What would you say?

This reminds me of a funny story.

Around Christmastime, we took a walk to the mall. My younger son was about a month old. I put him in the sling, and then I put a big down coat over the whole assembly.

When we got to the mall, I still had the coat on. A woman at one of those jewelry kiosks stopped me.

"What’s under your jacket?"

Maybe she thought I was hiding a bomb. I unzipped my coat to reveal the sling.

"It’s a baby."

"Oh. Is he yours?"

I’m used to cooing, not paternity inquiries.


"Then why is he white?"

"He’s mixed," I said. That didn’t really seem to satisfy her, but the truth was the best I could muster on such short notice.

Naturally, given a few months to reflect, I think any of the following - in best Al Jaffee fashion - would have been an acceptable snappy comeback to her stupid question:

  • "White? What? I keep telling that poolboy to use less chlorine?"
  • "Aw nuts, I picked up the wrong damn kid from daycare again."
  • "The mailman is white."

    Readers, can you think of any other smarmy, snarky replies to keep in my back pocket in case I run into the jewelry-kiosk lady again?

  • Are cities kid-friendly?

    When my wife and I were deciding graduate schools, we quickly narrowed our decision to MIT and Princeton. Among other considerations, we factored in proximity to the closest major city. Princeton is about an hour away from New York and Philly, whereas MIT is right in the thick of Boston/Cambridge. We don't often go out of our way to enjoy the benefits of the city, so we prefer proximity so that (in some sense) the city can come to us.

    Fast forward a few years, and we're living in Cambridge with two kids. We love it so far, and being in a metro area offers lots of fun things for kids. Out older son, two and half years old, loves to ride on the T and the bus. We like going to the Boston Common and grabbing a slice of Upper Crust on the way home. I imagine that we'll end up in the 'burbs one day when we want a bigger place and garage, but we'll probably miss some of the conveniences of living in a fairly high density area.

    That's not to say that there aren't a lot of downsides, too. Parking, traffic, crime, cost of living, and space tend to be more amenable to families in the 'burbs. And young, hip students and professionals are not exactly the most kid-friendly people in the world. I read stories like this:

    A man sitting next to us said that the crying was annoying and advised us to get off the train.

    Slow parenting

    Welcome back to the NBP! It's been a long layover from the holidays, and IAP, but we're back in Cambridge at the NBP world headquarters. I'm not getting enough sleep, the kids are jet-lagged, and work has piled up. Just another January at MIT.

    I have to admit that I sometimes feel like a slacker parent. I don't buy my kids organic foods. I let the older one watch television, including the highly-inappropriate but eminently hilarious Bugs Bunny (seriously, the Looney Toons were violent!). And somebody please punch me in the face if I start sending them to a pre-school Mandarin tutor to get them a jumpstart on the future's competitive employment landscape.

    And yet, I still feel like I'm overparenting him sometimes. I am constantly stepping in when my child has a conflict with another child (or, sometimes, an inanimate object). I'm the type who does, and will, place a lot of emphasis on academic and intellectual development. When I heard another child - younger than my toddler - point to and identify the letters of the alphabet, it was all I could do to stop myself from looking into local reading tutors. Repeat after me: my son is only two, my son is only two, my child is only two...

    If I'm not careful, I may turn into the pushy parent who checks his kids' homework and who calls the teacher to complain about grades. Competition to succeed panders to my most base instincts (don't look at me that way - I know a lot of you are also still involved in academics well past the age of 25, and since I know it's not the money that keeps you interested, it has got to be the recognition that comes with papers, presentations, awards, etc).


    Apologies for the length of time between posts...

    We live in a city that likes to think of itself as "progressive" or "enlightened," and while I'm always wary of individuals or groups of individuals that self-promote with such labels - I find them condescending and occasionally flat-out false - it is safe to say that the Cambridge/Boston population is both hypereducated and generally quite tolerant.

    Last weekend we took the family to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (free before noon on Sundays - a great deal by the way!). I was carrying the infant in a "wrap." I guess most of you probably know what a wrap is, but in case you don't, it's a sling that you tie around your body that lets you carry a baby without using your hands. This particular wrap had a flowery logo and was bright purple. Not the manliest look in the world for me, but whatever.

    While my wife was in the bathroom changing the older kid’s diaper, a museum docent walked up to me and started cooing at the baby. We exchanged pleasantries and she ended the conversation by saying "The baby looks so snug in the wrap, and it’s so nice to see dad wearing it.” If I were more self-conscious, I would have been tempted to take the darn thing off!

    I immediately thought of the stories surrounding the new mayor of Houston, who happens to be gay. Headlines have been trumpeting "First Openly Gay Mayor of Major US City" instead of the more newsworthy-but-boring "City Controller Wins Mayoral Election." I felt like the museum volunteer would have issued a press release saying "In Surprising Move, Dad Engages in Child-Rearing by Carrying Infant in Girly Wrap" if she could.

    Becoming a dad, part deux

    As you know, my second son was born just a few weeks ago and I have been re-adjusting to life with two kids. I'm prone to freaking out, but I'm finding that the experience from the first time is keeping my paranoia in (relative) check this time around.

    I am finding, however, that the becoming a dad for the second time is pretty different. Because mom has been spending a lot of time nursing and caring for the new baby Zaki, I've been spending a lot of time with my older son Nuri. I think it's great; the daddy-son time has been great for our relationship. The side effect is that I'm having trouble bonding with the new arrival. Part of it is has to do with time - I don't spend as much time with Zaki as I do with Nuri - but part of it is perspective.

    Light blogging

    As though I haven't been delinquent enough in updating the blog, the NBP will go on an extra-light schedule for some time while I enjoy the 7 lb and 13 oz of pure awesomeness that just entered our lives.

    The N-Body Problem YouTube clearinghouse

    I admit that I let my two-year-old watch YouTube from time to time. I'm beginning to think it was a mistake to introduce it to him in the first place.  He thinks that anything he wants to watch can be accessed simply by pulling out "daddy's big no-no" (this is what he calls my laptop computer).  And, given YouTube's amazingly vast collection of videos, he's right.

    I first started watching youtube with him because it was a good way to put pictures to music.  Of course, I was playing songs by bands like The Talking Heads and Spoon - not exactly the most kid-oriented stuff - but I do think the video helped him process the music.  Eventually, we moved into more kid-oriented YouTube videos, and I thought it would be fun to exchange some links to kid videos available on YouTube (and the best part is...they're free!).

    High achieving kids

    If you've found yourself at MIT, chances are you or someone you know is a high achiever. Sure, we might consider ourselves to be average because of the distortion of seeing the world through an MIT lens. But let's face it, you don't end up involved with MIT - faculty, staff, students, whatever - if you're simply average. Being a high achiever is, to first order, a good thing, too.

    But what do we expect from our kids? I succeeded academically in primary and secondary education, and did well in college, too. So did my wife. I hope, based on both nature and nurture, that our kids will do the same. And I want to encourage my kids to be good at whatever it is they find interesting - science (I hope!), sports (unlikely, given my unathletic genes), art, music, whathaveyou.

    I think that achievement is a good thing, and I think that children who show both aptitude and interest for a particular activity (even if it's cup-stacking) should be encouraged. It's part of raising a child who can be successful in the world at large when they become an adult.

    But I don't want to be too encouraging. Kids who are really, really, high achievers are sometimes a little...well, creepy. Take, for example, Tanuj. Tanuj is an eight-year-old who is good at chess. Like, really good. Like kick-the-crap-out-of-six-adults-at-once type of good. But it's a little weird that his dad maintains a blog about his chess exploits, written by the dad from the son's "perspective." Hey, maybe Tanuj really loves chess. But I get the feeling that maybe papa is being just a little bit pushy, like Neil Kadakia's father.

    Kids behaving badly

    From Texas, a story about screaming toddler getting kicked off a flight.

    [Pamela] Root and her son, Adam, were on their way home to San Jose when they were kicked off Monday's Southwest Flight 637.

    "I left, rather embarrassed," Root said Thursday. "Then, I was so mad, I almost cried."
    There were annoyed looks from fellow passengers, Root said. Then the captain made a surprise announcement: The plane would return to the gate because of a "passenger issue." At first, she dreaded what sounded like a delay. Then, she discovered the passenger was Adam. Suddenly, they were being escorted off the plane by an attendant who told Root something to the effect of: "We just can't tolerate that for two hours."

    The kid was 2 years old.

    What does the name mean?

    If you're science-y, you may have figured out what the title of this blog - "The N-Body Problem" - refers to. If you're a normal person, perhaps not. Either way, I thought I would clarify.

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