Thursday, December 31, 2015
The boys continue their journey forward into life and living. Paul is 13 1/2, (8th grade) Sidd is 12 (6th grade) - they continue to finish each other's sentences and be confidant's in each other. Soccer is still their go-to sport, and I wish I could fully describe how inspired I am by their by their reflections, whimsy and resilience.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Today, Sidd the kid turned an enthusiastic 12. What a terrific treat.
For him, life is an expanding universe. The question 'How was your day?' is consistently answered by "Oh it was great!" followed by a rambling recount of the day's events and why they were better than expected. He sees opportunity all around him… our place is littered with PostIt notes of lists, and these bring a quiet chuckle from him about how he is knocking off item after item.
So far, a sense of urgency guides his day. When visiting family, he will remind me, "Dad, let's only do things we cannot do at home… it's about experiences, right?" and he trots off to find and yammer with someone with whom we are visiting.
…But, the urgency can hold him hostage too. The weakness in this mindset is evident when he feels progress is not occurring as expected - he can shift all too quickly into a sullen, frustrated state. Someday he will be more self-aware of the connection between the situation and his disposition, and proactively navigate thru the dip.
As good as "Today" was, "Tomorrow" is even more promising… "I can't wait to go to 6th grade, I think I will be in at least 3 clubs and I signed up for the speech and debate option, that will be a lot of fun."
Fearlessness and fear co-exist, almost whimsically. Much larger, physically aggressive soccer players can’t bend his actions in a game (is it courage, or joy to the point of recklessness?) yet a meandering housefly or mosquito brings terror to his whole psyche. “Oh no, I think this kind stings people!”
Still a neophyte when it comes to being pranked. While he loves a good prank, he is STILL much more gullible at the receiving end of a prank. A few months ago, he phoned me. I answered, "Kentucky Fried Chicken, can I help you?" I hadn’t even changed my voice, yet hook, line and sinker, he fell for it, to my amazement and glee. "Wait, I am trying to call my dad, how did I call you?"
Dear Siddo the Kiddo,
In the last year your personality has become more and more clear: you are truly generous in your ways to others, never hesitating to help out family and friends; you are more and more opinionated about the world around you - particularly the actions of our politicians; you are about taking action, using checklists, planning out your next move, urging others to prepare before an event. I love your ways of being an amazing brother, son, nephew and friend. It is an extreme blessing you are my son. Keep developing the 5 things you want to do when you grow up, this coming year is a big one - middle school!
Thursday, August 20, 2015
I am back from an amazing trip with the boys – truly thought provoking, relaxing, funny, lip smacking foods, awe inspiring.
- Know your co-travelers well. Travel is a stylistically specific action. Preferences can matter - - a LOT - - like museums vs. parks, late nights vs. mornings, fancy restaurants vs. street food. Good to know up front.
- More important than packing, check NOW that passports are valid, and visas are secured. Few things will cause stress like discovering late in the game than a passport which needs to be renewed with little or no time left. I sure didn’t enjoy that one.
- Have a particular desired outcome & focus. Learn about a new place? Relax and do nothing? Learn while relaxing? Knowing what you have in mind will make the rest of the planning and the actual trip so much more enjoyable.
- Choose where you spend money mindfully. Breakfast at the flat, sandwiches for lunch, then a more decent dinner was a good habit. Go back to what you had in mind overall, pick a few non-trivial excursions or events, put your money there. King’s Cross Station © 2015, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger image)
- Find great discounts. Finding deals and discounts was very helpful, like free kids offers, round trip discounts, off-peak train rates. As example, for one day the tickets to Mama Mia had 1st child free and the 2nd one for 50% off. And the Capital One card enables you to apply points against ANY travel purchase, shaving a lot of your costs.
- Mix it up. In this visit one of my goals was to introduce my boys to a range of aspects of London & the UK, in a mere week. So, we found a balance between museums vs parks, city vs. countryside, meeting people vs. on our own.
- Be mindful of time durations. Getting from A to B will have a few different steps including ones we won't know till we are in the middle of it. So be observant of how long something may take, and how much interest among us, or significance it bears towards the underlying tenets.
- Come equipped for the whole day. Assume you will be out the whole day. Then think about food, extra shoes, outerwear, and tupperware to protect sandwiches. Bringing an extra set of shoes for Paul was a real win one day.
- Push on the 80/20 rule for camera equipment. I am shocked how good the current small cameras can be. Shocked. A 14 ounce Lumix LX100 swapped out about 10 pounds of gear.
- Have a bag count. I am always worried when we are on the move about leaving an item behind. Peace of mind came from clarifying who has what, then counting and re-counting - - somewhat obsessively - - as we board and disembark the planes, take taxis, subways trains, etc.
- Mornings matter. Every major museum, market or other icon is overwhelmed by 1 pm, but remarkably uncrowded in the mornings. Relaxed store keepers, greater selection, less obstructed views of the sights & items you came to see. Natural History Museum © 2015, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger image)
- Pace yourself. Routinely ask “How are we doing?” Stop, sit around. Get a bite.
- Be decisive about buying gifts. Before you know it, the trip will be over. So if there is a craft market, go there early in your trip. Think of folks back home, and don’t wait until the trip’s end, or risk picking up cheesy gift shop trinkets.
- Public transportation is way easier than initial perception. Even the bus was a snap after the first ride, and the first try is the important one. Plus, contrary to the US, the infrastructure is very extensive.
- Try a new eatery each night. Even when you come across an AMAZING place, don't go back as there is a whole sea of remarkable food options.
- Throw a duffle bag in your luggage. Just in case you pick up more items than your current luggage can hold, a duffle can come in very handy. Particularly to keep below max weight limits that can be more pricey than a 2nd bag fee.
- Choose a 787? Theory has it that higher air pressure and more humidity in an airplane cabin = less jet lag. Of course, this could be hooey from Boeing. The carbon fiber body of their beleagured jet may have helped us transition.
- Equip each child with contact info. My worst case scenario? Getting separated from the children. And more so for them than for me. So load info and apps that can help on your kids’ smartphones
- Whatsapp will work anywhere as long as you have wifi, and let kids call people around the world
- Load contact info for people both locally and “back home”
- Add calendar a invite with addresses of local friends, and your own flat
- Don’t forget the phone number of local police – a great idea from my friend Gary Ballesteros
Monday, August 10, 2015
Here's a story common to so many people: a personality in one's life actively provides useful advice bringing success, or at least steers one away from a career debacle…
Part One: Trig Class
"Have you heard from Illinois?" It was Bob Hall's raspy whisper during his own senior level trigonometry class.
"I haven't applied yet."
"Really???" His eyebrows ruffled as they always did when he sensed trouble. "Leave now, go see Arnott, I think the deadline is real soon."
"Arnott" was Pete Arnott, the school guidance counselor, excluding “guidance” and “counselor.” Too many years with no real accountability had atrophied away whatever elements of "guidance" and "counselor" had ever existed. His windowless office was a numbing array of paper, skyscrapers of them actually. A cozy hideaway, sitting in neutral for years.
"Why hi Abe, what brings you here?" He was a nice enough guy. I explained Hall's concern.
"Hmmm, I don't know, let me see what that date is." He proceeded to scan his desk and other furniture - - a paper topography akin to the chaotic favelas of Rio, a completely discombobulated array of info.
"Actually, I will call over to Carbondale, that may be faster." Read: let me lean on someone who actually knows.
"Hi Trudy, this is Pete from over at Murphy High. Say when is the application deadline for U of I?.... Oh… OOOHHH… Okay, well we'll get right to it."
Then, calmly looking up, he smiled, "She said its due tomorrow Abe, so that's good, we have a whole day."
Welcome to college counseling, Pete Arnott style. "Oh look, here's one of the applications, so we won't have to drive over to Trudy's office." Pete was simply glowing.
Part Two: What's My Major?
That night, I completed the entire application, except for choosing my major - - a page with a dizzying array of checkboxes. Again, a topic I had not pondered and nor had anyone really broached with me. Just then my mom stuck her head into my room, "Santhosh, Dr. Menon is on the phone. Come and say hello." What luck. We only speak with my dad's good friend about once a year, and today was one of those instances. He had a PhD in Chemistry and was a walking encyclopedia.
Dr. Menon peppered me with questions such as, "How is high school? Are you excited about being a senior" I shared my current quandary.
"Don't worry, just check off Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or Computer Science. Computers are going to be a big thing. You certainly won't go wrong."
In a mere 6 hours, the path forward was crystalized. If Bob Hall and Dr. Menon had not interceded, and on that specific day, my destination would have been wildly different.
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
It is my transcendent luck to see another birthday. The same sublime drum beat carries on: so many treasures, so much time, and talents afforded to me. (I do need to use them more aggressively, no doubt.)
A couple of observations from my last b-day:
- From Instructor, Shifting to Mentor: I did notice pretty vividly that I am shifting in my relationship with Paul and Sidd, from telling them lots of things, to spurring their thoughts on how to proceed. Then, they do more and more of what they think is right. For me, this is hard but I love what I see happening.
- Regaining Long Lost Vitality is Elusive: I used to routinely run 6 miles at a 7 min pace. So I decided this year, let’s get back on that saddle. The bad version of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab song floated in my head as I trudged along, “I tried to go back to the track, and my body said, no, no, no.” Perhaps a crash course in Cross Fit?
- Reconnecting with Old Friends, Via Skype: “What’s your Skype ID?” has been a regular question I asked in the past 12 months, and in most cases it has resulted in 1:1 video calls so enjoyable I left dismayed as to how or why on earth I wound up losing touch… and stopped talking with that personality so many, many years ago? The 4-party Skype calls are an entirely different wooly beast of camaraderie – akin to a gusher of happiness flooding the soul. The SAME interactions just burst to life from good hearted jamokes put into my orbit by divine providence. The outcrops of foolishness, the whimsical demands, the trademark intonations - - none of these had ever stopped. I simply cancelled my subscription for a few decades. I would like to think it is something else, akin to a combination lock, where bringing us together in one point in time is what helped again surface some of these behaviors. Yet that nagging question visits upon me once again - - “so why did you, or how did you lose touch with him or her?”
It is all goodness and I am manifestly lucky. My whimsical journey continues, no?
Digital Foolishness © 2015, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger image)
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
For the past 10 years, I have led our two boys in prayers at the end of their days, every Sun - Thur. Fri and Sat are a bit scattershot due to various whimsical distractions that will keep us up. The boys are now 11 and 13 and it is deeply ingrained into their bedtime routine.
When it began it was a whimsical, wild and wooly adventure – Sidd was just under two years old, and thrilled in crawling off (I’d grabbed one of his legs and dragged him back to the routine). Meanwhile Paul liked to just snuggle, not caring if he had his hands together or what we were supposed to say. (I have a video I can post later.)
“Is this worth the hassle?” was a common question to myself.
But humans are creatures of habit, and the power of reflecting is not lost to us, even as toddlers. What started as a simple set of blessings to the family evolved to more introspection and gratitude. I am pretty elated of where this the investment has landed to date.
The prayer routine has settled into a set of recurring components:
- Family: Pray for our immediate and extended family - now very routinized
- Thanks: Call out at least 3 things to be thankful for - for me this is THE single most important part as I do feel people just don't take the time to appreciate the +100,000 things that are going not just well, but fantastically, in their lives relative to 99% of the rest of humanity. I do want our boys to have DEEP appreciation of their blessings.
- One Ask: Think forward to tomorrow, this week, even this month and clarify one place where you want help
- Health: Pray that people who are sick will get better
- Death: Pray for people who have died & their grieving families
- Closing prayers: Say a few standard prayers - - in our case, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Angel of God
Here is a sample of the typical run down from a few years ago. These are all in the Catholic tradition – a habit of prayer is the larger point.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Please bless Mommy, Daddy, Paul and Siddo.
Please bless Ava, Audrey, Nancy-Auntie, Tony-Uncle, Geoji-Uncle, Pappa, Momma, Amma, Appa, Cindy-Auntie, Susie-Auntie, Momma, and everybody else.
Thank you God for the son, the moon, the stars, the trees, the plants, the mountains and the flowers.
Dad: Sidd, what do you want to say thank you for?
Sidd: Ummm, thank you God for playing soccer with some 5th Graders and scoring on them, and for the sunshine and for mom making pork chops. And for tomorrow, I want help to read a lot in my book challenge.
Paul: Thank you God for the BigHistoryProject and helping me answer what agriculture is, and for not raining when I walked to school, and that tomorrow is Friday so we can see Merlin. And help me not get so annoyed at the ways kids in class keep talking.
Dad: Thank you God for a good boss, for my health and that of my parents and mom's parents, for the stupid funny videos of Key and Peele, for the great view I get from work everyday, for the 100% match that Microsoft makes when we donate to a charity. For tomorrow, please help me listen closely in a meeting that I think will be pretty stressful.
Help sick people get better, like: Appa's cancer; Laurie's cancer; mom's foot; mama's foot; Father Fabian's knee; Father Tom's nerve problem; all the people hurt in the Nairobi attack; Ellis Uncle, Samson Uncle, Davis Uncle, Roms Uncle and baby Rafael.
Help people go to heaven, including: Johnny Uncle; Father Phil; Sam's dad, Pat's dad, Sarah-Auntie's mom; Essie Auntie; Marimma Auntie; Joe Uncle; Appu Uncle; Thomas Uncle; Sister Angle Mary; Daisy Auntie; Hirana Auntie; Abey Chayan; Ackey Chayan; the people who have died in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone else.
Dad: Sidd can you lead Our Father?
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Dad: Paul, can you lead the Hail Mary?
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
and ever shall be,
world without end.
Angel of God, my Guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
On the suggestion of a friend, after the boys are tucked in, I will give a blessing. "Pray that God will give you a deep and relaxing sleep." This has become an **absolute** requirement that lauches them into the mystical land of dreams.
- - -
Now the real litmus test is if they will continue this when they are "on their own" be it a sleepover, camp, college, etc. I think a foundation is set, in addition to a force of habit, and a sense that the reflection closes out the day and sets up the next one. Time will tell, no?
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
It was just yesterday that you were a bounding, chubby, little boy with an oversized laugh. Endlessly curious. A true lover of all things round. Tires. Wheels. Turntables. Lug nut holes. Pots. And an avid fan of trains.
A Newly Minted Teenager © 2015, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger image)
Fast forward to your 13th bday. The toddler's shape has morphed into much more of a young man, for sure. An up and coming young man whom I am so deeply proud of, full of love for, and feel deeply blessed to be the father of. The laugh remains, but the curiosity seems dampened, weighed upon, by the distraction of apps and schoolwork that right now does not inspire you.
In truth, it is a age of new exploration. Pop culture, music, social endeavors, technology & trends, these are the new elements in your life, replacing such toddler icons as "Thomas the Tank Engine". Things move faster. Life's discoveries are full of higher highs, more stresses and uncertainties. It is more important than ever for you to know the essence that is "you," what is important, to trust your gut, clarify which of the many balls you juggle truly matter .
You are a concerned brother, an engaged son, a connected nephew / grandson / cousin. Don't lose sight of the talents, treasures and time blessed upon you, and the world of wonder all around you. These will steel & galvanize you for challenges that too often seem larger than they are in reality. An already wondrous journey simply continues.
By the Waterfall © 2015, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger image)
Monday, January 05, 2015
First time experiences are always remarkable. People think of their first sleepover, first puppy, first crush, first kiss, first time driving their car, first beer. The list goes on. Issuing punishment certainly falls in this category. I think less of it now, but I do recall the very first time.
Paul was nearly 3. We had just learned about using rules versus negotiating with our boys. And he had hurled a heavy toy against the wall with gusto. Big laugh, and the prospect of a repeat performance.
So here we go, I thought…
I pulled him aside, "Paul, the rule is we don't throw things in the house. These are 80 year old walls and that truck will put a boo boo in the wall. So repeat after me, 'the rule is we don't throw things' ." He hesitated, looked at me long. I was not sure what that meant. "The rule is we don't throw things, daddy," he mumbled.
Then a big smile swelled over his face, he ambled over to the truck and wound up like an Olympic shot putter for another righteous release. "Paulito, the rule is we don't throw things. Do you understand what that means?"
He paused, the smile subsided. For a moment. Then, with teeth clenched, face screwed up seemingly to help concentrate very ounce of strength, he catapulted that unfortunate truck against the even more unfortunate walls.
I was annoyed, but more nervous as this was forcing my hand. I was at a new frontier - - of taking punitive action. 80% of me felt Paul was too cute to ever receive any manner of punishment. But the idea of feckless rules ran in parallel and was overtaking his cuteness. Sorry dude.
"Paulito, come here. Okay let's repeat the rule…. Now if you do that again, you will get a timeout."
A VERY BIG laugh from him. For all I knew, perhaps "timeout" sounded as appealing as his favorite, a snack of cantaloupes. Damn, did it sound like a reward? Again, that poor truck, and our even sorrier, ancient walls met again.
More than anything, it was a battle of perseverance. I scooped him up, "Paul, you broke the rule of not throwing things in the house. When we choose to break the rules, we get a punishment," and plopped him on a side chair. “Now you need to sit here for 2 minutes because you are 2 years old. One minute for each year."
My son delivered a long, unblinking stare.
Hmmm, I am wondering, what did this mean? Just then, he twisted on to his plump tummy, slid off and started walking away. Nonchalantly at that. I am incredulous. WTF, little brother man! No way, no how was it ending like this. I was bigger, faster, more stubborn than him. I scooped him back up, back on the side chair. I am thinking, you little butt head, but in as calm a voice as I can muster, I say, "Paul, when you break the rules you get a timeout. You need to stay here."
A shorter stare, then he slides off. I plop him back on the chair. This repeats another 6 times, but I see he is now visibly frustrated.
Then a long stare. He does not move. He has recalculated and this avenue of action no longer seems worth it. Kids are extremely pragmatic, in reality.
But he's thoroughly steamed. I recalled how my Uncle Abe used to simultaneously hug and spank his son Peter, as if to say, "I love you, so I am spanking you." I grabbed the Visual Dictionary, and plopped it in his lap. My goal is NOT to be punitive really, but to clarify the concept of rules.
2 minutes later, I came back, "Paulito you can go now." But he mumbled something about an elephant in the book and remains. Fine by me.
That first time did nearly kill me. I felt I was being mean to him. It was the first instance of taking an action that did not improve my child's near term disposition. But as the months and years passed, it's made rules as apparent as concrete. More important and less obvious back then, I think it has helped from a young age to convey the value of making wise choices.
One afterthought - a former boss, Dennis Reilly, commented that younger siblings embrace good and bad habits. To that end, Sidd, the younger bro, visited Paul on a number of timeouts before "earning his own". But he was more aware, at a younger age, of the outcomes of rules. A good thing.
Detention For One of the Boys, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)
Sunday, January 04, 2015
Before we left Boston, we had the good luck to take a community class on discipline. It was a priceless hour as it simplified how we interacted with our two boys. And I would say the entire family has also greatly benefited.
The instructors shared three messages.
- People like rules as it simplifies life, removing unnecessary decision making.
- Most parents opt for negotiating, generally confusing matters due to the inconsistent actions for the same situation on different days.
- Kids generally out-negotiate their parents, and by a country mile.
As example from the adult world: You're caught going 72 mph in a 55 mph zone, & you want to ask the cop, "hey, can we just say the limit was 65 and you then give me a warning?" The cop does not fall into this negotiating racket, does not yell, pout, or any such nonsense - - she or he just says, "you were 18 over the limit, I need your driver's license." No confusion, no hysteria. Implied: hey my hands are tied, it’s a hard and fast rule some other yutz created, I just enforce it, with a smile.
The upshot: instill a few rules, don't get mad when they are broken, just be clear on the implications, and deliver context & punishment if they don’t heed those rules.
When an infraction occurs, inform the little one in a calm voice (this is perhaps the hardest part). "Honey, the rule is we don't throw things. Say it after me…. Okay, if you do it again, you will get a timeout." Then, if repeated, take action. Now it’s their choice as to how they proceed.
A "bad" but common example: After weeks of prep the family is driving to the airport to fly to Disney World. One of the kids throws a tantrum, and mom or dad weighs in, "if you don't stop yelling, we are turning this car around and going HOME ! !" Unfortunately for the parents, the child has observed the planning, the packing, the time invested already… and calls their bluff, by continuing to yell.
A better alternative: Mom or dad calmly says, "Billy, repeat after me, the rule is we don't yell…. Now if you do this again, we will give [ insert the punishment here ]." And the parents put all their effort into resuming their conversation so as to give enough rope for the little one to choose his own outcome.
A calm delivery of this message is extremely important to help them understand that the issue is a rule was broken, not that mom or dad is now massively pissed off, even if that is true.
Invariably, the little one probably will break the rule again in 5 mins. Now you can say, "Honey the rule is we don't yell. Let's repeat that and then we will go get a timeout."
We had a few rules to start off:
- The rule is we don’t throw things in the house
- The rule is we listen
- The rule is we don't yell
The readout after 10 years of using this approach? Within just 4 months, they could tell you their own transgression. "Which rule did you just break?" would be answered without hesitation with something like, "The rule is we listen." In fact, they knew the entire code of the house. Over time, they would get very annoyed at kids who had tantrums. "That boy really doesn't understand the rules, and he's so crazy." For the parents, it's been a lot less drama, of the painful kind.
Checking in on Older Bro’s Timeout, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)
Saturday, January 03, 2015
Back in 2010, I explained to the boys that diamonds start as pretty unremarkable rocks, and only after an enormous amount of hard work, emerge as, well, diamonds. The intent was to let them know that when they are pushed to do better, it is the act of polishing that's underway. They may not like the parenting they receive, but they should love the outcomes.
But what makes parenting so interesting is that it's a great example of building and fixing the plane while its flying. On many occasions I find it pretty frightening. Few things have had my focus like it and I often think back to when things have gone well, or poorly for people I know.
And my dear friends Gary and Mithra Ballesteros gave a great reason to be mindful and active at this topic - it only gets more tricky as one's children get older.
With that in mind, knowing I risk coming across like I am telling someone what to do, I will my observations in guiding the boys as they have grown up. These are more a set of routines and habits we have landed upon thru the day.
They tap what I saw from my own parents, from other families, a parenting class and in chatting with friends.
I would love to hear your lessons too. (I will tag these as “Polishing Diamonds.”)
Driving Like Fred Flintstone, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)