Thursday, June 28, 2007

Inheritable Clumsiness Syndrome

My youngest son had an accident yesterday. He's just over two years old and was climbing on something (according to my wife -- I wasn't there) and fell down and smashed his teeth into something hard. Apparently, one or maybe two of his front teeth were knocked loose. My wife immediately took him to the dentist to have him checked out, and it's felt that as long as he doesn't eat any hard foods (so we're back to 9-month-old foods ...) and stops sucking his thumb (he's the only one of our three who ever did that) his teeth probably won't fall out. Probably, but if they do, he'll be front-toothless until his adult teeth grow in. My wife is going to a pediatric dentist for a second opinion and for better instructions today, so we'll see how that works out.

Last night, though, while we were talking about it, my wife was saying that he can't help being clumsy because it runs in the family. Then she recounted a series of events in her father's, her brother's, and her own life where they have done something extraordinarily clumsy. So I got thinking about it, and remembered some events in the lives of my other two children, and you know what? I think she's right! Clumsiness must be inherited!

Exhibit A: On a camping trip when my oldest was about three years old, he was climbing across a bridge, after explicitly being told to not fall down, he fell down and embedded wood chips in his hand, which required much screaming, two doctors, and four nurses to remove. I'd never felt queasy in a hospital setting until that day.

Exhibit B: One day at home when my daughter (second child) was about two years old, she was walking on the couch for some reason, and managed to fall down and slam her upper lip against a nearby desk, getting a gash that has scarred and is visible on her upper lip.

Exhibit C: On another day not long thereafter, my daughter again fell down and hit her eye against something (I don't even remember what), thereby experiencing yet another gash that has scarred on her upper eye. In this case, luckily, it's mostly hidden by her blond eyebrow.

Exhibit D: Just last weekend while my family was out camping, my oldest was riding his bicycle and was attempting to ride up a hill. Halfway up he stopped with a look of panic in his face, and fell to the side, rolling over completely with his legs and bicycle in the air above him. Afterwards he just lay there, unhurt, but stunned, and eventually started to laugh.

All of these are just a few of the cases where our children have demonstrated clumsiness. I think my wife is right, and since there's so many wonderful examples of blatant clumsiness from her side of the family, this trait clearly must be inherited from the mother!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Little Princess

My second child is a little princess. We didn't make her that way. Or maybe we did, I'm not really sure. Ever since she was born, we've called her our little princess, but something seemed to be hard-wired into her brain to enjoy girly stuff. I can't explain it.

Children definitely come with some default programming when they're born. Oh, that's not to say you can't "patch the software", so to speak, via their environment and the way you teach them; but generally speaking, there are certain innate behaviors and likes and dislikes that just seem to be a part of who they are.

For example, I just don't really get the whole dress up thing. I watch my daughter and her little friends run upstairs, get naked, and come down in little princess outfits with total bemusement. I just don't understand. And where do they learn how to posture and pose? It's one of the most bizarre behaviors I've ever seen.

However, I did figure out one little girly trick that my daughter tries on me every once in a while. I caught my wife teaching her this one. Sometimes when she really wants something, she'll come over to me, cock her head to the side, tilt her head down, and bat her eyelashes at me. She'll then put her arms down in front of her and ask with a sly grin, "Please, Daddy?" If it weren't so darn cute, it'd be downright obnoxious.

Playing house with her can actually be a delight, however. As far as I can tell, playing house mostly consists of sleeping and eating. Since I'm always the designated "child" (with her the "mother"), she pretty much feeds me all the time and makes little beds for me to lay down in. What's even better is that she's never troubled by the housekeeping duties that so vex my wife, namely the cooking and the cleaning and the taking out of the garbage and the sweeping of the floor. After a long day at work, playing house with her is a pretty good gig. Sometimes on the weekends, I can milk a twenty minute nap out of it!

One of the greatest joys right about now is to sit down with her on my lap or next to me and to listen to her read. She just finished kindergarten, and her reading skills are blossoming. She surprises herself sometimes by being able to decipher words on cereal boxes and on the covers of magazines. We have reading time every day, and my wife, thankfully, is a stay-home mom who does "school" every weekday during the summer with the kids.

Bottom line, this little girl -- this little wonder -- is a glorious blessing. While I may never understand the allure of pretend makeup or pony dolls, what I do know is that my little girl is magnificent, a miniature version of the woman I love, with an additional mix of mystery and mischievous cunning.

My only hope is that I can be the daddy she deserves.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

NASA Awards Season

I work for a NASA center. Each year, NASA as a whole goes through an awards process where people submit the names of other people and teams and projects and missions that they think should be rewarded for something. It's a good way to provide recognition (sometimes there's even a check involved!), and a nice thing to let somebody know that they've done a good job.

A few hours ago, I just finished sitting through the 2007 version of the awards ceremony for my NASA center. There were upwards of 150 awards given out, and the person doing the announcing did a great job cycling through the names and reading what the awards were for -- it only took 1 1/2 hours!

In my cynical opinion, it seems that there are three kinds of awards that are given out at these things, as follows:

-- There's a category of award that I'll call "stratosphere awards" that are typically given to members of the elite/famous or upper management. These seem to often be given out just because somebody is well-known and respected, and associated with a mission or project that didn't fail spectacularly. They don't appear to be awarded based on the recipient actually accomplishing anything, since that's not really the nature of these people.
-- There are "team awards" that are given out en-masse to various teams that support a project or mission that are often given out after a launch or otherwise major mission event. These are given to teams that support said mission, so long as the mission didn't fail spectacularly. Note here that as long as a person is affiliated with the team in any way, that person can be a joint-recipient of this team award.
-- Then there are "individual awards" that tend to be given out to lots of different people simply because a manager likes them or perceives that they actually accomplished something good. Note here that the person doesn't necessarily have to do anything to receive this award, just be perceived to have done something.

In my case, I fit into the second category. I'm involved with a mission that's actually doing very, very well, and work in multiple roles (see last post). Because of this, my name was listed several times in the brochure for the team awards, once erroneously (but I'm not going to complain). I was able to personally accept the award for the team that I directly lead. It was very nice. I had the opportunity to stand in line, walk to the front, stride across the stand, shake the hand of the center director and the NASA associate-administrator-enter-longer-title-here, pose awkwardly with them while holding this very large plaque while a photographer gave us only one chance to not look like complete idiots while the announcer read what I was accepting the award for. I completely missed the description as I apparently am incapable of walking and listening at the same time.

Despite my assessment of how people usually get these awards, I do firmly believe that me and my team deserve this one. We have busted our tails for the past few years serving this mission, and have dealt with some major challenges. I think we've managed these things with finesse, have not been afraid to bring in outside resources when needed, and always managed to keep things going on-time, under-budget, and fully-capable. It's a nice thing to be noticed every once in a while!

Tonight, even, they're having a reception dinner for those who received the awards. Unfortunately, the entire team wasn't invited, so I'm going tonight to represent the team. I get to bring my wife along with me, so she found somebody to watch the kids tonight, and will make the hour-long drive down here to pick me up this evening. Last time we went to something like this, it was a fancy buffet-style meal with a variety of different ethnic foods; we really enjoyed it. We're hoping for more of the same tonight.

And I, for one, even though it's a great opportunity to network and enjoy the society of my fellow workers, am not ashamed to say that I'm going just for the free food! Ah, sometimes it's lovely to be a guy ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturated

sat·u·rat·ed (adjective): 1. Unable to hold or contain more; full. 2. The condition of an employee having more tasks than is possible to be manage by a single individual.

This is how I feel. I function in three different roles at work, all of which I had in pretty good balance until just recently. Suddenly, one of my roles, which has traditionally been the least time-consuming, is now taking nearly all of my time. This is a difficult position to be in as it is impractical for me to simply drop all the other things for which I'm responsible. Happily, I've got a good team that works for and with me that I can lean on. In addition, I have recently trained somebody to do some of the work that I do, which has helped me to manage this change in balance fairly well.

Today, I wanted to discuss the nature of one being asked to do too much, and focus on the art of balancing one's life.

As it may often be, our lives are filled with conflicting challenges and responsibilities. We are often required to balance our work, society, and home in a reasonable fashion so that one may provide for oneself, enjoy one's life, and be with one's family. One could also throw into the mix the demands of a church or the distractions of hobbies, which can easily throw things out of balance.

I often observe that those who are unhappy with any one of these five things tend to over-emphasize one of them at the expense of the others. For example, I have a friend who absolutely hates his job, so he spends an extraordinary amount of time and money on his hobby, which prevents him from spending what I consider to be the appropriate amount of time with his family. In his particular case, his job pays very well (hence the reason he won't change jobs to one that is more appealing to him), so he is able to provide a comfortable living for his family. But at what cost? At what point does a hobby become more than a simple amusement and instead a major stumbling block to familial happiness?

I have another friend who spends nearly all of his waking hours at work, thus missing out on the growth of his children. So, I ask, is the cash really worth it? For those who are truly needy, the answer may be a resounding "yes". But in this particular case, his job pays well, and would pay sufficiently well were he to work "regular" hours.

All this brought to mind the fact that I'm not really sure how I spend my time. I feel like my life is really quite balanced, but it has mostly been at the expense of any hobby whatsoever. And sleep. I'm learning to live with less sleep. A lot less sleep. But as a young father, I can only do so much in the time I have available. This is particularly challenging when it comes to trying to find time for my children. As I've mentioned before, I have three of them, each under the age of 8. They demand attention, and when they don't demand attention, I feel like I'm missing out on something. While keeping a house and all that goes with it, it is very difficult to have to tell the children that I don't have time to play with them. My daughter loves to pretend, and when she asks me to play pirates (okay, it's more likely to be princesses), it is hard to say no, but sometimes I must. Do I do so too much? I don't really know.

What I do know is that even with the difficulties of trying to balance my life, one thing will never change: that I love my family. I will always love them and I am doing my best to make sure I take care of them in every way I can (which much of the time means being away from them to earn a living). I do my best every day to not miss out on what they're doing. So, look forward to me starting to record some of the wacky things that they do, the funny things, the frustrating things, and the things that make me absolutely crazy with aggravation, and most especially the things that make me proud to be a father. Good days are ahead, no doubt.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Reader and the Trouble with the Media

I have to say something about my oldest child: he's amazing. He'll be turning 8 in the fall and reads extremely well. It's not just that he can read, it's also that he retains and absorbs what he reads. And he reads fast. This past week was the first week of summer vacation. He didn't have much else to do, so last Sunday we pulled out Harry Potter #3 (Prisoner of Azkaban). This kid flew through it in a day and a half; he wouldn't put it down! Now, granted, he'd read it before, so it's possible there was some efficiency gained by familiarity, but that doesn't explain what happened next. Monday afternoon, we pulled out book #4 (The Goblet of Fire) -- the 700-ish page book that most adults struggle with. He blew through it in four days. Four! It was astonishing. The kid is nothing short of amazing.

It wasn't very long before he asked us if he could watch the movie. My wife and I decided that the movie is still a bit too scary for him (not to mention that it's PG-13), so we won't let him see it until he's 13. I know, I know, we're mean old parents. There's probably plenty of people who would say that if he's read the book, he should be old enough to handle the movie. To this I say: hogwash. He's still a kid. He may read better than most high school students, but he's a kid who wakes me up at 3 am with nightmares, who very rarely wets the bed, and who cries when he skins his knee.

In addition, my wife and I could be considered prudes when it comes to the media. Our children watch usually no more than two hours of combined media in a week. By media, we mean anything on the television (including games) and anything on a computer (including games). We're also leery of radio. There's usually nothing on the radio that's age appropriate for children, so when we listen to music, it's always kid friendly (meaning, it's usually enough to drive my wife and I crazy).

We just believe kids need to read and be outdoors. Living in Southern California where summertime gets a bit, shall we say, warm, this sometimes can be a problem, but our kids will get over it. We hope each of our children will be better for it.

We also don't let our children watch movies that are PG-13 or worse. And even most PG movies we preview before we let them watch. Our middle child, our only daughter, seems to revel more in human suffering (there's a very lengthy discussion hidden in this sentence, but I won't go there tonight), so she's far more resilient to scary imagery than our oldest. Our youngest is just starting to get affected by what he sees, so we'll be limiting his exposure much more now.

Regarding all this, my wife and I share a pet peeve. As it turns out, since we have small children, a limited budget, and a busy life, we rarely get out to see a movie. But when we do, it's usually for a big headliner, such as Spiderman 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean. Invariably, whenever we go into these movies, which are decidedly not kid friendly, we typically see parents in there with their very small children. We are aghast. How is it possible that these parents would subject their children to this type of media? Are they completely clueless that they are messing with their psyches and are causing fundamental changes to the way that these children perceive the world? Kids do not need scary images blasted at them with perfect surround sound in a dark theater; they need age-appropriate and friendly fare, in a well-lit room, with parents there to hold them and explain when things are a little odd or confusing.

Anyway, enough soapbox for one night. I have no doubt this subject will come up again, but you'll have to wait for that. I think I'm done for the night. Later!

Blogs R Us

So, my wife just received two emails from friends in the space of a day that indicated they were starting blogs. She's been feeling guilty because it's been a year and a half since she's written in her journal, and she feels she needs an easier way to document the goings-on of our growing family. With three kids younger than 8, they each grow so fast and do so many wonderful things that we really do need a way to keep track of things. But her keeping a blog isn't enough; she had to drag me in, too! So, here I am. I'll be writing this blog (maybe) at least once a week, or whenever I have something to say.

A few things about me:
-- I love my family
-- I love my church
-- I love my job (space-related)
-- I love all things space
-- I love all things science fiction (with some notable exceptions)

The latter few points explain the name for this blog, so not only will I be recording the goings on of my family, I will also be expostulating about each of the above points in various ways. I will carry on about my family and the weird and crazy things that the children do, probably proclaim beautiful and poetic things about my wife, wax eloquent about the church I believe in, carry on about the Dilbert-esque things that happen at work, share some wonderful and amazing discoveries from space that show just how small we really are, and probably go on about books I've read and movies I've seen that have impressed me (for good or ill).

This whole thing may be of interest to you, or not. I don't really care what you think about all this -- I will commit to being honest and forthright and sharing what I really think. If you have something to say, feel free to post. Or if you simply are curious to see what kind of hairball thing is going through my brain, you're welcome to come back often. I can't promise anything regarding how frequently I will post, but I will do my best to make it interesting (to me).

In a way, this also does replace my journaling, which is intended to record my journeys ...

So now, let the journey begin ...

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