Feeling better about developmental milestones

We’ve been tracking A-‘s progress using the Nipissing developmental milestones and assistance from a nurse and a home visitor through the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program.

Toronto Public Health had referred us to the program when we were concerned about how A- might be affected by multiple congenital abnormalities and their implications – in particular, monocular vision, and multiple exposures to general anesthesia because of all the diagnostics (which some research flagged as associated with a higher risk of learning difficulties).

In some areas in the US, monocular vision automatically qualifies children for early intervention services with therapists who can help with vision exercises or orientation and mobility training. Some parents have found them very helpful, and some have found their kids do fine without therapy. Here, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind assessed A-‘s vision and decided she does not require any services for now. It’s good news, although I feel that I might have to be vigilant so that I can catch potential issues even without having a specialist track her progress.

The Nipissing developmental screens cover general capabilities. I’m not sure what to watch out for in terms of vision, and the caseworkers at CNIB didn’t have any specific resources or tips for monocular vision aside from checking if she’s cutting corners or banging into things.

A- seems to be on track with most of her physical milestones, which is a relief. A- enjoys putting things into containers and taking them out again. If I give her a block, she’ll pass it from her left hand to her right hand, and then she’ll put it in the bin. (We can tidy up quite a lot of Duplo with this process!) And this week, she actually stacked blocks on top of other blocks with a bit of guidance and turn-taking – hooray! She’s still a little quiet and reserved in company, which is totally okay. Now that the holidays are over, I’ll take her to neighbourhood drop-in programs more often so that she can see other kids.

Our home visitor suggested working on language by labeling whatever she’s interested in with single words: “Book!” “Ball!” “Cat!” She also recommended helping A- slowly get used to independent play by letting her take the lead and sitting close by. We’ll try those tips over the next week or so.

Before having A-, I hadn’t spent a lot of time around small kids, so I find the tips and interaction modeling quite helpful. I imagine other people find parenting more intuitive, but I appreciate all the help I can get. I’m glad the City of Toronto has this program with all sorts of pamphlets and activities!

How do I want consulting to fit into my life?

I do a tiny bit of consulting to help a long-standing client with prototyping and data analysis. It lets them take advantage of the experience I’d built up with their tools and platform, and I get to keep my technical skills and professional network going.

Before we went on our trip, I was averaging about two hours a week, after A-‘s in bed. A- tends to nurse frequently at night, probably to make up for distractions during the day, and we’re okay with this. Sometimes I might be able to do an hour or two of uninterrupted work, and sometimes I clock in and out as I get interrupted by nursing. Fortunately, I built a pretty handy time tracking interface, so it takes only a few taps on my phone.

Because of my limited availability, I try to pick tasks that don’t require a lot of coordination with other people, that can bear with interruptions, and that aren’t risky when done with a fuzzy brain. So, no meetings, no big chunks of new things to learn, and no messing with write access to production data if I can help it. Despite this limited availability, I was able to prototype a few add-ons they wanted, yay!

IA- has been a bit more clingy lately (might be because of teething) so I’m not sure how much time I’ll have in the next little while. I’d like to have the brainspace to learn and build new things so that I can help out my main client, since he has moved up in terms of his role, but that can probably wait. In the meantime, we get decent ROI if I focus on quick answers and prototypes.

t’s important to me to manage expectations well and to turn over as much as I can. This means not committing to more than I can work on, and keeping people up to date on timelines and risks; making sure the team has access to my code and can take things over if they need to; and building in small steps so that I can deliver something of value as soon as possible. It’s fun to break an idea down into the minimum viable product, the intermediate steps to get there, and the incremental enhancements that would make it even better.

I’ve thought about expanding my available work time, but I chose not to. This is the last month and a half of W-‘s parental leave, but I’d rather spend the time enjoying parenting A- with him than squeezing in more computer things. He’s awesome with A- – better than I am. I’ve sometimes asked him to take care of her while I handled high-priority things that needed focused time (such as doing my business tax paperwork!), but I don’t want to commit more of that time than I need to.

At the moment, I’m not particularly keen on getting a babysitter after W- returns to work. I know the math could work out and that the socialization might even be an awesome thing for A-, but I’m curious about the things I might learn from going through this experience myself. I like the fun of problem-solving and the validation of helping a great team, but I can get that later, too. I also don’t quite trust my ability to pick a good person and build the kind of long-term relationship that would be good for A-, so there’s that too. In the meantime, I can learn from A- as she learns, and I can try to shape her world. We’ve got a rare opportunity to do this in a flexible way, and I want to take advantage of that.

So, how do I want consulting to fit into my life? I think the current arrangement is pretty good. I prioritize my self-care, A-, W-, and the general upkeep of the household; then my journal and Emacs News, since both are time-based; then more discretionary things, like consulting or personal coding. The clients seem happy. They’re not slowed down by me or kept hanging, and they get good value considering the time and money involved. I might be able to do more work if A-‘s sleep solidifies, but I’m in no rush. It might be that I’ll have limited work availability until she’s old enough for playdates or school, and that’s fine too.

I’ll think about this again after we settle into new routines, when W-‘s back at work. It’ll be interesting to see how things change.

What do I want from an annual review?

I’ve got most of the pieces for an annual review: monthly reviews in visual and text form, my time records, and a recent flip-through of all of my sketches. I’d like to bring my ledger of income and expenses up to date, finish reading all of my blog posts, and draw a couple of yearly summaries (monthly events, differences between 2015 and 2016, analyses). I want to make the most of my computer time, so I should think about what I want from my annual review and how I can get that more efficiently.

Highlights of the year
A month-by-month list of highlights is good for reminding me of events and getting around the fogginess of memory. There’s so much to celebrate and appreciate. This also simplifies longer-term reviews, like the 10-year review I did when I turned 30.
Differences
What did I learn? What did I forget? It can be easier to see the differences when you compare across a longer time period. This can help me solidify growth, revisit things I’ve left behind, watch out for drifting, and choose what to focus on next year.
Patterns and trends
Taking a look at the data can sometimes turn up things I wouldn’t have guessed. Time, finances, and A-‘s data too – so much to explore! This might take a little longer, since it involves code.
Decision review
This is probably better broken up into separate posts, maybe even decoupled from my annual review.
What worked well? Why? How can we make things even better?
Good for continuous improvement. Might not go into as much depth as the decision reviews.

My overall goals are to:

  • remember and celebrate the journey
  • keep improving; remember what I’ve learned and revisit what I might have shelved
  • make it easier for my future self (or other people reading my archive) to get an overview of the year
  • maybe have conversations that grow out of the updates (notes on things I’ve tried, ideas for stuff that might help)

I’ll probably end up doing my annual review in chunks instead of waiting until it’s all done, since otherwise it might take me a few months.

Weekly review: Week ending January 6, 2017

It got a lot colder this week, so A- and I mostly stayed indoors. Not a bad time to stay close to home, anyway. W-‘s knee flared up again, so he spent a few days resting and icing it.

We did make a few trips out. We took A- for a routine checkup at the eye clinic in Sick Kids Hospital. Her right eye seems to be developing normally – 20/80 vision based on 7.1 on the Teller acuity test. It turns out that both W- and I have large optic nerves, so that might explain hers too. They gave us a prescription for safety glasses for A- to protect her vision as she becomes more mobile. I’ll probably get her a pair of Miraflex frames once the weather warms up.

A- got a little overtired while waiting at the hospital, but she recovered after a good nap in the afternoon. Between that and the gradual emergence of her first tooth, sleep has been a little irregular, with occasional late-night wakings and lots of nursing in bed. That’s okay, it’s just part of life. I’ve been able to write a lot on my phone, thanks to my new workflow with Google Tasks and Org Mode, so it’s easy enough to make use of all that time in bed.

When she’s not asleep or nursing, A- is curious and active. She clearly enjoys the somersaults that W- guides her through, and often tips her head back to signal that she wants another turn. She’s also getting better at signaling when she doesn’t want any more food. She’s probably trying to figure out how to shake her head for “no”, but at the moment, scrunching her eyes and nodding sharply will do.

I tried following up on some paperwork (T4 and T5 slips, my parents’ visa applications), but the government systems were down for scheduled maintenance. Next week, then. Paid myself dividends and reimbursed my company for my part of split expenses. I also filled my TFSA for the year, hooray!

I also fixed my evil plans Org Mode file so that it worked with the lexical scoping in Org 9. I changed the code that produced my graph to explicitly invoke Org Babel with parameters instead of trying to piggyback on the parameters passed in the original block. I also updated a few of the goals. I broke a few links in the process, but fortunately org-lint helped me quickly identify them.

A- and I video-chatted with my mom and with Kathy, with brief appearances by G* and A*. Also, It was J-‘s birthday, so we celebrated with some tarts that Y- bought.

Odd moment: Neko fell into the shallow bath I’d washed A- in, and had to be rescued by W-. The poor dear.

We reviewed our emergency preparations, moving food past their best-before dates to the pantry and restocking the bags with new snacks. We added diapers, wipes, and baby clothes, too. Good to prepare for winter storms or neighbourhood gas-leak evacuations.

Jen and E- dropped by with more clothes for A-. It was awesome to see E- toddling around. So independent! A- will get there some day.

I made shepherd’s pie for our lunch, and that worked out surprisingly well. W- spent an afternoon making lamb korma – so nice! – and some banchan too. The roast veg recipe from the science of cooking book was yummy, although I’m not sure about the value of using aluminum to steam the veg in the pan instead of washing another pot. Washing is easy enough, anyway.

What a full week! Next week: another conformer for A-, slightly warmer weather, more paperwork, and a return to consulting.

Blog posts

Sketches

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (0.1h – 0%)
    • Earn (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Build (0.1h – 100% of Business)
      • ☑ See if I can downscale my Linode
      • ☑ Write the business a personal cheque and deposit it
      • ☑ Pay myself dividends
      • ☐ Issue T4
      • ☐ Issue T5
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (2.1h – 1%)
    • ☑ File photos of borrowed clothes
    • ☑ Follow-up at eye clinic
    • ☑ Follow up on visa
  • Discretionary – Productive (3.7h – 2%)
    • Drawing (2.0h)
      • ☑ Review month
    • Emacs (1.2h)
      • ☐ [#A] Do another Emacs News review
      • ☑ Org effort filtering
      • ☑ Fix evil plans
      • ☑ Help with table issue
    • Coding (0.0h)
    • Sewing (0.0h)
    • Writing (0.1h)
    • ☐ Rebalance CAD to US
    • ☑ Move money to TFSA
  • Discretionary – Play (1.3h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (10.9h – 6%)
  • Unpaid work (80.0h – 47%)
    • Childcare (76.1h – 45% of total)
  • Sleep (69.9h – 41% – average of 10.0 per day)

Thinking about my frequency of annual reviews

I’ve been doing annual reviews a few times a year: my birthday in August, the new year in January, and experiment-related reflections in February. It’s a little excessive, perhaps. My weekly and monthly reviews make it easy enough to summarize events over 12 months, so it’s not that much more effort to do a new review with a slight offset.

The experiment review has different guide questions, so that’s useful. The birthday and new year reviews have a lot of overlap, though. What happened? How am I different? What did I learn? What did I forget and want to relearn? What worked well? What do I want to focus on next? What could make this even better? The two reviews cover the same ground, especially since I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I like the birthday review because it’s anchored on things that are meaningful to me, and paced according to my life.

The new year review would probably be better suited to reflecting on external influences, since that’s synchronized with other people’s reviews, but external events don’t seem to matter that much to me when I reflect on my year.

People often use the Christmas/New Year break to send out family updates and pictures. Both my family and W-‘s family like taking family pictures, so we’re covered there. I feel somewhat odd about the idea of announcing things on behalf of W- or A-, or getting W- to contribute. I’m more comfortable capturing the changes in my own life, noting the occasional highlight from theirs – but with my individual voice, not a collective We. I think of it more for personal note-taking and celebration (and maybe the occasional acquaintance catching up through my archives) rather than pushing updates to a list of people whom I think should hear about our year. Opt-in is more comfortable for me than opt-out. I’m probably making it more complicated than it needs to be, but I wonder if there’s a thought in here that’s worth untangling…

I wonder how I mentally chunk my memories. Do I think of them in terms of ages: my 20s, etc.? Do I think in terms of calendar years? Years come to mind more easily than ages do when I think about milestones such as coming to Canada. So maybe that’s an argument for keeping the new year review…

There’s also the benefit of being able to send people a link to a tidy summary when they wish me a happy new year, although that happens more around birthdays anyway.

Hmm. I guess I’ll try to squeeze another annual review in this month, and then I can reconsider the question in August. More writing is good, anyway.

Reflecting on my process for visual journaling

Over several nursing sessions, I flipped through all 750+ of my sketches from 2016 on my phone. It was a quick and wonderful overview of the past year. It’s amazing to see how much ground we’d covered one day at a time.

Taking 5-10 minutes at night to draw a visual journal worked out well. It was my second year with daily/weekly/monthly sketches, and my workflow held up to the demands of caring for a newborn. Some nights I fell asleep before A- let me sneak away, but the text notes I jotted throughout the day helped me reconstruct events even after several nights. I really liked having a record not just of what happened, but also what I was thinking about, and the little moments that would have been hard to capture in a picture. When we were dealing with lots of uncertainty, thinking out loud helped me untangle my thoughts and feel like things were manageable. Looking back over the past year, I think I like the person I was and the person I’ve grown to be.

I didn’t have much time or energy to dress up my sketches or go beyond a simple style. It was nice to see the sketches I spent some time colouring for presentation, though, and the drawing practice I occasionally indulged in. My copies of characters from the books I read to A- reminded me of those stories, and rough sketches of her (mostly sleeping, since that was the only time I could draw from life) made me smile. I think I’d like to make more time for drawing, not just capturing thoughts.

Still, it was so useful to have a tool for making sense of my fragmented thoughts. There was so much to figure out about parenting, time, uncertainty, anxiety, boundaries, philosophy, plans…
I found it easy to go through my sketches and remember what it was like at that point in time. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what a cryptic note on my sketch meant, especially if I didn’t cover it in my weekly review, but that’s okay.

I’m looking forward to continuing this habit in 2017. I’ve been experimenting with jotting down sketch ideas on my phone, so I can move more of the thinking out of my limited computer time. I’d like to make sure I play with more formats than just lists, though, since the nonlinearity of drawing can support thinking in a different way compared to writing. It would be nice to mix in more non-journal sketches, and more actual sketches and drawing exercises too. Maybe a daily cycle, to prompt me to expand…

I still haven’t finished my yearly review, but having all those weekly and monthly sketches sure made the process easier. Onward!