Category Archives: learning

Babysitting experiment #2: the baker

Babysitting experiment #2 was also a success. A- had her heart set on making carrot muffins today. She was peeling carrots when Stephanie (the babysitter) arrived. Stephanie had professionally trained as a baker, so she was a perfect fit for A-‘s interest. As I worked in the other room, I heard them talking about how the oil and the sugar lighten in colour with mixing, and why we grease the muffin tins. A- remembered so many steps in the process, even checking the muffins with a toothpick. Stephanie complimented A- on being a good baker. A- said, “No, I’m a cook,” which amused us.

They enjoyed the freshly baked muffins for snack, and I set out some berries and cheese too. A- asked, “Would Stephanie like so much snacks?” After snack, A- played in the play area with Stephanie. Then they went to the backyard for some digging and ball-throwing.

I managed to do a little over 2.5 hours of consulting. The rest of the time was mostly helping out, cleaning up, and getting a head start on chores. This let me use A-‘s nap time for reading (1 hour), so that probably counts too. Like before, A- fell asleep shortly after the babysitter left.

A- seems to like the novelty, and I think I’ll enjoy the diversity of skills and experiences people bring. I liked being around to translate A-‘s more obscure requests and overhear the things she wanted to know more about. At the same time, I was able to focus much better on code than I used to be able to do late at night. This could work out nicely.

One afternoon a week feels like the right balance for us at the moment. I was able to think a little about consulting in between sessions, but not let it take over my brain. We were able to do a few fun field trips together. I captured lots of little moments in my journal. I should probably think of kaizen projects that would take about one hour to do, and tee those up for next week. Hmm…

Experience report: getting a babysitter from an agency

I decided it was time to experiment with having a babysitter. A- has been getting more interested in other people and in practising independence from me. I wanted to give her opportunities to like more people and to have different kinds of fun. If babysitting could open up the possibility of doing some consulting during office hours, all the better.

One afternoon a week seemed like a good place to start. I like spending time with A- and school will start soon enough, so I wasn’t keen on putting her in daycare or getting a full-time nanny. One afternoon of 4 hours a week didn’t seem to be a good fit for any of the sitters I reached out to via personal referrals, so it was time to find my own.

I asked J-, since she’s got such great rapport with A-. We might explore that a little more once her schedule settles down. I also asked the neighbours, since their kids sometimes work as babysitters or mother’s helpers.

While those conversations are on the go, I wanted to experiment with babysitting without worrying about my interviewing skills. I decided to pay the premium for working with a babysitting agency that could take care of vetting and scheduling people. I contacted In a Pinch first, but they couldn’t issue receipts for the babysitting portion as well. I went with Nannies on Call instead. They sent me a bio of the sitter who accepted the booking. One day before our appointment, the sitter injured her foot, and the agency sent me the bio for a new sitter.

In the days leading up to our babysitting experiment, I prepared a quick guide, labeled all of A-‘s toy bins, and drew a 12-page book about babysitting. I borrowed “Penguin Misses Mom” from the library, and we read about Mrs. Duck the babysitter several times.

My expectations were low, since A- was often slow to warm up at drop-in centres and other activities. I figured we might spend an hour all playing together. Then I might gradually move to the background or the other room, and then I’d try working downstairs. I prepared for the possibility of letting A- cry for an hour or so. I figured it might be at least a month before we got the hang of it.

And then the babysitter came. We had a brief chat, and then we headed to the backyard. A- immediately started digging into the soil. She talked to the babysitter. She played with the babysitter. After about 15 minutes of feeling like a very happy third wheel, I excused myself. I got my work laptop, set myself up on the deck, and started being able to actually think about code. I could hear them laughing and talking at the end of the backyard. I didn’t even need to set a timer. It was brilliant.

They came over for snacks when A- got hungry. She was covered in dirt: success! The babysitter helped A- thoroughly wash her hands while I put together a snack plate. A- insisted on eating outside with the babysitter, so I got back to work. I was even able to have a super-helpful impromptu web conference with another developer, who gave me the scoop on the network infrastructure and plans for the upcoming project.

At some point, they wandered back into the house. I heard them play with the xylophone and the bells, and I heard A- ask for playdough, and I heard her play with paper, and I think they did stickers at some point too… A- went through so many of her favourite things. She used the potty twice. I was aware of them in the background (mostly because I’d occasionally get this urge to say “This is so awesome!” to myself), and I could still get stuff done.

All in all, I used 4 hours of childcare for:

  • 2.5 hours of consulting,
  • 0.5 hours of organizing my notes for babysitting interviews
  • 0.5 hours of helping with transitions
  • 0.5 hours of other stuff

and A- had 4 solid hours of fun with someone new.

I want to experiment a bit more. It might be good to try maybe two or three other providers from this agency so that I can get a sense of what’s different and what we prefer. I’m also going to try interviewing people, because that’s a useful life skill and it might result in a good arrangement for regular sitting.

Then, if things work out, I’d love to settle into a rhythm of using the time much like I did this afternoon: some consulting and continuous improvement for me, lots of outside time and interaction for A-. As we become more comfortable with babysitting, I might even venture out on errands like going downtown for a work laptop refresh. Coding and continuous improvement are more valuable to me than most errands are, though, so that’s probably how things will go.

I probably won’t always be this lucky, and that’s okay. At least we know what’s possible, and it’s awesome.

I liked how the sitter didn’t bat an eye when A- climbed into the garden box. Instead, she started piling soil up and she invited A- to help make a tall hill. I liked how the sitter talked a lot with A-, and A- clearly enjoyed talking with her too.

The sitter said that she liked our toy bin setup and the list I put together of the things A- could do with a little help (shortcuts to the zone of proximal development!). I wonder what I can do with the backyard to make it an even richer environment while waiting for the plants to come in. Maybe a small pile of river stones, a small pile of sticks, and a yogurt container for making sandcastles? Hmm…

Playground kaizen

Warmer weather means more playing at the playground, hooray! I’d like to figure out how to make this almost a daily routine, and to see what we can learn along the way. I wonder what it would be like to elevate play not just for my kiddo but for a number of other families, and to wring out as much as we can from the time we spend there.

Today we experimented with little improvements in how we play at the playground. Since A- likes playing with the Duplo playground at home, I brought a number of Duplo pieces: a slide, three bricks, two minifigures, and a train segment. We quickly attracted a couple of preschoolers who had fun rolling their cars along the sand dunes and down the slide while A- watched with interest. A- also enjoyed sliding the train down the big slide.

A- had lots of fun swinging really high on the swing, and having me interrupt her swinging. She watched the big kids swing their legs back and forward, and she practised the motion while we ate snacks on the bench.

Bath before dinner worked out well, too. No sand in the bed, yay!

A few ideas to try next:

  • bring plenty of bubble wands for sharing, or even a bubble machine; bonus points if I can figure out a portable rig for large bubbles, although I’m not keen on lugging a lot of soapy water around. Maybe something like a Thermos jug, which I can then put into a grocery cart?
  • more snacks; treat it as afternoon picnic time
  • bring paper and pen for thinking
  • buy or make toy dinosaurs, bring paintbrushes, and bury the dinosaurs in the sandbox. Hmm… I wonder if I could use old playdough or plaster casting to prototype this. That might be even more fun than buying a box of dinosaur toys, although purchased toys are cool too.
  • make it more routine, maybe invite other people to drop by and chat
  • bring a tube and other unconventional sandbox toys
  • figure out how to dress up so that we can enjoy the playground even in light rain
  • figure out what I’m supposed to be doing about sun protection
  • figure out how toilet training can fit in
  • explore and model playing with loose parts

I can use the grocery backpack to test ideas that need props, and then get a small grocery cart if I think it’s worth the space at home. I can use luggage organizers to create modules: extra clothes, stuff for the splash pad, stuff for the sandbox, bubble kit, etc. It’s like having a mobile office.

I borrowed a few books about outdoor education from the library. Reading about nature schools and activities might give me more ideas for things to try with A-.

Plenty of room for me to learn stuff at the playground!

Dealing with preoccupation and a slow tempo

I occasionally feel like less of a grown-up than I should be at 34 years old. We need to redo some of the insurance paperwork because I missed a few things in January. My sister will probably need to take care of that paperwork when she comes next week. I wasn’t forceful or proactive enough when it comes to dealing with fleas, so A- and I are covered in bites. I sometimes don’t see things even when they’re right in front of me.

A general approach that could work for me is:

  • Be kind to myself and others. Self-recrimination wastes energy and doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s okay to feel embarrassed if I use that feeling to move forward. It’s good to think of lapses as temporary than as indicative of character traits: something I did, not something I was. If I look for ways to improve, I can test if those ways will be sufficient.
  • Keep an oops fund. Most mistakes can be easily recovered from, and sometimes for not much money.
  • Work around my weaknesses. Delegate. Keep notes. Use checklists. Simplify. Manage expectations. Even if I think this extra fuzziness is temporary, it’s useful to plan workarounds as if it’s long-term, since I’ll probably run into similar problems when I’m older.

I feel scatter-brained. I find it hard to concentrate and remember, and I waste time getting back on track after interruptions. Mostly this is because I like being so available for A-, which is a decision I’m okay with, so I should just figure out how to compensate for that until things get back to normal-ish. Paperwork is low priority for me, so I should make sure it’s taken care of by someone who can prioritize and review it properly, and I shouldn’t overcommit.

We can get through this step by step. I can’t talk myself into being more focused and more observant, but I can gradually build safety nets, and then I can practise slowing down and paying attention.

A slow tempo often frustrates other people. I know my dad and Kathy often got impatient, and W- sometimes does too. Still, I think I can manage starting slow and working on becoming more solid. I trust that I’ll speed up with experience and with the compound growth of continuous improvement. I’m good at multiplying the value of the time I spend, and there are a few areas where I feel fast, too. I want to figure out just the right tempo for things – not slower than I need to be, but not faster than I can, while erring on the side of underpromising. I think this might be useful for me in the long run. Let’s see!

Travel kaizen

What has changed between our trip last January and this next trip? How can I adapt and make things even better?

  • I’m traveling with A- while W- stays home. This means he can drop us off at the airport. We’ve traveled the same route without him before, so I’m less worried about handling long flights on my own.
  • A- will be too big for a bassinet. Instead, we’re going to try the baby seat provided by Korean Air. According to SeatMaestro, the baby seat is good for 9.1-31.7 kg (20-70 lbs) and a height less than 124.5 cm (49 in), so A- should be okay in it. She’s been focusing on the bassinet in her pretend play, so I hope she doesn’t get too disappointed.
  • I requested grown-up meals for A- instead of child meals. I used to throw out half of the child meals anyway because they were too sugary. We might as well go with the regular meals so that we can try different entrees.
  • A- may want to be carried in my arms instead of the carrier. If I can get away without bringing a rolling carry-on, going with just a backpack might be more convenient.
  • A- often likes walking. If I don’t have to worry about scrambling for overhead bin space, it might make sense to let her run around first instead of boarding the plane early.
  • A- is more talkative. Her pretend play is more elaborate. She can even sometimes be reasoned with. On the flipside, she’s also more particular about what she wants.
  • My dad is no longer alive. No fun stories from him. New family dynamics will take a while to adjust. On the other hand, A- won’t feel nervous about the IV stand or my dad’s coughing. We’ll deal.
  • My sister and her kids will be moving from the Philippines to the Netherlands in the middle of our trip, and my mom will be figuring out her new normal. So things will probably be busy and chaotic, and my mom will probably be sad. I’ll continue to focus on A-, of course.
  • I won’t bring a laptop. I sorted out how to write my journal and Emacs News on my phone, so I think I can probably get away without my personal laptop this time. I was able to turn over my consulting stuff to my client, too, so no work laptop either. This should make getting through airport security a bit easier, although I might still need to take the iPad out.
  • I won’t pack a lot of snacks. There’s plenty of food on the plane and at the airport, and it’s good to spend money to explore new tastes. Still, I might bring some fruit or cheese next time.
  • I’m using more travel organizers. W- has convinced me of the power of organizers. I also bought packing cubes to help me keep my backpack and my suitcase sorted. Having zippered units will probably help me a lot while packing, since otherwise A- tends to unpack my stuff at the same time.
  • I have a phone with a good camera, and a long battery life, and a stylus. This probably means way more pictures and videos, some writing, and maybe even some drawing. It’s bigger, though, so I need to think about stashing the phone securely.
  • I have an iPad with a stylus. I can’t reliably use it for notetaking yet because A- gets distracted by it, but maybe I can figure out a good workflow for drawing and learn more by doodling. W- lent me his Bluetooth keyboard, too.
  • I’m going to keep the ditty bag and toothbrush from the airplane amenities kit. The bag is handy for organizing things, and A- recognizes the toothbrush as “airplane toothbrush.”
  • I’ll buy an electric toothbrush head in the Philippines. I noticed there’s an electric toothbrush body in the bathroom, so I’ll just get my own toothbrush head while I’m there instead of bringing the one from home.
  • I’ll bring our backup nail scissors. I’ll probably leave them in the Philippines, too.
  • I’ll try to leave my Philippine things neatly packed in a bin at my mom’s house. That way, I don’t need to take up drawer and closet space in between trips.
  • We’re landing in Toronto on a Saturday. It was really helpful to have W- around when I recovered from the long trip. Well worth paying extra.
  • We’re paying for our own hotels in Korea both ways. We’re not eligible for the stopover paid by carrier program (STPC) even on the return leg. We used to get it on our previous itineraries, but maybe we can’t this time because we’re flying out on Friday and there’s another flight that leaves later. Maybe they’ve changed their rules. Anyway, since we’ll still have a bit of energy after the 4-hour flight from Manila, I’m going to go check out a different hotel on the way back.
  • I’ll postpone moving off nursing or diapers. I’ll continue talking to A- about it, but I won’t nudge her too much.
  • I’ll organize my everyday carry. A-‘s new bag doesn’t have as many pockets, so I’ll need to stay better organized. I’ll probably need to use a wallet. I wonder if it’s time to try the vest again. I wish I’d gotten it in beige instead of black – no need to be any warmer in the sun. Anyway, I can see if it works for going through the airport and lounging around at home. If I like it, I might consider getting a lightweight khaki one for my next trip.
  • New Crocs. Same as the old Crocs, but not worn down.
  • I can wear scrubs again. No nurses in the house, so I can go back to wearing scrub pants without feeling weird. Pants with pockets for the win.
  • I’m not bringing a backup sling, just my main carrier. If my main carrier needs washing, I’ll just carry A-.
  • I’m packing Giraffe in check-in instead of carry-on. I think A- is comfortable enough to get away with one stuffed toy instead of two during the flights.
  • We’re traveling more frequently. It’s been just two months since our last trip. But I decided to take A- more frequently this year while my mom gets used to life without my dad. Going now means we’ll have a few days with A-‘s cousins too. If we didn’t go now, we would probably wait until June, since A- has a couple of big medical things scheduled for May. Time to take the first circus, as my family would say…

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…