Thoughts on Gullibility

31 12 2014

A belated Christmas story on the last day of the year.

Last year, Alex asked lots of questions about Santa. He was on the verge of putting everything together and realizing The Truth. Molly answered one of his questions with, “Well, only people who believe in Santa get presents,” and that was the last we heard of it last year.

Fast forward to this year: Alex still asked no questions about Santa. This disappointed me; I wanted an otherwise bright and inquisitive third grader to start seeing through the holes in our story.

Because we flew to Minnesota on Christmas morning, Santa came to our house Christmas Eve while we were at church. Did the kids seem at all suspicious that Santa would organize his schedule on his busiest day around the two hour window we’d be out of the house? Of course not.

Here’s how it worked. Molly & the kids went to church early to get seats. Conveniently, I still needed to take a shower, so I’d join them later. The ruse gave me the time to move the presents up from the basement before joining them. Easy peasy.

Little did we know, Alex was still wondering about Santa, but he came to the wrong conclusion. On the walk to church, Alex told Molly, “Santa has to be real. The presents are coming when both parents are at church, so it can’t be you.” That’s right: At the very moment I was putting presents under the tree, while he was walking with just one of his parents to church, Alex concluded we couldn’t be the ones behind it all.

Later, while we were sitting at Mass, Alex even remarked to me, “You sure take long showers.” But no more questions.

We see want we want to see. We believe what we want to believe.

Snowy face

Morning Metamorphosis

26 12 2014

Now that 2014 is ending, I’m celebrating my first complete calendar year of bike commuting. I’m lucky to love close enough to work that it takes only a few more minutes to bike than to drive. That’s the key to daily bike commuting. Yes, some days it rains, and some days it’s cold… but you can conquer both of those with the right clothes. But I can’t change school schedules, and if it took too long to bike I couldn’t make it a daily routine. It would have to be an occasional treat. I’ve also learned that I’d rather get rained on than be stuck in traffic in a dry car. I’m not sure how many days I drove to work in 2014, but it was probably fewer than 10. I’ve certainly spent more time on my bike than in a car.

Miles per year

I’m spending more time on my bike, but so far it’s been safer. Hooray!

Biking injuries

What amazes me about this is I spent the first 38 years of my life avoiding physical activity. I’m bad at sports. My 13 years of Pro Club membership went mostly unused. (I enjoyed the “Extreme Body Makeover” group fitness class for about 2 years, but I dropped it when Alex was born and never looked back.) So yeah, the 40 year old me is quite different than the 30-year-old me, or even the 20-year-old me. Some of the changes are obvious:


Other changes are less obvious, like how my doctor isn’t worried about my cholesterol any more. One unexpected consequence of biking is it completely extinguished my night-owl tendencies. For most of my adult life, my usual bedtime was around midnight, and I’d wake around 6:00 AM. 9:00 PM to midnight was my most productive time of the day. But now, I’m just tired after dinner. Forget focus and productivity… I’d rather fall asleep at 9:00. Many nights, I do. As a result, I’m sleeping more. For the most part, this is a good change. I feel better with more sleep, and I think it makes me a better parent, too. I’m more patient when well-rested. 


But here’s what makes me sad. My photography and writing have been on a slow decline since my peak year of 2009, and losing nighttime productivity just pushed it off a cliff. Here are the trends, excluding December 2014:

Photos per year

Blog posts per year


This is particularly bad because my memory is awful. Take 2003, for example… before I started taking photos or writing. I barely remember that year at all. When 2019 rolls around, I worry about my ability to remember 2014.

So I’ve started something new this month that I hope will become a habit in 2015 and beyond: I’m completing my metamorphosis to a morning person. I’ve been getting up at 5:00 AM Monday-Friday. 2 of those days are for CrossFit, but that leaves 3 mornings for editing pictures and writing. So far it’s working. I’ve written as much in December as the other 11 months of 2014. Same for sharing photos. This makes me happy; let’s see if it lasts.

Alex Update

19 12 2014

I suppose it’s only fair to follow up Wednesday’s post with a quick update about what it’s like raising this guy.

Playing in the Fountain

Here’s a snapshot of Alex in the third grade.

  • I have a hard time getting him out of bed on school mornings. He burrows under the blankets and protests, “I’m sleepy!” Only when he says it, it sounds like, “I’m sweepy!” I’ve bought a Sonos for the kids’ room as an alarm clock and also a Philips Wake-Up Light to try to make the mornings easier.
  • It’s also gets harder every day to get him to eat breakfast. He’s tired and not that hungry. He and Patrick are opposites here. Patrick eats well at breakfast and picks at his dinner; Alex will skip breakfast if you let him but always eats well in the evening.
  • If anything, Alex wants to please authority a little too much. If he thinks you’re mad at him he breaks down.
  • Surprisingly, his enthusiasm for soccer hasn’t faded. When he was younger, after three or four weeks of any activity (soccer, skiing) he was done. We struggled to get him to do any more. Now we’re into something like week twelve of soccer and he’s still excited by every practice and game. His skill doesn’t match his enthusiasm… but hey, with me as a father, I’m surprised he’s even interested in playing a sport. Now he’s not one of those kids who, in his free time, dribbles a soccer ball to improve his skills. Alex’s motivation around soccer is social and not competitive. He plays to have fun with his friends, not to win.
  • Following up on that point — Alex is effortlessly social. He’s friends with everybody in his class. Again, with me as a father, this is a little surprising.
  • Our biggest frustration? Alex consistently does the bare minimum work for school. Sometimes even less than the bare minimum (like forgetting to fill out his reading log at all). This is a constant question from his teacher: “Alex, are you doing your best work?” I suppose, with me as a father, this isn’t surprising at all. I turned “the bare minimum” into an art form. I’m a little blasé about this; “concerned” but not “worried.” (I turned out OK!) But his laziness drives Molly bonkers. (And my laziness drives Molly bonkers, too.)
  • He still hasn’t turned into someone who reads for fun, and he’s still a picky eater. I hope both of these things change. I think my love of reading as a child helped compensate for my overall laziness because it helped me hone so many key mental skills. And eating good food helps make life fun. We’ll see if I eventually pass on these traits to the next generation.

And a follow-up to Wednesday: The thought of me returning Patrick’s Christmas gifts turned “stubborn and self-motivated” to our advantage. Patrick decided he wanted to earn his gifts back, and he’s been an angel the past two days. Maybe more of an archangel. He’s listening to us and his teachers the first time, he’s been cheerful, and he’s been doing things like cleaning up his bedroom and the living room without us even asking. (Now the question: What will he be like after Christmas?)

Behind those eyes

17 12 2014

There is a problem with keeping a blog: I tend to write only about the positive things. You’re getting a whitewashed view of 21st-century parenthood. Today, I want to balance that and tell you about one of the parenting problems I’m having right now: Figuring out what in the world is going on behind those eyes:

Tree Climber

Let me tell you a story. When I picked the kids up yesterday from after-school care, they were in the cafeteria finishing a snack and getting ready to go outside. As I walked down the hallway, I heard one of the teachers in the cafeteria saying in that voice — you know, not yelling but loud & firm, the voice that says I’m done trying to be nice — “Okay, since you didn’t clean up and listen, then you won’t be going outside. You aren’t going outside, and you aren’t going outside…” I get to the cafeteria… sure enough, Patrick is one of the two children who just lost his outside time. Apparently Patrick and one other child had been chasing Alex around the cafeteria instead of helping clean up after snack. 

I tried to have a conversation with Patrick about this as he packed his things to leave to try and reinforce this isn’t the way we expect him to ask. “Patrick, you just lost your outside time, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But I didn’t want to go outside anyway.”

That was a lie, of course. He loves playing outside. What’s going on here is a pretty typical Patrick mind game. He’s matured enough to understand that actions have consequences. He’s now two levels past that. Level 1 is directly weighing the consequences. “Hmm. If I keep running around instead of cleaning, I won’t get to go outside. Is that worth it?” 

Level 2: Patrick tries to directly manipulate the severity of the consequences. I can’t go outside? Well, I didn’t want to anyway. I’m going to lose a Pokémon card? OK, I’ve got others. 

I see this happen in every action/consequence conversation I have with Patrick, and it makes it so hard to use this tactic to get Patrick to change his behavior. He’s stubborn and self-motivated, so it’s hard to come up with consequences that seem more significant than whatever it is Patrick wants to do right now. What’s particularly maddening these past few weeks is “whatever Patrick wants to do right now” seems to always exclude focusing on what teachers or coaches need him to do. Last week’s piano lesson ended early, for example, because Patrick was essentially unteachable.

If this was all there was to it, parenting would be challenging enough. But there’s a new wrinkle these past few weeks: When Patrick doesn’t get his way, he gets irrationally angry. Crying, frustration, impossible to reason with. He doesn’t get to sit where he wanted at the dinner table? Tears. I ask him to brush his teeth before his brother at night? Tears and fighting. It’s really sapping my patience and energy.

For the most part, our life right now is great. I tell every new parent that life gets so much better once your youngest child is five years old. That’s true, but now you know some of the challenges we continue to face. Right now, Patrick’s living under the cloud of me saying that, because of his recent behavior, I’ll be returning his Christmas gifts. That’s the kind of consequence he pays attention to. I’ve also told him he can earn them back with good behavior between now and Christmas. It’s going to be an interesting week.

Top Pot Portraits

15 12 2014

Saturday morning involved a bike trip to Top Pot doughnuts. I blame the sugar for the ensuing silliness.

Little Goofballs

Top Pot Window Self Portrait


12 12 2014

Alex and Stuffies

When do kids outgrow stuffed animals? In this house, anyway, it’s clearly some age older than 8. There are more animals in the kids’ room than in a zoo. Their beds can get piled so high I wonder how they make room to sleep. 

While both kids have been steadily growing their stuffed animal collection, they’re both spending less time with their blankets. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Alex carry around one of his scraps of blanket, and he used to sneak it everywhere. Patrick’s blanket doesn’t leave his bed. So in that way, at least, both are growing up.

Back to the Farmer’s Market

10 12 2014

Our Saturday morning trips to the farmer’s market have recently fallen out of favor. As the kids have gotten older they enjoy it less. Neither of them can get excited about buying food that we’ll cook later, and Patrick doesn’t even like most of the treats available to eat right away. (He’s so averse to trying new food that I couldn’t even convince him to try a macaroon.) The school soccer season dealt the death blow, as the Saturday games made it impossible to plan a leisurely Saturday trip to the market.

So it was a bit of a surprise that we wound up at the farmer’s market this past weekend. The stars lined up: No big weekend plans and weather nice enough for bike riding. 

Patrick at the Farmer's Market

The only drawback to biking to the farmer’s market is the 150 foot climb between our house and the upper University District. Riding solo it’s enough uphill to make me think about it. With kids, it means riding an extra 2 miles to make the incline easier to manage. But when we bike we don’t have to worry about parking, and there’s plenty of room on the Xtracycle to bring food home.

I enjoy the winter farmer’s market. It’s less crowded. And honestly I don’t like vegetables that much. The winter market has less of the leafy greens and thus a greater concentration of the stuff I do enjoy: Meat, honey, pasta, and the food stalls. And did I mention that there’s now local beer and wine for sale at the market? 

It seems there’s always something interesting to see at the market, too. This week it was a didgeridoo, which Alex loved:


And then the most hipster thing ever. A gentleman armed with a small table and a typewriter writes poems on demand: “Your topic, your price.” The boys couldn’t resist, and they each commissioned a poem. Alex’s poem about raccoons wasn’t too bad, but Patrick’s “red fox” poem was drivel. (It turns out it’s hard to write a poem when you know nothing about the topic, and Patrick couldn’t provide any red fox facts to help the author out.) Literary merit aside, the boys really liked having something written just for them. 

The Most Hipster Thing Ever

The bike ride home was shorter, faster, and downhill. We brought home a small bag of things I like to eat: Pasta, carrots (which we turned into soup… yum!), and the like. Not a single leafy green. I don’t know if we’ll be restarting regular trips to the farmer’s market, but it was good getting back.

An Unexpected Victory

5 12 2014

An odd thing happened this past weekend: Alex’s indoor soccer team won a game. Until last weekend, they always lost. Usually quite decisively. 

Drop Kick

Alex played goalie for the first half and actually made quite a few saves. He’s no Tim Howard (not enough tattoos, for one thing), but it’s starting to look like he knows what he’s doing on the field. (Or do you call it a “pitch” in soccer? I should learn the terms if I’m going to keep being a soccer parent.)

Victory Face

(Post-game victory face.)


3 12 2014

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful I have a job that challenges me every day.

I am thankful I can do that job from anywhere in the world; all I need is a laptop and an internet connection. I am thankful to my coworkers for their understanding when I disappear from the Seattle office on short notice.

While I am sad about the circumstances that brought be back to Virginia for the second time this November, I am grateful I have a family worth crossing the country to see. Not everybody is that lucky.

I am thankful 2014 is coming to a close… a pretty rotten year. Let’s try again.

I’m thankful I’m home.

I’m grateful for every day I get to spend with these guys. I’m looking forward to the adventures we’ll have in 2015 and beyond.

New Pajamas