Category Archives: parenting

Notes from the Let’s Get Started parenting series

On the recommendation of our family home visitor, we signed up for the Let’s Get Started program run by the Macaulay Child Development Institute. It’s a 6-week program for parents with kids who have special needs or are experiencing developmental delays.

A- is okay so far based on the Nipissing developmental screens, but we want to keep on top of things in case she needs early intervention for her monocular vision, the learning difficulties that affect maybe 20% of people with microphthalmia, or anything else that might come up.

At the first session, a speech pathologist gave a short presentation on teaching kids how to speak. Instead of questions (“What’s this? What’s this?”) and prompts (“Say ‘apple.'”), it’s more effective to label (“Apple.”), model (“Apple, please.”, as you hand the child the apple), and expand (“Red apple.”). I found it very useful to hear him model the kind of talking to do around babies (“Open door! Close door!”). It’s been much easier to fill A-‘s world with words, and I’m less worried about being too quiet around her. It was also reassuring to find out that gestures count as words when it comes to the developmental milestones, so A- is meeting those for now. At 12 months, she says “Mama”, and is reasonably consistent about gestures for nursing and no. She often uses the “more” sign to ask for water, but she also uses it for other things, and sometimes we’re not quite sure what she wants. Ah well!

We missed the second session because A- was sick. They discussed the Nipissing developmental milestones, which we’ve already been using because of the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program.

The third session had an occupational therapist from Surrey Place. She focused on one-on-one consultations with the families there. I asked about A-‘s monocular vision, since people in the Facebook support group for microphthalmia sometimes shared stories of how they were automatically qualified for early intervention and how useful the therapy was. From my research, I know I might need to adapt how we teach her to pour water from a pitcher, deal with stairs or curbs, thread things, ride a bicycle, and drive a car. She’ll probably also need a bit of consideration when it comes to where to sit in a classroom, deal with shared textbooks, and get through physical education classes. Then there’s the social aspect too – dealing with limited field of vision and accidentally ignoring people, handling any bullying or isolation caused by being visually different, and so on. It’s been difficult to find information on monocular vision. There are many more resources focused on blindness in both eyes. The occupational therapist didn’t know of anything off the top of her head, so she asked me to follow up with her by email to see if any of her colleagues might be able to help. A- will probably be all right, but it never hurts to learn as much as I can anyway.

In the fourth session, a speaker from Holland-Bloorview talked about visual routines. They’re great for helping kids learn words and concepts, transition between activities, stay on task, choose, express themselves, put things away, and go through multi-step procedures. By showing an object, picture, or illustration, we give children a visual anchor for a concept or task. For example, I could show A- the grocery flyer and tell her that we’re going to the supermarket. The speaker gave each of us a laminated “First… Then” board with everyday activities. We also got laminated guides for handwashing and going to the toilet. I had looked up visual routines when I saw how the centre staff used little laminated cards to help kids move from one activity to another, so it was nice to get a little kit already put together. I also liked how the speaker had a bunch of visual cards hanging from her lanyard (a selection of emotions and actions).

Looking forward to the next sessions! It’s a bit more of a hike than our usual programs – 45 minutes away by subway and bus – but it’s good to be able to talk to specialists and learn more about what to watch out for. I heard that even developmental assessments have waiting lists that take a few months to get through, and it’s even longer for therapy. Whatever I can do to learn and support A- will be good especially if she ends up needing a little help, but not being as high-priority as other cases that agencies need to focus their limited time and budget on. Anyway, it’s all part of what we signed up for!

More thoughts on the timing of discretionary time

W- is thinking of shifting his discretionary time for side projects to early morning, before he heads out to work. That way, he can tackle it with more energy and enjoy making steady progress. I’ve been planning for my discretionary time in the evening, after A- goes to bed. It might be nice to experiment with setting an early alarm and staying in sync with W-. I’ve tried one-offs here and there and A- generally ended up waking along with me, so I didn’t get time for other things. If I do it consistently, though, she’ll probably shift her bedtime earlier.

The main thing that gets shifted around on my end is the journal, since that’s natural to do at the end of the day. The quick notes I take on my phone will probably be enough, though. Alternatively, I could split it up: sleep after my journal, and then wake up and so other things.

So, how can I ease into this? If I prioritize sleeping during her naps for a couple of days, that should make it easier to wake up early. A- will adjust her own naps based on her energy. This is a good time to try it, anyway – no major appointments coming up, so we can adjust as needed. I think W- wanted to start being up by 5 or even earlier. Bonus: electricity is cheaper.

We’ll see if A-‘s okay with my slipping away early in the morning. If not, maybe I’ll find my discretionary time somewhere else in the day. No worries! I’d like at least enough time for my journal and for Emacs News, so that’s about half an hour to an hour. Interruptible and can be deferred a day or two, so the time is pretty easy to find. Most of the other things can wait if need. The next big chunk is probably filing our personal taxes some time in March or April, but I should be able to find enough focused time in that period. Who knows, maybe A-‘s sleep patterns will have changed by then. We’ll see!

When both W- and I can play with A-

Sometimes I try to get things done while W- plays with A-. I feel good about taking care of household chores or urgent and important tasks, but I feel weird about discretionary things like updating my journal or working on my computer. Even if I just hang out while they play in the same room, that feels more comfortable than taking advantage of the opportunity for focused time. I wonder why that’s the case, and if I need to tweak my perspective.

My priorities tend to go like this: if W- wants to spend time with A-, I’ll take care of household chores like cooking and cleaning. When that’s done, we’ll play together, unless there’s a big and important task taking up brainspace. If so, I’ll try to get that done before returning to play.

It’s useful to have some shared play time. I pick up ideas from the way W- and A- interact, and it’s a good time for us to reconnect. Sometimes we come up with new games when we’re all together. A- also sees us interact with each other, which is good.

It’s also useful for W- to have some one-on-one time with A-, and for me to have some discretionary time. I’d feel more comfortable about taking that discretionary time if I had a clear purpose for it, like an hour or two of consulting, or some business paperwork – especially things where I need to be focused and awake. If it’s something I can do just as well when A-‘s asleep, even with the interruptions, I often prefer to postpone it until then.

There aren’t a lot of tasks that I feel I need to do right away. Most things can be done when the opportunity arises, whether that’s when A- finally sleeps soundly enough for me to unlatch her and leave, or when she eventually goes to school. On the other hand, there’s a definite time bound on this shared playtime with W-, and even for solo playtime with A-. There are only so many hours I’ll get to enjoy like this. I think that might be one of the reasons why I prioritize spending time with them.

How can I make even better use of shared time with W- and A-? I want A- to focus on W-, so I support their play instead of competing for attention. Cameras distract her attention and disrupt the flow, so I’ll just have to settle for observing so that I can draw and tell stories later.

A- will eventually become more independent, especially when she reduces her nursing frequency. Then she and W- can establish father-daughter bonding time and their own rituals – maybe at least two hours a week, based on the guidelines I came across. I can save my daytime discretionary tasks for then. We’ll also have some shared family time, and a few chunks of discretionary time for W- so that he can explore hobbies such as woodworking.

This time is short, and it passes quickly. I’ve had plenty of practice examining that little urge to Get Things Done and deciding whether it actually makes sense. For now, I’ve got this rare opportunity to prioritize play.

Encouraging physical activity

More physical activity would be good for all of us, especially A-. If she burns more energy, she’ll eat more, which means taking in more nutrients and broadening her tastes. She’ll build muscles and improve coordination, and she might even develop good habits. As for me, I want to be able to keep up with her and W-, and I want to improve my own health.

The more time she spends crawling, the better. When I take her to the Junction Family Resource Centre, the toys around the room give her reasons to crawl and explore. Bonus points for socialization and independent play, too. At home, she enjoys crawling after me when we play hide-and-seek, so I’ll make that part of our bedtime routine (and maybe our morning routine as well). We have floor beds in her room, so that lets her practice climbing up and down as well.

When she starts walking, she’ll have even more opportunities to be active. We can toddle around the house and in the neighbourhood centres. We’ll figure out how to walk around outside, too – the backyard, the sidewalk, the park, the playground. She can carry, push, and pull things to develop her arm strength.

Her microphthalmia means that she can’t use stereopsis for depth perception and she has to rely on other cues, so she may be a little more hesitant or clumsy. Because she wears a conformer, we’ll also need to periodically check if it’s still in her eye, search for it if it has fallen out, and plan for replacements due to growth or loss. None of these things should stop her from enjoying an active childhood, though.

Kids like imitating, so we can model that by being active ourselves. W- is great in that regard, and I’m working on it as well. I like walking, so she’ll get a lot of exposure to that. W- has been building a habit of daily stretches and I’d like to do that too. When that’s solid, I can add stuff for building strength and endurance. I’ve been enjoying babywearing as a form of exercise, too. Fortunately, A-‘s been growing gradually enough for me to keep up with her.

I’ve been thinking about classes and community resources that could be helpful. Since she likes somersaults so much, it might be nice to take her to toddler gymnastics. There’s a place within walking distance that has classes for babies who are at least 9 months old, so we’ll observe a session and think about signing up for the next course. It’s nice to have a well-padded place to practice tumbling and falling. There are also a number of well-equipped playgrounds close by, which will be good when she’s a little older.

There’ll also be time for her to work on other capabilities, like fine motor skills. Opportunities to do so tend to be abundant, so we’ll make more of a conscious effort to encourage gross motor skill development. We’ll go with what she’s interested in, and we’ll help influence her interests too.

Building A-‘s Duplo collection

W- and I are keen on Lego. (We actually met while judging a Lego contest for schoolkids.) Open-ended toys, high-quality plastic, what’s there not to like? Naturally, A-‘s going to start with a Duplo collection.

Her first set was the My First Truck one that we’d bought from the Lego store for G* and A*’s birthday present ($20 for 29 bricks, or $0.66 per brick). She liked it so much, we decided to keep that one and get another copy of the same set. (Besides, it’s generally polite not to give people pre-drooled-on gifts…) We kept the set in the kitchen and used it to entertain her whenever we were cooking. She got pretty good at separating the bricks, putting them into the container, and taking them out again.

Since buying second-hand is a great way to save money and Lego stands up well to use, W- checked Kijiji for people selling lots of used Lego. The first batch worked out to be about $0.30 per brick, but it was made up of odds and ends that the previous kid didn’t particularly care for. Some of the assemblies had missing pieces, like the police box that didn’t have all of its windows and doors. There was a roof piece in one style and another roof piece in a different style. Clearly, brick count wasn’t the only thing to go by (or even interesting brick to basic brick ratio)! Still, it got us more wheel bases than we might otherwise have accumulated over several purchases of new sets. We had fun finding out what some of the more mysterious bricks were, thanks to databases built by Lego enthusiasts and the pictures and part numbers that made identification possible. W- even contributed a picture of the red wings from the Cute Animals set.

The second batch W- got from Kijiji worked out a lot better. It was $30 for about 200 bricks, or $0.15 per brick. Well, a little more than that, actually, since we took out a few non-Lego pieces. W- washed the rest in the washing machine (cold water, gentle cycle) and laid them out on towels to dry. This collection was recognizably made up of a number of sets: alphabet blocks; some kind of medieval thing with a horse, a knight, and a treasure chest; a gas station. There’s probably another set in there, too. There were a few pieces missing from the alphabet and there were some other unmatched parts. The seller found some of the missing pieces and W- picked it up, so, yay!

What’s a 10-month-old to do with all that Duplo, anyway? Turns out, quite a lot.

  • She started by investigating shapes, and there are plenty of interesting shapes the collection.
  • She handed us stuff and we exercised our creativity by incorporating those bricks into whatever we were building.
  • She knew how to move wheeled toys back and forth, so she did that too.
  • She pulled bricks apart, and we challenged her by putting bricks together in different configurations.
  • She put bricks into containers, and she took them out again.
  • She opened doors and windows.
  • She opened doors and then put bricks through them.
  • She jumbles them up and enjoys the sound.
  • … and she’s coming up with more stuff to do with them every day. =)

She occasionally tries to connect bricks together, but she doesn’t quite have the coordination for that yet. Someday!

We’ll also eventually teach her how to sort bricks by type, which is good for sanity and easier building. A- puts bricks into whatever container is closest, which is totally fine – I just sort opportunistically.

W- and I also keep ourselves amused by building little things and showing them to each other. He’s good at it, and I’m slowly getting the hang of it. For example, he turned a bunch of curved bricks and a car spoiler into a whale. Much fun.

So, yeah, Duplo! Here we go.

How can we prepare for W-‘s return to work?

The next shift in our household will be when W- returns to work in a little over a month. It’ll be just me and A- most of the day. What will change in our daily routines, and what do we want to do now to make that easier? I’ve been reading Reddit posts to get a sense of what to expect, what kinds of friction points might come up, and what helps. There are some things to watch out for, but I think it’ll be manageable.

  • I won’t be able to pass A- to him during the day. That means we should have leftovers or a quick meal ready for lunch, so I don’t have to try to cook something with A- underfoot. If there’s laundry to fold, we should probably take it upstairs the night before. A- will become more independent over time, so I’ll be able to do more and more things.
  • W- will need work lunches,too. We’ll free up some space in our chest freezer and go back to preparing individual portions. It might be good to prepare most of the week’s food as well, so that dinner is easier.
  • I might have to take A- to her medical appointments by myself. We can meet the cardiologist at North York instead of Scarborough. Going to the Sick Kids Hospital is a bit harder by myself (bringing gear, going to the bathroom, comforting A- when she needs to be sedated for an exam), so we might save W-‘s days off for that, or I can tough it out. We survived long-haul flights, and we can deal with this too.
  • W- can’t easily rescue us if we get sick or need a lift when we’re out and about, but that’s why I have a transportation budget. If necessary, I can call a cab. It probably needs to be a public taxi so that I can carry A- without a car seat – I’m not sure Uber qualifies for that exception.
  • We’ll keep nights flexible so that W- can work if he wants to or hang out with A- if he wants to. He can play with her while I do the evening routines. I’ll let W- decompress from work and settle in before passing her over.
  • I’ll try to get groceries and do other errands in the afternoon so that we can free up evening time. It’ll also be good to take A- to centres for socialization.
  • Weekends will be mostly the same as now, I think: laundry, cooking, cleanup, errands, play, and a bit of hobby time.
  • Many people find it difficult and isolating to go without adult conversation or external validation for long stretches. Based on my experience with hermit mode and with my 5-year experiment, I’ll probably be okay. Writing is a good opportunity to string words together and think about stuff, and I can do that during A-‘s nursing sessions and naps. My blog, my journal, consulting, and the Emacs community help with validation and a sense of accomplishment.
  • I have my own savings and I contribute to the household, so I don’t feel financially dependent. I can even invest for the long term.
  • It’s also good to make sure W- and I stay in sync even if we’re moving in different worlds. Cooking is an obvious touchpoint. Keeping up with tech helps me relate to his stories and interests, and observing A- will probably give me plenty of stories to share. I can use some of my late-night discretionary time to play video games with him, and I can read about woodworking and other DIY pursuits. Duplo would be good to explore, too – we can have fun with the build of the day. If I pay close attention, the minutiae of everyday life is actually quite fascinating, and I can share what I learn.

The next shift after this will probably be when A- starts walking around. I might need to keep a closer eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble, and we might also modify our routines so that she gets lots of practice. As she learns how to ask questions, we’ll add more field trips, too.

Okay. Let’s do this!