Geek raising a non-geek

My son, Jules, is 3. It’s the age where he very much gets interested and excited about things. He was an astronaut (“on a rocketship to the moon”) for Halloween, and loves looking at the moon, and playing with toy space shuttles and rocketships. He likes racecars, airplanes, robots, and castles.

In talking to other parents, or observing their children, you often seen kids who are kind of obsessive cataloguers and identifiers. Who know how to tell different airplanes, or dinosaurs, or heavy machinery apart. Who are, in other words, proto-geeks.

My son, however, translates his passion differently. What he does is develop just enough understanding of a subject so that he can insert himself into a narrative with it. He’s less interested in knowing the different types of rocketships than he is telling a story of those rocketships flying around, ideally with Jules at the helm. When Jules reads books, or plays with his toys, he’s always inserting himself into it–“Jules is driving that car,” “Jules is flying that airplane,” “Jules is a bad guy in the castle.” (I love that at the age of 3 he’s realized it’s more fun to play the villain than the hero.)

Thing is, when I was a kid, I was fairly far along the geek spectrum. I didn’t play with action figures — I wouldn’t have known what to do with them. I was an early reader, and had a thing for numbers, so when I was a 3, 4, 5, I was reading books; I was playing with my mom’s LED calculator, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, just to see what happened; I was watching baseball and rattling off facts and figures. The first toys I really enjoyed were electronic — Mattel Football and Simon.

In the last 10-20 years, there seems to have been a swell of resources for parents on being geek-supportive. Do we now need resources for us geeks raising non-geek children?

Raising Children in the Age of the Smartphone

Last week, NPR’s Science Friday host Ira Flatow spoke with social scientist Sherry Turkle, occasioned by the release of her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Part of their conversation addressed parents’ inability to control themselves around technology, and children feeling like their competing with iPhones and laptops for the parents’ attention. As a father who plays Words With Friends at the playground, and who jokes that if my son wants me to pay attention, he needs to be more interesting than my iPhone, I became a bit uncomfortable listening to this conversation.

But then I wondered, “Haven’t children always competed for their parents’ attention?” The conversation suggested that before smartphones, we had a magical time where parents wholly devoted their attention to their children. If I didn’t have a smartphone, I’d be bringing books to the playground. Thinking back to my childhood, there was always multitasking — conversations with others, cooking, watching television, etc. In families with lots of children, there’s competition between them. Or children having to compete with their parents’ work and chore schedules. I realized children have always fought for their parents’ attention, and it’s unreasonable for people to feel that if you’re not 100% committed to your child all the time, you’re somehow being less of a parent.

Now, I think there are some very real problems with technology and child-rearing (we’ve had to closely monitor Jules’ iPad use because he started to throw fits when we limited his access to it). But we need to start from a baseline of reasonable expectations for parents’ engagement.

Toddler Playgrounds and Dog Parks – Surprisingly Similar

Stacy updates the family about our son’s development with an occasionally updated blog. In the most recent post, she realized a striking similarity between toddler playgrounds (new for her) and dog parks (where she’s been going for years).

1. Everyone is there because walks around the block just aren’t enough stimulation and exercise.
2. In general, you get to know the kids’ names long before you get to know the parents’ – if you ever do.
3. There are cliques of parents who are local regulars, and who aren’t enthusiastic about chatting with parents from Other Neighborhoods.
4. On a weekday, more than half of those playing are there with “professional handlers” while their parents are at work.
5. Some of those playing are food-motivated and have good recall if you’re holding a treat. (this is not Jules)
6. Others are ball-obsessed. (this is Jules)
7. It’s time to go when your companion just wants to lay down in the sand.
8. A good run around the park means a big drink of water before heading home for a nap.

Parenthood – the biggest difference so far

Some folks ask me what’s been the biggest difference in my life now that I have a child. For a while, it was hard to say what was because of the child, as I was on leave from work for 6 weeks, and bought a house. Now that I’ve been back to work a couple weeks, and we’re settling into the new house, what I’m seeing as the emerging distinction is a new domesticity. When I leave the office, I’m pretty much done with work — I’ve done far less “work from home” this past two weeks than before. Instead, I’m focused on whatever needs to happen at home, even if it’s just calming Jules.

We’ll see how this goes.

Because I don’t have enough to do

I knew, going into 2008, it was going to be a liminal year for me. And, boy howdy, has it proven true! This year, I:

  • had a book I co-wrote published
  • got married (twice!)
  • hired a CEO to steer the company I started
  • oversaw the largest event Adaptive Path ever delivered
  • had a child

    and, as of yesterday

  • bought a house (in North Oakland)

    Still to come this year is, I hope, the sale of my current house, market willing. (Know anyone who’d like a pleasant, cozy, 2BR home in South Berkeley? Let me know!)

    I’m looking forward to a much mellower 2009. (Again, market willing.)

  • If you’re feeling too happy and want to get depressed…

    As an expecting father, you’re made aware of the vaccinations that your child will need. It’s a standard topic in newborn care classes. And, of course, in this modern day, whenever teachers of these classes talk about it, they have to go to great lengths to inform people that vaccinations are safe. Because, it turns out, there are a number of conspiracy types, or those simply misinformed, who think vaccinations are unsafe, and who deny their children getting them. The problem with that, of course, is that infectious diseases are on the rise among children, which is upsetting as it’s wholly preventable.

    If you want to get your dander up, listen to a segment from yesterday’s Science Friday, where host Ira Flatow talks to the highly credentialed Paul Offit about this irrational fear of vaccinations. What will upset you is Chantal, who calls in, and, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insists that she will not let her children be vaccinated according to the recommended program. Her logic is twisted and inconsistent (she first sites governmental regulations about appropriate amounts of metals in the system, but then later says she doesn’t trust the CDC’s recommendations about vaccinations, because she doesn’t trust the government telling her what to do). Somehow, at some point, she got this notion into her, and no amount of reasoned discussion will dissuade her. What’s most upsetting is that this behavior doesn’t just affect the children of these ignorant parents, but of other children (particularly those children who cannot be vaccinated for certain medical reasons).

    Is there a good reason for not simply requiring children to be vaccinated, parents’ desires not withstanding? I’m sure this makes libertarians froth, but the second-order effects of not vaccinating have a deleterious impact on others, not just the child under discussion.

    She was right — it does take a village!

    Yesterday I attended my second (and final) Preparing for Childbirth class at Kaiser Permanente, and, upon leaving, my thoughts focused on the ohmygodcrucial need for a support group in order to make this a fully positive experience.

    We live in a strange situation here at the beginning of the 21st century. Neither my wife nor I are particularly close to home (her folks are 1600 miles away, mine are 400), so it’s impractical for family to help out during the birth. For how long for humans was it simply a given that the family managed the birth (with a midwife?). No longer! In part because of this, we’re hiring a doula, so we can have another member of our team to help handle the ins-and-outs of the hospital where we’re having the baby.

    “The hospital” points to the other strange aspect of all this, which is the medicalization of childbirth. I suppose we could have used a birth center, or performed a home birth, but because I’m a member of KP, it made sense to take advantage of their services. But the more you engage in the process, the more you realize that pregnancy and childbirth is managed almost like a disease or other medical condition, and not simply a process as natural to mammals as eating, sleeping, pissing, shitting, fucking, grooming. Obviously, it’s perhaps the most involved of mammalian processes, and, as such, complications are more likely to arise, but you know things are going overboard when you’re told that a woman in labor cannot eat solid food while in the hospital, and you find out the reason for this is because they have to treat her as a candidate for surgery, which requires an empty stomach.

    The medicalization passage was a digression, though. Without family around, what we have are our friends. And as we prepare for parenthood, I’m realizing that I have to overcome my inclination to not ask others for help. I hate being a burden and a bother, but, really, you need others to help you through this. (And I also feel like a bit of a schmuck, ’cause I haven’t reached out to help friends who had kids recently, thinking they’d let me know how I could help. I realize now that you cannot wait for someone to ask for help. You just have to give it. Oops.)

    It’s clear that child-rearing, particularly at the outset, all but necessitates more than 2 people being involved. I’m guessing that in Ye Olden Days parents didn’t worry nearly as much about lack of sleep and having all the right accessories because there was easy access to a close-knit community that looked after its own. Now, we need to scaffold your home with all manner of baby items, and rather aggressively reach out to others to make sure you’ll have the support you need. (And I consider us lucky, as Stacy has an extremely flexible job, so she’ll be able to take off as long as she needs).

    I’m grateful for the close friends that I have, and for the happy coincidence of so many children being born in such rapid succession within this group. I will have to overcome my reticence in asking assistance, and you can be assured that I’ll be first to lend a hand to newly expecting friends.

    We’ll see how this goes.