School Begins

My three year old daughter Soleil began her long journey through school last week. Her first day of Montessori was on Wednesday the 8th, and today completes her first full week.

It’s kind of amazing really.

I am sure most parents feel this way, but the first time you drop your kid off at school just bowls you over. And yes, I teared up.

I am so thrilled for her. Soleil’s meeting new kids, and painting everyday. She even has a friend named Johnny, who’s real name she doesn’t know. But depending on the day she calls him her boyfriend. Today she said, “He’s not for me.” I need to meet this boy.

Her vocabulary is rapidly improving in just a week and a half, and of course, she is picking up some mannerisms from the other kids. For example, Soleil likes to comment on her hair all of the sudden. “It’s so crazy,” she said after her bath earlier this week. Then for the first time, she asked me to brush it. The poor kid has a double cow lick and a small dose of Daddy’s curls (that was before I went bald).


She cries or whines about going to school most days. Then she comes home and says she had fun!

Soleil’s sense of responsibility is picking up, too. We definitely encouraged her to put away her dishes and clean up beforehand, but the Montesori regimen (and seeing her peers in action) is kicking in. It’s great to have a little helper.

All in all, it’s a magical experience to watch.

Thoughts on New Mexico

This week the country experienced two more school shootings, most notably a 12 year old who opened fire on his fellow students with a 20-gauge shotgun in Roswell, NM. I am sorry to bring it up, but the danger of such an incident occured to me as we helped Soleil through her first days of school. It was not an overriding fear, just a tiny shadow.

It seems like every month there is a school shooting now. It’s hard not to think about this rash of senseless violence.

You probably noticed in the picture Soleil is wearing a private school uniform. There is a lot to say about private versus public school. For starters, the results tend to be better for the kids. But given that some of the public schools in our neighborhood are very good I cannot say that Soleil will always attend a private school.

Certainly, it is more expensive. I suddenly find myself taking my lunch to work. And as someone who went to public school, I have my own preconceived notions about private schools.

Private school also feels safer to me. They rarely experience the type of violence that you read about in the papers at public schools, and in particular the disgusting rash of shootings that are occuring at public schools.

I can’t imagine picking up the phone and having to pick up my child after a school shooting. Then there is the horror that dozens parents across the country have experienced on the past few years: Finding out your child is wounded or dead.

Private school is not a silver bullet to avoid violence, but it does reduce the risk. And I realize that it is impossible to shelter Soleil from everything.

Do we really have to consider our children’s lives are at risk when we send them to school? We live in a country where a school shooting happens almost every month. Yet our lawmakers won’t take the necessary steps to protect children. Insane.

Whatever education path we choose for Soleil, I hope that she and all of the other children across the country never have to face this kind of tragedy.

The odds of it happening are minute yet that tiny gnawing fear remains. May the madness stop.

Pink, Thomas the Train and Other Choices

We had a week of fun with Soleil. Her third birthday on Tuesday was a blast, and of course last night was Halloween. Soleil was Cinderella, her favorite princess.

People often remark about her love of princesses, all things pink and purple, shoes, kitties, and babies. She’s a girly-girl they say, and we agree, because she likes these things and most boys do not.

But Soleil is more than that. She likes to chase her Daddy and jump all over him while is sleeping (much to my chagrin). Soleil loves Thomas the Train, and trains in general. She also likes playing with building blocks and gears. We already discussed her crazy toddler passion for technology.

I worry about this girly-girl labeling more than I probably should. It seems that’s what we do as humans, afix labels and concepts on people, judge and put them into a box, and assume that’s going to be their life.

Roles Evolve

So you can see I fear that Soleil will become boxed into a submissive girly-girl life. Fortunately roles have evolved for women, but there are many hurdles to overcome as any good Marissa Mayer debate reveals.

I try not to interfere with Soleil’s predilections to like certain things, though I did put my foot down on My Little Pony. God, that’s mindless drivel. She does get to ride lots of ponies and horses, though.

Soleil should be exactly who she is, and that’s OK whether she becomes a powerful executive or a homemaker or anything else. The world is her oyster if she is willing to work for it, and that’s my primary message. There’s nothing wrong with an engineer who wears pink and purple. Or whatever color her evolving fashion palette determines is right.

I want to be present for her during this time. She has a fantastic life ahead of her, and there is much to see, wherever her path takes her. More than anything, I want her to have choices, the ability to discern consequence, and the education to engage intelligently in these acts of mindfulness.

Birthday Gooberness  1487

Obviously, we have the holidays coming up. Rather than spoil her with everything she wants, her gifts will be distributed. For her birthday, she got a baby doll and a kitchen set. By the way, I cook as well, so in Soleil’s mind, I’m pretty sure kitchen life is gender neutral. Nevertheless, there is the historical baggage the kitchen brings.

To compromise and give her choices beyond stereotype, her Hanukkah gift will be a Thomas the Train set. She may never use it (I doubt that), but at least she will have a choice. Daddy is happy to play with trains or wood tomatoes, alike.

Christmas is yet to be determined. The joys of growing up in multicultural house!

Presence in All Paths

Soleil had her three year check-up this week, and it appears that she will be a tall woman. The doctor thinks roughly 5’8″ or 5’9″. I wonder what she will be like, whether the princess phase is permanent and she becomes a model, or if she’ll jump on sand instead of my back and become a volleyball player, or…

There are many paths. They are for her to choose.

My/our job is to be present, and help her learn responsibility, the power of choice, good and bad, and then to empower her as much as possible to succeed.

It really is an honor to be a parent. I am so very grateful to have Soleil in my life.

What do you think?

P.S. Just a reminder that I wll be fundraising for my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) today. If you’d like to help me or the other dozen individuals fundraising, here are two easy actions:

1) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. More than a hundred of people have already signed up to blast out a timed Tweet at noon on November 1 to launch the Big Give. If you’re interested in joining, sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest:

Please consider making a donation. Just $25 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

The Screen Time Dilemma

Like most parents, I am concerned with my daughter Soleil’s welfare and education. One of the most disconcerting things about this time period is her interest in video and games, and what is an often poor reaction to being separted from the media.

Soleil throws sever temper tantrums when she video and ipad time ends, which is now causing us to discipline her more frequently. Specifically, we are using corner time, room time, restricted access to video, and grounding to work through this period.

She doesn’t go to school yet, but her start is imminent (waiting on pddy training to take hold). Until then we’re actively reading with her and more. We’d love interactive games and fun learning to be a part of this. She’ll need the skills to succeed later in life, but the impact on her mental and emotional development requires close moderation of use and access.

The Need to Be Engaged

With education in the United States continuing to deteriorate (41st int he world), parents need to be more involved in their children’s welfare. It’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s education. It’s not enough to go on autopilot and let schools and tools (technology and media) lead the way.

This is one of the reasons why I am thrilled to help my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) with its first annual Big Give, or the #BigGive4Families, this November 1. More on this at the end, but in short NCFL’s mission is to use the family as the focal point for learning.

I think that’s more imperative now, thanks to technology. Digital media are advancing so quickly that parents have to be actively involved in their child’s activities. There are many unexpected traps.

One example is the application PBS Kids. PBS offers great programming, but it’s also addictive and creates the Soleil zombie state where she won’t do anything else, and then throws temper tantrums upon separation. Perhaps that’s Soleil’s personality at play, but I would normally feel safe trading on the PBS name. Sorry Daniel the Tiger, but access to you has become restricted (My Little Pony, too).

Screen time behavior is the biggest challenge facing Soleil right now, so all in all, we have high quality problems. Soon she’ll start Montesori school, which has no tech, no phones lying around, etc, and that will help. Notice that we are sending her to private school.

It is my intent to make sure she has the opportunity to participate in the finest schools possible. If that means going to private shcool, then I will work to make it happen.

To be a part of Soleil’s growth, I make sacrifices, the same sacrifices that many parents choose; keeping that camera another year, buying a lesser version of a car, eating out less often, etc. Most importantly, I sacrifice my time. I stay up late and wake up early to work, so I can spend more time with her. I know spending time with Soleil on education dramatically improves her learning process, and increases her chances of a prosperous life.

Many families don’t have access to the education resources that I do, nor do they have the knowledge to learn with their children. Because of cost and the deterioration of the country’s educations system, I feel very strongly that NCFL’s work is necessary.

If you’d like to help me or the more than a dozen individuals fundraising during the #NCFLBigGive, here are two easy actions:

1) It may seem obvious, but if you can’t fundraise the best way to help us make our goal is to donate to my personal fundraiser on November 1 or before. Even $50 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

2) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. Hundreds of people will blast out a timed Tweet on November 1 to launch the Big Give. Just sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest.

How do you handle access to phones, TVs and other forms of screen-based media with your children?

P.S. Though NCFL is my client, fundraising is not part of my scope of work. I architected the big give, but also decided to fundraise because I believe in the cause.

The Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us. During those last dwindling days of heat nothing seems to happen.

When I was a child I used to think the dog days were awful. Boredom plagued me, there was nothing to do except play, no school, less friends around, etc. In hindsight, those were the best of times. Little did I know about the coming travails of work and responsibility.

Now when summer arrives I treasure those moments of doing nothing. You realize how important the down cycle is to your later performance, and you treasure July and August vacations.

Perhaps I reminisce too much this year because I took on publishing Exodus this August. There is little downtime. Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely thrilled, but the fog of exhaustion holds my mind and patience has worn thin.

An opportunity to rest is almost gone. John Lubbock wisely said, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

We’re going to try to steal some rest with a two week vacation at the end of September. Originally, we were heading to Scandinavia, but due to some mitigating circumstances we have decided to tour the southwest and see the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. When your kids are small and not required to attend school, this is a great time to travel. There are fewer tourists about. Everyone is back to business.

In some ways those missing travelers will be in a better place than me. Consider a marathon runner who suffers a nagging injury, yet decides to finish the race. Crossing the finish line and arriving to rest takes longer and is in greater need. I get that feeling right now. I am a bit envious of others who are enjoying the dog days of summer.

The Golden Light

Sans titre

Instinctually, we understand that the light changes throughout the year. When you learn to shoot a camera, you come to treasure and better understand light. You see how it impacts the world around you in the moment.

Now I pay attention to light with a photographer’s mind, and as a result, I remember things a little differently. The dog days of summer are no different.

August has a yellow quality to the light, a golden tinge. It’s a little softer than the harsh beating sun of July or the direct warming rays of June. There’s an air of preciousness to it, a delicate sense that time is waning. The magic of seasonal change is about to strike again. Live the summer day for soon it will be depart.

In hindsight, I have painted my memories of teenage summers in Provence at my grandmother’s or at the beach in Cape May New Jersey in this same yellow light. They are stuck on a microfiche etched forever in my head. Perhaps they will create a dog days Instagram filter with this effect.

I remember trudging up the white stone mountain trails of Provence, watching a snake lazily run into the underbrush, afraid of it. Around me the vineyards were filled with plants bearing their fruit, ever so slowly winding themselves up towards the sky. The pale blue of the sky seemed almost cloudless in hindsight. All with that slight yellow dog day tinge. After a couple hours, I ran back to Grandma’s and cracked open yet another book, then eventually I fell asleep in the mid-afternoon, another day passed.

The sun beats down on the bleached boards, and the dark blue of the Atlantic waves crash on the yellow white sand. Horseshoe crabs, jellyfish and seaweed litter the south Jersey beach, reminding you that out there much more exists. Yet I ignore it, pursuing the vain trivialities of teen pursuit I’m walking on the boardwalk eating some sort of junk food — probably a cheesesteak that just wasn’t up to par — hanging out with my fellow urchins, looking for innocent trouble in a bottle. Another day passed.

How funny it feels to reflect on those slow moving days now long gone, lost somewhere in the yellow August light of days past. The memories stay with me. Little did I know that those were going to be some of the best days of my life.

Those Moments in Time

Soleil in the Train

If you’re a punk, you love Henry Rollins. The former Black Flag frontman has become quite the sage for my generation with insights that extend into life’s inner workings. He nailed summer’s haunting grasp on us when he said, “We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”

Last Friday, we took Soleil to a local Montesori school for an interview. The school offers a kind of a fun, non technical creative experience, something we cherish given Soleil’s propensity to gravitate towards electronics.

Outside there was a phenomenal playground with a five car wooden train. She ran from car to car, playing and sticking her head out the windows. Her golden smile beamed, excited and filled with energy even though she clearly needed a nap. To be two, almost three again.

Through the rest of the day she kept asking to go back to school. We even went and saw Planes, and as soon as the movie was over she asked to go back to school.

The good news is she has been admitted to the school (upon completing poddy training).

With this news comes the ends the baby/toddler years in my mind, which seemed to have passed us by with a blink of an eye. I know I was present for all of this times, sans the weekly business travel during her second year for Marketing in the Round.

I can’t stop thinking about this. And every time I do, I think of her running through the train, her last days of toddlerdom, of staying at home. The memory is awash in that dog day golden sunlight breaking through the shadows, illuminating spots of the playground around the tree. Sometimes the memory brings tears. I can’t help that.

In a few weeks, she will put a uniform on, just like all the other kids. A new chapter begins, and at the end of October she will turn three. I will have likely changed my last diaper. She will have playdates, and the shepherding of kid from activity to activity will begin in earnest.

In five weeks, we will travel together, perhaps a final encore of those precious first years, and at the same time a fine line, marking this new beginning.

One thing is for sure, though I am working, I am paying attention. The moment pierced through my haze, and I realized that even in moments of work, there are still golden moments left within 2013’s dog days.

I may not have spent a ton of leisure time this summer, but some time remains. Now I am forcing myself to read Kim Robinson’s 2312, a magnificent piece of science fiction. I will go to a couple more baseball games even if the Nationals suck. And when I look back at this August, there will be this golden moment of time with Soleil, and yes, just a little leisure.

How are you enjoying these last moments of summer?

Featured image by Marta.

Welcoming Home Michelle

About three months ago I was reading a book to Soleil that revolved around two siblings. About 2/3 of the way through, Soleil asked me who her brother was.

It was a profound moment. I’m 99 percent sure she’ll never have one given our 40 something status, and the difficulties we experienced having Soleil. She will be an only child.

One thing I have learned over the past year or so is that toddlers and geriatric pets are not a great mix. Our two cats, 18 and 16 respectively, and Junior (an 11 year old pug who may as well be a cat) just don’t have much play in them anymore.

Caitlin and I started discussing the matter. We felt Soleil needed someone more youthful to play with at home, especially given that Daddy “the play guy” is at work during the business week. A slow three month search began for our new dog, someone a little younger who would enjoy Soleil’s attention.

We began working with Homeward Trails, a local rescue organization, which happened to come in second place for most donors during Give to the Max Day. As the GM of that $2 million giving event, I was thrilled to work with this local community rescue.


At one of their local dog rescue events in Arlington, I walked into the pen. Michelle, an American Fox Hound/Beagle mix, came right up to me. She was as sweet as could be.

We went to a private stall, and introduced her to Soleil. The two got along famously, playing catch, and Michelle tolerating Soleil’s incessant hugging of all things furry. A match was made, and three weeks ago we brought Michelle home.

Things have been awesome, though Mom and Dad are adjusting to a two-year old dog with lots of energy. Michelle is a real dog, unlike Junior, who will counter surf and even consumed a whole loaf of bread. But she is still as sweet as could be. Bonus miles: Because Michelle is a real dog, she actually barks when strangers come to the door, a new thing for us.

Most importantly, Soleil has a playmate now. Michelle will trot around the kitchen table while Soleil chases her, and will sleep with the little girl sometimes. Michelle tolerates Soleil’s rough and tumble nature to a much higher degree than the older pets, who simply run away from her. And yes, we’re actively working with Soleil on respecting animals.


With the dog comes the poop.

Our third rescue experience has been awesome. There are so many animals out there that need homes. While we considered getting a bred Labradoodle, this seemed to be the more mindful path for our house.

Soleil has her sibling now, and you can hear many more sounds of little feet going pitter patter throughout the house.

Do you have pets? How did you find them?

The Library Is Dead. Long Live the Library!

Image by Camera Obscura 1975

The other day Caitlin told Soleil they would visit the library for story time. Their conversation unleashed a well of hope within me.

I had come to believe that libraries were dying, just like the traditional publishing business that fills their shelves. I remembered reading that libraries were dwindling, and just wrote them off. Like many other things in our world, it seemed the library could not survive the ongoing Internet revolution, and its eReaders, blog posts, and Twitter archives.

Well, the library is alive and well. In fact, the library stands as a critical part of American communities, and a fundamental aspect of a child’s formative years. According to Pew, 97% of parents believe libraries should offer programs for children, and 69% of all Americans use a library.
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