Thursday, December 15, 2016

Circular Journey

Our first parent teacher conference was a surprise to me. The teacher had mark our eldest son’s report card with such a  consistent score of “average” that it almost felt that the entire thing could have been done over Netflix’s and chardonnay, and when we went to see her the news was much the same. I learned that if you wanted someone to say that your child is brilliant in every way take them to a grandmother; schools are often there to say what isn’t going well.

“He has no real interest in music or art,” she said, which stung a bit. Our youngest loves music especially if it is off the sound track from Zootopia, but our eldest hadn’t sung at home any of the songs he was being shown at school. 

Until one day, he started singing Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. It was only the slightest semblance of a melody, but it was music. I put the song on our home stereo, and slowly we learned the lyrics together. Our youngest also chimed in, and of the handful of words he has two of them are “moon” and “shadow”.

And so we entered into our autumn singing a song about decapitation.

Sometimes it takes a while to get somewhere.

Next week I am returning to the place that I started - 2### Clay Street, San Francisco CA 94115. It is where I came home from the hospital 48 years ago. My parents moved out of the place when I was just a little bit older than David is now. I have no memory of living there, and I know that our memories of Steiner Street will fade from our boys. The stickers of monkeys and elephants that we put up for them will be pealed before the new tenant arrives.  The carpet where they first crawled and later walked isn’t coming with us to clay street. We are leaving the swaddles and swings that soothed them.

The new place has a tiny back yard, and there will be tricycle races and easter egg hunts there. The boys’ room is going to have balloon wallpaper, and the carpets in the new place will get stained just as much as the carpets in the old.

The distance between the two houses is four blocks so the places we eat and shop will be the same. The distance I will have traveled in my life is five feet from the infant’s room to the master bedroom, which I know isn’t very far.

But it has been a circular journey.

One night at the Clay Street house 47 years ago, my parents woke me to watch Neil Armstrong climb down a ladder. Waking an infant is something you are never supposed to do - far better that they can sleep so you can get yours.

It was time to see a man who had travelled farther than any man ever has, a time to watch humanity’s desire to explore the world, a time for parents and a child to share a moment of wonder. My parents still remember the large cardboard box I played with afterwards which I pretended was a rocket. Some houses aren’t forgotten.

And so I am going to return to the place from my distant past, a place where I watched someone walk amongst the shadows of the moon. I am still learning the melody of being a father and a husband, but the lyrics of life sometimes has a familiar refrain.

Friday, August 28, 2015

E & E

It is my son, Edward’s, birthday tomorrow and no longer will my wife and I be able to tell to the random playground parents that we have two under two. The speed of our family creation was a badge given for bravery (and a touch of foolishness).

Instead the birthday marks the transition towards toddler. The age is not referred to as the terrific twos. His disposition is changing from one of needs, such as food and sleep, to one of wants like doors being open or iPads to be held. This past week he has developed a new great want - Elmo.

When I greet him in the morning his first word is Elmo, which has taken over his vocabulary like ‘Aloha’ in Hawaiian.  After I clean his diaper, he says ‘Elmo’. After I give him the milk he says once again ‘Elmo’

He has a small Elmo doll but prefers the world of Elmo literature. If I am to blame for his constant running around, I like to think that his mom gave him his love of books.

In one tale, there are little flaps to be lifted so you can help Elmo find his blanket. In another the flaps are for numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. My son checks each page several times.

My wife and I are a bit worried about traveling some place where we didn’t have a handy Elmo. Her idea was to buy several like the way we bought three shirts for my wedding in case I sweated too much.

I started to look at videos and audiobooks for my son, but I prefer the red headed monster silent.

I know that a year from now he will have new wants, and I think about how much he has changed in the last. A year ago to the day was the first time he started to walk in a way that resembled rugby players after a night at the Tonga Room. He doesn’t stumble as much any more.

Halfway through the year, his brother arrived whom he greeted with tears. He now hugs him every morning and brings him bottles or toys to make him happy. I asked Edward if he wanted to give David the Elmo doll, and Edward replied with his other favorite word ‘mine.’

I think that turning two means that you have so many more flaps in life to look under, so many words and letters to learn, and so many more pages to turn. There are monsters in the world, but some can turn out to be friendly. That streets can be busy, but are safe if we hold hands.

I know that there are green eyed monsters of brotherhood, and for that matter this year will have tantrums with epic choruses. And I hope we weather these well by counting to ten with numbers we have learned from the streets of Sesame.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life Aquatic

My eldest son, Edward, said his first swear word yesterday. He was, of course, mimicking his father who in a moment of frustration over a spilt mocha on a changing table launched the explicative. In my defense, during the week I take care of the kids during the 6’s of a.m. and p.m. - the twilight between sleep and exhaustion. The mocha is my fuel, my milk drink as opposed to his.

To my son, who has so few words, perhaps the swear could have meant the same thing as “boom” or “uh-oh”. Life with two small children is a series of liquids and spills and there is the never ending clean up of wipes and towels. It has become part of our routine enough that Edward will sometimes grab a towel if he spills something. His favorite person for a while was the trash man.

We have a life aquatic with our heads out of the water barely enough. Parenting is the process of riding the tides of toddler attentions - the fast shifts of the currents of desires.

Edward for the most part has been living well. He has a collection of aunts and grandparents whom I refer to as the mutual admiration society. He has gotten used to having a younger brother in the same sort of way of getting used to eating using a spoon. It isn’t always, and when it doesn’t work out it gets a little messy. But the intention is there.

To get him out of the house away from the newly steam cleaned carpets and couches, he goes to a bevy of activities. He has soccer tots on Mondays, where he insists on stacking cones as opposed to running around them. He goes to Jameroo and Music Together, which are meant to cultivate his artistic side, but wind up being places where he runs around the peace circle screaming. Someday he will do exercise in sports classes and art in art classes, but for right now he explores things impulsively.

On Thursday mornings he goes to swim classes at the JCC. We got our first report card a couple of weeks ago - never too early to start measuring kids in San Francisco. He had top marks in enthusiasm and confidence, but did not fare so well when it came to the section of skills. It looks like it will be a career of venture capitalism.

Not all of the kids in the class are unafraid of the water. Some luckier parents have children with a better sense of danger. There was one girl, Olivia, who would cry the entire class. I would get the updates on Thursday dinners about how everyone was doing. In my mind Olivia was of Russian descent with large eyebrows, and a power set of lungs. She is, in fact, Chinese and didn’t scream as loudly as my imagination. More of a whimper.

I kept asking about swim class over dinners. Did we think the instructor named “Blaze” lived in the Haight or were the rents to high there? Was Edward kicking on his back? Did he put his head underwater? Does Blaze have good earplugs?

The updates kept coming, and one day I got the major news. Olivia had stopped crying during class. Edward had held her hand and made her feel safe in the water. I like to think that with his hand held he could not splash as much either, and that the two of them could start to learn about the aquatic life with a sense of calm.

I then learned that at the next class they had started to kiss. We spent a few weeks of Thursday dinners speculating about the two. About how he would think of his summer romance with his few words of “up” and “down”. Would he grow up to be an olympic swimmer, because he had found true love in a sea of chlorine.

And then yesterday it was broken to me softly. Olivia had spent the entire class with Sebastian who was both blonder and younger than my son. Edward was very troubled that she would not hold his hand anymore and could not understand why she would kiss Sebastian instead of him.

When he came home from class, he took a longer than usual nap. That evening he didn’t pick on his brother except for a few times of pulling his hair.

I was, of course, devastated by the news. How could she I wondered. Was my son just a stepping stone for the shallow end of the pool? You have such little time to give your children the advice they need to handle the world. You won’t be there for all of the heartbreaks. I can only hope that Edward reached down into his small list of words, and after going past things like “apple” and “blue” would come to say what his father told him. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Wear To Now

I was in line at the supermarket and at the counter was Marie Claire magazine with the headline 20 beauty hacks. While normally I would be upset about how badly the word hack is being used - 20 beauty hacks is something a serial killer would do - I was more amazed by how much technology has wandered into lifestyle.  The world’s runways are lit by cell phones.

It is going to get more intrusive.

Two of the biggest tech companies, Apple and Google, over the last year or so have announced their plans for wearable computing. While normally there is convergence in the tech world, this time each has their own idea about how to chain you to their ecosystem.

Google’s is to extend the computer screen to your permanent vision by making the wearable be eyeglasses. Their ideal is the movie Terminator in which given a situation a list of options can appear. The eye glass will know where you are and what you need. The price is that Google gets to know everything about you.

Apple’s is to wrap a pager around your wrist as a watch. Their ideal is Babylon 5 in which everyone communicates by tapping their hand. The watch will monitor your health and ring your friends. The price is that it is going to be expensive.

The differences mirror their approach to mobile apps. Google has built out Android to mimic the flow of webpages being downloaded from the server. Central to its navigation is the back button which is similar to the back button on a web browser. Google wants you to surf ideas. They want you to wander.

Apple wants you to live locally. There isn’t a back button or any distracting widget, there is only the app you are currently in, and they want to make those as powerful as desktop applications. They have added rich database support to locally store your information and deep libraries that take advantage of the phones sensors. Apple’s truth is the bird in the hand, not the cloud. They tend to mess up when they go to the server and the launches of Maps, MobileMe, and Ping were all problematic.

The question for wearables is what do you want to see when.

I do like Apple’s philosophy of self inspection more than Google’s world awareness since I would rather have less intrusion than more. But there those times, say a job interview, where getting the answers you need immediately would be useful. At some level using Google Glass to assist driving would be great, but there is also the danger of paying more attention to an incoming text than a pedestrian. Perhaps Google will figure out the right balance of when to update, but this will take time.

My main issue with watches in general is that I break them all the time; their faces are patchworks of scratches. I go through watches at a far faster rate than glasses. When I purchase a $30 Casio, that doesn’t matter as much, but with these things coming in at over $400 the effect will be brutal

But to be able to signal my wife it is time to leave a party or that I love her could be great. Still we already have our silent language of nods.

I am aware that I am too old for their target audience just as I was too old for text messaging, and that was a decade ago. But I do feel someday soon I will get announcement on a wearable device about a company’s upcoming hackathon. All I will be thinking is that they really meant the word overtime.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Waves

My son went to the Pacific for the first time near Stinson Beach. He can’t really walk without support, but grasping my fingers he charged right into the sea. He has no notion of swimming or for that matter basic safety. He wanted to dart into the waves, to go into the unknown.

I am job hunting again, a process similar to speed dating but without the intimacy. There is a habit of some shops to try to stump the candidate. They ask about a technical api or some arcane part of language that can be answered, usually, in four minutes in a web search and it is as if their main hiring requirement is to make sure that their programmers will work when the internet goes down. The truth is that when the network goes away everybody goes out for coffee, so the fear is a little misguided.

You can always find something that somebody doesn’t know, and as such that isn’t the mark of a good interviewer. What is more impressive is trying to find out what it is like when someone is over their heads, when they rushed their ocean and the waves were bigger than they were - how do we handle struggle.

I flail most of the time. I want to pretend that I could be calm, that I would handle the crisis with an even demeanor, but the truth is that when things get hard, there is mostly panic. I want to pretend that there isn’t fear, but that is as silly as pretending that the ocean doesn’t exist.

I can sometimes ground myself in my memory - that I have some sense as I tumble about which way is up. I remind myself that I have survived other job hunts and other bad jobs. I remember to breathe.

This time is different. Someone else’s tiny hand holds mine. These days I don’t need a life preserver for myself as much as a raft for my family.

My son has a giggly laugh when he gets excited. He has my mouth and my wife’s eyes which crinkle with joy. He loves the ocean. He loves bananas, blueberries, yogurt and chicken. He loves his grandmothers though he has no idea what the word “grandmother” means. He loves chewing on a plastic bath toy. He loves chewing on paper.

We will go back to the ocean soon. We will take lessons on how to swim. I will try to teach him not to put sand in his mouth. He will teach me to giggle at the waves.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Seeking Stability

I played a game with Carter’s daughter where you alternated placing metal sticks that hooked together ever outwards into space. As the rounds progressed the structure grew. Any piece that fell while you were placing had to go back into your pile. Winners were determined by who got rid of their pieces first.

I think we split the games for most of my stay.

I don’t know if a 45 year old should feel proud of beating a 10 year old, but she was the kind of competitor that wanted you to play your best. She has the geometric intuition that I had at her age, the kind that senses how things tilt less by math than by feel. My insights have started to fade, but only a little.

With each move we could make the structure more or less stable depending on whether we used the sticks as cross beams or counter balances. Chloe, the daughter, loved order and symmetry. She played for aesthetics. Thinking that the mess had an equal chance on falling on either of us, I played for chaos.

I think Chloe would have always played for order - she seemed to be constantly organizing her older siblings - but I think she needed order even more now. Her father, my best friend from high school, was having problems with his treatment for stage four lung cancer.

While there are no good versions of the disease, his particular kind has a receptor that can be attacked. There are a series of drugs that are coming out that fight the disease back. But the effectiveness of any one drug seems to last for a little more than a year. He has to keep switching the drugs and hope the treatment he is on will last until the next drug becomes available for humans. He is ticking through drug number 2.

The side effects are getting to him. The cancer has metathised to his brain and, for lack of a better analogy, has started messing with the software. He has dizzy spells and cotton mouth. The day before I arrived he collapsed and during the ride to the hospital he felt paralyzed. After a few hours resting in the ER, he felt fine. No one has an idea what happened and he is being tested next week by five different doctors.

He seemed fine the first day. I worried that he was trying to hard to be with me. He asked me to come a couple of weeks earlier when things were a little darker - the word “soon” that he left on my voicemail had a certain kind of italics - but the Carter of day one was almost energetic.

He asked during the call that we not talk about cancer, and so I did my best to bring up the teetering of my own world - the instability of software startups and the challenges of taking care of a newborn. Our personal cross beams are our wives, but sometimes the pile of things to worry about in your forties can seem so much larger than what you worried at 10.

We talked about Obama Care, the Tea Party, and supply side taxation. We discussed Kobe Bryant, Barry Bonds, the Lakers, and the Niners. We traded TV show suggestions - (mine was Episodes; his was Almost Human). We chatted about parenting which segued into sending kids to public or private schools. I told bad puns. We wandered back into being the sophomores we were when we first met, the kind where philosophy on capital systems or favorite bands was meant to be an endurance test. We stayed up late for west coast time.

The next day he needed a bit more space, and I played a few games with his wife and children. His eldest son is now an atheist who plays a ton of video games. We chatted a bit about the game Civilization, but I could sense his disappointment when I went for cultural victories instead of scientific. His middle daughter was shy and spent most of the time in her room. That left Chloe and our on going battles of order versus instability.

I decided that this game needed new rules. She was a little surprised that you could just make them up. She pointed to the side of the box that had them listed with diagrams of how the yellows could go a certain way that was much different than the reds.

I told her that we could try adding a rule for one round and if that didn’t work out remove it. At first she was horrified; the only thing worse than adding rules was removing them. She then allowed it on a trial basis.

The next round she added a rule of her own.

Just before leaving Carter and his wife joined us, and Chloe explained our vast system of challenges and double rolls. That round I came in last and I was quite okay losing, because to me it meant knowing that perhaps however small we could change the rules towards something that was not going to collapse as easy if only for a February afternoon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Physics of Time and Gravity.

Days have become probabilistic. At any hour I could be asleep or awake. Three o’clock in the morning and four thirty in the afternoon have bled together separated only by electricity. Time has been broken into three hour chunks which starts with feeding and ends with a diaper change. These repeat again, again, again, and again.

My wife and I have our pacifiers - not just the rubbery ones we stick in our son’s mouth. I need to code and o go to Boulange for a mocha every morning. Warm milk and iOS 7 api’s sooths me. I miss work or more of the abstraction of it. I miss the concept of sticking with something for more than thirty minutes, I miss building and designing, and I miss collaborating on a white board.

My wife misses being a manager. Sometimes she would try it out on me. Then she decided to hire one of her former workers to help organize things in the back of closets and papers deep in boxes.

We both think each other is crazy. We bicker more about things small and vast. We fret over how much time a shower should take. We worried if our son is gaining weight. We try to be as supportive as we can, and it isn’t nearly enough. Our baby cries, my wife cries, and I bluster. These repeat again, again, and again.

We learn about the outside world through cracks. Everybody used to be worried about the Syrian Government now they are worried about our own. I used to think Walter White broke bad because of lung cancer, and now I wonder if it was because he had an infant on the way.

My wife and I did escape yesterday to see the movie Gravity. It stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts floating above the earth. In my dreams it stars ourselves, or certainly better looking versions of ourselves. We are tethered together aloft. Every ninety minutes the world crashes and we improvise with small jokes and physic problems.

The thing about the movie is that as desperate as it gets (and we lose our breath the same way that Sandra does) around the corners it is beautiful. You watch the sun come up over the earth’s horizon. You see the storm clouds of the day and light ganglions at night. Everything floats as if it is swimming with the stars.

A few weeks in, I am not sure if parenting is meant to be enjoyed only at the edges. I love my son’s smile, his vast repertoire of breathing noises, and how happy he gets when he reaches out to hit a blue monkey doll. I loved taking him to a coffee shop to meet his grandfather. I love his farts.

There are moments of beauty in between the disasters. His crying has broken my wife and I on consecutive nights. It isn’t the size of the shriek, but the endurance of it. Our previous goto methods of swalddling and singing mostly middle period Beatles songs aren’t working as well, and we keep trying to come up with new ideas if not to distract him then at least ourselves from the fact only thing up at the hour besides us are raccoons. We share the black circles around our eyes.

Soon the infant orbit will end, and the toddler one with start, followed by the terrible twos. The rules will keep changing. We will try our best to stick together, tethered aloft above it all.