Rise of the Machines

I went to Disney World for the first time for my 21st birthday.

I usually get a number of different reactions to that statement, including “Oh, that’s so cute!” and “I’ve had so much more fun at Disney when I’ve been older” and “Really? Your 21st birthday was at Disney? And your first legal drink was a Michelob Light?”[1]

My first visit to Disney World and the subsequent discussion of when my wife and I will be introducing Eitan to Disney are both topics for a different blog entry. The reason I brought up Disney is because while Trudy and I were there, we went on the “ride” at Epcot all about evolving technology and the ways technology affects our daily lives.  Anyone who’s been to Epcot knows exactly the ride I’m talking about.  It’s the one where you sit in the seats and see the same family living room over the course of different decades and they sing that song, “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” over and over again. And while I’m not sure today is particularly greater, bigger or more beautiful than yesterday[2], I have been thinking a bit more about the ways technology is changing and what that’s going to mean for Eitan as he grows up.

Here are a few things that were around when I was growing up that Eitan is never going to see, much less use, unless he’s at a museum:

-a record player

-cassette tapes (music or video)


-computers that need a program disk in order to do anything

-rotary telephones


Before you say that last one was too extreme, think about it for a second.  When I was growing up, we had a subscription to one newspaper.  In Chicago we got The Chicago Tribune, on Long Island we got Newsday and in New Jersey it was the Star-Ledger.[3] Now that my wife and I have our own place, we don’t subscribe to a paper because we get all our news online. Every newspaper has a website, and most news sites don’t even bother with paper copies in the first place. Half the time we find out news because of Facebook or Twitter and then go to a different place to find out more details. I’m sure Eitan will be able to see print newspapers, but they’re going to become rarer as he gets older.

There are two primary ways of thinking about technology with regard to kids.  The way I hear most often is the feeling of dread about the internet because kids are going to be on Facebook and YouTube and they’re going to be exposed to all kinds of horrors and pedophiles are going to abduct them and the immediate access of smart phones means less monitoring from parents and my God won’t someone think of the children!

My response, to use a phrase from a fellow dad blogger, is that people need to Calm the F Down.[4]

The other way of thinking about technology is that it’s an opportunity.  Teaching kids about being a responsible digital citizen[5] is just another conversation for a parent to have with their child.  We can do things online together.  Maybe Eitan will start a blog of his own.  Maybe we’ll start a family fantasy sports league together.  Kids always learn about technology things faster than their parents, so I’ll have Eitan teach me about the things he’s learning (which also brings the added bonus of me being able to monitor his online usage more effectively).  The point is, technology is going to keep changing and it’s going to keep becoming more and more a part of our lives.  I’m fine with it, as long as there are some limits and I can still kick Eitan out of the house and make him play outside once in a while.

But in the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Candy Crush.


This entry was inspired by a comment from my cousin, who has a blog of his own that you should all check out here: http://softblackwater.wordpress.com/

[1] Considering the types of alcohol I’d been exposed to at the time, I still have no problem with the choice. Also, we were at ESPNZone watching the NHL playoffs, so I was going to get a beer as opposed to something harder. That being said, I may still not be exactly a beer connoisseur, but I’m happy to say I’ve grown in terms of my preferences.

[2] Except Candy Crush.  Candy Crush is definitely great, big and beautiful.

[3] Never the New York Times. My father would never subscribe to a paper that didn’t have a comics section.  Also, Newsday was an okay paper, except for one unbelievably annoying flaw: if a game ended too late, either because it ran long or was played on the west coast, the box score wouldn’t show up in the paper the next day. For a kid whose primary team was from a different time zone (the Central, but still), it was unacceptable not to be able to know what the result was of the game the night before.  At least I wasn’t playing fantasy sports yet.  But I digress.

[5] Listen to the NYC Dads Group Podcast for more about this: http://www.nycdadsgroup.com/2013/07/podcast-episode-4-realistic-approach-to.html

When Did I Become an Expert?

Perception is everything.

Of course, “everything” changes depending on the context. In real estate, location is everything. On tests, preparation is everything. In religion, it’s faith. In sports, it’s being able to make adjustments to your opponent.[1] But in life in general, it’s all about perception.

The way we perceive our environment has a direct correlation to the ways we interact with it. A simpler way is to think of the conventional difference between optimism and pessimism. Imagine a crowded rush-hour subway, for instance. The train is moving at normal speed until, just before the stop where many of the passengers will exit, the train stops because of train traffic. The pessimist likely starts getting upset because he is assuming he will now be late for work. The optimist may get upset also, but “looks on the bright side of life”[2] by saying that at least he gets to spend more time in the air conditioned subway car before going out into the hot and terribly humid New York City air. One sees the glass half empty, the other sees it half full.[3] It’s all about how we see things.

Here’s my point. I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday whose wife is expecting their first child. We ended up talking a lot about how they have been preparing for the baby’s arrival, both in terms of items they’ve been buying and what sorts of emotions they’ve been experiencing. Then my friend started asking me questions about things that my wife and I had bought when our son was born and what I advice I had for him and his wife. As I was answering, it suddenly hit me that he hadn’t asked just to be nice; he really wanted to know what I thought.[4] I had somehow become a trusted source of information.

How did this happen? I don’t see myself as an expert. I’m just taking things a day at a time hoping I don’t screw up too badly. Remember, I’m the guy who almost cut off his son’s finger. Why should people trust what I have to say? Trusting my wife, I can understand. She’s with Eitan all day, every day. She knows more about his habits, the food he eats, the inflections in his cries and just about anything else that happens with him. Why ask me?

It was just a few minutes later that the second revelation came: I am a trusted source of information. It doesn’t matter if I feel like I’m making mistakes half the time because I’m still an expert on all of the things that I’ve been through since Eitan was born. Every day has provided new information to add to the catalog. I can feel confident giving certain pieces of advice because I actually do know what I’m talking about. And even if I do make a mistake, that just gives me a new experience to learn from and to use to teach others.

It’s about time I started seeing things differently.

[1] Having physical talent helps too, but it’s not everything. Professional sports are littered with examples of people with amazing talent who didn’t make it for one reason or another.

[2] It’s okay if you just started whistling.

[3] And the Chicagoan says, “Water? Ain’t you got no beer?” (Credit: Jim Benton)

[4] Lest you think this was just a minor narcissistic incident for me, he actually said afterward that my opinion meant something. So there.

Winning the Bedtime Battle

My son is smart.

Allow me to clarify: I’m not saying that to brag or to make anyone feel bad.  It’s not like I’m saying he’s smarter than your kid[1].  And it’s not like Eitan would win on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” or anything like that.  He’s only 13 months old, after all.

But he is smart.

No matter what he’s doing, the wheels are turning.  If you watch him play, you can see him trying to figure things out.  The ring stacker, the shape sorter, the push truck without an on/off switch, he’s mastered them all.[2]  He knows how to walk, but also knows that he gets places much faster if he crawls.  Think you can stop him from pushing dining room chairs around the room by putting other stuff in his way?  He’ll either move the obstacles or just push right through them.  Think your phone is safe because you put it on top of a couple pillows on the couch so he can’t reach?  He’ll see the phone and pull the pillows down so he can get to it.

Which brings up this question: if you’re such a smart kid, and we know you are, why won’t you just go to sleep when you’re tired?

Last night, we went through our usual bedtime routine.  Eitan got a bath (even though he had apparently invaded my wife’s shower a few hours earlier), I got him into his pajamas, we read him two stories, and he nursed.  Then, after nursing, my wife put a sleepy Eitan into his crib.

Eitan immediately stood up and started crying.

(This is not the confusing part, believe it or not.  We know why he did this.  Without getting into too much detail, he wanted to fall asleep on our bed and we weren’t letting him.)

So we both said good night to the crying, standing Eitan and left the room.  It was 9:03 PM.

We went to the living room and started watching television, listening closely for the continued screams.  We’ve used the cry-it-out method once before and it was mostly successful, so I hadn’t planned to go back into the room before at least ten or fifteen minutes had passed[3].  At fifteen minutes, it sounded like he was slowing down.  By a half hour, his crying and screams of “Ma!  Mamaaa!” had become softer whines.  Around the 40 minute mark, the crying/whining had stopped but we heard him turn on the piano.  Then we heard a clicking sound, followed by a change in the mobile music, as Eitan apparently pressed the different buttons.  Then some more whining around 50 minutes, plus a clattering noise as Eitan threw some toys out of the crib in protest.[4]  The silent sounds of sleep finally set in at 57 minutes.

In retrospect, our question of why he wouldn’t go to sleep was more about us than it was about him.  We knew he wasn’t going to sleep because he was trying to see if we would give in to his demands.  Our question was more about our own insecurities about parenting and setting limits for a toddler than about why he wouldn’t just do what we wanted him to do by going to sleep.  He knew what he wanted and he tried a number of different tactics to get it.  He screamed, he pleaded, he whined, he played for a bit, screamed some more and threw some toys before finally giving in.  The truth is that he did exactly what he was supposed to do.  And, in the process, he manipulated our emotions to make us question our decisions and consider giving in.[5]

I told you he was smart.

[1] Although he might be.  I don’t know your kid.  It could be another example of the Homer Simpson-Darryl Strawberry logic.

[2] That’s a slight lie.  He hasn’t fully mastered the shape sorter.  But if you put the shape near the right slot, he can turn it so it fits in, so we’re counting it.

[3] As it turned out, neither of us ended up going in at all.  Every time we were about to, it sounded like he was slowing down so we didn’t want to rile him up again.

[4] We found four different animals lying in front of the crib when we came into the room later to cover him with his blanket.  The hostages had been abandoned.

[5] God help us when he becomes a teenager.