Book Review: Getting To Yes

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Boy has it been way too long since I’ve done one of these. Sorry about that! For whatever reason, over the last couple of months I’ve found it hard to read at all, much less get through material as certainly dry as self-help genre stuff. On that note Getting To Yes isn’t generally found in the self-help section, but rather the business section. If I could make a simple and critical point however, many things in our lives are negotiations and especially our relationships and even more especially when they go south. So I’m not just going to review this book, I’m going to give you some advice on how to use it. The latter half of that sentence may have tipped you off, this is going to be a positive recommendation.

“Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem”

If I could describe Getting To Yes in a nutshell it would be to compare it to a book I’ve reviewed previously, What Makes Love Last, by John Gottman. Basically, the material in Getting To Yes is called principled negotiation, and it’s the basis for the negotiation techniques Gottman encourages you to employ to repair and retain trust, Getting To Yes is however more comprehensive. To put it another way, What Makes Love Last could be considered the application of Getting To Yes as strictly applied to romantic relationships.

I’m being a little simplistic in that statement, which isn’t entirely fair to either book, but that’s a quick and comprehensive tl;dr for Getting To Yes. On that note, Getting To Yes is a far more comprehensive explanation of principled negotiation while managing to come in a smaller, more condensed and quicker to read package. Throughout this review, I have peppered memorable quotes from Getting To Yes that I thought would have been helpful to include in What Makes Love Last.

“Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process”

Now for the cover critique, or should I say cover appreciation. Since Getting To Yes isn’t strictly a self-help section book it mercifully comes with a cover that can actually be read in public without drawing attention to yourself. Bye bye lipstick red covers, suggestive fruit, and vulva purses. You could actually be forgiven for casually reading this in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break at work, physically, sans the protection of an e-reader and its coverless covertness. What a breath of fresh air that is.

“…some people begin by announcing that their position is an issue of principle and refuse even to consider the other side’s case. ‘It’s a matter of principle’ becomes a battle cry in a holy ware over ideology.”

The prose is deadpan, dry, but well written. It’s what you’d expect from a book focused on business deals and other similar negotiations but at the very least it’s not laborious to get through or especially hard to read. The book is small in physical dimension, and while 200 pages is already fast to get through, the fact that the pages are also small and the font is still large enough to comfortably read, and adding in some white space for the generously peppered formatting, reading Getting To Yes can be done in an afternoon easily. One of my metrics for scoring any self-help book is how quickly the contents can be digested and put to use, and Getting To Yes scores very high here.

Cost is another serious metric to consider. If a certain book is 40 bucks but there are two other books for fifteen each that cover the topic more helpfully and more completely I’ll generally give the nod to the two. It’s an opportunity cost to read a book, and combined with the length and difficulty of the read it can make one book not worth reading over two or even three others. Getting To Yes knocks this one out of the park as well, usually under 20 bucks, but at the time of writing, UNDER EIGHT on Amazon for the paperback.

“If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion”

So that’s the short of it, and that’s why Getting To Yes comes with a quick and strong recommendation. There’s something else I’d like to talk about though, that really makes this book very useful for me, and highlighted by a recent catastrophic failure to use the techniques therein—though I am unsure if that would have effected the outcome of said event.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need advanced negotiating techniques about unimportant things. You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between positional and principled negotiation to win the battle of the pizza toppings. You may win more battles of pizza toppings with such techniques, but losing the pizza topping battle isn’t a hill many of us are willing to die on in the first place and I hope something many of us wouldn’t even consider ‘losing’.

When an argument gets serious, consequential, and important however it also tends to be emotionally charged, and like many of you, that emotional charge on its own may rid me of the use of my toolbox of knowledge. Stress physiologically takes us out of our executive function and puts us into more primitive modes of thinking. I’m the good guy, you’re the enemy, at least, that’s what the stress is making me think. If you’re the source of my stress you’re dealing with the same part of my brain that teaches me how to deal with a hungry lion. People vary in this response, some freeze, some flee, some fight. I fight. This gets us into a bit of a circular conundrum. If the best time to use this knowledge is the time I’m least able to access the areas of my brain that contain it, how is it useful?

I don’t have a specific answer for that, but I know that for someone as prone to emotional flooding as I am, I’m going to need some sort of technique, some trick, some device, that backs me out of flooding the moment I hit it, because anything less is too late. The other participant in the conversation willing, I can postpone or even stop needless suffering while I recompose and remember all this training I’ve put myself through. I don’t have that technique yet, and I’m going to have to practice it once I come up with one. My major point here is that simply knowing this stuff may not be sufficient for you to start employing it. I flood very quickly relatively to my circumstances. General levels of pre-exisitng stress will effect how quickly each of us emotionally floods compared to our normal rate. But if your rate is generally high like mine, neither What Makes Love Last or Getting To Yes is going to help you when you need it the most. Practice detecting flooding in yourself, and in others, and have others, and particularly those that care about you the most, practice detecting flooding in you. Build a safety net, and use it, and then by all means, leverage what you learn in Getting To Yes.

Distributed Manufacturing – A Ray of Hope for Families

Last weekend I went out to Orlando Florida to visit a small company named Uberrime (Uber-ree-may). It’s a one man shop owned, worked, and managed by Marco Uberrime. I had gone down there to observe and understand the process of making silicone dildos by hand. If that strikes you as odd, welcome to the blog! You’ll get used to it. I got the additional education I wanted for sure, and I also got to chat a bit with Marco, quite the interesting fella himself. The shop itself is quite homey, but the production area is quite sterile for reasons that I hope are obvious. While I was there I observed, commented on, and was instructed more or less in how several models were made and the thought processes that go behind that and behind the business. Below are some pictures I took with Marco’s permission of several products curing in molds.

I’ll have more on Marco and Uberrime in the near future when we review one of his products. Those of you who’ve paid attention to the title and the content so far may be thinking I’ve got a screw loose. Henry what the hell do dildos and bringing hope to families possibly have to do with one another!?

Distributed manufacturing, that’s in the title too, and it’s become more popular over the last decade. It’s easy to forget, but the amount of time parents spend working outside of the modern home is anomalous from a historical perspective. For the vast bulk of human history, livings were made by the work done inside of the home. While we’re on that, I highly recommend reading about the history of marriage and getting familiar with it. We live in extraordinary and tumultuous times for families. While our divorce rate is not without precedent from a historical perspective, the severity of the economic burden watching and caring for a child brings is. The opportunity cost of not being productive in order to care for a child has hardly been higher since before we started farming and had to travel from food source to food source, and perhaps even before that.

Even as the industrial revolution raged on, for the most part, it was expected there would be someone home taking care of the kids, this usually was mom and it wasn’t uncommon for mom to have some live-in help. A common first job during the industrialization period was to work in someone’s home where you were also boarded. During the mid twentieth century single-family homes were all the rage, and floor plans picked up separate bed rooms for all occupants for the first time. Live-in help became less common, but someone still stayed home, still usually mom, and the other went to work, and the kids were watched. Only in the last 30 years or so has it become dead common for both parents to work outside of the home to make ends meet. The cost of child care has skyrocketed as a result, and even that is being held down by the veritable daycares our public schools have become with the help of a massive funding effort by uncle Sam. Between school provided meals and after school care programs, the school holiday has become one of the most dreaded days for families around the United States as the question of “who will take care of the kids” becomes a work interrupting emergency, among other things. A substantial part of the population has become so dependent on school meal assistance that many school districts keep offering the service over summer break.

But the tide may be turning on what is hopefully a historic flash in the pan when it comes to latch-key children. Advances in micro manufacturing like affordable 3d printing and CNC mills that fit on your desktop have provided a large facet of what is being called the ‘maker’ economy. As an aside, I think it says a lot about our culture that making things is a participle now. Websites like Etsy provide a place where common people can easily set up store fronts, supported by our expanded and super responsive logistics networks. Services like Amazon have caused our shipping capacity to expand like it never has before, and shipping across the country, and even around the world, has never been easier as a result. The convergence of all these conditions together threatens to bring meaningful production back into the average home, if we are keen enough to recognize the opportunity. More over, people are paying more attention now than ever to what they put in their bodies, how their products are made, where they come from, and are starting to reject goods made to be thrown away, and designed to be replaced rather than fixed. Made-In-[Your Nation-State Here] is no longer the domain of trade protectionists.

Evo-One desktop CNC Mill

Physical creation is actually late to the ‘creator’ party, which is the digital form of the ‘maker’. Blogs like this one, platforms like Wattpad, YouTube, Twitch, and other established and emerging platforms give more places than ever to ply a digital living from the home and that idea has been around for a while. Doing customer service as a call-center-from-home has been a thing for over a decade now. More and more technical work that you only need a computer to do has gone freelance and home-based as well. The emergence of the physical creator into the scene marks an important step forward in my estimation. If our logistics/distribution networks can take the strain, there may just be a real alternative for the working class to leaving their children to fend for themselves in daycares, schools, home alone, and otherwise without the direction and aid of their parents. A home business isn’t just an opportunity to spend more time with family, it’s a chance for youngsters to learn skills they can use to keep themselves independent and out of trouble. A more meaningful way to interact with the real world that sadly, our classrooms have failed to provide.

Formlabs Form 2 3d Printer

Naturally our society will be slow to acknowledge, much less come to parity with, the needs of this trend. While schools both public and private focus harder and harder on serving the interests of expensive diploma mills, our children will suffer from the lack of interest in providing everyday skill education such as balancing bank accounts, basic carpentry and machine work skills (how these fundamentally math based applications escape the ‘STEM’ push eludes me), basic finance, or even a basic set of social skills needed to navigate business. Learn to code? What about learn to operate a CNC mill? Or a 3-d printer? What about learn to take and process payments and avoid tax trouble while doing it? We’re still laser focused on creating middle management and cogs for large corporations. As I mentioned in an older post about the shortcoming of our education system, you as a parent bear the responsibility of teaching and passing on these skills to your children, even if you have yet to learn them yourself.

All those hurdles considered, the future is looking brighter every day for those of us who want to escape, and wish our children to escape, the expectation of the fluorescently lit cubicle farm. Self-determination and personal responsibility it turns out may still have a competitive place in today’s job market, and the future’s as well.

Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Photo By: Ilze Lucero

I was raised by parents who were very into ‘new age’ culture. If you aren’t familiar, think things like keeping amethysts around for their healing powers, belief in any of the zodiacs and their descriptive and predictive power, spiritual healing, burning incense and all manner of now frowned upon behaviors for being not-fact-based. I’m not saying my parents believed in all of those things, I’m just trying to give you a frame of mind for the culture. Of course, in his defense, my father is old enough that he had genuine claim to the title hippy without being a hipster about it. Far out. If it weren’t for this sort of eclectic upbringing I think I would have been a lot more vulnerable than I already am, by virtue of being a human being, to group think.

Why do I have that opinion? Because despite abjectly finding the idea of the healing power of crystal points humorous, I very much like how they look. Actually my youth started a life long obsession with mineral specimens in a Kantian disinterest sort of way. I like how incense smells, I don’t think it’s going to help bring me to some higher plane of thinking over some light meditation. As for the zodiac, that’s a punchline I’ll get to later.

Image result for blue crab

I actively hid these things about myself for a long time during and after puberty. I enjoyed these things, but not in the same sort of way my parents enjoyed them, and the sort of people my parents were, was being made fun of. Those are a few critical years of trying to fit in with your peers so I carefully considered answers to questions about my interests. Joke was on me though, I never ended up fitting in anyway. That was an easy lesson I somehow managed to ignore. Hiding my interests didn’t change me from being the sort of person that would be interested in them, and that person wasn’t particularly popular in high school.

I had actually managed to spend so long denying my interests that I forgot about them for a period of time. Love of minerals was one standout survivor but even that was kept pretty low key, that is, until I met Emily and started buying her jewelry. Emily seemed surprised I was so interested in buying these things for her. I mean, while the diamond necklace I had snuck into her high school on valentines day was a shock, it was also sort of expected, they’re diamonds and it was valentines day. I however, also bought her a range of earings and necklaces ranging from rubies to opals, a full gamut from precious to semi-precious. I had an outlet. It was however, something I still kept from most people.

The culture that really buys into those things seemed to be getting weirder and weirder. Colloidal silver and tinctures and anti-vaccinations had entered that area and I really didn’t want to be associated with them by having too many similar interests. I don’t despise those people, as seems popular to do these days. I would like it if drunk driving were met with half the energy devoted to the publicly acceptable shame and outrage, alas that still seems to be an angry-behind-closed-doors sort of thing. Still, I didn’t want to be associated with that crowd, and I thought expressing my interests in quartz points, tea, and incense would have left me defensive over it.

Then my daughter arrived. She got older. She turned three. Some time during that third year, by chance encounter, I stumbled upon one of those new age stores. They were having a moving location sale. My daughter and I were alone in the mall, which was a rare event. I think I was explicitly taking her on a date. I remember having reasons for it. Ah, that’s them. I will save those for a future post, they’re worth a future post. Daughters man, there’s something magical and frightening about them. Anyway, we were on our date and I see this relic from my own past, changing locations, deep discounts, meaningful ones, like half-off minimum. It was a liquidation. So we went in. After much looking around, my daughter fell in love with this sphere of gypsum. That’s all it was, plain jane ball of polished gypsum, it must weigh 3 pounds. It has a cats eye feature in it, and she absolutely fell in love with it the moment she set her eyes on it. That in turn, brought back memories of being in these sorts of stores with my parents, and that made me even more in love with her.

After I explained to my daughter that it wasn’t a toy, that she could easily break it, and that it was mostly going to be for looking at and having agreed to those terms, I purchased it and we got some ice cream and set back out for home. I took her shiny paperweight and set it up in a prominent position in her bed room so that she would see it all the time. Then I thought about myself and where I’d been the last decade or more. Out came my rose quartz candle holders, my oil fragrance burning apparatus, the tea candles that go with, I ended up going back and buying a wooden incense holder for the stick variety and ended up getting plenty of things to burn in it.

As chance would have it I was conversing with one of my older friends and somehow the subject of the zodiac came up. It was a gaming related context. Our group had been crustacean themed for some years now, and in the back of my mind was the information that I was a cancer, but until then that sort of thing was met with derision even from me. The song making fun of horoscopes by Weird Al was something of a favorite of mine growing up. But then we looked into it, and boy was I ever a cancer. I know I know, astrological sign descriptions are supposed to be vague to the point of applying to everyone, but this thing was dead on in ways that even surprise my friends. That doesn’t mean I “believe” in the zodiac, but the entertainment value given the theming of my gaming group was and remains high. Point of fact, neither of my wife’s signs—cusp baby—describe her in the slightest.

This all came to a head very recently when someone started criticising me for using an astrological sign to describe my personality. “Consummate cancer”, I told them. They droned on and on about things I already knew and didn’t care about. The lack of scientific evidence that they were efficant and blad-de-blah science I know. This person seemed to take it personally that I could find joy or entertainment in something not based on science while possessing the knowledge that not only was it not scientific but that it was a bunch of bullcrap. This interaction happened in the same culture that’s made Harry Potter a global phenomenon and devotes precious electricity and compute resources to making fan-theory videos about all sorts of fictional characters and universes. Hey, at least amethysts actually exist.

Seriously guys, why? You do you though.

Then it hit me. Our culture has become one where we are hypersensitive to our differences, rather than what we have in common. I’ve learned to turn these interactions around with my own sort of pointed ridicule. I don’t know what sort of joyless planet liking shiny rocks or freshly crystallized bismuth is frowned upon on but please leave mine. Anyway, the crux of the problem is focusing on the wrong sort of thing. Now there’s all sorts of reasons and causes for this. We know through our studies of social media that these platforms directly encourage social signaling and outrage culture in their participants. Heck, I left Facebook over the obviousness of that phenomenon, among other reasons.

So that sorta brings me to my main point, and the title. I think it’s pretty important that we do what we can as individuals to get over minor differences of opinion when faced with the temptation to socially signal about it. On the other end, and I’ve seen a lot of people do this and I’m just as guilty, don’t frame your likes behind caveats, justifying your likes isn’t something reasonable people should be asking you to do, though there seems to be plenty of that going around. Now, social signaling serves an important function, don’t get me wrong. Social signaling helps us determine our societies overarching values and guiding principals as a whole and it is key to doing so as a social species. Social media however has allowed us to start micro-managing social signalling into areas that don’t really matter, and that needs to stop, or at the very least be sharply reduced. Try and be aware of what really matters when tempted to judge or dog pile people. Though, a few internet memes sums all these words a little more succinctly.

XKCD
Maximumble

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

I was having an interaction earlier today with some online strangers, like ya do. Sometimes I forget that while I’m hardly ever the oldest person in the room, I’m getting up there when it comes to hanging out in online spaces, especially those focused around gaming. Home ec. was on its way out when I was a kid. We still had it, I still had to take it, but everyone knew the days for that course were numbered. At the time that just seemed like progress? I dunno, the conventional wisdom seemed to be it had little to teach people. STEM STEM STEM. We didn’t call it that back then but the trend was already started. Remove all real life courses from primary and secondary school because really, what is school for except to prepare every single child for college regardless of the likelihood they will ever step foot in one? So I make a reference to home ec. in this online space and suddenly I’m flooded with questions about what the heck that is. This was after a young adult, and I do mean above 18 years old adult, openly asked what it was you were supposed to put in a dishwasher if not dawn liquid dish soap?

Parents, are you teaching basic life skills to your children? I know it’s irritating sometimes and I know that they slow you down a lot when they’re “helping”, but do you really want your kid to be the one that’s somehow made it into the adult world without knowing how to operate a washing machine? I don’t mean to pick on the dude, it’s far from the most stunningly how-do-you-not-know-that question about house life ever thrown my way, but it is spring cleaning time and it reminded me of the seemingly epidemic lack of basic home skills in today’s young adults. Don’t need to know how to operate a dish washer if you don’t know how to cook the food that soils dishes.

Remind yourself this spring season to teach your kids something about basic home skills, even if it’s just a few at a time. Remember, you have a few years to go over this stuff. I’m not asking you to teach your 8 year old how to do your gutters for you, but you should at least be introducing them to the basic ideas. I think it’s striking in this burgeoning creators economy that adding home ec. back to schools isn’t a more urgent conversation. Production is getting more and more decentralized as 3d printers and kitchen shelf sized cnc mills fill more homes. Platforms like Etsy allow the things made from home production to be sold easily to wherever you feel like shipping to, and yet we are teaching our kids, at least in the context of schools, fewer and fewer skills related to home production and even finance. Now, I could hem and haw about how that’s always ultimately been a parents responsibility, but I can’t deny that without those classes this up and coming generation seems especially clueless about how basic operations of living work. Is that a bad coincidence? I don’t really know, and I’m not going to pretend to know, placing blame is beyond the scope of this blog, but this job can’t be expected to be outsourced anymore folks, you are solely responsible for ensuring your kid doesn’t burn their apartment down in a week after moving out. Oh, by the way, the average move out age is over 24 now, so you have plenty of time to correct this if your Jr. year high-schooler still doesn’t know ;).

Perhaps you feel barely competent in areas like cooking and cleaning, that’s okay. You’d be amazed what you can learn online. YouTube hasn’t been for just cat videos in a long long time, and there are awesome DIY subreddits for just about anything. Really young youngsters can start with the super basics, like how things in the cleaning cabinet will make them very sick if they drink them, or the fact that yes, eventually the base boards do get cleaned. A really great activity that’s fun if you let go of the sense of urgency is when a room needs repainting. Enjoy this time with your children and if it takes a week to do a 20×20 it takes a week to do a 20×20. In the mean time, break down how much it cost to buy that paint, the canvas spill guard, let them in on the whole process, take them to the hardware store—don’t pretend you aren’t looking at things you don’t need while you’re there either, verbalize all the home improvement fantasies you’re having while you’re there.

Older children can help you with stuff like drywall repair. Don’t know the first thing about drywall repair? Learn with them! It’s time for that know-it-all mask to come off with the older kids. Make mistakes together. Show them that being an adult is as full of mistakes as any other point in their lives and that they’ll never reach the point of knowing everything that you’ve been projecting at them since they were two. Instant obedience at a young age is a safety issue—they don’t need to get introspective when you’re telling them to freeze because they’re about to charge the wrong way in a parking lot—but eventually they have to understand that heading into unknown territory is something adults have to do regularly, or they won’t grow up. Rebellious teenagers might be interested in the idea of making their light switch different from the rest of the decor, the trade off is they have to do it. On that note it might be a good idea to teach them what a breaker/fuse box is for.

It’s time to get that oven deep cleaned, and to teach oven safety, and also how to make that killer cookie recipe they like when you’re done (you have one of those right?). A lot of these can be applied whether you own or rent but we can also cross into home owner territory like lawn care. Do they have a favorite spring flower for the flower bed? Would they like to pick one? What’s that mulch for anyway? What is mulch? Time to cut that grass, but also learn how to properly care for a 2-stroke engine, or properly store a lithium ion battery pack, maybe you have both. Our chainsaw is gas powered for instance, because it’s the thing we’re most likely to need when the power is out in hurricane alley, everything else is electric because it’s a luxury when the power is out. Oh hey, that’s a good one, teach them the thought process for decisions like that and how local weather affects them.

I could go on about specific examples butt the main point here is that while you’re in the middle of the season where you’ll be getting down deep and dirty with your home the most, don’t forget to include the kids in the experience in ways that will help them grow into functioning adults later on in life. It can be hard to convince yourself that you are allowed to slow down that much, but it will pay off in the long run.

Activities for Bored Children

Activities for Bored Children

photo by: Ricardo Gomez Angel

I feel like I should have gotten to this one before snow season came to a close, but to be honest it would have slipped my mind completely were it not for the suggestion of a reader—also it doesn’t really snow here ever. That’s alright, we get our turn soon. We’ve got a veritable monsoon season coming up and that’s going to make it hard to get outdoors; stuck inside moments happen year round anyway, bonus points if the power is out. You’ll be bored, the kids will be trapped indoors, and you may be thinking about all the stuff you could be getting away with doing if they weren’t busy bouncing off the walls and getting into everything. So what do you do to avoid going crazy in these situations?

First, I suggest making sure your situation isn’t self-inflicted. I’ve caught myself plenty of times lamenting the fact that I was stuck in the house with the kids when it was sunny outside. Sure it was hotter than I wanted it to be, but it was about as safe to leave the house as it could ever get. This wasn’t a tornado warning or being flooded in or snowed in. I was just so bored I was making myself even more bored. Check yourself first for situations you are in control of. That being said let’s move on to our boredom toolbox.

If you are genuinely stuck inside, the particulars of your situation are going to affect whether or not a certain suggestion applies to you. For instance, we’re going to talk about baking a little bit and those of you with gas stoves can do this when the lights are out. Electric stove owners cannot, at least, unless you’re on some sort of heavy duty back-up power. See what I mean? The small details matter, I will be doing my best to cover a lot of bases but I can’t possibly cover them all.

So we’ll start with the classic inclement weather scenario. It’s raining or snowing or freezing, and it’s not an immediate danger to the family but getting out onto the road would probably be a less than ideal scenario. In situations like these there are many things to fall back on, and we’ll get to a few, but my favorite by far is passing down skill sets to the little ones in fun ways. Perhaps the easiest example of this, and one perhaps most of us can identify with, is baking cookies. Who’s not interested in cookies?! Depending on their age, you may have to limit their involvement, but even our three year-old is game for standing on a foot stool to watch us mix the batter and is definitely a good helper when it comes time to licking the cookie dough off of utensils prior to their disposal. It’s also a great way to just get them used to the idea of cooking, teaching oven safety, and if they get interested in actually making a batch themselves later on they’ll already be familiar with the process enough that you’ll be able to focus on the fun bits. Do you have a hobby that can be done indoors? Do you find yourself wishing you had the time to share that with your children but can’t seem to find it? Think about it the next time the weather keeps you cooped up.

Staying on the inclement weather kick, sometimes you really do just need a good Netflix marathon. I like to use this in situations where the weather seems scarier than it is—lots of lightning or above average winds for instance. Meet noise with noise. When I was growing up this wasn’t always a reliable option, and many are still in that boat. We had broadcast television and lightning storms tended to knock that out. We did however have a stereo that worked, and when the lights managed to stay on putting on a classic vinyl or two suited just fine. Be flexible, suggesting a Netflix marathon doesn’t mean you can’t go to your DVD or Blu-Ray library if you have one—just make some noise to lessen that thunderclap or that wind howl.

For those of us with an open air porch or similar structure I also find it’s nice to just arrange some chairs—maybe get some rockers for this—and just sit and enjoy the sounds for a few minutes. Strike up a conversation. It’s a good way to make up for lost time at the dinner table too. Some quiet face-to-face time may just be something you’re behind on.

Board(bored) games come in two distinct varieties in my experience. The first type has you interacting primarily with the people playing the game. The second type generally has you interacting with the board itself, avoid those. That’ll be games like some classic dominos, Trouble, Candy Land and Mankala. The first type is preferable, as it engages entertaining interactions. That’ll be stuff like Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Jenga, or Pictionairy. There are some type 1 games I’d avoid though, as they easily turn into drudgery, like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Curate your board games carefully to fit your family or they will never leave the shelf, especially when they need to, like say in a power outage. On that note, simulate power outages and remove electronics from the family routine now and then. You should have some semi-regular periods where there’s no TV, Phone, Internet, etc, otherwise you’ll never sit down to a table top game and you won’t even know if you like what you have.

Sometimes the mandatory indoors period is going to drag on for a while. In these cases your entertainment options may not help at all because the restlessness is being caused by a lack of physical exertion. Get your kids in the habit of exercising indoors so they’ll be able to burn that energy off when they can’t go outside. Children need to physically move around and exert themselves regularly or they become restless and can act out. I find yoga actually tends to keep kids entertained. The type of exercise matters, hardcore workouts can intimidate them and are typically low on fun quotient.

These are just a few of the basic tools we keep around for when we can’t leave the house, but they cover some basic scenarios and needs. Think about the things you like to do indoors but never seem to have time for, think about how prepared you are to entertain yourselves during a power outage too. Oh, and one last tip, do not neglect to get out of the house the moment you are able. It’s really good to reset the clock on cabin fever as soon as possible.

Do you have strategies for staving off cabin fever or passing the time on rainy days that I didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments!

Parental Bonds

I don’t always manage to stay on topic here. Most of the content is supposed to be about relationships, specifically marriages, from the point of engagement onward. I also would like to focus on things you’re not typically hearing or prepared for. Today I’m going to deviate from that just slightly, and on purpose. We’re going to talk about something you’re probably sick of hearing about, but you’re simply not prepared for, at least if it hasn’t happened yet.

Your first child.

I’m sure you’ve heard it from your parents. I’m sure, long before you decided to get married, you’ve played out the scene where one or both of your parents throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims some permutation of the following: “When you have kids you’ll understand.”

Well, they’re right, it’s one of the many things your parents were right about. We all go through those face-palm light bulb moments. My parents didn’t spend so many words on it, perhaps they thought an explanation would be wasted, or impossible. Impossible, probably, but not wasted. I’m going to attempt, I’m going to do the best I can to convey just how powerful that love can be. I’m sure, like many before me, I’ll fail to exhaust all the words necessary to convey the meaning. I’m sure the words sufficient to do so do not quite exist. I’m just going to do my best.

When I decided to marry Emily we had the strongest romantic bond I had ever felt in my life. I had a separate bond with my parents and siblings that felt on par, but it sure wasn’t romantic and Emily came slightly ahead anyway. I didn’t think there was a situation that was likely to happen where I would choose say, my parents, over Emily, but I could imagine them if I tried hard enough. When Emily became pregnant with our first child, that immediately changed. Emily was now unequivocally first, above and beyond the bonds of siblings or parents, not even on the same playing field. If we were in some impossible SAW movie scenario and it was push my mom into a wood chipper or lose Emily it would be the wood chipper no problem. It would suck, as understated as using that word there is, but it wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Hell, mom would probably ask me to push her into the wood chipper, but she would have had the advantage of knowing the love of a child already. It’s a little graphic, and you might think I’m spending a little too much time on that already, but there’s a point to it. On other fronts, my aggression increased. My eyes were wide open and everyone was a potential threat. That hardly ever manifested itself anywhere but my heart rate, but even the act of Emily driving herself to work became nerve racking. I wanted, selfishly, to ensure that if anything happened to her that it was either unpreventable or my fault. I anticipated each day the grief that would befall me if something happened to Emily that I could have prevented had I been there.

Sound a bit obsessive? Good, because that’s what was going on. Her safety became an obsession of Don Quixote proportions that took an extraordinary amount of will power to prevent from manifesting into daily actions. Oddly enough this obsession started self-soothing as time went on and the baby bump was getting bigger. Not until the “any day now” phase did that feeling rear its head again.

Then it happened. I watched our first child come into the world. I’ll clarify this right now. I can only write this from a father’s perspective. I can’t under any circumstances imagine that Emily doesn’t experience these feelings on a more powerful level, it’s impossible to compare however, so I won’t. I swear with everything I have I could feel my brain chemistry changing on the spot. I was never the same again. I started noticing changes in my behavior and mood almost immediately.

I noticed that sad news stories involving children and particularly murders hit me like a ton of bricks rather than the just-another-bit-of-info that they were before. I thought parents whom’s children died of neglect were unbelievably incompetent before. I abjectly hated them now, I actively wished for their deaths. Prior to this, I’d go to the seedy underbelly of the internet on occasion and take some morbid satisfaction in some gore threads. I don’t enjoy those anymore—I can’t even stomach them. I don’t know if something was just fundamentally broken with my empathy back then, but it was fully armed and operational now.

I recall, not long after the event, Emily and I were up late watching a very old episode of Deadliest Catch. It was during the two or so weeks I had off after the birth—I’m lucky to work for a place that affords me such luxuries. An episode like this wouldn’t have bothered me before, despite being the eldest of four and the youngest indeed being a little sister, but one of the fishermen got news that his little sister had cancer, or had succumbed to it, I forget which, it doesn’t much matter, I bawled. It came from absolutely nowhere, I was just fine and then I wasn’t.

During the first several months I would wake up in the middle of the night, not because of crying or anything, but because I was afraid my child had stopped breathing and I felt the urge to check. That remained constant with each subsequent child. I was a tosser and turner prior to my first born. Emily decided she wanted to co-sleep. I instantly and immediately stopped tossing and turning in my sleep, I lay mostly still now. Did I mention the terror of SIDS and the need to make sure my child was still alive in the middle of the night, and didn’t die for literally no understood reason?

I know a mother whom’s child did die in the middle of the night, inexplicably. You hold your children tighter when you get that news. I think the absolute worst thing was when a friend of mine passed away suddenly as a result of a seizure. I have to impress this, I have to make this absolutely crystal. Losing my friend was not as painful as imagining, and witnessing, the grief of a father that’s outlived his son. I get emotional just typing that out. Losing an infant is immensely terrible, but I have to be honest, I think losing a young man or woman in their prime is that much worse. You know SIDS is a thing, you know that’s a possibility, a terrible and tragic possibility, you are hyper aware of their frailty in that stage of life, but losing someone in their mid-twenties to a seizure, it just doesn’t compute.

Realizing that the love of your life, isn’t. That was an eye opener. Here you have this beautiful, loving wife worthy of all your adoration and you think that nothing will ever top that. You’re wrong. My wife had become above my parents, now she was the second banana. Between her and any one of my children, Emily gets the wood chipper. She feels the same way about me, and neither of us feel a hint of guilt about it. If you’re married now, but don’t have children, I really want you to take a second and try to imagine loving someone else enough that condemning your spouse to death is even an option.

That aggression I mentioned before when Emily was pregnant? Multiply that a few times. I had never before seen Emily get short or aggressive with anyone. Beware parents with young children, they’re not to be messed with, you just don’t understand what that chemical cocktail can do until it happens to you. There’s a reason society frowns on messing with other parents kids. You’d be surprised just how much spine and rage you can find within yourself when you feel they’ve been mistreated, or even that they’re about to be. Maybe you’ve encountered some really meek parents before, granted. Don’t press your luck, you’re going to run into something entirely different someday if you do. I can’t express that enough. Playing that game is dangerous, physically dangerous. Socializing your kids isn’t just about them getting along with other children, the parents of the other children are threats too. Seeing your child overtly physically mistreated, especially by a significantly larger kid, is enough to make you forget that you aren’t supposed to come at children with the intention of seriously hurting them. Do not let your kid turn into that if you value their safety. Ignore that if you want, think that extreme if you want, it kinda is, but it’s also the truth, you don’t know rage like that until you do. Don’t let it surprise you.

How could it be any other way? Who else would you endure that many sleepless nights for? Not your spouse I can tell you that much. Your children are utterly dependent on you. They’re not just dependent on you for their nutrition or their physical safety, neither of which do they make easy, they’re dependent on you for emotional support too. Lack of love and touch can literally be fatal to an infant. So not only do you need to change every diaper, never miss a meal, deprive yourself of sleep, you’ve got to do it while totally in love with them. Willingly and lovingly exploited. That’s the bond with a child. I hope I even got a tenth as far with that as I needed to.

That Time My Brother Hated My Wife

So this is a thing I don’t often speak of, but it’s pretty darn relevant to this blog. What do you do when a family member dislikes your spouse? Depends on what kind of family you have, ultimately. I consider what happened between my brother and I to be about as good as that could have gone. I don’t think there’s a method or trick or rule that’s going to solve this problem for everyone that experiences it so I’m just going to share the story as is and my feelings about it and let you make up your own mind from there.

James and I always had a very different experience with women as we grew up. I’m not sure if it’s because of luck or because he’s more attractive or because we were aiming different. Perhaps I was more naive. I was under the strong belief that it wasn’t worth wasting my time on temporary pair bonds. I was in it to get married and have children from the word go. There were girls I found highly attractive in middle school, but I didn’t want to be with them, there’s no way that was going to last. I kept that opinion until my Jr. year or so of high school. I started looking for mates, not girlfriends. Turns out that was a little early to get started too, at least with that stated goal. Looking back that seems obvious to me. James on the other hand was quite successful with the temporary pair bonding and didn’t seem to want for a longer term arrangement and especially not children.

James rarely approved of my girlfriends. The first was a strict, “you can do better” and he was right. In fact, those words ended that relationship. Actually at this point I feel I should point out that I’m not just the older of the two of us, I’m the eldest sibling. My brother’s opinions carry lots of weight, always have. Emily got a much better approval rating, which is to say that James didn’t voice disapproval until after the marriage. Here’s where things get interesting, and perhaps instructive. This story could end up being more useful to the people doing the disliking than the recipients.

The timelines on this are really fuzzy, so I’m going to try and just stick to the narrative order of events here. For instance, I can no longer remember if James first voiced his opinions before or after his nephew was born (One of the reasons for starting this blog was to get those things out before they were completely forgotten). I do however remember being physically in his presence when he broached the subject. He had lived out of town for a while at this point and was visiting for some reason. He waited until he was with me physically and we were alone to break it to me. That wasn’t too difficult, one of our favorite past times is taking long lonely walks together.

James told me that he was sure Emily was a good wife and didn’t mean to disparage our relationship—waiting until after the marriage was pretty good evidence of that I thought—but that he just couldn’t stand being around her and that he hated her. Hate has been a diluted word for some time and I knew at the time and from his tone of voice that what he really meant was strong dislike. He couldn’t stand her attitude and being around her was an exercise in restraint, which he demonstrated admirably.

I kinda felt sorry for James, not quite pity but sorry for him. I wasn’t angry, but I wanted him to like my wife. Who doesn’t want their brother to like their wife? Heck, who doesn’t want their friends to like their wife? I knew however, that the way he was telling me and the timing with which he broke it to me indicated that there wasn’t any use in trying to change his mind. Both of us obviously thought it was in everyone’s best interest not to relay that opinion to my wife, but that I should be mindful of it when arranging get-togethers and that sort of thing. For his part, James didn’t seem angry or resentful either, just solemn, almost like relaying a sad story from a newspaper. I’m not sure he knew what to do with those feelings. I was just going to give it time. I assured him sincerely that it wouldn’t affect our relationship.

That’s the thing about being brothers, we’re stuck with each other for a while. At least, we are in my family. Who else is going to keep you honest? Family has to be able to tell you things you don’t want to hear, it’s the test on whether you really care about someone. If you can’t disapprove of really bad decisions when it really matters, the way James did with my first shot at a relationship, when can you disapprove of them? Is your capacity to care about someone limited to brow beating them about how many calories are in that snickers bar or other social niceties? Well then you probably aren’t really looking out for them as well as you should, at least that’s how I view it. Actually yeah, a side bar on our particular family dynamic may be instructive here.

I’m well aware that not all families work that way, and I’ve noticed that the more broken a family is the more the individual members tend to subscribe to the idea that friends can be family. Stable and strong families like mine tend to subscribe to the blood is thicker than water mantra. I can’t say I’ve done any sort of study on that or anything, that’s just been my life experience. We do however have research on how real mom can make stepmom’s life hell just by existing. Worth thinking about. Seems a pretty obvious explanation to me really, absent a genuine family bond there’s no reason to value that relationship over a good friendship. I can guarantee you though, that families that get it right are experiencing a more powerful and more useful bond than any friendship could. I have plenty of both. Perhaps your family isn’t so close, you can break that cycle. Emily’s family has some problems, they backbite, have petty squabbles over inheritance, some even steal from the elders outright—I mean actual petit theft. These things are unheard of on my side. I told Emily that her family’s behavior ends with our home and our generation; she likes that idea.

My family is the only group of people I can count on to always have my best interests at heart whether they are praising me or knocking me down a few pegs because we’re stuck with each other until we die. That attitude tends to keep needless fights at bay and motives on the right course. They’re not going to spite me out of jealousy, but they can also be counted on not to be sycophants. There sure were fights though, not to get too deep into that but don’t think I’m trying to paint some idealistic picture of a family here. I’m just commenting on the nature of the bond itself. We have fights, and when we do it’s intense and bitter and feelings are really hurt. Those fights tend not to be needless and those criticisms almost always have truth buried in them, perhaps that makes them hurt more. The strength of those bonds let James and I keep our cool.

James didn’t disapprove of my relationship with Emily, he just couldn’t like her, but he could have disapproved, and I would have listened. That doesn’t mean I’d have left her, I didn’t drop my first girlfriend just like that, I gave that plenty of thought, but I’d question the motives of any non-family member for telling me such things out of the gate. I can count on my family to come from a position of looking out for me as their sincere motive. That means my spouse can be a source of disagreement between my brother and I without turning into a source of conflict. That’s why adding Emily to my family came with a ceremony and vows. Words of adoration and good sentiment aren’t good enough.

Patience ended up winning out and eventually James came to like Emily without any persuasion or brow beating from me. Time and exposure. He came to like certain qualities about her. Indeed, when James switched gears and started dating with marriage in mind he suddenly noticed qualities about Emily that lent themselves to such a relationship and was suddenly very appreciative of them. James simply couldn’t see them before because his goals were different. Ultimately, family thing aside, that’s why I was able to take his initial criticisms of Emily in stride. His outlook on relationships and their purpose was obviously different, and that was okay. He also didn’t turn his personal feelings in a mission to change me or Emily. He said his piece and left it alone.

Disagreements like this don’t always go so smoothly, but they can. Hope that’s helpful, or that you enjoyed the read at the very least.