Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What we really need in stormy weather

This morning, my daughter got up and tiptoed downstairs.  She's a dancer and spends most of her days on her tiptoes, either that, or she is going to ninja school at night.  Her first question was

"Daddy, is Isaac a cateory 1 or category 2 storm?"

Lucky for me, I was able to smile, wrap her in a warm hug, and tell her, "No sweetie, Isaac hasn't become a hurricane, yet." Good news for us and for the city of New Orleans. 

This isn't my daughter's first hurricane-she has ridden out small ones and evacuated for Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.  But this year is different-for me and for her.  For me, there is so much more information.  Up-to-the-second accounts of windspeeds, rainfall amounts, potential landfall locations.  Twitter has become a really powerful (and, honestly, useful) tool, but it has its downside.

All of this information rachets up the tension levels-while making us feel like we constantly need more.  It almost feels like an addition.

For my daughter, the last major preparation was for Hurricane Gustav.  That was four years ago-a four-year-old's concerns and an eight-year-old's are completely different.

My daughter's question made me think about what we really need in stormy weather.  Here is a short list of my thoughts this morning.
  1. We need to know - hiding from information or hiding information from others leads to bad decisions and greater worry.
  2. But not all of the time - for hurricanes, in particular, changes are measured in hours and days, not minutes.  Nothing meaningful is going to change between 8:01 and 8:03.  Have breakfast.  Do the crossword.  Watch a cartoon.
  3. We need love and support - from our friends and family.  We can get through most any situation when we have these two (speaking from Katrina experience).
A hug is more important than catching the latest storm track.  Grab one today.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Parenting throwback night

Stepping into the car the other day, my daughter asked her new favorite question – “Can I play on your iPhone?”  She loves to play strategy games like “Where’s My Water” or “Doors” when we are in the car.  The games are great-no objectionable content, good content (problem solving skills)-but…I really hate that she is so “wired”, so young.  I can’t blame her, really.  My wife and I have iPhones and are connected more frequently than we ought to be.  Her friends play on iPads, iPhones, Wiis, etc.  The topic of texting has even come up once or twice (she texts with her grandparents, already, on our phones).

I have an intense feeling that my daughter is losing something important.  Bent over the screen, interacting with the programmer’s script just doesn’t seem like childhood to me.  While we actively monitor the time and the content my daughter interacts with, digitally, we are doing more.  My wife and I are trying something different-a throwback, to my parents’ childhood experiences.

Last night, we all sat down in the living room, grabbed pillows and blankets, and turned on an audio book-this time, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  We sat and listened to the end of the story (we had started it in the car) and spent nearly a half an hour talking about Sara Crewe and why she was a princess-both when she was rich and when she was poor.

Reflecting on the night, my wife and I decided that “throwback night” will become a part of our family routine.  The experience itself was not without irony-we used technology for our “throwback night”,  listening to the book using Audible.com’s iPhone app (and I blogging about it, now)-but it was very satisfying. 

Rather than letting technology separate us into individuals, we used technology to create an intimate experience that we shared as a family. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The #1 Rule for Play Dates

This past week, my daughter was off school for Spring Break.  She spent time with parents, aunts, uncles, and her grandparents.  But the most exciting times for her are always the play dates with her friends.  They always begin the same way...

"What's the #1 rule for the play date?" I ask my daughter and her friends.  They giggle.  "Daddy," my daughter responds, her voice somewhere between the laughter of a child and the exasperation of a teenager.

"No, I'm serious, what's the #1 rule?"  Finally they answer (in chorus if they have come to our house for a play date before): "No trips to the emergency room!"

With that response, they are gone to play, emerging only when they need a snack, a hug, or a band aid.

I really didn't think that I needed this rule.  My sister was four years older than I was, so I didn't experience how seven- and eight-year-old girls played with one another (when I was that age, girls were really from Venus as far as I knew). 

I need it.  My daughter is a budding engineer, building structures from hula hoops, twine, and lawn chairs (we call them Jazz Fest chairs in New Orleans).  She and her friends climb on the outside of the playground equipment, shimmy up support posts, and constantly ask to get the ladder out for a better view.

That's why we begin each play date the same way.  The key outcome of a play date for my daughter is a fun time.  For me, it's "no trips to the emergency room."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Putting a choke-hold on my time

The big, angry time blob
One of my biggest challenges working from home is time.  Peter Drucker said in many of his works that time is the most precious commodity.  Businesses can get more capital, more marketing, but no more time (a great way to get introduced to Druker's work is The Daily Drucker).

The issue for me isn't getting things done (although David Allen's Getting Things Done is definitely a good read), it is getting the right things done.  When I sit down at my computer in the morning to get to work, the day looks like an unstructured (and angry) blob.  I usually have

Fun things:
  • Spending time with my daughter
  • Spending time with my wife
  • 20% of time for research
  • Client meetings/deliverables
  • The Verghis Group meetings/deliverables
  • EuclidKids meetings/deliverables
  • Writing client reports
  • Participating in social networks - for work
  • Participating in social networks - for fun
  • Marketing (reaching out to clients, working on content for conferences)
  • Volunteer work for my daughter's school
  • Exercising (sometimes fun, sometimes unfun)
  • Checking in on the Final Four (coming this weekend!)
  • This awesome blog!
Unfun things:
  • Anything with the word "accounting" in it
  • Finding the washing machine under the dirty clothes pile among other household chores
Applying a choke-hold to the blob

When I started working from home, I tried to get control of my angry blob the way I had from the office.  My meetings structured my time and everything else had to fit in between. 

Thankfully, working from home broke my system!  I have much more productive time in the day (no commute, no water cooler chat) and need to own up to my priorities (Covey's Urgent/Important matrix is helpful here as seen in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  I do that by putting a squeeze on the most important things. I create artificial pressure on myself to get the most important things done and leave the rest out of site. 

Sometimes that means ignoring a project because it needs to be done, but not right now.  Sometimes that means blocking off time to see my daughter's performance at school.  Sometimes that means turning off my cell phone, going to a coffee shop with no free Wi-Fi and really focusing on the important.

So apply the choke-hold!  You can make the blob surrender!

Friday, March 23, 2012

I love school drop-off time! No, really, I do!

Before you call me crazy, I will admit that school drop-off time is stressful.  There are about 140 kids at my daughter's school--that's more than 100 cars (siblings) that have to get through a one-block drop-off zone in 15 minutes.
Drop the 5 and carry the 2 and you get 6 and 2/3 cars per minute...if they come in a steady stream, which of course they don't.

What makes drop-off time even more stressful are the inevitable doubts running through my mind:
  • Is her homework done and checked?
  • Did we remember lunch/field trip form/raffle ticket money?
  • She is wearing underwear, isn't she?!?
Here is how I learned to stop worrying and love drop-off time (obscure reference). 

I got out of the car and into the 8 AM club

This year, I noticed that a group of parents always arrived 10 to 15 minutes before school opened.  We all started getting out of our cars and getting to know one another.  We talked about football (New Orleans Saints, of course), local politics (at times, a more engaging spectator sport than football), and school happenings (who sold the most raffle tickets). 

We created our own tribe: the 8AM club (Check out Seth Godin for more on tribes).  We greet all of the teachers as they walk by, keep the children from getting hurt or hurting anything else (or anyone else), and tease the parents who are running late.

The 8AM club makes me want to get to school a few minutes early. 

I built my day around it

One of the hardest transitions for me when I started working from home was backing away from the ready-made routine of an office.  For nearly 12 years, I had worked at the same university, walked the same 10 blocks to campus, eaten at the same student center.

The day after I started my work-from-home job, that structure evaporated.  No one poked their head into my home office to see if I wanted coffee.  No one charged in with a brilliant new idea.  No one plopped themselves in the  chair across from me, cursing the university's bureaucracy (OK, I don't miss that last one).

My problem wasn't working from home, it was finding the right times and places to stop (and letting myself be OK with stopping).  My office is three stairs away from the coffee pot, so the commute is pretty much zero.  I can work whenever I want for as long as I want! 

Drop-off time makes me stop

Stop to reflect on a tricky organizational problem

Stop to laugh with the 8AM club about raffle tickets

Stop to pay full attention to my daughter's smile

So to all of my fellow work-from-home moms and dads, stop to find your drop-off time

One more thing, anyone want a raffle ticket?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A five block radius

When I was a kid, there was nothing I liked better than jumping on my bike (of course it had a banana seat!) and riding to my friend's house down the street.  He lived about three blocks away, well within what my parents considered the "safe zone".  The "safe zone" was about a five block radius from our house.

This weekend, I spent time outside with my daughter and one of her best friends.  When they wanted to go to the garage to get supplies to build a fort, I made sure I had eyes on them the entire time. 

What happened to the five block radius? 

My friends and I spent a couple of "front porch with adult beverages" hours (my favorite perk of living in the South) talking about it this past weekend.

I am not sure what the answer is (or answers are), but I do know the following about myself:

First, there may be some latent gender prejudice on my part.  I don't have a son, but I wonder if I wouldn't be a bit more permissive if I were talking about a boy. I hope not.

Second, 24x7 media attention doesn't help.  The media feeds our tendency to over generalize.  Case in point, the razor blades in Halloween candy stories.

Third, I might be one of the dreaded helicopter parents.  I took a quiz and it indicated no, but I am not so sure!

What do you think?  Why has our "safe zone" shrunken? 

Honestly, I want my five blocks back.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


OK, I am a guy.  A guy with not much hair.  I know nothing about styling hair, other than that I keep getting it cut shorter and shorter as I have less and less of it.

My daughter is a full-on, totally committed ballerina.  She has been taking ballet for the past five years.  For the past two years, she has started growing her hair longer so she can have a perfect ballet bun (both for class and for performances...she was in the Nutcracker last year). 

Since she started growing her hair longer, my wife and I have struggled with putting her hair in a bun.  We tried all the old tricks-ask the neighbors, get/pay another girl to show us, watch YouTube videos.  Nothing worked. 

The owner of the ballet studio keeps giving me disappointed looks every time I bring my daughter to class.  I have begun to wonder if the other parents are chuckling behind my back...

But today...today was different!  My daughter and I went to Sally's Beauty Supply near our house for another expert opinion.  The sales clerk was very helpful and suggested corkscrew pins for my daughter's hair.  I think she thought I was a clueless single dad...she is right on the clueless count when it comes to little girls hair!  Two minutes, perfect ballet bun.  My daughter loved it because it worked and I loved it because I got to talk a bit of science (the pins are a double-helix).

Small victory!  Big celebration!

Just don't ask me how to french braid.