medicine. It's 10:45 p.m. Jen is getting worse and has the beginning of the flu, which later causes her to cancel a trip later in the week to Berkeley.

We go to bed at 11:15 p.m. Jen is feeling awful. It's going to be a long night.

Friday, March 02, 2007

We've come a long way...

Two weeks and no blog. Yet the news is mostly good. We survived the Massachusetts winter break. Schools here close twice during this semester for a week. I felt tremendous anxiety leading up to this first break. I kept having acid flashbacks to last summer, when both kids were home every day, clawing each other's eyes out. No preschool for Liam. No Coop for Kalian. Egads.

In fact, the week was quite pleasant. More than that, it was a lot of fun. And when it wound down, I realized just how far we've all come since last summer.

The biggest and most obvious changes are in Liam and Kalian. Besides being six months older, their relationship has changed dramatically. It might be too much to call them buddies, but they play together quite a bit, cracking each other up, talking to each other. Kalian has taken on the role of troublemaker, inducing her older brother into trouble by throwing food, standing on her chair, and causing mayhem. Occasionally, the fun turns into naked aggression. But not so much.

That meant that during the off week, I didn't wake up with stomach-churning stress trying to figure out an activity, or a trip, or something to soothe the savage beasts. Instead, we spent several mornings, the three of us, just leisurely hanging out in the apartment and playing.

For the most part, this was made possible by some dramatic changes in Liam, and mostly for the better. The little guy has really blossomed in the last few weeks. If you read my posts from last fall, when we were so worried about his development and stuttering, it would have been hard to imagine. But his language and speech have improved dramatically. He has become far more coordinated. But most interesting, his range of interests have radically expanded.

While he still likes trucks, legos, and trains, he's far more interested in imaginative play, and doing art projects. A few weeks ago, he was barely interested in picking up a crayon. Now he hatches these elaborate schemes for creating things and plunges right in. It seems every time I turn around, he's picking up some scissors, or string, or tape, or crayons, to make some project. One day, after reading a Curious George book where he goes fishing, Liam wanted to act out most of the book, including making a fishing pole from a mop and a hook in the kitchen.

After attending a recent Chinese New Year parade in Boston, we came home and Liam wanted to make a lion out of a box and a blanket so he, Kalian and I, could parade around the house all afternoon. Liam helped tape up the box, paint it, cut out eyes from paper, and tape them on.

Beyond the kids themselves, our social scene has begun to feel more expansive. During the week off, we hosted two of Kalian's friends from Coop, Maya and Alex. Another friend, Charlotte, came and played one afternoon. The next morning, a little girl from preschool that Liam adores, Katharine, came over to play. The two of them sat at our craft table for an hour just pasting and taping stuff together.

On the social front, things have been feeling more casual, and easier. Strange, of course, to think we'll be leaving in three months, just as we are feeling more embraced.

We even had a friend visit from New York, Alayna, who took the bus up here and stayed over the President's Day Weekend. It was great to see her, and selfishly, I'm always happy to have someone help the kids. She was even gracious enough to babysit one night so Jen and I could see a movie. ("The Lives of Others." Great, even though I fell asleep for 20 minutes in the middle.)

By the end of the week, I was definitely ready for a break. But for the most part, it was a wonderful time. And as we begin to think about returning to Oakland, it even makes me a little sad to think that I won't have many more months to experience these kind of extended moments.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chinese New Year

Last Friday, Liam's classroom, dubbed the "Blue Room", staged its annual Chinese New Year celebration. The celebration was part of the weekly assembly at Cambridge-Ellis preschool, where all the rooms take turns singing a song for everyone.

But this week, the Blue Room was the main event. They had been practicing their Dragon Dance for a couple weeks. Marissa, the main teacher, led the group while holding the "Pearl of Fire." The Dragon (whose head was worn by Jermaine, another BR teacher) was supposed to be trying to chase the Pearl of Fire. And Liam was pretty excited about this. At the dragon's tail is Saba, the other BR teacher.

Jen and I and Kalian all managed to make it this week to see how young master Liam and his comrades would do. See for yourself:



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A day in the life...of me

My day today:

Woke up close to 7 a.m. A miracle that Kalian let us sleep so late. Checked outside for Boston Globe, the newspaper with the worst delivery service ever. As usual, it's not there. Hmmm, wonder why it's a dying industry?

Eat breakfast. Make lunch for Liam, who will be at preschool until 3 p.m. The kids refuse to let me dress them now. A major power play on their part. I get everything else ready while Jen tends to them. We wait impatiently while Liam decides which "home toy" to bring to school.

We load into the car. I drop Jen and Liam at Cambridge-Ellis, which is just a few blocks away. But heck, it's freezing out.

I drive across town to the Coop, where I'll drop Kalian for the morning. She rushes right in. I say a few hellos, and then run like hell. Back into the car, just past 9 a.m. and back home. Make some coffee. And then sit down to do some work. I'm applying to a multimedia training seminar at Berkeley in March, so I spend most of the morning writing the various essays required. In between, I return a couple dozen emails.

It's 11 a.m., and I decide to unplug. I pull out my fiddle and practice. I've been taking a Scottish fiddle class at a local folk club on Monday nights. Teacher is excellent, though my skills are weak. I'm relearning after not playing much for 18 years. Unfortunately, the kids shriek in horror if I play while they're at home. And it wakes them up when they're sleeping. So I have to do this during my "alone time."

Then back in the car to pick up Kalian at noon. We stop by Whole Foods to pick up stuff I need to make quiche for a breakfast at Liam's preschool tomorrow. We have lunch, and then I put her down for a nap at 1:30 p.m. I jump back on the computer to answer a bunch of emails, make a few phone calls about preschools for Kalian. And then it's time to pick up Liam.

I pull Kalian out of the crib, still asleep, put her in the car, and drive down the street. We hop out and find Liam on the playground. His class is studying Chinese New Year, and they watched a video about a Chinese dragon. Liam can't stop talking about it as we get back into the car. We drive back across town to pick up Jen who is taking a class at MIT this semester.

We're home just in time for me to make a scheduled phone call to the business manager of the student paper at Duke University. This is where I first got into newspapers. And for the past few months, I've been working on a grant proposal for them to get some money for a new newsroom. We've made it through several rounds, but the donor wants some more info, so we have to chat about that a bit.

Then I have to make a quick call to another preschool for Kalian. And presto, dinner is ready! Jen had made stir fry. After we're done, I attempt to begin making the quiche. I'm making four for Valentine's Day breakfast tomorrow. Am I nuts? Probably. Ham and cheese (2). Tomato and goat cheese. Broccoli. But I don't get too far before I stop to help Liam, whose Lego helicopter breaks every 30 seconds.

Next thing I know, Liam is trying to poop on the potty (yes!), but he's asking for more poop toys (uh-oh). We're running out. So somehow he gets out his erector set, and I get sucked into building him another helicopter. No poop today (darn). But I've built another helicopter. Jen takes Liam to bed, and I'm back to making quiche.

I pop those into the oven at 9 p.m. And then I start cleaning the kitchen, then the living room (Exciting new development in my life: We bought a dustbuster!), then I do some laundry.

What's next? I'm back at the computer. It's after 10 p.m. I need to start working on my weekly column for the Mercury News ( Except I'm too distracted. And I need to edit two papers for Jen. So, of course, I prograstinate in that most modern of ways: By blogging.

Let it snow...

We are on the cusp of our first major snow storm. Maybe. There have been a couple false alarms. So I'll believe it when I see it tomorrow morning.

How little snow has there been this year? From today's Boston Globe:

The tide may be turning, though, with the region expected to get its first real snowstorm after midnight tomorrow , expected to mix with rain by daytime. Still, Boston has received 21 fewer inches of snow than a normal year, with about 2 inches of recorded snow so far this winter, according to the National Weather Service station in Taunton.

To quote that great philosopher George Bush: "Bring it on!"

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Today we experienced an earth-shattering event. Liam pooped in the potty for the first time. This moment has been a long-time coming. After years of gentle persuasion, we have shifted in recent months to desperate measures, and stooped to a number of strategies we vowed to never employ. Attempts to bribe him have included offers of every treat imaginable. But nothing has ever swayed him.

Then Jen cribbed an idea she'd heard about. We went to the local toy store and told Liam he could pick out anything. Anything! But that he could only play with it after he'd pooped in the potty. Fortunately, Liam picked out a Lego rescue helicopter (rather than some $200 scooter). We took it home on Sunday and put it on a mantle. He stared at it all day, wandered in and out of the bathroom, kept asking for it, wandered back to the potty to try again.

I think he must have sat on the potty for several hours off and on when it was all over. But it happened. He's had some serious emotional issues around this. And I'm so proud of him today. Even if our actions will probably get us a write up on And it was great to see him so obviously proud of himself.

After the BIG EVENT, I spent an hour assembling the helicopter. Liam simply calls it his Poop Toy. Whatever. Good for him.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Last week, Jen passed along a fascinating piece from Berkeley writer Peggy Orenstein, called, "What's Wrong With Cinderella?" For anyone raising a girl, it's worth checking out here (NY Times registration required, I think. If you can't get in, ask me to email you a copy).

Basically, Orenstein is sounding the alarm over the growing princess trend that's being pushed by marketing agencies onto little girls. There's a lot to think about here. She writes:

Diana may be dead and Masako disgraced, but here in America, we are in the midst of a royal moment. To call princesses a ''trend'' among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. ''Princess,'' as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls' franchise on the planet.

We've been grappling with gender issues since both kids started in school/daycare last fall. As I've mentioned, Kalian has become a willful little girl. We often catch ourselves calling her "princess" and yet trying to stop ourselves from doing it. Even more, since she's been walking last summer, she's become drawn to so many "girl" things. She's picky about her clothes, shoes, jacket, etc. She's obsessed with her baby dolls.

At the same time, the group of kids in Liam's preschool room tend to be very gender segregated. It's not unusual to walk in and see all the boys in one corner and the girls somewhere else. Lots of people tell us this is typical for the age, but still...It carries on outside the classroom, especially at events like birthday parties.

Recently, at one of the birthday parties we attended, the cake was a giant sculpted "Ariel" from The Little Mermaid. Liam had recently seen the movie and loved it, too. At the party, the girls got tiara's to wear. And the boys got pirate hats. And at the end, there were blue gift bags for the boys, and pink for the girls. The boys' gift bag included a small lego rescue vehild which has immediately become Liam's favorite toy. The people throwing the party are clearly wonderful parents, and their little girl loves mermaid stuff. So why does this immediately set off a mental alarm? Why not just celebrate what your little one loves? Orenstein takes time wondering if she, too, is overacting. Where's the harm? She writes:

On the other hand, maybe I'm still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can ''have it all.'' Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what's wrong with that?

Indeed, what's so awful? The articles raises more questions than it answers, ultimately. And I think that's because there isn't a clear cut answer. We're trying to stick to our philosophy of being gender neutral. But it's difficult.

After reading the article, though, I was curious about the reaction it generated. And the letters from readers hit on some things that we've also worried about:

Actually, little boys have it tougher. When a little girl wants to dress up as Spider-Man, it's no big deal. When a little boy enjoys the thrill of twirling in circles in a pink, sparkly frock, it's frowned upon.

Cara Putzrath

Charlotte N.C.

So true. When Liam first started preschool, and his hair was down to his shoulder, kids would ask him if he was a boy or girl. His favorite thing to bring to school is his baby doll (which he calls Kalian). But we'd walk in sometimes, and some of the kids would ask me why Liam has a doll. "Dolls are for girls," they'd say. "Well, I use to play with dolls," I'd reply (which is true: GI JOE). These days, it's not uncommon for Liam to say: "Boys play sports. Girls can't be firefighters. She can't play with my trucks because she's a girl." We try to be patient in our deprogramming.

Which is not shift the blame to his school, or anyone out here. I agree that this becomes a natural tendency for kids at this age. I guess the question is how -- and how hard -- to fight it?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Movie Night...

We're just wrapping up another movie night and Liam is off to bed. Tonight, "Madagascar" was in the DVD player. I took the kids out to ye olde Blockbuster to get a couple movies, and to get them out of the house for a bit while Jen did some studying.

Movie Night has become a regular feature of our time here in Cambridge. And we've watched enough so that I'm running out of ones that we'll all enjoy. And picking out kids' movies is tricky. For instance, this last week, I put an oldie called "The Yearling" on our Netflix list to watch with Liam. Yowza. Has anyone else seen this G-rated bloodbath? I vaguely remember it, but like so many things I watched as kid, I had forgotten how violent "kids" movies could be.

The set up for the Yearling sounded innocent enough. A family living on the frontier. Their 11-year-old boy, Jody, is lonely and longs for a pet to care for. He adopts a baby deer and raises it. What could be sweeter, right?

Except, of course, living on the frontier means everyone carries guns. So that was problem number one. Then we learn the reason Jody is so lonely: His parents had about 30 different kids, but they all died. We learn this as the camera pans across the numerous gravestones behind their home. ("Daddy, what are those?" "Well, those are gravestones because people are buried there..." "Why...?" "Well...").

But the real kicker was the way Jody came to adopt his deer. Jody's father discovers their pigs have been stolen by their hillbilly neighbor, Clem. So he grabs his gun and Jody and they set off to get them hogs back. As they're walking, Jody unsheathes the 8-inch knife he's carrying. But as they're tracking through the woods, dad gets bit by a rattlesnake on his hand! So dad takes out his knife and starts hacking off the skin so he can suck the poison out. Jody's freaking out. ("Dad, don't die...!) They get up to run for help, when dad spots a momma deer. He whips out his shotgun and blasts the deer. Then he tells Jody to carve out the deer's heart and kidney.

Jody runs over to the deer, kneels down and digs right in with his big honkin' knife. Next thing, he's running back to his dad, with a heart in one hand and a kidney in the other, both hands dripping with blood. Dad puts the organs on the wound because they apparently suck out the poison. (Who knew? Holistic medicine frontier style.) Then he tells Jody to run for help. Jody runs screaming for the hillbilly neighbor. Except, just as he's about to run, he sees the baby deer, and immediately realizes they just whacked its mom. Later, when dad lives, Jody lays on the guilt trip and convinces his dad to let him raise the baby deer. Soft focus shot of happy boy. Cue the swelling music....And fade out...

I asked Liam if he understood what had just happened. And he said, "That baby dear is sad." And then he said, "Daddy, I want a pet." "What kind of pet?" "A baby giraffe." "Well, we'll have to see when we get back to Oakland..."

Fortunately, Liam didn't wig out. And that's a big shift because Liam went through an extended period of being terrified by just about any movie or DVD except Blue's Clues. ("Ya gotta find another paw print, that's the second clue...!") A couple years back, we tried to go to a movie theater to see "March of the Penguins" and he was so terrified, that it wasn't until recently that he was even open to the idea of viewing anything remotely resembling a movie or DVD.

But starting last fall, he became more open to the idea. We rented "Mary Poppins" and he loved it. And he loved "Willy Wonka." At the time anyway. Now he keeps asking me if I'm chewing gum and says that gum scares him. ("Daddy, I'll help you...I'll take you to the juicing room."). And along the way we've watched the standards: Toy Story, Nemo. We even went to the movie theater over the holidays and saw "Happy Feet." Stressful moments that used to send him scurrying out of the room now don't seem to faze him much. In fact, now he laughs hysterically through movies like "Madagascar." The current favorite, though, is "Curious George," which Liam quotes liberally throughout the day. ("You're going to want to put those cucumbers back..." "You lost me at lost...") Strangers, of course, just look at him like, "Huh?"

Friday, February 02, 2007

Diaper free

As I noted recently, the diaper free thing has been going great. Kalian often goes to the potty on her own. She insists on doing everything herself. Going in, pulling down her pants, wiping, and then dumping it all in the big potty. Not bad for 20 months old. But my favorite thing is what she now likes to do while she's going to the potty:

My daughter is now a 50-year-old man. Sitting on the potty. Reading the newspaper.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back to School

The blog went on hiatus for a couple weeks because I did, too. Jen started her Spring semester yesterday. The two weeks before that, she was on extended break. I got some much needed rest and relaxation. And of course, I only got a fraction of what I wanted to accomplish done. But there you go. Isn't life always like that? I'm packing my schedule with other crap when I should be taking it easy.

The time off was good, overall. It included a trip to Western Mass. to Kripalu, a yoga and meditation retreat. Jen has a big entry on this over at her site, so I won't bore you with more details. But it was a fabulous time, other than it being sub-arctic temperatures. Organic food, some great yoga classes, a little meditation. And a pretty setting. We came back Friday and already, Jen was gearing up for the start of school over the weekend.

Our weekend included a trip to the art museum, this time with the whole family. We were invited by a new friend, Francesca, who we met at Kripalu who does some work there. The museum had a kids' event Saturday morning which included mimes. The event was great, but as our friend, Francesca, noted, it may have been planned for kids by people who don't have children. To wit, the breakfast included two roving mimes. The mimes mainly seemed to be scaring the crap out of the kids. Is there anything freakier to little kids than mimes and clowns?

Liam had a great time. Toward the end, a sketch class full of elementary school age kids came into the gallery where we were sitting. The museum had given us a goodie bag with a little sketch pad and crayons. Liam pulled them out, and then wandered over to sit with the group and try to draw the statue they were studying. And then he kept showing his sketch to the teacher, who welcomed this little interloper. Given all the challenges we've had with Liam's development, it was great to seem him just jump right into the group and try to follow along. Even better to see him take an interest in something arts and craft related, something he's doing more often at home, too.

And so, Jen started school yesterday, which went fine on the home front. Though Kalian has clearly gotten re-attached to momma. We went grocery shopping in the morning. And when we pulled into the drive way, Kalian just kept pointing to the house and saying, "Mommy?" "No mommy," I said. And then the wailing began. It went on most of the afternoon. Though she was more relaxed today.

Time, as they say, is flying by. We've been here seven months now. We go back to Oakland in a little more than four months. I'm spending a big chunk of my free time applying to preschools for Kalian. It's an odd feeling, having one foot back in the Bay Area, at least in a mental sense.

Kalian is starting to spit out all sorts of words. And she's become increasingly independent. Today, after lunch, I was washing the dishes. She walked into the bathroom on her own, pulled down her pants, and went poop. Not bad for only 20 months. I've groused about the diaper free thing, but it has definitely worked it's magic.

As for me, I've been trying to put some time into thinking about my own career. After a year at home with the kids, what do I want to do? Officially, I'm on leave from the Mercury News. But when I go back, what do I want to write about? I have an idea for a blog, but do I want to live the blogger lifestyle (posting like a madman at all hours)? And so many people have the Merc since last summer...Sigh.

Well, stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Don't cry for me, Argentina

I feel I need to stop here, "for a second," as Liam likes to say, and note for the record, that I'm doing fine, and that the past few months of being a stay at home dad have been some of the best of my life.

Based on various reactions I get from people who read this blog, the sense I seem to be giving folks is one that is quite grim. And that's not the case. I'm very happy, and having a great time. However, I also want to be candid about my frustrations. So for those worried about my mental health: Don't.

One of the other spouses in Jen's program asked me a couple weeks ago if I was counting the days until the semester is over and we go home. She said that apparently, many of the other spouses she meets in the program are.

I had to think about that. Which tells me, of course, that I haven't been counting the days. As of now, we've been here six months, and we'll be back in Oakland in five months. But as part of my role out here, I've invested quite a bit of energy in meeting folks, building a community, getting the kids involved, and learning about this area.

So yes, I'll be excited to see folks back home. But at the same time, it's weird to think that in five months, I may never again see many of these folks who have suddenly become so vital to our daily lives. And that makes me a little sad.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

The past two days have encapsulated the full range of my experience as a stay at home dad. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sunday morning started off rough. Liam, of late, has been opposed to leaving the apartment. Ever. Whether it's morning, or afternoon, he wants to just play here. No parks. No museum. No library. So getting him dressed and out the door has become an epic undertaking. And it's hard not to get frustrated.

With Jen back in school for a couple weeks and gone all day, I was determined to get the kids out and doing...something. The weather, improbably, was sunny and headed to the 60s. So there was no way I was going to sit in the apartment for 10 hours. Fortunately, Jen was still around to get the kids dressed. I threw them in the bike trailer and just took off. I figured I'd at least ride a bit and find a park.

Rather randomly, I decided to head over to the Museum of Fine Arts. I hadn't had a chance to visit yet, but I remember it being a great museum. This is one of those moves that was ripe for disaster. Two toddlers in a museum? But instead, it was great. One of those parenting moments that crystallizes why being a parent can be so great.

We had lunch when we first got there ($13 for a salad! Are you kidding?). And then headed upstairs to the galleries. Liam was incredibly interested in everything. He stood quietly and examined several paintings and statues. We started in a room full of late 19th century impressionists. He had fun trying to guess what those fuzzy pictures were supposed to be. And Kalian was gazing, pointing across the room to paintings she wanted to check out.

We wandered around for almost two hours. Liam was our tour guide, pulling out the museum map and telling us where to go next. When they were finally getting tired, I threw them back into the bike trailer and headed home. After getting back, Liam said he wanted to do some painting, which is rare for him. We painted for a about 30 minutes, made a huge mess, and had a great time.

That night, we had movie night after Kalian went to bed. On the DVD player: "The Muppet Movie." If you haven't seen this in awhile, check it out. It was even better than I remember. Very adult and childish. Liam was transfixed, though we had to explain certain things. Like when Mel Brooks, playing an evil German doctor, tries to hook Kermit up to a brainwashing machine. (Me: "Well...he's a bad man and he's trying to get Kermit to do something he doesn't want to do. And that's not nice." Liam: "I'll knock him down.")

The next morning was also great. Liam went to his occupational therapy session. And while he claims not to like them, was clearly having a lot of fun.

After that, I took him to preschool for the day. Then I took Kalian to coop. Today was the Coop's annual party to celebrate all the kids' birthdays. It's truly a great group of folks. One of the moms wore a bear suit and sang songs, which alternately amused and terrified the kids.

But later in the day, things went south. I picked up Liam, and rather than take them home, I took them to Target. Part of a mission to keep them occupied and out of the apartment at any cost. But both kids went bonkers, jumping in and out of the cart, running around the aisles. So I abandoned the cart and got back in the car.

When we got home, the kids were totally wound up and running around like crazy. I was praying that Jen would suddenly decide to come home early. As I was starting dinner, I heard the kids jumping on our bed. And then...a crash, and a scream.

I ran in and found Kalian face down on the table next to our bed. She had a one-inch gash just under her right eye, and her face was covered in blood. (The doctor said facial cuts tend to bleed a lot.) I rushed to dress both kids and get them in the car, freaking out, and rushed over to urgent care. Jen met us there.

Turns out that while the cut was deep, Kalian didn't need stitches. But she does look like she just got off the set of Rocky 6. Of course, by Tuesday morning, she was her old chipper self.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Liam turns 4...

Liam's official birthday was last Saturday. And as Jen noted, "Can you believe we've been parents for four years?" Uh, nope.

Because Liam's birthday falls on New Year's Eve Eve (dec. 30), we decided to have the actual party today, when more folks were likely to be around and back from the holidays. As I noted in a previous post, we've taken Liam Candlepin bowling a couple times in recent weeks. And so when asked what the wanted to do for his birthday, he said, "Bowling."

So we booked several lanes at Sacco's Bowl Haven in Somerville. We were delighted that so many folks were able to make it, and that they truly seemed to have a great time. Sacco's is a total throwback, an old family owned place where just about everything is made of wood, and you keep score on paper scratch sheets. The old timers hanging around looked like they've been sitting on the stools since 1950.

Liam immediately took charge, reminding his friends that they needed "special shoes" to bowl. He was bouncing from lane to lane explaining to the other kids how to push the reset button. It was great to see him truly having a great time.

My cousin Tom came down from New Hampshire, and besides being great to see him and his little boy, he was a huge help, as experienced bowler. Here are Liam and Kalian with Tommy, Jr.:

It had been a bit crazy for us putting it together at the last minute, as Jen is back in classes. I was up the night before making quesadilla's and putting together our "gift bag," which in this case was a narcissus bulb in a pot with planting rocks. But it was worth it, of course.

Given that Liam's pre-school room was set for kids who were older threes and young fours, the past four months have been a kind of birthday-palooza for us. I'd have a hard time even listing the number, location and details of all of them, just because there have been so many. While we strive not to get into a competitive mode over these things, it's tough not to want to impress. I think just about every party offered a gift bag, and so we did, too. And while none were overly ostentatious, or lavish, it's tough not to let yourself start comparing and mentally tallying what this or that must have cost.

One thing I'm glad we did: Ask folks not to bring presents. Of course, a couple folks did, and that's fine. But a little goes a long way with Liam. Which is great. My aunt got him an electric helicopter, which he won't let out of his site. And someone got him "The Little Engine That Could" which he refers to as "my present" and has insisted on bringing to bed with him.

Oh well. In any case, I think all but one birthday is behind us. And because it's been such a big part of my social scene on weekends -- one parent joked that he'd see me soon on the "birthday circuit" that means I'll have more open weekends this coming semester.

And for those who care, the full set of pics from the party are here at Snapfish.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Stay At Home Dad = MBA

Little did I know that my year as a Stay At Home Dad is quietly preparing me to run a Fortune 500 Company. Or so says the New York Times. And who am I to quibble? At this point, I need the money.

From the NY Times on New Year's Eve:

Under New Management
Among Your Qualifications, an M.B.A. at Household U.

Published: December 31, 2006

AS many a Kodak commercial makes clear, child-rearing involves plenty of cuddles, angelic smiles and moments of treacly sweetness. But parents know that raising children also involves those other times — when the bowl of oatmeal overflows in the microwave while you resolve a sibling quarrel, when your knuckles whiten as you grip the dashboard for your teenager’s first highway drive, when you try yet again to encourage a child who is struggling with the intractable mazes of geometry.

It is all very different from business school, or even from an office. But many parents — including famous ones like Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, and Ann Crittenden, the author of “If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything” — know that the experience of raising children and managing a household is not just maddening and delicious: it can also serve to develop skills that are central to successful management.

Apparently Home Depot is looking for a new CEO. And the last one got fired AND got a $210 million severance package. That would be a slight increase from my previous job.

The story continues:

Parents need to master various skills, including quick decision- making in a changing environment (what to serve in two minutes once oatmeal is no longer an option), negotiating (coaxing a young child into snow boots in time for the school bus), and synthesizing information (if a daughter goes to gymnastics, her brother has to be dropped off early for soccer so the grocery shopping can be done).

They also learn to motivate teams (let’s have a playroom cleanup game!) and to multitask (doing laundry while the chicken roasts and soccer practices are coordinated). And they praise real effort at any level, whether it’s a toddler’s painstakingly balanced tower of blocks or a preteen’s carefully drawn poster for a school election. Communication, time management and analytical skills can also be honed at home.

Raising children is “a developmental experience and you gain workplace skills from it,” said Marian N. Ruderman of the Center for Creative Leadership, a research and training organization based in Greensboro, N.C. “If you can negotiate between two kids when you’re driving, you can negotiate at work,” she added. “There’s no question in my mind about that.”

So there you have it, I just need to figure out how to blend that into my resume or my next annual evaluation and demand a hefty raise. Wish me luck.

By the way, the full story is here.