August 2011

Flying

Today I had to leave for a one day business trip. When I explained this to Everett he gave me a hug and kiss, looked me right in the eyes and said “Ok Daddy. Have a good trip. And tell me all about it when you get back.” It was one of many moments I have had with him that will stay with me for a long time.

Note that the remainder of this blog might sound like it was written by a curmudgeon, and doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Everett, at least until the end.

The amount that we travel provides us plenty of experience with the idiosyncrasies of airlines. In a previous blog entry I discussed a branch of mathematics called Airline Math which is used to show, for example, how 10% of $1000 is $500. Another area where this industry has branched off from the mainstream is Airline English. For about the last 15 years Chris has consistently flown Southwest Airlines, first from Utah, then Cleveland and now MIlwaukee (Southwest came to Milwaukee the year after we did). There are two persistent curiosities about Southwest Airlines. First: all flights are “on time”, at least until they’re not, but even then they might be if you are using the airline definition, which can be translated as “not too terribly late in geological time”. Once it becomes clear that the flight is not on time by anyone’s definition they begin the process of proposing new times, starting with an opening bid, which is similar to an auction in that it will most certainly become a much larger number. Once when I arrived breathless at the gate in Salt Lake City for an “on time” flight I was told that my plane had not yet left its previous stop, and that we had a minimum three hour wait for it to arrive. They do get points for consistency: the same misinformation seems to be provided via their online flight status, the airport monitors and by employees. This suggests that they don’t actually know the location of a very expensive fleet of aircraft, which is possible but highly unlikely. More likely explanations range from disorganization to manipulation, but I don’t want to start any conspiracy theories. Another curiosity about Southwest: almost every flight starts with the announcement “This is a completely full flight”. This is another example where Airline English deviates from Normal English. When I hear a statement like “This flight is full” then I think it is mostly, if not completely full. By extension, I assume that “completely full” means every seat is taken, but I have almost never observed this to be true. On my recent “completely full” fight from Milwaukee to Kansas City there were several empty seats within a couple rows of me.

AirTran has decided that the best model for air travel is to charge fees at every possible moment. Granted they aren’t the only airline moving toward this model but they do seem to be the most extreme. On a recent AirTrain flight the online checkin system informed Chris that he owed an extra $7 and he couldn’t checkin without paying it. No explanation was given, and no one at the airport could explain it, so he had to pay it and get on with life. On our family trip to Seattle we all had to pay fees for luggage (getting to be more the norm) and for our seats (what?!?). During the in-flight service all types of soda (called “pop” in the midwest) were free while milk for Everett cost $2 (obesity epidemic anyone?). What they don’t seem to realize is that for a long time we will associate their airline with significant and gratuitous fees (for our Seattle trip these totaled over $200), most of which are ridiculous and some of which they can’t even explain.

To address this I propose the following, which I am willing to repeat as needed until the situation improves: I will call a meeting of airline executives. The meeting will be scheduled for 3pm, and we will send repeated reminders via phone, text, e-mail and a website with real-time updates. As people enter the meeting room they will be asked if they would like a seat (extra charge), if they would like a seat with extra legroom (another charge), and if they would like to be first in line to enter (another charge). At the start of the meeting the only person in attendance will be my 3 year old son who skipped his nap and is exhausted, sick and screaming. It will be up to them to entertain him until I saunter in two hours later with no explanation but rather an acknowledgement that we are starting “on-time”.

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Feelings

When I hear the word feelings the first thing that comes to mind is the hyperdramatic song by Morris Albert in the 1970s. The next thing that comes to mind is how much Everett shares them with us. If there is one easy thing about spending time with him it is reading his emotions. He is quite transparent, and one of the best experiences we get to have as parents is to witness his sense of joy and wonder about the world. For some time now he has talked about his feelings, which is great because it reduces guesswork for us. Some common phrases:

-“You hurt my feelings”. This usually happens after one of us raises our voice with him after failing all attempts at a peaceful resolution to a problem.

-“That makes my feelings happy.” Self explanatory, but I need to get a picture of how he puts his hands on his chest when he says it.

-“Does that baby feel sad?” He can get pretty concerned when he observes other children who are upset. He wants to know why, and he will sometimes comfort them if he knows them well enough.

-“Angry mandril face.” One time about a year ago he and Luka were at the zoo with Melissa and Maryke. As they were going through the ape house they ducked under the railing and got right up to the glass next to a male mandril who, as it turns out, didn’t like having them that close. The mandril started screaming and they ran. Ever since then any kind of angry face is associated with mandrils. Soon afterward he added a happy mandril face as well.

-“I feel roughhousy! Are you feeling roughhousy?” Also self-explanatory. Note that roughhousing is not the same a lion fighting, which is a term he started using at the beach this past summer with his cousins. Lion fighting and roughhousing seem remarkably similar to us, but sometimes Chris will perform some kind of maneuver during the latter and Everett will stop him and say “Dad, we’re not playing lion fight now.”

-“I feel scared” has become a common phrase when he is dropped off at school in the morning. This is also new –  for a long time he seemed completely comfortable during dropoffs.

 

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(Un)Fair

The Wisconsin State Fair started on August 4th. As many of our readers know, this is an event that Everett looks forward to all year. And those of you who follow Wisconsin news may have heard about a very disturbing series of events that took place during and after the first day of the fair this year. We weren’t there and don’t know anyone who was, but it appears from witnesses that a large crowd of black youths were engaged in a series of random acts of violence that were directed at each other and at people in general who were leaving he fair. Things really got out of hand after the fair closed, and it sounds like the police were pretty unprepared (it probably doesn’t help that the state fair grounds crosses three separate police jurisdictions). Beyond the obvious concern for the safety of my family there are a lot of things that are disturbing about this: the proximity to our neighborhood, the reports that race was a major factor and the seemingly random nature of the attacks. In my mind this kind of behavior is fundamentally different from the kind of mischief and poor judgement that teenagers sometimes engage in. In particular, why the random violence? Is this a form of self expression? Or is this a reflection of racial tension and anger that they feel there is no other outlet for? I think my reactions are unsurprising for a parent: I want Everett to be safe, and I don’t want him to witness this kind of violence. But even more than that, he is currently at an age of joy, innocence and wonder, and for as long as possible I don’t even want him to know that such behavior exists. At the same time it is painful to think that there are children who have no choice in the matter, and I do wonder what kind of insulated life we are living if this much pent up anger is in our hometown and we aren’t aware of it.

After the attacks the Milwaukee Chief of Police and the Mayor assured the public that precautions had been taken and that this would not occur again. It also helps that the attacks were at night and most families with young children attend the fair during the day, which is not a popular time for teenagers. So we packed up the bikes and rode over on Sunday afternoon for some rides, animals and food.

It was a chance for Chris to eat his annual corn dog and for us to check out the latest array of horrifying yet delicious fair foods.

I never imagined you could get macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs on a stick! The fair animals are a treat for all of us. This year Melissa and I paid close attention to the many different varieties of chickens.

Recently Milwaukee passed an ordinance that domestic poultry is now permissible, and as a result people are hopeful that Wauwatosa will soon do the same. We are pretty interested in the idea but I should note that despite many (many, many) years of formal education Melissa and I display an astonishing lack of knowledge about farm life. For example: recently we asked Gramsy and Grandpa (lifelong farmers in Iowa) how many ears a corn stalk produces. I was thinking something like 5 or 10, but it turns out the answer is 1 (maybe 2). Now we have a new question for them: do chickens fly? Can we enclose them with a fence, or do they have to be in a pen? We would certainly have to keep them contained and safe from the foxes and coyotes in our neighborhood.

Everett was pretty excited this year about the carnival rides. A couple months ago we attended the Greek Fest (also at the State Fair grounds) where he saw many of the rides and latched onto two of them: the bee ride and the boat ride. At the time they weren’t running, but he has remembered them, and insisted on going on both of them at the State Fair. The boat ride he rode with Mom and again later with Gabby, Granddaddy and Trinity.

The bee ride he rode alone with seemingly no reservations.

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Chore

There is a black walnut tree in our backyard which is one of several in our immediate neighborhood. Every summer these trees produces hundreds of green walnuts (they smell green too) that are somewhere between a golfball and a tennis ball in size.

As soon as they reach the ground they quickly turn black and the outer shell starts rotting, a process that leaves behind a trail of black goo that will stain almost anything it touches (clothing, wood, concrete, etc). To prevent this, many of us in the neighborhood try to pick them up as soon as they fall. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to introduce the idea of chores to Everett. The walnuts in particular are a good place to start because:

  1. It’s outside, which is where he wants to be most of the time.
  2. It involves animals, which he enjoys tremendously. We explained to him that after we collect the walnuts we will keep them in a pile in the backyard, so we can almost certainly expect a lot of traffic from squirrels and chipmunks through next winter.
  3. Everett is closer to the ground than we are.

We are a couple weeks into this and so far it’s going ok. He certainly doesn’t do his chore without prompting (do any children?), and he wants us to do it with him, but he will do it. One of the men I bicycle with is a family practice physician with four children, and he explained to me that I can’t expect much in the way of help until they reach age 8. So we’ll see what the ratio is of us helping Everett to him helping us. I do note that he is often eager to help me when I work on projects, for example he has his own lawn mower and follows behind me in the yard when I mow the grass.

He is especially interested in helping when tools are involved. If I am stationary and focused on a task then before I know it he will be between my arms, holding the tools and insisting that he can do it. Recently I was using a drill and explained to him that it was dangerous and he couldn’t touch it or get near it, to which he replied “Ok, I will climb on you!”

Interesting note: last year none of these trees produced walnuts. When I asked a neighbor about this I was told that every few years they take a year off and don’t produce. This is interesting in itself, but even more so is the fact that all of the trees seem to be synchronized.

Another note: there are a lot of robins in our neighborhood. Two nests in the front yard (one in the same place as last year), and one in the walnut tree in back. The nests in the front yard each lost an egg (that we know of), the result of which was that one nest was abandoned. The backyard nest seems to be faring better, with two chicks being cared for at the moment.

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