Category Archives: parenting

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.

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.

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.

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!

New experiment: focusing on childcare

W- is back at work, having made the most of the paid parental leave allowed. It was wonderful to have him there for all those medical appointments and procedures. A- and I enjoyed spending time with him at home, too. He also had some time to work on projects: workshop improvements, a wardrobe renovation for J-, and a play area for A-. We’re well-stocked with memories, and A- clearly loves him and is comfortable with him.

Now we’re entering a new phase. We’ll be settling into new routines as W- gets back into the rhythms of working, commuting, and going to the gym. We’ve learned even more about cooking, and we’ll be ramping up our meal preparation. We’d like to make sure he still gets some discretionary time for hobbies and some time to play with A-, and that I also get time for personal care. We want to continue to be kind to each other and to stay connected.

What would be useful to think about at the beginning of this adventure? What could help me make the most of it? What would I like to remember, looking back?

The previous phase:

  • What was it like?
  • What worked well?
  • How can we make things even better?

The next phase:

  • What are the risks? How can I mitigate them?
  • What could awesomeness look like? How can I get there?
  • What are some triggers for reevaluation and planning?

What was it like with both of us home? I still spent most of my time with A-, taking her to neighbourhood baby activities when the weather was manageable and playing with her at home when it wasn’t. That allowed W- to focus on projects when he wanted to and spend time with A- when he wanted to. He’s awesome at engaging A- and having fun with her, and I enjoyed playing with both of them.

I liked being able to walk to the supermarket with W- before the afternoon rush. We’d pick up lots of groceries and he’d carry them all home. We usually waited for 7 pm to start cooking, taking advantage of cheaper electricity rates. It was easier to cook with W- around. We could swap depending on who A- wanted to play with.

I really appreciated having him around during A-‘s medical procedures. It was difficult dealing with fasting, sedation, and recovery, and it helped that we could take turns.

Flying for almost a whole day each way was also much easier with company. A- mostly clung to me, but W- helped keep us safe and fed. He was also invaluable during the trip, cooking up a storm, bonding with my family, and taking care of A- when I need to focus.

We went on the art gallery field trip organized by the OEYC. It was more for parents than babies, so we decided not to bother with taking her to museums or other places like that for a while. We walked to the zoo in High Park a couple of times, since it’s free. W- dropped by the Junction Family Resource Centre a couple of times, too.

It was nice to confirm that yes, we enjoy each other’s company even if we spend lots of time with each other at home. In fact, I prefer spending time with him at home over going out – he’s awesome.

I left A- with W- a couple of times, and they did okay. I won’t plan lots of baby-excluding activities, though, just priorities like dental care. Discretionary things can wait.

The time worked really well because W- is such a wonderful parent. He’s living, involved, patient, experienced, reasonable, and thoughtful. Our frugal lifestyle and savings kept us from being stressed by the reduction in income. His DIY projects and my consulting/coding gave us non-baby-related avenues for growth. Cooking and video gaming were nice interests to share, too.

We’d like to build on:

  • A-‘s bond with W-: playtime during evenings and weekends
  • W-‘s woodworking skills and setup: hobby time during the weekend, small projects around the house
  • Healthier cooking: continue with lots of vegetables, explore salads in summer

So, what’s this next phase about? I’m going to focus on childcare while W- works at IBM. We expect that this approach will generally minimize stress and allow us to be more deliberate about our decisions, especially when it comes to raising A-. I look forward to learning a lot, too.

What are some of the risks?

  • Professional risks, reduced income, opportunity costs: Modest lifestyle, savings. I don’t need more to be happy, so it’s mostly about safety at this point.
  • Socialization for A-: regularly going to neighbourhood centres, signing up for registered programs, treating transportation as free
  • Intellectual stimulation and fulfillment for me: occasional consulting, Emacs, learning about child development
  • Socialization for me: blog, Emacs, neighbourhood centres, meetups
  • Personal care: coordinate with W- and make time for dentist, doctor appointments
  • Anchoring my self-esteem on the wrong things: It’s not about A-‘s accomplishments or even about living some kind of ideal parenting thing. Stoic philosophy helps here.

Imagining awesomeness:

  • We have close relationships
  • We have an increasingly smoothly running household
  • There’s plenty of physical activity, intellectual stimulation, and socialization in A-‘s life. We go to the playground a lot. We have a structured physical activity class every week, and something for exploration and culture every week as well. There’s also plenty of unstructured play time for exploration.
  • We eat healthy, homemade food
  • We involve A- in household life and help her develop life skills
  • We help her learn the basics of money management. She has a small allowance and control over part of her budget.
  • We read every day
  • We have people over for play dates and tea. Our place is a place people hang out at.
  • Net worth still enough to cover regular expenses (SWR, or straight savings at least)
  • We are deliberate about our consumption of stuff, media, etc. Not as a babysitter or as a way to compensate for distraction.

Some changes ahead:

  • A- starts walking: more independence, but also more supervision. Will eventually get her used to short walks in the neighbourhood. Let’s see if I can hold off getting a grocery cart until then.
  • A- starts talking: build her vocabulary through experiences, labels, and models. Go on field trips.
  • A- eats less, and might be pickier: stick with Ellyn Satter’s model, probably. Don’t worry until the doctor says so.
  • A- sleeps better: whee! Catch up on sleep, then catch up on discretionary activities.
  • A- gets better at independent play, feels less separation anxiety: get her used to playing by herself while I read, write, or draw; consider getting together with others
  • A- explores her independence: be loving and patient. Get plenty of sleep and make time for self-care.
  • A- goes to drop-off programs: bring something to write or draw with. Also, connect with people.
  • A- gets the hang of playing with others: bring her to neighbourhood centres or organize play dates
  • Parents need more support: take A- along. Invest in safety, capabilities, comfort.
  • A- goes to school: look into volunteering at school. Ramp up tech skills, consider more consulting or coding. Look into doing more for Emacs community. Get back into sewing, writing, drawing, etc. Start picking up house/DIY skills.

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!