One benefit of having to walk a dog twice a day is that you get through a lot of audiobooks. I finished listening to Charles Duhigg’s Better Stronger Faster this week and really enjoyed it. It’s one of those Gladwell-esque pop-science books that gives you a 10,000 foot view of a subject mostly through vignettes.
This particular book explored 8 scientific concepts for better productivity. One section was dedicated to focus and illustrated the dangers of cognitive tunneling through some harrowing airline stories. Cognitive tunneling occurs when you become intently focused on something directly in front of you. This tunnel actually reduces your ability to focus and you end up working on the easiest and most obvious task. Common sense goes out the window.
I’m not a pilot, but being a parent these days often feels like flying a jumbo jet blindfolded. Common sense and a wider perspective can sometimes get lost. Making sure Cecilia understands the logic and can solve a multi-step word problem at 7:30 on a Wednesday night can suddenly seem like a very critical thing. Emotions might get heightened.
So much of modern parenting feels like it’s focused solely on raising high achievers to earn high salaries. Is that really the raison d’etre for having children? One of my Dad goals for 2019 is to not get crazy tunnel vision on hyper achievement. Yes, of course, school is really important. But achievement alone doesn’t guarantee happiness. That’s on thing reality TV can teach us. I want to make sure the girls understand there are many ways to define success and many ways to have a meaningful life.
I’m sure there’s a Netflix show out there to explain all this to them…
We undecorated (de-decorated?) the tree Friday night. The Christmas cookie tin is now just crumbs. I packed up vacation Dad and brought out the daily tasks white boards. It feels like 2019 is now officially open for business.
Three days of school, a basketball practice, some frustration over math homework, and Ally trying to cut table-side deals about how much broccoli she actually has to eat made the holiday halo fade faster than an iPad’s charge on the Jersey turnpike.
We talked about accountability and resolutions at dinner this week. Everyone has lots of goals and aspirations for 2019. I asked if they wanted to go public with their #1 goal as other people knowing might help them stay focused and achieve it after the excitement of the initial moment has passed.
Cecilia: Get an appreciation certificate at school.
Allison: Shut the door when she uses the bathroom.
I can support both of those.
Like each Olympiad, as we tucked the girls in on Christmas night, they declared it the best Christmas ever. Quick pause for a parent high-five!
I woke up the next morning to find them downstairs, surrounded by their new presents, fervently cutting up styrofoam and cardboard. I started to ask what they were doing cutting up my good styrofoam and not playing with any of their new presents, but stopped. They were clearly having fun.
There are so many expectations these days of both parents and kids that simple, spontaneous joy often feels like the first thing to go. So, I embraced vacation Dad, listened to the course grind of the scissors, and started the coffee.
It’s on. I flipped the switch at lunchtime on Friday. Time for some holiday parenting. A little less stern Dad and more friendly Uncle. A little more relaxed. A little less math review, a little less structure.
We won’t be abandoning all structure. Things tend to go smoother when Dad has at least a pencil sketch of a plan. So, they’ll still need to sleep occasionally and brush their teeth after their 37th cookie. There will be some organization and expectations. I won’t be throwing out the rules completely, but…it’s supposed to be happy holidays and I can’t drink wine and scotch from sunrise to sunset without at least a three hour nap in the middle of the day and that’s not really fair to Michelle.
Hopefully this will all lead to a little less stress and a little more happiness.
Worst case, it leads to Michelle and I eating more Christmas cookies with red wine at lunch.
At the end of the year Spotify compiles a personalized Top Songs playlist. We are regular Spotify users, but we don’t use Spotify’s family plan. All of our annual listening is mashed together in one giant jukebox and it’s a wonderful mess. Neutered KidzBop pop songs sit knee to elbow with (so many) Broadway showtunes and they in turn jostle for space with The National and Lorde.
This music milkshake did annoy me for a while, but I’ve come to like it. Getting older means increasingly getting caught in your own tastes and feeding a constant echo chamber. Seeking out, finding, and giving yourself the time and space to experience new things is hard. Escaping the algorithms and getting a cold recommendation takes effort.
Or, you could just let a bunch of kids freeload on your music subscription. I would have never learned the strangely hypnotic power of Tobu’s Candyland after 567th playing without them.
The John Lewis holiday ad got me again. Yes, I’m fully aware I’m being emotionally manipulated by a department store, and it’s ridiculous and callous on one level, but….it’s really well done blackmail. It did get me thinking about all my past Christmas presents and if any gifts had a similar long-echoing effect into adulthood.
I couldn’t come up with a single gift like Sir Elton, but each year there would be five or six new books laid out under the tree and trying to decide which one to read first was one of my favorite parts of Christmas morning. This year I’ve read over 75 books, written a book, visited the library so much I know all the librarian’s names, and still get excited just to browse through any bookshop. Feels like that had an impact.
On the other hand, the ad also has me reconsidering the kid’s crayon melter gift. I’m not sure there’s a big future job market in smelting….
Joy to the World brought on a near epic meltdown at the piano this week. Always a fun situation that gets Michelle reaching for the wine and Ally scuttling to hide in the closet. It also brings to mind what might be the number one question I have as a parent: how do you teach your kids perseverance? Can you teach it? Can it only be learned through maturity and experience?
Did I mention it was the first time she tried to play the song? Cecilia has some aptitude for music, which is probably why we’ve gotten this far, but often has little interest in continuing any activity where mastery doesn’t seem close. She’s still excited about the trombone, but I know we’re getting near that first whiff of resistance where things won’t be so easy. What happens then? What’s the best way bridge the gap between fun and actual progress?
I realize she’s only 9 and perseverance is mostly learning to plod along in the dark until you stumble on a light switch, but I worry she won’t stick with anything long enough to see the results. She’s stubborn as all get out, but stubborn and persistent are slightly different, right? She will try it her way until her fingers bleed and we are all begging her to stop. I’d like to see her be resolute in getting to her goals, not just butting her head against that wall.
Perhaps Saturday would offer some life lessons….