Monday, September 26, 2016

Leading from Behind

"Bear right, go to the door, and stop."  My seventeen month old and I were boarding an airplane to go to Las Cruces for a friend's daughter's high school graduation.  Number Three, wandered up to the door of the boarding ramp, and stopped.  The passengers behind me looked from me to the kid, and back.  Then looked again.  The attendant giggled, waved at Three, checked my boarding pass, and waved us down the ramp.  Off we went.

I figured I would try our our walking directions routine on this trip since we were flying sans the rest of the family.  Three did phenomenally well.  As we walked down the ramp, I beamed on the inside, but played it cool.  I'd like to take credit for the whole thing, but honestly, I had very little to do with Three's instruction following ability. She learned it from her sibs our five and three year-olds, Number One and Number Two respectively.

I'd started the whole thing with Number One.  With her, it'd taken a bit more work, a bit of smiley-faced ambivalence to the complete and utter confusion of others, as well as a complete and utter lack of inhibition on my part.

All our kids have been attachment parented.  For the uninitiated, there are different flavors of attachment parenting, but the basic idea is that the kid is literally attached to you most of the time. There are almost as many goals for attachment parenting as there are styles of doing it, but the one I hoped for was more independent kids.

And... It actually worked.    I was as surprised as anyone that keeping a kid nearby at all times would ever inspire them to wander off independently, but it worked.  My wife, and I were both graduate students when One was a toddler, so we ate a lot of lunches on campus quadrangles.  Sure enough, starting at about 14 months old, our first kid would wander off to explore the area, stopping to look at the grass, bugs, and other students as she went.  She'd get about 50 yards off before she'd think of coming back to us.

At some point during all of this, it occurred to me that her independence could be a huge boon to convenience in general.  If I could teach her left, right, stop, and U-turn I could keep the kid in front of me, always know where she was, and free both hands up for things like grocery shopping.

Consequently, grocery shopping is where it all started.  I'd set the kid on the ground, and let her wander off ahead of me.  When I needed her to stop, I'd say "Stop."  If she didn't, I'd catch her from behind, lift her up, grin at her, say "Stop" again, and set her back down.  I went through similar gyrations for left, right, and U-turn.  Before long we were off, and running... literally.

Our grocery store at the time was so large that I could let little Number One get 20 yards out in front of me checking out everything she wanted.  When I needed her back, I'd just shout "U-Turn!!!"  She'd come back, I'd direct her down the aisle I wanted, (being careful to reverse left, and right if she was headed towards me), and off we'd go again.

Which brings us to the shouting.  I found I had to be a bit of an extrovert, and/or ambivalent to the occasionally disturbed shoppers near me.  One year olds, at least my one year old, have much better hearing than I do.  Thank goodness, because I didn't have to scream to pull all of this off, but twenty yards is twenty yards, so I did have to be loud.

The more timid among the store's shoppers who hadn't noticed the small kid cruising by them in the first place, occasionally assumed my barked commands were meant for them.  "Me?  You want me to U-Turn??" their perplexed, and slightly frightened looks seemed to say as their heads jerked up from their shopping baskets.

A simple "No, no, that's not it at all!  Not you, the kid down there who's walking back to me now.  Not you.  Sorry about that!" fixed the issue easily enough though.

Our grocery store was a bit of a warren, so over time, I was able to throw in bear-left, and bear-right for the diagonal paths, and the rest is history.  Number two picked things up just a bit quicker than Number One, and as I said, Number Three picked things up organically.

I'd only throw in one more warning to those that want to lead from behind, not everyone thinks that kids should be given so much reign.  To this day, I get looks from parents, (and once a close relative), who know that giving kids so much free reign must be wrong.  They're more than balanced out by the amused gazes from others though, and like I said, maybe don't try this if public attention isn't your thing.





Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Baking with Beer

The gang and I made beer bread last night!  The recipe is easy.  The kids get to dump in all the ingredients, and grease the loaf pan.  I just have to run the mixer, and sample the other beers in the six pack.  If you'd like to try it, here's the recipe:

3 cups self-rising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 room temperature beer
Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for one hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

After an hour, you'll get a loaf of crusty bread, perfect for eating with stews, or slathering with butter, and honey on a cold day.

We used New Belgium Pmupkick beer on a lark to see if we'd get pumpkin flavored bread.  Sure enough, there's a slight tang of pumpkin flavor, and the bread came out a little bit orange!  It was also a little shorter than usual, so now we have an experiment to work on for a few weeks.  Was the bread short

  • Because we used the large loaf pan?
  • Because of the pumpkin beer?  We normally use cheap beer like Pabst Blue Ribbon or Lone Star.
  • Because we followed the instructions for once, and poured in a room temp beer instead of a cold beer?

Have any other ideas?  Let us know how your experiments work out!

NOTE:  We can't buy self-rising flour in our neighborhood so we use the following substitution via Martha Stewart:

1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt


Monday, September 19, 2016

Gender Bias as a Learning Opportunity & The Week in Reading


Pete the Cat: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 
Did you know that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has more than one verse?  Neither did we!  The Pete the Cat series of books is as fun to look at as they are to read.  Admittedly, this one lacks in the plot department, since it is literally just the verses to the song.









Giants Beware! The Chronicles of Claudette #1
This is a great book in that the hero is a girl!  Tellingly, I had to teach our 5 year-old how to find the descriptions of main characters in order to convince her that the heroine was in fact a heroine, and not a hero.  All in all, it worked out great though!  We covered story openings, character introductions, and gendered pronouns.  Beyond learning opportunities, and sexism foils, the book is also excellent in and of itself.  It chronicles the quest of Claudette, a young Norman kid, and her siblings as they hunt a giant, hoping to eventually kill it for the attendant fame and fortune.  Along the way, they learn a thing or two about misconceptions, honesty, and family bonds.

Superman #6
The authors have certainly got the heartstring tug down, but that may be about it. The story-line has been saved in every issue so far by a sprinkling of heroic moments involving either the new Superboy, (the son of Superman, and Lois Lane), saving Lois Lane, or vice versa. The authors are trying to do the right thing, or perhaps more aptly, they've been assigned to do the right things with this series. Their strengths at plotting, drawing dogs, and choosing non-grisly images are being sorely tested though.




Tiny Titans #4: The First Rule of Pet Club
This densely populated comic book has Streaky the Supercat, Krypto the Superdog, Beppo the Supermonkey, and Ace the Bathound, along with many other super-pets!  The comic abounds with lots of goofy jokes, but frankly, I'm a sucker for superhero pets, so I was sold when I saw the cover.







Update:
But do they pass the Bechdel Test?  That's what G+ 'er Richard Green wanted to know.

 Pete the Cat doesn't pass because the main character is a male cat.  His mother and sister at least make an appearance in this one, as opposed to "Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes" where he's the only character.

Giants Beware totally passes!  The main character's buddy is a princess-in-training.  They discuss things like princess councils, and how to count giants.  Spoiler alert, at the end of Claudette's buddy decides to switch to diplomat-in-training.

Superman #6 doesn't even come close to passing.  There's only a single female character: Lois Lane.  Admittedly, she does some really cool things, but there's not another female character for her to have a conversation with.

Tiny Titans might pass.  There's a conversation between Starfire, and her sister Blackfire.  They discuss their lack of pets without mentioning any males.  However, on the next page, Starfire sends her dad a letter.  I suppose the story could hold up under a very loose interpretation of the Bechdel Test, but it's certainly not a rousing success..

 By the way, if you're looking for interesting math posts please do check out Richard Green's G+ page!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Kaptain Kapow and Free Range Socialization


We were headed to the comic book convention in downtown San Francisco.  We’d emerged onto Market Street after successfully navigating the bus, and subway with our pack: my wife, and I, our 3 year-old, dressed as Kaptain Kapow, our 5 year-old dressed as Princess Areia, and our 1 year-old, wearing the cape of SuperKid.  The hubbub of city life swirled around us.  Shoppers, workers, and the occasional derelict bustled to and fro, creating a fog of people.  The kids spread out, and propagated through it with ease and aplomb.

Young Kaptain Kappow forged ahead about 20 yards as SuperKid and I happily trundled down the sidewalk taking in the new fall storefronts.  Princess Areia, and Mom Lady were our rovers for the day, periodically moving from the front to the rear of our pack checking in on everyone.  

Looking up I noticed Kappow, confronted by one of the derelicts.  Sound wafted on the wind back down the street.  I could hear, “... find your mom and dad…”, “... they’'ll take you away…the people will take you away!”.  Kapow stood with his back to me observing his new acquaintance, leaning first a bit to the left, and then a bit to the right, trying to look around him.  Did Kapow bolt into the busy street?  Nope.  Was he scared that the situation wasn’t under control? Apparently not.  He just politely observed, taking in the new person, nodding in acknowledgement of the man’s comments while he waited for the rest of the gang to catch up.

I hung back with SuperKid while the rovers picked up the pace just a tiny bit to subtly overtake Kaptain Kapow.  As she reached our son, Mom Lady said, “Come on Kapow, let’s get to the convention.”.  He looked over his caped shoulder, broke to the right around the derelict, and headed on up the sidewalk.  

SuperKid, and I passed the homeless gentleman next.  He muttered, “Nice cape.”

When we caught up to the gang, I asked how everything had gone.  Mom Lady’s response? “Kapow was cool as a cucumber. Just a little perplexed at all the impromptu oration.”

We try to socialize the kids with everyone we encounter as we carry out our daily routines.  We'll usually stop to say hi, and introduce ourselves.  We encourage the kids to do the same. 

The kids know the owners of our convenience store.  They love going inside to say hi to them while they’re out and about with their nanny.  All of them are on a first name basis with  the woman who owns the local coffee shop.  Our youngest recently dozed off in her arms, and accompanied her as she ran the shop.  Everyone at the Farmers’ market knows the kids by name.  

We’ve practiced the same socialization theory, to a slightly lesser extent, with the homeless folks downtown.  We don’t avoid them.  They, for the most part, don’t avoid us.  When the kids do make eye contact, we apply the same rules we apply everywhere else:

They have to wave.  They have to say hello.  

If the kids don't do it on the spot, we don’t press the issue.  We do however, stop at the next intersection, to review the rules:  If you’re going to look at someone, and/or make eye contact, you have to say hi, and you have to smile.  

For the very occasional street sitter that seems not quite stable enough to be trusted: three words: “high aim steering”.  We spot them in advance, and calmly maneuver the kids around them.  Our goal is for the kids to see everyone in the neighborhood in the same light.  Does it work?  Based on Kapow’s unexpected field-test, our plan has worked out great so far!

Besides the kids living in a non-scary world that they’re confident they can cope with, there have been other fringe benefits.  The neighborhood is more fun to live in.  We have more friends, we know what’s going on around us, and we worry less about the kids ever getting lost.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Of Babies and Bombs

We're a baby-wearing family.  It's mostly because I'm just not cut out for strollers.  I get that they have a certain convenience, and a certain traditional flair, but long before we had kids, I was ruined by the baby-bearers of Boulder.  I watched mom after mom come into coffee shops where I worked with babies strapped to themselves in various positions.  Some of the babies rode high on their mother's shoulders, backpack-style, others were nestled into their wraps just below their mother's chin, still others were riding side saddle strapped to their mom's side, taking in the whole world in tandem.  Babies that were awake would be popped out of their wraps to wander about the coffee shop.  A bit later, the mom would put the baby back into the wrap.  Sometimes the baby would be settled into the same position, sometimes into a different one that suited a new bundle of stuff the mom had picked up, or the baby's newly sleepy mood.  For me, the image of rugged convenience, and connection was addictive.  So, when our first kid was born, she was plopped into a wrap a few hours later.  No one warned me that what seemed innocent, and even adorable in Boulder would be taken as threat to national security a thousand miles to the East.  You see, I'd forgotten one thing.  I'm a man, and men don't carry babies.

About a month after junior was born, we departed the toasty environs of the Southwest, and headed back to Brookhaven National Laboratory, home of my wife's physics dissertation work.  It was still the height of winter there, but we soon discovered that when I strapped Junior to my chest, and then zipped her and I up in a Dickies hoodie one size too large, she was snug as a bug in a rug.  I realized I looked a little absurd walking from building to building with a large amorphous bundle strapped to my chest.  Occasionally onlookers were curious enough to ask what I was carrying.  I'd  unzip a bit so they could take a look at Junior snoozing happily.  Exchanging adoring grins, we'd both carry on, headed for our warm destinations.  The system worked as well as it had for the baby bearers of Boulder! Until the bomb scare.

One morning, I was happily trundling along my way to talk to a man about a magnet.  The kid, dozily settled into the wrap for her morning nap.  Half way there, I noticed a police car following us about 20 yards behind.  The police in Brookhaven were a bit of a curiosity in and of themselves.  Not everything they did always made sense, so I shrugged it off.  As we turned into the curved drive leading to the magnet building's parking lot, the cruiser lurched ahead, and pulled to curb.  The officer inside was now facing us with his window down.  Things had become a bit odd it seemed.  The officer, obviously agitated, shouted,  "Stop right there!"

"OK.  What's going on officer?"

"Don't move.  What's in the jacket?"  I reached for the zipper below my chin.  "Don't touch that zipper!  Someone called concerned that a bearded man in a hoodie might be carrying a bomb!  What's in the jacket!?"

Both offended, and about ready to guffaw at the inanity of it all, I fought to stay calm as the officer began to fumble his way out of the car.  Apparently adrenaline can make car door handles difficult to grasp.  Speaking as calmly as I could, I said, "It's a baby.  Officer, there's a baby under my hoodie."

"A what?"

"A baby.  My kid is under this hoodie."

"Well, ummm, unzip the hoodie slowly."

Unaware until then that babies were quite so dangerous, I cautiously eased down the zipper so that the kid emerged for her little cubby.  She 'urped gently, snuggled in deeper, and conked back out.

"Are you allowed to have babies here?"

"Well, yes officer, you're allowed to live on lab property, so yes, you're allowed to have babies."

"Where are you going?"

"To talk to a physicist about wrapping a magnet in Lintz wire."

"With a baby?"

"She'll sleep through it all, I promise."

"Well then,ummm, carry on."

Ultimately, the officer and I became pleasant acquaintances.  I'd had my comeuppance though: one man's baby is another's bomb.