Scott Hanselman

Just please comb their hair and wipe their noses - My month as a single dad

October 11, '11 Comments [53] Posted in Musings | Parenting
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OnomatopoeiaThis month I've definitely realized that intellectualizing something is different from actually living it. I've been a single dad for the last 24 days. My wife has been in South Africa attending a family wedding and visiting friends while I've been alone with our two boys, ages three and five. It's been an experience, to the say the least. I decided to take half-time vacation and worked 10am - 2pm while the boys were in school.

Other than my obligatory 4 hours of deleting email work it was all home-making and kids for me. Who knew that single parenting is so hard? There were the first few days of "this is new," followed by "when is Mommy coming back," and the inevitable "so this is what life is like without Mommy." Definitely an emotional roller coaster for everyone.

Then there seemed to be a series of phases I went through, not unlike the phases of grief.
Shock - This phase includes disbelief and numbness. What am I gonna do? Gotta make sure the boys get to school each day. I have to sleep well, don't want to burn out too early.

  • Denial - After a few 3am surprise wake-up calls and obligatory potty emergencies, one tends to find themselves overwhelmed.
  • Bargaining - Just sleep through this one night and...
  • Guilt - Oh, I'm a horrible parent, the boys were late for school today.
  • Anger - This is so frustrating. Just do what I say and everything will go fine.
  • Depression - This totally sucks, how does anyone do this without help?
  • Acceptance - OK, I've got this. Maybe not the laundry, but lunches and playtime, I've got that down solid.

Death by a Thousand Tiny Cuts

Sometimes in a marriage (with kids) one tends to assume that their job to see the hardest. The thing is though, each role fulfilled by each spouse is different. The thing I learned about single parenting is that it's truly incessant. By that I mean specifically "it never ceases." Taken individually the tasks involved aren't difficult: make lunch, do laundry, buy food, but the problem is - it never stops. Just because I made meals and cleaned up all day yesterday doesn’t mean I don’t get to do it again today. And tomorrow. And the day after that...There's no credit to be brought forward for doing well yesterday: the clock resets, and it starts all over.

It seems that single parenting is the ultimate project management job. Every day included not the dozens of daily details that keep a house running but another dozen irregular details that were challenging to keep track of. I keep a lot of lists and notes and to-dos in my day job, but I had 4x the lists and notes and to-dos in this new single-parent job.

Playing to my strengths

One of the most significant things I learned about myself is to play to my strengths. While I may not be very good at remembering whose hair is combed or to wipe noses, I'm pretty good at teaching. I worked with the 5-year old who has been a little stalled at sounding words out. Turns out he's just bored with the material. Seems that "See Spot Run" isn't as interesting as "Batman." I found some age-appropriate comics (no guns, easier stories) and rather than trying to get him to read the dialog of the comics we focused entirely on the onomatopoeia action words. After doing this for a week I discovered that using comic books to teach onomatopoeia is a real thing that's done in schools. Cool!

The Good and the Bad

A good friend of my got divorced a few months ago. He made a large purchase and mentioned said to me,

"You know what the best part was? Not having to ask permission before making the purchase. And the worst part? The same."

That's a powerful and profound statement right there. It really stuck with me and totally applied in my month alone. On the one hand, it was really enabling and empowering to be able to change the system. We ate what we wanted (it was still good food, just what I wanted) and did what we wanted (zoo, museums, etc.) It wasn't that we didn't do these things when my wife is here but the point is, there's just one less adult voting. It felt like things went more smoothly, probably because any debates happened in my own head. It was nice to just decide things.

On the down side, there's no one around to brainstorm with. And there's no break at 3am. Or 4am. Or 5:30am. I don't know how single parents get a break, especially if they don't have family to lean on.

If it works, keep it. If it doesn't, change it

Now that the wife is back, we're going to look at some of the systems that I came up with and combine them with the existing ones that she had going. The goal is for neither of us to burn out doing our jobs. I think each person in a partnership tends to get hyper-focused on the task in front of them and forget the stresses on the other partner. Both of us have jobs that "never stop." We can't turn off and focus on something else just because it’s after 5pm. I really enjoyed my time with the boys as a single parent, and hope I never have to do it again any time soon!

The Customers (Kids) Don't Care

Another fascinating part to this was the complete ambivalence and amazing resilience of the children. While they were sad after Mommy was gone, a few days later "the new normal" become clear and they were back to business. I was a wreck, of course, but the kids didn't miss a beat. Their inherent wonderful "childish selfishness" remains intact, as it should. "What? Mom's gone? Ok, so are you the one making sandwiches now? Service! There's only one waiter in this lousy restaurant?"

Reintegration

I appreciated that my wife didn't just fly in, raise the landing gear and immediately take over the whole ecosystem. The boys and I had a good thing going and found a kind of equilibrium. A snotty nosed, wrinkled clothed, uncombed equilibrium, but equilibrium nonetheless. (Dad's skills lie elsewhere. Their pants were on straight 85% of the time, so I take full credit for that success!) My wife recognized that she was returning to a new house with new rules and we have spent the last few days talking about what worked, what didn't and what things we discovered while she was gone that we might want to keep.

Walk a Mile

It's certainly hard to be judgmental of any single parent when you've been one. We've all seen a single mom or dad walking around and wondered "where's the other partner?" Well, who knows, maybe in Africa, but you can bet that the one left is working hard.

I was explaining how college degrees work to the kids as we drove my a university this morning.

Me: "...Well, Mommy has a Master's Degree, she's very smart."

3: "Where is it?"

Me: "What?"

3: "The master."

Me: "It's on the wall in the office."

3: "Why don't you have one of those smartie things that mommy has?"

This made me remember that my wife has taken time off from one career to make the kids her career for a few years. I definitely understand my wife's job better after this month.

Behind every great man is a woman who is not impressed. - Me on twitter

Now I just need to figure out how to get her to do my job for a month so she'll appreciate how hard it is to tweet and restart Outlook! ;)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Paternity Leave - Week 1

December 8, '07 Comments [8] Posted in Parenting | T | Z
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Here we are at the end of Week 1 of Paternity Leave. Baby T is doing very well, having already gained a pound and a half. The doctor was shocked, but this boy can eat. He's also very expressive. Z is enjoying his baby brother very much and hasn't shown any jealousy. Yet.

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Z is also enjoying living in a cul de sac so he can ride his tricycle.

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You know you're a huge nerd when you look around your garage for an half-hour for some rope to pull your son around on his bike and eventually give up and just use a Cat5 patch cable. Got plenty of those. Fortunately Z doesn't realize this is a problem yet for our father-son relationship, but he will, somewhere around the time when he learns what "throwing like a girl" means.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Plant, Pet, Person - Ten Days with Baby T

November 29, '07 Comments [24] Posted in Musings | Parenting | T
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Whew! As we enter Day 12 of our new life in a new house, T enters his 10th day of Life. Not much to report so far as T is still in Plant Mode as Z has fully entered Person Mode.

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As my friend Eli says, and I repeat often:

Kids go through three phases, Plant, Pet, Person. My daughter (A month old at this point) is currently a Plant. We feed her, she water us, and she sits for long periods. Z is now in the Pet stage. He'll follow you anywhere and smiles when he sees you. God help us when they become People. Because with People come Opinions.

It's unreal how much this kids sleeps. I don't remember Z sleeping that much. Like 22 hours a day. The Wife says that's Nature's Way of easing us into to the process. Fortunately a lot of this is coming back to us, and we've still got the all the Ultimate Baby Products, so we're digging those out.

Z also turns two today if you can believe that. Seems like he literally turned one yesterday and six-months the day before. When we move we transitioned him into a Big Boy Bed. We figured since everything else in our lives was changing (house, job, baby, etc) why not change that too? Fortunately it's worked out great and he continues to sleep a happy ~11-12-hours undisturbed a night, so that's cool.

He also announces when he's going to poop, but perhaps that's too much information for one personal Blog Post, my Dear Reader? We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Baby T arrives

November 20, '07 Comments [188] Posted in Parenting | T
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Truly, I don't give my wife enough credit for what she does. This morning around 5am she said that she was feeling some contractions...minor, but enough for her to take notice. We had just moved house on Saturday, so we'd been running all over and unpacking. We didn't think too much of it because the baby's due date was the 29th (coincedentially our first son's birthday also). I figured it was just those beginning contractions that start a few weeks before you really get going. Plus, according to the doctor we'd just seen the previous Wednesday she wasn't at all ready.

The contractions continued, but with no particular pattern, so we didn't sweat them. Then they disappeared completely around lunch. Then around 6pm they started again, but she was still walking around, unpacking, playing with our two year old. She'd pause every 10-15 minutes, make a note of the length of the contraction, but still we weren't worried about it. Then around 8pm, she said, oh, that's not comfortable. I think we need to get going. Nah, you're not even close, I said. Let's hang out here and we'll probably head over tomorrow or the next day. No, she insisted. I'll drive myself if I have to, but I think we need to get out of there.

Since we'd just moved house on Saturday, we now live out in the country and we are over an hour away from the hospital. We start driving, leaving the two year old with my parents. It's dark and rainy and horrible and we pound through it. She continues with contractions, and we bet on dilation. I say 3cm, she says 7cm. I secretly wonder if we'll be sent back from the hospital, thinking that we're totally jumping the gun. I suspect she's worried about the same thing.

We show up at the hospital at 10pm, walk in and say, my wife's in labor. They look at my calm wife and say, um, ok, take our details, ask for timing, and show us to a room. It's clear that they're thinking we're in for a long night of waiting and that these folks (us) have shown up way early. We wait and wait for the nurse and Mo says, I really need some help here, this is really stating to hurt.

I politely go to the desk and say, I'm sorry, but I really think someone needs to look at my wife. They are kind, but again, I'm a nervous father, right? Sure, sir, someone will be right there.

A very nice nurse shows up, takes some readings and checks my wife out. She calmly says, ok, a lot of people are going to show up, but they are all here to help. She pushes a button and like seriously, five nurse ninjas appear from the floor and ceiling with carts and equipment. My wife is freaking out. She says it's time for drugs. Our doctor hasn't shown up yet, because we've only been here 15 minutes. An on-call doctor comes in and examines my wife. Ok, let me get my scrubs. My wife asks, what's going on? The nurse says, well, doctor is getting his scrubs, so a baby is coming and very soon.

I need drugs! she says, I can't do this! It's too late for drugs, you've got to do it naturally. The doctor returns and my wife starts pushing immediately. Fifteen minutes of hard drug-free labor later, our second son, T Daniel Hanselman arrives. He's 6 lbs, 6 oz and healthy.

My wife and I walked into the hospital this evening at 10pm and Baby T* arrived with a full head of hair and strong lungs at 10:43pm.

I will always listen to my wife from now on.

*T means Happiness in Zulu/Ndebele and is pronounced "Taa-bo"

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Baby Sign Language - Update at 2 years

November 11, '07 Comments [13] Posted in Musings | Parenting | Z
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UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!

My son is nearly two years old. He's 23 months. I suspect we'll stop counting months after he's second birthday.

It's always fun to be recognized at a conference and have folks ask about technology, but more and more people want to talk to me about Baby Sign Language. Most often they're folks from outside the U.S., which I think is great. I blogged about Baby Sign twice previously:

Often parents concerns are that a baby who is taught sign language will speak later or will be developmentally slowed in some way due to "confusion." Are they supposed to talk or sign?

I have found this with my own child, my brother's child and all my signing friend's children to be totally false. If anything the child begins speaking with more sophisticated phrases than one would expect.

My belief is this (remembering that I'm neither a doctor, nor a parenting expert, just a Signing Enthusiast and current father of one):

There is a window in a baby's development when they have needs, wants and feelings to express. This window might be from 6 months to 18 months or from 12 months to 2 years. It's usually at least a year long, and it's that time when your baby is "in there" but isn't able to express themselves verbally. Our goal with my son was to get involved in his head for that "missing year" and see what he had to say. For us, it prevented a lot of tantrums and early confusion about what he needed. Instead, he simply told us what was on his mind.

However, they haven't got the tools. If you listened carefully to their cries, posture and other thing I'm sure you'd find that the child was trying to get their need out, but it was either too subtle or unclear for us to see. Using Baby Signing - which is simply American Sign Language or ASL - is a way of formalizing this easily communication with your baby and letting he or she know that we're here, and we're listening.

When a child discovers that they are seen, that their opinion matters and that their parents understand them, I believe it enables and extends so many other interactions with our kids.

How To Start

A gentleman at the PNPSummit from Europe approached me to ask about Baby Signing for his 6 month old. This is the ideal time to start. The baby is just starting to get their bearings and realize that they are not alone and that there's a whole world to interact with.

Pick some basic signs, no more than 4 or 5, since you're going to be learning Sign Language as the child does. Plus, the baby's ability to learn signs will surpass your own very quickly.

To start with, we taught him: Milk, More, Eat, Dog, Mommy and Daddy. We did this from 6 months to about 9 months before we got anything. This is tip #1 - be patient. You'll do it for literally months before it'll POP one day. One day he or she will sign and they won't shut up until they move out of the house 20 years later.

He signed More one day, and the others quickly followed. The key was that we always signed while we spoke. This is important Tip #2 - teaching your child sign language doesn't mean you don't talk to them. Always talk and sign at the same time. Eventually the child will learn that talking is easier and abandon most signs. At two, my son rarely signs as he's not go the words for everything he had previously learned the sign for. However, the signs are still in his head if we need them someday.

You can buy an ASL Dictionary online, or get an inexpensive subscription to a site like HandSpeak.com that includes a video dictionary of over 2800 words. There are photo sites, but they don't quite capture the jist as the images are static. (There are also some free sites like the one at Michigan State University although it requires Quicktime and for you to click twice on the video to get it to play.)

There's also a great FREE "Signing Success Guide" here as a PDF on the Baby Signing Time site.

"Testimonials"

Many of my friends and family have taught their kids sign. For many, including all the non-American's, they were teased by family and friends - especially concerned mother's-in-law. But they stuck with it. My friend Daniel "Kzu" Cazzulino had a great experience with Baby Sign Language in Argentina:

"Just after a couple weeks signing 3 words to her (duck, drink and milk), she signed the duck! I was blown away by how fast she started with the first one, but it took another month for her to start picking up more and more signs. When she was exactly one year old (about a month after we started), I got a couple of books which tought me more techniques and approaches to signing to make it more effective. Three months later, she's able to sign: duck, drink, milk, cookie/cracker, eat, more, baby, take a bath, need heulp, hot, dog, cat, monkey, flower, shoes, hat, pain, water, sleep, silence (and clip, which Agustina uses at the kindergarten to also mean silence), dance (this one she made it up and we learned what she meant!). That's 22 words for a 15 months-old baby that can barely say Mom and Agus (her sister's nickname and the first thing she learnt to say :)). And there are many more that she understands but she's not signing yet.

Just like Scott felt, it's not just a matter of teaching her something to make her "smarter" early on. There's a new kind of connection that you can make with your baby. Aylen's face shines when she sees that we can listen to her needs and help her. She no longer cries when she's hungry or thirsty, or when she wants to take a bath. That's huge. "

Daniel as a native Spanish speaker also got an interesting sign benefit when we recommended Rachel's Baby Signing Time videos:

We bought a couple DVDs from the Baby Signing Time collection (awesome stuff) which both Aylen and Agustina love. It's playing on my TV almost every day for at least a couple hours. It teaches new signs through songs and showing other babies doing them, and it does so while pronouncing the words in english. That may sound obvious to you, but we live in Argentina, so english is not our primary language. However, both girls are now learning the words in both english and spanish at the same time! So my baby signs "baby" when you say the word in english AND spanish too! It's simply amazing.

Another good friend emailed last week when his daughter announced with sign that she needed to have her diaper changed:

"perhaps it's too soon to tell -- but we think we've had good consistent responses on the hand sign for "change me" today.
Great stuff!! [she's 9 months old now]"

Craig Andera is also huge Baby Signing Fan. He had to have patience early on though:

Just like Scott, it was initially like signing to a wall. She didn't seem to care, and she certainly didn't sign back. But I knew from my brother that it was just a matter of time, and sure enough, at about eight months, Ellen was able to mime the sign back to us. It's pretty amazing to get any communication whatsoever (other than smiling and crying) from an eight-month-old.

And Craig also sees Sign to be a good complement to an already bilingual education. ASL is recognized here by colleges as a legitimate foreign language:

It's funny for me to hear resistance to the idea. The one that really puzzles me is the "it'll slow down their speech" one. Not only is this contrary to clinical evidence (IIRC - we did the research but I no longer have the citation), but my personal experience has been the opposite. Ellen, like Z, is bilingual in verbal languages (Chinese and English), and despite that seems to have verbal capabilities comparable to her contemporaries.

Does Ellen still sign? Yes she does, but not to communicate. She communicates exclusively (and nearly endlessly :) ) verbally, but there are about five signs she still makes even when speaking. For example, she still signs "sorry" even as she says it - in English or in Chinese.

I'm really interested to hear in the comments from anyone else whose had success with teaching their infant Sign Language. It's worked great for us. We're going to teach Un-named Son #2 sign lanuage. He's due in less than two weeks!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.