The road to tech success is not paved with pink Legos

I’ve started writing about Daddyland again, this time around at a new business publication called Quartz.

It’s a mobile and international-focused startup from Atlantic Media, which publishes The Atlantic, among other publications.

So I’ll be taking more of a big picture economic and societal view on all the work/life issues that come up when you start talking about mass paternity leave, like we have here in Sweden (though not enough of it!).

My first Daddyland-centered post for them was about … Legos:

At our house, we’ve got a box of hand-me-down plain brick Legos tucked in a corner of the kids’ room. My six-year-old daughter tends to build  ”cities,” and they are tall and sprawling, though mainly vehicles for role-playing with friends. But, honestly, she plays with the Legos less often than she does with random objects—a steel tube, a broken reflector—found on the sidewalk and turned into homemade dolls.

I don’t push the Legos either, and I’m starting to wonder about this. Am I depriving my daughter of a future as a filthy rich mobile game app developer in Silicon Valley? Am I squashing her inner geek as I applaud her dancing and pictures of flowers?

And is the answer Lego Friends?

Lego Friends is the new line of girl-focused Legos that caused a firestorm when it was announced late in 2011. The new “slimline” Lego girls and their convertibles and beauty salons outraged bloggers, inspired a protest petition signed by more than 50,000 people, and earned a pro-Lego cover story at Businessweek.

Finish reading the story here.

Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

In praise of the dude teaching at my son’s preschool

I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.

And this is what I saw: his teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.

Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher’s name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).

There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.

The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That’s ridiculous. It’s probably a function of youth as much as anything else.

However, most of the other teachers – even the young ones – do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.

We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it’s not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.

And this isn’t about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa baby sits him when we are home in California. He doesn’t need guys.

But it’s nice.

And it’s good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it’s important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.

This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:

 The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we’re boys or girls, we’re raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can’t be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that’s how we get our humanity? We’re deprived of our full humanity

This won’t change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change.  The report includes the best ever description I’ve read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles:

Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one’s biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).

Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn’t tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.

Nope, here men don’t become preschool teachers just because men don’t become preschool teachers.  But I’m sure glad the dude running my son’s class chose differently.

The top five regrets of the dying

This is from a book by an Australian nurse who spent years working with people in the last 12 weeks of their life.  I like to think my time in Daddyland means I will be less likely to have these regrets.  I’m sure I’ll have them, but I am really, really happy that I won’t say #2.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Monday links: Talking about a revolution or business as usual?

Back in the 1990s, while I lived in post-war Croatia, I was on the edges of a proto-environmental, social justice movement that first blossomed in the anti-globalization protests in 2000 and now with Occupy Wall Street.  I am far from that life now (well, not if you consider pushing paternity leave a radical politics), but am fascinated by the change in tone in the mainstream press since OWS.  What seemed unthinkable in the 1990s and especially during the credit boom, which I covered as a newspaper reporter outside NYC, is not commonplace – open talk of socialism and the radical failure of market captialism.

Really?  Sometimes it becomes so clear what a bubble we inhabit in Sweden – a bubble of the good kind.

Capitalism versus the climate: Naomi Klein goes to a conservative conference and confirms all their fears.  Yes, to save the world we will need to drastically reject everything they stand for.  We will need to restructure the way the world works.  And the climate must go before all else.  Our survival depends on it.

Is This the End of Market Democracy?: This is notable because it appears in the New York Times, though on the campaign blog, which suggests to me that it got smuggled in somehow.  A Columbia journalism professor examines all the very respectable and mainstream economic figures who argue we need a major change, that the current system is more or less doomed.  Jeffrey Sachs invokes the success of “northern Europe” and its social democracy as a model. It ends like this:  “At an undetermined point in the not too distant future, however, as the “gale of creative destruction” blows through the heartland, the debate will become inescapable.”

What Future for Occupy Wall Street?: A look in the New York Review of Books at where OWS has come and where it is going.  Bascially, the story is not uplifting.  Police intimidation is working.  The lack of concrete demands and the insistence on radical consensus makes the movement hard to build.  But you have to admire that the core group is about more than moderately changing the status quo, it is about a moral call for a new kind of society.  And with a huge chunk of Americans under 30 in favor of “socialism,” who knows where it will go?

Bill Clinton:  Someone We Can All Agree On:  And for the counterpoint, we have Bill Clinton, the ultimate believer in working the system to make it all work.  This is the standard view – and one that is very compelling.:  we have to focus on what is achievable, we have to look at what Obama actually got done, we have to find people real, concrete jobs, not worry about all this hippie stuff on the edges, that you have to be realistic about the American culture, that the country is center-right, and so on.  I get it, I really do, Bill.  But is that reality or just the 1990s calling?

Daddyland does not fade in February when Sweden gets sick

I finished my ”real” parental leave about 17 months ago now, which makes me melancholy to even express out loud. I still work part-time, and I take lots of parental leave days – all those long winter and summer breaks, all those long spring weekends up in the country – but I am far into the typical Swedish working parent path.

Note: this is the library, not our house

But it still pays off, those 18 months home with the kids.  They still echo through our daily life, and I hope they always will, even when the whole family gets sick for a week with a high fever then interminable ache and illness, like happened two weeks ago.  No, especially when the whole family gets sick for a week (or when your never-sick daughter gets four separate illnesses in a month – February is rough in Sweden).

It is wonderful as a dad to be able to stay home and care for two sick kids and a sick wife and still get my work done (I could get paid to stay home with the kids but I find the process so bureaucratic that I would rather work – plus I kept thinking that they would get better the next day … they didn’t.) It is wonderful that after the apartment descended into chaos for three days, that it actually got cleaner the last three days, as I turned back into the midday tidying machine. It is wonderful that my wife and I can share household burdens, that we can switch kids and switch doctor trips and switch swim class pickup.

In very basic ways, I still feel like I am on parental leave. My priorities are unaltered, and I spend as much time with my children each day as I do at work. Like always, I know this is the reality of American moms, and I know more and more American dads are staying at home.  But I am a working dad.  And I still feel like this.  And this still seems like the way forward into the digital age – with everyone home at least sometime instead of no one home anytime.

Monday links: French parents, the return of the Yellow Wiggle, the end of war and writing with children

Why French Parents Are Superior:  This is a Wall Street Journal story based on a book by Pamela Druckerman, an American mother who lives in Paris.  As of now, there are 571 comments on the WSJ story alone.  The essence is that the French raise better behaved, more respectful children than Americans.  She attributes this to more discipline and boundary setting.

Please.  I might buy this on face value except that she pushes the “cry it out” method with babies.  Huge red flag.  So that got me thinking, and I read the comments, and I realize that Swedish kids are also more respectful and better behaved than the imaginary, spoiled American kids she talks about.  And the Swedes co-sleep, stay at home with their kids longer, and value both mothers and fathers (umm, the French do not, well, not nearly as much).  So what’s the explanation then?  I have no idea.  A northern European conformity?  Just not being American?

Or maybe the book is just a good way to get the American chattering classes, well, chattering. Like with Tiger Mothers, and Wolf Fathers, and all that.

Writing with Children: A nice essay on one novelist – and mother – and her journey in her writing life as a new parent.  I happen to have the opposite experience of the author – having children opened up my writing life and forced me to focus (and I was home as much as many Moms) –  but that takes nothing away from it.

Welcome back, Yellow Wiggle: I sometimes ponder starting a blog about children’s TV shows: their mythic value, the songs, the pop references, the plot structure … the gossip.  And here is some good gossip.  The original Yellow Wiggle is back after years of absence due to illness.  It’s like Blue’s Clues going back to Steve, after Joe.  Except Steve would be old and bald.

I don’t know.  I don’t like it.  The new Yellow Wiggle, Sam, was just fine.  And do the Wiggles really have magic to rekindle?  What’s this about?  Are there money woes in Wiggle land?  Did Sam do something really, really awful to Henry the Octopus?

John Horgon on erasing war from the human condition: John Horgan just wrote a book called “The End of War,” and this is not the only book like this out there right now. This makes me happy. I used to work in post-war grassroots peace projects, and I always liked to think we could go this way as a species. It seems counterintuitive, what with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, drone assassinations, the militarization of American life, but a good argument is made by both Horgan and the author of the other book, Steven Pinker, that an ever-more-connected and democratic humanity has the potential to move past violence, and, in fact, is already doing so (even if the results of the remaining violence are streamed ever more directly right onto all our various screens).