Archives for category: Systems

We don’t watch a lot of TV.  That blows my mind because I grew up on television:  The old-fashioned analog broadcast kind.

Someone passed a law that made that kind of broadcast illegal.  All the stations upgraded to some crazy digital broadcast that packs much more information into the signal.  What that means for us is that all our televisions could pick up for six months after the switch was commercials for HDTV receivers.  Now all we get is static.

Suits us; TV rots your brain.  More importantly, TV rots kids’ brains.  We want to foster education and creativity, not passive absorption of amusement.

Brain rot aside, we do resort to video tapes and DVDs when the kids wake up at 6:15 on the weekends.  We also reward good behavior with movie nights.

Five years ago we received a DVD in the mail.  A promotional sample of children’s programs available on cable channels like TLC and Discovery Kids, it’s intended to compel us to purchase a cable subscription.  Instead, we just watch the sample DVD over and over again.

It’s good to see what quality of children’s shows are out there.  Some of them I would like to see one or two more episodes:

  • Peep and the Big Wide World, narrated by Joan Cusack
  • Hi-5 the only live-action show on this cartoon sampler whose energetic hosts encourage kids to get up and move around instead of lounging like slugs.  The American cast is as racially diverse as possible.  That comes in handy when your family is racially diverse.

Other shows get the fast-forward treatment.  I want to scratch them off the DVD.  I would recommend them only to lobotomy patients and scientists experimenting with making sea-monkeys dumber.  Top of this list is a show about ghetto-jive-talking slow-moving (-thinking?) mildly-obese superheros called Save-Ums!.

I used to think Barney was bad but worse things exist.  Some relative introduced a Teletubbies video to our house.  I keep hiding it.  The Wiggles, I hear-tell, accomplish a new level of inane, brain-rotting condescension aimed at our youngest and most vulnerable.

Whatever happened to Mr. RogersSesame StreetMr. WizardThunderCatsTour of Duty?  That’s what my friends and siblings grew smart on.

(I still credit Terminator 2 to my most important developmental influence.  The network broadcast version had no profanity and amazingly subdued violence yet still left me with a lifelong paranoia and urgency.)


PS.  I originally thought a law was to blame for switching from analog to digital broadcasts in the United States.  The actual story is much more bizarre and involves the FCC setting a deadline for conversion only to be thwarted by an act of congress delaying the transition until more TV-dependent Americans could prepare.  Further absurdities ensue, including $650 million of recession recovery money devoted to getting digital TV transition assistance coupons into the hands of impoverished TV junkies throughout our great land.  With so many health and community benefits, nonstop access to television has become a basic human right.


PPS.  Proper way to cite a television program?  Italics, per MLA convention of treating episodes in quotation marks like articles or papers and the entire show as a larger work like a book or journal.  Agreed?

Christa is sitting in the hallway in front of the dryer, her lap covered in clothing.  She’s at that Mommy Zombie phase.  The rest of us are staying downstairs.  Despite best efforts, a purple crayon made it into this load of laundry.

Here’s the gag:  We don’t usually check the laundry for foreign objects (there’s just too much to check) but this time we did.  Christa caught a few crayons as the clothes were coming out of the washing machine so she shook out every single article of clothing to make sure and avoid any waxy stowaway in the dryer.

My first suggestion, of course:  “We need better systems.  We should check every pocket and fold before they go in the washing machine.  Get the kids to help.”

That didn’t go over very well.  For one thing, we do at least one load of laundry every day.  Washed, dried, folded and (usually) put away.  That’s a lot.  Imagine checking every pocket, every tiny little kid pocket in five sizes.  Sometimes  events overtake the daily laundry hours.  Sometimes a kid discovers the towers of neatly folded garments before they make it into their drawers and closets.  Sometimes, well, sometimes crayons happen.

I remember the first time I read the E-Myth.  Michael Gerber describes a systematic approach to business.  Instead of one person working as hard as they can to carry a business on their shoulders like Atlas, he proposes inventing repeatable systems that will run the business for you.  With those systems in place (and a clear way to fix or improve them), the workers follow their manual for most situations instead of re-inventing the process as they go.  You can employ hard workers with minimal experience because the expertise lives in the systems.

Doesn’t that sound like it could benefit the household?  Instead of firing up your creative problem solving skills for every task and chore, establish repeatable habits and rituals.  You don’t need a PhD in Home Economics to perform this job, just follow the systems.  You don’t even need an elementary school education — involve your preschoolers in this process!

When things go wrong, those purple crayon moments, the blame does not rest on a person but on the system.  Sure, the systems depend on people performing their jobs well — following all the steps — but even if someone does not or cannot follow the system, the system can always improve:  More clear, more simple, timed better.  That way no one gets bogged down blaming each other for failing.

Instead of disasters crushing our souls, they show us which system needs fixing (not which person).  The more disasters, the better.  Fail early, fail often.

Running a home is no small task.  Just to get the kids fed and clothed and distracted (then repeat) takes up the whole day.  Top it all off with a husband who comes home (or stays home) with his Systems Engineering background to tell you all about how your systems failed you.  I guess it’s not much comfort that he’s blaming your systems instead of you.

Sometimes a crayon just sneaks in.

(Today’s episode brought to you by the following systems:  The laundry system, the laundry-pocket-checking subsytem, the baked-in-crayon recovery system, the human resources system (mini-persons division) and the spouse support system.)

Noise and hullabaloo rule the daylight hours at our house.

After a long day of wrestling toddlers, arguing with 3-year-olds and trying to feed a 5-year-old’s curiosity, it’s tempting to take advantage of the quiet that only awakens when the children sleep.

As the children grow, naptime becomes more optional.  Lana can usually take it or leave it.  Late night before?  Maybe she will nap.  Well rested?  Forget it.  She has more interesting activities in mind, mostly in the worlds she reveals with crayons.

Whether she naps or not, naptime happens.  Everyone in bed.  Lights dim.  You can read if you can do it quietly without giving up to sleep.  Noise and antics are rewarded with a graduated series of consequences.  They conceded that battleground years ago.

For Christa, naptime is the first time she can hear her own thoughts.  The temptation is great to reverse-tornado the house, gathering up scattered toys, debris and rubbish.  Or else make a few phone calls, answer a few emails and try to attend a few bills.  But she knows better.  This is her last chance at a refresh for hours, a single rest stop in a long, dry marathon.

In the evening, the process goes into high-gear, demanding even more attention and a full-time effort (plus supercomputer multitasking skills and five arms).  At least a two-hour sprint:

  • prepare dinner
  • eat it together without resorting to barbaric growls and slurps
  • wash little hands and faces
  • restore the kitchen and dining table
  • supervise waves of bathroom visits
  • an optional mass bathing ritual
  • drive-by teeth brushings
  • pajamafication
  • douse the increasing summer-ish late daylight with blackout curtains
  • read a story to settle the mood
  • pennies rewarded for chores
  • quick prayer and death threats
  • and then silence, at last

After that we’re both ready for our own blackout: the fully clothed, sleep-where-you-fall kind.

Something compels us to stay awake, to accomplish more with the day after they are down.  By 7:30 PM, it’s easy to look back and wonder if we got anything done besides a lot of nose-wiping and one or two horrible diaper refreshes.  But if we don’t set a limit — an hour or two past the children’s bedtime — we’re doomed.