Wednesday, February 22, 2006

  Work  Fun

Benjamin has a new job. This is what he tells me. And it's fine with me because it's laundry. He loves it. Since it's just the two of us home most of the day, I'm trying to get him more involved in the chores. Now that he's going on four, he can actually accomplish certain small jobs with little enough help that it's not a zero sum game (time-  and work- wise, that is; it's always valuable  to teach and help him, of course).

Some tasks he is just interested in naturally, because of their novelty and that he get to use grown-up equipment: helping cook, pushing microwave buttons, putting detergent in and starting up the dishwasher, etc. Some need a little more promoting. Lately, I've been using Benjamin's fondness for role-play to get him to pick up. I put on a stodgy British accent and say I'm "Sir Topham Hat" summoning
"Thomas" on the radio. Benjamin — as Thomas — chug-chugs over and I direct him to pick up something or other, or load him up with recyclables, etc. He's made deliveries to the Sodor Recycling Center (recycle bin), Brendam Docks (playroom), east warehouse (toy cabinet) ... the adventures, it seems, never end. Meanwhile, an amazing thing happens, open space begins to appear on the counter, on the floors ... all over.

I tried to pull this today and I was told, in kid-falsetto, "Um ... Sir Topham Hatt, I'm sorry, I'm not Thomas, I'm a hamster." Well, when this happens I have to switch personae and metaphors quick, or the jig is up! (I did manage to get the hamster to tidy up his cage a bit.)

Lately the laundry, as I began to mention, is one of those jobs with intrinsic interest for Benjamin. The washer and dryer are big, intriguing machines to him. (He has that guy-cars-tools-machine gene that is at most recessive in me. Once, maybe a year ago, we went into the basement furnace room for something. He had lots of questions about the furnace, which I answered as best I could. He was fascinated. When Mama got home, his suggested activity for the evening? Let's go into the basement and see how the furnace works.) At laundry time, he climbs on a small-step ladder and sets the controls for me, puts in detergent, and helps load the clothes in. So when, in the midst of all this he proudly announced the other day, "This is my new job!" I knew the right answer, "Yes it is. And you do it well!"

Although laundry keeps his attention now, I'm not taking any chances. I want to keep this activity fresh and hip. So when he loads clothes now, he kneels on the table next to the washer while I take my position over at the laundry hamper. "Ready?" I ask. On a positive answer I begin pelting him with dirty clothes. (When throwing undergarments I do aim lower.) He tries to stuff them into the washer as fast as he can. He's giggling, clothes are flying, work's getting done — even I'm starting to think this is fun. (Note to wife: In this last comment I'm just taking a little bit of literary license here. Laundry is drudgery.)

So this is all good. Don't get me wrong. We do lots of reading, playing, etc., too. Any switch from play to housework Benjamin makes, though, is a respite from him building a hospital in the living room, or a TV studio in the kitchen. That's all wonderful imaginative play, mind you — but a "break" from that is a chance for our household objects to return to their ordinary use for just a couple of hours.

I just don't know how long we can sustain the "Mary Poppins" work-is-fun paradigm. I've been wondering, though, if I could work up some contract. A contract Benjamin could sign making it "official!" that laundry is his new job! Then I could save it, you see, until he's 6 or 8 or 12 and my wife or I tell him to go put in a load of laundry, and he looks at us as if this is the most ridiculous thing we've ever said, and says, "I don' wanna." Then I ask if may introduce into evidence "Exhibit A": "Um ... Mr. Benjamin is that your signature at bottom of this document?" And, "Please, read for the Court, the sentence beginning with the word "laundry" . . .

Ahhhhh ...

Yesterday, at lunch, Benjamin took a drink of his ice water, set it down and sighed, "aahhhhh ... that's refreshing." After a very brief pause, he continued, "By the way, what does 'refreshing' mean?"

Monday, February 20, 2006

Logged-in ... in China

We have just received word that we have a "Log-in Date" for our adoption paperwork. This is the date that the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA), the government agency that processes all adoptions in China, officially "logs in" one's adoption request. It is a significant date because a family can attempt to predict, based on past data and current trends, when they will move to the next big step in the adoption process, the referral. (The referral is the transmission to the adoptive family of the pictures and information about the child chosen for them by the CCAA.) Given this log-in date and the other factors, a fair estimate might be that we would receive our referral in September and travel to China in November.

Though I have brushed against Chinese culture at various points in my life — an East Asian History course in college, a Chinese roommate in graduate school, etc. — it would be a lie to say I don't perceive China as a very foreign and exotic place. So the notion of these papers we have "typed" and touched and signed (along with a complete Chinese translation) being sent to the other side of the world and being read by Chinese government officials (who may  have only "brushed against" American culture) is kind of bizarre and amazing to me. I would say it's a small world, but it's not. You can still get perilously lost in the backwoods of North America. There are still tribal peoples in this world who have never mailed a letter. And yet we just expressed our dossier to the People's Republic of China, and now some very foreign individuals, of whom our chance of meeting (adoption or not) are virtually nil, are reading all about our personal lives. When I really let it sink in, it's extraordinary. Moreover, these same folks will make a choice that will change our lives forever. (Of course, we are a part of the choice. Our dossier includes a request about what sort of child would be best for our family: in our [and most] cases, it addresses gender, age range, and health. In addition, when we receive the referral we accept or ... it makes me wince to even say ... reject it. Few adoptive parents do not  accept, unless there has been an extreme miscommunication and mismatch.) Yet the biggest choice, cosmically speaking — exactly which individual child will end up in our arms — is made by these hard-working, caring (I trust), complete strangers.

In the regard mentioned here, is birth that different? Well, of the humans involved in the delivery of the baby, parents at least have a relationship with the doctor. The choice of the baby and her traits? We believers say it is made by God. I think most adoptive parent believers say the same of adoption: God works through the adoption. From the ad' you saw or the friend to which you talked that got you thinking about it, to the bureaucrat on the other side of the world who selects your daughter, the Spirit whispers, the Hand guides. And that realization is very comforting. But not to look at the other side, the system, the strange web of human interactions and unconsummated relationships, is to miss feeling the awe of the strange, horrible, and wonderful thing our world has become.

Why, upon getting word of our log-in date, did I dwell on these abstract ruminations rather than our daughter-to-be and my feelings about her? Frankly, I feel a little guilty about that. But months ago I started to feel and consider the more personal emotional impacts of the adoption process. I will express them (I hope), but (in the interest of shorter, more readable posts) in a later entry.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Spy a Snowflake

Today Benjamin and I looked out the window and played a game called "Find the Street".

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gift approved

My son (going on 4 years old) and I were at a store yesterday. I picked out a bouquet of flowers for us to give to my wife.

He said, "Dada, why do you have a bunch of flowers?"

"Well," I answered, "I thought we could give them to Mama for Valentine's Day today."

He said, "Oh . . . yeah. Yeah. Flowers make a LOVELY Valentine's Day present."

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Humiliation

I'm in a bit of a rush. Today my mother- and father-in-law are coming over to visit with Benjamin. We should shovel the walk right away, but also there are some dishes that didn't fit into the dishwasher last night. I really want to get those washed, otherwise my mother-in-law will take pity on me and wash them for me.

To have a woman washing your dishes for you: how emasculating!

Heyyyyy. Waaaaaait a minute . . .

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


My son and I sometimes go to this one coffeehouse. One of the owners performs children's songs a few times a week. She has generated quite a following among area preschoolers, toddlers and their parents.

We were there this morning after a couple weeks voluntary quarantine. (See "The Bucket") We saw many of the regulars — friends and acquaintances, kids and grown-up's.

One mom in particular (who I sometimes talk to, and whose kids Benjamin sometimes plays with there) always has her three boys in tow: aged approximately 4, 2 and 6 months. The whole operation — as with anyone with more than two very young children — is quite a wonder to me. Just getting Benjamin and myself going anywhere is project enough. Add another and that's an endurance test (as I know from when I gladly cared for a friend's baby son a couple days a week for a while), and one I shall retake — happily — this fall. But three under school age? There should be medals. "The Purple Back" perhaps.

Well, anyway, so the three boys were there today — not at a special performance or a big party, mind you — just another Wednesday morning at the coffeehouse. All in matching clothes. Nice sweaters. Khaki trousers. Brown loafers. All alike. Please tell me they were all going to the opera afterwards.

I just sat there thinking: how it is even possible that even two of the sweaters are clean on the same day, much less all three outfits being laundered, and readily locatable all before nine in the morning?

Well, that mom's the first nominee for the "Purple Back".

I was just glad to have gotten to one place on time (see ...Time) with not a single item of Benjamin's clothing on backwards or on the wrong appendage.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Style Over Substance

The other day we had raw carrots for lunch. I got a little bored so I started cutting. I discovered that faces made of carrots and carrot letters are consumed 120% faster than the leading brand of raw carrots.

Friday, February 03, 2006


The other day our son had a few "friends" over to swim.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy New Year 4703! ... It's only a matter of time


The Chinese New Year has begun and (I've learned) this very big celebration continues in China (and the Chinese diaspora worldwide) all week (at least). (We're trying to learn more about Chinese culture, of course, because we are adopting a little girl from China.) There's a lot of preparation and hope for the new year: wishes and spiritual traditions intended to increase prosperity, fortune, etc. A lot of what I've learned about so far seems to be about improving the future through pleasing the gods and encouraging good fortune, rather than, as in Western tradition, making plans and resolutions. Well, hackneyed as the observation is, New Year's resolutions for many are easily sloughed off or abandoned. Maybe we might as well leave the new year to God or fate.

My resolutions? Same deal: already kind of wilting. I keep my resolutions in my PDA (Palm, Handheld, "Palm pilot," as you wish ...) and have gotten to the point where I don't even write new ones. Around the first of the year, when I think of it, I just go back and read the ones I wrote four years ago.

Exercise? It's in there. Organize? Yes. Write. Yes. It all comes down to time management. If I managed my time, I'd already be doing all of these things.


I have a problem with time management. I have as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, for example, I was usually one of the last ones in the lunch room, still slowly eating. Despite the clever behavioral strategies of my elders -- like allowing me to take my time every day, but calling me "pokey" -- the problem was somehow not rectified in this early stage.

Over the years, a number a useful structures have helped me cope with the problem. Things like ringing bells to tell you when to leave class and be in another one. Deadlines like "if you don't hand this in by 10a.m. on Tuesday, your work will be marked 'F'". Buses leaving if you're not there on time, and so forth. It all makes me a little nervous, but it's brilliant stuff!

In the jobs I have had over the years, either time management wasn't a big hindrance, or it was imposed on me by structures like those mentioned above. For example, when I taught elementary school, there were those handy bells again. Not to mention the kids most of whom, shockingly, weren't terribly interested in staying an extra 15 minutes if I wanted to cover some more really great material. Of course once the bells stopped ringing, and I had to start planning lessons, marking papers, etc., etc., etc., the problem would eagerly devour my free time. Then I would get totally anxious from stress. (Till my wife convinced me to go on something for the anxiety. Now I still putz. I just don't care that I'm putzing. OK, I do care. I'll be right there. Let me just finish this paragraph.)

Now that I am a stay-at-home dad and househusband: time management: forget about it. Yes, my son's needs have always been as loud and compelling as those bells, I assure you. But the erraticism in between ... well, I need a new manager. My "Personal Digital Assistant" (PDA, Palm, etc.) is trying really hard and sometimes helps, but the human factor is always looming. It's not as much GIGO (garbage in, garbage out -- as is the problem with most technology) but GIIGIO (good intentions in, gross indifference out). I've tried the "Terminator" theme alarm, but apparently need an even more stern manager. ("Ahh-nold" himself, of course, is taken. Lucky you, California.)


My wife, by contrast, is quite efficient most of the time. She probably could be all the the time; I think my atrocious abilities in this area have (a) provided poor role modeling and (b) engendered a sense of entitlement (you putz, I putz).

At work her efficiency has served her well. Nevertheless, like in many bureaucracies -- corporate or civil -- she must justify her time to the administrators and the consultants. Recently, she had a "position evaluation". It is distinct from the "performance evaluation", about how the employee is doing in her or his position.

The position evaluation consists of considering the responsibilities of the position and whether the salary is appropriate. In my wife's case, it involved writing a report on her own position. Now, of course, this is fabulously useful input. Any employee would be more than happy to conclude that actually the organization is wasting money on her or his position. I'm quite sure reports often read, "My job has gotten much easier recently. The more I analyze it, much of what I do is of considerably less value to the organization than I originally thought. The pay for this position should be cut by 20%. Moreover, much of what I do is completely unnecessary, so I strongly urge you to cut my position to part-time, allowing you to pro-rate my benefits. This will rightly save our great institution even more greatly needed money." Happens all the time I'm sure.

Oh I'm sure that, once in a while, someone writes something about their work getting more challenging and cumbersome, being worth a higher salary. Pretty rare, I'm sure.

Now, I suppose it wouldn't matter much, common scruples notwithstanding, if everyone worked conscientiously to their full potential. However, I think everyone knows -- or has heard -- of at least one person who is not quite that diligent.


One such person sticks out in my mind. I wouldn't mind volunteering to write his report for him. Some of the highlights would be:

I am responsible for procedural knowledge in my area, but since (though I have had this position for 15 years) I still know little about the area, I have delegated any work requiring detailed background knowledge to my office manager and staff. Occasionally I make "important" procedure changes, to maintain control of my staff, but due to my incredible and unexpected ignorance in my field, these changes usually have to be adapted by others, or redone. Almost none of them are necessary in the first place. To fill in my time, I often do tasks like make extensive copies of my own paperwork, and other tasks that could be done by clerical staff at a fraction of my pay rate.

The way I have shifted and manipulated my workload allows me to get a lot of personal stuff done right here at work. For example, I enjoy keeping up on current events, so I frequently read the newspaper in my office. Whether I have been quite consciously playing the system or in total denial about my near worthlessness as a manager in this organization is not something I care to discuss. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that I've been fleecing the organization for all I possibly can. Please release me, effective immediately, without severance pay. Relocate the funds used to pay my salary to those people who are actually doing my job, and hire a clerical worker or two to make those copies. As penance, I plan to move to a developing country where I shall work in a mine for less than a dollar per day. Neither you, nor — more importantly — the employees who have had to suffer under my regime of incompetence and shirking will ever have to lay eyes on my menacing visage ever again.

Thank you for your time.


Having discussed my wife's position evaluation recently, I was reminded of when I taught school and had to participate in a time study. The administration was trying to leave teachers' preparation time at status quo or even cut it, while teachers wanted to increase preparation time, claiming workload had increased (due to the raising of standards, change and frequent additions to the curriculum). So they decided to confront the matter objectively: the time study, a study of logs, filled out by the teachers, listing what they did all day for a week, how long it takes them, etc.

I don't remember exactly what happened. Probably teachers wrote really candid journals like this:

3:10pm - returned to classroom after goading Toby for the 50th time so he wouldn't miss the bus. Corrected 4 writing papers.
3:15 - Rushed to staff meeting. Listened to principal go on and on about naive new programs designed to make administrators feel more useful for solving complicated problems.
3:35 - Listened to principal pretend that administration will want and use our input on new programs.
3:45 - Listened to teachers complain about new programs, knowing full well input will be ignored. Listened to teachers veer off the subject 8 times.
4:10 - Heard principal say we'll likely need another meeting to discuss programs in more depth. Listened to principal go over important procedural information, taking 3 times as long as necessary.
4:30 - Began to daydream.
4:40 - Saw a few people quietly leave meeting, mumbling something about being late for a meeting.
4:45 - Meeting ends. Walked to classroom intent on organizing Thursday's science lesson.
4:47 - Saw colleague. Stopped to complain about meeting.
5:09 - Began complaining about principal
5:18 - Began complaining about central administration.
5:25 - Walked into classroom. Filled out this "time study" log.
5:40 - Looked at clock. Felt wave of discouragement. Decided to pack up and go home.
8:30pm - Began correcting 5th writing paper.
. . .

Maybe, after studying the log, everyone had a really honest discussion about the synergistic problems in time management on all sides. A bold new program was implemented that really worked, and everyone was more efficient and happier.

Or maybe everyone wrote what they wanted the administration to read, a political wrangle ensued, a compromise was reached: an extremely complicated and confusing new program which people will complain about in hallways until the next time study is done.

One or the other.


So if any of you want to volunteer to supervise my work here at home, great. We could start by evaluating my position, rating my performance, and then doing a time study. I can't afford to compensate you to supervise me personally, except very occasionally. Since I am an adult, and not your 14 year old son, I will, of course, require prior notice, so that I can make sure to be doing my best work when you arrive.

What? You're too busy writing some kind of self-assesement for your bosses and their consultants.

That's OK. A better idea! To save money, I could just do my own assessment and time study, and implement a bold, new plan -- all using my "Palm Pilot."

Thanks to the Chinese lunar calendar the new year has just begun! Look out 4703!

Ahhhh! Changes are afoot!