Deep Work… for Parents?


A working mom and productivity app publicist Tweeted, “How to do #DeepWork even when you have deep responsibilities (spoiler alert: that means kids) – by @lvanderkam.”

The accompanying image was Vanderkam’s right-on-the-money critique of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which held up Carl Jung as an example for shutting himself off to do “deep work.” Translation: he neglected his kids?

Newport starts by writing (in a laudatory fashion) about Carl Jung secluding himself in a tower so he could ponder his breakthrough ideas. Newport notes that there were sacrifices involved in his decision. For instance, it “reduced the time he spent on his clinical work.” Not mentioned: when Jung bought this retreat property in 1922, he and his wife had five children. It’s safe to say locking himself off from the world locked himself off from those responsibilities. And while perhaps that was par for the course for a man in 1922 (and maybe especially for Jung, who was allegedly an unfaithful husband), someone had to be around the family.

Newport is a working father, but as journalist Brigid Schulte suggests in Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, working fathers don’t carry the same load at home as working mothers. Maybe Newport has this all worked out with his family and work in a fair and agreeable way. But as I’m reading it, Schulte’s work is making a strong case that the ability to perform deep work is a gendered phenomenon. Culturally (in the U.S., at least) it’s still easier for dads than moms to get away and carve out large blocks of uninterrupted, focused time.

Be that as it may, “deep work” for any engaged parent can be hard to come by. Working from home is a beautiful thing, but how often have I felt tinges of guilt as I told my children I couldn’t play right now because I was working, barely glancing up from the computer to let them know? In that case both the work and (more important) the child receive less than what I would hope to give.

Someone needs to write a Deep Work for Parents book. Who knows? Maybe that will be Newport’s follow-up. And Vanderkam has great ideas here. (Her website is sub-titled, “Writing about Time Management, Life, Careers & Family.”)

How about you, working parents who read this blog? How do you get focused, high-level work done when your “job” isn’t your only job? How do you handle interruptions if you work from home? How do you find energy to cook dinner and do bedtime routines after working all day outside the house?

All ideas welcomed in the comments below.

Children’s Book Note: Almost an Animal Alphabet

Almost an Animal Alphabet


Our family has read a lot of alphabet books in our day–now I’m working on letters with Kid #3 (!). We read through Almost an Animal Alphabet the other day, which she sincerely enjoyed. (The Yeti is my favorite–and, I think, what makes it only almost an all-animal alphabet.)

The illustrations are creative and fun, and the book is both educational (as you’d hope) and funny. Check it out via POW! Books here, or here on Amazon.

Consider the Snapping Turtles in My Road…

… how your heavenly Father provides for them!

We saw a snapping turtle crawling up our street this morning. We’d seen deer and turkeys in the yard (e.g., the turkey who was trying to make a nest in our raised bed tomato plants earlier this week), but this oversized turtle was a first.

Turtle Power
Turtle Power

After marveling at the creature with our kids and taking some family/turtle photos, my wife and I realized we had three options:

1. Leave it.
2. Call Animal Control to come rescue it.
3. Pick it up, put it into our wheelbarrow, and take it back into swampy, woodsy safety.

We ruled out Option 1. The backside of our house connects to a huge construction site, and even a large snapping turtle wouldn’t have stood a chance against a Link-Belt excavator.

Option 2 was easy—we called and left a message, but then realized a snapper was probably not super-high on the city’s priority list of things with which to be concerned.

So we were left with Option 3.

There’s a fine line between wise caution and being a chicken, and I had planted myself squarely between the two. It took me five minutes (maybe more?) before I could finally psych myself up enough to pick up the turtle to put it in the wheelbarrow. To help me over my caution/fear, my wife graciously offered to put a stick in front of the snapper’s mouth, so that it could be biting the stick while I picked it up, rather than biting me.

She gave him the stick. He bit it. Then I chickened out and lost my chance. (Or was being smart by trying to preserve all 10 fingers?) The stick was out of his mouth now. So my wife gently tapped him on the shell with the stick and… SNAP! All K-J fingers were still in place, but I jumped back. If I was going to do this, it had to be now.

So my fearless spouse tried the stick routine again, got it in the snapper’s mouth, and (with kitchen gloves on) I reached down and started to pick it up from the sides of its shell. SNAP! He missed me, but I knew he was going for me that time. I couldn’t even see his face when he snapped—he was all neck and mouth.

At this point we decided to stick with the aforementioned options 1 and 2. I was especially concerned that if I picked the turtle up and it snapped in/at my hands, I might jump away and drop him on the pavement. We didn’t want to hurt him.

But we had to get on with our morning, so, leaving the snapper where he was, I went to the assistant foreman in his trailer office behind the parsonage and told him about the turtle, so that he could tell his equipment operators to BE SURE NOT TO RUN HIM OVER (please).

His face lit up: “I have a guy who loves reptiles!” (He used a few additional adjectives and adverbs to make that clear.) Then he called across the worksite to someone in one of the new duplex units: “Bird!” A fitting nickname, I suppose.

With cigarettes and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand, “Bird” and a couple others came over to where the turtle had now settled itself. Without batting an eye, he gently lifted it up by the tail to see that she (I had had the snapper’s gender wrong) was settling into a leaf pile in our yard to lay eggs. The turtle must have known Bird was a “reptile guy.” There was no snapping this time.

Animal Control still had not come, but Bird said he knew a place where the snapper would be safe. Minutes later, Bird and his co-worker were driving away from the site with the turtle in their pickup truck—taking it now (presumably… hopefully!) to safety.

This all began between 8:30 and 8:45. I don’t know what mornings are like in your house, O reader, but that tends to be crunch time for the K-Js. We have to make sure everyone is dressed, fed, and pottied, and we have to make our eldest son a lunch and drive him to the bus stop. Then my wife and I each have various responsibilities and places to get to. So the morning routine can be stress-filled, try as we might to make it not be so.

This morning wasn’t too bad, but I was already thinking about all that I had to get done this morning… and then we saw the snapper in the road. As we finally got into the car with the kids to drive to our different destinations, it was 9:45, a full hour later.

But I can tell you—whatever had been concerning us at 8:45 was far from our minds at 9:45!

It hasn’t been that long since I read through, studied, and preached on the passage from Matthew 6 where Jesus tells his disciples to “consider the birds of the air.” If God feeds them and cares for them—animals that presumably have no souls and have not the spiritual and emotional capacity that we have to experience God’s love—how much more will he care for us!

And if God can somehow be overseeing a process whereby a snapping turtle is brought to safety by our new construction working “friend,” how much more can he make sure we have all we need?

Or, as a college friend used to say: “Everything is going to be alright forever.”

RIP, Sony Bluetooth Wireless Speaker: Splash-Proof, but Not Highway-Proof….


side and input

Remember the Sony Bluetooth Speaker I reviewed? Want to hear a funny story about it?

After using the speakers for a Sunday morning class, I put them on top of our family van as I was strapping in one of the kids. I got my almost-two-year-old daughter strapped in, we were all happy, the kids had done great in church, and we were going out to eat–a rare treat on a Sunday afternoon. The sun was even shining.

So with everyone strapped in and on our way to family lunch, about 10 minutes into our drive–when we were on the highway, of course–I heard a loud thud at the top of the car and saw in my peripheral vision a blur of pink and purple bouncing around behind me as I sped away.


Oh. The speakers. That I had left on top of the van.

I had received the speakers gratis as a review sample, but I had become fond of them. They were quite convenient for toting around and using in various settings. It was especially nice to amplify music without any wires.

I quickly decided that, yes, I did want to go back to get these speakers. But being on the highway, I would have to exit, get on the highway going the other direction, exit again, and go back the way I came.

By the time we neared the spot of the incident, it had been about 8 minutes. Surely some car–or multiple cars–had by now demolished my precious pink-and-purple players of Passion Pit, Pavement, and Petra.

But, no.


I slowed down and turned on my hazards to get off to the shoulder to (carefully, only when there were no cars) walk into the highway to retrieve my speakers.

They were right there, miraculously between the two lanes. A hundred cars must have passed them, leaving them mercifully in tact.

As I pulled over and slowed to a stop, the car behind me obliviously moved across the lane divider to pass me and…



Well, not just ran over. CRUSHED them.

They broke into a hundred pieces, and the car just cruised on by.

Five Kids’ Magazines We Enjoy

Here are five children’s magazines we particularly enjoy reading to our two-year-old and five-year-old:

High Five

5. High Five

“My First Hidden Pictures” and “That’s Silly!” are two favorite features of the magazine. It says it’s for ages 2 to 6, but it’s hard to imagine any two-year-old tracking with it. Better for slightly older kids.

Ranger Rick Jr

4. Ranger Rick, Jr.

It comes from the National Wildlife Federation. Given our five-year-old’s penchant for all things animal kingdom, this one is a hit. Today we learned from the April 2013 issue that giant tortoises can live to be 150 years old. Whoa.


3. Ladybug

From the Cricket Magazine Group, Ladybug is the next age level up from Babybug (see below). Max and Kate are a fun ongoing storyline each month. Our five-year-old transitioned to this a year or more ago when he was getting too old for Babybug.

click magazine

2. Click

The awesomeness of this magazine caught us all unaware–I’d never heard of it before a grandparent-sponsored subscription began arriving in the mail. The March 2013 issue theme is “The deep blue sea.” Our five-year-old did the “make a fish” project on his own right away, with some scissors and glue. The magazine’s “Ocean Zones” section this month introduced us to the sunlight zone, the twilight zone, and the midnight zone, each of which support interesting and diverse kinds of life.

I just found out that Click is part of the same family as Ladybug and as…


1. Babybug

Babybug is really sweet. It is “for babies who love to be read to and for the adults who love to read to them.” (It’s good for toddlers, too.) Kim and Carrots is a favorite each month, and always seems to be appropriately themed for the time of year. Simple yet engaging illustrations go with memorable and fun-to-read poetry. No part of the magazine is more than three pages, so not a long attention span is required. It’s not uncommon for us to ask our two-year-old to pick some books to read, and for him to come to us with three Babybugs.

(It’s also not uncommon for me to walk in to the living room from the back of the house and see my five-year-old curled up on the couch with a New Yorker.)

How about any of you who regularly read to children? What magazines do you recommend?

A Perfect Song

“North American Field Song,” by the Innocence Mission:


Raincoats, Finlandia,
Raincoats and lakes.
The best words, I take along
in my field bag.
Across the morning, the beautiful air,
I will be aware.
I’ll speak if I dare,

Stay calm,
stay calm, stay calm,
stay calm in the meantime,

Stay calm,
stay calm, stay calm,
through the red and the green light,
stay calm.

No one can be so embarrassed as me,
I say to these trees,
where I walk with my head down.
Across the morning, the beautiful air,
I will be aware
my Father is there
and stay calm….

Tough Guise: Violence and Masculinity in the Media

Tough GuiseThis last week I was part of a panel for Gordon’s Faculty Film Series for the film Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. Narrator and anti-violence educator Jackson Katz talks about the construction of masculinity through the media, particularly a masculinity where men are defined as tough, not “soft,” aggressive, etc. Here’s the summary of the film (from the study guide referenced below):

The idea that manhood or masculinity represents a fixed, inevitable, natural state of being is a myth. What a culture embraces as “masculine” can be better understood as an ideal or a standard – a projection, a pose, or a guise that boys and men often adopt to shield their vulnerability and adapt to the local values and expectations of their immediate and more abstract social environments. This projection or pose can take myriad forms, but one that’s crucial to examine is the “tough guise”: a persona based on an extreme notion of masculinity that links the credibility of males to toughness, physical strength, and the threat or use of violence.

There is a substantial study guide that goes with the film, which notes:

The central argument of Tough Guise is that violence in America is overwhelmingly a gendered phenomenon, and that any attempt to understand violence therefore requires that we understand its relationship to cultural codes and ideals of masculinity and manhood. Central to the video’s argument are the following:

» Masculinity is made, not given – as opposed to one’s biological sex;

» Media are the primary narrative and pedagogical forces of our time;

» Media images of manhood therefore play a pivotal role in making, shaping and privileging certain
cultural and personal attitudes about manhood;

» A critical examination of privileged media images of manhood reveals a widespread and disturbing equation of masculinity with pathological control and violence;

» Looking critically at constructed ideals of manhood – at how, why and in whose interests they are  constructed differently in different historical, social and cultural contexts – denaturalizes and diminishes the potential of these imagined ideals to shape our perceptions of ourselves, our world and each other.

The film was difficult to watch, not just because I have young boys, but because how masculinity is so often constructed in this society (have to be in control, must be physically overpowering, can’t cry or show emotion, etc.) causes damage to both men and women.

There’s quite a bit to digest in the study guide, which could be beneficial even without the movie. You can watch the whole film here. More about it is here.