Parenthood vs. employeedom

Birds were chirping, sun was shining. and the dog was asleep at my feet. I was approving contracts, serving customers, troubleshooting a new product feature and running reports. I was a mutli-tasking Grand Master yesterday. Nothing was getting in my way.

Except that I forgot to pick up my son at camp.

You would think that more than a month into the summer routine, I’d have this work-from-home/parent-as-chauffeur hybrid role down to a science. In prior weeks, I had set specific appointments in my work calendar, blocking out a half-hour window on the days that my wife works away from home so that I would not schedule anything to conflict with our youngest son’s camp pickup needs. I even set 5-minute popup reminders, so if I were distracted by a spreadsheet or a phone call, I still could not fail.

It was a system that worked to perfection for street hockey camp three weeks ago, soccer camp two weeks ago and basketball camp last week.

But the system only works when you employ it. For whatever reason, I did not set the appointments this week for baseball camp.

While yesterday was an especially productive and efficient Monday morning at the home office (boss is on vacation, so no conference calls to disrupt the rhythm), I failed at being Dad, my most important job. What’s worse is I did not even realize until I was already 20 minutes late.

The phone rang, and I did not recognize the number on the caller ID. I figured it was a customer service call. I answered in my most professional voice.

“Mr. Polay?” the caller asked

“Yes?”

“I’m calling from the Bourne Braves camp….”

O. M. G. Red alert! Red alert! Commence blathering!

“I am so sorry….”

In the end, my bacon was saved by a mom who was headed our way from the camp and was happy to drop our son off at the house en route. Still, my Father of the Year nomination is likely being shelved.

It is the blessing and the curse of working from home. You try hard to be a good employee. You try even harder to be a good father. Sometimes, though, you fail at one or the other — or both.

Today is a new day, and a fresh chance to redeem myself. I’ll start with putting the camp appointments on my calendar.

Conversations I have in my office that you don’t

Image

“Dad, we need some duct tape.”

“Why?”

“We’re making a spear.”

“Okaaaaaaaay,” I say warily. I fork over a roll of bright red duct tape while also eying the reed in Benjamin’s hand.

He walks out of the office, and I overhear him discussing next steps with his friend.

“We need some scissors.”

“I’ve got scissors,” I offer.

“Geez, Dad, you have everything.”

Indeed.

I hand over the scissors with this piece of advice: “Better take that project outside.”

As the screen door shuts I voice the next item on my mental checklist: “And don’t run with the scissors.”

Pause. That was a layup. Next item: “And don’t throw the spear at each other.”

“We won’t!” Benjamin and his friend answer in unison.

Pause. Next item: “Or the dog!”

At this point, I’ve crossed a line. Benjamin is indignant.

“Of course we won’t do that!”

Silly me.

Moments later, Benjamin returns. “Where’s the measuring tape?”

The good news? They are not on the Wii or other electronic devices. They are being creative, demonstrating their position atop the food chain by utilizing basic tools, opposable thumbs and problem solving.

They are also directly outside my office window, and there’s at least a half dozen unvoiced warnings on the tip of my tongue. I am keeping them to myself… for now. I am enjoying this reality program too much to spoil it with my influence.

Getting stuff done

Just another day at the home office:

Thanks to Julia for calling this video to my attention. Resemblance to some of my days at the home office is purely coincidental — and for the official record, infrequent.

Yes, there has been a blogging drought over here at Commuter Daddy HQ. It’s not for lack of commuting, though. The travel and work calendar is as full as it has ever been, but so is the school schedule as I finally wrap up my bachelor’s degree some 22 years after starting on that path. Throw in this summer’s Little League all-star coaching schedule, plus trying to stick to some semblance of a cycling schedule, and well, blogging (none since May) and golfing (once in 2011) have been duking it out for my attention amid a serious bandwidth shortage.

Things should ease up in a couple of weeks. Just in time for the fall soccer schedule to kick in….

In the interest of getting things done, however, I have briefly interrupted my involuntary blogging hiatus to implement Blogger’s mobile-friendly rendering. So now you can get Commuter Daddy on the go. No separate URL is necessary. Make sense, right? You may soon wonder how you ever lived without it on your smart phone.

So long as I pick up the blogging pace.

Favorite commuter tunes of 2010

From time to time on my Twitter feed, you’ll see Commuter Tunes posted. They’re songs that I’ve marked as “Loved” via last.fm while I am listening to music at the home office. Usually they are helping me type faster, or at the very least have me bobbing my head or tapping my toes while crunching numbers.

Whatever works, right?

In addition to the songs listed there, I had many other favorites that I discovered in 2010. My friends and I annually swap lists of our favorites, giving everyone an opportunity to discover new music and in some cases find some songs on which to spend iTunes or Amazon gift cards.

I’ve published my list of 2010 Favorites on Ping. Here’s a few stragglers, too, that can only be found (still for free) on Amazon for the moment

Please join in the sharing. The only criteria is that the song was added to your library in 2010. What were your favorite songs of those you discovered last year?

    Who needs a gym when you have a fitness-equipped home office?

    The heavy breathing you hear on the other end of the phone during your next conference call might be for a perfectly legitimate activity. It could be the result of your colleague multitasking and sneaking in a workout while you walk through that Powerpoint.

    Enter GymyGym, discovered this week via Thrillist. It bills itself as the “future of seating technology,” by correctly positioning the body during our 8- to 12-hour days and providing workout options for when the mood strikes.

    The videos tell the story better than I can, especially given that I have not yet taken it for a test sit:

    http://www.gymygym.com/plugins/content/jw_allvideos/includes/players/mediaplayer/player.swf

    The chair in the Commuter Daddy HQ home office is starting to look worn out, thanks in large part to the many hours my butt has been parked in it over the last 18 months during a major project at work. So I’ve been eying replacements lately, including office chairs at the hotels I have stayed at recently (the chairs at the Hilton Back Bay are among the favorites). You know when you are in the market for a new car and you start paying more attention to the vehicles of fellow road warriors for ideas? Yes, it’s just like that when you are in the market for a new desk chair, too.

    The GymyGym just might do the trick. I just joined Planet Fitness so I can be more active when I am on the road and the weather and/or the shorter winter days are not conducive to my riding preference. This chair would help me be more active when working from home.

    The bungee cords might be overkill, though. Paige Waehner from About.com recommends a regular chair and a water bottle for most desk-bound exercise. Another About.com writer, Wendy Bumgardner, suggests using an exercise ball as the office chair. Livestrong.com also recommends some abdominal exercises that can be done somewhat discreetly at the desk, regardless of seating

    Another option is the FitDesk, an exercise bike on which you can mount a laptop of tablet device. It comes in at less than half the price of the GymyGym. I like the FitDesk Professional option, which is essentially a bench-like contraption for a road bike’s handlebars, though a cycling trainer would be needed too. Don’t feel like working while working out? The FitDesk video shows it can easily serve as a video gaming seat too.

    I could also build something myself in the meantime. I recently worked with a friend to build some PVC soccer goals for our backyards. Maybe I can build a FitDesk Pro knockoff for myself, though adding in shock absorbers for the shaking laptop might be beyond my handyman experience.

    Clearly I have some more research to do.

    Appointment etiquette is dead

    The phone rings at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, and the caller ID identifies the incoming salvo as “Keyspan Energy.” The good news is at least you now have some idea what this call will be about, unlike the pre-election political phone bank calls that come in daily from “800 Service.”

    A very pleasant, heavily accented and pre-recorded voice invites me to please hold, because Keyspan Energy wants to set an appointment with me to change my gas meter.

    My mood immediately sours. Didn’t you call me? You called me to put me on hold? In fact, you didn’t even ask if you could put me on hold. You started me on hold.

    Worse is the message repeats three times. You call me, start me on hold, and keep me on hold for an extended period? Why not call me later?

    Finally, there is a pause in the recording. A person! A real live person is speaking to me! Except that this person’s voice, while not heavily accented, is slightly muffled, as if the operator is cupping a hand over her mouth and blocking the headset mic from picking up her voice directly. Or maybe she was eating a sandwich, and hadn’t quite finished before taking me off hold. Hard to tell.

    After I verify my name and address (again, you called me… didn’t you know who you were calling?), the operator informs me for now the fourth time that they are calling to set an appointment to change my gas meter. I ask what the impact will be.

    “You’ll get a new gas meter.”

    So this is how it’s going to go?  You call me, start me on hold, keep me on hold for an extended period, the end result of which is THIS battle of wits with a muffled voice on the other end of the line? Color me steamed and flummoxed.

    “Right, I get that, but will they be shutting off the gas? I want to know how long….?”

    She interrupts me, thinking she has intercepted my entire question. “Oh, yes, they will have to shut off the gas.”

    “For how long?” I ask.

    “For as long as the appointment lasts,” she says.

    I can’t believe I am having this conversation.

    “OK. How long is the appointment?”

    “Oh, 30 to 45 minutes,” she says.

    “OK, I guess that will work.”

    She pauses a moment. “How’s Nov. 15? We’ll need a 6-hour window.”

    I dare not retort at this point. The woman is doing her job. I can’t get angry with her for that. But I am fuming at her employer. A 6-hour window for a maximum 45-minute appointment? I’m certain this very same rant has been written elsewhere, so let me add to the echo: Can you imagine if the rest of the world set appointments like the utility companies?

    OK, let’s set the Webex up for between 8 and 12. It’ll just be a half hour presentation, but we could show up online and on the teleconferencing bridge anytime in that four hour window. Will that be OK?

    As if…. I continue to play this silly game, because, really, what choice do I have?

    “What day is Nov. 15?”

    “A Monday.”

    “That won’t work. Make it a Friday. We’re more likely to have somebody home on a Friday.”

    “OK,” she says, before adding another pause to our scintillating conversation.

    “How’s Nov. 19, between either 8 and 1 or…”

    “Yes, I’ll take take. First thing would be great.”

    As if….

    So anyone needing to reach me between 8 and 1 on Nov. 19 should find me to be a pretty captive audience. I’ll be waiting for Keyspan to arrive, praying they meant 8 when really it will be closer to 2 p.m., because that in fact is the end of the 6-hour window the operator first indicated. To think it will instead be a 5-hour window is just false hope.

    Maybe I’ll kill time that day with a conference call sometime between 10 and 2.

    Age is all about perception

    Mason slides in for a landing.

    It’s funny the sense we have of ourselves versus how others perceive us. This is especially true when it comes to age.

    I was picking up Mason at baseball camp yesterday, the finale of the second week of the Cape Cod Baseball Club‘s Sandlot Camp. The last day of the camp is reserved for sliding practice, which like many things has become a lot more advanced than when I was at baseball camp nearly 30 years ago.

    Back when I was attending the Mike Andrews & Jerry Moses Youth Baseball Camp, sliding practice consisted of hosing down a section of field to a quagmire state, and then letting everyone slide into the muck, mud-bowl style. A great time was had by all, though you were better off just throwing out your baseball pants at the end of it. No amount of extra-strength detergent was ever getting those pants looking clean again, unless they were a dark color.

    For the modern version, though, there were two tarps, lots of soap and a hose, turning a section of the field into a giant Slip ‘N Slide. Fun and a bath! Laundry baskets everywhere were singing the praises of this advance in sliding practice technology.

    When I arrived to pick up Mason, the sliding was just getting started. I set myself up next to the tarps to take a few pictures and videos of Mason with the Blackberry, and got to watch the various approaches. It was clear that the head-first dive got the best results, so long as the slider kept his or her mouth closed.

    Right after Mason finished his second slide, one of the coaches shouted, “Sean, you going to take a turn?”

    “Sure, why not!” I desperately needed a mid-afternoon Friday stress reliever. No better time than the present, I figured.

    “This is going to be funny,” Mason said. “Give me the camera.” I showed him which button to press to take a picture, shed my wallet, keys and other pocket contents, and got in line with the rest of the campers, many of whom were giving me a raised eyebrow.

    When my turn came, I took off in a full sprint. I was immediately time-transported back to my baseball days, grinning ear-to-ear, when from behind me I heard a tiny voice shout.

    “Hey, look, the old guy is going!”

    I had to laugh, but while in full stride, I was thinking, “Who you calling old, whippersnapper!?”

    When I reached the landing strip, I gave the dive my best effort, remembering to keep my mouth closed. Observers later said it was more belly flop than dive, but it didn’t feel that way while doing it. It felt graceful and powerful — and wet.

    Mason’s photo of me nearing the end of my slide, with a face full of soap.

    I kept the festivities to one slide. I need the backside to stay dry for the ride back to the home office. For a moment, though, I felt young and stress-free, no matter what the kids were thinking or shouting.