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Continuing Education: The Romantic Nature of Learning

 

"Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind."

-Louise Nevelson

 

There is artistry in education. The appreciation of its design depends largely on one’s ability to contemplate the beauty of its magnificent impact with moral imagination.  If you take the time to step back and deconstruct the material world, educational lessons are revealed in its design. This is the cornerstone of Montessori . Facilitating an understanding of the world by developing a core of knowledge based on experiencing its physical properties (AKA: Tactile Learning). The more comprehensive these experiences are... the deeper one's understanding of the world may become.

Lasting impressions of the physical world create reference points for not only our creativity and imagination but for the development of our vocabulary and the most basic means of communication as well.

In the book "Thought In The Act", Erin Manning + Brian Massumi describe life experience as: "...the intangible." I interpret this to mean that one can only imagine the intangible and our imaginations are the creative applications of mental associations we make with our physical understandings of the world. The breadth of one's learning can therefore directly impact the extent to which one experiences life and can imagine. This is the mindset from which we attempt to re-discover and re-define the world with, and for, our daughter.

"I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it."
-Henri Matisse

My wife and I are driven to give our daughter a life filled with as much joy as possible (without being detrimental) while empowering her to make a positive contribution to the world and leave it in a better condition than the one in which it is presented to her. Whether or not she elects to take on such a noble pursuit will be up to her…but we at least want her to be possessed with the requisite awareness in order to give her a better shot at it if she tries. We believe that the attainment of this awareness is made easier if we adopt a Montessorial approach to our introduction to the world (meaning: deconstructing everything to its most basic physical components, qualities and relationships in order to promote an appreciation of both individual components and their relationships within various contexts as well). Employing this method of modeling (and thus parenting) has been very much like arranging a marriage between Socratic Questioning and the slow motion filming techniques that transform amazing feats of wildlife like the flight mechanics of a bird's wing, into what the BBC calls "...full scale events, and simple action into incredibly detailed video sequences." The results are impossible to imagine let alone perceive with the naked eye. When a sequence filmed at a high frame rate (fps) is played back in normal time (24fps), the action appears to slow down. As camera technology improves, ultra high-speed footage of over 1,000fps produces ever more astonishing images. Hidden secrets are revealed, new science is discovered and tiny subtleties in animal behaviour become perceptible.".

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."
-Edgar Degas

On Grocery Shopping:
As parents we often worry more about our children's happiness than our own...and some of us can imagine the smallest amount of potential suffering (even boredom) having lasting detrimental effects to their overall emotional well-being. It sounds crazy... and that's mostly because, well...it is.

After being blessed with a seemingly perpetual sidekick, I suddenly began viewing one of my favorite things in the world: grocery shopping, as a boring chore for our little one and more of a "necessary evil" than anything. I went to great lengths in order to minimize our time in any market and thus mitigate, what I had perceived to be, my daughters suffering.

My weekly mission was to make grocery shopping as fast and as painless as possible. To enter and to leave with military precision. I was a Supermarket S.E.A.L.  and the strike zone encompassed every square inch from the parking lot to the pastry case. As such, it required utilizing my strategic operations experience to develop shopping lists that would direct our travel path from paper products and laundry supplies to dairy and frozen foods (which...to me, is still the most efficient travel path through a grocery store.)

Once I considered the fact that my general stress level was likely being transmitted at some level to my daughter, I took a step back and looked at this mundane chore of gathering stuff with my Montessorial monocle. After doing so, I was able to recognize educational opportunities existing everywhere! It didn't take long to start enjoying the lessons that every isle and every purchase offered.  I think I, like so many other people, shop as they drive. One with the cart. Operating it with a sort of tunnel vision. Half-blind to the other people in the store in that- I saw them mostly as slow moving obstacles in my path to hunting, gathering and surgically extracting a list of items amid a course made from thousands of bar coded goods. The fact that there are so many different products & foodstuffs in a myriad of: colors, textures, shapes and sizes alone...combined with the wide range of pricing makes for an exceptional environment full of physical stimulus there for the taking!  Add to this the potential multitude of non-verbal lessons in social psychology once one begins navigating with others as opposed to through them. Explaining that pictures don't necessarily match what's in the box or naming an animal that eats a particular food...even the act of writing then reading a shopping list together and checking off the items holds a wealth of practical modeling applications.

New and exciting games emerge when a scale is viewed as an educational toy instead of a tool for commerce. Guessing how many units or "pounds" of bananas we want and then showing my three year old just how many bananas her guess of 7 pounds actually equates to…and feels in her arms....can be hilarious! And physically comprehending the difference between a 1lb bag of rice in her lap vs. a 10lb pound bag in her lap is just one of the countless physical comparisons that make long lasting impressions while eliciting a heart-warming amount of laughter.

This is enjoyable education. It's fun. it's free. And it forms the basis of enjoying physical connections with the world and learning from them. The food market has now become not only less stressful for me... but actually much more enjoyable than it ever was.  Seeing how much five of something costs compared to how much ten of the same thing costs can be a real lesson in both mathematics as well as economics.

There is no single word, equivalent to literacy or numeracy, that expresses wrighting and wroughting (that is the ability to make – as in wheelwright, shipwright, cartwright). In late 18th and early 19th century the role of schools in preparing children to work in manufacturing industry would have been seen to have had a greater vocational and economic relevance than it would today.

-Brian Stevens: The Three Rs and The Education Journal #307


We never refer to “shopping” as math or economics or physics or psychology... just as we don't refer to other skill sets such as addition or penmanship in the Montessori classroom as such. We focus on the romantic nature of letters and numbers and what they physically mean so that we can draw them, hold them, trace them, count and separate them, etc... This sensual connection between touch and concept is what I view as romantic. Using the traditional names for foundations of basic skill-oriented educational programs may more readily prepare children for the references they will encounter in later years but it takes all the fun out of learning today. It makes these experiences seem more like work and less like play. It takes the romance, the magic and the imagination out of her world.

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."
-Aristotle

Viewing the world from a Montessorial perspective is making every place and every thing seem more meaningful than its obvious context. More valuable than the sum of its parts. More...interconnected.
In my earlier post "Circle Back" I discussed the interconnections that exist between the business world and the natural world. These are the kinds of relationships I am now just seeing for the first time and the vision of the world I want to impart to my child. Seeing the inter-connectedness of all things may sound like a spiritual or religious pursuit for us but it is not. For my wife and me... it is much simpler than that. Our hope is that by embracing the romantic nature of learning she will derive immense fulfillment from discovery and understand more about the world and herself than traditional extrinsic "teaching" alone can impart.  

Right now, my wife and I only want to develop a polite and gentle person who is socially adept and enjoys learning. We have no interest in rushing to amass within her any specific quantity or mass of knowledge nor do we want her to achieve any prescribed level of learning above or beyond what she naturally achieves through self-interest and gentle guidance.  This is why we made the choice to send her to a Montessori School and why, every day, we are grateful for discovering Baan Dek Montessori in Sioux Falls. There are so many stresses that we face as adults in life. Right now we want her to be a child and enjoy her childhood. The artisan educators at Baan Dek seem to direct their students with an understanding that there is greater value in mitigating pressure for children than preparing them to handle it...and we like that.

"Play is The Work of The Child" - Maria Montessori

For the last three years, I have walked with our daughter to the top of at least a dozen water slides...and every climb resulted in uncertainty and fear. Although I would consistently assure her that it would be "ok" and "so much fun!" (While pointing out the other children her age and those younger who we're enjoying it) She always decided to walk back down instead...until this past week at a resort in Phoenix Arizona. When she decided she was "going to be brave” and “ought to give it a try." As a result, I witnessed a mirth of her own accord. Unmistakably derived not only from the thrill of the ride, but also from the pride in realizing that her own hunger for joy was the motivation that elicited courage.

Children develop at different rates... but when placed in healthy environments with exposure to diversity of company and a myriad of disciplines, all children eventually reach their intellectual potential with or without our constant intervention.The difference between racing to that potential vs. allowing a child to arrive at it at their own pace and through a romantic discovery is that the later seems to breed a deeper joy and self-confidence through an appreciation of the journey as well as the destination.

Entertaining Clients: Throwing a Birthday Party

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Some nice birthday gifts received from Catherine’s friends today and a wonderful party all around.

My wife did a lot to make it special and I was moved by the beauty of her happily getting lost in what truly was a labor of love…a commitment to excite and thrill our little girl.  

We stayed up pretty late the night before preparing hand-made decorations and favors in order to construct an “Arts & Crafts” themed party. She monogramed white oversized children’s oxfords with different colored fabric letters for guests to use as smocks they could use at the party and then take home. She also put together a “make-your-own party hat” station as one of the activities for the day and “sock puppet kits” comprised of everything from the sock with cardboard mouth pre-glued in to eyes, whiskers, spots and anything else required for the respective animal or creature-in-a-bag. These kits were packed in their goody bags as well. We both really enjoyed thinking of the animals and characters for which we spent hours cutting out their parts from sheets of felt and making a few of our own along the way.

The sample sock puppet my wife made was hilarious! It actually had a Muppet-like personality. Green yarn hair. Black googley eyes (complete with eyebrows), a long pointy nose and a long thin black mustache. I couldn’t stop laughing when she put it on for a trial run and made “Juan” immediately come alive with his Spanish accent and adult humor. 

Support Services: Translating "I can't do it!"

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http://www.janetlansbury.com/2012/09/when-children-cant-do-it-and-how-to-help/

The above link is to a great article which addresses a question my wife and I have had as to why our 3yr old daughter is continually complaining and whining/crying about not being able to put on her shoes or dress herself when we know she can. We have tried everything from: “Come on, show Mommy / Daddy how you can do it.” to “Stop this silliness…I know you can do it.” Which apparently may only be placing more stress on her. (I’ve even noticed that her pretending to be a kitty cat also coincides with her demands for help with tasks she has already mastered…as if she is trying to remove herself from the situation of expectation). When attempting to translate "I can't do it!" we try to look at other potential sources of frustration that may be manifesting themselves during dressing time. We did recently move half-way across the country and she is in a new school….both of which are events mentioned in the article as potentially driving the need for a bit more nurturing.

Lately, we have been trying to practice some benign neglect out of fear that we were babying our daughter and hovering too much. Although we don’t want to contribute to an overly dependent child, perhaps we are now over-compensating and hitting her with higher expectations too suddenly. The fact that she is attending school and thriving has definitely put me in a little bit more of an achievement mode for her and this article has helped bring me back to home base. We are grateful for this new perspective and after only two days of exercising this new approach we are seeing more independence with regards to dressing about 50% of the time. 

Talent Aquisition: Mommy's Job Offer

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As a specialist, my wife receives letters and postcards (sometimes twice a week) from recruiters and health systems all over North America. They never explicitly state which hospital it is specifically but they all guarantee: top salaries, high quality of life, national sports teams, major universities and “…a wonderful place to raise children”.

My wife is working very hard with a practice covering seven hospitals in three states and feels as though her employers’ commitment to her is as not as significant as her commitment to  them. She always says “Your first job is never your last…” So, after 5+ years of interest from Sanford Hospital in South Dakota, we’ve decided to take a look. Although we couldn’t imagine living in South Dakota... we did some research on Sanford Health and decided it was worth the visit. At the very least, it would be an opportunity for my wife to catch up with an old friend and former colleague for whom she has a tremendous amount of respect.

FAST FORWARD 7 WEEKS…  

When we arrived in Sioux Falls South Dakota, we were simply blown away at this hospital’s whisper of a “Talk” and thunderous “Walk”. Thanks to Premier One Bankcard founder Denny Sanford (and his $700MM in gifts so far…), Sioux Valley Hospital has been renamed “Sanford Hospital” (surprisingly) and transformed into a region-shaping health care network with an infrastructure of physicians in leadership and an outreach spanning 126 communities throughout 8 states. They are implementing several initiatives including global children's clinics, multiple research centers and finding a cure for type 1 diabetes and breast cancer. With both domestic and overseas satellites opening at a record-pace, Denny Sanford is creating an unprecedented momentum of ensuring the highest caliber of healthcare both in the Midwest and in 18 countries throughout the world (now developing international clinics in Ireland, Ghana, Israel and Mexico). Organizational growth and development with cutting-edge medicine, sophisticated research and advanced education like this isn’t seen in cities ten times their size.

We arrived the weekend of Sanford Hospital’s Annual Gala ( benefiting the expansion of their cardiac division) and graciously accepted what we believed would simply be an opportunity to meet some folks on the team and have a nice dinner. I’ve been to a lot of these events and they always seem to follow the same syllabus: cocktails followed by a President’s greeting, a few words of promise by the CEO or COO then a video presentation of the good work being done by talented physicians and administration’s plans for the future. Then it’s back to dinner and some dancing afterwards.

The Sanford Healthcare gala we attended not only brought one of the better meals I’ve had this year to our table (a perfect medium rare filet, roasted brussel sprouts and truffled potato gratin), but also tears to my eyes…and handkerchief. Never before have I been so moved by the parents of children whose life-changing stories were shared …or by the teams of dedicated people working orchestrally, from top to bottom, who selflessly make such a monumental difference. But the Sanford story did not end when the lights came back on. This was not a benefit injected with a presentation of “good work being done”. This was simply a spotlight on life at Sanford whose message of “Improving the human condition through exceptional care, innovation and discovery” didn’t end with a video. Improving the lives of children, specifically, didn’t seem like “just a job” people are doing here…it seemed more like a calling. An ingrained way of living life. A belief system that is evident in everything from the conversations between fulfilled guests at every table and the LED-illuminated spinning magic wands handed out on the dance floor (that surely made many a baby-sat children at home delighted in the morning) to the child prodigy pianist who led the orchestra all evening long.

I guess it’s just an overall feeling of genuine commitment to care and to the community of people who provide it…and there doesn’t seem to be a sense of (or pre-occupation with) time clocks, budgets or superfluous layers of administration associated with it. The passion was palpable and contagious. It’s hard to be around people like that and not feel a moral imperative to join them.  It’s hard to be a father and not want an amenity like them for your own child.

Now that some of our preconceived notions regarding the Midwest have been obliterated, we have a lot to talk about on the flight home.

Scientific Management: Decoding the Parent Gene

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“Being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but there are important differences. A large survey revealed multiple differing predictors of how individuals arrive at happiness (controlling for meaning) and meaningfulness (controlling for happiness). Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness.

Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning but not happiness.

In short, one might say that this study finds that the contribution of something meaningful in our, or another’s life requires the sacrifice of personal happiness. What they fail to recognize is the inherent fulfillment and happiness a parent experiences when they contribute meaningfully to their child’s life in any way…regardless of the worry, stress and anxiety that may be involved.

My own conclusion… Parenting defies the laws of science through selflessness.

see-Businessinsider.com/ http://www.businessinsider.com/happy-vs-meaningful-life-2012-11

Outside The Box: Considering Relocating

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My wife just told me about an in incredible job opportunity she has in Sioux Falls, SD. She may as well have said it was somewhere in the Himalayas. Seriously, what’s the difference? I just looked at a map to see where South Dakota is located because, although i'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, my knowledge of domestic geography is akin to that of a child’s proficiency with jigsaw puzzles. I’m pretty good with the corners and edges but a bit dodgy on the middle.

Living in a big coastal city with a baby, where cultural arts abound, is a lot like having a pool. It’s nice to look at… and if you didn’t have it, you’d wish you did but at the end of the day, you’re basically paying a premium for an amenity that's really appreciated more by your friends and family than you.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the inherent value of a big city with access to amenities like superior health care and education, the arts / museums and concept dining…even if you don’t regularly take advantage of them. Chances are, those amenities have drawn others to the area that may not take advantage of them either. So at the very least, you’re left with having like-minded neighbors with similar interests.

We moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia (back to my roots) just before Catherine was born. We thought that growing up with trees and a yard was preferable to vents in the street spewing out the smells of the subway and buses heaving clouds of heavy dark smoke on top of strollers on the sidewalk. Moving back to the suburbs not only offered our daughter the same kind of childhood my wife and I enjoyed, but also brought us closer to my family who made it downtown about as often as a herd of deer.

So, moving to the middle of the country doesn’t really seem feasible… but we’re considering it.

Face Time: Being 100% Present

I'm learning to enjoy what originally brought me into the restaurant business. My family, my love of food and my appreciation of interesting company. When you are the one serving all the time... as opposed to the one being served, it's a lot like being a deaf musician.

I realize that my life is so much better now and that I’m so blessed to have everything I've ever wanted...everything that's important to me...and yet I still need to learn to relax and enjoy it. It's a strange feeling.

I’m getting better at not feeling as though there is something else I could be doing. Those feelings used to be a great source of stress regardless of how I channeled it or hid it. Not being able to complete a sentence. Not being able to make a phone call or finish a simple task like feeding the dog, folding the laundry or sending an email without this little person demanding my attention. It’s non-stop and as much as I love her, I can now understand the principles behind Chinese water torture. The constant repetition of something so innocuous (like light Bossa Nova or Yani or "Daddy!") over time can drive anyone nuts.

Being valuable meant being productive for so long….now I’m coming to terms with the beauty of things left undone. And in return, I’m able to catch one more of her smiles or share another laugh or just take one extra moment to remind her of how much she’s loved. This little girl wants my attention and should get it (most of the time). She deserves it. She’s already learned that she has me wrapped around her little finger and senses my stress when I’m not able to rush to her upon request but I’m curbing that now and practicing benign neglect (for her benefit more than mine). And as I watch her grow before my eyes, I’m struck with the seasonal nature of life and the fleeting of time. Before I know it, she’ll be 15 and telling me she hates me.

Best Practices: Mitigating the Pain of Traveling with Children

Whenever we fly, most passengers near us are impressed that Catherine is such a well-behaved traveler. Even when she was a baby…we would get off a plane and invariably encounter one or two people who would comment about how nervous they were when they first saw us board with a child. They would then tell us how surprised they were that she was so quiet and well-behaved. The secret then and the secret now is that I only book flights that leave within an hour of her nap time (as long as it's not the last flight of the day when folks like Delta, United and US Air are typically overbooking flights to begin with) so that by the time we actually board the plane, she is ready for a good cuddle and some shut-eye. 

Bottom Line: Committing to Being the Primary Care Giver... and Savoring It

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“Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. Those with a status of identity diffusion tend to feel out of place in the world and don't pursue a sense of identity.”

Kendra Cherry,

Identity Crisis - Theory and Research

Throughout all of this, I have had several moments of clarity…perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the latest as my great epiphany…not my discovery that industrial rolls of HP print paper are cheaper by the foot than the ALEX or Crayola brands that also fit the Potterybarn Kids Craft Table…it is rather my realization that, although I may continue to rely heavily on the skill sets I learned and honed in my previous jobs; I am really missing out on a tremendous amount of joy and closeness with my daughter by selfishly treating the responsibility of being her full-time father like a professional pursuit or project that could be mastered. I am realizing the necessity of committing to my new identity half-way through my year “sabbatical” of being a stay-at-home dad. Although I am grateful for this break-through, I can’t help but think of how short a window you have to assume a completely new identity …and by the time you figure things out, you may just miss it all.  I gave everything I had but confident that I missed-out on a lot in the beginning.  Sometimes I wonder if my learning curve would have been shortened if I had a father (as many women have mothers) to turn to…or any other man, similarly engaged, who was able to share their wisdom derived from a similar experience.  I spoke to my mom yesterday who told me, once again, that “…it goes by in the blink of an eye.” Only this time I understood. My mom continues to comfort me with her ability to commiserate, understand, laugh with, support and encourage me. I will tell her, today, that she is the reason I have so much to give my daughter and motivates me to share this diary in hope that I can shorten the learning curve for at least one other like-minded former working dad.

The following is an edited excerpt taken from: http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/identitycrisis.htm

According to Erik Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself… His studies of cultural life among the Yurok of northern California and the Sioux of South Dakota helped formalize Erikson's ideas about identity development and identity crisis.

Erikson described identity as "a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image. But it was James Marcia (1966, 1976, 1980) who expanded upon Erikson's initial theory. According to Marcia and his colleagues, the balance between identity and confusion lies in making a commitment to an identity. Marcia also developed an interview method to measure identity as well as four different identity statuses. This methods looks at three different areas of functioning: occupational role, beliefs and values and sexuality.

Identity Statuses

Identity achievement occurs when an individual has gone through an exploration of different identities and made a commitment to one.

Moratorium is the status of a person who is actively involved in exploring different identities, but has not made a commitment.

Foreclosure status is when a person has made a commitment without attempting identity exploration.

Identity diffusion occurs when there is neither an identity crisis or commitment.

Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. Those with a status of identity diffusion tend to feel out of place in the world and don't pursue a sense of identity.

In today's rapidly changing world, identity crises are more common today than in Erikson's day. Exploring different aspects of yourself in the different areas of life, including your role at work, within the family, and in romantic relationships, can help strengthen your personal identity.

Due Dilligence: Taking Great Activity Ideas Home

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Although I’m a big fan of spending time at the local pet store (AKA: The Free Zoo) and going on “Playground Tour 2012”…There are a lot of other things to do in the area.

This week, one of my best friends Jeff (who is also a professional Daddy) re-introduced me to Longwood Gardens. Like many other places I’ve visited as a childless-man, I was surprised to learn that there was a “children’s section”.

Longwood has an exhibit in the Indoor Children’s Garden “…filled with intricate water features, handcrafted artisan elements and engaging horticultural displays that invite children into an imaginative world all their own.” - www.longwoodgardens.org

Located in the center of these awe inspiring displays is a large stone fountain adorned with hand-carved dragons and surrounded by slate-tiled walls. A collection of buckets and small wooden-handled paintbrushes are made available for children for them to “paint” everything from the fountain itself to the cement floor beneath it…with water as the "paint" that temporarily darkens the surfaces.

As someone with large rocks lining their driveway and approximately 60’ of flagstone along their front walk, I immediately recognized the beauty of this interactive exhibit. The quick-drying “paint” motivates the children to continually create new designs or re-do patterns that have just faded… until you have to drag them away.

Needless to say… I bought 3 cheap paintbrushes at Sherwin Williams yesterday and am looking forward to Catherine’s reaction when I break them out this weekend.

So much easier to steal GREAT ideas from someone else than to think of them yourself. Whenever I’m at a loss for fun things to do, I guess I just need to get out with the openness to re-discover places and things I thought I knew.

Reminds me of the classic cure for “writer's block”.

Good Money After Bad? - Our Dog's 2nd Surgery (canis secretariat familiaris)

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After a couple of difficult months, our 1yr old Newfoundland (Lulu) was ready to take her rehab to the final step: Aqua Therapy. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief, not only because Lulu was getting better, but because this meant we would be able to take-up the grey non-slip indoor-outdoor carpeting I had duct-taped to the hardwood floors throughout our downstairs. We hated those strips of carpeting. It made our home look like it was under construction. We got so accustomed to them though...that, until we noticed people staring at them, we would forgot to explain the reason for them being there. 

So the moment we walk through the door to the Physical Therapy Center, she immediately dropped to the floor and began yelping in pain.  Literally, the second she walked through the door. This dog never yelps or cries out in pain. It was like the Kennedy Assassination sans grassy knoll….or any gunmen…but just a sudden and equally significant. Just as the therapist guessed, it was another torn ACL and although we said “this is it.” after the last one...we decided that, in light of i) all the effort and expense we already put in ii)Catherine’s developing attachment iii) the fact that she was only a year old and would likely recover well because of that...perhaps it wouldn’t be good money after bad.

So we decided to repeat the whole damn process of getting a TPLO for her other leg. Only this time we decided to bring in some part-time help because I’m not the goddamned Dog Whisperer!

Enter an amazing professional dog therapist and walker named Meagan. Meagan really is a huge help but now puts the number of house staff in excess of the people actually living here... which makes it kinda feel like we're not really managing things that well.

Perspective: I Thought The Restaurant Business was Tough...

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After 6 mos. of being a full-time dad I don’t think anyone could possibly imagine how difficult it is to be a full-time parent of a toddler unless they've done it themselves (for longer than a week or two). That being said, my wife recently attended a seminar in which they discussed the importance of understanding different perceptions of stress especially at home. Although surgeons may have to work under an incalculable amount of stress (and often with little sleep) in knowing that children’s lives hang in the balance and that there is no margin for error; everyone’s individual stress limit is relative to their own experience and personal threshold but no less in perceived magnitude.

I previously thought that very few people worked as hard as I did in the restaurant business. My dedication and sacrifice served as a source of pride for many years. Being somewhat of a professional masochist enabled me to develop a sense of self based on emotional co-dependence and giving up that which was most important to me: family, friends and the possibility of a long-lasting relationship. (The same things my wife sacrificed but with the greater mental and physical challenges… not to mention the longer hours and greater commitment that medical school and residency demands.)

“No one ever knows how difficult anyone else’s job ever is until they have to do it”. I’ve heard the adage at least a few hundred times before but it is the most humbling thing I've learned in trading my ego for closeness with my daughter...a joy few fathers ever have the opportunity to experience. I’m grateful for this blessing and the resulting humility.  

Setting Up Shop: Stocking a Playroom

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My wife and I went to the craft store yesterday and bought a shopping cart so full of stuff (colored cotton balls and pipe cleaners to popsicle sticks and finger paints) the cashier thought  we were teachers and gave us a discount. Catherine now has her own supply closet in her playroom located in our basement...which we prefer to call: “The Way-Downstairs” (as an homage to “the way back” of the classic Country Squire Station Wagons that very few families were lucky enough to own in the 70’s).

Cross-Pollination: Parenting A lot Like Dog Training

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“It’s not the dog’s fault... they need consistent exercise, discipline, and affection.”

“Your dog will mirror your energy and state of mind.”

“Calm and assertive. Calm and assertive.”

“After correction you need to follow through.”

Cesar Milan- The Dog Whisperer

Hmmmmmm....perhaps Cesar Milan's advise is just as congruent with parenting as The Super Nanny's.

   

Micromanagement: Are We Hovering Too Much?

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The October 2012 issue of Psychology Today ran a feature written by Elizabeth Svoboda : “Lessons for Living: Five Surprising Principles for Living, Loving and Playing with Others. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201208/lessons-living.

The most interesting and relevant to me as a dad who wants to ensure that my wife and I are exercising a healthy amount of concern and protection was “Lesson #2: The Beauty of Benign Neglect” which discusses the opinions of relationship expert Michelle Givertz (California State University, Chico) and Hara Estroff Marano (author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting). They discuss the fact that… “ It’s more harmful to overparent than underparent.”

Although I don’t see us as “helicopter parents” (and sure most helicopter parents wouldn’t see themselves as such) I think it bears keeping in mind for any parent this thought: “By not letting kids stumble over little things, parents prevent them from developing coping skills… without [these coping skills] kids don’t develop a sense of mastery and self-confidence”

The nub of the article is this: “Practicing benign neglect with your children is like inoculation…stepping back, giving kids the chance to recognize that you’re there for them even when you’re not hitched to their side, that they’re capable of picking themselves up when they fall down-is the only way they’ll internalize the strength of the parental bond and a sense of their own competence.”

There is a difference between "over-management" (i.e, managing details neglected by others) vs. "micro-management" (i.e, managing every step of every process and the minutia in between". 

Buy-In: Taking Our Parenting Seriously

We signed up for weekend classes at The Little Gym (a local children’s gym) when Catherine was about 20 mos old. The whole idea seemed like a giant play date with activities planned by a gymnast. What could be better than building coordination and friendships at the same time? 

After our first few introductory classes with an incredible instructor, we spent the ride home fantasizing about meeting other parents and our daughter’s early graduation from independent play to interaction “Norman Rockwell-style” with other children. 

The first thing we learned at the Little Gym was that very few people marry in their late thirties and have children in their early forties. We were surrounded by young moms and dads with whom we didn’t seem to have anything in common…most notably their seeing this venue as a “great opportunity for children to burn off as much energy as possible”…presumably without the risk breaking something (or someone) at home.

We thought it was a “class”… or at least supposed to be. They called it a “class”. Very few people seemed to mind that their children weren’t listening to the introductions at circle time or were off wandering around and playing on equipment while the instructor was explaining the next activity.

We were often in the minority of  parents (and some children) straining to hear over the children who were screaming. I guess some parents can ignore screaming and carrying on in public...as if it was just white noise to everyone.  These unaffected and inconsiderate parents accept it as normal and chat away with the other parents who are too cool and laid-back to care that their children might be acting like rabid orangutans.

The initial thought was that maybe we were just over-concerned micro managers. It just didn’t seem o.k. to us that no one seemed to reprimand or at least attempt to correct the behavior of children that didn’t wait their turn or worse... push our daughter out of the way.

Watching the little boy who hoarded all the bouncy balls or hula hoops while his father laughed it off, with what seemed like a touch of pride instead of embarrassment, was enough "scope creep" to dissolve my tolerance. I felt like we were getting an early glimpse of a future jerk that someone, someday, would have to work for…and the person clearly responsible for cultivating that personality.

Of course there was a small number of like-minded parents who seemed to share our view that most social situations are great coaching opportunities. They would correct impolite behavior and praise good manners. Although we would thank them for their courtesy, and try to parlay our appreciation into a comfortable ice-breaker, those opportunities felt to be few and far between.

We kept asking ourselves “Are we really uptight or just more mature?” Of course the latter was more pleasant to believe but irrelevant to the fact that we just didn’t fit in. So we bailed on The Little Gym.

We’ve since been to a few birthday parties since then and encountered, on average, at least one other parent that elects to stay in the same room with their children and monitor their play instead of blissfully hob-knobbing with other parents over Bloody Marys and Stella Artois… It’s nice knowing we’re not alone in our commitment to manage the development of a future adult.

Go-To-Market Strategy: Finding Teaching Oppotunities Everywhere

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No longer is the free cookie at the bakery department our motivation for getting to the market. I’ve really learned that taking your time in an isle may be time consuming but very fun and rewarding if you have the time to begin with….I realize that not everyone can spend two hours at Wegman’s but after growing tired of the stress induced by rushing through the market in an effort to  beat the meltdown clock with a tired and bored little girl who wants to walk, then be carried then be placed in the cart…I decided to view the supermarket as a classroom and as a playground.  It makes for a much less stressful errand… and I no longer get those apathetic looks of annoyance from the masses of fellow shoppers I used to stop just short of smashing into with every turn or acceleration of my cart.

Bringing a shopping list and hunting for items at the grocery store with Catherine has proved not only to be fun but also serve as practical Montessorial exercises in reading, conceptual math and coordination.

Now, we not only look for the specific items we write on the list, but also the appropriate size and weight…which we translate to “units” thanks to our good friends: Team Umizoomi.

Today, I had Catherine sit in the cart while I placed a 1lb bag of rice in her lap. I told her it was 1lb or 1 “unit”. Then I replaced it with a 10lb bag of rice. I plopped it right in her lap while announcing that “This one is 10 units!”.  I asked her to describe what the bags felt like and which one felt heavier. I then began asking her over and over again to make sure and repeated this exercise until she couldn’t stop laughing. The take away here: Bags of rice are “squishy” and 10 units is heavier than 1 unit….and half of the people shopping at the market today probably think I smoke pot.

Analytics: Breaking Down Gender Role "Reversals"

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I can’t help but think of my mother (or any other mom I’ve ever known) who never seemed worn from the challenges of keeping a house and raising children. I do remember plenty of performances by my parents that began with the following address to my father (who would be reclined in a chair watching football): “I need some help around here!!!”…but I can also remember thinking …”help with what!?”

Past performances dictates that when a man is the bread-winner of the family, he typically: mows the lawn, shovels the snow, changes light-bulbs, walks the dog, pays the bills, gasses up and fixes the cars, deals with vendors and contractors , etc…  But it now my understanding that when a hard-working woman is the bread-winner of the family, most of these household responsibilities are not assumed…rather they remain the “man’s work”.

Whether this is a result of pre-established gender identity or (as in my wife’s case) simply not having enough time due to an insane work schedule, I still find it pretty interesting.

I can therefore predict that, just because I’m filling, what is traditionally, a woman’s role in child rearing….my wife is not going to suddenly start taking out the trash or turning the lights out downstairs when it’s time to go to bed.

If she gets home early enough and is not feeling like she’s “cutting in” on my routine (I’m often guilty of taking on too much myself and not yielding or asking for help) my wife enjoys making dinner occasionally. Most often, and understandably, my wife prefers to spend some time with our two year old when she walks through the door and If I was working 80 hrs. / day and was able to come home early one day...I’d prefer to have more than just story-time before bed as quality time with my daughter. 

My wife also empties the dishwasher from time to time (although it is, admittedly, her least favorite thing to do on Earth) so now I’m trying to be more conscious about saying “Thank You” for that. Not only because I do appreciate it, but also because I’d like a few more “Thank You’s” myself.  After all... panti-pretzles don’t pick themselves up off the floor you know.

Dynamic Asset Allocation: Alternate Uses for Play Doh

Fun with Play-Doh...

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