Turning 37; life as a 36-year-old

This year looked nothing like last year. COVID-19 had a huge impact, of course, and then there’s life with A- (now 4.5 years old) and all her growing capabilities.

With our day settling into reasonable routines, I’m slowly getting to work on personal projects again. Our babysitting experiments pre-COVID sometimes gave me 2-7 hours of focused time. What luxury! A-‘s pretty attached to me, though, so it was the rare babysitter who could keep her interest for a long time. When the pandemic curtailed babysitting sessions, I settled into a routine of snuggling A- into bed and then staying up for 2-3 more hours. I’m still figuring out the trade-off between getting sleep and doing stuff. I learned how to use ReactJS to add all sorts of things to my journal system (dark mode, pictures, sketches). I made a font based on my handwriting. With W-‘s help, I was able to co-organize a virtual Emacs conference. I checked out resources on early childhood education. I started drawing again. Whee! I still have a lot of technical debt from things like using an old version of Rails, but I’ve shoved a few services into Docker containers and tried to limit their access. I hope things will hold for another year.

We got A- used to mostly sleeping in her own room, so I sleep a bit better now. A- got her own library card and proudly checked out her own books. We started giving her an allowance too, which she saves up for snacks and subsidized LEGO sets. I share some of my earnings from consulting with her if I work on client requests during the day. Sometimes she asks me if I can go and work some more so that I can give her more money.

A- still prefers to play with me, but she’s starting to figure out things that she can do independently while waiting: usually LEGO, Khan Academy Kids, RelationShapes, or reading. That gives us a little more time to do stuff around the house. W- shifted to working from home because of the pandemic, and he does most of the cooking. For my part, I learned a better technique for making pizza (broil in a cast iron skillet and then finish on the stove), and I’ve been making sourdough bread every other day or so. (Nothing too fancy, just a basic recipe.) We’ve been making do with our toaster oven, as the regular oven is out of commission. Homemade popsicles have become a household staple, too.

We started regularly spending time outside: sledding in winter, biking in summer, and afternoon snack time when the weather is good. It took a week or so of holding A- by the armpits or the bicycle seat, but she figured out how to ride a pedal bike without training wheels.

We had plenty of fun at home. A- can read now! We like to take turns. We experimented with starting plants from seed, and we added more plants from home improvement stores and from friends. Tomatoes and basil flourished in the garden, and the bitter melon did okay too. We bought balloon-twisting supplies and learned how to make various animals. We picked up a Snaptricity kit that the neighbours had left out, and we played with circuits. We moved from building with cardboard to building with LEGO. In particular, the LEGO Heroica board game fired up A-‘s imagination. In addition to her usual pretending to be a baby, she pretended to be a wizard, a golem, a goblin, a barbarian, a ranger… She pretended to be lots of other people (complete with names) and things too (she was a little baby prosciutto at some point).

A- grew more social. Before COVID-19, we regularly had playdates. A- also happily played with her cousins and her Lola when we visited the Philippines last year. Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the works. We’ve settled into a daily ritual of video-calling my mom, and I occasionally make PDF slideshows or mini-books to share during our chat. While playing, A- often mentions her Lola or her friends. I’m her main play partner these days, and we’re figuring out more about playing together and playing separately.

A- still has tantrums, naturally. She stomps around like the fiercest baby golem there could be. But the tantrums pass more quickly now. She’s better at communicating what she wants, we have more ideas for ways to help her cool down, and she’s very slowly learning how to manage her own emotions.

Plans for next year

I wrote last year that kindergarten was just around the corner. Hah! It looks like we’ll be homeschooling A- for junior kindergarten. We’ll see about returning to school when things settle down. In the meantime, I plan to spend the next year digging into play-based learning. I’d like to get better at improvising stories and role-playing adventures. I figure A- will naturally peel away from me and become more independent, but while she’s interested in playing with me, I’d like to take advantage of that and look for ways to make play more fun for both of us.

Here are the things I want to focus on this year.

  • Managing energy:
    • Sleep and managing my own plans: Sleep is a big one. I stay up because it’s easier to focus on things in 2-3 hour chunks and I don’t have babysitting time at the moment. The trade-offs might not be worth it, though, so I need to get better at planning, prioritizing, and making myself go to bed earlier.
    • Enthusiasm: A- is strongly influenced by my energy level, so it’s useful to tweak things so that I enjoy them a lot. Learning how
    • Low-energy times: We have a bit of an afternoon slump, and that’s okay. She almost always resists napping. Sometimes she wants to still stay close, and sometimes she wants to play separately. When she wants to stay with me, we read or play outside. When she wants to play separately, there’s LEGO or Khan Academy Kids.
  • Taking small steps: I’ll probably have ~1 hour of discretionary time a night, so I want to get better at breaking projects down into really small steps and prioritizing tasks so that I can make the most of that time.
  • Making learning visible: A- is learning so much even without us deliberately following a curriculum. I want to get really good at making her learning visible so that she can feel great about learning and build on what she’s curious about.
    • Capturing: My journal system is getting pretty good at handling pictures and sketches. I can work on including videos and portfolio items.
    • Reflecting on what I see: This raises my notes from anecdotes to pedagogical documentation.
      • What could A- be thinking?
      • What does that make me think about?
      • How can we build on that?
    • Showing A- her learning: I want to take advantage of daily touchpoints with Lola and with W- by telling stories about what A- is learning, since that makes it audible and visible. I also want to organize longer-term stories to show how A- has grown over time and to prompt her to revisit old interests. I’d like to involve her in planning, too.

Lots of things to learn!



Category % 35 years % 36 years Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
A- 42.7 46.7 4.0 78.7 6.6
Business 1.3 1.8 0.4 3.0 0.7
Sleep 33.8 33.6 -0.3 56.6 -0.4
Discretionary 9.7 8.8 -0.9 14.8 -1.5
Personal 6.3 4.8 -1.5 8.1 -2.5
Unpaid work 6.1 4.4 -1.7 7.4 -2.9

Hmm. It looks like childcare has actually taken more time than last year: an extra 6.6 hours a week. I’ve been able to do a little bit more work, too. I felt like I had a little more discretionary time, but I actually had a little less. W- worked from home, so he handled more chores. A- happily took all the extra time. I’m getting better at squeezing in a little bit of housework, though!