Mental Pivot

Notes and observations from a lifelong pursuit of learning.

 
Insights and interesting reads delivered straight to your inbox.
Sign up for the free Mental Pivot Newsletter.

Newsletter #34: Fleeting Moments and Watching the Kids Grow Up

It's 2008, and I'm sitting in my grandmother's living room trying to enjoy a conversation with her as six young children—a mix of my kids and their cousins—scurry about amidst a raucous game of hide-and-seek.

I'm annoyed by the noise and constant interruptions. My grandmother isn't; she's enjoying the moment. She smiles and maintains an even tempo with her rocking chair. She's in the twilight of life, but her face remains youthful, in part, because of her ever sunny disposition.

“Enjoy this dearie,” she tells me. “These are precious times. It all goes by so quickly. They'll be grown up before you know it.”

I nod in agreement, but fail to appreciate the point. It's a refrain that, as a young parent, I hear over and over from others. “They grow up so fast!” everyone informs me. No they don't, I think. Not so long as I can't get a decent night's sleep, not so long as they're high maintenance, clingy, and overly dependent on me.

I assume much of the "growing up" will come in some far off future date. I imagine it will be defined by a big milestone like getting a driver's license, going to prom, getting a summer job, or graduating from high school.

I was mistaken.


It's a warm spring afternoon in 2011, and I'm picking up my daughter from school. She is in 3rd grade. Her school is near San Francisco's Civic Center in a six-story building on a busy urban block. I approach the pickup location amid the buzz of passing cars, pedestrians, crossing guards, and children eager to return home.

As usual, I see my daughter waiting at the designated pickup spot with her friends and teachers.

“Little bear!” I exclaim as we make eye contact. My daughter grimaces. Reflexively, I take her hand and we set off toward the nearby subway station.

Halfway down the block, she pulls away, stops walking, and faces me. She has a serious look.

“Dad?” she says, tentatively. “Can we not hold hands?”

She glances back over her shoulder to where her friends are as if to reinforce the point.

“Oh,” I respond, her meaning slowly dawning on me.

“I mean not anymore when you pick me up from school,” she says to make things crystal clear.

“Yeah, sure. No problem.”

“Also,” she continues and then pauses, considering how best to communicate her next thought. “Could you not call me 'little bear' anymore?”

A small piece of my heart must have visibly broken in that moment. I expected as much come adolescence, but—perhaps naively—not so soon. Not now.

Perhaps my shoulders slump or my face belies my bewilderment. My daughter, ever perceptive, reads me well and offers a balm.

“But,” she adds, “you can still call me that at home, okay? Just…not out here.” She proffers a smile which all but settles the matter.

“Okay,” I say as we start walking again, still side by side, but slightly farther apart than before.


This morning I walk my youngest into school. He's in the 3rd grade; the same age as his sister when she gave me "the talk." The air is cool and my hand sits warmly in my jacket pocket. My son reaches out and finds my hand with his. I pull away initially, but then I remember my grandmother's admonition; I immediately take his hand and we round the final corner to the school entrance. I give him a squeeze and he double-squeezes me back.

I know these moments will end in the not-too-distant future. Kids grow up quickly, after all. I've slowly come to appreciate this fact. As for today though, it's enough to enjoy this fleeting moment for as long as it lasts.

Now onto this week's recommendations…


Articles:

  • Before You Answer, Consider the Opposite Possibility: Embrace a diversity of ideas and opinions to generate better thinking.
  • The Best Note-Taking Method Is the One You Have with You: "If in your method of choice there is anything creating friction between you and this basic act, then I strongly recommend you try reducing it and seeing what happens."
  • The Five Types of Legal Argument: Excellent overview of Wilson Huhn's framework for the lay-person. The five types: 1) Argument from text, 2) Intent and purpose-based arguments, 3) Precedential arguments, 4) Tradition and custom-based arguments, 5) Policy-based arguments.
  • How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life: A look at the innovations that have doubled the average life span: vaccination, pasteurization, antibiotics, chlorination, and oral rehydration therapy (O.R.T.)
  • Most Innovation Never Happens: Chris Butler considers an idea he calls a "progress jam." It's an idea analogous to a traffic jam whereby interesting and sometimes superior technologies get clogged in a slow-moving system of consumers and suppliers and ultimately "lose out" in the progression of innovation.
  • On the Link between Great Thinking and Obsessive Walking: Does walking change our brains and positively impact our creativity and memory?
  • Two Simple Ways to Stand out as a Writer: Two strategies for distinguishing yourself: 1) "The Sega approach" in which you position yourself as a contrarian brand and 2) "The mix-and-match approach" whereby you create a unique combination of elements (e.g., Tim Urban's popular "Wait But Why" blog combines stick figures with in-depth explainers).

Podcasts


Odds & Ends:

  • Bartosz Ciechanowski's incredible visualization of the Internal Combustion Engine is a tour-de-force of visual and interactive explainers. Using a sequence of informative graphics, Cienchanowski walks interested readers through the ins and outs of one of the most transformative inventions of modern times. Many of the visuals are three-dimensional animated objects that can be rotated and viewed frame-by-frame.
  • The Programmer's Brain is a forthcoming book by Fielienne Hermans from Manning Publications that explores cognitive strategies for becoming a better programmer. The book is not yet published, but much of it can be read online for free as part of the publisher's early access program (aka MEAP). There's interesting material on memory, reading, and learning. Note, to access the text you may need to use the "liveview preview" and register to obtain additional time-metered access.
  • Despite being a hands-off, long-term buy-and-hold investor, I check FinViz's Market Maps periodically to get a quick overview on what's shaking in the stock market.

If you'd like to receive this newsletter directly in your email inbox, visit this link to subscribe. I publish new issues each Friday.



Get weekly email updates and additional content: Sign up for the free Mental Pivot Newsletter.