One of my favorite books about software engineering is Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, and one of my favorite parts of that book is the introduction of the phrase “cult of quality.” DeMarco and Lister define this as a team that has decided “only perfect is good enough for us.” While most of the world won’t argue for higher quality, members of a cult of quality will “always turn out something that’s better than what their market is asking for.”
Check it out and let me know what you think. If you’re a software engineer, do you work in a cult of quality? If not, how can you make your environment into one? And if you’re not in software engineering, how can you live a cult of quality in whatever it is you do?
I’m a traditionalist. I still have a landline. I kiss my bride at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day (when I’m awake for it). Our national pastime isn’t this newfangled foosball nonsense, it’s baseball — and day baseball at that. I lean traditional when it comes to grammar, too. I write text messages using proper spelling and punctuation. When someone tells me they’re doing good, I think, “Superman does good. You’re doing well.” (But I don’t say it out loud because I don’t want to be that guy.)
But I’ve read a lot of Grammar Girl, and I’ve come to see that much of what I’ve always thought of as grammar rules are actually styles. My traditionalist mindset says that rules are absolute, but style? Style is very personal. I must obey the speed limit, but don’t you dare tell me what I should wear. My clothes are an expression of me, man. This has led me to be much more accepting of new grammar styles than I once was. I’m cool with leaving the periods out of an abbreviation. I’ve accepted that, in typed text, it’s OK to put a single space between sentences instead of two. Singular “they”? It hasn’t always been my thing, but I’m open to giving it a try.
It’s from this perspective of English as a living language, and not something that stopped evolving with the death of Noah Webster, that I want to talk about heaven and hell. Or is it Heaven and Hell? Turns out that while organized religion might be considered one of the most traditionalist things around today, the grammar style used by many sects of Christianity is actually pretty modern.
His pronouns are simply divine
God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all capitalized because they’re proper names. I think pretty much everyone agrees on that. And despite the fact that the entirety of my education was in secular public schools, I was always taught the traditional style that pronouns referring to God are to be capitalized. My children’s Catholic homeschool English textbooks still teach this style. But I’ve noticed that this is no longer universally observed, even in some fairly pious places… like the Bible itself!
Here’s Matthew 2:2 from the New American Bible, the translation of the Bible used in the Catholic Mass readings in the United States: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Under traditional style, “king,” “his,” and “him” all should have been capitalized in that sentence, but they’re not. And this isn’t just a Catholic thing. A Bible translation comparison tool shows most Bible translations do not capitalize divine pronouns.
While the “capitalize all divine pronouns” style was no doubt implemented as a way of demonstrating respect for God, I assume readability concerns are what prompted the move away from it. Unorthodox capitalization is jarring. Authors and Bible editors probably decided (wisely) that they shouldn’t do anything to distract their readers from a religious text, especially scripture.
Are we trying to reach Heaven or heaven? What about Heaven and Hell? They are the proper names of places, and therefore should be capitalized. Right? (Even a non-believer should agree with this, as the names of fictional places like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are capitalized.) I understood the move away from capitalized divine pronouns, but I was a little surprised to find that even amongst religious authors and editors, the common modern style is not to capitalize heaven and hell either.
Matthew 5:20 (NAB) reads, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1024 reads, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven.'” And on the subject of the bad place, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1033 reads, “This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.'”
Why not capitalize heaven and hell? I note those Catechism definitions don’t call them places, instead labeling them a “perfect life” and a “state.” So are they not to be considered places, and therefore proper name capitalization rules do not apply to them? That’s a theological question outside the scope of this discussion. But it is worth noting that the New American Bible does capitalize one synonym for hell: Gehenna, as in Mark 9:43: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.”
The NAB footnotes indicate Gehenna comes from “Hebrew gê-hinnōm, ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ or gê ben-hinnōm, ‘Valley of the son of Hinnom,’ southwest of Jerusalem, the center of an idolatrous cult during the monarchy in which children were offered in sacrifice.” It’s the proper name of a place and therefore capitalized. As for Bibles other than the NAB, a BibleStudyTools.com comparison shows translations that use “Gehenna” or a different transliteration of the Hebrew word do capitalize it, though most versions of Mark 9:43 simply use “hell,” uncapitalized.
It seems the majority of religious sources say heaven and hell should not be capitalized. What about secular sources? Well, when I used Grammarly to look over this article, it flagged at least one use of uncapitalized heaven as a possible error. And Alanis Morissette said, “Isn’t it ironic?”
Do you reject Satan? And all his empty promises? And do you refuse to capitalize the name of the place where he lives? The style an author uses says a lot about them, or at least about the tone they intend with that particular work. And that brings me to an observation I’ve made over and over — the observation that prompted me to write this article. I see it frequently. Here’s an example from the way the Act of Contrition is posted in my parish’s confessional:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell.
Did you notice the capitalized “Heaven” and uncapitalized “hell”? Aww yeah, this is the style I call “sticking it to the devil by withholding a capital.” The person who uses this style — and I’ll admit, at times in the past, that person has been me — is saying, “Heaven is worthy of capitalization, but hell is not.” Take that, Satan!
For my personal style on this matter, I’ve decided to take my lead from my church. Heaven and hell are not capitalized unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence. And God knows I love him even if I don’t capitalize pronouns that refer to him. But nor am I here to judge. If a fellow believer wants to capitalize divine pronouns or write of “Heaven” and “hell,” so be it. As Grammar Girl says in her TED talk, we are the ones who vote on new words and new styles, and we do it by using some and ignoring others.
But if you don’t use the Oxford comma, you are going to hell.
If I were to give this article a clickbait headline, it would be, “An introvert parent controlled his six children’s noise levels with one simple rule.”
The family meal is as American as apple pie, which incidentally is exactly what we hope to receive at the end of one. It’s a time to be together and to eat together, but not in silence. The true beauty of the family meal is the opportunity it gives us to communicate with one another. Father Leo Patalinghug’s Grace Before Meals movement is built on the idea that “the simple act of creating and sharing a meal can strengthen all kinds of relationships.”
But when you’re the father of six children, all of them nine-years-old or younger, you don’t get a lot of communication during dinner. You get a lot of crosstalk and noise. The volume of the voices sometimes is the problem, but usually not. The problem is usually quantity. Dearest Sons 1 and 2 are talking about Pokemon, complete with sound effects. Dearest Daughter 2 is singing at the top of her lungs (and not eating). Dearest Son 3 is bellowing loudly about how his food is yucky, which makes Dearest Wife, who worked very hard to make the meal, more and more frustrated. Dearest Daughter 3 is climbing down from her seat to sit in her mother’s lap. And Dearest Daughter 1, like me, just wants to run away from the table and escape to somewhere quiet, like solitary confinement in a federal penitentiary. With young children, a regular family meal can be a raucous dinner party every night.
Some families thrive on this. If you need an example, go watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But what about a highly introverted person, like me? In Quiet: The Power of Introverts That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain discusses the research of developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan into “high-reactive” types, people whose brains easily overload on dopamine and thus find themselves easily overstimulated. Dr. Elaine Aron has conducted extensive research into what she calls “highly-sensitive persons” (which I also am), people who are easily overwhelmed by bright lights or loud sounds. In her book The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., describes a similar situation and reaction: “Peter, an introvert, is going to a museum, looking forward to seeing his favorite Monet. As he enters the museum, which is not crowded, he feels overwhelmed; he reduces his focus immediately, perhaps without even realizing it.”
It isn’t just that we’d prefer a quiet meal in which the only sounds are the clinking of silverware and some soft Vivaldi music. It’s that when we encounter a situation in which numerous voices are talking over one another, our brains overload on all the stimulation, and we shut down, like a circuit breaker disrupting an overpowered electrical line. Self-imposed isolation from your own family isn’t something any of us wants, no matter what the internet cliche of the “Just leave me alone, everyone!” introvert might make some people think. So what’s an introvert parent to do?
My wife Rose and I have many rules for our children, but they’re all pretty standard stuff, like don’t hit your siblings, be excellent to one another, and don’t stick forks up your nose. We also have three special rules, each one important enough to be numbered. Rule #1 is “obey us the first time.” We’re not tyrants, we just want to teach our kids a proper sense of obedience and trust towards their parents. Rule #2 is “let Mommy get her sleep,” and you can read more about that one when my wife starts writing articles about being an “I Really Need My Sleep” Parent.
Rule #3 is “one person speaks at a time.” It’s pretty self-explanatory. It means when we’re all gathered together, everyone takes turns speaking. We don’t talk over one another. We don’t hold multiple conversations simultaneously. We listen, and we don’t just wait to talk.
And it works. It works so well. The two main benefits are:
Quiet at the dinner table. Not silence, but quiet. Although we are eight, only one of us is speaking at any one time. The noise level goes from “wild, crowded party” to “pleasant conversation with the closest of friends.” Bliss!
Perhaps a less obvious benefit: it slows the paceof the conversation. This is essential to my introvert-wired brain with its “long, slow acetylcholine pathway” as Laney puts it. I can keep track of one conversation. I get tired, frustrated, and eventually angry when I have to track three at the same time.
Knowing the rule and living it are two separate things
Rule #3 works so well and so wonderfully, you’d think there was nothing wrong with it. But there is. It has a single drawback, and it’s a huge one: the children don’t obey it. At least not all the time. But honestly, I’d be a little worried if they did constantly follow it. They’re all under ten-years-old, after all. They’re supposed to be wild little gremlins.
Since it’s against the nature of young children and toddlers to carry out a civil one-person-speaks-at-a-time conversation, there are a few techniques I’ve learned for helping them to follow Rule #3. First, it’s a big help if you or your spouse can “hold court” at the table. It will go against every fiber of your introvert self, but you have to make yourself the focus of attention. You’re going to have to be the moderator.
If you work a day job, apply some of your corporate experience here. We’ve all attended meetings that aren’t truly exchanges of ideas, but are instead ceremonies, right? Usually, the ceremony involves the meeting organizer going around the table, calling on participants one at a time to give their reports. This is one of the worst uses of your time in corporate America, it is an abuse of a meeting, it is an email or instant message or 1-on-1 conversation forced into the context of a team meeting merely for the convenience of a supervisor. But in the context of a parent controlling the conversation to keep it from erupting into noisy chaos, it’s perfect! Give each child a chance to say something about his or her day, or to tell a story or a joke, whatever works best. In our family, I often ask, “Who has a kindness to report?” and we swap stories of kind acts we did for others that day or kind acts others did for us.
While Rule #3 was born as a way to make me want to not run and hide every time the dinner bell rang, it doesn’t have to apply solely to meal times. It works any other time you and your family are together and the conversation is at risk of becoming a free-for-all. This might be in the car, or even just while sitting around the living room together on a lazy Sunday.
It also bears mentioning that there are ways to apply Rule #3 in a way that can steer the family activity away from conversation completely. What if the one person speaking is reading a book to the family? What if the one “person” speaking is the television, while everyone enjoys a show or a film together? Suddenly, your family is sharing in an activity you likely love, and in a way that combines a low level of stimulation with a high level of family togetherness.
A balancing of needs Finally, never lose sight of the fact that your children won’t stick to Rule #3 forever not just because it’s in their nature as children not to, but that it may be in their nature as themselves not to. Their needs may very well be different than yours. They might be extroverts or ambiverts who need some extroverted time. They, or your spouse, may thrive on a boisterous conversation: the louder and the more people talking at once, the better. Five separate conversations going back-and-forth across the dinner table, mixed together with compliments to the chef and requests to pass the mashed potatoes, may absolutely energize someone else, even while it sucks you dry. And that’s OK!
A few paragraphs ago I disparaged the internet cliche of the “Just leave me alone, everyone!” introvert, but cliches often exist for a reason. We don’t like to talk about it much, but I believe introverts’ tendency to focus on our inner world can tip the wrong direction and slide towards selfishness. I know it can in me.
Find the right balance. Give your kids the time they need to be loud. Let them shout and giggle and make funny voices and tell silly jokes. Let all six of them do it at the same time, to the point that you honestly don’t know who is listening to who. I try to do this as much as I can, but when it just gets to be too much, I raise three fingers and wait for everyone to notice the silent reminder I’m giving them: remember Rule #3. Let’s talk, let’s communicate, let’s share our news and our hopes and our dreams and our fears.
Some people are all about wine — they know how to sniff it, taste it, savor it. Others are foodies. They know the taste of every obscure spice you never even knew existed. Me? I’m all about morning grains. Welcome to the latest installment of Cerealizabowl, my occasional series documenting my lifelong love of breakfast cereal.
Today I seek to answer a question first posed by the Evil Queen in 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: “Magic mirror on the wall, which is the fairest princess cereal of them all?” I recently spotted two new cereals in the Best Aisle of the Grocery Store, each featuring a different Disney princess. Me being me, I had to try them both. Would they sing “Be Our Guest” in my breakfast nook? Or would they make me proverbially prick my finger on a spindle and fall asleep until lunch?
Disney Princess Cereal
My three daughters love the princesses — any princess, be it Belle, Leia, or Peach, so I knew they’d love this cereal. As for myself, I wasn’t so sure. At first glance, this is a YALCC — Yet Another Lucky Charms Clone. Oats, marshmallows of different shapes and colors… does Lucky the Leprechaun have a lawyer? Maybe he filled his pot of gold with the spoils of many a successful copyright lawsuit?
But Disney Princess cereal has a new twist. It’s strawberry flavored! This, too, has been done before (Strawberry Cheerios, anyone?), but it’s so tasty, I don’t mind a bit.
The real joy of Disney Princess cereal comes in its marketing. First, Kellogg’s took a play from the 1990s comic book market and released this cereal with four different covers, I mean boxes. Each one features a different princess: Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, or Rapunzel. Do you think my daughters were satisfied with just one? Oh no, they needed all four.
However, the part that thrilled me most was each box featured a “prize.” This was a great throwback to the days of a toy in every cereal box. When I was growing up, the first thing I did upon opening a box of cereal was root through it in search of the included toy. Most cereals don’t offer toys inside the box anymore, which is a shame because passing on traditions to our children is important, you know? Though the prizes were simply items to cut out of the back of the box (a bookmark, a picture frame, a tiara, and a doorknob decoration), I appreciated the effort.
Disney Moana cereal
I know Moana isn’t technically a princess, but as Maui himself says, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” And for the purpose of this cereal face-off, she needs to be a princess, because while strawberry Lucky Charms Disney Princess cereal is good, Moana cereal is awesome.
Moana cereal is made of corn puffs rather than oats, and its pieces are larger, puffier, and much airier than Disney Princess cereal. But what really sets it apart is the taste.
I don’t have the most discriminating palate in the world. (Case in point: my favorite food is breakfast cereal.) I can’t put a bite of food into my mouth and instantly recite all of its ingredients the way my wife can. So it wasn’t so strange that I couldn’t place what Moana cereal tasted like when I first took a bite. But neither could I with the second bite, the third, or even the first bowl. The only words that came to mind were: wow, oh man, and nom nom nom.
Eventually, I decided it tasted like raspberries, but now I think it’s more of a vanilla taste. Either way: delicious. And after you add milk to it? Well, remember the old commercials where milk is poured into Lucky Charms and a rainbow instantly sprouted right out of the bowl? That actually happens when you add milk to Moana cereal. Whoever made this cereal can rightfully smile upon us and say, “You’re Welcome.”
I should also mention I did not even get a bite out of the first box of this cereal that entered my house. My kids loved it so much, they devoured it all in one breakfast. Good kids, all of them — darn good kids. They’ve come to appreciate the finer things in life.
My previous article on being an introverted parent has become one of my most-read articles ever, and I couldn’t be happier about that — thank you all so much for your interest. Being the father of six children plus the world’s most introverted introvert can make for an… interesting life from time-to-time, especially if you define “interesting” as “omigosh I feel so overwhelmed I swear the walls are closing in.” But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It just takes some coping mechanisms, and today’s article is about one of my favorites — and one of my children’s favorites, too.
Audrey Hepburn, by all accounts, was an introvert. When she described her ideal weekend (see picture at right), she might as well have been describing mine. I’m a classic introvert in that time spent alone leaves me refreshed, energized, and blissful, while too much time with other people — any other people — leaves me tired, worn out, and dazed. When my weekend comes close to what Audrey describes, I feel like her dancing in Funny Face:
But when I spend a weekend socializing, I feel more like her in My Fair Lady, planning my revenge and muttering, “Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins.”
This is all pretty standard for introverts, but what if you’re an introverted parent? Our kids need our love, but almost just as much, they need our time. What happens when they need to be with you when all you want is to be alone? What happens when there are six of them who need you? That’s a sure-fire recipe for overwhelm, so what’s a loving parent to do?
Small Group Sessions
Any introvert who has survived formal schooling has an instinctual, negative reaction to the phrase “small groups,” because it is a reminder of times we were forced to socialize with others, even if it made us uncomfortable. But take the phrase out of the context of school, and it’s exactly what we often want. A quiet cup of coffee with a couple of friends is usually (read: always) preferable to a wild time at a loud and large party.
Why not apply this same small group mentality to time spent with your kids? When I look back over just the last few months, some of the kid activities I have enjoyed the most were small group activities, including:
The time just my two oldest boys and I went to see Star Wars: Rogue One
The time just my three girls and I went out for shopping and froyo
A couple of times when my eldest daughter stayed home with me while everyone else went to a party
Small group time is still time spent with your kids, which they absolutely crave, but as a bonus, there are fewer of their siblings demanding your attention, which leaves more available for the ones present. From the introverted parent’s perspective, since it’s not all the kids at once, it’s less overwhelming, less noisy, and more intimate. And I don’t think you have to be the father of six, like me, to find positives in small groups. This is something any introverted parent with two or more children can benefit from.
Perhaps even better is a slight variation on the small group session: one-on-one time. My wife and I have long been big believers in the importance of each of our children getting a bit of alone time now and then with each of us. All of the benefits of small group time, both for the children and for us, apply, but even more so because here the group is a duo.
The only negative to this technique is the more children you have, the more one-on-one sessions you need to have if you wish to give all your children equal attention. (And who wouldn’t?) Too many of these in succession can get you right back into an overwhelmed state, just via a thousand small paper cuts instead of one big stab. So spread them out, a little at a time.
Don’t forget your spouse
There’s one vital consideration you have to make before scheduling small group sessions with your children every weekend from now until October. What are your spouse’s needs?
I mentioned one of my favorite recent small group activities (a one-on-one, actually) was a time when my eldest daughter and I stayed home together while the rest of the family attended a birthday party. This same day is one of my wife’s least favorite days in recent memory, because it happened on a Sunday, a day on which she has a strong preference for the entire family to stay together.
The time you and some of the children are away is the time your spouse is left with fewer family members; if your spouse is an extrovert, that may not be an ideal situation for him or her. Alternatively, if your spouse is also an introvert, think about how he or she will feel flying solo with the larger portion of your children while you’re off having a small group or one-on-one adventure. You’ll probably have to return the favor by switching roles at some point and letting him or her have some small group time.
Also remember: children keep ledgers. Your daughter will remember the time four months ago you went on a solo trip with her brothers, and she’ll want to know when she gets to have her turn. Keep it fair. When you plan a small group experience, consider at least scheduling when the children who won’t be participating get their turn.
Small group time allows for more large group time
None of this is to say that the only way an introverted parent of a large number of children can be happy is to spend time with subsections of the family. While kids will love their one-on-one and small group times with Mommy or Daddy, they absolutely crave and need lots of time in which the whole family is together.
But when every family activity is a whole family activity, this introverted parent feels like he’s falling apart. Small group time is time to recharge and time to take a fresh perspective, all while continuing to spend time with your children. It helps me to stay laser-focused, but not inward, on myself. Instead, it keeps my attention on something far more important: my children. “Introverted” is an adjective that describes us, but “parent” is the noun that describes who we are.
This month marks the one-year bookaversary of Yesterday’s Demons! My debut novel was published in eBook on April 12, 2016, and the paperback edition followed on April 22, 2016.
I’ve mentioned many times before how the publication of my novel was a dream come true. Even one year later, it’s just as thrilling as the first day I saw my book — my book, you guys, omigosh I wrote this — listed on Amazon.com.
If you haven’t read it yet, visit my Yesterday’s Demons page for a sample chapter, character introductions, and purchasing links. If you like YA-friendly fantasy or JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, you’re going to love it.
And since a bookaversary is grounds for a celebration, I think it’s time to hand out a little treat. It’s been a long time since I dropped any hints about the next book in The Verdant Revival trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, and according to my Project Tracker, the second draft of that book is now 21% complete!
Besides the book’s title, I’ve previously mentioned that the book would focus not on Siv (the protagonist of Yesterday’s Demons), but on Siv’s friend Fritz. The Verdant Revival features three main characters — Siv, Fritz, and Cassie — and the three of them take turns being the main character.
It’s time I dropped some new information about it, so here goes. On Twitter, when I reached the 100,000-word milestone during the writing of the book’s first draft, I mentioned the 100,000th word was “gravity.” What I didn’t mention was… that’s sort of a spoiler, albeit one you can file under “When I read the book I’ll look back on this and say, ‘Ahh OK I get it now!'”
But to be more specific and less annoyingly coy, I’ll also say that “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked is a big, key number in my personal soundtrack for Tomorrow’s Shepherd. So many of the lyrics apply to the story of Fritz and his efforts to learn how to wield his power of hyper-intuition, especially:
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!
(Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)
That’s all the hinting I can give you for now. I’m only 21% done with the second draft, after all. But I can’t wait to get this one into your hands.
For any new readers who aren’t aware, I’m a software engineer and team lead in my day job. Recently, I was given the opportunity and the privilege of contributing some articles about my company’s engineering culture to the company’s blog. The first was posted last week. Check it out!