A year (or so) in

boardroom

If you recall, when last we left our intrepid hero, he’d started a job at TELUS Digital. It’s now been shortly over a year, so let’s check in, shall we?

[Ed note: I can’t keep that 3rd-person voice up, so abandoning it. But I love the phrase “our intrepid hero”, so the opening stays]

Today, I want to write about parenting. I wrote a post for our corporate blog about my experience as a working dad. And so that’s been on my mind. And then, the other night while out for a post-event drink with a couple of people on my team, I was asked “Do guys talk about the struggle? Juggling parenting and working and gym and shopping and, and, and…?” And I had to think about it a moment – and it’s definitely only my personal experience, but the short answer is “no”, we don’t. I don’t see many examples in pop-culture (TV) or on social-media (outside of dad-blog culture). And it’s not cool, so I’m going to:

It’s hard, y’all. When I was working from home, part time, I had a great life. I got work done, I got to the gym, I saw my kids a lot, I got out with friends. I didn’t cook too much, because I don’t enjoy that much, but I felt on top of it all.

Since coming back to work full-time, this has changed. In the year prior to coming to TELUS, I was really good about getting to the gym 3 times a week – I lost about 50 lbs in 15 months. In the last year, that’s just stopped. I had to make priority decisions, and it lost: I work, roughly, 9-to-5. I can’t get to the gym in the AM, because to get to work on time, I’d need to be at the 7am class. And I can’t do that, because generally, I do the morning stuff at home – get the kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, etc. There’s a 5pm class – which would mean leaving by 4:15, which is really hard. There’s a 6pm class, but that means I wouldn’t be home before 7:30ish, and I’d miss virtually the entire evening with the kids, not to mention a late dinner time that might run over the 8yo’s bedtime.

I no longer feel like I get enough time with my kids, and I’m not satisfied with how I spend some of what I do. Professionally, I interact with people all day long. I’m in hours of meetings every day, I’m leading people, I’m on. As an introvert, this is draining. I show up and bring it every day, and then I’m just wiped. And I need recovery time, alone in my head, to be able to bring this every day. Indeed, I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, even music with lyrics most days on my way home from work because I just don’t want to hear any more talking directed at me. And, and this sucks for my family, because some days I just don’t have it in me to be as present as I’d like to be for them. There are (many) days I just want to stare off into space to recover a little.

I don’t see my friends as much, in part because of the above. But also because everything else that needs to get done – taking the kids to their activities, shopping, laundry, etc – there’s just so much less time to do it all, and that gets prioritized over beers with a buddy. And I do miss that.

So, yeah. Being honest, I don’t feel I know how to balance work and life in a way that feels “right”. I don’t believe so much in “work-life balance” because by the nature of what I do and how I do it, I need to believe in it, and so I tend to think about work all sorts of strange times and ways, and that’s all good. And this is nothing like how hard it was when it was my company, and all the extra pressures that brings. But I don’t feel like I’ve got it figured out. And I definitely look around in wonder at some colleagues with families and wonder how they manage to do it all. Sometimes I make judge-y assumptions about them, but increasingly, I suspect they’re also struggling, and just making different, invisible compromises to make it work for them.

D&D for kids

Tattoo of a sword-pencil surrounded by the platonic solids

This past long weekend, we were up at Evans Lake Camp for the l’école bilingue annual family camp. This year, in part because the weather looked variable, but also just to offer a new activity for kids, Leah suggest I bring up some D&D materials to run a quick campaign intro for some kids. So on Sunday, I broke out some pregenerated level 1 characters, brought along Tales from the Yawning Portal, and started running the Sunless Citadel adventure.

I also borrowed a bunch of minis from a friend, which turned out to be an excellent idea, and off they went. I had 6 kids, ranging in age from 8-12, along with 2 curious adults. It was glorious chaos. With an eye to fun over rules, we definitely streamlined the adventure some, and the ways in which these kids chose to solve things was amazing!

  • Why climb down a rope when you could just jump and open your cape like a kite?
  • All rats love cheese, and giant rats must love cheese more. So how about charming the giant rats with giant cheese?
  • Goblins are greasy and stinky so they’re probably flammable. Maybe I could set them on fire with a candle?
  • “Kobolds are scared of farts. I’m going to create a mega-fart illusion so they all run away”
  • “Can I make this kobold my pet?”

They loved figuring out how to manoeuvre along the map-tiles, where they’d like to be positioned in a fight, discovering which objects were breakable (wooden tables yes, stone tables no), flammable, etc.
In the course of 3.5 hrs, they all:

  1. customized their characters
  2. introduced themselves
  3. ran through the “kobolds” part of the adventure.
  4. made friends with Meepo
  5. slaughtered some goblins
  6. returned the dragon to the kobolds.

They had so much fun that I was asked to run a second adventure later that day – which I did, creating a quick diversion to a haunted shack where a ghost who just wanted to be left alone was preventing some caravans from resting on their long trip to Oakhurst.

D&D with kids was great fun – I’m hoping I can figure out a way to create an after-school session throughout the school year to run for them (for the 1,000th time, I wish the school day was set to mimic a workday). And also, this is all the excuse I needed to indulge in a love of buying minis!

(aside: the image attached is my latest tattoo, which is very-much D&D-inspired.)

Some thoughts about the state of education on the first day of school

Kellan & Liam

Today is Tuesday, the first day of school. The big kid has one hour of school. The little kid, going into Kindergarten, has no school. As a result, my wife took a vacation day from work.

Tomorrow, the little kid has one hour of school. This will slowly increase throughout this week and next until next Tuesday, when, if they deem him ready, he will get a full day of school. Which means my wife has taken the full week as vacation, and I’m going to take an additional day. (Or possibly two – I cannot even plan for this at this point) of vacation. Just so the boys can start school.

A full day of school is 9am – 3pm. My wife starts work before that, and finishes work after that. But. “Full day” is a lie. Because after-school care is not automatically provided to every child (it’s a lottery), my workday will suddenly shrink to roughly, 9:30 – 2:30pm, assuming no traffic and a hustle to get there and back. I’m extremely fortunate that I can easily do this.

Over the course of a school year, I’m losing, by my estimate, somewhere in the range of 600 (40 weeks of school x 5 days per week x 3 hours per day) hours of work in order to take care of my children.

Every year, in our school board, there’s a budget crisis, because our provincial government chronically underfunds public education (the argument of whether they’re last in the nation in per-child funding, or first, is moot, because even the most well-funded province is still systemically undermining public education through underfunding).

Every year, we don’t know which school programs will be cut. We’re lucky, in that our school isn’t one of the schools perennially on the chopping block to be closed, in order to force a seemingly arbitrary 95% full rate.

Our school is lucky, because we got funding to rebuild a new, earthquake-safe school, so we’re temporarily at a swing site. Our school is lucky, because we were the first school at this site, so it’s in fairly good condition – but 2 years in, the temporary buildings are showing wear-and-tear, and there’s supposedly another 10 years or so of use needed. My guess? There’ll still be students using this temporary structures in 15–20 years.

But there’s something like a 20-million operation shortfall just for needed infrastructure upgrades across the city. & I doubt that includes recommended infrastructure upgrades like better insulation, weatherproofing, and other “green” initiatives.

Governments, at every level, keep download problems to the next level down. The federal government says infrastructure costs are a provincial concern. The provincial government says budget shortfalls are a school board’s concern. And School boards say childcare is a parental concern. And it all sucks.

I have no idea what the monetary cost of the lack of provided childcare is. There’s lots of calls for the $5/day childcare – but they generally mean preschool care. What about for elementary kids – and even some high school kid, depending on their maturity? Millions of parents have to stress about finding childcare for both before and after school, because they work. Or they have to cut their own work hours, or not work. The school building exists. There’s enough room for all the kids from 9 to 3. I don’t understand how our government is allowed to get away with not providing care for allfamilies who request it, as part of every day schooling. I’ve no idea what the lost annual productivity at a national level is because of this failure of government, but it must be enormous – 10s of billions? Hundreds?

Of course, the school board can’t do this. They don’t have enough money to pay for the teachers and teachers’ assistants and resources our children need for the “in-class” portion of the day, let alone before and afterwards. It’s one of these situations where the conversation has been so controlled by the various levels of government, the bar has been pushed so low, that we’re not even having the right arguments with government anymore.

We’re desperately begging for scraps underneath the table, when we should be complaining that we’re not getting the meal we were promised.

Raising an Emotionally-aware child

Kellan Standing Tall

Kellan is most definitely in the throws of The Terrible Threes. I don’t know where this “terrible twos” business came from – because, for both my kids, age two was pretty wonderful. And speaking to other parents, two-year-olds are ok, but three-year-olds are hideous monsters who should all be locked up.

With Liam, I think Leah and I both thought that we were amazing parents because we never had any troubles – I’m not sure he ever had a time-out – maybe one or two, tops. And he was kind, and soft-spoken, and had great concentration. And hey, that’s totally because we’re awesome, right? No. It turns out, like we always thought, that Liam was an exceptional child. Kellan, whom I love dearly, is more like a textbook child. Those monthly “your child at this age” newsletters? yeah, he hits every one of those notes, both good and bad.

And right now, I have to say, is really hard. I’m sure that somewhere in the law is a rule that says murder most foul is completely justified after the 437,000th “why?” of the day, right? And along with the “why”s, there is a lot of yelling, shrieking, crying, laughing, running, babbling, talking, throwing, hitting, hugging, jumping, etc, etc, etc.

And these emotional outbursts are what are troubling me, and I’m not sure what is best to do.

  • I don’t want to teach my child to bottle up his emotions and not share what he’s feeling, BUT
  • I don’t want my child to scream and yell every time he’s angry AND
  • I don’t want my child to sob inconsolably every time he doesn’t get his way BUT
  • I do want my child to express his feelings AND
  • I do want to provide a safe, nurturing space for him to feel this feelings.

So. I do things like say “boys who yell don’t get what they want” and “I can’t understand you when you’re crying like that. Can you tell me with words what you want?” and “are you feeling sad/frustrated/angry/scared/etc?” and so on. And on one hand, I feel like this is good – because I’m trying to teach him to find other avenues to express his emotions, and give him the vocabulary to do this with. But on the other hand, every time I ask him to stop crying or yelling or whatever, or tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared, I worry that I’m just teaching him to be a stereotypical male who bottles up his emotions. And that if I say “dont’ X”, I’m invalidating his experience of feeling X, which, I really don’t want to do because it’s OK that he is feeling X – I just want to teach him to express that feeling more “appropriately”. And I quote that word because, really? more appropriately? Who am I to say what’s a more appropriate way? Because am I ever one of those males who doesn’t express emotion well. I’ve worked SO hard as an adult to be much more in tune with what I’m feeling, and how to express it because I didn’t know how as a child. And I want better for my kids. But…hard.

So, yeah – there’s no resolution to this post – mostly just a voicing of my concerns – putting out into the world what I’m feeling as a way of exploring it. Or, as Kellan might say “WHY is this hard? WHY don’t I know? WHY?”

Rethinking “Workaholism”

Working | Playing

Recently, Lauren wrote a really great piece on “The Balance Matrix” – a struggle many of us share, and something I’ve been working hard on my whole professional life. Reading it made me start to re-examine some of my childhood experience.

My parents were (are now really, despite being at least nominally semi-retired) workaholics – they worked, really, all the time. They got up early, went to work, came home, ate food, went back to work. I went to bed and still they’d work. They worked on weekends. They travelled for work. They worked when they travelled. Both my parents are phenomenally successful, and leaders in their respective fields – but boy did they ever work hard to get there.

At the back of our house was a sort of solarium, the sun room we called it. My dad, mostly, worked there. We had a glass-topped table and he would sit at, idly nibbling at the eraser of a yellow HB pencil or a gently pinching his lower lip between his thumb & fingers. He’d be hunched – either forwards, leaning over the table, or back, his right leg cross over his left. In either case, most of the time there’d be several piles of printed documents – journals, study results, his own data – spread over the table. To one side would be his dictaphone. But his focus was always on a lined yellow pad of paper. He’d furiously write away on that, turn a page. He never seemed to go back – he’d just write. I suspect he was constantly writing in his head prior. When he was satisfied, he’d dictate what he wanted to say and someone in the dictation pool at the hospital would later type it up. In more recent times, of course, much of  this would be replaced by his laptop. But not the yellow-lined pad of paper, nor the alternately leaning hunch.

My mother, by contrast, always hid herself away to work. Once my sister moved out, she took over her room and that became her office where she would while away the night, busy writing, researching, thinking, quietly muttering to herself. As a teenager, many a night would I carefully sneak home in the dead of night only to discover that my mum was still up working. Some of that may have been parental worry about her wayward young son, but she’d be up that late nights I was home too.

What’s curious is that although my father worked in a public spot, his work was much more mysterious to me than Mum’s – she would think out loud, talk about her work with us all – I suspect as much to help formulate her own thoughts as to share – while Dad was simply quietly efficient, back there in the sun room.

I swore, as I got older, that I would never be like them. I hated that they always worked, and I thought it a terrible life that I wanted nothing to do with. I loved the idea of indolent evenings spent with my family playing, sharing, living.

But a fun thing happened on the way to the coliseum….

I discovered that I have incredible work ethic – like my parents. I discovered that I too prefer to work in long, straight, deeply-focussed bouts – like my parents. I discovered that I too have immense ambition and drive to succeed – like my parents. I discovered that I too love what I do, and it’s not really work when you love it that much – like my parents.

But I still, even when I want to – try really hard to not bring work home, to not work evenings, to stop and truly experience my own children’s youth. And so I don’t work at home in the evenings. Liam, now in grade 3, is starting to have regular homework – somewhere between 30 & 60 minutes worth 3 days a week. And you know what? it’s a struggle to get him to do it. My sister, who shares many work traits with myself and my parents, doesn’t work at home either. And you know what? it’s a struggle for her to get her kids to do their homework. But, despite all my slacker tendencies at school (sat at the back, never took notes, etc), I always did my homework. It’s just what we did at home – we did our work.

And so, now, I look back at my parents long work hours and don’t just see workaholics chained to their desks. I see amazing parents who not only wanted to succeed, but wanted their children to succeed and modelled how to manage time, how to prioritize work – and most importantly, how to work. I see parents who showed their children how to have a career you love and children you love and work hard at both.

I don’t want to struggle to convince Liam to do his homework and whether he needs to do it – homework’s one of those stupid things that you have to do. But how fair is it, in his eyes, that he has to come home from a long, hard day at school and then do more work when both his parents are sitting on the couch, relaxing? He has no model to indicate that working at home is a normal part of life. And while yeah, I wish schools didn’t give homework and I doubt the utility of it, it happens. And so now, as we embark on this 8+year journey of nightly homework, I think back to how well my parents modelled getting stuff done at home and begin to think they weren’t, perhaps, just insane workaholics.

Perhaps, just maybe, they were teaching me something. And I could teach my children that too. And so, when my kids have homework, maybe I should have homework too. I’m a small business owner. There’s no shortage of things to do. I don’t want to spend my evening doing them, but then, Liam doesn’t want to spend his evening doing homework either. So maybe we should treat this as something of a team sport. We’re all in this together.

Miscellany: what’s up lately

Peekaboo Daddy!
Peekaboo Daddy!

I’ve been quiet around here of late, for a few reasons, only some of which are because I started to dick around with the design of the site, then got busy and so stopped and so now it sits in limbo, not yet finished. But some fun things from home:

  • Liam, who is dreaming of being a grown up, while everyday become more grown in my eyes as he plays chess and researches strategies and helps out with Kellan and generally shows signs of being a very interesting, if damnably distractable boy.
  • Liam recently wanted to be a detective when he grew up, and so magnifying glasses and forensic kits and books about detecting were bought, karate was taken, and everything we encountered was a clue to solving something else. It was a wonderful time that leant well to our mutual tendency to be lost in our heads dreaming of alternate futures.
  • Currently, Liam wants to be a bicycle-accessory inventor. He has described in such detail that I could never capture it his future shop, on Broadway, wherein the front of the shop people will buy bicycles and the accessories that he has made, such as an automatic rain-cover that detects the rain and creates mudflaps and booties for your feet; while in the back he and his team will work, in the open, so that everyone can see the craft that goes into his work
  • Craft & artisanship are a common theme with Liam. He’s very interested in the methods by which things are made, and cared for, and the seemingly inherent artistic-ness of watching something be made. He loves YouTube how-to videos, and he’s dead into arts & crafts and crafting, and dreaming of how things are made: not at a large-scale industrial way that you see on DiscoveryTV, but Brooklyn-hipster style, small-scale, hand-crafted. It is unfortunate that neither Leah nor I are crafty, at all, and I wish I knew of ways to let him explore this more. I wonder if I could get him involved in VanHackSpace, or carpentry camps, or cooking, or gardening in a way that is beyond my ken.
  • Kellan, in the last few days, has started addressing me as ‘Dadda/Daddy’ to get my attention, not just as a sound in the middle of a river of sounds. He’ll say DaddaDaddaDaddaDadda in the car, and when I look back, he’ll grin and  squawk “hi!”. He’s been pretty sick lately, and I’m so happy to have my crazy-non-stop-on-the-go-little-guy back again.

 

To Kellan, On Occasion of your First Birthday

Dear Kellan,

Kellan, a few minutes old
When you were just a few minutes old

Shortly after your brother was born, I wrote his birth story – but I haven’t written much about yours. Your arrival was … unexpected: It was the day after your Mamma’s last day of work – she was taking the last month of her pregnancy off to enjoy herself  and prepare us for your arrival, a good five weeks before your supposed birthday. Your Mamma and I were out on a date to celebrate her last day. Liam was staying over at his friend Luke’s place. We had a really nice dinner at l’Abattoir, then came home. In the middle of the night, Your Mamma woke me  up because her water had broken – this was very unexpected because you weren’t due for another 5 weeks or so. On the flip-side, you couldn’t have picked a better night: Liam was taken care of so we didn’t have to wake him up to go to the hospital.

We went to St. Paul’s hospital, where your Mamma works, and then waited. And waited. The doctors decided to induce labour, as it wasn’t starting on its own. But the first time they hooked up the IV, it wasn’t working, so none of the drugs were actually being used, which caused some additional delay – by this time it was coming to be mid-day on May 14th, many, many hours after we first arrived. Finally, they fixed the IV, and labour began. It only took a couple of hours until you arrived:

We were very excited to meet you – but it was clear that you were having troubles breathing. Mamma, after a few quick cuddles with you, handed you to the nurses and you were whisked away to the NICU. You had it extra good because that’s where your Mamma works, so everyone knew her, and knew how to take really good care of you. The St. Paul’s NICU is a good place, but they didn’t have all the stuff you needed to help you breathe, and so after a few days, you were taken to the Children’s Hospital NICU.

Peeking out

There, you lived in an incubator for the next 12 days. Mamma spent virtually all day, every day with you. Your Nanna came out to meet you and help us get your brother to & from school. I came to visit after work every day. This was, I’m not kidding you, a really hard time. You seemed to be slowly getting better, but it was hard to tell and you were just so little, surrounded by such big, loud machines.

But your Mamma was a great advocate with you, and knew just what to ask for and when to push, so you got great care. And because your Mamma is literally a pro at taking care of little babies, you came home much earlier than you probably would have if you had different parents.

Much like when Liam was born, we weren’t fully prepared for your arrival – there was still lots of things to get and do and whatnot. But we were so happy you were home. You were so very, very tiny. And those first few months at home you were very very difficult. You weren’t a big fan of sleeping, and you were so tiny that you had trouble eating. I had taken to calling you some pretty unflattering nicknames in private because it was sometimes so hard. You would cry and cry and cry and we didn’t know why. We tried everything. I would hold you and rock you in my arms and sing every song I knew to get you to go to sleep. And your Mama, she deserves a medal because during the week, when I had to work, she tried so hard to let me sleep so that I could get up and go to work. Then on the weekends I’d try to let her sleep. But you know what Kellan? I think I failed more often than not at first. You were so different from your brother even then.

Then one day, things got a lot better. I’m not sure when, exactly, or how old you were – I think you were about 5 months (4 months, adjusted) when you started sleeping “through the night” (by which I mean you slept for more than 2-3 hours at a time). And napping. And generally being a much happier camper. And you started growing, and growing and growing. We went from being worried about how small you were to worried that you were too big! You had your first halloween. We dressed you as a little dragon, but you didn’t seem too impressed:

Our Sad Little Dragon
Our Sad Little Dragon

And then there was the helmet. Because you came so early, and spent so much time hooked up to machines, your head was a little misshapen. Not grotesque-gargoyle misshapen (although I did like to call you my little gargoyle), but enough that we decided to get you a helmet to help correct this. There was much deliberation about it, weighing the pros and cons. And then it came, and you wore it fore about 2 months until we couldn’t take it anymore: your head was so vastly better than before, it that short time; it made you so unhappy; and worse, there didn’t seem to be any real science backing the use of the helmet, or any long-term studies about potential side-effects.

Kellan in his helmet
You, wearing your head-shaping helmet

Since December, you’ve been growing like mad. Now at a year old, you’re happily crawling about in clothes labelled for 18months & 24-months: you’re big! And you’re happy. You love the cats, particularly Twitch, who is infinitely patient with you because you love to chase him and pet him and climb all over him:

Kellan Loves Twitch
You love the kitty so much!

What I think I love most about getting to know you is seeing just different you are from your older brother, and such a wonderful little boy all your own. Your eyes, which likely haven’t settled on a colour yet, seem to be headed into the hazel/green/grey palate, much like your Mamma’s, unlike Liam’s whose were as blue as the sky from day one. You’re not quick to smile or laugh, but when you do, they’re great big smiles and huge belly laughs. You are a baby on a mission! Sitting still and carefully examining things is for chumps! You learned to crawl for a reason and you like to crawl a lot. I suspect that one day, very soon, when you figure this whole walking thing out, it’ll be even more crazy trying to keep up with you. Your love your big brother and just want to follow him wherever he is. Fortunately, you have an amazing older brother who loves to play with you, and will look out for you. You are loud! You like to talk, a lot, and tell us in no uncertain terms when you’re unhappy. At home this is ok. But, little bear, you need to learn to travel better. See, we love to travel. And we got spoiled by Liam who was a great traveller from day one. But plane rides with you are much less fun so far. Because you can’t crawl wherever you like on a plane and darn it you just want to move! But we’ve still been places. You’ve been to LA already.

You, your big brother & your Dad in LA
You, your big brother & your Dad in LA

My first year with you has been so amazing, little bear! I can’t wait for us all to discover what comes next.

Parenting: Rewarding Recycling

Liam is a big fan of recycling. He also has a pretty good idea of what kinds of items are returnable vs recyclable in the blue bin. At home, we have 2 bins: 1 where we collect everything that has a deposit attached to it, and is thus returnable, and the standard blue bin for everything else.

About once every 6-8 weeks, when we’ve got enough returnables, Liam and I load up the car with shopping bags full of tetra-paks, booze-bottles, pop bottles & cans, and head down to our nearest return-it depot to return all our stuff. On the way there, we get to hang out, talk about whatever (this is always a dad-and-Liam trip). Once there, Liam helps me separate all the returnables as directed by the staff there. Now that he can do math, we’ve added an extra step: We add up how much money we’re going to get before the staff does the math for us. It’s amazing how good Liam is at adding things by $0.05 & $0.10 these days, and keeping the numbers in his head these days – and useful shorthand knowledge that there are 4 quarters in a dollar, 20 nickels, etc – so he’ll now do things like count 1-20 in nickels, and know that equals a dollar.

The best part then comes when the staff gives us the money: We go shopping. Generally we’ve earned $5-10. Which is the perfect amount of money to then go to the toy store and buy a small toy. Liam puts the money in his pocket and as we drive over to the toy store we talk about what sort of a toy he wants to buy, why, and best of all, what we’re going to do with it when we get home.

At the store, Liam carefully goes around  choosing a toy that costs less (pre-tax) than what he got from the recycling. At the cash, Liam pays – he figures out which bills & coins to give the cashier (if tax brings the total over, I always cover that). His clear pride at being able to spend his own money, that he earned and counted is awesome. The surprise and genuinely happy response from the cashiers watching my kid do all this himself is pretty great too. Only once have I ever had a curmudgeonly cashier ask if I could “hurry this up”.

So are our trip net-green? Probably not. All the gas used, and packaging on the toy aren’t so great. But I now have a 6-year-old who can already separate returnables from recyclables, is jazzed about recycling, can do all sorts of useful coin-and-bill math and at the least the beginnings of an understanding of the relative worth of things, not to mention a great couple of hours where we get to hang out, just him and I. It’s all win.