Friday, November 2, 2018

Halloween and the True Meaning of Chrismas

Halloween is my favorite holiday because, to me, it captures the true meaning of Christmas.

Wait, what?

Christmas is supposed to be all about peace and goodwill towards men, generosity, and joy. I don't know what your Christmas is like, but for most people I know, it's about ruinous spending on gifts people don't even want, stress, rush, and bother.

The Koalid prepares to knock on strangers'
doors so they can give her compliments
and gifts of candy.
Halloween, on the other hand, is a holiday about people going out and spending money to decorate their homes and buy gifts of candy that they will then give to every stranger who knocks on their door.

While Christmas is supposed to be a time when we have a sense of peace and see our world as one community, we rarely see that in practice. It has gotten worse lately with the "Culture Wars" and "War on Christmas," as some people militantly declare that Christmas is too much religion for them while others equally militantly declare that Christmas is not religious enough.

Halloween on the other hand is embraced by most people. At least there is no public debate about it. People buy candy and invite anyone to come by. Total strangers knock on the door, say "Trick or Treat," and are given a smile, a complement on their costume, and a gift of candy.

It is the only holiday where we truly give to others with no expectation of reciprocity.

So, if you are looking for the true meaning of Christmas, look a couple months earlier in the calendar, and I believe you'll find it there.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


I love the Koalid more than anything in the world, but sometimes she can be exhausting.

Actually, it's not fair to say that she is exhausting. Were I otherwise well rested, happy, and healthy, it would probably be cute. But that is rarely the case. So it's not.

She is most exhausting when she needs a nap herself.
I don't think that what she does is different from what other kids her age do. Impulsively asking for things. Not understanding why she can't have what she wants right now. Failing to grasp why she can't have my attention when I'm talking to someone.

She's actually probably better behaved than many kids. She does understand the concept of being out of line, which is pretty good for a four year old. I always make a point to explain what I tell her to do, so I think she has a greater understanding of why she can't watch certain programs or do certain things. By and large, I don't have to worry about her getting into the trouble that many other kids her age do.

So that's good.

The fact remains that people need quiet time, focused time, me time, in order to maintain mental equilibrium, and it is very difficult to achieve this with a child constantly demanding attention.

Of course, one solution would be to inform her, in no uncertain terms, that I am an adult, she must listen to me, and she should leave me alone. "A child should be seen and not heard," I could say.

When she's good, she's quite good, and she
loves to ham it up for the camera.
That is definitely not the right answer. That leaves the Koalid feeling alienated and discouraged. It teaches her not to advocate for herself or even to speak up. Since one of the most important things in her upbringing is to raise a child into an adult who will speak up for herself and know her worth, and one of the most important things in my life is her proper upbringing, that solution would not serve.

Doing nothing, on the other hand, leaves me without mental and spiritual centering and grounding. It leaves me testy, impatient, and irritable. Not traits that serve me well in trying to lead the Koalid into maturity.

So, like most things in life, the answer is probably somewhere delicately in between. Carving out moments of quiet, time to work and write and think, but also allowing the Koalid to interrupt here and there. If I do this well, she will grow into a child who will understand the right times to interrupt and the times to wait quietly. This offers the great dividend that, not only can I find time to center myself, but that I will have a relationship with the Koalid that will allow us to grow together.

That's the goal at least.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Why I Will Not Go Back to Applebees Anytime Soon

This is an example of what happens when decisions are made
at the corporate level without local feedback.
My family had a particularly unpleasant night at Applebees the tonight. Going out to dinner with a three year old is always an interesting experience, but we can generally manage things and keep The Koalid entertained. This particular trip, that was impossible.

We are trying, with limited success, to limit her screen time, and if we are having dinner together at the table, either at home or at a restaurant, there's no screens. We'll bring toys, crayons, books, anything interactive that we can think of. We are both very busy, and she ends up in front of a screen far too often when we have something we need to do. We're not going to let her spend what little time we do have to spend with her in front of a screen.

Think you can just remove the tablet? Think again! They're
everywhere, and they're staring at you.
This seems like a pretty reasonable policy, we think. Normally, it is relatively simple to enforce, but it becomes more difficult when we walk into a restaurant and there is a bright, shiny, idiot box on every table, facing us as we walk in.

We tried to be clever and stash the tablet before she saw it as we were sitting down, but we were thwarted. Every other table has a table as well, including the kids at the table behind us who were playing with it.

So, our dinner of uninspired, generic and overpriced corporate impressions of Latin and Asian inspired food was punctuated with a constant and unremitting litany of "They're playing games. I want to play games. Why can't I play games? It's not fair."

One might argue that, perhaps this is a problem for us, but for many kids, these devices are helpful to keep them busy when otherwise they'd be unmanageable. I disagree there as well. The table behind us has three kids and one tablet. Care to surmise what we heard before we left? That's right. "It's my turn! I want to play! Let me play!" The whining from the table where they were letting the kids play the games were as loud as they were at ours where we forbade it.

I mentioned it to the waitress, and she agreed that the tablets cause more problems than they solve, but corporate mandates it, so they have to do it.

So, to Applebee's Corporate out in Kansas City, Missouri, you have lost a customer for a long as these devices clutter the tables of your restaurants.

In the spirit of good cheer, I'll be eating somewhere else tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On Speaking Up

The other day, the Koalid was playing with an older boy. They seemed to be getting along well. As she was running over to me to leave, she tripped and hurt herself. Nothing serious, but enough to make her quite upset.

In her distress, she told me that she didn't like the boy she'd been playing with. I asked her why and she said that he was scary.

Apparently, the boy was playing teacher and, in the role of teacher, pretended to be angry and yelled at her. I guess he also put her in jail. Maybe that's a thing teachers do. I don't know.

But it was quite upsetting to the Koalid. I asked the Koalid if she had told him that what he was doing was upsetting her, and she said that she hadn't. I asked why she hadn't said anything, since she's certainly not shy about telling me if I do something she doesn't like, but she didn't really know.

I had seen her, on other occasions, tell him that she didn't like something, and he had stopped immediately, so it's likely he would have stopped this behavior as well, but, for whatever reason, she endured it rather than objecting.

The boy in question was 8, and, as far as I can tell, he wasn't doing anything too terrible, since I was watching from about 50 feet away, but he did raise his voice, and I'm sure that the Koalid was quite upset by it.

This raises interesting questions. There's no way that this kid could have known that he was upsetting the Koalid, especially since she did not tell him or respond in any way.

As a father, it made me wonder, why didn't she say anything? And more importantly, how can I teach her to stand up for herself and assert her discomfort in the future. Because when she's older, the thing that a boy is doing to make her uncomfortable may be a little more serious than role playing an angry teacher.

Fathers of daughters often think back to how they were with the girls they cavorted with. Fortunately, I was not so much of a cad as others, but I had my situations where I made someone uncomfortable and did not know it. Had they told me, I certainly would have backed off immediately, but for whatever reason they did not think they could.

So, that gives me some years to figure out how to teach the Koalid to stand up for herself.

Monday, March 20, 2017

To Keep the Koalid Safe

Shana Grice, 19, killed by her ex-boyfriend after the
police turned her away when she asked for help.
Source: The Independent
I read an article this morning that got my blood boiling. Shana Grice had an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her and she went to police for help. The police did not help her and eventually fined her for wasting their time. The ex-boyfriend Michael Lane ultimately killed her by slitting her throat.

I've had pretty strong feelings about men who harm women for my entire life. Maybe it's a bit of a "white knight" mindset, or just the natural reaction that a gentleman has to the idea of a man harming a woman. However, since the Koalid has come along, that natural instinct has been greatly enhanced because every woman I read about I see as someone's daughter.

Then I had some more nuanced thoughts. In my previous post, I talked about the overblown fears of "stranger danger." Humans are notoriously bad at accurately assessing risk. Parents will keep their children inside because of the fear of some imaginary predatory, but those same parents 10 years later will not be there for their daughters (and sometimes sons) when they face the real dangers of domestic violence and abuse.

So, what would I do if the Koalid came to me and told me that a man was stalking or threatening her? The first part of my answer starts long before the event occurs. It starts when I lay the groundwork, creating a relationship where she will feel comfortable coming to me with these kinds of problems. Shana Grice was 19. The article doesn't say, but it's possible that she didn't go to her parents for help because shew as trying to assert her independence. I want to do everything I can to make sure the Koalid will come to me with this and anything else that worries her.

I will do this by not being judgmental when she confides in me. If she tells me about a boy she's dating and I don't think he's a good one, the right answer is not to say "he's a bum, get rid of him." It's to be happy that she is happy, remain vigilant, and keep the lines of communication open.

That was a nice bit of self congratulatory throat clearing before I get to the answer to the hard question of what I would do if she told me that she felt threatened and the police would not help. Of course, my first, visceral response is that I'd go find this asshole and break his fucking legs. Mind you, I have not raised a hand in anger since I was 6 years old, but I think I could figure out how to do it I needed to do protect the Koalid.

Possibly not the best solution.
But is that the right thing to do? There's legal concerns. There's moral concerns. So, maybe the fucking legs should remain unbroken, but I do feel that it is important to know the extent to which I would go, and that is as far as I have to. If I need to stay up all night in her living room to make sure he doesn't break in, I'd absolutely do that. If we need to move across the country to keep her safe, I'd do it without a second thought. I'd even go silent online (the greatest sacrifice of all for someone like me) if that would keep her safe.

Perhaps it would not be necessary to go that far, however. You see, I know the state of mind that can lead a person to behave like Mr. Lane in the story above. I'm proud to say I've never stalked anyone, but I know what it is like to have that hole in your heart; to feel that nothing else will ever matter again except being with this one person again and that your life is over. In that mindset, an individual with a weak moral center can find themselves doing things that they would not do normally.

So, rather than tracking the guy down and breaking his fucking legs, it might be better to track him down and have a chat. Not a "I'll be here cleaning my gun" chat, but an honest man to man chat. The kind of desperation that can lead a person to homicide is similar to that which can lead to suicide, and the solution can be similar. Sometimes a single kind voice reaching out can pull a person back from the edge.


Certainly worth a try first. However, when it comes to the safety of the Koalid from a real threat, I would not rest easily. If she told me that she was scared of a guy, I would not say "oh, I'm sorry to hear that" and send her back to her apartment on her own and hope it clears up.

In modern America, we are used to being safe. We don't make the sacrifices that real personal security would require. Even basic things like situational awareness are alien to most people. How often do you see people walking down the street with headphones blasting music, oblivious to all threats around them? If most people won't curtail their music enough to engage in basic personal safety practices, how many people do you think would actually curtail their daily activities for personal safety. It is a difficult mindset shift to realize that you really face a serious enough threat to require a serious response. It's this resistance to accepting the concept of danger that leads a woman who is threatened to remain alone in her apartment rather than stay with friends of family.

The Koalid in her first music video.
As her father, it is my job to think that way. If I need to take time off work to keep an eye on her and keep her safe, there's no question that I'd that. However, there's only so much I can do. This ties in another concept I have spoken about.

The Koalid, even at her young age, is a relatively public figure. She's all over social media. We bring her to conventions. Lot's of people know her. This is not just because I enjoy the spotlight and want to share it with her (although I do), it also ties into matters of personal safety. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes a village to protect one. I like to believe that, as she grows up in the community of people that surround her, she will know that any number of them would come to her aid if she were threatened.

As she grows up, I will teach her not to be ashamed to ask for help when she needs it, and teach her that she has friends, many friends, who would rush to her aid if she were ever in danger. She has parents who would do anything to keep her safe; extended family who would come running without a second thought; and numerous chosen family among our friends in the fandom/convention/faire circles who I would expect would come running as fast as any family member would.

And, if all else fails, there's always the option of breaking the guy's fucking legs.

Not my first option... but still an option.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Talking to Strangers

I have a different view on strangers than most people do. I think talking to strangers is awesome. Every person we meet is an opportunity, and you never know how you may benefit.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way. May people speak of "Stranger Danger." Children are taught from a young age never to speak to strangers. But is this the right thing to do? Before I talk about kids and strangers, let me talk about my own experience.

A train very much like the one I rode on. Full of strangers.
Strangers on the Train
I was inspired to write this by my experience on the train last night. I travel to and from New York City one day a week, and I travel by train about three hours each way. I almost never speak to anyone on the train because the people I see on the train don't seem too keen to speak, and I'm usually working on my computer (writing the previous blog post for example).

Last night, however, I ended up chatting with both the gentleman sitting next to me and two young women across the aisle. It started when I noticed he was playing what looked like an interesting game on his phone and I asked him what it was. He obligingly stopped the game and exited to find the name so I could play it. (Air Navy Fighters Lite, is the name, by the way, a fun little fighter jet game.)

The two women, it turns out, were from eastern Connecticut like me, and we chatted about this and that. Turns out they were in New York for a hair convention (they work in cosmetology, which is quite different from cosmology, in spite of the similar spelling).

So, we got off the train in New Haven, and I looked up at the upcoming trains. I had left early so I could get back to New London before they closed the roads. Much to my surprise, the 7:11 train only went to Old Saybrook as did the 8:00 train. The next train that would take me all the way to my car was at 9:00, 2 hours later. Fortunately, these two thoughtful ladies were heading that direction and offered to give me a ride, saving me the experience of a 2 hour layover at the train station.

During the course of the drive to New London, we had a lovely conversation. It turned out that one of them was thinking about moving, so I was able to refer her to a good Realtor, in addition to a few other connections I was able to offer. It was a beneficial connection all the way around.

Strangers in my Life
A highway full of strangers, two of whom once pulled over
late at night to help me when my tire blew out.
It got me thinking about my various interactions with strangers over the years. I once picked up a another stranger stopped top help and loaned me his spare tire.
hitchhiker who ended up becoming a customer at my store. When I had a tire blow out on the highway, a stranger pulled over to help me. When the spare blew out 30 miles later,

In fact, as I think about it more, I realize that, while I have had many people do unpleasant things to me, not one stranger has every really done me harm. Any time I've been ripped off, cheated, manipulated, mistreated, or made to lose something I valued, it was at the hands of someone I knew, not a stranger.

The thing is that most people are just good people. Sure, we hear on the news all kinds of horror stories about serial killers and con men and all the rest, and it certainly does happen out there, but the vast majority of people are just people. They are going about their lives, trying to get by, and generally wishing the best for those around them, and the most strangers you interact with, the more you see that. Unfortunately, the converse is true. The less strangers you interact with, the more likely that your opinion of strangers is based on the media.

It is uncommon to encounter a ruffian who wishes to threaten
you with fisticuffs.
Strangers of Ill Will
Perhaps you wish to stop me right here and tell me that you hardly ever interact with strangers, but the one time you did, something bad happened. Here's the thing. People who mean you harm will find a way to do so. Con men and crooks are well practiced at appearing harmless and kind, thus they will seem more harmless and kinder than the average random person, so if you tend to avoid strangers, then the only stranger who would be able to pierce your veil is the one who is trained and practiced at doing so.

Avoiding strangers doesn't keep you safe. It just prevents you from encountering opportunity and experiencing the joy of feeling that you live in a community of mankind.

Strangers All Around
Most people you know were strangers at some point. Unless you somehow manage to only befriend people who come recommended, many of your friends were once strangers, and, for some reason, you let them in. Imagine if you had avoided that first meeting, what would you have missed out on.

Think of the Children
This is a blog about children, or at least one child, so let's talk about strangers and children. The media has created a perception that there are gangs of pedophiles roaming the streets looking for children to abduct. This is, of course, absurd, yet too many parents act as if this is the case.

First, let's look at the facts. Stranger abductions are astoundingly rare. I'm sure I can find more current data, but this article gets the point across.
Only a tiny minority of kidnapped children are taken by strangers. Between 1990 and 1995 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children handled only 515 stranger abductions, 3.1 percent of its caseload. A 2000 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reported that more than 3/4 of kidnappings were committed by family members or acquaintances of the child. The study also found that children abducted by strangers were harmed less frequently than those taken by acquaintances.
Why is this important? Because if parents believe that their children are constant danger of abduction they make wrong choices based on wrong information. They don't let their kids walk to the playground down the street or play with their friends in the woods.  They teach them a fear of strangers.

Why is that man wearing a hood? What is he up to?
Oh, nevermind, it's raining and he wants to stay dry.
One might think that a little extra precaution is good, but every precaution comes with a cost. Perhaps the child who cannot go to the park stays home and plays video games instead. Exercise and socialization replaced with solitude and inactivity, and as this very blunt rant from 2004 points out, a child is 17 times more likely to commit suicide than be abducted by a stranger.

But it's worse than that. Unless a child is privileged to be born into a well connected family, every opportunity they encounter will come from an interaction with a stranger, and you can't spend 18 years telling a child to avoid strangers and be afraid and suddenly turn around and expect them to know how to interact with strangers and develop contacts in the world.

We are robbing our children of the chance to develop the skills they will need to thrive in a very tumultuous economy in order to protect them from a "danger" that is less prevalent than dying of the flu.

Every precaution has a cost. The Koalid will be taught to be alert to her surroundings. She will be taught self defense. She will be taught to be skeptical of strangers, but not afraid.

Strangers are just friends that you haven't met yet. That is lesson I live by and that is the lesson I shall pass on.

Monday, March 13, 2017

When Did My Friends Get So Old?

When I taught driving, a youthful and energetic client in her 70s commented to me once "when did all my friends get so old?"

Younger, thinner, darker (and longer) haired, running the
first Pi-Con in 2006.
I realized the other day that many of my friends are in their 40s, an age which never struck me as old, but certainly as older than I. Then it hit me that I will see my own 40th birthday before I see the next Summer Olympics. It's one thing to play math games and see that I'll be in my 50s when the Koalid graduates high school, but it's quite another to see my current age and compute that I am very close to the point where I have more years behind than I can expect ahead.

So, what does that mean? 

In some ways, it means nothing at all. Age is just a number. There is no magic age at which I must suddenly start doing things differently.

In other ways it implies various things. I am now old enough that I have seen things that seemed like they must last forever run their course and end. I have learned many things. I have forgotten many things. I have learned what I do not know.

Photo taken on the train as I write this post, looking like
the father of the guy in the other photo.
I have seen that the cycle time for a phase of life is about 5-7 years, which means three such cycles before the Koalid becomes an adult. What does that mean? I ran Phoenix Games for about 5 years. I wandered through various jobs and mismatched relationships for about 6 years. I then met Amy and came to my current phase of life.

It is easy to reach this point of life and think that time is running out, but when you realize that great enterprises can rise and fall in 7 years, there are quite a few 7s left before I run out the clock.

But when do you look at the clock? There are two times. When you want it to run faster and when you want it to run slower. If you are in a boring class or an unproductive meeting, you look at the clock hoping it will go faster. When you are young and long for the freedom of adulthood, you hope it will go faster.

When you look at it wish it will slow is when you feel that not enough has been done with the time that has already passed and you wish for more time to make up progress. So, perhaps this recent awareness of time comes of some sort of dissatisfaction. Do I wish I had done more with my lift to this point? No. I think I have done quite a bit. I do, however, wish I had progressed further: better credit, owning a home, those kinds of things. Of course, it is not too late to achieve those things, but it's certainly later in the game than might be ideal.

Age is, indeed, just a number, just like a FICO score, a bank balance, and the mileage on a car. Not all-defining, but not unimportant either.