Sam checking out the Push Around Buggy from Aunt Shawn for her birthday. I think she needs insurance to drive this thing.

Sam’s Story: Week 53

Ger and I have started watching this reality TV show called “Supernanny.” Each week the titular nanny shows up, crisp British accent in hand, to give succor to troubled parents. The first quarter of the program is devoted to what horrible little monsters the children are and how the parents have tried nothin’ and are all out of ideas. The next part has the parents using new skills to cope with this living hell. Then in the third quarter they utterly screw it up again, and in each episode’s finale they get it right. Weepy hugs all around and tune in next week for another spin!

The way I see it, the last three quarters of the show are filler. All anybody really cares about is how horrible the children are, what incompetent boobs the parents are, and how we are not them. Just like how we’re smugly aware that we are not that cracked-out, incoherent, deadbeat that they wrestled to the ground midway through every episode of “Cops.” I just want to see that even though Sam throws her soybeans on the ground and keeps trying to bitch slap the cat, at least she’s not cussing out her mother or trying to attack other children with hammers. Next to these folks, we’re the parents of the freaking millennium.

To capitalize on this, I’m going to pitch a new television show where all the parents do yell at their kids, throw empty beer can after empty beer can in their direction, and generally accuse them of mediocrity and failure. The kids, of course, will not be without blame. They’ll talk back, set things on fire, and sometimes assault the UPS man in scenes that look like “Dennis the Menace” meets “Apocalypse Now.” Nothing will ever get resolved, nobody will ever learn anything, and people will LOVE IT.

Sorry, I’m not really talking about Samantha, am I? Let’s see, as I mentioned, Sam turned one year old last week. On the night of her birthday we gave her a few more gifts, including an ulcer and the common cold from GiantMicrobes.com. Nana and Grandpa also kicked in The Jesusmobile, a talking frog, and cold hard cash while Aunt Shawn and Uncle Brent sent the Land Rover of baby toys and Ger’s parents sent her a nice start on a savings account. And then on Thursday her pediatrician gave her a belated gift in the form of a tuberculosis skin test, which seemed to be the only one she didn’t like. Also, there was more cake and both sets of grandparents called to sing her “Happy Birthday” over the speaker phone, which actually kind of freaked her out.

One thing I’ve noticed over the last week is that Sam has become increasingly vocal. She points at things constantly and says “DAT? DAT?” as if saying “OH MY GOD! WHAT IS THAT? THAT’S AWESOME!” When she’s not pointing, she’s babbling to herself or to her stuffed animals. This morning she even responded to a direct question by me. Question: What sound does the cat make? Answer: Rawer-rawer-rawer-rawer! Well, close enough.

And now, pictures:

It’s a good thing that we take so many pictures ourselves, by the way. I’ve mentioned before how fate seems to conspire against us every time we try to get Sam’s picture taken at the Wal-Mart Portrait Studio. But to be fair, our troubles may also be due to it’s being the Wal-Mart Portrait Studio. You can buy a 15,000-pack of napkins for forty-three cents, but apparently they don’t hire the best and brightest. The first time we went we got a few decent pictures of Sam, but the talented technicians exposed them to light during the development process, which I’m sure is probably covered under Rule #1 of film development: DO NOT EXPOSE TO LIGHT. But Ger got a coupon for a whole pack of photos for like $4, so we went back. This time we got half a dozen great shots of a happy, smiling, and increasingly photogenic Samantha before the employees discovered that the film was jammed and none of them took. So we waited fifteen minutes while Zippy the Wonder Employee futzed with it and the subsequent appointments piled up. Eventually we took a few more shots, but by this time Sam was getting pissed and hungry, so they didn’t turn out as well no matter how much I waved her Ulcer around and gibbered like a moron. So we paid for our $4 portraits with a $5 bill and left before we realized that the gal never even gave us our change! We could have bought 30,000 napkins with that! Ugh.

Go, Jesusmobile, go!

More of Sam with the WWJD Bug. She actually really likes this thing –more than the fancy pants talking frog that was in the gift box with it. Also, you can kind of see me in the background trying to put another one of her birthday gifts together.

We like you, but your brain has got to go

There’s an interesting article on Slate.com about magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and its growing non-medical uses. This is the technology that uses, I think, magnetic waves to create an image of brain activity. It’s used for a lot of stuff, but researchers love it because it lets them examine what the brain’s doing when subjects go through any number of tasks –doing math, reading, solving puzzles, etc.

Old news, but the article soon points out uncharted territory for MRI, including lie detection, evaluating the effectiveness of marketing (which I’ve mentioned before), and screening job applicants. To quote:

The most complex, fraught, and uncertain aspect of brain imaging being discussed by neuroethicists is the potential these technologies hold for screening job and school applicants. This so far remains more a hypothetical notion than a budding industry, and no company or school has announced plans to scan applicants. Yet many ethicists feel the temptation will be overwhelming. How to resist a screen that can gauge precisely the sorts of traits�persistence, extroversion, the ability to focus or multitask�that make good employees or students?

The legality of such use is unclear. The relevant federal laws, the American With Disabilities Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (which governs privacy of medical information), allow pre-employment medical tests only if they assess abilities relevant to a particular job. An employer couldn’t legally scan for depression or incipient Alzheimer’s. Yet it’s possible an employer could legally use a brain scan to test for traits relevant to a particular job�risk tolerance for a stock-trading job, for instance, or extroversion for a sales position. An additional attraction of brain scanning is that a tester can evaluate these and other traits while an applicant performs nonthreatening, apparently unrelated tasks�like matching labels to pictures. An unscrupulous employer could fashion such tests to covertly explore subjects that would be off-limits in an interview, such as susceptibility to depression, or cultural, sexual, and political preferences.

The last bit about using MRIs to determine political preferences or other taboo topics doesn’t worry me. Those aren’t just “off-limits in an interview.” Laws (at least here in the U.S. and many other places) forbid employment decision-making on the basis of that kind of stuff no matter how you obtain the information. (Though I admit the status of an MRI scan as a medical exam and thus falling under the purview of associated laws is likely to be a thorny issue.)

In fact, this kind of thing really appeals to me on some level. How cool would it be to have Johnny T. Applicant come into a room, see a bright light, then be told he’s perfect for the job? It’d be like a frickin’ religious experience!

This is mainly because I/O Psychologists like myself have always worked under the burden of imperfect measurement and anything that can give us the kind of precision seen in other sciences is automatically intriguing. Instead of asking someone to describe how they’ve dealt with stressful situations in the past, you just describe one to him or show him a video of one and watch what happens in his brain. You could probably eliminate (or at least reduce) lying and other biases by asking questions related to personality or values and then looking not for voluntary responses from their lips or pencils, but involuntary brain activity. Neat!

In the end, though, I don’t see this as a replacement for all of the tests we currently use. Psychological constructs are, by definition, groups of behaviors that reliably covary. Behaviors –specifically on the job behaviors– are what we’re ultimately interested in, and in many cases it seems like it would be easier and better to just measure them directly. An MRI isn’t going to tell you if someone understands the laws around business accounting or if he can lift a 50-pound box over his head. There are also many other relevant issues that an MRI couldn’t ever measure, like schedule availability, salary requirements, licensing, and specific job knowledge. Still, it is a fascinating application of a technology when it comes to getting at constructs that are difficult or impossible to reproduce in artificial environments –personality, values, judgment, and decision-making.

Jesus drives a Volkswagon

My mom threw in this little Volkswagon Bug with the other gifts she and my dad sent Sam for her 1st birthday. It says “Jesus Loves Me” on the doors and “WWJD?” (short for “What Would Jesus Do?”) on the top. Apparently if He were in Sam’s place, Jesus would crawl around on the floor, point at things, and say “Dat? Dat?” Then He would chew on the remote and look cute.

Happy 1st Birthday, Samantha Alyse Madigan

Dear Samantha,

Today you’re one year old. Congratulations! I thought I’d take this chance to look back on your road leading up to this milestone. I don’t think you can read this yet, but maybe someday you will and there are a number of people out there on the Internet who have been reading about you these last 12+ months (back when people actually used to read the Internet).

You are, I think, the best decision that your mother and I have ever made. We waited a while, but eventually decided that there would never be a perfect time and that we should make us one of those babies we kept hearing about. For a while, that was the most enjoyable part.

Your mom’s pregnancy was blessedly uneventful, with no serious complications and only the unavoidable discomforts like having her left foot swell while her right stayed the same. Thanks for that, by the way. The only ugly spot was when the foul-mouthed Ultrasound technician asked if she had given us “a picture of the baby’s twat”. Being the overeducated kind of obsessive people we are, we read a ton of books about what you were up to during these months. We learned the lingo, watched the videos, bought the products, and went to the classes. We rolled our eyes when other people didn’t know how long breast milk would keep in the freezer or how dilated your mom needed to be before getting an epidural. We even hired men with power tools to build you a place to live.

All that didn’t really prepare us when the day finally came. You were a week early, for one thing. I was sitting at the computer early one Saturday morning and looked up to see your Mom in the doorway. When she announced that her water had just broken, I kind of flipped out. But she was calm. We packed, made our way to the hospital, and got the news that we wouldn’t be going home until we were a whole family. That took a while, though, because you were reticent to join us outside the uterus. Your mother had to push for six straight hours before you’d had enough. It was like she was frickin’ Hercules, if Hercules was a sweaty woman giving birth. We think we narrowly avoided a c-section, but the doctor stuck this sucker thingie on your noggin and pulled you outa there.

When I met you, I was amazed and overcome with love.

The thing that really got to me was how human the look on your face was. I expected you to be a little blob, not quite a person yet. But you were wide-eyed, surprised and a little pissed off –with good reason! As I held you, you looked right in my eyes and yelled at me, as if to say “You there! What’s is going on here? Put me back at once!”

Sam, your first few days were a little rough, with a bout of jaundice and a little trouble with nursing. But your mom, hero that she was, stayed patient and kept at it. For a few days we had to feed you expressed breast milk through a syringe. But you go the hang of it and we all three learned as we went.

Grandma and Grandpa Sommer couldn’t wait to visit you, and we made it to Tulsa eventually so you could meet Nana and Grandpa Madigan. I think the only thread of sadness woven through your story so far is that you’re so far from the rest of your family, who live halfway across the country. Still, you got to visit most of them several times so far, and we were glad to have the help when we can get it. I think, though, that you’ve been easy on us. You were fussy initially and we developed a deep bag of tricks to calm you, but the long grind of sleepless nights that we initially braced ourselves for only lasted a few weeks. After we stopped committing the error of waking you up, you actually started sleeping through the night at eight weeks!

Getting you to nap during the day, however, was much more of a challenge. That took a lot more patience and a lot more letting you cry it out for a few minutes. Even then, you’d sometimes only sleep for 15 or 20 minutes. The result was that you were cranky early and often. Eventually, though, the work paid off and you were on a regular nap schedule –twice a day for an hour to an hour and a half each time.

In fact, a lot of our energy –yours, mine, and your mom’s– went into getting the basics down. Sleep was important, but you also had to learn how to eat, raise your head up, roll over, calm yourself down when you were upset, and poop. Oh, the poop. It’s amazing that such basic abilities have to be learned and developed, but we were totally into it, even the poop. We celebrated every milestone and cheered you along as you explored the world. And we’re not about to stop.

Now, Samantha, that’s not to say that there haven’t been a few inconveniences along the way. We’re Baby People now, and that means that we don’t see many movies in the theater and sometimes when we would try to go out to eat you’d throw a fit. Every conversation we have with adults eventually turns to babies, and our house has been decorated with safety gates, toys, and baby-related supplies. Somewhere along the way (I think around the time you started napping well), though, you developed a tolerance for our nonsense and started putting up with it. We could do things like take you up to L.A. for visit an amusement park or even fly with you to St. Louis and then drive to Tulsa. A lot of people have commented on how good-natured and mild-tempered you are, and we have to concur. Thank God and thank you.

Eventually we moved on to Life for Advanced Users and you tackled things like solid foods, rolling over, the unfortunate event with the baby sitter, sitting up on your own, cosplay, and even pulling up. Unfortunately you also decided to see what being sick was like, which once resulted in a very awful trip to the Emergency Room. Don’t worry, though. You survived.

This is starting to get kind of long, so I’ll wrap it up. Sam, when I think back on those first few months with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that it was largely about me. It kind of shames me to say that and I assure you that I loved you and would have died to keep you safe and happy, but in the beginning it was less about you and more about my instincts to be a good father. It was like you were a little game, with the objective being to keep you healthy, happy, and comfortable. Make sure you nursed, make sure you were clean, make sure you got enough sleep, make sure you weren’t ill, make sure you weren’t too warm, make sure you weren’t too cold, make sure you were safe. It was a game I played with all my heart, but I overlooked you as a person and focussed on you as a part of the system and sometimes just saw you as a squirming little game piece on the board of life.

That changed, though. As the weeks and months went by you got the hang of this life thing and I got to know you as a person. We started to gel. You started smiling at me when I came into the room and I started to miss you when I was away. Not the game or the sense of accomplishment that came with playing it well, but you. Lately when I come home from work you’ve been listening for the sound of the garage door and you’re usually at the kitchen gate waiting for me when I come in the door. You smile and maybe laugh, and I do the same. The couple of hours that I get to play with you each night are the best part of my week, eclipsed only by the additional time we get to spend together on the weekends.

Samantha, you have a great life ahead of you, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to hold your hand through this first year of it. You’ve changed me, challenged me, and won me over. You’re awesome.



Sam’s Story: Week 52

I was in a college fraternity, so I’ve seen some pretty chaotic parties. I saw a guy get thrown through a sliding glass door while another guy repeatedly leapt, naked, over a roaring bonfire until the smell of singed, Italian hair filled the air. Someone else went temporarily blind from drinking not too much alcohol, but too much milk. Another party had a group of guys use a pickup truck to rip the Mayor McCheese statue from the local McDonald’s playground, then drag it up to the frat house roof so they could dance with it. …And then fall off the roof to the bushes and have the Mayor land on top of them.

Crazy, but none of that compares to having a house full of toddlers in terms of sheer chaos.

Sam’s birthday isn’t officially for another couple of days, but we had a small party for her on Sunday, to which we invited a few couples with kids of their own. Ages ranged from just a few months to around three years. There were five children and seven adults in attendance. The kids were all well behaved, but I now know that even well-behaved children will, when grouped together, result in chaos and cacophony the likes of which will make you want to go goth. There were toys thrown, a cat molested, fits of chain-reaction crying, cake smeared, and skilled but desperate parents trying to entertain and moniter children while Mommy and Daddy tried to get a bite to eat of their own.

Towards the end of the night we pulled out the BIG GUNS in the form of a Baby Einstein DVD. That worked for a while, but one of the babies eventually saw a toy that was just like the one that she had back home, and we had a total meltdown on our hands. Sam got so messy during the festivities that –I kid you not– I held her over the sink and jiggled her so that little landslides of cake, carrot, and Jell-O tumbled off her.

It was great.

And like any good party, the guest of honor puked all over the place the morning after. Geralyn went in to get Sam this morning to find that the Birthday Girl had yarked all over her crib. Then she rolled around in it. Too much cake and Jell-O Jigglers, we think, and haven’t we all done the same once or twice? Fortunately, we think Sam had just done the deed, as the stuff was still warm and fragrant. Ger wouldn’t let me take pictures, though.

Outside of the birthday party, things have been fairly tame. We think Sam may be having some kind of allergy problems, as she’d had a runny nose, watery eyes, and cough but without any fever or sore throat. We had just introduced her to cow’s milk when it started, so we’re going to remove that from her diet to see if it’s a food allergy. Otherwise, it may just be from pollen or something else in the air, and air is is substantially harder to remove from her life.

Compounding this, however, is the emergence of Sam’s first tooth. I was sitting with her the other night playing “Beep!” which is a game where I tap her on the nose, say “Beep,” and she giggles. Just as my finger was going in for the beep, she lurched forward and bit it like an annoyed chihuahua. There was definitely tooth there, and upon further inspection I found a small white nub working its way up through her gums. So great. Let the teething begin. Bust out the Tylenol and let’s get crabby.

And now, a bunch of pictures:

You’ll notice that Sam’s favorite new toy is an orange, and we’re glad to let her play with it since we don’t actually eat the skin. She’s also quite infatuated with her new birthday outfit that her mommy bought. On the topic of clothes, though, we discovered that the Baby Clothes Superconglomorate refuses to make sleepers (you know, the one-piece outfits with built-in booties and easy, one-zip operation) for kids over 12-months old. Sam has outgrown most of her older sleepers, so the fact that we have to now buy two-piece pajama sets greatly annoys us. Who doesn’t like a nice, comfy, one-piece sleeper? Heck, I wish i had a Jamie-sized one after seeing how comfortable they are for Sam.

Oh, one last piece of housekeeping: I mentioned last week that I was considering doing away with the weekly updates after this one since Sam was turning one year old. But you guys seem to like them, so I’ll continue doing them. And it’s not really that much of a chore, since I enjoy doing it so much myself. So look for Sam’s Story, Vol. II starting next week.

Let her eat cake

We had a small birthday party for Sam yesterday. Per sacred tradition, we gave her her first piece of cake. She loved it, but was disappointingly neat in the way she ate it. It barely got in her hair at all. I love, however, the way she licked her lips when we set it in front of her here.

Advanced Reading

Sam has taken an interest in our book cases, and we’re doing our best to curb it even though they’re anchored to the wall. I’m thinking of taking the “smoke this whole pack of ciggarettes until you’re sick” approach by having her read all of my Wheel of Time books.

The Trial

All I remember about Franz Kafka is something about turning into a giant bug. I don’t think this is that book, unsless the bug is a lawyer, judging from the description below.

I’m not sure why this kind of dystopia world gone mad kind of thing appeals to me, but it does. It’s like horror or suspense stories on a macro scale.

From Amazon:

A terrifying psychological trip into the life of one Joseph K., an ordinary man who wakes up one day to find himself accused of a crime he did not commit, a crime whose nature is never revealed to him. Once arrested, he is released, but must report to court on a regular basis–an event that proves maddening, as nothing is ever resolved. As he grows more uncertain of his fate, his personal life–including work at a bank and his relations with his landlady and a young woman who lives next door–becomes increasingly unpredictable. As K. tries to gain control, he succeeds only in accelerating his own excruciating downward spiral.

Still hoping for the giant bug thing.

Cursive vs. freeform vs. typing: CAGE MATCH!

Back in graduate school I earned a few bucks on the side as an interviewer for the local phone megalopoly. I and two fellow grad students would gang up on people interviewing for Account Executive positions and take them through a structured panel interview. We all had to take extensive notes so that we could rate the candidate’s answers against a set of criteria, a task that required us to remember a fair amount of detail.

The note-taking was usually done by hand, but one day one of our trio brought in a laptop and used it to take notes. She was a fast typist, so in effect she ended up transcribing the candidate’s responses, word-for-word. When it came time to make our ratings, she showed us all of her copy and smiled smugly over the mounds of detail that she would have to work with in creating her ultra-hardcore scientific badass ratings.

The funny thing is, though, that I and the other guy who had taken notes longhand finished our ratings in a fraction of the time it took her. We were able to recall all the same information, like how the guy had killed his boss’s horse (in response to “Tell me about a time when you were in a stressful situation at work”) or dealt with conflict by threatening to urinate on everyone in a meeting (in response to “Tell me about a time when you had to manage conflict with other team members”), and we were able to do it off the top of our heads or just by using our hastily scribbled notes (“conflict resolution –> pee-pee, totally insane”). Apparently the gal with the laptop had been so intent on getting down every word that she hadn’t listened to any of them.

This story came to mind when I read this story on CollissionDetection.net. The article is about the decline of proper handwriting and cursive writing in school curriculums, but it also references some research that shows that the more one has to concentrate on the mechanics of writing, the slower he or she goes and the greater the number of errors. Basically, doing the unfamiliar task eats up brain power. I could see extending this reasoning to dictation and including recall as an outcome.

Some folks are bemoaning the loss of cursive handwriting and pointing to this as a reason to make it a bigger part of the public education curriculum. When I write something by hand I usually print in all caps, and I can do it pretty quickly. In fact, I haven’t written in cursive in YEARS. I tried to do it just now, and it was a mess. It looks like a retarded monkey had a seizure while holding a pen in its mouth. Still, I don’t have any trouble doing printing quickly, and my job still sometimes requires quickly taking copious amounts of notes.

Obviously handwriting should be taught, but I think we should supplement it with note-taking skills that break out of linear prose, like mind mapping, bulleting, shorthand, or even techniques used by professional stenographers. This strikes me as much more useful if the goal is to write quickly, as it almost always is when writing long hand these days. Anything where presentation matters is going to be typed.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before teachers turn to their students and tell them to text-message their papers to the front of the class’s wireless server.

The Pearl

I think this book is about a pearl. Or robots. But not both.

It’s another endeavor to break out of the sci-fi/horror/fantasy rut that my reading has fallen into. The Pearl strikes me as one of those books that everyone was forced to read in high school, except that I wasn’t. I think we read The Grapes of Wrath instead, because we were all Oakies. I’ve heard good things about it in the past, though, and there seem to be plenty of online study guides/references for it. I always enjoy consulting that kind of stuff when I’m done with a book just to see what I may have missed.

From Amazon:

Kino, a poor Mexican pearl fisher, finds a valuable pearl. Yet instead of bringing blessings, the pearl acts as a harbinger of misfortune to Kino and his wife, Juana. Ultimately, it is returned from whence it came. Steinbeck’s parable, originally published in 1947, is a well-written retelling of an old Mexican folktale.

Hrm. Including Tuck Everlasting, this makes two books in a row about how something that seems at first to be a great boon can turn out to be a terrible curse.

Let me OUT!

I took this picture after coming in to get Sam up from her afternoon nap. You can’t see it in this pic, but she has developed this habit of throwing all her stuffed animals out of the crib when she’s ready to get up. It’s almost as if she’s saying “Go for help, Lassie! Tell them I’m trapped!”

Horsey, horsey!

We’ve discovered that Sam loves it when you play “horsey” with her, as Ger is doing here. Unfortunately my legs aren’t quite long enough for this game, so that I just sort of end up wiggling Sam back and forth a bit when we try and play.