13
Feb 14

Four

FourFour is a big deal. Big girl bed. Big girl bike. You explain this to me, in case I’d missed it.

“Soon I will be four, and then I’ll be a teenager.”

Eef.

I travel a lot these days. Not constantly, probably not even 25% of the time, but enough that I often go a week without giving you a hug. And being the overthinker dad that I am, that makes me wonder what effect it has on you. We video chat when I’m gone, whenever the internet connection is good enough. When it isn’t, I record videos for you and send them to your mom to play. I’ve never missed a weekend with you, though it’s sometimes been quite a trick to make that work. I think I’m a really present dad, I try to be, but I wonder how you feel about it, and how you’ll think about it years from now. I hope you’ll agree.

My dad, your grandpa, tells me that when I was a kid and he had a weekend with me, he felt protective. Like he didn’t want to share. Like he wanted me all to himself. And how that wasn’t very helpful and we had a much better time once he got past it and made room. Boy do I understand that, now. Time with you is the best thing, and sometimes I don’t want to share. But grandpa’s wise, and sharing you with others is great, and watching you venture off and be social and own a room is just wonderful. But I’m still glad that you let me read you stories and tuck you into bed at night.

Today was your birthday and you ran around like an idiot with a birthday cake tiara and a birthday bear and made goofy faces any time I tried to take your picture. You ordered pizza and oreo cake and tried to splash me with bathwater. And you fell asleep while I stroked your hair and you snored a little and it was the best thing ever.

Goodnight, Lil. Sweet dreams. I love you.


13
Aug 13

Three and a Half

Lily eating a pearWell, Lil, I have some news for you: I think you’re an introvert.

I don’t want to box you in, and anyhow it’s more of a continuum than a yes/no, but I see things I recognize. The way you play for an hour by yourself without any outside stimulation. The way you stand at the edge of a group of kids at the park, watching them and trying to figure them out. You come by it honestly, but it still makes my heart hurt a bit. Not because I disapprove; far from it. Introverts are some of my very favourite people, and also pretty in vogue among the techie, cerebral, introspective types I tend to run with. But introversion is tricky. You’ll pick up labels like “shy” and “awkward” and you’ll either take those in as parts of your identity or you’ll rebel against them. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be a perfectly well-adjusted human. It is a pretty consistent folly of your dad’s to extrapolate from today to your entire future life. It’s probably silly and I probably shouldn’t, but I do. And sometimes it makes my heart hurt.

Speaking of extrapolation, I’ve been thinking about who, what, and where you’ll be when you read these. I imagine you in your 20s. I don’t know why. I don’t know how I expect to keep them secret from you that long. But I think of you reading them in your 20s, all of them in a sitting, and I wonder what you’ll want to know about being three and a half. You like pears and corn on the cob and sausages with mustard. You love the beach. You’re in circus school on Sunday mornings. You find the word “toots” hilarious. Your youtube favourites are vihart’s math videos, and goats yelling like humans.

That will change. You change quickly now. You went away to California for a few weeks to visit some friends and you came back a different kid. It made me feel protective for a minute. Like I didn’t want you influenced by the outside world. Which is stupid, because those influences are wonderful kids, but also because your life is going to be full of other influences and the last thing I would want to do is stop it. But parenthood is a conservative force – we love you the way you are, and we resist change that we didn’t initiate. Forgive me that, if it happens again when you’re old enough to notice. It’s not a rational response; it’s a reflex. Parental lizard brain.

The world will be different, too. Right now, we — the collective we — worry about some things. We worry about the planet – we think we’re heating it up and we think that’s going to cause big problems. We’re spending a frustrating lot of time debating the evidence and agreeing with each other, but we also have lots of excellent people trying to make it better. We worry about humanity – it’s getting easier for one angry person to hurt a lot of people, and the fear of that is pushing governments into reactions straight out of science fiction: armed drone patrols, global mass surveillance. I don’t talk about this much with the three and a half year old you, but I want the adult you to know that we see these things happening, and we’re not sure how to fix them, but we’ll try. I have hope that we’ll succeed.

Right now, that’s not your biggest concern, though. And that’s fine. Right now your biggest concerns are whether there is ice cream at the beach (there is), and whether tonight is a hair-washing night (it is), and whether I will read you one more story (I will). Thank you for adding so much silly to my life. Thank you for asking “why?” about everything. Thank you for sneaking quietly into the bedroom on Saturday morning, staring at me inches from my face until I startle awake, and then announcing that it’s time for pancakes.

I love you, Lil, and I love the person you’re becoming.

Daddy

 


08
Mar 13

Horseplay

I want to make a point about changing the world, but first we need to talk about the horse head.

For Christmas last year I bought my brother a horse head and, while I was at it, picked one up for the office. It felt like the kind of thing that Mozilla Toronto would enjoy.


Good times.

Between meetings we needed a place to store it; the sad, flat way it sort of collapsed when left on a desk was unsatisfying. So Madhava and I went out in search of a head on which to mount it. Steps from our office is a mannequin supply store, which helped.

I put the horse head on its styrofoam mount and, for giggles, set it up in the window. Facing outwards. Staring at the office in the next building.

For 2 weeks it sat there and I was pretty happy with it. And then something happened. Something wonderful and magical happened. I wasn’t there for it, but lmandel and overholt were.

The other office responded.

They taped a note to the glass.

“What’s with the horse?”

We responded.

“Who you callin’ a horse?”

They responded.

“Why you, of course!”

And so it went. Back and forth.

Stick with me, I’m getting to the world changing.

So last week we bought them their own horse head. And yesterday mconley delivered it to their office. They invited him in. They brought the box over to the window where we could see. They gathered around their window and we gathered around ours. And when they opened it and realised what it was they actually jumped up and down, and applauded, and mouthed “thank you” through the window at us.

In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s utterly definitive work on society and community, he writes that the best predictor of a school’s success is the activity of its PTA, and that the activity level of a PTA can be changed dramatically by one or two committed parents. Derek Sivers’ TED talk is all about the powerful change that happens when one person being silly becomes two people being silly, and cognitive scientists have been talking about the power of allies for 50 years.

The horse head(s) didn’t change the world; I’m not that pompous. But changing the world is hard work and it’s worth getting some practice in. So go start something. And, this is crucial, if you see someone else starting something: play along. Maybe the thing you’re playing with draws a great big crowd and changes the world. Maybe it never amounts to more than an office of strangers 50ft away silently jumping up and down and saying thanks.

It’s not such a terrible downside.

 

UPDATE: The world keeps getting more awesome. Denise from the other office just sent me email saying that the 4th floor office in our building saw their “best day ever” sign, and posted a reply. They don’t even know about the horses. They just wanted to share in the happy.

and tomorrow will be even better (photo credit: denise)


13
Feb 13

3 Years Old

Photog, pt 2Hi Lil,

You’re three. You can count, you can sound out words with help, and you can sing. Thanks to your mom you’re a big fan of Mary Poppins and thanks to me you’re a big fan of O Brother Where Art Thou but I think you still sing mostly to Raffi and One Direction. For One Direction you also dance, which involves more hip motion than I’m really comfortable with.

You seemed to understand Halloween and Christmas much better this year, and you definitely understand your birthday. You want 3 star-shaped candles on your cake. You want star candles because your mom put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of your room. Every night when I put you to bed we turn off the lights and we sit in the rocking chair and we stare at the stars and talk about which one is your favourite. It’s basically the best thing ever.

You’re developing complex thoughts and emotions now at a dizzying pace. Like “awkwardness of forgetting someone’s name.” You try to remember, wrestle with it visibly, and then call them, “that one,” quietly, half-embarrassed. “Patience with daddy clearly being an idiot” is another one that’s coming along nicely.

The one that stopped my heart, though, was a story from day care. You’ve been in day care for 6 months, and I wondered how it would go since it was your first real socialization with other kids outside of occasional visits. It’s a big day care with a different groups for different ages. A month or two ago, a new boy came in to the group next to yours in the facility. He was pretty sad on his first day and, during naptime, he was lying on his mat and crying. Your mat was nearby, on the other side of a half-height dividing wall. When your daycare supervisor walked over, she saw that you were awake, and speaking softly to him through the wall saying,

It’s okay. You don’t need to cry. Your mommy will come back. Mommies and daddies always come back.

You break my heart, kiddo, in all the very best ways. Happy birthday. I love you I love you I love you.


30
Nov 12

Dialogue – NSID 2012

Fade in.
NSID 2011 Mosaic
She: You stop shaving?
He: Yep.
She: Like, your mustache? The charity thing?
He: No, that’s Movember. Which is awesome. But different.
She: So you don’t shave at all?
He: Right.
She: For a month?
He: No Shaving in December. Right.
She: Ew.

A brief pause.

She: Why? Because some guy on the internet told you to?
He: He… no. I mean. That’s how I found out about it. But that’s not why.
She: Why then? Doesn’t it itch?
He: It itches for a while. That’s part of the whole thing.
She: Part of what whole thing? Why put yourself through that?
He: Just because. Don’t worry about it.
She: No. No way. If have to live with it for a month, I want to know why.
He: No. Anyhow, you’ll think it’s silly.
She: Probably.

A brief pause.

He: I do it to be free.
She: You do it to be free.
He: I do it to be free. I do it because the world finds a hundred ways each day to silence the songs of my heart. I do it because I need a counterpoint to neckties and filing cabinets and oxford commas. I do it because so much of my life is multivitamins and single-file lines and carpet tiles and checklists and parallel parking and sugar free sweetener and appointment reminders and hand sanitizer and whiteboards that the idea of running a razor across my neck every day in an effort to fit in better is simply more than I will accept. I do it to push back that cloud of oppressive, pervasive, repressive cleanliness by half an inch; to give myself space to breathe, and to be.

A brief pause.

She: Multivitamins. Is that what the guy on the internet told you? Multivitamins?
He: We also get to tweet about it and post photos.
She: Oh good.


13
Aug 12

Two and a Half

French BreakfastHi, kiddo.

I’m writing this one from an airport. Tomorrow we’ll probably video chat, because you are a kid for whom the world has just always included video chat.

I’m at the airport so that I can fly to Boston. I’m going to meet up with a bunch of other people from Mozilla who are working to make the web awesome for you. I find it difficult to remember life before the web, and I didn’t even really get it until my teens. It changes quickly. I wonder what it will look like by the time you read this. I hope it’s excellent. I want you to know that a lot of incredible people worked really hard to build it. We think it’s just about the best thing we can do to make the world a better, fairer, friendlier place. I hope you agree.

Since my last note, you’ve become a city girl. You ride streetcars and subways. When I ask you what you want to do on Sunday morning, you answer, “Go to the café. Then go to the Farmer’s market.” You’ve become a hippy. You have skinned knees. You fell and cut your lip last month, and you have two slivers in your hand that you won’t let me remove.

And yet you run. You run and you laugh while you’re running. You pull all the pillows off the couch and then fall blindly back into them. You climb onto the railing of your crib, stand on the back of couches, and generally terrify your mother and me. And when you (inevitably) damage yourself, you cry, and you run to one of us, and you make us kiss it better and then, through sobs, you say, “feel better now.”

Last week I took my 5,000th picture of you. That’s one every four and a half hours since the moment you were born. I don’t think I’ll keep up the rate but thanks for your patience, regardless.

You are just the best of me, little girl. Thank you for everything you bring into my life. Thank you for kisses and hugs and being clingy after your nap. Thank you for helping me make pancakes, and for sharing your chocolate. And thank you for video calls when I’m far from home. We’re boarding soon, Lil. I love you.

Daddy


16
Apr 12

The Cognitive Science of SHUT UP

“I’m going to be a shrill and rigid idiot.

“I’m going to blindly refuse to listen to contrary opinions. I’ve already made up my mind, and will invent reasons why alternatives won’t work. Most importantly, I’m going to get this done my way, regardless of whether it’s actually the best decision, or even a good idea.”

You’ve never approached a problem that way. No one has.

But you’ve probably told yourself that story about someone else. You’ve been on the receiving end of one of these mindless and petty tyrants, in a bug or a mailing list or a standards body, and you’ve decided that you were seeing a rigid idiot in action. I know I have.

My philosophy of science prof used to talk about how the two important tests of a scientific model are whether it allows you to make accurate predictions, and how well it helps you discover new things. This matters more than its elegance or its intuitive appeal, though a really nice model has those, too.

The Rigid Idiot model does, for better or for worse, predict. It predicts more rigid idiocy, and people using that model to inform their interactions are likely to get precisely that. But it’s a pretty hollow model for generativity; it doesn’t help you make progress.

Here’s an alternate model:

Stress response pre-dates our neocortex, and outranks it. It is wired more deeply into us than language, much less rational discussion. And it has predictable effects. A person under stress (personal, professional, social, physical) will lose patience more quickly, anger easily, resist change, and consider fewer alternatives before making decisions. It’s an ancient, optimized cognitive path: less waffling when there are lions nearby. That it impairs our ability to function in this 10,000 year old thing called ‘civilization’ is evolutionary postscript.

You get to choose which model you bring to a conversation. When you assume that the person you’re dealing with is acting atypically, from point-in-time stress instead of born-in idiocy, you give yourself follow-up questions to ask about timelines, or conflicting pressures, or hidden assumptions. You give yourself ways to understand motivations, and implicit guidance about tone.

Not every asshole is a stress response waiting to be defused, but I swear to you that the single greatest improvement you can make to your success rate with these conversations is to switch models. I have seen people turn on a dime once their stressors are addressed. Suddenly there are lots of solutions, and confrontation turns to collaboration. It’s like a god damned secret decoder ring, to be honest.

With practice, you may even start to recognize the descent into idiocy in your own interactions, though it won’t make you immune. This is old, lizard-brain stuff. Like drunkenness, you can get better at detecting it, but you can’t think your way out of it. And, as with drink, my hope is that if you see someone a little worse for wear, you remember that it’s fleeting. Give them some time to sober up before assuming that’s who they really are.


13
Feb 12

2 years old

HandsDada happy!

Yes, Lily, I’m very happy. I’m always happy when I’m with you.

Dada kiss! hug!

Every time you kiss someone, you hug them, and then eskimo kiss. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss nana. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss mommy. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss teddy, and your tea cups, and my RC helicopter.

You smile a lot. You know that you’re supposed to smile for pictures, but you don’t really know how to make that happen on command, so smiling for pictures is sort of a grimace. I think it’s beautiful, but I suspect in a few years you’ll think it’s silly.

I watch you count toys and name the letters of the alphabet and I start to understand why parents all get this far off look in their eye when they talk about how quickly the time goes. I bet that part gets worse with time. The parents of 7-year olds in my life seem to feel it more deeply, and the parents of 15-year olds even moreso.

I wonder, as I have before, and even before that, which of your current fascinations will persist. You love bugs bunny cartoons. You can recite Sahara Hare verbatim. So can we. You put HP sauce on your scrambled eggs. You sit on the potty with an android tablet on your lap and watch nyan cat reaction videos and the duck song. Your childhood will be very, very different from mine.

At night, you can’t go to sleep without one verse each of Rainbow Connection, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain, and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. In the last month, you’ve started to sing along.

And then I tell you it’s time for sleep. And you say,

Okay. Goodnight daddy, I love you.

And it gets me. every. time.

I love you too, Lily. Happy birthday.