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Slow days, weeks, months, years

| life

Some days are slow. Some weeks, some months, some years… Parenting gives me a sneak peek at what life is like being slow, and that's handy. I've written about being slow before. Every time I revisit this topic, I learn a little bit more. I can start to figure out the systems and perspectives that might help me as I grow older.

One of the nice things about a slow day is that it's easy to give myself permission to dwell on all the things I gloss over on fast days. I putter around the house, tidying up. I sit with A- as she reads, and I write my thoughts by hand. I update my ledger and doublecheck my budget. I read through my backlog of books and borrow some from A-'s pile so I can keep up with her interests. I learn more about my tools and try things out. I review and update my notes. I write journal entries even for these little moments, because small steps still add up over time.

What do fast days look like? I jump into a programming task and explore an idea, turning my notes into blog posts when I can. I fly around documentation and source code. When I reach out for something, I find it. I feel proud of what I've figured out. With A- , my fast days are when I have the energy and equanimity to help us have fun while taking care of our priorities.

On slow days, I let A- take more of the lead. I might say, "My brain is having a hard time being creative right now," and then we switch to something more physical or more straightforward. When she's grumpy and I don't have the energy to help her manage her feelings, we just let the big feelings wash over us.

It helps that Emacs News and similar things are compatible with slow days, as the hardest thinking I need to do then is just which category to use. Captioning videos and adding chapter markers are also straightforward. Writing about cool stuff is easier than writing and maintaining cool stuff.

Parenting is pretty compatible with slow days, too. When I focus on A- and appreciate the things she's learning and who she is as a person, she glows. There are plenty of resources I can tap, and I don't have to be "on" all the time.

Oh, is that why knitting, gardening, and reading are popular hobbies for older people, because it gets easier to be patient with things that take a while? Oooh. I wonder if that means I might have more patience for things that require compiling or training.

I'll have other slow days in the future, and that's okay. Some people even pay big money or make huge life changes in order to learn how to live more slowly. I'd like to still be happy with myself instead of frustrated when I'm in my 70s or 80s, so I think it will be worth figuring this out (slowly).

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Visual Book Notes: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals - Oliver Burkeman (2021)

| visual-book-notes, parenting, experiment

I liked Oliver Burkeman's 2021 book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It covered many of the things I've been working learning on for the past 10 years on this experiment with semi-retirement and parenting. Learning to sit with anxieties and uncertainties, accepting my limits and working with them, being here now… These are the lessons I find myself practising every day.

Some things have gotten easier. I've become comfortable with an ever-growing task list that I know I'll never clear. My default task status is SOMEDAY, and I treat the list like a buffet of ideas that I can choose from when I want to. Which is hardly ever, since I'm still living on kid time and have very little focused time for myself. Most days I'm okay with this, as childhood is fleeting and my main challenge is to really be here for it. This is tough. I've been learning that I'm very human. I turn into a hangry ogre if we're out too late. I grump at A- if I get too tired. I work on separating the shark music of my anxiety from what's really going on. We joke about my squirrel brain and find ways to deal with its limits. I've given up many of my illusions about control. Knowing that I still have lots to learn even though I'm almost 39 makes it much easier for me to appreciate A-'s being 6. My journal helps me see how the days build up into months and years. I'm still on the anxious side, but W- helps balance that, and developing resourcefulness and resilience will help too.

While the book is mostly about confronting and working with the limits of being mortal, it also had some interesting thoughts about the value of being in sync with other people. Tangling my life up with W- and A- has helped me learn about things I would never have stretched myself to do on my own. I can see how A- enjoys playing with her friends. We've decided to go with virtual school for Grade 1 to minimize COVID risks (and I've been keeping an eye on monkeypox news too, ugh). I wonder if we can get a full synchronous exemption again this year. It's been nice following A-'s interests. But we did kinda miss out on group experiences of music and dance, and I'm not sure I'll find outdoor classes for those within walking distance. Online classes exist, but then we'll need to sync up with someone else's schedule. Maybe someday, if A- wants it strongly enough. Here I remind myself not to worry too much about her future, not to try to orchestrate things too much. It is enough to observe, support, and join her in learning. Besides, we can still have fun with clapping games and tea parties.

Anyway. Mortality. Cosmic insignificance. I can attest that thinking about these things can be surprisingly reassuring. All we can do is what we can do, and that's enough. Tomorrow I will dress and eat and brush teeth and play and tidy and do other things that I do every day. Against this backdrop of mostly-sameness, A- grows. If I pay attention, I may even notice it–for just as unexpected lasts sneak up on you, unexpected firsts do as well. If I pay attention, I might notice I'm growing too.

Questions I often ask myself

Posted: - Modified: | reflection

Chenny asked me what kinds of things I'm concerned about, so I started reflecting on the kinds of questions I usually ask myself. Here's a rough list with some examples:

  • What could make things a little bit better? How can I compound those improvements? A few notes on kaizen
  • Which trade-offs might be worth it? Which ones do I decide against? How can I experiment?
  • What do I want from this stage? What has changed? How can I make the most of that? What's coming up next? ,
  • What could awesome look like? How can I tell if I'm on the right track? How far do I want to go? Example, other posts
  • What might failure look like? What are the warning signs? Example: Experiment pre-mortem, Update
  • What are the risks and downsides? How can I mitigate them?
  • How can I make things easier for future me?
  • How can I test and work around my current limits? Ex: squirrel brain
  • What do I want to remember, reflect on, and share?
  • What do my decisions tell me about my values? Do I agree? Do I want to change things?
  • What are the results of past decisions and experiments? What can I learn from those? A few notes on decisions
  • How do I want to grow?
  • What do I want to learn? How can I learn it? What do I know now?
  • How can I get better at seeing, noticing, asking, reflecting, organizing, sharing, improving?
  • Where can I take advantage of leverage or comparative advantage? Where is it good to not optimize along obvious dimensions?
  • What would I do if I were starting from scratch? Which sunk costs should I ignore?
  • What can I break down, connect, or transform?
  • How am I different from alternate universe mes? How can I make the most of that? Example
  • What happens if I look closely at my discomfort or fear? Where am I shying away from something, and why? Example: uncertainty, working on my own things, the experiment
  • Where does it make sense to take on more difficulty or do things worse so that I can do things even better later on?
  • What have I forgotten or neglected? What do I want to reclaim, and what do I want to let go? Some thoughts
  • What do I not know to look for? How can I bump into stuff like that?

At the moment, I'm focused on time and attention. I think about what's worth giving up sleep for, and how sleeping more might help with some things like thinking. I think about time with W- and A-. I think about week-to-week changes and how I can adapt. I think about how we can use little bits of time to improve things in order to more effectively use time. There's definitely a lot to figure out!

Book reflection: Raising a Secure Child

| reflection

Raising a Secure Child (Guilford Publications, 2017) is about reflecting on and working with the Circle of Security: how kids go out to explore and come back for comfort, and how we can support them both going and coming back. It reminds us to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind, and that children can't figure out how to manage their emotions by themselves – they need us to help them.

Me, I'm working on helping A- feel that I delight in who she is, not just what she does. It's easy to have fun paying attention to every little thing she learns, keeping track of them in my journal, but she's more than the sum of those moments.

I also noticed that some of my internal pressure to get A- outside might come more from my need to be a good parent than what she needs at the moment. Being aware of that helped me slow down and appreciate what she wanted from time at home.

The book talks a lot about shark music, the fears and insecurities that get in our way as parents. I notice that I exert a little effort when supporting A-‘s exploration so that I don't let my worries interfere with her, and I want to be careful not to make her feel I'm crowding her.

I'm definitely safety-sensitive in terms of relationships, and I can see why that's the case. Knowing that, I can try to correct for my biases and work on connecting better. I might not be as comfortable with anger as I could be, and that's worth working on too. I'm okay handling A-‘s anger, although she rarely gets angry too.

I like the way the Being-With concept gives me more ways of thinking about supporting A- through challenging emotions. The sample dialogues were interesting.

I think I need to try the ideas from Raising a Secure Child for a while before I can get a sense of whom I might recommend the book to. It's good food for thought, though.

Figuring out rhythms for our days and weeks

| life, parenting

It rained almost all weekend. W- focused on cleaning the house. I felt a little guilty and unproductive, pulled this way and that by A-‘s requests: “I want to play playdough!” “I want to go outside!” “No Mama go upstairs!” “I want to read books!” “I want to play with letters!” All the while, W- was bustling around, getting stuff done. But W- was patient with us, and we did manage to help a little with folding laundry, tidying up, and cleaning the carpet.

I was thinking about what a better weekend routine could be like. Then I realized something: of course, A- won't have weekends until she has weekdays. She doesn't care about the calendar. She goes by our daily routine, modified slightly on the days we have classes. Our daily rhythm has some time for self-care, some time for tidying up, and lots of time for play inside and outside. There's no space yet for the kind of focused project work that W- can do, unless A- is asleep (and even then, she still wakes up from time to time). That's okay. That will come in time.

What can I do about weekends now? I'd like to free up more time for W- to work on projects. It would help to move more household chores to the week, especially if I can make them playful.

  • Laundry: It's cheaper to do during the weekend, but maybe I can bring down and sort things more frequently, and I can start a load every now and then. A- has gotten interested in answering questions about laundry (“Is this A-‘s or Mama's?” “Mama's!”), a good prelude to sorting. She's also interested in folding, although she's probably still pretty far from being able to do it. Practice time!
  • Cooking: We've been able to cook a few times, so we'll keep trying. If I time it for when W- will be home, then he can take over during the final stages just in case.
  • Tidying: We do a small tidy-up before eating, but maybe we can expand it, especially if I turn it into a game of spotting what's out of place. If I donate some of the children's books that are too advanced for A-, I can free up a basket that I can then use to carry things around.
  • Vacuuming: I don't like doing this when A- is with me, because she usually insists on being close and the vacuum is quite loud. She started getting interested in hearing protection, though, so maybe she can wear hearing protectors while I vacuum.
  • Groceries: I can usually pick up staples, but I don't like buying lots of ingredients without confirming with W-. It's easy for W- to pick up groceries on the way home, too.
  • Hanging out with A-: This is an important part of the weekend. Figuring out ways that we can involve A- in projects and in household chores means W- gets to spend time with A-, too.

I wonder if I can increase my playfulness so that I can engage her in more household chores, and I can think about scaffolding her so that she can gradually build skills. She's got built-in drives toward helpfulness and mastery, so I can take advantage of that.

A-‘s indoor play tends to focus on playdough, letters, scissors, drawing, and pretend. She loves being read to. She can spend hours at the playground, too. All of those are wonderful things. I want to be fully there when we're playing, not trying to pull her towards chores. I think it will be more about gently insisting that we need to do something as a small part of our daily routine, and then perhaps enthusiastically suggesting things when she's undecided.

We've considered hiring help. So far, it's been good for A- to see us involved in taking care of the house, and for her to get involved as well. It's pretty manageable, actually. We aren't at the point of being stressed by it, so we're going to keep playing it by ear.

It would be neat if we can shift enough from the weekend so that chores generally feel evenly distributed throughout the week. Then W- can choose whether he needs to spend the time working on projects, he can spend time hanging out with us, or he can slow down project work so that A- and I can join. It'll be fun figuring this out.

As for me, I can accept that I won't be able to work as fast or as effectively as W- does. Even if A- switched over to hanging out with him, I probably wouldn't even think of half the things he does, so that's okay. Instead, I'll focus on helping A- learn as much as she can, and I'll try to learn as much as I can as well: what he notices, what he knows, what he does about stuff, and so on. There's plenty for me to learn even when I'm playing with A-. We can do this!

Back to biking

| kaizen, life

We got the Thule Chariot XT bike trailer that also quickly converts into a stroller. Our goals are:

  • Model physical activity, and biking in particular
  • Explore more of the city
  • Expand our range

We started by getting A- used to the stroller. She's generally amenable to it, and has asked for it when she's sleepy. She also likes insisting on walking or even pushing the stroller, saying “I want to exercise my body!” We totally support that, of course, so I don't insist on putting her back in.

This week, I tried biking. I rode the mountain bike by itself a few times around the block to get the hang of it, since the shifters and frame were different from the ones on my bike. Then we hitched up the bike trailer, and I rode around the neighbourhood a few more times. Then we did a test ride with A-.

I've been testing the bike trailer on short trips with A-. She's not always keen on it, which makes getting her into the trailer and on the way home sometimes a dicey prospect. If I don't have any time pressure and I make an effort to be extra-playful, though, I might be able to convince her to put on the helmet and get in the trailer. She responds better to play and energy than to collaborative problem-solving. Today, it helped to stick lots of stickers on the helmet and to pretend to be getting ready for airplane take off.

I'd like to practise with short trips to playgrounds that she might likes. Maybe High Park, Vermont Square Park, and Dufferin Grove. Those are well-served by public transit in case I need to bail. Worst-case scenario, I can probably lock the bike up somewhere, take a picture and send the location to W-, and he can retrieve it. I'd rather avoid that, though.

I think it might be good to experiment with keeping things low-pressure.

  • I'll take transit for classes, appointments, and other things I need to get to or leave in a fairly predictable manner. Even then, I'll give people a heads-up that stuff might happen, and I'll keep an oops fund in case I need to pay for last-minute cancellations or cab fares.
  • I won't let any embarrassment about running late get in my way.
  • When making plans with friends, I'll give them a heads-up, and I'll trust in their being grown-ups who can replan or find something that works for them.
  • A- tends to stay at a park a long time once we get there, so maybe I can ping people once we arrive and then see if they want to meet up. I should wrap up a few hours before sunset, too, just in case.
  • Speaking of trust, I'll also trust that people can make their own decisions about whether they want to hang out with us in a playground (with bubbles! and snacks!). I've been a little uncertain about hanging out with non-parent friends because of the stereotype of a kid-obsessed parent who can't talk about much else, but parks can be nice to enjoy anyway, I'm starting to free up some coding and thinking time, and maybe people might want to hang out with kids because it's rejuvenating.

Biking opens up exciting possibilities. I don't have to make it pay off entirely this year, or even worry about the break-even point compared to transit. I think a different experience of Toronto might be well worth it. It's also good practice in adapting to situations and getting better at being playful. Looking forward to getting out more!

Thinking about more reflection and sharing

Posted: - Modified: | kaizen, parenting, reflection

Okay. I've gotten basic recording sorted out, I think. I can capture quick notes, photos, and videos to document our lives and serve as placeholders for further reflection. I can organize them into rough categories. Babysitting gives me enough brainspace for both consulting and self-improvement. My sleep is still a bit messy, but that's probably at least half because of me. I'm confident about spending time with A- and helping her learn stuff. Time to think of the next steps.

I think there are three big areas for me:

  • planning and experimenting with potential improvements: needs attention, creativity, and implementation time
  • sharing tweaks and things I've figured out: good for backing up and for conversation
  • making sense of facts, asking questions, synthesizing, reflecting

Our continuous improvement capabilities are okay, although of course there's room to grow. Physical stuff (reorganization, trying stuff, decluttering) can happen throughout the day. Reading fits in late at night or in snippets throughout the day, although I'm still skimming for things to think about instead of being able to take notes or think about things in depth. Coding tiny little tools fits in late at night or during babysitting sessions – not big projects yet, but shell scripts and short Emacs Lisp functions are quite doable.

I'd like to get better at circling back and posting source code and experiment notes. Maybe I'll start by including just a paragraph or two describing key motivation and intended result, then jump straight into the code or description. I'm not sure if it will help anyone else, but who knows? Besides, it's good to have stuff like that in my own archive.

It seems like such a splurge to use babysitting time for thinking, drawing, and writing. I don't know if I can write a post worth $120+ to myself or other people, and besides, I want to write more personally relevant things before I get back into sketchnoting books or putting together, say, Emacs guides. But if I think of the babysitting as primarily paying for A- to practise independence and social interaction with someone one-on-one, I do some consulting every week, and I make an effort to pick up one or two new activity ideas each time we have someone over, I can think of the discretionary time as a bonus instead of trying to optimize my use of that time.

Let me think about sense-making. I've been focusing on just capturing what was going on because it was hard to think more deeply. I'm a little less preoccupied now, so I have some brainspace for thinking. Some questions to ponder:

  • What is A- interested in learning? What does she think? Why does she do what she does? How can I grow so that I can support her even more effectively?
  • What else can I experiment with? How can I reduce waste or costs (including intangibles), and how can I increase benefits?
  • How can I make learning visible for both A- and me?
  • What do I want from all of this? How do I want this to shape me?

Writing this on a bench in the park, arms around a sleeping A-, I'm somewhat challenged by the small window I'm writing in (there's room for a couple of paragraphs and that's it), the inability to refer to other things side by side, and the possibility of interruption. But maybe I can think and write in medium-sized chunks: a little bigger than the quick notes I've been taking, but small enough that I don't need an outline or the ability to easily rearrange my text. I can write more stream-of-consciousness stuff instead of worrying about editing. I can give myself permission to cover ground relatedly instead of worrying whether I'd written about something before, or if I'd just dreamed it.

Let's warm up those thinking muscles. :)