Tuesday, December 21 2021

no meetings, learning to read, and please

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everybody. Happy Tuesday. We continue our lazy coasting through Christmas week, knowing a long holiday break is just around the corner. I hope things are winding down for you.

As always, I'm checking in from the dining room computer. At the moment, the rest of my family is sleeping upstairs, and it's just me and my reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. When did I turn into such a scraggly mess? I haven't shaved in weeks. I've let my foot off the gas with exercise. I might have at least appeared more rested if I didn't help myself to so many homemade gingerbread cookies last night, but for that I blame the Bears game. Like it or not, I'm in holiday mode now. But I made some great coffee this morning, so at least I got that going for me.

Sip. It's good to be here today, even if I'm feeling a little lethargic. Yesterday, the first message I read after sitting down at my computer was from my teammate in our private team channel. "You all want to just cancel our regular meetings this week?" it said. Reading that, I let out a moan like I was getting a deep tissue massage. We could all learn a lesson in holiday spirit from Derek. Be a hero, and cancel some meetings this week. Even if you didn't put the meetings there, there's no harm in floating the idea out there. Just take a shot, and you too might get a meeting free week of Christmas miracle.

Beyond the perk of hiding from my zoom camera all day, it was awesome getting time to focus, catch up on emails, and indulge in some extra learning. In the afternoon, I even got a partner for some pair programming. Rodney joined me in the office, armed with a bag of M&Ms and a water bottle.


We played a "coding" game, directing a turtle through a maze by stringing together arrows and symbols. We watched a totally chill and informative video about firefighters. Since we were on a roll and feeling in the zone, we opened up Rodney's winter break nemesis - the "starting sounds" level in Alexia.

"OK, the word is step," I said articulately. "Ssssttttttep. What's the beginning sound?"

Rodney repeated the word thoughtfully. "Step. St... tuh tuh tuh?"

"Eh, that sound is somewhere in there, but it's not the first," I replied. "Listen to your mouth, it's literally the first sound that comes out. SSSSSSTEP."

Well, it's not literally the first sound out your mouth. I'm just biased because I know how to read, and I know that the word step begins with an s so my brain is just trying to make an s sound. But if you listen to yourself say the word "step", the first sound out of your mouth is a quiet hiss. Or the wet flick of your tongue against the back of your teeth. Or the sound of inhaling air. Or it could be a totally different sound, because we all grow up in different places, have different shaped mouths, and we say words differently. Learning to read is complicated. I wish Rodney the best of luck. I probably wouldn't have the patience for this if I had to learn to read a second time around. We got burnt out with phonics, and Rodney excused himself into his room for quiet time. Moments after he left, I heard the firefighter song blaring across the hallway through his cracked door.

Last nights' dinner was a highlight. This year, I'm rediscovering how much fun it is to make chili. Chili is like soup with no rules. You can use any kind of vegetables, meat, and spices, and so long as they incorporate tomatoes and stock, the magical unifying spirit of chili takes hold and makes it work. It's cooking on easy mode. Last night we went with bacon and ground pork. We jazzed things up with curry and caraway seeds. I thickened the soup with toasted flour. It was good chili.

Where a hot bowl of chili soothes a stressed out adult, kids absolutely hate it. My choice of chili inspired a small insurrection at the dinner table. Rodney, the wiser child, kept his eyes down and shrewdly pushed the chili around the bowl with a spoon. He knew he only had to eat just enough to appease until until bedtime, when I'd have no choice but to excuse him from the table. Rodney expertly played the clock like Tom Brady in full playoff mode.

Miles was a little more confrontational. He extended a slippery hand toward the bowl of cornbread and greedily flapped his fingers. Marissa shook her head "no", and he slapped the table and shrieked. In a huff, I scooted my chair next to him and spun him around.

"NO. EAT YOUR FOOD," I growled. Miles' air of defiance melted away, and his face twisted with worry. He reluctantly chewed a cold, coagulated wad of chili and sour cream. A tear rolled down his face as he gazed longingly at the bowl of cornbread. He shrieked again and slapped the table.

"MILES. NO!" I yelled. "YOU SAY PLEASE."

I'm not sure why I asked Miles to say the word "please". The stuff I say to my kids when I'm trying to discipline them doesn't often make a whole lot of sense. Marissa and I joke that in tense moments like these, our only job is to hold the line of sternness and wait for their tiny brains to have a lucid moment of child development - a lightning strike of human evolution brought on by conflict.

Miles gripped the sides of his booster seat. He squirmed in his chili soaked t shirt. He filled his tiny lungs with air and gasped the word PLEASE. A silence fell over the dinner table.

Miles said the word please. It sounded more like pblish, but nonetheless it left us dumbfounded. Marissa grinned. Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a chunk of cornbread from the bowl and laid it in front of him. "You're welcome," I said quietly.

We're sure it wasn't a fluke. Miles dropped several more pblish's throughout the night. I'm submitting pblish to the records as his first word.

Remember your pblishes and thank you's. Thanks for stopping by today, have a great Tuesday.