Sunday, March 7, 2010

Architect of My Own Long Sighs





In my childhood, I spent a lot of time with Mike Brady. As you know if you were born before the mid-70s and are not a Communist, Mr. Brady was not only the patriarch of a blended family with six kids, a housekeeper, and a dog, he was also a successful architect. I can tell he was successful because he:
  • Had a nice house (some sort of split-level with vaulted ceilings, a sizable attic, and maid's quarters) in Santa Monica, CA.
  • Employed a plucky maid to live in those quarters
  • Retained a family butcher
  • Took the whole family on extended vacations to places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii.
The Bradys didn't have a boat but they did have a station wagon and Mr. Brady's boss invited them on his "broken-down barnacled barge" at least once. His boss showed up occasionally but didn't seem to give Mr. Brady much trouble. In fact he allowed Mr. Brady to work at home quite a bit.

When I was studying the dynamics of blended families in grad school, the Brady family served as a reference of sorts. They didn't offer much insight into blended family issues since they seemed to have none of those issues themselves, but for many of us the Bradys were the first blended family we knew.

I don't expect college professors probably refer to the Brady family much any more. Too many of the students were born too late. Or they are Communists. Either way, I think that Mike Brady can still serve as a role model to those of us who knew him and try regularly to succeed at another difficult task: Working at home with kids.

I work from home quite a bit, not just for my regular job but also for various projects I have going on at any given time. The programming work I do is, much like architecture, abstract and complex. I have to find solutions to problems and then keep those solutions in my head while I "build" them with code. Doing this job when the house is full of kids is much like one of the experiments we would conduct in a Cognitive Psychology class. A subject might be asked to read aloud while also attending to what someone else is reading. Or he may be asked to complete a maze while being asked to spell common words. We learned how different tasks interfere with each other, and how people will fail comically at basic tasks when distracted by an unrelated stimulus. We also learned that you can get an undergraduate student to do just about anything. Seriously, they're like reality show contestants.

Here in the Orwig psychology lab, if interrupted in the middle of coding the only safe way to proceed is to start again at the beginning. If I write a hundred lines of code with interruptions every five lines, there is zero chance those 100 lines are going to work together without errors. So I have to go back to the beginning to review, hoping I can get in a couple of new lines before the next interruption. Pretty soon, just the anticipation of the next interruption is itself distracting. I can FEEL the kids coming up behind me or getting ready to ask a question or hit each other with something. Eventually I give up.

I do get occasional breaks, of course. Harrison goes to school, and the twins still take a nap every afternoon (which will continue until they are 18 if I have to strap them down to their big-kid beds). Sarah helps, too, taking the kids upstairs to yell at them most evenings and taking them out on weekends so they can fight in the car and the grocery store instead of here.

Writing, by the way, is another task that is difficult in a house full of kids. As I attempt to write this, Harrison is talking to me frequently about movies he wants to see, occasionally asking me to add movies to our Netflix Queue, and, yes, asking me how to spell things. I only switched to writing after I tried programming, let out a long sigh (in lieu of a frustrated scream) and decided to drop it until the kids are in bed. When I'm interrupted in mid-sentence, though, my subjects don't agree with my predicates and I end up with a jumbled mess that I'll have to fix later. So I'm getting close to another long sigh of defeat that will precede me giving up and moving to the other room to watch a movie.

It isn't lost on me, of course, that this frustration is entirely my fault (well, Sarah played a part too, and some other people, but that's another story). I went into parenting with my eyes wide open. I worked with kids for enough years to know that they don't sit quietly for very long and they do need things like love and food and spelling help and DVD rentals of bad movies that EVERYONE has seen except for poor Harrison.

So I've been thinking about Mike Brady, the first father I knew who worked at home in a house full of kids. How was he so successful? He didn't let out frustrated screams or long sighs when someone would barge in with a broken nose or stories of UFOs in the back yard. I remember the kids visiting Mr. Brady in his office, and he would turn to listen to them and give them thoughtful advice in measured, cheerful tones. His daughter actually nominated him for Father of the Year and he still managed to get enough architecting done to pay for the maid and Marcia's braces. What was his secret?

Maybe I should go watch the Brady Bunch and try to figure it out. Now seems like a good time.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Harrison just saw the picture of Mike Brady and asked, "is that Dad?" And by the way, I don't yell at the kids...I'm just "coaching" them.