Children

Naming a child (RL240)

Merlin's first pick for his daughter's name was Elizabeth, a pretty neutral name from which many other names can be derived. John agrees that this is the ultimate girl's name. The name however got nixed for one good reason: There are very few good women called Liz. Almost every Liz is bad, maybe with the exception of Jonathan Coulton's sister in law. Merlin's wife had been bullied at school by somebody named Liz and she had the ultimate naming rights. Therefore, Merlin's daughter is called Eleanor, an old ladies' name which is now trending again. Merlin's wife is called Madeleine which is quite a popular name as well.

The Snap-to-grid-problem of names is when someone has an unusual name that sounds a bit like a common name and people will call you something else all the time. This problem was defined by friend of the show Marco Arment. Merlin's wife was for example often called Nathalie. Even Merlin often calls wife or daughter for the other and people call his daughter for his wife's name.

It is not a good thing if parents give their kids names that you always have to spell. John's daughter Marla has a name that has three different spellings and suffers from the Snap-to-grid problem. It is very similar to Dan's daughters name: MJ (Marry Jane), named after a Spiderman character. John's daughter's name is also difficult for people because it does not follow the usual conventions of gendered names with certain vowels at the end.

Kids discovering different languages, Hamburger Hamburger Bang Bang (RL177)

John's daughter has grown up in a culture with kids of any kind, so she doesn't think there is a difference between people based on their color, but she does appreciate that people are speaking different language, which she thinks is fascinating. She is just at an age where she is trying to imitate them, which is fun to do, but should be an inside voice while in public. However, John doesn't want to get in her mind and fill it with adult human anger, frustration and bullshit. He doesn't want to start stomping on her enthusiasm with our intermediary problems, even though sometimes in Chinatown she will do some "chun chun chun chun chun".

It is fascinating how people in other countries think an American accent sounds like. When John was at Gonzaga, a friend of him had a room mate from Japan who was learning English in college. He was a bright guy and ended up becoming a really good friend. When he first arrived he did not speak English and John's friend Bob asked him how the Japanese imitate how Americans sound like. After some confusion he replied "Hamburger Hamburger, Bang Bang!" and everybody was so disappointed because that's exactly what you don't want to hear.

When John decided to have a kid (RL256)

When John and his daughter's mother, her name is Ariella, started to plan to have a child together, they had known each other for a long time, but they hadn't really known each other. They had been playing together, like "Hey, Downtown!" finger-guns, but that's not how you raise a child. You cannot finger-gun a child into adulthood. Now they were about to embark on this secular journey to have a child together, but not in the context of staying together. They joked later on that they either were the divorced couple that got along the best in the world or that they had a really dysfunctional marriage. Everybody was telling them they couldn't do it. Her people told her that she would be ending up alone in destitute raising the child on her own. John would clearly be shirking his responsibilities and if she didn't have him tied to the ground with legal requirements, he would just flitter off like some kind of drug-addicted Rock person. There were even worse allegations, like having the kid would only benefit John, but not her. The whole notion was that you cannot bring a child into the world unless you are tied to one another with leather straps, have knelled in front of a guy with a robe on and said that you will love each other forever. You can't turn from a Bobcat into a Webelo, but you got to pass through being a Wolf and a Bear.

In August of 2017, Ariella was reading some old emails between her and John from the time she was pregnant, which was a pretty fraught time. They had been negotiating all the basic principles of how they are going to do this, like: How did they know they could count on the other person? Turns out: They were arguing about things that didn't matter at all. Ariella had read that they would need $1 million to raise a child, but John said that they won't need the money all at once. They had to decide what last name the child was going to get and a lot of other details. They had 9 months in which to go from a coquettish relationship to trusting each other and having a plan. They had to build all that within a world where the very best response they could get from their friends was "Well… I guess… wait and see!" Well-meaning people, a lot of whom are divorced by now, were telling them that there is no way it is going to work like this and they needed to get real.

John doesn't like to be touched

At one point during that time, Ariella expressed the need to feel comforted, but John was very formal with her. He said that he doesn't like anybody to touch his feet in the night. He gets very warm and really tears up a bed and he doesn't really like to be touched when he is sleeping. No spooning! No nuzzling! Formalizing these preferences had been a huge revelation to him because he had always been miserable sharing a bed with people which had always been a problem in his relationships.

Hearing those old stories again made John laugh out loud because now that he has a child, there is one person in the world who can always touch him. A lot of these notions of himself have changed during the past 5 years: The introversion, the sense that he needed this bubble around him and the fact that it was okay to ask for it. Formalizing those boundaries for himself helped him to not always feel intruded upon and to not feel like a bad person about it, which had been the source of so much loneliness in his life over the years. Not only had he been feeling infringed upon by everybody, but that was exactly what made him despicable. Why couldn't he just accept love or touch?

It took a long time for John to get to the place where learning to be okay with it was a thing he could even do. He didn't want to be in the land of broken toys, he does believe in love and he is a romantic. Furthermore, this wasn't just a thing he was navigating with the larger world, but it happened within the smallest confines of his relationships with a lover who was laying out what she had to give to him, and his answer was like "Great, don't touch my feet!". Out in the world he never asked anybody to make any accommodation for him, but as the room got smaller, he was more and more like "this is my pillow, this is my underwear drawer, these are the hairs on the back of my hand and they can't be stimulated". He couldn't ever be okay with it, because the person he was saying all this to was the one who just wanted to hug him.

Right around the same period he finally got himself into a position where he could tell her that he was sorry that she was pregnant and scared because she was not married. They were trying to write a new constitution for a thing that didn't have very many antecedents. There were no mentors or peers, but they were reinventing the wheel. She asked John to demonstrate his "hereness" by actually being here and holding her, but all he was saying was "Don't touch my feet!" This was very important to John, but it was just as important to hold this woman who was pregnant and terrified. Now they are both laughing about it, because the experience that came out of building this family is not just that he can hold his daughter, but his daughter also brought him the ability to feel uncomplicated about being touched. She was an important part of this process!

A unique experiment

John wants to go back and read those old emails. Part of the victory that they had achieved was carving out the small spaces where they could be who they are and by now their daughter is 6,5 years old and they are still a team. They still don't have any peers, though. They don't know any couple who has done it the same way, and they don't know anybody who is about to try it the way they did it. Everybody they know is either in a happy marriage, in an unhappy marriage that is pretending to be happy, in an unhappy marriage that is done pretending, or in a marriage in dissolution that is either trying to be civil, not trying to be civil or long past that. No one is just like "We have decided to have a child together, and we are smart people of good will who have agreed that we are going to have a lot of fights about stuff in the course of time, as you do, but we will never lose sight of the fact that we are doing this intentionally!" This will always be a precarious experiment rather than a done deal. It is a work in progress and that is also it's advantage: When getting married you have already worked out how the rent gets paid, but you also have unspoken expectations and you carry templates around like a Maester's Chain, dangling around you neck because your spouse is going to be like this and you are going to live like this.

John and Ariella had to be very specific about stuff and they even five years later they hadn't encountered any moments like "Wait a minute?" Their relationship is stronger now than ever and John has never seen it in jeopardy, even while he was in this long relationship with his millennial girlfriend. His relationship with Ariella and with his daughter was the thing most important to John, so he wasn't ever going to sacrifice it. There are a lot of divorces where one of the partners took the kid somewhere else or dad only saw the kid on alternate weekends. When John's mom left his dad, they were living in Anchorage, Alaska and she basically just threw some stuff in a suitcase and moved back to Seattle. His dad was from Seattle and he had lived his entire life in Seattle. He had lived in Anchorage only for 2 years and yet when John's mom left him, he stayed there because he liked it there and good things were happening up there. As a kid you don't know enough and what your parents do just seems reasonable. But after John had a kid he realized that his dad didn't have anything going on in Anchorage, so why didn't he just move back to Seattle as well? It is the one thing he wishes he could ask his dad about now. Living so far apart made their lives really complicated. Sometimes when there is a split, one part takes the child as an offensive maneuver, it has ramifications and everybody's life changes. Does the offensive parent want the other one to come there? Are they trying to get away from that person, even if it is at the expense of the other person to see the child? It is complicated business!

The story of Dumbo (RL158)

In the middle of 2015, John started exposing his daughter to more complicated media. Up until then all of her books were pretty much unambiguous, but now they watched Dumbo the Flying Elephant with his funny ears. It is basically the story of the movie Precious. His tribe rejects Dumbo because of his birth defect. His mother who is trying to defend him is taken away by the authorities and put into an insane asylum. Dumbo's only friend is a wisecracking mouse. He is surrounded by evil clowns, forced into being a freak in a sideshow and his redemption comes only during the last minute when he discovers he can fly. John’s daughter was yelling at the screen! Her emotional response was so intense that John wasn’t sure if he should turn it off.

Dumbo came out in 1941 when John's mom was 6 years old. She remembered seeing Dumbo in the theater and she found it to be a kid's movie like all the other kid's movies. John realized that Dumbo's experiences compares to what his mother was going through in her real life, meaning that for her Dumbo was some lighthearted shit. John and his daughter talked their way through the movie, which was emotionally fraught for John. It would have been the same had he watched it by himself. He is not sure anymore what he felt when he had first seen it back in 1972. On the other side, John doesn’t just want to keep broadcasting happy fluff to his daughter, because if she shares John’s emotional nature, it would mean there are many more land mines in the world than for a normal person. Seeing her emotional reaction when she all of a sudden was sitting up straight, trying to avert her eyes, means that she is not dead inside. Others might even be laughing at Dumbo! Merlin and John continue to talk about the emotional elements of the movie.

2017-August: Going to a baby-shower (RL256)

John was on his way to a baby-shower later that day and they had something on their invitation like "Don't worry about gifts, but if you insist, here is a link to a list of gifts" Clearly, the list had been compiled by a large group of people who all said "You are going to need THIS!" The couple is part of a group of maybe 20 close-knit friends who have all coupled up recently and are all in their early 40:s. They are the first from that group to have a baby and John expects maybe 15 babies delivered from this group in the next 1,5 years. There are things on this list like baby-wipe warmers and crazy stuff that you honestly don't need. You should take it off the list immediately, because otherwise somebody will buy this for you and you will feel the pressure to use it and feel like Chewbacca with C-3PO on his back pushing a stroller. When John and Merlin were raised, their parents asked them to hold their cigarette and "The first thing you need to learn is how to mix a Bloody Mary!"

Brushing their daughter’s hair (RL256)

Merlin’s daughter’s hair needs to brushed 2-3 times a day and you need to get all those little knots out. John is much more in the ”let it ride”-family of ”how is her hair doing”. His daughter is still at an age where he is in a position to bathe her and shampoo her hair. John has an elaborate hair-conditioning regiment. Marla has long thick fine hair and it gets easily tangled. As part of putting the conditioner in, John is combing her for a long time while she is in the bath and playing with her toys. John’s mom’s policy is ”Sit in the god-damn chair, I want to brush your hair”. She is good at not hurting her, but she does also not brook any sassafras. ”You are not going to yell at me and you are not leaving without your hair being brushed!” When Marla’s mom picks out a brush across the room, she immediately starts to cry.

Kids being drama queens (RW71)

Dan's daughter once got nursemaid's elbow. She was at an age where she still had diapers, but was about to not need them anymore. When John's wife layed her on the ground to change her diaper, she was holding her arm and leg sliding her closer to her, not even with a jerking motion, just very gently. They had done this 1 milion times before, but this time the elbow pulled out of the socket, which can only happen to very small children and takes a very minimal force. Aparently this is more painful than the shoulder coming out, because the moment it happened, their daughter started screaming and screaming and was just inconsolable, holding the arm by her side like it was dead. The doctor knew exactly what it was and was just touching her to get it back in, followed by instantaneous relief. There was no swelling and no soreness - she was just fine. This kind of accident often happens when parents are disciplining their child. Because Dan's daughter is a total overreacting drama queen, it might possibly not have been that painful.

In June of 2017, John was with a group of 6-year olds and at that age, the amount of pure drama that is inspired by even the tiniest little event is pretty impressive. He was with a group of other moms like himself and they were just laughing about each successive child that would come up dying. Within a childhood development framework there is surely something going on that we developmentally should be aware of, but children are probably primarily trying to figure out if we will take their fake wound seriously. John's daughter understands the story about crying wolf, but it has not quite translated into her not crying wolf and John was spending a lot of time in that turf at the time.

Empowered toddlers (RW80)

Pre-schoolers are now taught about body autonomy, which means that the child's body is their own and they need to know their limits and dictate what kind of touch they want. It feels very well-meaning on the surface of it because you want children to grow up not feeling like their bodies are subject to other people's hands or authority. It is also presented as a path to female empowerment, teaching girls from a young age that they can't just be grabbed or man-handled. One of John's friend was trying to get his daughter into her car seat in the parking lot of the grocery store and she screamed "No daddy, bad touch!" and people started looking at him. Since he believes in this concept, he stopped touching her and was trying to get her to agree to go in her car seat instead. She was not doing it and an hour went by where he was afraid that somebody would come over and call the police. He is not saying that he is expressing any doubt about this doctrine, because it has been proposed incredibly well-meaning. We do want to raise a generation of empowered daughters and we do not want them to feel man-handled just as part of their birth-right.

This concept has been adopted by a lot of people and John has seen it promoted in a lot of different places. It is even part of the curriculum of the Montessori school. John doesn't know whether his friend is applying this philosophy completely and whether the people who are promulgating it allow exceptions in cases where your child is in danger or when you need to get them into a car seat at a grocery store, but if you teach a 3-year old to say "No, bad touch" to their father who is trying to fasten her seat belt, you reap what you sow. Nobody wants to weigh in on this, because if you say that a toddler wants to feel safe, it means that the parents need to be in control. No 3-year old wants to be making decisions about what their father and mother is able to do in terms of picking them up. Making a 3-year old feel like she is in charge is a terrible thing to do to a child! You want your parents to feel omnipotent when you are little!

There may even be someone listening to the podcast right now who will accuse John of saying dangerous things because he is encouraging raising a generation of dis-empowered women or something. In fact, this is a theory without a way of testing it. We have not yet watched a generation of children grow up under the doctrine of toddler body autonomy in order to see if it in fact creates a generation of empowered people or if it in fact creates a generation of people who feel further estranged from other people. From the time they were very little, they were dictating their reality to grown-ups before they had any capacity for judgement at all. Empowering toddlers or children of any age to be making decisions about how their parents interact with them seems like a very destructive idea to John. It is the inverse of how decision-making should flow!

This idea is now out there on Twitter and some people are saying that if your kid is screaming in the mall and you pick them up and carry them outside, you are violating their body autonomy! John will get avalanched if he argues with it, but he also feels he needs to argue with it because it is bad thinking. John is not a child psychologist and there are surely child psychologists who are onboard with this, which means he is pushing against the tide of a culture that is no longer thinking straight. He is going to get lumped in with antivaxers or conservatives or people who are against female empowerment. People will draw parallels like "You know who else said that?" in this strange bedfellows world.

John taking his daughter to Washington DC (RW81, RW82, RL259)

John’s daughter’s mother is frequently traveling around the world doing web security work because this area has become quite a cause célèbre. At the end of September of 2017 she was in America’s capital and monument city Washington D.C. for a couple of weeks and rather than having her separated from their darling daughter for that amount of time, John agreed that he would come out to DC with the baby for a long weekend. They would see the sights like the pencil monument (as she calls it), the room at the Natural History Museum with the bird skeletons, the Lincoln Memorial (which she knows quite a bit about) and all the other hot-spots for little kids. Being separated for 5 or 7 days is fine, but 15 days is just too long because time moves so slowly for small children and her mom is obviously very important to her. There is nothing keeping John from traveling. (RW82)

The Seattle school district is no longer very forgiving about getting time off from school and her school was very concerned about absences and truancy. When John was a kid, his dad would just come into class, take him out and nobody cared! His daughter's school sent a lot of paperwork and some pretty dramatic emails about unexcused absence and if she has more than 10 unexcused absence days, they will put her in Child Protective Services. It is not unexcused! John is excusing her! In the old day, ”excused” meant that your parents said it was okay, but now the school decides if it is okay. John has half a dozen trips planned during her first grade year, like Washington DC and Hawaii. If he goes for work, he will take her with him. Her mom is going to a conference in Korea and it is a good thing for a first-grader to go to Korea for 10 days! She will miss some course work, but an awful lot of that is coloring. (RW81, RW82)

The school makes it seem like their concerns are on behalf of your kid and they will show you statistics about kids who didn’t attend school and ended up in a bread line in 1932. She is a first-grader! Do they think she is not going to graduate from High School? The real reason is that schools receive money from the legislature based on who is enrolled and based on daily attendance. If your kid is out of school for five unexcused absence days, the school gets $600 less. John is of the opinion that taking her on an exciting adventure into the world where she is learning stuff is not necessarily better than school, but she is going to do homework at night and she will keep a journal of what she did that day and draw a picture into a book. (RW81, RW82)

John went to see the principal and her teacher to do the real talk and got a very good response from them both. Essentially they are talking about a first-grader and they are not worried about her missing 5 days of school going to Washington DC. However, they do have to make a show of it and report some of the absence. John knows all about this theater and they agreed on the procedure. If you are a stickler for the rules, you don't care that this is going to be a very educational trip. John has been in contention to sticklers his whole life and he has been in plenty of situations where a stickler made a stand over something that seemed to benefit no-one. Can you really say that her first-grade class work is more important for her? A stickler might say it is not only the attendance that matters, but also learning that attendance is important! (RW82)

John and his daughter visited the following places while in Washington DC (RL259):

  • They walked around the neighborhood to the East of Capitol Hill with those little old-timy diners and town houses of brown stone. When John lived there in 1989, it was only beginning to be gentrified. Today the neighborhood has been transformed and you will find beautiful homes the whole way. There are still a couple of little stores and little diners that have been there since before the neighborhood even went into decline, diners with just one counter and five tables and a very limited menu. John and his daughter had breakfast at one of those places.
  • They walked around the Library of Congress and looked down on the reading room.
  • They went to the Jefferson Library. After the British burned the Capitol during the war of 1812, they also burned the library. Thomas Jefferson donated his entire library, which was at the time the biggest library in the states. There was another fire that destroyed some of it, but they have the majority of his books set up in a circle like he had his library built.
  • They toured the Capitol.
  • They went down to the Smithsonian.
  • They walked all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. His daughter was a super trooper! Already on the other side of the Washington Monument she said that this was a long walk, but then she understood that this was on the back of the penny. She knows all about Lincoln, because she had heard John lecture about him. It was great and they had a wonderful time!
  • They went through the new WWII memorial, which is not too far from the Vietnam memorial and it has pride of place.
  • John was also at the World Trade Center memorial. (RL259)
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