Category Archives: parenting

Figuring out my own social life

It’s much easier to hang out with other parents and their kids than with child-free friends. Parents are used to pausing and resuming conversations as we follow our kids’ interests. They know scheduling is super-flexible and it might take three times longer to walk a short distance than Google Maps estimates. The actions and recent developments of our kids give us many things to talk about. It’s great to be able to share snacks and baby wipes, and to watch out for each other. They usually have memberships to the same sort of kid-friendly places A- and I like: reasonably quiet, with lots of things to explore.
But my friends are my friends because I like who they are as people. I learn from their lives, and I appreciate that people like them exist. I don’t want to move out of their orbits permanently, or even wait until A- is old enough for me to leave her for an afternoon or an evening. They’re also grown-ups who can make the most of the moments when A- pulls me away. A- generally takes one nap these days, and I can usually get away without napping along with her. She doesn’t have a particular schedule. If we have company, I might be able to get her to sleep in the carrier.
The ideal situation is when child-free friends are also good friends with parent friends. Then we can all hang out, and despite divided attention and fragmented conversations, we can usually manage to talk about interesting things.
Home is the best place. A- is comfortable. We’ve got space to spread out and let her do things on her own whenever she wants to. I’m a little intimidated by the thought of hosting with food, since it’s still a bit hard to get groceries or cook with A-. But maybe I can find a few forgiving, freezable recipes that I can make ahead (zucchini muffins!), and I can ask people to bring things they might enjoy. Afternoons are best because A- is awake and we can keep our evening routines smooth. Most people aren’t available during the week, though, so maybe I can see about setting up a Sunday afternoon thing once a month.
I’m still looking for places in Toronto and Manila that can serve as a good base for grown-up socializing. During good weather, the parks in Toronto are great for picnics and walks, so maybe I should see if there are parks/playgrounds like that in Manila too. (And what time to go, considering the heat.) She’s a bit too small to play independently in public playplaces like those occasionally found in fast food restaurants. Big, uncrowded spaces work better for us, so she can explore while I remain close by. The Mind Museum in Manila and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto are among our favourites.
Meals are another possibility: restaurants with high chairs, food that A- likes, and my own grab-bag of crayons, paper, and other things for kid entertainment. I prefer to not have her confined to a chair for a long time – and she usually clambers out of it quickly anyway – so that’s more for 30-minute charts. I’m mostly distracted by feeding her and keeping things from spilling, though, so I’m not much of a conversationalist.
Hmm. That gives me a few things to experiment with:

  • I can continue seeing Jen and E- weekly, since we’ve got a good rhythm for field trips. I can invite Eric whenever it makes sense, since he’s a mutual friend who has a flexible schedule.
  • I can work on setting up a similar rhythm with Joy and J-, maybe on Tuesdays, or introduce them to Jen and E- for more fun.
  • I can see if flexible, low-expectation planning works for having people over on Sunday afternoon. It can always be a supermarket rotisserie chicken dinner thing, I can ask people to bring stuff, or we can have stuff delivered.
  • When W- wants more focus time, I can plan to see friends at a park, restaurant, or something like that. This might be good for getting back in touch with both parent and non-parent friends.

Hmm. Reviving my social life also ties in with helping A- get to know and interact with more people. I think it would be a good use of my opportunity fund. I like the things I’ve been learning from friends’ lives. Since people generally don’t write as much as I do, it’s good to talk to people more regularly. The limiting factor is probably me more than other people or A-, so if I rejig my thoughts (yes, people can bring stuff, I can pay for delivery, people can be flexible, and I can trust that I’ll hold up my end of the conversation), that might open up more possibilities. Let’s give it a try.

Building a people-rich environment for A-

A- has been learning people’s names and how to interact with them, which is probably the key benefit of taking her on these trips. Lola has had some quality grandparenting time, even chasing after a delighted A- and exchanging kisses. The staff reward A- with lots of attention when she calls them by name. It took a few days for A- to warm up to Lolo Frank, but now she’s excited to greet him too. She really likes being able to call people by name. She lights up so much.

I wonder what the equivalent thing could be in Toronto. I like that there’s a large group of people here who can regularly, happily interact with A- whenever their lives intersect. Maybe if we visited W-‘s family more often? Hacklab was kinda like that for me, but I don’t know how age-appropriate an electronics-heavy maker space would be (A- isn’t quite good yet at washing her hands), and the relationships are different. Maybe I’ll just have to build the kind of playgroup my sister had with “hockey cousins” (her former hockey teammates plus their kids). Warmer weather means more time at playgrounds, so maybe I can work on socializing. Long-term plan: make friends now so that I can invite people over next winter. It’ll be easier once A- gets into social play, of course, but it’s good to practice before then.

Maybe I can start posting in the neighbourhood parent group and invite people out. It’s nice to spend time with other parents/caregivers. We can introduce each other, interact, share snacks, and watch out for each other’s kiddos.

I’d go to the drop-in centres more, too, but A- gets a bit antsy. We’ll keep trying. A- might be okay with checking out library story times. Hmm…

I can also pick up another tip from Kathy and start memorizing people’s nametags or asking people’s names. The librarians don’t wear individual nametags. I can’t remember if the supermarket cashiers do. Maybe something like, “We see you all the time! I’m Sacha. This is A-. A- is learning to have lots of fun recognizing people by name. May we ask your name so we can try to remember it?”

Hmm… I wonder what else I can do to build her that kind of people-rich environment. Daycare is one of the things people use for that kind of socialization, but then I miss out on the fun. :) It’ll just have to be regular visits to places like the subway station, Riverdale Farm, and the Science Centre, a few meetups, plus more courage and attention on my part.

Maybe after the hundredth time I ask the name question, it will feel more natural. Still introverted, but willing to make an effort in case this is something A- finds fun and useful. If you happen to be in Toronto, please feel free to help me figure this out! :)

Strangers talking to us

A- will probably be strongly influenced by how I interact with people, so it’s good to give that some thought. I am a bit reserved, and I’m sometimes reflexively suspicious of strangers who talk to me out of the blue. I’ve been making an effort to smile at people and engage in the usual chitchat about the weather. There are certain things that get the conversation off on the wrong foot and I haven’t quite figured out how I want to handle them. Let me think about what I like and don’t like, and what I want to try next.

Let’s start with positive stuff, so I don’t feel like such a curmudgeon. What I like about the way strangers sometimes interact with A- and me:

  • Observation: “You seem to really like digging!”
  • Offering: “Would you like to play with this?”
  • Joining in: Impromptu dance party
  • Recognition: “You did it!” “That looks like fun!”
  • Inviting A- to make contact: extending a hand for a high five or a fist bump, but not making it awkward or insistent.
  • Empathizing

Things I don’t like:

People just reaching out and touching A-! This makes me want to back off or swat their hand away. I understand that baby skin looks so soft and inviting, and I get that people want kiddos to pay attention to them, but this just creeps me out. I’m tempted to experiment with stroking them right back and seeing how weird that makes them feel, but that just prolongs the interaction. So far, I’m getting better at saying, “Please don’t touch.” Some people really don’t get the hint, though. I may have to practice saying stronger variants.

What’s the harm? Nothing much, I guess, but I want A- to learn about bodily autonomy both ways (her body is her own, and other people’s bodies are theirs), and it creeps me out that other people want to satisfy their curiosity by touching people, and it’s supposed to be okay just because they’re touching a kid. Uh, no.

I am, however, totally okay with people crouching down to her level, saying something like “Would you like a high five?”, extending their hand, and waiting for her to respond.

I also cut little kids some slack, although I’ll still wave them off if I’m in arms’ reach. Just because someone wants to hug or kiss or touch someone doesn’t mean that person has to be hugged or touched or kissed. I’m getting better at intervening with something like “Wait, please. A-, it looks like ____ would like to give you a hug. Would you like to hug or wave hello?”

What’s wrong with her eye? Another one for dealing with other people’s curiosity. There was a Holland-Bloorview ad that resonated with me. It said: “Asking is better than assuming. But do you really need to know?” When I feel relaxed, I say things like, “She was born that way. It doesn’t hurt, though, and she can see fine with her other eye.” I might also practice saying “Why do you ask?” and when people say, “Just curious,” going with “I don’t feel like satisfying your curiosity right now.” Or maybe “Why do you need to know?” said with a smile.

And then there are playful approaches: “She lost it in a hockey fight!” “She’s a pirate in training.” “Aaaaah! Did it fall out again?”

There’s also “Isn’t it amazing how we can adapt to situations? A- can see just fine with her other eye. She can also hear just fine too, so let’s include her in the conversation!”

Or maybe that old standby, “Would you like to ask her? It’s up to her if she wants to answer or not, of course!”

How cute! Or “What a cutie,” or other variants that focus on appearance. I understand that that’s many people’s default compliment for kids (especially girls). People are usually quite genial, so I’ll try to be gracious about it. It might be fun experimenting with playfully asking A- if she wants to be cute today or a more interesting adjective. “Cute” kinda feels a little dismissive, limiting, and more focused on the eye of the beholder, and it tends to have an expiration date… I wonder if “Are you a cute little baby today or an awesome big kid” sets up too much of a contrast. “Cute is out, awesome is in.” might be too conceptual. “Baby sheep are cute. A- isn’t just cute, she’s awesome! Speaking of cute sheep, there’s a new lamb at Riverdale Farm! Have you been?”, maybe? Long thing to say, but redirects the conversation…

I’m okay with A- getting compliments, and I hope she doesn’t get a complex about her appearance. “Cute” is just a bit weird, though, or maybe I’m just a bit weird about it. :)

Boy or girl? I’m guessing people don’t want to make the mistake of assuming gender, but aren’t used to avoiding gendered pronouns. I guess I could jump straight to introducing A- by name and interest, since A- has a gendered name. Then it would feel less like her gender is the first thing people need to know about her.

How old is she? People are probably just calibrating their age guesses and figuring out how impressed they should be with whatever A-‘s doing. Maybe I’ll practice poking them ever so slightly back. “You first! How old are you?” Or maybe directing people to ask her instead (answers optional), so she gets practice in conversations.

Are you from China? Maybe people are trying to calibrate their race guesser? I get this occasionally from non-Asians awkwardly making conversation. Filipinos tend to think I’m Chinese too, but generally don’t mention it until I say something in Tagalog that prompts an “Ah! Akala ko Intsik ka” from them. Maybe I’ll practice the Southern “What a thing to say.” Or maybe “You first! Are you from ___?”

Ooh. This Citylab post has a fun idea for dealing with the “Where are you from?” question: “Mars!” This post gives me a more positive view of why people might ask. Maybe I could distract and redirect with “Isn’t it wonderful how Toronto is such a diverse city and anyone can be a Canadian? Where are you from?” Or maybe “It’s fun to guess where people are from. Are you from ____?”

Ideas to play with!

Helping A- level up

A- is becoming more opinionated, which is a good thing. I can be more opinionated, too. We can start talking about reasons, and we can work on weathering big emotions. I’ve been erring on the side of permissiveness and allowing self-determination, but maybe I can trust in her resilience and adaptability. Here are some areas I might work on being more firm about:

Weaning: A- asks to nurse for comfort and to help her go back to sleep. Sometimes she stays latched for a long time. The dental surgeon strongly recommended weaning her to reduce the risk of further cavities and repeat dental surgery. I know there are mixed results regarding night nursing and early childhood caries. Still, it’s probably as good a time as any to make the transition.

I’ve been slowly getting A- used to waiting or finding other ways to comfort herself during the day. Sometimes she gets upset for five to ten minutes, but that’s bearable. It’s a bit more challenging at night. I won’t push it too much at night because we have a long trip coming up. When we get back, it might be good to try something like Dr. Gordon’s method.

What could being too soft look like? If I give in to her, she’ll probably stick with nursing on demand for a year or more. We’d probably need to go for another round of dental surgery with its associated risks, costs, and finger-wagging. It’s easier for me in the short term to night nurse instead of wean, but I might be missing out on long-term sleep improvements.

What could being too hard look like? If I push her too fast, she’ll cry a lot and we won’t get much sleep. Lots of people have survived cry-it-out methods, but I’m still hoping to do something a bit gentler. I feel better about her crying if I’m there offering a hug or a backrub. She’s usually so upset that she doesn’t want me to touch her, which I respect, so I just hang out and listen until she settles down. The first time we tried it, she cried for an hour before falling asleep. She seems much better at recovering now.

  • Eating: A- likes playing while we have dinner, and sometimes wants to pull me away. I like sitting down for dinner with W-. I’m getting better at insisting that I will come play with her after I finish my dinner. We keep her dinner on the table until we’re done, since she often wants to sit down for dinner when she realizes we’re enjoying ours.

She tends to eat food every 1.5-2 hours. It might be good to stretch it out a little further.

We plan to move a little away from snacking on the go when we’re out and about. It’s better to sit down and have proper snacks, anyway.

  • Sleep: I can be more firm about waking her up from her afternoon nap so that we don’t end up staying up too late in the evening. I’m also thinking of being more firm about my own bedtime, although she’s welcome to stay up and play a little if she wants.

I think the general plan is to trust in A-‘s resilience and adaptability, and to not be afraid of the hard stuff. We’ll figure this out together. She wants to learn how to be a big kid, and I want to help her. I don’t want things to feel like a power struggle if I can help it. I want it to be more like “Okay, you’re ready for bigger challenges. Let’s try this together.”

As for brushing teeth, we’ll try working on playfulness first. Lots of parents take a firmer approach, but the dentist doesn’t recommend restraining A- for toothbrushing, so we’ll just have to work on making it more fun.

Labeling toy storage bins with photos and text using ImageMagick and org-babel

I wanted to make labels for A-‘s new toy storage: three low Trofast drawer frames all along the wall.

I liked how early childhood drop-in centres labeled their shelves with both pictures and text. That way, kids can find things before she can read, while still being exposed to print. I took pictures of the bin contents and renamed the files to the labels I wanted to put on them, such as 2x2 blocks.jpg. (We have a lot of Duplo.)

This time, I experimented with creating the labels entirely in Imagemagick instead of using LaTeX. First, I used a table in Org Mode to let me easily play with the dimensions and recalculate pixel sizes.

DPI   300
Columns 3  
Rows 5  
Paper width 14 4200
Paper height 8.5 2550
Minimum margins 0.5 150
Label width 4.3333333 1300
Label length 1.5 450

I passed the width and the height to the following code block by using header arguments. I liked using 400 pixels as the height instead of 450, so that’s what I used. My source image size was 4032×3024 pixels. If I resize them to a height of 400, that gives me a width of 533. Allowing 20 pixels for the text left and right borders gives me (- 1300 533 20 20) = 727 as the text width.

#+begin_src sh :dir ~/code/labels :var width=1300 :var textwidth=727 :var height=400 :var pointsize=72 :results silent
for x in source/*; do
  file=$(basename "$x")
  /usr/local/bin/convert \( \( "source/$file" -resize x${height} \) \
     \( -background white -fill black -font Alegreya-Regular -bordercolor White \
         -gravity West -border 20 -pointsize $pointsize -size ${textwidth}x caption:"${file%.*}" \) \
     +append \) \
     -extent ${width}x${height} \
     \( -fill none -stroke gray -draw "rectangle 0 0 $(echo $width - 1 | bc) $(echo $height - 1 | bc)" \) \

Sample resized label:

I moved the ones I wanted from the out directory to a ready directory and combined the ones I wanted to print into a PDF:

#+begin_src sh :dir ~/code/labels :results silent
montage ready/*.png -tile 3x5 -background none -geometry +0+0 print.png
convert print*.png -density 300 -quality 100 print.pdf

Then I printed the labels in colour on an 8.5×14″ sheet of paper (single-sided, landscape), cut them out, and taped them onto the bins with packing tape.

W- suggested taking macro shots that more clearly show the characteristics of things in the bins instead of just aiming down and taking pictures of the contents. Might be a good excuse to show A- basic product photography when we get back.

W- also recommended making the label text bigger. The first time I did it, I just picked a pointsize based on whatever fit the ones I wanted to print. I decided against letting Imagemagick maximize the font size because I didn’t want labels to have very different text sizes. After a little poking around, I figured out how to use caption: instead of label: to give me text that can neatly wrap within a given space, and that will probably let me use 90-point font instead of 72-point font. That will make the next iteration of labels even easier to read.

It’s nice having all these bins. A- is getting pretty good at heading straight for the bin she wants something from, and she even talks about them: “Horse is in animals bin.” I’m glad we labeled the most frequently used bins. I’ll tweak the labels when we get back from our trip. We’ll probably change some of the bin contents anyway.

Hooray for ImageMagick, and hooray for variables in org-babel blocks!

Tickling my brain

I like tickling my brain. How can I improve the way I invest time into tickling my brain? What’s working and what needs tweaking?

Observing and interacting with A- tickles my brain. She’s awesome. Besides, this way I can collect stories for W-, too. I can tickle my brain more effectively by quickly jotting down some keywords or taking pictures to help me tell stories at dinner. I can also level everything up by engaging playfully and thoughtfully with A-, so that she has fun and so that her world keeps expanding. She uses my attention as a cue for her attention too, so energy pays off.

Learning more about parenting tickles my brain when I try something new with A-, and when something I’ve read helps me see, understand, and extend something A- is doing. I enjoyed picking up tips from Playful Parenting and Happiest Toddler on the Block. Ideas I want to try out tend to be few and far between, though, so maybe I’m not being particular enough about the books I read. I’ve been prioritizing writing time over reading time on my phone, anyway.

In terms of writing, I like exploring a single question with a little background, some things I’ve tried, and some ideas to check out next. It’s hard to keep context in my head with a small screen, lots of interruptions, and no outlining support, so it pays to keep things short and fairly linear. Maybe writing in Orgzly or an outline editor instead of the Markor markdown editor will help me with a bit of structure. I have a list of ideas to write about. It’s disorganized and ever-growing, but that’s probably okay.

Drawing hasn’t fit in my priorities lately. I liked drawing on my Lenovo X220 as a way of exploring thoughts, especially for brainstorming, analyzing, or planning. I enjoyed sketching books to help me remember and share them. I’m not yet familiar enough with the iPad Pro to feel comfortable about getting those sketches into my archive. Besides, A- wants to draw on the iPad if she sees me on it, and if she’s asleep, I tend to write or code instead. I also haven’t replaced my workflows for reviewing, renaming, and writing about my sketches, so that reduces the value I get from them. Hard to combine ideas from multiple sketches on my cellphone screen.

Our upcoming trip might be a good time to dig deeper into this, since I won’t bring my laptop. I can improve by splitting this into doodling time for developing drawing skills and thinking time for sorting out thoughts. I can expand my visual vocabulary by looking at graphic organizers and other people’s sketchnotes, particularly if I can find more people who use them for personal reflection rather than recording other people’s content. Still, writing tickles my brain a little more efficiently, especially since drawings tend to need extra work to make them usable in my archive and shareable with others. Doodles can be ephemeral, though, so that sounds like a good plan: doodle a lot around A-, especially with pen and paper.

Tech tweaking works well in tiny, low-risk doses, with maybe a max of two hours of somewhat sleepy coding time. I can tinker with Android while in bed with A-, or in the tiny pockets of time I get throughout the day. Emacs is almost always fun to play with. I like learning about Linux things that I can share with W-. Troubleshooting is annoying, and exploring packages and features is a lot more fun. For example, I found it hard to sustain enough focus to dig into Docker + WordPress issues. I felt like I was going around in circles even though I was trying to take notes along the way. On the other hand, it was fun playing with exiftool to get it to do what I wanted, because I could make incremental improvements with clear progress and I could stop whenever I was satisfied. I can also use my time away from the computer to think of ideas, while troubleshooting tends to need computer access.

To have more fun with tech, I can pick up inspiration by browsing blogs, documentation, and source code whenever I want to take a break. I’ve come across many useful things by just rereading the Emacs and Org manuals. I can also keep a list of manual things that might be easy to automate, and I can pick something from the list when I have time.

I like picking up new recipes, although I rarely get to do that unless I feel comfortable starting something with A- around. I can probably take more risks in this area, especially if I look at it more from the sensory experience and skill development angles. I can focus on recipes people suggest for cooking with kids and fit that into our weekly routines.

Continuous improvement tickles my brain, and so does keeping an eye out for good ideas. A- is into saying "Good idea!" these days, and maybe I should be too!

Consulting used to tickle my brain a lot (problem-solving and prototyping with external validation!), but because I haven’t been able to focus as much lately, I don’t feel right billing for things that I might not be able to tweak based on feedback or turn over to other developers. Instead, I’ve been using snippets of coding time to improve personal systems, and that will probably pay off quite a bit too.

I could shift time away from A- towards other forms of tickling my brain by sorting out babysitting. Still, I’ve only got so many years of the former, so it seems to make sense to make the most of them. I’m not 100% focused on that, though. I like the way writing helps me remember and coding is fun, so I make time for those. Besides, that also gives A- space to go do her own thing periodically. If I can get better at tickling my brain with five minutes here and there, accumulating the results over time, that might be pretty handy.

Hmm. For the next few weeks, it might be fun to focus on tickling my brain by interacting with A-, keeping an eye out for good ideas, and doodling. I can deemphasize coding (hard to do on my phone anyway) and save writing for when we’re in bed or when she’s off playing independently. Tweak tweak tweak…