2012 Review: Personal Life

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 31, 2012, 2:34 PM | comments: 0

I'm amazed at the year that was 2012. It was a big mess of contradictions. The year seemed to go by quick, and at the same time lingered. It was a great year, and it was suboptimal. It was a year of good decisions and bad decisions. I find myself happy to have had many adventures, and anxious to move on.

I have to include a disclaimer here this year. I definitely left some stuff out here, maybe more than I used to. I've become a bit more discretionary about what I write on my public blog. As such, this is at best a "somewhat complete" picture of life in 2012, but certainly not the whole story. I mean, if you ready my posts in 2005, you'd never know I was going through one of the most painful years of my life, but obviously it happened. The parts I leave out this year include things about work, gross things about my child, and certainly the finer details of being in a close relationship. Wink wink, nod.

Career

Work and career was the big experiment of the year. As indifferent as I was about staying or leaving Microsoft, mostly because of the team I was on, I'm more honest with myself now in asserting that I have a little bit of regret about leaving. That regret is concurrent with moving in general, but I'll get to that in a moment. Because the overall quality of work in my profession is simply not as good here in the Midwest, in terms of its frequency, anyway, finding a job that's satisfying is a lot harder. 

In any case, I started the year working at Humana, remotely, after they found me and flew me to Louisville for what amounted to a 45-minute interview. It was a strategic hire to help a support team be a voice in the process of software development that was supportable and maintainable. Initially, I felt like I was making some progress, and getting the attention of the right people around the company. My boss was pretty well connected and networked, and that made a huge difference. That momentum stopped when he switched to a new job late in the summer. I had the right knowledge and experience, but I needed his connectedness to have influence. When I couldn't find a better place, that's when I started looking elsewhere for work. I ended up working there for just one year. I did get quite a bit out of it though, doing some fun prototype work, refining my presentation skills, getting focused on how best to teach the kind of dev skills that many of my friends likely take for granted. It was not a wasted time.

Humana came to me, and it wasn't on my radar, but they made a compelling offer. What I really envisioned for my career, and this is going back even prior to working at Microsoft, was more of a leadership role that was part technical, and part managing people. These jobs are harder to find (especially in the development tract at MSFT), but they mix the things I enjoy most, and have been most successful at... engineering, people management, coaching and process design. In fact, it was an obvious destination in my consulting days, prior even to Insurance.com.

When I was really testing the waters at various points, I had three high potential situations, and the most promising offer came while we were on vacation in Florida. I was still pretty careful about accepting, and wasn't sure until I met with the partners of the company and got to understand the state of their company and their goals. Hopefully I made a pretty good choice.

House and home

I think it took a lot of reflection and honesty with ourselves to admit that moving back to Cleveland was probably not a good idea. When we did it, we felt it was a strategic move that would have two strong benefits. The first was that we'd be financially better off because of my damn house. The second was that we'd be closer to "everyone" and "everything," a feeling brought on by our summer 2011 trip to Cleveland.

That first part about finances panned out. I have never saved as much money as I have this year, and that's even after putting down a huge chunk on the car to replace our totalled lease car last Christmas Eve. The rest of it... well, I guess nostalgia got the best of us, because I don't think we're happier here, even if we are saving money. The grass is not, as it turns out, greener. From May to October, we had a fantastic summer and did fantastic stuff, but aside from certain location specific things, living here is not better than living in Seattle. We miss our mountains, friends and family out there.

The thing that makes it harder for me is the house. As the partial motivation for moving back, it represents everything that I hate about the situation. It's the source of $40k in wasted money while we lived in the PNW. Despite a lot of redecorating, it's not "ours." There is too much baggage associated with the house, and I find it impossible to make it a place where my new family can truly make it our own. I want out of it.

So what do I do with all of that? Obviously, we have to move. The when and where are "to be continued." I will say that my desire to own a house is not what it used to be.

Money makeover, continued

One of the key changes in attitude last year was toward money, as indicated in the move motivation. Regardless of whether or not that was a good reason to move, I started the year fully believing that I could save half of my take-home pay. There was one very significant barrier to that: My health insurance sucked. The irony is not lost on me since I worked for the insurance company itself. With the plan year restarting in July, we paid almost the entire deductible amount, twice. All it took was an instance of Simon's pneumonia and Diana's shoulder problems. I don't know how a family making $50k or less survives with shitty insurance like that.

So as it turned out, I only saved about 30% of my take-home. I know that's solid, but it's disappointing anyway. As someone who spent far too many years living on credit, I feel like I have to make up for lost time. To minimize the disappointment, I decided late in the summer that we were going to do some no-compromise travel, and even a forthcoming winter trip is paid for. As it turns out, money can to some extent make memories.

My opinion about home ownership is also evolving. I'm not sure if it's the American dream or just a pain in the ass. I know too many people who are stuck, some to the tune of six figures, because of declining home values. There is increased mobility associated with not owning a home. I'm not saying that I never want to buy another one, but it's a decision I won't take lightly.

Super summer travel

One advantage to living in Cleveland is that you can drive a great many places, and that we did. We drove to my in-law's wonderful "mountain hideaway" twice in North Carolina. I finally got to visit Dollywood, and it was awesome. We had a fun little weekend in downtown Chicago, which was also a nice reunion of the Swedish Hospital Mattoni cousins. There were even a few overnighters in Sandusky.

As you can imagine, we went to Cedar Point quite a bit, even though we didn't ride very much. We did three trips just for Soak City. Simon still isn't very interested in riding stuff, or doing stuff in the water park, but we still had a great time. Given his intense interest in walking, I can't think of a better place that has a two-mile loop. The roller coasters scare the crap out of him when they're loud, and yet, he can't watch them enough.

Cedar Point is still a focal point for our summer social life. We still have friends working there, we meet friends there, and I even introduced one of my Seattle friends to the park this year. And obviously, I half-run a Web site about the place. It was fantastic to share the good times with Simon this year.

Just as we visited Cleveland the year before, it was obvious that we should visit Seattle. My brother-in-law Joe and his family graciously hosted us, and it was easily the thing I looked forward to the most during the summer. The cousins got to hang out, and we were able to visit all of our old stomping grounds. We saw Garbage there, too. I had a great reunion of sorts with former coworkers, and our former PEPS group got together as well.

I should mention that, while it isn't traveling exactly, we were also zoo members this year, and we went quite a bit. Diana and Simon went even more than I did. A zoo membership is a steal, and worth it even if you never visited. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo still needs quite a few things replaced, but it's getting there.

Our biggest trip of the year was without Simon. While he stayed with my in-laws, we were determined to have a great time, adult style. Originally we thought it would be someplace adult focused, like Las Vegas, but ended up settling on Walt Disney World. There was precedent to having an awesome time, awesome food, and great holiday memories there, so why not?

We had a fantastic time and it was long overdue. The last trip we took without compromise was our honeymoon, which wasn't as good as it could have been because of weather. It was a great chance to reconnect in a non-trivial way, without having to split attention with our darling son. Say what you will about the expense of Disney, but we have such a great time there, and feel like we get what we pay for.

Give Kids The World

I got more involved with my favorite charity this year. We started the year working with Cedar Point to do an off-season park tour, and donated all of the money to GKTW. We promoted the crap out of Coasting For Kids, which was an unprecedented success this year. We also worked with the park and the Village when promoting a last ride fundraiser for Disaster Transport. I spent a lot of time talking to the president of the charity as well, which gives you a lot of perspective about what it takes to run what is essentially a resort that doesn't charge its guests. I gave a lot myself this year, too.

What really changed for me though, was my visit to the GKTW Village itself. After years of supporting it, I finally had the chance to see it in person (I was in Orlando for my stepdad's memorial service). For years, a part of me didn't want to visit, I think because I'm a parent and I wasn't sure how I'd feel about seeing kids that might not see next year. But as it turns out, it was kind of life changing. It put faces to the cause that I had been supporting. When you see families making memories and having a good time, under what are otherwise the worst circumstances, there is no way to describe it. I take it for granted that I'll keep having these moments with my kid. I envy my friend Kara for being a part of that, as her job.

My hope is that, at some point, we can take time on an Orlando visit to volunteer at the village. It's one thing to give money, but I think giving your time is just as important.

Tennis and sport

This will be the year I took up tennis. I spent quite a bit on lessons, and then played USTA. I really like the sport, but once summer rolled around, I didn't have any opportunities to play. I really liked playing singles, but I didn't like playing doubles because of the people I played with. My last match, I might as well have played solo against the other dudes, because I had to chase everything down myself.

It was interesting finding the similarities and differences between tennis and volleyball. There are certainly some transferrable skills, but there are some things that I had to simply unlearn. I enjoyed it though, and it helped get me a little more in shape. At the very least, it got me ten pounds below where I was last Christmas.

Speaking of volleyball, it was nice to see quite a bit of it on TV during the Olympics. The women really choked in the gold medal final, though the context of that failure was lacking because of NBC's stupid editing choices.

Politics

It was an election year, and it was painful. I wrote quite a bit about the stupidity of the candidates, and worse, the American public. People complain about partisanship, and engage in it. They simultaneously want government to fix problems, but believe it causes them. Worst of all, they engage in this ridiculous false dichotomy where everything is black and white, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. If that weren't enough, they let themselves be influenced by the politics of fear.

There's a general consensus that everything is going to hell and it sucks. I understand that we're in a recovery period, but I've never been more optimistic. I see unprecedented opportunity, if you're willing to work for it. I wonder what it will take to shift the conversation and the attitude toward that.

David

My stepdad died in October. As I said then, it was something I had been prepared for since, well, probably early childhood, when he first had heart surgery. It had been a year and a half since I last saw him, and I honestly wondered if it might be the last time. Even though we never had a great relationship, he certainly was a good man, and provided for us.

Experience with our family shapes so much of our personality, and David's passing forced me to think a great deal about my own life. Sometimes it takes the death of someone you know to remind you that you have a lot less to lose than you might be willing to accept. We're all headed toward the same end. His last gift to me was to force me to think about the kind of husband, father and person that I want to be. It didn't take long to start looking at changes for myself, and I haven't wasted any time implementing them.

Marriage is what brings us together, today

It seems absurd to say this, but I remembered this year that I'm married. To be more clear, I think I realized it and embraced it in a non-trivial way. Diana and I have had a fast moving, whirlwind of a life together. I had to Ferris Bueller life a little to make things more solid, and deeper. I've always been a guy with a lot of love to give.

We hit a point early in the year where we were both a bit overwhelmed, simply because we didn't check-in with each other enough. Diana was burning out with Simon and domestic duties, I was living in my head over work and finances. We weren't asking each other for help, or asking how things were going. It's not that we were resenting each other or anything show-stopping like that, but we definitely weren't exercising the benefits of partnership the way we should have.

In some ways, Simon has become a little easier to manage, and that also gave us the chance to reconnect and strengthen our relationship. Working from home helped, too. We make more time for each other now, and it really came to a head when we finally took a Simon-free vacation. We so needed that. We don't take for granted the awesomeness of our relationship.

The continuing adventures in parenthood

Being Simon's mom and dad brings new adventures constantly. This year brought us into new stages of parenthood that included greater mobility, a big boy bed, more words, lots of new clothes, and of course, more love. Oh, and much bigger tantrums.

The "terrible 2's" didn't start to really become evident until later in the year, and honestly, terrible is relative. We started the year where Simon still needed near constant supervision, and now he doesn't. You can take a shower and be reasonably certain that he isn't going to hurt himself or break something. He can count (to an extent), jump, "dance," organize things, clean up after himself, take his clothes off, and most importantly to us, say "I love you."

The terrible part comes in short bursts. He continues to test boundaries, and when he doesn't get his way, he flips out. When he's really upset, he completely melts down into a mess of tears and thrashing about. It's all normal, but what's so crazy about it is that Diana and I observe him in that state, and remember being in it ourselves at his age. As much as you have to let him work through it, you remember just how intense the emotions are.

Simon has been a part of the local birth-to-3 intervention program, and it has absolutely helped in ways that we could not have. He hasn't been diagnosed with any kind of learning disability, so certainly he would catch up developmentally eventually, but one would be insane not to take advantage of a free program that helps. Just today we had what might be the first true conversation with him. He asked Diana to pick him up, and she asked why. He replied, "So I can see Oliver," who was in the cat tree next to them.

I can't begin to describe how wonderful it was to spend extra time with Simon this year, at a particularly interesting age. Since I worked at home, I got to see him every day around lunch time, and we would wrestle on the spare bed, play with cars, hang out in the back yard... all things I couldn't easily do if I were away. One of my favorite things was to see out the window, from my desk, Simon and Diana coming back up the driveway after getting the mail. It just never got old, and it made me smile every time. Mommy's little helper is really adorable.

Maybe the most important thing I learned about parenting this year is to make it a seamless part of life, without it dominating everything else. Looking out for your own needs, and your relationship, isn't that hard to do concurrently with wanting to be a good parent. It's just a frame of mind.

But am I happy?

Yeah, I have to ask this again this year. Last year my answer was ambiguous. This year, I can be honest and say, "Not really to the extent I'd like to be, but I'm also in transition." Winter here is not good in terms of my mood, and I just left a job that I probably stayed in way too long. I've never been so happy in my primary relationship, and having a child is a constant joy. I was much happier in the summer. I love hot weather and thunderstorms.

So at this point I'd say that I'm on my way to being happier. I'm definitely excited to start a new year and put this one to bed. Again, it wasn't particularly bad, but I waited too long to make a career adjustment, and that caused me more stress than it should have. Even considering that, we had a lot of really fantastic adventures this year.


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