Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 Jan 2008, 8:16 a.m.

Christmas Visit

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2008 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I've had a great month: Best-of-NorCal visit, negotiating and accepting an offer for a new job, quality time with Leonard and New York and New Haven friends, and beginning to mentor a few students in the first and second semester of the tech management master's program. But the honorary start to Awesome January must be the great Christmas trip we took to Salt Lake City to see Maggie, John, and Susie. I learned a lot.

Leonard's family tends to give gifts to charity for me for Christmas, which is per my wishes. Then I get a bunch of great gifts in addition, especially in the stocking. I'm still figuring all this out. The coolest gifts I gave this Christmas were DVDs of Project Gutenberg best-of collections -- burned by Leonard, decorated by me.

Selected gifts: We got a lot of candy. Susie and John gave to a humanitarian relief fund in my name. Leonard gave me neat slippers and a book about weird book titles and concepts, and a few storytelling games like Nanofictionary. Susie gave me a lovely white button-up shirt with black trim, suitable for work and the like! And they gave us the Apples To Apples party pack, which we will inflict on parties at our place.

But the best gift was meeting my niece Maggie and getting to see baby-raising firsthand. Right now that's rare for me. John and Susanna have spent a lot of time helping raise their younger relatives and so they have a matter-of-fact competence. They assumed rightly that my nervousness about, say, feeding or holding Maggie would go away with a little experience. I liked it and it was calming to remember that humans can in fact raise children. Sometimes I get anxious about what I perceive as prerequisites. I hear that parenthood makes you a better person, but only rarely do I hear more concretely and candidly "I was a screwup and having a child forced me to get it together." Because who wants screwups to have kids? And yet who does not fundamentally think of himself or herself as a screwup?

Susie and John have a giant house. At least, to us rabbit-hutchers it's huge. They've decorated it beautifully, and there's so much quiet and space! Especially since Susie is a decluttering fiend! As you know if you read her articles.

While visiting the exurbs, Leonard and I noted extensively that the lifestyle we like, carless and walkable and close to shops, is rare in the US and requires tradeoffs. Something like 95% of the landmass of the world won't suit us. But constraints free us from the anxiety of choice, so now I think happily about visiting Boston and Portland and Seattle with an eye to livability.

I met members of a big huge extended family on the Chadwicks' side. I'm as related to them as Balki Bartokomous was to Larry Applegate, but I could make conversation fine and enjoyed their company. I used to be terrible at parties; I'd flee to read a book. Reading Dale Carnegie helped me learn small-talk tactics and going to college, where people thought I was interesting, helped me relax. It's like remembering names: I've overcompensated for an early deficiency and now I'm better at it than my median acquaintance. Growing up can be nice.

We sang Christmas carols, Susie accompanying on the piano, and I was surprised at how much theology lives in the later verses of the ones I thought I knew. It's like the Brit-bashing five minutes into "The Star-Spangled Banner." Sometimes the version Leonard pulled up online and the version in Susie's hymnal had schism-driven differences, but only in the lyrics, not the melodies!

We played Apples to Apples, and a "finish this unfamiliar aphorism" game called Wise & Otherwise. "A man is like a tree. A woman is like..." I submitted "a cave" and fooled people into thinking it was the original Japanese ending, since the actual ending, "a wisteria vine," sounded completely bogus botanically and psychologically. Nope! Remember, the more inexplicable it is, the more SYMBOLIC it is. Right? A great game.

Thanks for hosting us, Chadwicks!


31 Jan 2008, 16:43 p.m.

Maggie seemed to really enjoy spending time with you & Leonard.

The important thing about raising kids is to remember that you're never alone. We leverage greatly off of parental/older sibling advice, advice of coworkers and friends, books (always to be taken with a grain of salt), websites, etc.

Maggie looks forward to future cousins! But until that day, she looks forward to future visits from adoring aunts & uncles.

01 Feb 2008, 14:01 p.m.

Thanks for the visit! We really enjoyed seeing you. Maggie did too, especially when you approached with a banana-peace-offering. Humans can, in fact, raise children.