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Resuming our babysitter experiment

| parenting

We experimented with babysitting last year. A- generally got along well with babysitters from the agency, although she eventually told me, “Stop babysitting experiment. Mama play with A-.” So we stopped. I relegated my consulting to the occasional late night, and sometimes went a month or two without logging in.

Once in a while, A- liked to pretend that I was a babysitter ringing the doorbell and coming to play with her. She also asked me to read books about babysitting, including the one I made for her.

A- started asking me to get a babysitter recently. I figured we could give it a try again. She immediately got along with the sitter from the agency, and didn’t look for me at all. From my hideout in the basement, I could hear peals of laughter, loud conversation, and even the occasional made-up song.

I spent most of the session writing documentation and updating reports. Focused time! Awake focused time! It was nice to make real progress.

I asked A- if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she did. She even picked having a sitter over going to “school” or playing with me. The second time the babysitter came, she had just as much fun playing with her, and I had just as much fun coding and listening. I asked A- again if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she said yes. After the sitter left, I asked her if she thought her playtime with the sitter was too short, too long, or just right. “Too short,” she said, so we’ll book the next one for five hours.

A- was extra clingy after the first session, but a bit more relaxed after the second one. She fell asleep on the walk to the library, which gave me a little time to write.

My goals for babysitting are:

  • Support A- as she practises independence: It’s good for her to practise asking other people for help, figuring out fun games together, and learning from other people’s styles. It also helps her learn she can do lots of things without me and be away from me for longer periods of time. I might even be pleasantly surprised by what she can do based on other people’s expectations.
  • Be inspired by other people’s interactions with A-: the kind of energy they bring to childcare, the interesting things they share or bring out in her, the games they come up with…
  • Create space for making things better or capturing and organizing my notes. Consulting increases my budget for experiments and resources. Reflection helps me remember things I’ve learned and decide what to do next.

So now that babysitting is back on the table, what does that change? How can I build on this?

  • I can schedule babysitting sessions once a week for as long as A- is up to it. I can fill that time with consulting or other tasks, so it’s worth it on my end. Although consulting is fun and easy to justify, I could also dedicate some time to continuous improvement, writing, drawing, organization, and personal projects.
  • Knowing that I’ll have some scheduled focused time should make it easier to get proper sleep at night, which should make it easier to focus on her during the day. Also, it’s really nice to just be able to sleep when we’re sleepy, instead of trying to stay awake while she’s falling asleep.
  • It would be good to gradually stretch it to six hours, to prepare her for being away from us for that long when she’s at kindergarten. It’s still good for her to have an afternoon nap, so we’ll probably move the starting time earlier.
  • The weather is warming up, so it might be good to figure out the logistics of going to other places like the playground or the drop-in centre.
  • In summer, the pool of available babysitters expands quite a bit. It might be interesting to experiment with independent sitters, especially ones with teaching experience. On the other hand, the agency is pretty convenient too.
  • A- hasn’t yet had a big meltdown that required comfort from a babysitter, so I’m not sure if she’s ready for that yet. We can work on emotional regulation when we’re together, since she’s not quite ready to do that on her own or with strangers yet.
  • Eventually, I can check how she does in a group situation. Parenting workshops with childminding and drop-in centres with parent relief programs might be good ways to test it out, or I can explore coworking spaces with childcare. The city also runs a few recreation programs for her age range, although most of those are too early in the morning for her current sleep rhythms. Kindergarten readiness programs can also help her get used to school routines and group interaction.

With that in mind, next week, I plan to:

  • Line up non-consulting tasks so that I can use my time well once I’m done with the SQL debugging I’ve scheduled,
  • Pay closer attention to the differences in the way we interact, and see what I can learn,
  • Experiment with 5 hours, with the option to cut it shorter if she’s tired or cranky, and
  • Ask the babysitter what she would need to be comfortable taking A- out to the backyard or to “school,” and offer it to A- as an option.

I’m glad A-‘s curious about this again!

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Visual Book Notes: Between Parent and Child (2003)

| parenting, sketches, visual-book-notes

Between Parent and Child (2003) by Dr. Haim G. Ginott, Dr. Alice Ginott, and Dr. H. Wallace Goddard is an update of the 1965 parenting classic. The book covers situations starting from toddler tantrums to talking to teens about the facts of life, and it manages to do so without seeming scattered or too sparse.

A few quick reflections on life with our three-year-old:

A- definitely can’t hear me when she’s in the grip of strong feelings, so it makes sense to me to focus on reassurance. Sometimes when she’s really upset, she shows me that she wants some space by running away and crying, “Not Mama!” That’s cool. I say, “Okay, I’ll be right over there. Let me know if you want a hug.” Sometimes she wants to be close (“Up! I want to be in the carrier!”) and that’s cool too, although it’s a bit harder when I don’t have the carrier handy.

I like the point that the book made about helping kids learn how to appreciate music and use music as an outlet for feelings, since I tend to think of it in terms of cognitive benefits instead of appreciating it as a human art. A- and I have been going to music class since she was a year old, although I think that’s been mostly because I like singing nursery songs and enjoy learning more of them. As she grows, I want to model enjoying music around her, and maybe help her find something she likes to do too. We’ve got a piano, a toy glockenspiel, and a couple of ukuleles and recorders, so there’s plenty to explore. Also, A- loves dancing, so I should remember to put music on more often.

It might be interesting to experiment with the “Show me how angry you are” approach the next time A- gets angry. I wonder if she’ll take me up on drawing or dancing it out.

The parent-as-consultant approach for homework help and everyday living sounds really nice–almost too idealistic, but who knows? Anyway, it might be worth trying as A- gets older.

Overall, Between Parent and Child is probably the book I’d recommend as a practical overview of this parenting approach, using other books such as How to Talk so Little Kids Listen and No-Drama Discipline for deeper dives.

If you like this sketchnote, feel free to print, reuse, or share it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence. Enjoy!

Tech note: I drew this sketchnote on my phone (Medibang Paint on a Samsung Note 8), so the handwriting’s a little shakier. It was great being able to read and sketch in little snippets of time.

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Visual Book Notes: No-Drama Discipline (2014)

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, sketches, visual, visual-book-notes

Updated 2019-03-18: Linked image.

No-Drama Discipline (2014) was written by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. The book takes a connection- and skill-building approach to parenting kids, especially during difficult moments like tantrums and misbehaviour. I like how it encourages me to take a step back and think about the long-term skills I’d like to help A- develop, and it has lots of examples of redirection and teaching.

I’m still firm when it comes to safety or other people, and sometimes I’m not in the right space to be patient. I’ve been focusing on accepting, validating, and describing A-‘s emotions whenever I can. It’s getting easier to say, “I see you’re upset. I’m here if you want a hug.” It’s hard to see what kind of progress A- might be making on her side, and I still worry from time to time that I might end up being too permissive, or that she might depend on me too much for emotional regulation. But kids have turned out just fine with a wide variety of parenting approaches, so things will probably work out too. I wonder if A- will grow into the sort of kid who resonates with the kinds of conversations described in the book. If she isn’t, that’s cool, we’ll adapt. In the meantime, this approach resonates with me, and I like what it’s helping me learn.

Although the book felt repetitive at times, I found it helpful to see the principles applied in lots of different scenarios. I also liked reading a few stories about when it just didn’t work out, which made the approach feel more human and relatable. It might be useful to read this book backwards, actually: start with the refrigerator-sheet summary near the end of the book, and then fit the other chapters into that framework.

How does the book fit in with the other books I’ve been reading along these lines? No-Drama Discipline focuses on connecting and calming down kids (and quieting our internal anxieties, or “shark music”), while How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen goes into more detail on collaborative problem-solving. I think No-Drama Discipline gives more concrete advice than Unconditional Parenting does, but covers a narrower range of topics than Between Parent and Child. Positive Parenting by Rebecca Eanes is a bit more of an overview, while No-Drama Discipline is more of an in-depth look at one topic.

If you like this sketchnote, feel free to print, reuse, or share it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence. Enjoy!

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Becoming more social

Posted: - Modified: | connecting, parenting

We had been at the Ontario Science Centre for two and a half hours, and A- had done most of her favourite activities already. When she saw H- together with Melissa (H-‘s mom), though, she hopped up and down with excitement. She even took H-‘s hand for a bit. Then the pair chased each other around the kids’ area while I scrambled to keep eyes on both of them. After that, there was the usual dance of separate activities and joint ones. Melissa and I waved hello in passing, carried on fragmented conversations, and texted location updates whenever our kiddos looked like they were going to be in one place for a short while.

There was even one segment of extended playing together. H- pretended to be a doctor, A- pretended to be a nurse, and I was their poor beleaguered patient who was not allowed to get well. (“Thank you for the medicine. I feel all better now.” “No, you’re still sick.” “Oh no! I’m so sick.”) We kept at it for quite a while.

We stayed all the way until the science centre closed. A- slept soundly on the way home, all tired out from six hours of fun. I like going to the science centre with friends. A- seems to enjoy it too. The science centre is an hour away, but conversation makes the trip shorter. It’s fun to see the kids interact, too, and I’m learning to enjoy interacting as well.

I’ve been making an effort to be more social by inviting people for field trips or food. A- will learn about social interaction from how I interact with other people, and she’ll develop her own friendships. I hope that when she goes to school, we’ll already be on good terms with a few of her classmates’ families. I can see how friendships have contributed to my sister’s happiness, and I see how I’m slowly getting the hang of things. Not that I feel that friendships are instrumentally good, mind you. One of the things I like about people I consider friends is that it’s nice that they exist. I like that there are people like them. But it does sometimes help to remind myself of the good things about friendships when I’m feeling all homebody-ish or when I’m talking myself out of worrying about rejection.

A- will probably turn out all right no matter what I do. I might as well take advantage of this opportunity to learn a few things that parenting can help me with. Cooking makes sense because I feel strongly motivated to help A- develop good eating habits. Social interaction is another big area that makes perfect sense, since parenting introduces me to lots of people with lots of common ground. Early childhood education is a natural fit, too. So much to learn for both of us!

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Making a simple clock webpage for A-

| geek, parenting

We’ve been working on making our routines smoother by scheduling meals, clean-up time, bedtime routines, and so on. Even though times vary from day to day to accommodate the variability of toddler life, it’s been helpful to say things like, “Evening snack is at 8.”

The wall clock in the kitchen has a big circle on the end of the hour hand, which has been great for helping A- tell the time. She can focus on what number is in or near the circle instead of figuring out which is the short hand, mentally extending it to the numbers, and seeing out which number it matches. 

This morning, A- looked at the clock and said, “It’s nine o’clock.” (And it was!) In the evening, she looked at the clock a few minutes before 8 PM, then started singing, “We’ve come to the end of another day…”

Since that wall clock is just in the kitchen, I wanted to make something on my phone so that I could always show her what time it was. Javascript to the rescue! This one seems to display fine. If I need to use it offline, I can probably bundle in the libraries.

Live version is at https://sachachua.com/clock.html, based on Vasco Asturiano’s MIT-licensed code.

Next step could be to add drawings to the clock, like this custom clock for toddlers.

We’ll shift to the classic style of clock hands over time so that she can practise those too. I’ve also started talking about “half past,” and then I’ll introduce “quarter to” and “quarter past” later on. Whee! It’s so much fun to code things that fit A-‘s interests.

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Adjusting to less focused time

| kaizen, learning, parenting

It feels like I’ve had much less focused time over the past two months. Weaning, sickness, and A-‘s bigger emotions all needed more patience and energy. I’ve been prioritizing sleep and household maintenance over things like staying up to consult or write. On the plus side, we’ve gotten back into the rhythm of preparing meals for the week, and cleaning the house is a little easier now.

How can I adapt if this is my new normal?

I’ve been setting more firm boundaries (myself, bedtime routines, etc.), and that’s been working reasonably well. I’ve also adjusted my plans and made sure not to commit to more consulting than I could do.

I’m not keen on making videos a regular part of her day, since we don’t want to add another cause for conflict. I considered creating space by having a babysitter come over for 3-4 hours. A- is still not keen on the idea, though, and I can see how we both benefit from the time we spend with each other.

So the main thing to do, I think, is to rejig my plans in order to make the most of the constraints. What do I want to learn even without lots of focused sit-down time? How do I want to grow?

  • Equanimity: This lets me turn A-‘s tantrums into learning opportunities. I can practise appreciating her and this life, especially when we’re in the thick of things. Taking care of our basic needs gives me the space to be patient and kind when A- needs me to be, and it’s good practice in anticipating and heading off challenges. I tend to be firmer than W- is, so I can work on noticing when a little kindness or flexibility might help a lot when A- and I are on our own.
  • Household maintenance: I want to take on more chores, help A- get involved, and become more effective. This is also a good opportunity to practise noticing things. I can learn things from W- and from the Internet.
  • Thinking, learning, and improving in short bursts: I want to get better at using little pockets of time. Drawing and dictating might be good techniques to explore further.
  • Mindfulness and being present: I want to get better at being there for A- instead of letting myself be distracted. I want to get better at enjoying now. I also want to balance that with thinking about and doing my own things. I can start with a few magic moments a day, and then expand from there.
  • Playfulness and creativity: I like the way W- interacts with A-. It might be interesting to practise playfulness and creativity, especially since A- can be my play partner and guide. I can pick up ideas at the drop-in centres, and sometimes reading helps.

These things are less obviously rewarding than, say, figuring out a clever solution for a client problem or coming up with a neat Emacs hack and blogging about it. But they’re worthwhile things to learn anyway.

How can I make my learning more intentional? It might be interesting to make myself a list of things to focus on or try out, and then try one at time while keeping an eye out for other things that are relevant to the situation. For example, I could have a day of involving A-‘s toys in tasks, then see how that resonates with A-.

How can I make my learning more visible? I think journal entries will help a little. Sometimes A- insists that I stay close while she’s sleeping, so that might be a good time to write. I can draw thoughts while waiting for A-, too, which is a good way to model writing and drawing. Paper seems to work a little better than drawing on my phone, although maybe that’s a matter of practice. I don’t have a good workflow for dealing with notes yet, but I can archive pictures for now and deal with them as mostly transitory thinking aids.

I’ll probably have lots of focused time later on. Crunch time isn’t forever. Even if I may need to start over, I’m not too worried. I think I’ll be able to get the hang of things again.

In the meantime, we’re mostly set up for playing and doing chores at home. Once we recover from this cold and cough, I think our daily rhythm will involve drop-in centres as well as home time. I’ve got things to learn and ways to grow. I can do this, even though it’s a bit different from what I’m used to.

Life changes. It’s good to adapt.

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Weaning

| parenting

A- hates weaning. She’s desperate to reconnect. I wish I had more patience or cleverness for a gentler approach, but I’m all done with nursing, so we’ve gone cold-turkey.

All I can do is to accept her rages and pleas, snuggle her close when she wants (“Tighter!” she says), give her space when she wants (“That’s my body!”), offer milk and food and hugs, and not take her rejection personally. (“I like Daddy more than Mama!” “That’s okay with me.”)

I am okay with her being upset. I’m okay with giving her an outlet for her feelings, and being there for her until anger melts into sadness, or through the cycles of falling asleep crying and waking up screaming.

I’m also okay with taking care of myself (bathroom breaks, cat-naps) so that I can take care of her. W- is awesome.

Thank goodness for the mercurial moods of toddlers. It’s hard to go from calm to angry tantrum in the space of a few minutes, but fortunately she also sometimes switches out of a tantrum, so I know she’s okay.

It’s also mind-boggling to know that as much as she resists, she says she’d still rather spend time with me than with a babysitter, even when I’m low-energy. Even in the middle of a tantrum, she gestures for me to lie down too and snuggle her closer. Even though she says she doesn’t want me to say no or to set limits, she also says she wants me.

Of course, once W- is home, she’s all about him. (“Private time, Mama! Please go somewhere else.”) That’s cool too.

While we’re working on this, everything else is on hold. I need as much sleep and space as I can that I can give her as much patience and support as she needs. I misjudged it one night, staying up for an hour of consulting and an hour of planning. Four hours later, she woke up and refused to settle. The next night, I was so exhausted that I cried, and she was even more distressed by my tears. W- woke up again, calmed her down simply by taking her out of the room, and let me have a much-appreciated start on sleep.

She’s slowly coming around. She still asks, but she doesn’t rage as much now. I can acknowledge that she wants to nurse, comfort her, and offer something else. Helping her sleep is still a challenge, but at least she settles back down when she wakes up in the middle of the night. She wakes up grumpy and wanting to nurse, but the mood passes by breakfast.

It’s a lot to get through, but we’ll get through this together.

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