Apr 11

Me & the Boy

I doubt this post will be of must interest to anyone but future-me, and maybe Kathy, and maybe my folks in a sort of I-knew-he-would-eventually-feel-like-this sort of way. But that’s cool with me. ­čÖé

Kathy’s been gone to Kentucky for a few days for her grandmother’s funeral (and celebration of a vibrant life well-lived), which means that SPL and I have been on our own. It’s the first time that he and I have been on our own for more than about a day, and it’s been a really interesting experience. And really good for us, I think — I’m coming to a bunch of different realizations.

First off, a prosaic one that’s going to sound completely obvious: being the sole adult responsible for a child is an incredible, consuming responsibility. There are no real breaks, there aren’t any times when you’re able to totally think about non-kid-related work. You’re always either just coming in from dropping him off somewhere or about to pick him up, or wondering whether you remembered to put his lunch together or reminded him to wear socks or some other damn thing. It’s constant, in ways that I’m not used to. And it’s a lot of work. So many things to keep track of.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I know that lots of people deal with lots more complex lives than my life with just one essentially well-behaved five year old. I’ll tell you candidly: I have no idea how single parents with more than 1 kid do it. Profound, profound respect for those that do.

Second, also obvious: Kathy makes everything go here; she makes everything possible. I feel like I’m a very involved dad, but man, the stuff that she takes care of all day long every day is just about rocket science for me to remember. Let’s just say that SPL would be a significantly hungrier, more sunburned, and more hatless kid if I were in charge. Kathy’s everything here.

But beyond all the details of making a kid’s life work and balancing that with your own work, I’m learning a lot by being with SPL so many more hours each day. Since it’s just the two of us, we sort of process our days with each other exclusively (he does it by talking about which super-villians we’re pretending to be, but you know, he’s five. It’s cool.).

I’m finding that without Kathy, I tend to be too focused on getting things done, getting all our chores done, making use of the time we have. Today was a busy day and we did a lot, including ordering new glasses for me (5 years overdue), replacing my 9 year old car, getting haircuts for both of us, doing a workout, and various other chores. We played a little Lego Star Wars, too, which is good, but I can’t really figure out how to get past this one level in Episode 1, so I might have to do some research tonight. SPL did amazingly well throughout, but by the end of the day he was a little more fragile emotionally than usual. I think it’s because I didn’t build in a bunch of down time in the schedule just to play and be five. There’s a harder, more focused edge to the way I think about time that probably doesn’t give SPL everything he needs. So I’m a little too focused, I think.

Interestingly, I’m finding I’m also not focused enough — that is, I’m not focused quite enough on the right things about some of our interactions. I’m too distracted, thinking about too many other things.

My takeaway here, other than the obvious one that Kathy does so much to make our family work, and that the three of us form a really special and functional unit, is that I want to reorient what I focus on, that I need to struggle again (and always) to be more present and in the moment. None of this is that new, it’s just more profoundly and acutely felt when you get a few days together with another soul — and that’s another takeaway: dedicated, exclusive, coherent time with your family moves relationships ahead unlike anything else.

So: we’re missing Kathy and are glad she’ll be back tomorrow; have gotten a ton of stuff done; are planning on not doing much at all tomorrow until Kathy gets back into SFO; and: I’m a lucky, lucky guy, for lots of reasons, chief of which are Kathy and SPL.

Mar 11

Parenting, Data & Outcomes

I tweeted over the weekend that we learned last week that SPL was accepted into the Mandarin Immersion program at Ohlone Elementary School for next year. It’s a huge development for us — it’s why we moved to Palo Alto a few months ago, and something we didn’t really expect to happen, given that the odds were stacked against.

So we were pretty overjoyed about it, and still are. Of course, like in any endeavor, you celebrate and move on, and now we’re puzzling over any number of implications and next steps.

As we’ve been talking about it with other parents, everyone has been hugely supportive and congratulatory, and ask how we’re feeling about it. And as we’ve been answering, what’s become clear to me is this: parenting is a series of decisions that could have profound implications years from now that you have no way of really, truly understanding now. There’s an unfortunate lack of data on what works in education generally, let alone in language immersion programs.

(Although it’s important to say this: we know a LOT more about what works in education than we actually use in practice. Lots and lots of reasons for this: many are industry structural, many are cultural — we have a lot to learn about best practices in teaching still, in a data-and-outcome-oriented way — but it would be a big step to be able to use what we DO know.)

In the case of SPL and Mandarin, we really are excited about it, and SPL is, too. But it’s very hard to tell what it will mean in the long term. It’s been really clear so far that learning Chinese and English at the same time (since he was about 3) has been challenging, and that it’s affected the order of his skill development (in particular in terms of reading and writing, since he’s learning a couple of very different systems simultaneously). There’s some new research that suggests that in general, dual-language learners develop more slowly in terms of reading & writing until about 4th grade, at which point they catch up and develop normally. There’s other literature that suggests that kids who grow up bilingual have better executive function as adults, presumably because their brains become good at making snap decisions on which language to use in any given situation.

But in truth, who the hell knows? The data sets we have on this stuff are vanishingly small. As I wrote about Ohlone, in our experience there just aren’t any other schools that are constructivist and whole child and Mandarin immersion — so the data we have to look at is really just the 4 classes that have come before us. So we’ll see.

I’m not saying we haven’t worked the angles on this. Like so many of our friends, we can be a little, um…detail-obsessed and maybe even have OCD tendencies. And since Kathy’s a teacher, you might imagine that we’ve done a lot of thinking and talking about this with lots of friends and educators. And so we have good feelings about it, based on pretty good reasoning.

In that way, parenting is sort of like trying to operate a startup. You never have nearly the information you need to make decisions; and lots of times when you’re trying to make certain decisions you not only don’t even understand the implications of what you’re deciding, but often don’t even really understand the data that you think you do.

So now we’re off to the races. Will SPL embrace his Chinese over the years? Will he work in China 20 years from now? Will he reject it like so many kids reject piano lessons? How will it affect the way he thinks, the way he looks at the world, the way he makes his own way?

We don’t know — we’ve really got no idea at all. But that’s sort of the mystery and the magic of it. We’ll learn as we go. Nobody’s seen this particular movie before, and that’ll make it challenging, and interesting, and human.

Aug 10

Two Days in August

As I’ve been writing lately, my grandmother Gigi died a couple of weeks ago – I’m on a plane home now from her memorial service, which we held this weekend on St Simons Island, GA – she and the rest of Mom’s family moved there in 1962 or 63, and she lived in the house that they built ever since.

It was a nice service, and nice weekend with my family – a group that I love and admire so much. Everyone who spoke about Gigi talked about her sense of humor, and her sharp tongue. And when the church pastor, during the homily for your funeral, mentions how sharp your sense of humor is, well, that’s something distinctive. (He quoted Jack as saying, “She could bury you with a single word.”) Makes me smile to think of that – and I guess I know that I myself come by that particular character trait honestly.

And of course, books and Gigi reading them to kids, were featured prominently.

There were probably a couple hundred people there, from the island, from Brunswick, from Jacksonville and beyond. I think we had the service that she wanted. (And in fact, I know that we did, as she left extremely detailed instructions regarding, well, pretty much all the details. Also characteristic of her.)

And while only my brother David and I will really feel this, it’ll always be hard to think of this weekend without thinking about another day in August in south Georgia when we buried my dad’s father (Grandee is what we called him) 15 years ago.

The two experiences were incredibly different from each other – just as different as the two families are, really. Quitman, where Grandee lived most of his life and where my dad grew up, is a tiny, tiny town about 60 miles north of Tallahassee – and what I remember the most from those days was the funeral procession through the town, with the police at the intersections with their hats over their hearts, and then how impossibly light he was in the coffin was when we laid him to rest.

Gigi’s service was very different, though – she was cremated a couple of weeks ago, and before the larger church service we had a very small gathering of just the family and the pastor to put her ashes in the memorial garden of the church. No body, no pall bearers like at Grandee’s funeral, just us, with my uncles and brother putting her ashes into the garden. It was a good remembrance, and honored who she was.

What connects the two events most viscerally for me, other than the obvious relationship, is that I think I’ll always remember how hot and humid it was both times – a characteristic Georgia heat that makes you sweat almost immediately when you step outside – and all of us in our ties and dresses and nice clothes.

Anyway, two completely different experiences, different families, separated by 15 years. But for my brother and me, these two August days will always be connected by the heat of the Georgia summer, and of remembering and honoring our grandparents.

Aug 10

The Roles We Play

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the various roles I play in life — father, husband, son, grandson, CEO, friend, advisor, et cetera. There are a lot. And clearly they’re getting all mixed up as we live more of our lives online, as we live, work, and play on Facebook or Twiter or e-mail (I’m old!) or elsewhere. We’re all finding our way there, while we change the world around us.

But I’ve been struggling with moving between roles the past few days — and it’s got nothing to do with online life — but I would wager is a decidedly non-modern one.

Kathy & I took SPL to Disneyland for his first trip there. We’d been on some smaller outings, like to Legoland, but I’ve really wanted to take him to Anaheim for quite a while. There are lots of reasons to be cynical about Disney and Disneyland/Disney World, but I’m not — I really love it there. I love how it feels, even with crowds. I love all the colliding mythologies. Most of all, I love how it makes kids feel when they ride Space Mountain or interact with characters during the parades or watch the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

I’ve been to the parks in Anaheim and Orlando both many times, but obviously it was our first trip as the parents of a 5 year old — so lots of new things to consider in that role.

But we knew earlier in the week that Gigi was in the hospital and might not make it out — and Friday morning before we left the hotel I got a call from Mom about Gi’s prognosis; a few hours later Mom called again to let me know that Gigi had passed away. We were in line for a ride at the California Adventure side of the park (bumper cars for the Bug’s Life section), but the specifics aren’t that important, really.

What is important was that at that moment, a bunch of roles I have all crashed into each other at once. I was trying to be a good son for my mother, who had just said good-bye to her own mother. And I was trying to communicate at least a little bit with Kathy, my partner in all things, so she would know what was happening. The line was moving, though, and SPL was anxious to get into the seat of the bumper car so we could crash into his mother’s car — and so I wanted to be a good attentive dad for him. Over the top of all that, though, and of course, I was mostly Gigi’s grandson, and mostly Gigi’s grandson just felt sad.

I felt those roles all collide with each other a lot over the next couple of days — sort of like waves crashing at the beach one would come in, and then later be overwhelmed by a different one. It was a hard set of feelings to really understand and process and deal with appropriately — I don’t honestly know whether I’ve processed this much yet at all. (Which is one of the reasons that I’m┬á blogging it — to be able to understand it a little bit better.)

I do know that I was much more aware of the roles that I play in life this week — and in particular, the roles that really, really matter a lot to me. I think it helped me clarify some of the things I love about being a father, a husband, a son — but I know this is all a bit of a moving target. Things change, relationships change.

Mostly, I was very happy to be able to spend so much time with Kathy & SPL at a difficult juncture for me. That, I know for sure.

Aug 10

May Pearce Korb

My grandmother, May Pearce Korb, died Friday, August 6, 2010 at the age of 87. She died in a hospital near where she lived on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, following an accident she had last weekend.

She was my mother’s mother, and I never knew her as May, really, but rather “Gigi,” a name she gave herself when I was born. It came from the old Pogo comic – there’s a character called Grundoon in it – a wrinkly baby woodchuck that always spoke in gibberish – and she thought I looked a little like that. Thus G.G. for “Grundoon’s Grandmother.” I’ve never really known what to make of that story (although, in retrospect, not really all that flattering) but she’s always just been Gigi to me.

A couple of little glimpses into my memories of her:

When I was growing up, she always used to send cards for about every holiday — birthday, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, whatever – and they always had a dollar bill in them. She moved to two dollars in the eighties, when I was in my teens and able to spend with more velocity. Those cards continued into college for me, and even after. In 1997, after I’d been working at Trilogy and then Apple, we saw each other at my Mom’s graduation ceremony (for her Masters in Library Science) and I remember proudly giving Gigi one of my Apple business cards. Without missing a beat, she said, “I’ve been sending $2 to a Senior Scientist at Apple??” Pretty funny. She was always super quick and super sharp with her humor — so that, at least, I come by honestly. She’s been sending SPL cards with a couple of dollars in them since he was born. A nice tradition and connection to her that always made me smile.

But the thing that I really remember about her is all the books. She owned a bookstore on St. Simons called The Shorebird, and one of my favorite things to do was to go to work with her. I would sit in the back and read everything back there, for what seemed like hours (but probably wasn’t) and remember feeling like I was a very lucky kid – and, of course, that’s exactly right.

I’ve been thinking about her a bunch the last few days, naturally, but especially because we’ve been at Disneyland, for SPL’s first visit there. One of my earliest memories is going to Walt Disney World with Gigi and the rest of the family (since they lived pretty close to Orlando), and it brings a lot of things full circle for me to be here now. More on that in a bit.

She leaves behind such a good family — my mom and her two brothers, who have been wonderful uncles (and now great uncles), and the seven grandkids (my cousins, my brother, and me), who are such a smart, funny, diverse, and talented group. No small feat.

Anyway, Gigi lived a good life, and I’ll miss her a lot.

R.I.P., May Pearce Korb, 1923 – 2010