Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Photo That Makes me Feel Sheepish Before my College Reunion

My twenty-year college reunion is this coming Memorial Day weekend.  Our family is going.  When I posted this exuberant photo from our senior dinner to our class's Facebook group, I captioned it "The Fellas". A member of this august group (not pictured, unfortunately) named us that sometime sophomore year, and it stuck.  But the more detailed caption I considered made me feel sheepish about what I've accomplished since college.  Here's that caption:

Back Row L to R: doctor (orthopedics), doctor (sleep specialist), doctor (radiologist), applied mathematician, lawyer (partner at a big city firm)
Front Row L to R: doctor (radiologist), doctor (med school professor), nonprofit consultant and at-home parent (yours truly), big church senior pastor, doctor (ophthalmologist/eye surgeon)

Various clusters of the guys in this picture roomed together, hung out together, played intramurals together, played fantasy basketball together.  They were a huge part of my college social universe.  The rundown of their career stations makes me feel like I have responsibilities no one understands in a field with few monetary and status rewards.  And that's in my paid work!  I spend an equal amount of my "work week" pursuing responsibilities few understand with zero monetary and extremely vague status rewards.  It's hard to write up really elegantly-timed execution of laundry for the class notes.  When I picture myself under the tent in the courtyards that meant so much to me twenty years ago, I don't know exactly how to talk about what I've done with the fine, fine education I got there.

A fellow alum who attended her 20th reunion last spring told me on the little league sidelines that she said to her kids, "You guys have to look awesome because you're what I have to show for myself."  I know how she feels.  Six and a half years ago, probably at the moment that my career could have arced upward in authority and recognition, I took one foot out of that stream to become our household's primary parent and chief operating officer.  It looks weird on a resume, and I think it will sound weird holding a cocktail in the tent.  Far easier to name a specialty, a hospital, a publication or a big court win.  I'm going to have to think of a way to quickly demonstrate how well-adjusted my kids are.

The One Thing I Might Say Now

At this juncture, this post could go off into the direction that despite all their career accomplishments, The Fellas' personal lives are a mess, and I can take some perverse satisfaction in the fact that mine is not.  It would be petty of me to say that, and it's simply not true.  These men are the fathers of 20 children.  Nine are married (which leaves one single doctor, ladies).  Two of them are married to high school sweethearts that they dated long distance while we were in school together.  They're good parents.  I know because on the rare occasions that we get together, their kids are a pleasure for both me and my kids to be around.  The Fellas in midlife are abundantly successful both personally and professionally.

How I Choose to Feel About All This

I'm currently reading the December 2014 issue of The Atlantic.  Working part-time also means commuting part-time, and having 40% less time on the bus makes me fall woefully behind in my magazine reading.  Anyway, the cover story discusses research about the real roots of midlife crisis.  Jonathan Rauch explains the u-shaped curve that researchers have found in satisfaction with life in populations all over the world.  Happiness bottoms out somewhere around 46 and then rebounds, leaving people happier in their 50s.  The 40s in general form the nadir of personal satisfaction and happiness.  The research shows that feeling competitive about achievements and accomplishments really contributes to that unhappiness.  In the 40s, we start to feel like time may actually run out on us, but we all have friends that have accomplished things that make us feel like we're spinning our wheels. The Fellas have accomplished a lot, but we have more accomplished classmates - statewide elected officials, published authors, a major league baseball general manager.

Instead of looking at the accomplishments of The Fellas or of those classmates who have been asked to serve on panels at the reunion, I'm just going to reflect on my own choices.  When my wife and I both worked full time and it was obvious that our kids needed more from us, I had the privilege of career flexibility and could go part-time.  As I've gotten better at running our household, I've come to enjoy it more.  I get to experience a lot of the pedestrian moments of my boys' lives, immediately before and after school, and we all get to enjoy more special occasions as a family because I've already done the legwork of errands and calendar management and paying bills.  We love our house and our neighborhood.  I get the variety of doing unique and fulfilling paid work and serving my family in a way that I also enjoy. 

The Proclaimers song Let's Get Married features this lyric:

"When we're old, if they ask me
How do you define success? I'll say
You meet a woman and you fall in love
And you ask her and she says yes."

To that I'll add:

Make some babies and raise 'em up
And launch them happy and capable
And find a split between work and life
That works for you and those you love.

Man, those Proclaimers are better with the lyrics.

The jury is still out, of course, on that launch part, but so far, so good.  The split we have works for everyone now but may not always.  We'll deal with that if and when.  It's no small accomplishment to head off for this reunion able to say to myself and others that I have followed my calling to the work I do at the office and around the house.  It suits me, and I often enjoy it.  What higher achievement is there?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Free Range Parenting in my 'Hood

A fellow parent at the elementary school our kids go to/have gone to is quoted extensively in the article below, which continues the ongoing discussion of free range kids and free range parenting.  I believe in free range parenting, but I have a different name for it: parenting.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chart: 2015 Pirates Win Predictions

Although this post is going up after the Pirates first game (a loss), we did make our predictions before the first pitch of opening day.  In a split decision, the kids think the Pirates will improve this year, while the parents fear a regression.
 I have never won this competition.
In any event, we're all gung ho know.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Product Review: Pro Gold Breakaway Rim Basketball Hoop

Our boys love our finished basement.  They've gotten through five winters here playing a lot of "Nerf" basketball.  Although they'd had an over-the-door Nerf hoop at our smaller house, there was not a great place to use it.  The basement here is pretty perfect, although the ceiling is low and Charlie can dunk while flat-footed.

Due to the ease of dunking, we had a succession of Nerf hoops of the typical sort - a cardboard backboard with a plastic rim.  These tended to fail at the same weak points - a) the cardboard slot into which the hoop inserts, b) the thinner cardboard slit where the over-the-door hook inserts and more rarely c) plastic hoop itself.  Not a single hoop of this variety survived its time in the basement without serious plastic packing tape repairs or reinforcements. None of them lasted more than four or five months, either.

A few Christmases ago, Santa stepped up his game and brought the boys a POOF brand Pro Gold over-the-door hoop with a shatterproof plastic backboard and a metal breakaway
rim.  Unlike Nerf hoops, it comes with an inflatable ball about the same size.  Our boys use that ball interchangeably with various Nerf balls.  

The hoop has survived near daily winter use.  The rim tilts down now, as almost all toy hoops seem too before too long.  But the metal rim is much more solid than the plastic ones, which enables one to occasionally make non-swish free throws and jump shots.  The backboard has taken incredible abuse (the closet door will never really be the same again) and stood up to it.  Pricewise, it's about twice as much as a cardboard and plastic hoop but has lasted at least four times as long already without a single repair.  Plus, it looks cooler.

As always with CompetentParent product reviews, I have received no compensation from the POOF-Slinky corporation.  I'm just telling you what I like.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

HHHHHH: A Measure of Improvement

This post might be better labeled "confession" than "hint."  Longtime readers will know that I am that rare person who uses his bread machine regularly, currently a Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme.  I still use a recipe from one of my Breadman machines, modfied only with a substitution of 3/4 cup of white whole wheat flour (WWW) for an equal amount of white flour.  No one in our family really likes traditional whole wheat flour, but this small substitution adds a little nutrition and actually lends some nice structure to the basic sandwich bread we use all the time.

I've used the same recipe for years and worked out the ratio of using 3/4 cup WWW in a total amount of 3 cups of flour as the maximum amount of WWW without making the yeast fight to rise the loaf reliably.  For years, when getting out my ingredients and measuring devices, I would get out a one cup measure, a 1/4 cup measure and a 3/4 cup measure.  Now that 3/4 cup measure came from a set we got at the King Arthur Flour store on a pilgrimage to Norwich, VT, a sacred place for bakers.  In addition to the traditional 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup measures, our set includes a 2/3 cup and this 3/4 cup.  One doesn't know one needs those (or a 3/4 teaspoon) measure until one owns them.  Even owning this set for years, I left an opportunity for efficiency on the table (er...counter).  See, I would measure 2 cups of white with my 1 cup measure, then 1/4 cup of white, then 3/4 cup of WWW with that measure.  Any mathematicians shaking their heads yet?  

In the last few months, I figured out that I was replacing one part out of four with WWW.  That means I could do all my flour measuring with one measure - the 3/4.  Now, I fill that one three times with white flour and once with WWW.  There are multiple benefits:
  • It's faster to use one measure than three for the actual measuring step.
  • It keeps my counter cleaner to not put down two used measures (the other option of plunking them in the sink one by one always made me impatient).
  • I wash one cup measure instead of three.
 The strongest hint in this post is to acquire more finely-graded cup measures like this awesome-if-not-cheap set.  The other one we love is a 1/8 cup measure from another set.  While one doesn't see 1/8 cup in recipes much, one sees 2 tablespoons often, and 2 T = 1/8 C.  Boom!  Then, once you've acquired them, pay more attention than I did and find ways to cut down on the number of measures you have to use.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sexiest Young Man Alive?

If the science is true (and I have no reason to doubt it) that women find men who are interested in babies sexy, then our Charlie (12) should do pretty well with the ladies...eventually, after acne.  This year, he has added helping out in the toddler room to his church activities.  One Sunday a month, he reads over a prepared lesson and teaches the kids in the toddler Sunday School class.  He loves it and is so excited to be old enough to take on this duty.  A chidren's ministry employee told me recently that when it's Charlie's week, the paid caregivers in that room know they have easy duty because he will keep the kids' attention the entire time.  He devotes his whole self to it.

As evidence, I submit this image of his Google calendar (Yes.  He has a Google calendar.  What do you think he is?  A farmer?)  The left-hand appointment was created first and shows that it's his week to work in the toddler room.  He created the right-hand appointment later, presumably when he saw the original appointment.  It's just his private celebration of getting to spend time with the little tykes.  It's so sweet and captures his lack of self-consciousness, even in the crucible of the middle school years.

Charlie (4) holds Teddy in the first
month of brotherhood
We knew early on that Charlie loved babies.  He doted on his baby doll (Baby Russell) and was extremely affectionate and solicitous when a real baby joined him at home.  Little-boy affection for his younger brother didn't necessarily predict the current state, of course.  We feel lucky to parent this pre-teen who just loves babies and toddlers in a wholesome and caring way.