Category Archives: parenting

Thinking about impact

In preparation for possibly making it to a conversation tomorrow about quantified impact, I’ve been thinking about the impact I want my experiments to have and how I might be able to observe and measure them.

I realized that I’m less interested in looking at my impact on the wider world and more interested in looking at the impact on myself. I’m also interested in the impact on my family. This is partly due to the influence of Stoicism’s focus on the things that I can control, partly the freedom of not having external performance reviews, and partly an experimental belief that if I take care of my own life and share what I’m learning with others, wider impact will follow. I don’t need to seek it prematurely. I can focus instead on having a solid foundation to build on.

If I evaluated impact based on the outcomes for A-, I would leave that too vulnerable to chance (what if A- died unexpectedly?) or conflict (what if A- wanted a different path?). It feels more right to focus on doing my part well, and to evaluate myself accordingly. If other things work out well, that’s a nice bonus, and keeping an eye on how those things are going can help me check if I’m on track or drifting.

With that in mind, what kind of impact do l want for my experiments, big and small?

Deeper appreciation of life, meaning: My biggest experiment at the moment is parenting. Based on research, parenting is likely to increase feelings of satisfaction and purpose, and will probably be worth the reduced autonomy and increased vulnerability. It’s not so much about pleasure as it is about eudaimonia.

Deeper appreciation of W- and other people: Research is pessimistic on the effect of parenting on marital satisfaction and social connection, but I might be able to counter those effects by paying attention thoughtfully. I’ve certainly developed a deeper appreciation of W- over the past few years, and I feel like I’m getting to know Toronto better too. Parenting lets me see my family and my in-laws in a new light. I like being able to remember that everyone was a baby once, too, and I like being able to appreciate other people more.

Practice in equanimity: Parenting brings plenty of opportunities to apply philosophy to life. I like wasting less energy on frustration and directing more energy towards paying attention and moving forward. I’ve been able to keep my cool in varied situations, and now I’m working on being able to respond thoughtfully and creatively in the moment.

Push to learn and grow: I’m taking advantage of my desire to help A- by learning more about child development, early childhood education, health, science, and other things. I’m sure I’ll learn about lots of random topics along the way. I’m trading a bit of self-direction for motivation and pushes out of my comfort zone. I could start tracking this by writing down what I’m learning about.

Experiences, empathy: Not only with W- and A-, but with other people too.

Immersion into children’s worlds, playfulness, wonder, creativity: Good stuff.

Reduced friction, increased capabilities, increased effects: It’s good to deal with constraints like sleep disruption and limited attention, since I can find the rough spots and figure out ways to improve them.

Good boundaries, assertiveness, deliberation: I’m learning more about making decisions, asserting myself, and changing my mind as needed.

Shared notes, possible business ideas, credibility: Other people might benefit from what I’m learning or doing.

Increased Emacs community, learning from each other: I’m glad I can do Emacs News. Looking forward to having more brain space so that I can contribute tweaks too, since playing with Emacs improves my capabilities and tickles my brain.

The book All Joy and No Fun promises to be an interesting summary of the research into the effects of parenting on parents.

If I can be more thoughtful about the effects I want (or need to watch out for) from the various choices I can make, then I might be able to make better decisions or invest a little effort and get even better results. It’s fun thinking about these things!

A- and household life

We’re settling back into the rhythms of everyday life here in Toronto, although our sleep cycle still follows Manila time. Our routines at the moment: sleep, eat, clean up, play, tidy, take care of ourselves, and so on, with a little discretionary time for continuous improvement. As A- settles, we’ll get back to errands, appointments, and a few hours of consulting here and there.

The availability of full household support in the Philippines (cooking, cleaning, washing, errands, many tasks, and even babysitting) mostly meant that I spent more of my time with A-, especially helping A- interact with people. I did get a bit more paperwork done than I would have otherwise, as A- loved playing with water while people washed dishes. Still, there was enough slack in the day that we could often go on our own errands and wash our own dishes, both of which A- enjoyed greatly. The paperwork was not urgent, and it was much more valuable to share all those moments with A- and other people.

Now that we’re back in Toronto, W- and I keep our small household running by ourselves, with the help of machines. We’re working on simplifying and upgrading wherever it makes sense. I think it would be wonderful for A- to grow up deeply involved in the running of the household: to play with pots and pans, to learn to sort laundry, to develop fine motor skills making dinner. We still have toys and a play area for her, but she likes spending time in the kitchen with us, and we’re happy to include her.

So I probably don’t have to worry about setting up housekeeping or babysitting arrangements here, at least with our current needs. On one side, we can keep up enough with housework to stay happy. On the other side, I think I would mostly use freed up housework time to play with A-, and she probably benefits from the structure and variety of our chores. Besides, it gives her an opportunity to practice independent play, too. This is a privileged position, and it would be interesting to make the most of it.

With that in mind, how can I structure things so that it’s easier for her to get involved and grow in competence?

We’ve moved up to cutting with serrated knives with hand-over-hand guidance, and butter knives on her own if I think she’s attentive enough. It was great noticing her take the time to cut straight up and down instead of at an angle. I’ve been thinking about kids’ knives that require two-handed grips, but if we can help her safely learn using knives we already have, that would be handy.

She’s still working on the coordination needed for sweeping, but a hand-held vacuum might be a good fit for this in-between stage.

Montessori education suggests marking up a handkerchief to help kids learn how to neatly fold into quarters. I have plenty of flannel wipes and flat diapers that I can use for that.

She understands wiping surfaces, so it’s mostly a matter of practice and coordination. We found a spray bottle that she can activate if she uses both hands. If I let her play with it, we might even be able to help her learn how to use a home-made glass cleaner.

The bottom dishwasher is still broken, and we’re leaning towards eventually replacing the whole thing instead of fixing it yet again. She was a little interested in loading the dishwasher in the Philippines. If she picks up that interest again, I can help her load a few things from her tower.

Adding a trash can in her room can take advantage of her interest in labeling things as garbage and putting them away.

Of course, whenever she wants to move on to a different activity, that’s okay too. I expect she’ll generate more chaos than order for a long, long time. I think we’re figuring out a good mix taking care of ourselves, taking care of the house, and enjoying other activities. It’ll be interesting to see what this will be like with even more experience, and as our experiments in continuous improvement pay off!

Contemplating A-‘s enamel hypoplasia

I get a little anxious about A-‘s teeth. She has enamel hypoplasia, and there are large spots where enamel didn’t fully form. I’ve taken her to the dentist a number of times, and I even got a second opinion. Both dentists recommended watching and waiting, trying to make brushing a pleasant habit instead of restraining her, holding off on fluoride toothpastes or varnishes until she can reliably rinse and spit, and playing the long game when it comes to minimizing anxiety about dental care – better to avoid potentially traumatizing kids. Most days I can get her to either use the electric toothbrush or let me brush her teeth. A- does like rinsing and spitting at home, but I’m not sure I can get her to do that at a dentist’s office after a possibly upsetting varnish, and she still sometimes drinks the water instead of spitting out out. It’s just a little nerve-wracking to watch the slow discoloration of the rear surfaces of her front teeth and wonder when she’ll be able to sit for treatment, while keeping things pleasant and worry-free for A- so that she doesn’t develop dental anxiety.

The research papers I’ve read recommend fluoride varnishes even for very young children, but I’m reluctant to push for something against the recommendations of two dentists who’ve seen A-. I think I can trust their experience and that they’ve considered the research findings, too.

It can be reassuring to plan for the worst-case scenario. Let’s say A-‘s teeth start hurting. We’d take her to the dentist to have a look. Let’s say the teeth most affected by enamel hypoplasia need to be filled or even extracted before A- can sit still for cleanings or less invasive treatments. We’d take her in for dental work under sedation. It would be expensive, but that’s something we can save for. She might have spacers to help with the growth of her permanent teeth. It would suck, but there shouldn’t be any long-term pain, and she would probably catch up in growth after that’s resolved. If she does end up with anxiety about dentists, well, maybe play therapy and psychotherapy can help. After all, she’s similarly unhappy with ocularists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, pediatricians, and nurses, but we don’t let that stop us from doing what’s necessary.

I think I’m partly worried that A- might not be able to tell us if her teeth hurt. She’s pretty good at telling us when she bumps her elbow or drops something on her toe, though. She loves eating frozen blueberries and doesn’t have a fever. Her gums don’t look like they have abscesses, although her top front teeth do have dark brown spots on the back.

I’ll probably take her to the dentist when we get back from our trip, partly for familiarization and partly for peace of mind. Maybe we can plan it for a day when W- can take us in the car. Or maybe we’ll get proper snow pants for A- and gradually work up to regularly spending time outside, so then we can make it to the appointment by subway. We can deal.

Lots of people get cavities. I still need the occasional filling, even though I try to take good care of my teeth. Lots of kids get cavities, and the Internet says the cavities tend to bother the parents more than they bother the kids. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not fully under my control, either. All we can do is deal with things and try to build good habits. It’s going to be okay.

External brains – current state

Being the primary caregiver for a toddler means I’m distracted, often interrupted, and somewhat sleep-deprived, so using external brains (paper, phone, laptop) helps a lot. Here are a few things I rely on them to keep so that I can declutter my mind, worry less, and be more present:

  • Daily journal: This lets me tell W- stories about A-, appreciate A-‘s progress, and feel good about where the time went. I use Memento Database on my Android phone to add datestamped, categorized text notes to a Google Sheets spreadsheet.
  • Weekly/monthly review: This lets me appreciate progress over a longer period and plan for the next one. I edit the daily journal entries in Memento to set their importance (1: weekly highlight, 2: monthly), then filter, sort, group, and export the entries. I copy the text into Tasks Free (which synchronizes via Google Tasks) and then edit the text on my phone while A- nurses and sleeps. If I manage to have computer time, I might use Emacs to fill in more of my weekly or monthly review.
  • Tasks (next actions, inbox, waiting, thoughts, and assorted other lists): Tasks Free on my phone, since I can check it or add to it any time. I jot ideas/thoughts down here too, since I can write while nursing A- in bed. If I run out of battery, I charge my phone and move to W-‘s old phone, so I can keep writing. After I draft a thought that might be a good blog post, I copy it into the WordPress app and post it so that I can find it again later. (And so that other people might chime in with insights!) If I have time, I might copy a thought into Emacs, flesh it out further, and post it with org2blog.
  • Calendar: Google calendars – one for appointments, one for activity options. This way, I can hide all the optional stuff quickly.
  • Longer-term reminders, notes, work in progress: Org files. It’s so nice to be able to schedule tasks and have detailed notes on how to complete those tasks. I also really like being able to break things down with outlines and think out loud with code snippets. The weekly agenda review helps me catch reminders.
  • Photos and videos: I sync a Wi-Fi-enabled camera with my phone, then erase everything off the camera. Google Photos automatically uploads everything and shares them with W-. I post selected things to a Facebook closed group for kiddo updates.
  • Time and activity log: I track my time for curiosity. I made my own tracker (, and I made another button-based interface for easier tracking on my phone. That interface also lets me quickly log data to, where I track A-‘s sleep, nursing, and potty use. I made my own visualizations, too.
  • Reference info: Org. Document scans in Dropbox or Owncloud, some GPG-encrypted.
  • Book notes: I’ve been reading mostly e-books from the library, so I take screenshots on my phone and they go through my photo workflow. I use Tasks Free to capture quick notes about paper books. I’d like to get back to sketchnotes when I have more focused time.
  • New words: I’m tracking this out of curiosity. She has said 350+ different words, and she’s not even 2 years old yet. :) Many of the words come from songs and books, so it helps to think of concrete experiences she can associate them with.
  • Scenarios, just-in-case notes: Org. Good for managing risks and worrying less.
  • Processes: Org. Good for step-by-step instructions when I’m sleep-deprived or doing something infrequently.
  • Finances: Ledger-cli. Text-based accounting, yay! I have some reports in ledger-mode and some in an Org file. I update this monthly or so.
  • Cooking: We manage our grocery list in OurGroceries because of the multiuser real-time sync. Recipes tend to be looked up on the Internet and then copied into a paper notebook or onto an index card when we like them. Meal plan is written on scrap paper and stuck to the front of the fridge.

I want to get better at structuring my observations of A-‘s progress, planning follow-up activities, and keeping the overall picture in mind. Since I’m roughly categorizing the daily journal entries in Memento / Google Sheets, I can probably create a table that will make it easy to see if there are neglected areas, and then extend that to plan ideas. Or, well, as much planning as one can do with a toddler, really – more like keeping an eye out for opportunities to build on A-‘s interests. So far it’s been okay, though. I’ve been learning about basic principles and skill components from textbooks on early childhood education, and that makes it a bit easier for me to improvise. I have a rough outline of areas to think about on a regular basis, and a few ideas to explore over the next few months.

I also want to get better at managing my book notes and other ideas I want to revisit at the appropriate time. I’m a little lacking on the review side, since most of my writing time is taken up by capturing observations and the occasional reflection. So far, this has also been okay. I just have to trust that whatever I’m writing down will still make sense to me in a few months or years, and the most important stuff will turn up on my radar at the appropriate time. Schedule-based reminders are easy, but things wait for all sorts of other factors. For example, there are lots of practical life skill exercises I picked up from the Montessori education books that will be a better fit when A-‘s fine motor skills improve.

I’d like to get back to drawing someday, although it may have to wait until I have more dedicated time. Whenever I start sketching out a thought, A- likes drawing on my paper or asking me to draw stuff for her. It’s all good, though, since it encourages us to scribble. It just means that I can’t take a picture and reuse the drawing – I have to type it up anyway, so I may as well explore the thought on my phone unless I want to think nonlinearly.

I’ll experiment with using timestamped notes in Memento to help me with offline logging when we go on our trip. I might also just spring for Internet access once we’re off the plane, since that’s useful for other things as well.

I’ve got a fair bit of clutter in my Org files, but I trust that the outlining tools will help me reorganize as needed. I tend to do just-in-time organizing: instead of starting with an outline and drilling down, I might capture a bunch of thoughts, refile them as the structure becomes clearer, and then work up and down from there.

I don’t spend nearly as much time on the computer as I might want to for optimal external-brain management, but the current system is surprisingly workable. Shifting more of my writing to my phone (including the weekly/monthly summaries) made a difference, since I don’t have to keep as much in my head or get constrained by computer time. I look forward to tweaking how things work as A- becomes more independent and as I learn more.

A little more independence

A- is playing more independently. I actually managed to do a little consulting during the afternoon. Nothing too complicated, just modifying and running a script that I’d written the other night so that it could download a large collection of files in time for me to send the archive to the person who requested it. A- kept herself occupied by “shopping” for groceries in the pantry, “working” on my laptop, and putting things away, occasionally asking me for help. Later that afternoon, she accompanied me as I vacuumed upstairs and downstairs. It helps a lot that I can trust her to go to the potty or ask for help.

I want to think about how I can balance different types of time: focused playtime together, independent play while I observe or help as requested, and activities I do while she plays in the background. I’d like to minimize the waiting time between when she asks for help and when she gets it, so no long focused tasks – maybe 1-5 minute response time. I want to communicate that she’s important and that I’m available, and also that I trust her and that she’s capable of exploring on her own. I want to continue enriching her vocabulary by labeling things and actions, and by doing things in front of her that she can then imitate or participate in.

I think I’ll keep my current arrangement for consulting: 1-2 hours a week in the middle of the night, except for rare occasions when a little work during the day can help other people a lot. No calls, still, since A- wants to talk on the phone whenever I use one. (Distracting her with another handset rarely works.) Coding on the laptop is too abstract for her. Ditto for writing.

Drawing or writing on paper lets me explore a few thoughts quickly and gets her interested in drawing, although any index cards or lists I make tend to get enthusiastically scribbled on or crumpled. That’s okay, I just note key ideas on my phone.

Cleaning is a definite win. It has to be done anyway, and it’s something I can do in stops and starts. It’s good modeling, too. Now that she’s more independent, I can vacuum, and I can sometimes move things between floors.

We’re not quite at being able to cook anything more than the simplest recipes, but we’ll get there someday. Maybe we’ll start with ingredient prep, which could double as cutting practice. As she gets better at waiting, I’ll feel more confident about asking her to wait a few minutes while I put away food or deal with boiling water.

If I open a book to read, she usually wants me to read a book to her. That’s okay, she gets priority. She can flip through a few books and “read” them on her own, saying the words she remembers out loud. Sometimes she tells me to get my own book. We’ll probably work out a routine of spending some time reading together and some time reading our own books. In the meantime, I like reading The Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss books.

I want to think about how to enrich her environment so that she can explore and learn. She’s focused on home stuff at the moment, and she rarely wants to dress up to go outside. In fact, she mostly likes to spend time in the kitchen, which isn’t much of a surprise because we like to spend time in the kitchen too. If we organize the play area a bit better and I hang out there more often, maybe that will shift the centre of gravity. She likes being able to play for a bit and then check in with me, so I can try setting out a simple puzzle and things to rummage through.

As for outside time, maybe we’ll shift back to that when we’re more comfortable with potty training. She’s okay with quick walks in the carrier, but she might be picking up on my worrying about going for an extended stroll without a diaper. Maybe I can work on more excitement and routine, too.

Gotta grow along with her!

More thoughts on toilet training

We’ve been home all week. A- seems to be getting the hang of going to the potty, although she sometimes has accidents if she’s distracted or if I prompt her too directly. (She likes feeling that it’s her own idea, I guess!)

I haven’t made it out of the house because she’s been refusing diapers, clothes, and being in the carrier. We’ll need to insist at some point because of our upcoming trip, but in the meantime, we can be flexible.

Let me think through what could happen. If she gets interested in going for a short walk, agrees to put on wool pants, a jacket, and other clothes for cool weather, and heads out the door with us, we can stay close enough to home that a toilet is ten or fifteen minutes away. I can also time any outings for after she has recently used the potty, which could give us enough time for most neighbourhood errands. If she has an accident, we can go home and change clothes. I can bring extras too, if I don’t need my bag for much else. Wool can keep us warm even if it’s wet. My carrier can be machine-washed, and I can carry A- by hand or in a sling.

Most of the places we walk to have reasonable bathroom access. The playground doesn’t have a bathroom, but we can wait to go until after she’s used the potty. Transit is a bit trickier. We can pop out of the subway to use a bathroom somewhere if we need to. I can save longer trips for when she’ll accept diapers or training pants, or I can sit her on top of a towel and a waterproof bag.

Since accidents are inevitable, we can just keep things neutral so that she doesn’t feel ashamed. I can carry a towel, a spray bottle, and some hand sanitizer in my bag to help clean up messes and model being prepared.

I want to set her up for as much success as possible. It’ll get easier as we get better with noticing her signals, accepting prompting, and dealing with accidents. Those accidents can help her learn more, anyway. In the meantime, I don’t need to push her. She’s learning lots of things quickly, and we have plenty of time to sort things out.

I liked going for walks with W- or even with just A-, so it would be nice to get back to that eventually. I’ll just have to compensate by exercising more around the house. That’s something I can work on while A- goes at her own pace, and it’ll help me model good habits for her too.

Okay. Bodyweight exercises for me, plus some fresh air while she waits in the kitchen because we can see each other through the glass door. If she shows interest in joining me, I can help her dress up and we can stay in the backyard, and then eventually go for walks around the block. If that works out, I can pack a grab-and-go kit, and we can work on prompting. I can look into clothing options, too.