Category Archives: learning

Back to biking

We got the Thule Chariot XT bike trailer that also quickly converts into a stroller. Our goals are:

  • Model physical activity, and biking in particular
  • Explore more of the city
  • Expand our range

We started by getting A- used to the stroller. She’s generally amenable to it, and has asked for it when she’s sleepy. She also likes insisting on walking or even pushing the stroller, saying “I want to exercise my body!” We totally support that, of course, so I don’t insist on putting her back in.

This week, I tried biking. I rode the mountain bike by itself a few times around the block to get the hang of it, since the shifters and frame were different from the ones on my bike. Then we hitched up the bike trailer, and I rode around the neighbourhood a few more times. Then we did a test ride with A-.

I’ve been testing the bike trailer on short trips with A-. She’s not always keen on it, which makes getting her into the trailer and on the way home sometimes a dicey prospect. If I don’t have any time pressure and I make an effort to be extra-playful, though, I might be able to convince her to put on the helmet and get in the trailer. She responds better to play and energy than to collaborative problem-solving. Today, it helped to stick lots of stickers on the helmet and to pretend to be getting ready for airplane take off.

I’d like to practise with short trips to playgrounds that she might likes. Maybe High Park, Vermont Square Park, and Dufferin Grove. Those are well-served by public transit in case I need to bail. Worst-case scenario, I can probably lock the bike up somewhere, take a picture and send the location to W-, and he can retrieve it. I’d rather avoid that, though.

I think it might be good to experiment with keeping things low-pressure.

  • I’ll take transit for classes, appointments, and other things I need to get to or leave in a fairly predictable manner. Even then, I’ll give people a heads-up that stuff might happen, and I’ll keep an oops fund in case I need to pay for last-minute cancellations or cab fares.
  • I won’t let any embarrassment about running late get in my way.
  • When making plans with friends, I’ll give them a heads-up, and I’ll trust in their being grown-ups who can replan or find something that works for them.
  • A- tends to stay at a park a long time once we get there, so maybe I can ping people once we arrive and then see if they want to meet up. I should wrap up a few hours before sunset, too, just in case.
  • Speaking of trust, I’ll also trust that people can make their own decisions about whether they want to hang out with us in a playground (with bubbles! and snacks!). I’ve been a little uncertain about hanging out with non-parent friends because of the stereotype of a kid-obsessed parent who can’t talk about much else, but parks can be nice to enjoy anyway, I’m starting to free up some coding and thinking time, and maybe people might want to hang out with kids because it’s rejuvenating.

Biking opens up exciting possibilities. I don’t have to make it pay off entirely this year, or even worry about the break-even point compared to transit. I think a different experience of Toronto might be well worth it. It’s also good practice in adapting to situations and getting better at being playful. Looking forward to getting out more!

Thinking about more reflection and sharing

Okay. I’ve gotten basic recording sorted out, I think. I can capture quick notes, photos, and videos to document our lives and serve as placeholders for further reflection. I can organize them into rough categories. Babysitting gives me enough brainspace for both consulting and self-improvement. My sleep is still a bit messy, but that’s probably at least half because of me. I’m confident about spending time with A- and helping her learn stuff. Time to think of the next steps.

I think there are three big areas for me:

  • planning and experimenting with potential improvements: needs attention, creativity, and implementation time
  • sharing tweaks and things I’ve figured out: good for backing up and for conversation
  • making sense of facts, asking questions, synthesizing, reflecting

Our continuous improvement capabilities are okay, although of course there’s room to grow. Physical stuff (reorganization, trying stuff, decluttering) can happen throughout the day. Reading fits in late at night or in snippets throughout the day, although I’m still skimming for things to think about instead of being able to take notes or think about things in depth. Coding tiny little tools fits in late at night or during babysitting sessions – not big projects yet, but shell scripts and short Emacs Lisp functions are quite doable.

I’d like to get better at circling back and posting source code and experiment notes. Maybe I’ll start by including just a paragraph or two describing key motivation and intended result, then jump straight into the code or description. I’m not sure if it will help anyone else, but who knows? Besides, it’s good to have stuff like that in my own archive.

It seems like such a splurge to use babysitting time for thinking, drawing, and writing. I don’t know if I can write a post worth $120+ to myself or other people, and besides, I want to write more personally relevant things before I get back into sketchnoting books or putting together, say, Emacs guides. But if I think of the babysitting as primarily paying for A- to practise independence and social interaction with someone one-on-one, I do some consulting every week, and I make an effort to pick up one or two new activity ideas each time we have someone over, I can think of the discretionary time as a bonus instead of trying to optimize my use of that time.

Let me think about sense-making. I’ve been focusing on just capturing what was going on because it was hard to think more deeply. I’m a little less preoccupied now, so I have some brainspace for thinking. Some questions to ponder:

  • What is A- interested in learning? What does she think? Why does she do what she does? How can I grow so that I can support her even more effectively?
  • What else can I experiment with? How can I reduce waste or costs (including intangibles), and how can I increase benefits?
  • How can I make learning visible for both A- and me?
  • What do I want from all of this? How do I want this to shape me?

Writing this on a bench in the park, arms around a sleeping A-, I’m somewhat challenged by the small window I’m writing in (there’s room for a couple of paragraphs and that’s it), the inability to refer to other things side by side, and the possibility of interruption. But maybe I can think and write in medium-sized chunks: a little bigger than the quick notes I’ve been taking, but small enough that I don’t need an outline or the ability to easily rearrange my text. I can write more stream-of-consciousness stuff instead of worrying about editing. I can give myself permission to cover ground relatedly instead of worrying whether I’d written about something before, or if I’d just dreamed it.

Let’s warm up those thinking muscles. :)

Babysitting experiment #2: the baker

Babysitting experiment #2 was also a success. A- had her heart set on making carrot muffins today. She was peeling carrots when Stephanie (the babysitter) arrived. Stephanie had professionally trained as a baker, so she was a perfect fit for A-‘s interest. As I worked in the other room, I heard them talking about how the oil and the sugar lighten in colour with mixing, and why we grease the muffin tins. A- remembered so many steps in the process, even checking the muffins with a toothpick. Stephanie complimented A- on being a good baker. A- said, “No, I’m a cook,” which amused us.

They enjoyed the freshly baked muffins for snack, and I set out some berries and cheese too. A- asked, “Would Stephanie like so much snacks?” After snack, A- played in the play area with Stephanie. Then they went to the backyard for some digging and ball-throwing.

I managed to do a little over 2.5 hours of consulting. The rest of the time was mostly helping out, cleaning up, and getting a head start on chores. This let me use A-‘s nap time for reading (1 hour), so that probably counts too. Like before, A- fell asleep shortly after the babysitter left.

A- seems to like the novelty, and I think I’ll enjoy the diversity of skills and experiences people bring. I liked being around to translate A-‘s more obscure requests and overhear the things she wanted to know more about. At the same time, I was able to focus much better on code than I used to be able to do late at night. This could work out nicely.

One afternoon a week feels like the right balance for us at the moment. I was able to think a little about consulting in between sessions, but not let it take over my brain. We were able to do a few fun field trips together. I captured lots of little moments in my journal. I should probably think of kaizen projects that would take about one hour to do, and tee those up for next week. Hmm…

Experience report: getting a babysitter from an agency

I decided it was time to experiment with having a babysitter. A- has been getting more interested in other people and in practising independence from me. I wanted to give her opportunities to like more people and to have different kinds of fun. If babysitting could open up the possibility of doing some consulting during office hours, all the better.

One afternoon a week seemed like a good place to start. I like spending time with A- and school will start soon enough, so I wasn’t keen on putting her in daycare or getting a full-time nanny. One afternoon of 4 hours a week didn’t seem to be a good fit for any of the sitters I reached out to via personal referrals, so it was time to find my own.

I asked J-, since she’s got such great rapport with A-. We might explore that a little more once her schedule settles down. I also asked the neighbours, since their kids sometimes work as babysitters or mother’s helpers.

While those conversations are on the go, I wanted to experiment with babysitting without worrying about my interviewing skills. I decided to pay the premium for working with a babysitting agency that could take care of vetting and scheduling people. I contacted In a Pinch first, but they couldn’t issue receipts for the babysitting portion as well. I went with Nannies on Call instead. They sent me a bio of the sitter who accepted the booking. One day before our appointment, the sitter injured her foot, and the agency sent me the bio for a new sitter.

In the days leading up to our babysitting experiment, I prepared a quick guide, labeled all of A-‘s toy bins, and drew a 12-page book about babysitting. I borrowed “Penguin Misses Mom” from the library, and we read about Mrs. Duck the babysitter several times.

My expectations were low, since A- was often slow to warm up at drop-in centres and other activities. I figured we might spend an hour all playing together. Then I might gradually move to the background or the other room, and then I’d try working downstairs. I prepared for the possibility of letting A- cry for an hour or so. I figured it might be at least a month before we got the hang of it.

And then the babysitter came. We had a brief chat, and then we headed to the backyard. A- immediately started digging into the soil. She talked to the babysitter. She played with the babysitter. After about 15 minutes of feeling like a very happy third wheel, I excused myself. I got my work laptop, set myself up on the deck, and started being able to actually think about code. I could hear them laughing and talking at the end of the backyard. I didn’t even need to set a timer. It was brilliant.

They came over for snacks when A- got hungry. She was covered in dirt: success! The babysitter helped A- thoroughly wash her hands while I put together a snack plate. A- insisted on eating outside with the babysitter, so I got back to work. I was even able to have a super-helpful impromptu web conference with another developer, who gave me the scoop on the network infrastructure and plans for the upcoming project.

At some point, they wandered back into the house. I heard them play with the xylophone and the bells, and I heard A- ask for playdough, and I heard her play with paper, and I think they did stickers at some point too… A- went through so many of her favourite things. She used the potty twice. I was aware of them in the background (mostly because I’d occasionally get this urge to say “This is so awesome!” to myself), and I could still get stuff done.

All in all, I used 4 hours of childcare for:

  • 2.5 hours of consulting,
  • 0.5 hours of organizing my notes for babysitting interviews
  • 0.5 hours of helping with transitions
  • 0.5 hours of other stuff

and A- had 4 solid hours of fun with someone new.

I want to experiment a bit more. It might be good to try maybe two or three other providers from this agency so that I can get a sense of what’s different and what we prefer. I’m also going to try interviewing people, because that’s a useful life skill and it might result in a good arrangement for regular sitting.

Then, if things work out, I’d love to settle into a rhythm of using the time much like I did this afternoon: some consulting and continuous improvement for me, lots of outside time and interaction for A-. As we become more comfortable with babysitting, I might even venture out on errands like going downtown for a work laptop refresh. Coding and continuous improvement are more valuable to me than most errands are, though, so that’s probably how things will go.

I probably won’t always be this lucky, and that’s okay. At least we know what’s possible, and it’s awesome.

I liked how the sitter didn’t bat an eye when A- climbed into the garden box. Instead, she started piling soil up and she invited A- to help make a tall hill. I liked how the sitter talked a lot with A-, and A- clearly enjoyed talking with her too.

The sitter said that she liked our toy bin setup and the list I put together of the things A- could do with a little help (shortcuts to the zone of proximal development!). I wonder what I can do with the backyard to make it an even richer environment while waiting for the plants to come in. Maybe a small pile of river stones, a small pile of sticks, and a yogurt container for making sandcastles? Hmm…

Playground kaizen

Warmer weather means more playing at the playground, hooray! I’d like to figure out how to make this almost a daily routine, and to see what we can learn along the way. I wonder what it would be like to elevate play not just for my kiddo but for a number of other families, and to wring out as much as we can from the time we spend there.

Today we experimented with little improvements in how we play at the playground. Since A- likes playing with the Duplo playground at home, I brought a number of Duplo pieces: a slide, three bricks, two minifigures, and a train segment. We quickly attracted a couple of preschoolers who had fun rolling their cars along the sand dunes and down the slide while A- watched with interest. A- also enjoyed sliding the train down the big slide.

A- had lots of fun swinging really high on the swing, and having me interrupt her swinging. She watched the big kids swing their legs back and forward, and she practised the motion while we ate snacks on the bench.

Bath before dinner worked out well, too. No sand in the bed, yay!

A few ideas to try next:

  • bring plenty of bubble wands for sharing, or even a bubble machine; bonus points if I can figure out a portable rig for large bubbles, although I’m not keen on lugging a lot of soapy water around. Maybe something like a Thermos jug, which I can then put into a grocery cart?
  • more snacks; treat it as afternoon picnic time
  • bring paper and pen for thinking
  • buy or make toy dinosaurs, bring paintbrushes, and bury the dinosaurs in the sandbox. Hmm… I wonder if I could use old playdough or plaster casting to prototype this. That might be even more fun than buying a box of dinosaur toys, although purchased toys are cool too.
  • make it more routine, maybe invite other people to drop by and chat
  • bring a tube and other unconventional sandbox toys
  • figure out how to dress up so that we can enjoy the playground even in light rain
  • figure out what I’m supposed to be doing about sun protection
  • figure out how toilet training can fit in
  • explore and model playing with loose parts

I can use the grocery backpack to test ideas that need props, and then get a small grocery cart if I think it’s worth the space at home. I can use luggage organizers to create modules: extra clothes, stuff for the splash pad, stuff for the sandbox, bubble kit, etc. It’s like having a mobile office.

I borrowed a few books about outdoor education from the library. Reading about nature schools and activities might give me more ideas for things to try with A-.

Plenty of room for me to learn stuff at the playground!

Dealing with preoccupation and a slow tempo

I occasionally feel like less of a grown-up than I should be at 34 years old. We need to redo some of the insurance paperwork because I missed a few things in January. My sister will probably need to take care of that paperwork when she comes next week. I wasn’t forceful or proactive enough when it comes to dealing with fleas, so A- and I are covered in bites. I sometimes don’t see things even when they’re right in front of me.

A general approach that could work for me is:

  • Be kind to myself and others. Self-recrimination wastes energy and doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s okay to feel embarrassed if I use that feeling to move forward. It’s good to think of lapses as temporary than as indicative of character traits: something I did, not something I was. If I look for ways to improve, I can test if those ways will be sufficient.
  • Keep an oops fund. Most mistakes can be easily recovered from, and sometimes for not much money.
  • Work around my weaknesses. Delegate. Keep notes. Use checklists. Simplify. Manage expectations. Even if I think this extra fuzziness is temporary, it’s useful to plan workarounds as if it’s long-term, since I’ll probably run into similar problems when I’m older.

I feel scatter-brained. I find it hard to concentrate and remember, and I waste time getting back on track after interruptions. Mostly this is because I like being so available for A-, which is a decision I’m okay with, so I should just figure out how to compensate for that until things get back to normal-ish. Paperwork is low priority for me, so I should make sure it’s taken care of by someone who can prioritize and review it properly, and I shouldn’t overcommit.

We can get through this step by step. I can’t talk myself into being more focused and more observant, but I can gradually build safety nets, and then I can practise slowing down and paying attention.

A slow tempo often frustrates other people. I know my dad and Kathy often got impatient, and W- sometimes does too. Still, I think I can manage starting slow and working on becoming more solid. I trust that I’ll speed up with experience and with the compound growth of continuous improvement. I’m good at multiplying the value of the time I spend, and there are a few areas where I feel fast, too. I want to figure out just the right tempo for things – not slower than I need to be, but not faster than I can, while erring on the side of underpromising. I think this might be useful for me in the long run. Let’s see!