The challenges of being super-dad!

This post is a little bit about how life has changed (yawn) since I was a kid, a bit about television and (yawn) how hard it is to keep my kids away from it, and mostly about me dumping what’s going on in my life right now.

Let’s dive in.

A while ago, I decided not to forbit my kids to watch TV. The reasons are legion: it’s a great sedative when mom or dad need a break, it exposes them to more English, I like some TV and want to share it with them.

But, I do turn the TV off, and I do compete with it from time to time.

The thiings is, my kids — like me — are basically couch potatoes. And — like me — they feel better when they’re outside. We just don’t always think to go outside, and, I’ve found that I often go outside wrong.

I discovered the outdoors via hiking and jogging. (Well, I knew about the outdoors from having been sent there — mostly as a punishment — by my parents. I’m talking about discovering that there’s something therapeutic about being outside.). I’m carrying a bit of baggage from my initial experiences with the outdoors: I have an obsession with measuring the time I spend outside in kilomters, in steps.

I drag the kids out and I make them walk. They want to stop to poke at a bug on the ground and, after a minute or two, I say it’s time to keep going.

I do it wrong.

My kids, like me when I was a kid, are happiest to just go into the woods and start poking around, dragging sticks from one spot to another, trying to build a fort. Or, collecting leaves or bugs. Realizing this, I remembered the hours we spent outside as kids just goofing off and getting dirty.

The things is, my parents could send me out unsupervised. Or, only supervised by the rest of the group. I don’t know if I can send my kids out without supervision, but I know that i won’t. (If something does happen, I don’t think I’d be able to forgive myself.)

So, I have to head out, with my kids, and find a way to distract myself while they entertain themselves. And, the thing is, it’s usually me who wants to head back home. It irks me that I’ve found something that they genuinely enjoy doing more than television, and which I think they should do as much as possible, and the only problem is me.

For the rest of the week, we’re all off (Germans have so much vacation! And even our daycare closes for Easter break) and it’s on me to keep being super-dad. But, it turns out that that means it’s on me to find a way to distract myself in the woods — where, really, I enjoy being.



Willpower and Habit

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about willpower and habit lately. Partly, I suppose, this has been prompted by my reflecting on habit with my students, but it’s more than that.

I wonder if I have less willpower than other people, and maybe have simply been ‘programmed’ with decent habits by my parents. I know I have less willpower than I’d like to have.

One thing that bothers me is that I don’t know that I’ve ever really exercised to the point of muscle failure. At least, I can’t recall it. I feel like I exercise to the point of will failure.

And that’s something to work on.

But, recently, I’ve tried to make simple changes to my life: stop snacking in the evening, try fasting, stick to an exercise routine.

You know where this is going: I do great for a while, but then I cave. What bothers me, is that I know I’m going to regret giving in to whatever urge-of-the-moment I have when I do it, and I still do it.

I don’t regret changing my mind, like I did yesterday when I was planning on fasting until dinner and someone I genuinely like asked me to have a piece of his birthday cake. That’s a simple question of priorities: he was more important to me than the fast. But, I do regret the times that I know I’ll be upset if I grab a snack, and I do it anyway.

Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I’d like to develop to a point where I decide for myself who I am, rather than feeling  like a bag of chemicals that basically does whatever the urge-of-the-moment is.

Living with the Seasons

It starts, I think, with the idea of eating seasonally. You know, tomatoes and strawberries only in the summer, kale in the late autumn. The reasoning seems sound: we evolved eating the foods that were available at the moment.

That idea really appeals to me. And, as I experiment with it — eating lots of root vegetables and grains this time of year — I’d like to extend the idea.

Here’s the problem: I live in a city. It’s hard to feel the seasons here. I’ve thought about things like growing my beard out in the winter, or changing the color of the table cloth (which would require me to start using a table cloth).

I like the idea of living in tune with the seasons, but I don’t know how to do it in the city.

That’s just what I’m thinking about at the moment.

My Habit Motivation Worksheet

So, I’m forcing (encouraging?) my English-learners to work with me on making language a habit. To that end, I’ve made a habit worksheet which I’m going to make them fill out (but not read to the class).

This is all part of a bigger project of mine, which is my learning Latin as we work together to talk about how to learn a language. So, to that end, I thought I’d share my answers here.

In the original, the questions are all about English, I’ve changed them here to be about Latin.

  1. Why are you learning Latin? — The short answer is to practice learning a language, but also, I’d like to get some language-nerd street cred and, to be honest, I’m 36 years old and want to prove there’s still some plasticity in my brain.
  2. When you imagine ‘sucess’ with Latin, what does that look like? It looks like me being able to read Julius Ceasar in the original, being able to describe my life in Latin, and being able to seek out other Latin speakers for conversation (whether I wind up liking that experience remains to be clear).
  3. Brainstorm a minute or two on things that would be good ‘tiny quotas’ for you, personally. I think that Memrise is a good personal quota, maybe focusing on doing both the Familia Romana and the Cambridge Latin Course courses. From there, I think that would push me to keep up with both courses, as the vocabulary caught up to my activity. I think that doing an exercises or two every day could be a realistic goal, so would (in the beginning, at least) finding a Vikipaedia article to read through. Also, I want to continue practicing reading Familia Romana out loud.
  4. Think about a normal day in your life. When could you find time to perform your tiny quota of work? I think that, for me, making it a goal to do a little bit each time I’m home and nobody else is is a good time. Or, to say that I’ll do Memrise before I open Facebook on my phone.

I’ve set a reminder for myself to come back to these things in a month and see how I think I’m doing. Right now — while I’m full of enthusiasm — I like the idea of making habits, forming who I am. Even more, I like the idea that I’m the kind of person who makes his mind up to learn a language and then learns it.

Forming Habits

It’s hard for me to tell what is typical of me, and what is part of ‘the human experience.’ That is: it seems obvious to me that I’ve organized my life into a series of habits and routines that I could carry out in my sleep, which may be part of the reason that I’m able to function as sleep-deprived as I often do.

But, I don’t know if more people are more. . . conscious. To me, it seems like the way that people move through the world, and it’s a ‘model’ that I often use to explain the actions of others to myself. (“He probably wasn’t looking for me there, probably didn’t see me.”)

However, where I was once proud of my ability to set up routines and habits that I thought were constructive, I’m beginning to feel trapped.

Not trapped in my habits, trapped in my inability to form new habits.

Looking back, running was the last habit that I’d set up deliberately. And, perhaps some of my knee-jerk don’t-use-that-tone reactions that I have with my children.

If I’m going to continue thinking of myself as a work-in-progress authored by myself, I realized, I’m going to need to work on the authoring.

So, aside from fitness — I’m trying to get into the habit of doing strength-training every day — I’ve set up a few habits to get into. In the near future, I’d like to be a proficient fireside guitar player. Even more, I’ve decided to learn Latin.

I can sell guitar-learning as a brain-plasticity, do-it-for-the-kids kind of thing. After all, I’d like to have some campfires with them. Why not be able to do some songs.

Latin is easy for me to get: I’ve been meaning to learn another language, but I didn’t know which one. Part of living here and being in the international community, I know a ton of people who actually speak something other than English or German natively, but none of them do I know well enough to learn their language (it’s like asking someone to take you to their hometown… if they don’t invite you, you don’t go). So, I was stalled.

But, more than travel, I like obscure armchair-level scholarship. And, I like ancient Rome. Why not learn to read some texts in the original, wind up having a good base from which to learn another language? That’s what I’m doing.

Of course, I tell people I’m doing it to get the experience of learning a language as an adult, find tips to suggest to my own students. Look for opportunities to say “This is what worked for me…” And, that might be part of it, but really it’s just how I mention it to people in the hope that they’ll keep me accountable.

So, look for updates on the guitar and Latin here.

Because you’re better…

In an unusual turn of events, I had a chance not long ago to actually discuss intercultural communication with some ESL students. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that certificates and education mean more than experience, I should be better qualified to teach that than I am English.

And yet, I ran into communication dificulties.

It wasn’t something we discussed just because I felt like discussing it. I’m working with a company that has a supplier in Portugal with whom they have… difficulties.

Deliveries are late, promises are not kept, agreements are made but, for some reason, never adhered to. In short, they would be doing business with another supplier, if they could find one.

In short, this should be a company motivated to communicate better — if only to properly intimidate their supplier into delivering on time.

And yet, in discussion of a few German and Portugese “clichés” they seemed unwilling to acknowledge that any of the points (punctuality, directness) were cultural, rather than simply the correct way to be.

That’s what gets me: even a group of people who should be able to see the logic of thinking flexibly — or pretending to — would rather stick to what’s comfortable.

The experience has me re-thinking my plan to achieve renown by being the “voice of reason” that convinces the American left to stop acting like dicks, and the American right to stop being idiots. After all, if you can’t get a group of people who should see the money at the end of the tunnel to try and see things from another point of view, how are you going to get people for whom their ideas are their identity to think differently?

Short answer: I don’t know.

If someone asked me why he or she should see things from another point of view — after all, I’m for people being allowed to do what they want — I have a few answers.

First, of course, is because you’re smarter than the people you disagree with (or you wouldn’t disagree, right?), so you shouldn’t be afraid that trying to see the other person’s perspective will make yours less valid (and, if it does, then you’re a bit smarter, right?).

More importantly, we all have things we want to change. And, in my case, if sending fifteen angry emails in eighth grade English doesn’t change things, why not try something else? Similarly, if posting memes mocking Antivaxers doesn’t make them see reason, maybe changing the tone of your communication will.

I firmly believe that we communicate for a reason (even though I’m not yet sure why I write here) and, if you aren’t writing to persuade, I suspect you’re mostly writing to confirm your superiority over others. And that’s not going to change any of the things that you say you’re upset about.

The Allure of the Pull-Up

Can you remember gym class in, say, eighth grade? Everyone was made to hang onto a freestanding pull-up bar and do “as many pull-ups as possible.” I put that last bit into quotes, because I don’t recall anybody doing any. It was like saying “jump to the moon and back as many times as possible.”

Nobody felt bad that they couldn’t do pull-ups, because nobody else could. (I should say that, due to scheduling, all of the music nerds in my high school had gym class together.)

Then, years later, I joined the National Guard and went to basic training. Fortunately, we were not required to do pull-ups to get out of basic training (you had to be able to do push-ups, and I would have lost sleep over it, if I hadn’t been exhausted every night) but there was another one of those freestanding pull-up bars.

Watching a lot of the other trainees bust out five or even ten pull-ups, I have to say that I no longer felt like I was normal in my inability.

Since then, though I’ve remained unable to perform even a single pull-up, it’s been one of the “milestones of manhood” that dangles in front of me every time I think that I’m ‘fit enough.’

I’ve run a marathon. I’ve run several half marathons. I can do more pushups now than I could in the Army. I like to think I’m ‘fit enough.’

And then, I remember that I can’t do a pull-up.

While I think about how I can get in shape for that, let me leave you with this.