YofaHT: “Thing” #76 – A Good Product

I believe it was Homer Simpson who said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” All kidding aside, and in complete deference to Plato, no adage more aptly explains the appearance of the world’s most inspiring conveniences. Convenience is an amazing thing. It immediately creates an adoption, then a reliance, then a complete dependence in the organism it benefits. I thought about convenience when I stumbled – okay, okay, honesty – when I was presented through a Facebook ad a new concept device called Kano.

I have many years experience in the informations systems business and was hardly surprised when my offspring showed an aptitude for technology and talent for the logic skills that will eventually make him as formidable a diagnostician as is his mother. (Alright, alright, I admit, I’m a bit biased.)

Now, while I’ll gladly toot my own horn at my ability to creatively unravel complex problems, I will admit with equal humility that I lack patience as a systems teacher. Anyone who has suffered that impatience (and you know who you are) will gladly throw me under the AS400. So, as I watched my child deftly manipulating Minecraft after assimilating new techniques by watching YouTube (StampyLongHead, I’m watching you), I realized he was going to come to a place soon where he’d either learn bad computing habits (read: fat, sloppy code) or he’d learn it the right way from me.

Enter Kano.

Before I write about the actual product, I want to mention why I’m writing about the actual product. Making good stuff for kids is a lost art. The volume of things that break, or don’t work as promised, could fill a good-sized airplane hangar. So, when I stumble across something that works well, I’m inclined to reward the manufacturers. I prefer to encourage good business, rather than denigrate bad ones (although, I’m frequently tempted).

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog…

Enter Kano (again)…

It’s a cute little thing, built on the Raspberry Pi platform. As I read the web site (read more here), I quickly realized that I had a convenient solution to my teaching problem. The hip peeps at Kano had developed a tool that would help me visually teach my kid operating system commands and code logic, all while he would swear he was playing computer games. It’s his “size” and “feel.” It comes with clear, concise and visually stimulating instructions. I ordered it immediately as his big Christmas present.

At first he didn’t know what to make of the parts, but once I explained what it would allow him to do, he dug in with both hands. As my husband and I watched, he put the whole thing together, and powered it up, with very little intervention from me. A tear of pride bobbled in my eye for a moment as I realized the apple was still hanging around the roots.

My husband had a completely opposite but interesting reaction. He has little experience with technology, and noted that because our child is more likely to design a baseball video game than to actually play baseball, a good father-son relationship might require that dad learn along side mommy’s little prodigy.

In our household, this cool little device serves two important purposes. It gives me the tool to teach him the tools he’ll need in his future endeavors, and it provides an avenue for dad to relate to interests foreign to his own, but deeply rooted in his son. Granted, that’s much more than convenience. In fact, it’s a gold mine. If you have a kid who has an aptitude for technology, I highly recommend that you look at this product, especially if you yourself do not have that aptitude.

Now, 75 more “things” to go…better get back on that writing horse, eh?

All the Knowledge in the World

What if you could assimilate everything you heard? I mean everything.

I began to think about this while sitting with my morning coffee klatch at Starbucks. I am usually the only female member of this daily gathering. I mention that because my perspective is unique among them. I’m female, and those experiences that are uniquely female have often affected what I learned. I can hear you asking what you believe might be a stupid question, ‘what does being female have to do with this?’

Simple. I was raised in a household that believed that marrying well was my best option. It had nothing to do with my intellectual capacity. It had to do with a philosophy that had been learned from the previous generation. Men were the bearers of political, economic and financial knowledge and were saddled with the burden of thinking and providing. What purpose, then, did I serve, I wondered? I, a woman as non-compliant and ill-suited for ornamentation as any I’d ever known. I would never be anyone’s trophy wife.

Why is this important? Well, that’s another very good question. Now, I am nearly fifty and I am amazed by what I don’t know, despite the amount of information I have assimilated, through education and reading. I sit, nearly every day now – a relatively new development in my daily routine – and I absorb information from the six men that make up the other members of the daily klatch. Among them are two financial planners, three real estate investors, business owners and a martial arts expert. Some are a mix of those things. All are highly intelligent, well-read and diversely experienced. Except for two, they are a decade older than me: an important detail. I have at my disposal, every day, an impromptu classroom of makeshift professors discussing how the economy is faring, what is trending in the stock market, what will happen to real estate values in the next few months and the position of world markets at any given moment. They hang out at Starbucks because they can. I hang out at Starbucks because for roughly $8 a day, I get a world class education.

Now, don’t think for a minute I am not already educated. In terms of volume, I am just as well-read in my field. From me, they learn about photography and technology and occasionally, insight into the female mind. But as an insatiable student, I want to learn it ALL. They don’t see themselves as teachers, but I do. In fact, I’ve met many people who can’t comprehend how they can be perceived as teachers. Maybe, I’m just a better antenna than most.  Maybe I care to learn more than most. So, I listen. I ask questions. I assimilate everything I can and I respect and value their knowledge and expertise. I understand that the very nature of learning is that it is constant and cumulative, and no one person can ever fully become the educational equal of another. Education, especially that which is the result of experience, is as individual as a fingerprint.

As Voltaire said, “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” But damn it, I’m going to do my best to know as much of nothing as I can.

Raising Calvin: a lifetime of Daily Jakisms

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Be careful what you ask for…

I begged for him. I spent 18 months begging for him. I subjected myself to 6 months of painful hormone shots to keep him. I got very sick bringing him into the world before he was done baking. He was tiny and came out screaming like a miniature pterodactyl. Wahhh wahhh wahhh. When they handed him to me, I was so sick that I couldn’t hold him or lift my head to kiss him. But then, after all the chaos settled and the oxytocin finally kicked in, to take him from me would have required prying him from my cold, dead fingers. No force in the universe is as powerful as the moment you fall in love with your child.

And nothing is more painful than realizing you’ve crippled him by giving him your DNA.

It is a big enough challenge that he is male. Boys have a much harder time keeping their butts from going everywhere at once. They need to run and wrestle, and build and destroy. They are magical little cape-wearing, sword-weilding creatures, saving imaginary princesses from hideous, fire-breathing dragons. I wanted a tiny knight for myself. The universe outdid itself when it answered my call.

Epic failure is neither instant, nor obvious.

“Mommy, my work plan is my nemesis.” Said the tiny voice in the back seat of my car, after removing his thumb from his mouth. I can thank Minecraft for that addition to his vocabulary.

“Yes, baby, it is.” I replied, smiling at the accuracy.

It is a daily struggle for him, as it was for me. He knows the work. He’s proud of himself when he finishes the work. It is not rebellion or disdain. It is battles with Creepers, and potions and elixirs, and portals to the nether. It is magic.

My child is struggling with one simple problem. He cannot focus on now. He is one of millions of children who struggle with now. It is not new or mysterious, but it is painful for me to watch.

It is painful because I have failed.

Long before I had him, when first my husband and I discussed having children, I said that my biggest fear – outside of safety – was that my child would struggle with learning the same way I did. It is for that reason I elected a Montessori school when it came time to choose. I couldn’t have been more right in doing so.

But inasmuch as I recognize what he needs from his education, I fail in my ability to give him as much of my now as he needs. I am him. Just as he struggles with his ability to get through a thirty minute work cycle, I fail to get through thirty minutes of listening to and engaging in his adventures. His overwhelming need to interact with me is my nemesis.

I go into his room every night, after he is showered and his teeth are brushed and his homework is done, and I sigh deeply as I look at his peaceful face. The day’s battles are won. His dragons are vanquished. The princesses are safe in their beds, and my little knight sucks his thumb and dreams of far away places.

Long ago, during one of my bed time visits, I realized that loving someone that much means that you can, with your bare hands, pull the beating heart from anyone that might try to hurt him. I could feel myself getting angry at this imaginary threat. But last night, just fifteen minutes prior, I was yelling at him because he hadn’t done what he was supposed to do for the hundredth time since he woke up. I was yelling at a boy who was off on an adventure in his head that was far more pressing, and much more exciting than brushing his teeth. When his big, brown eyes – mirrors of my own – filled with tears, I suppressed the tired, frustrated, fire-breathing dragon that I myself had become. It was time for something to change. I had to change.

There is nothing wrong with my child, just like there was nothing wrong with me at his age. In fact, he is a funny, loving, creative little soul whose many wild tangents include outbursts of “Mommy, I love you” and “Mommy, you’re the best mommy in the whole universe.” One of us knows that last bit is not true, but it can be.

Moving forward is a project.

The hardest thing for me now is that to do my job as his mother, I cannot be me when I’m with him. Not me, the personality, but me, the mechanics. I still struggle with all of the things that make learning a challenge. And while I am a good parent who gives him heathy food, a good education, and a safe and happy home life, I want to be a better parent to my child: my little unique, mushroom cloud of personality. I will help him visualize his dragons, and we will make swords and shields out of cardboard, and capes out of pillow cases. We will sail the fiery seas of carpet on ships made of couch cushions.

Together, he and I will learn what it means to defeat our nemeses.