Monday, September 29, 2008

Ava at 12 months

This is a couple weeks late but Ava's a year old! I know that other parents say it all the time: I can't believe it's been a year! But really: 365 days since delivery, not to mention the 9+ months of pregnancy? It really has just flown by. Ava has gone from the tiny figure below on the ultrasound...
to the pig-tailed cutie below celebrating her 1st birthday with family and friends. 

Ava and her Grandpa

I really tried to keep it to a dull roar instead of one of the kid-stravaganzas that I've attended and heard about that are just a street use permit short of ridiculous.

We did have a lot of folks, but even a "family only" gathering for us means at least 12-15 people. So we went with a "y'all come" approach, figuring we'd manage however many showed up. It turns out three dozen or so folks felt like joining us to eat some gumbo and cupcakes and say Happy Birthday to Ava and congrats to us for surviving the first year.

You'll note the much more refined hairdo above. J.'s cousin's wife who is a hair stylist worked her magic just before cupcake time. 
Thanks Cousin!

As the mother of two always well-coiffed girls, she said, "Let me do her hair. Trust me: when she looks back on this picture, you don't want her thinking "Why did you let me have my picture taken like that?!" It'll just take a minute."

So we hustled Ava off to the bathroom for a quick hairwash and re-do on the hairdo. I think she'll be pleased when she looks back in a few years. If not, we'll spring a modification of an old yarn, "There were kids in developing countries without hair who would have been more than happy to have a hairdo like that." 

And she'll be all, "I thought we became the developing world after the stock market crash of '08 sent us hurtling back to dark ages and China foreclosed on our whole country?" And I'll say, "Whatever Ms. Smarty Pants. I'm just saying your hair was darling. Now help me translate this form so we can get food rations. You know I never learned much Mandarin."

With a year under her belt, Ava is cruising the furniture, shaking her head yes and no to indicate her preferences and this week added, "Uh-uh," with a head shake. No definite English words that we can ascertain, although we joke that perhaps she speaks Urdu or Tagolog and we're just too clueless to understand. 

At my parents' the day after her birthday, Ava reportedly said, "Hellooo?" into the phone. But again, we haven't heard it first hand. In my imagination, she intentionally waits until we're out of sight to suddenly walk, talk, read, text her toddler peeps, shoot pool and all manner of non-age appropriate activities, just to tweak us.

J.'s Great Aunt said she walked across the room just before I arrived home from work last week (one of the downsides of the working mom thing). Given that, she's still faking with us and insisting on holding our hands to toddle around, although it's a very fast toddle. Several times she has distractedly let go of the furniture and found herself standing unassisted, but she acts scared to venture too far from any support and try walking on her own. I've tried to use the Wizard of Oz analogy and tell her she's had the power all along, but she just stares at me with a puzzled look that seems to say, "What's this wizard stuff and who the heck is Ray Bolger?"

I'm starting the weaning process and as we phase it out, she's already eating pretty much what we do, with a few limitations: we're holding off on nuts a little longer due to concerns about allergies. And we've nixed fish and shellfish after an incident last month when a few bites led to her spewing a hot mess of it down my back, followed by body-wracking hurls every 6 1/2 minutes for the next two hours. Yeah, I timed it. It helped keep my mind from spinning out of control thinking about all the weird, rare diseases the hurling might be a sign of. Legionnaire's? Ebola? Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome?! Yeah, there is such a thing. See why focusing on her and my watch were much more productive?

The sad, perplexed look on her face just about broke our hearts as we swung into tag-team mode between the tears (hers and ours). J. ran bath water, mopped the floor and called the consultant nurse on speakerphone as I changed her clothes and mine, and cleaned her up and J. rubbed her back and murmured soothing words in her ear. The nurse's advice? Just let it clear her system then rehydrate her over the next 24 hours once the retching stopped. 

So we sat on the living room floor alternately rocking Ava and holding her over the sink and a small waste can. It was one of those defining moments of parenthood that made it clear, as if it wasn't already, that this little girl had unmistakably taken over and filled up every corner of our hearts in a way that neither of us could have imagined over the 14 prior years we'd been together. And it made us feel helpless, terrified, wonderful and close all at the same time.

Ava was fine within a few hours, and we were residual wrecks the next day. But I almost hope she retains some small recollection of the event so that in about 15 years when her friends suggest they try drinking she'll be all, "Um, I vomited once before so I've kinda been there, done that and have this tiny t-shirt as a memento."

Besides adventures in eating (with six teeth now!), crawling, toddling and hurling, over the past year, Ava's also taken her first plane ride, been scanned by the TSA, dodged cigarette smoke in Vegas, attended one of the last Seattle Sonic home games, attended lots of Seattle Storm games, spent the night in Portland, OR, gotten a passport and spent the night in Canada.

She is a happy, smiley little girl who loves shaking things, dancing to any music (Electronica and polka excepted, but that may have more to do with her parents), emptying bags, baskets and other containers to throw things on the floor, and being around new people, as long as she can take it all in from mom or dad's arms.

The slideshow below is evidence that A) we have access to too many cameras and B) it's been an action-packed first year with this little light of our life. Happy Birthday Ava. We love you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Debate: who's the weirdly angry guy at the podium?

J., Ava and I watched the debate Friday and like many reviewers, felt it was a solid outing for both candidates with Obama having a slight edge, but probably not changing any committed voter minds on either side. Not sure about the uncommitted, although I'm shocked that there are really people who aren't sure at this point. A friend who canvassed locally said many of the uncommitteds she met were still spouting wrong info about Obama: he's Muslim, not really Christian, etc. Refutations to the contrary were met with, "Well how do you know?" Bleah.

Since the candidates were pretty much re-plowing the same rows we've heard before position-wise, I stopped listening as intently to the specifics and started just watching the body language. Throughout the debate, I kept saying, "Why won't he (McCain) look at Obama? What's that about? I mean, he's really doing everything he can to avoid engaging. What's with the frozen smile? He's clearly ticked!" 
Roger Ebert of all people, answered my question perfectly here: Guess who's not coming to dinner? The upshot? McCain's really angry at and contemptuous of Barack Obama. I guess there are myriad reasons why that could be, but isn't it telling that this is the way he interacts with someone with whom he's presumably had a decent working relationship in the Senate?

If he can't even effectively conceal his anger/contempt on stage with millions of people watching, it seems unlikely that he could successfully and effectively negotiate or interact with other world leaders with whom he disagrees. I would not be inclined to find a win-win with someone who acted that way around me. And I suspect that often international diplomacy is about finding the best possible solution to complicated problems with no easy answer for any of the parties involved - parties often with very different philosophical views of the best solution. Sort of like legislative wrangling. I was already sold on Obama/Biden. The last debate simply reaffirmed my decision. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seattle Times supports Obama for president

No, not a typo. This is quite the surprise. The Times has always struck me as rather conservative, as evidenced by its laughable/cringeworthy in hindsight endorsement of Bush in 2000. Granted, they went for Kerry in '04, but still.

Read their reasons here in an editorial entitled "The Times recommends... Barack Obama for president." Surprisingly, a friend who canvassed for Obama last weekend said she was shocked by how many people were either apathetic to the election or still undecided. Some cited reasons ranging from the false (he's a Muslim) to the perplexing (I'm still not sure how they're different). Heavy sigh. 43 days to go.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hot, flat and worth reading: lessons on time- and anger management

NPR has an interview with author Thomas L. Friedman about his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America. It lays out his argument for why America needs to embrace 'Geo-Greenism.'

The excerpt has a great quote: As they say in Texas: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got."

Boy, that really speaks to me related to some issues I've been mulling over. To me it's a folksy reminder to keep learning, growing, and challenging yourself. As anyone with a lot going on in their life knows, it can be hard to carve out time to grow personally or try new things when you're so busy keeping up with the old things!

But I'm trying to re-focus my efforts on things that are important, not just urgent, and being really clear with myself and those around me about how I spend the limited time I have available to me.

I'm realizing that the people whose accomplishments, successes and even failures I admire are very focused on their areas of interest. They don't waste time on things unrelated to their core mission and passions. It's a good lesson for organizations as well as individuals. There are always sexy projects or opportunities that catch your attention and could pull you away from what you need to be doing. But I believe by being clear about where you spend your time and personal capital, you see better results, faster.

Of course, saying 'no' to folks you've said 'yes' to for so long is the hard part. But I'm taking a lesson from that other great leadership guide "Nanny 911." Watching it this week, I saw a family with five kids who walked all over the stay at home mom and ignored the dad. When the Nanny came in with her firm attitude and made it clear to them that the whining, disrespect and misbehavior were simply not going to be tolerated, it took a couple days but they finally stopped in their tracks and fell in line, despite the mom's firm belief that it wouldn't work. Amazingly, their parents had never called them on their behavior, which I believe often happens in difficult adult interactions too: people get used to a dysfunctional way of being and forget that there might be another way.

I once worked with a guy when I was in the TV news business who was quite good at his job, but who would lash out at those around him if things went awry, as they inevitably did in small market news, which is generally chock-full of newbies and aging equipment. Soon after taking over a new shift that put me in direct contact with him, I realized that everyone just seemed to accept that putting up with him being a jerk was a necessary part of working with him, especially since afterward he acted if nothing had happened.

One day, during a live broadcast, something didn't go according to plan. Hearing him in my earpiece blustering and cursing at those around him in the control booth to fix whatever the glitch was, I knew a fix wasn't imminent, so I improvised, cracked some self-deprecating joke about it and told folks we'd be right back. No biggie, right?

During the commercial break, he continued his tirade, cursing and carping about how inept everyone on the production and on-air team was that day, how working with us was like being a babysitter, etc. Just totally unacceptable behavior.

I finished the show, unplugged my earpiece and went straight to the newsroom where I proceeded to violate my "praise in public, criticize in private" credo because of this guy's very public tantrums and because it was an open newsroom with no real private space.

"Hey (insert name of jerk who shall remain anonymous), can I talk with you?" I began. "So I could hear you over the IFB (earpiece) when we had that glitch during the show. That didn't really warrant all that yelling and going off."

"Well I was just upset," he stammered. "I mean, these guys need to get their crap together. I'm trying to run a clean show with no mistakes and..."

"We all are. But regardless, they didn't deserve that, neither did I and it was unnecessary. So let me be clear: do not talk to me like that again ever. Is that clear?"

"Well I didn't mean... I was just mad that..." he started stammering and making excuses for his behavior again.

"I said ever," I repeated. "And I don't care how mad you were, you shouldn't be talking to anyone like that. So from now on, if you have a problem with something during the show, tell the people in the booth, tell me once in my earpiece and let it go. We'll deal with it after the show. But the yelling and going off is unacceptable. And if you have a problem with this, we can go talk to (our boss) and let him figure it out."

"No, that's cool. I understand. I didn't mean anything by it..." he mumbled.

Those around us who overhead seemed a bit shocked, as if they'd accidentally walked in on a fight in the schoolyard at 3pm. But I let it go and never mentioned it again and he never went off again around me. In fact, he seemed to treat me with a new respect and a bit of deference from then on.
So the lesson I took from that was that you confront bad behavior at the outset, nip it in the bud, and be clear about what's acceptable or not. It worked with a 20-something year old. I'm pretty sure (I think) that it'll work on my one year old over the next few years.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Almost a year old: time to choose a school

Okay, not quite school-choosing time, but almost. Back when Ava was born, I started looking around to see what types of schools were out there, what was close by, what teaching approaches to consider, and how much we'd need to budget for preschool or daycare in the years ahead. It's daunting!
11 month old Ava looking fetching as she uses her dad's collar for stability

Now that we're getting a little closer to when she might actually be going to part-time care of some sort, I revisited this school review site to start trying to narrow down my options.

Unfortunately, instead of feeling more informed, I'm more conflicted and like it's still too soon to try to choose a spot. I have no idea what type of learning environment Ava will need. Will she do better in Montessori? Waldorf? Bilingual? More or less structured? I have no idea. I'm leaning towards some sort of bi-lingual school in either Spanish or French. Either (or both) would enable her to communicate and connect with millions of people around the world and J. and I have at least a fighting chance at developing some proficiency in those ourselves at this advanced age so we could practice with her too.

One thing I admired in Europe during my fellowship last year and during our trip to Paris a few years ago was the widespread multilingualism, even among kids. The U.S. will have to do better by its students in the coming decades and most language teachers say kids shouldn't wait until high school to start studying foreign languages. They learn it much more seamlessly the earlier they start.

After Gov. Bill Richardson spoke at the DNC last week, sprinkling Spanish through his remarks, I told J. I was going to study Spanish. Again. I took a year of it in high school after finishing my French requirements, so I probably know just enough to accidentally insult some native speaker with a hair-trigger temper while trying to ask directions to the bathroom.

That said, Ava's just getting to the point where she can assert her preferences for activities or items. She shakes her head 'yes' and 'no' in response to simple questions, like "Do you want more of this food?" and "Are you all done?" "Are you sure?" She loves music and starts wiggling her torso, waving her arms or bobbing her head when she hears something she likes on the radio or even rockin' commercials on TV. When I fold clothes, she likes to methodically take them out of the basket one by one, then put them back in. Maybe someday she'll like doing laundry. Or maybe money laundering. It's a toss up at this point.
11 month old Ava practicing her smile for school pictures some day.

I suspect we'll start getting a better bead on what she'll need and what our options are soon, but some of these places have a 12-18 month or longer waiting lists! So like parents everywhere, we'll plan and hope for the best and make the most informed choice we can that fits our resources over the next year or so.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Storm game

The Olympics are over & the Storm are back. Ava's enjoying the Taiko halftime drummers.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Blogging all the bloggy blogness

I'm at the Seattle Public Library for a panel dicussion by City Club on neighborhood blogs. Several folks have started neighborhood-centric blogs in Seattle to "create acts of journalism" as one person put it that highlight the happs in their 'hoods.

As the write up put it: How does the 24-7 nature of citizen-driven blogs impact traditional news sources and how people are informed?

From Ballard to Burien, from West Seattle to South Lake Union, and from Capitol Hill to Beacon Hill, the proliferation of neighborhood blogs all around Seattle is changing not just the local media landscape but also how community conversations are taking place in an increasingly digital world.

Some tidbits:
  • Ballard Blog was started last fall as a way to connect with the new neighborhood of the couple running it. Seems like it's become more of a business for them as they're branching out to start 5-6 other neighborhood blogs.

  • B-Town Blog in Burien has helped bring the community closer together by providing a place for positive stories about their community and a place to share information and help the community grow.

  • Rainier Valley Post helped raise money for the funeral of a teenager killed in a shooting in Southeast Seattle by putting a PayPal button on their site. Before that, his family couldn't afford to bury him. The person who oversees it says neighborhood blogs provide some follow up that's lacking in the dailies or weeklies.

  • Seattle Public Library has a blog Shelf Talk that has had more than 60 contributors to date.

  • 85% of adults in Seattle have a library card.

  • West Seatle Blog: 32K comments on their posts since July '05.
The West Seattle Blog seems to have been a model for several of the others. They've been at it for two and a half years and have been overwhelmed by the response from the community in terms of readership as well and most recently, advertisers.

A couple bloggers mentioned that they've run into some pushback from typical public information officer types unfamiliar with blogs or their reach. I think my government office is an exception to this. I attended this with both my work and personal hats on since we're doing lots of outreach to the blogosphere locally in my job as another way to get information directly to the community. I suspect the receptiveness of PIOs will change in the coming year or two as more communication types learn the value and reach of blogs.
They all seem to be genuinely interested in providing a service to the community and filling a niche that is being neglected by the mainstream media outlets in Seattle. I'll be reading some of them more regularly.