Genius dad

So this is a late post for me today. Woke up the same time as the kids, and forgot to turn my phone on DND before I started meditating, and got a text in the middle of it about an outage at one of Zombie, Inc.’s cornerstone clients. So I felt obliged to take it, and the morning was just shot from there. The day actually improved from there, even though I wasn’t as productive as I wanted to be. So here I am, trying to finish what is for me one of the most important parts of my day. I finished meditating after I put the kids to bed, and I want to put down some thoughts before I get to work on coding. No TV today.

I had a good day with the kids. One of their friends came and knocked on the door. They hadn’t seen her in several weeks, so I let them out for some socially distanced bike riding. I chaperoned. Then after lunch Younger and I took a ride to the pier nearby. She’s totally comfortable on her new pedal bike, only took four or five days. I’m so proud, she’s not even four yet and riding a pedal bike; didn’t even need training wheels. I feel like genius dad.

Elder had a good day also. She had a nine-thirty call with the gifted teacher, which probably broke up our routine for the better. She has this idea that she’s been bringing up for the past couple days about turning the house into a hair salon. I’m trying to humor her but explain the reality about what that really would mean. We also discussed writing a book. She came up with this idea for a story called “Cave of Gold” or “Treasure of Gold”. Her description of it sounds like The Goonies, which we watched over the weekend. I told her the most important thing about making it happen was getting it out of her head and into the real world. We discussed typing it, writing it, and I even showed her some voice dictation options, both on my iPhone and a electronic voice recorder that I have. She wound up writing a scene just before bed. It was a dialog between a mom and an older sibling being asked to take care of their little sibling. Sounded like something right out of our house. Seems like she’s already learned the rule, “write what you know”.

Getting work during the day is hard, though. There’s the distractions from the kids that make most deep work impossible. By the time I actually have the time in the afternoon, my energy is dead. I moved the needle on a few small tasks: ongoing domain migration woes from a crappy reseller; and got a copy of my resume added to my CV site and made a few edits. I’ve got no excuses to start applying now.

I’ve started refactoring my value averaging code. The main function is a hundred lines long, and there’s no tests, so I’m going to to spend some more time on that again today. I run it every day when the market opens. I’m having some problems with it. I give it a list of positions to process, and it takes each one and goes through several steps of calculations before sending a buy or sell order to the exchange. Some of the positions are failing and I’m not sure why, so I’ve got to decouple several of the functions so that I can debug it better. After that I need to pull it out of the package that it’s in and make it a separate library. Right now it’s in my trade plan library, which has turned into a bit of a junk drawer over the past year or so. It’s also tightly coupled to the TDAmeritrade brokerage, and that needs to be abstracted out at some point. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

Tomorrow, I want to get up by six so I can get my meditation and writing done. After the kids are settled in and I’ve done all my morning checks for Zombie, I’m going to focus on the software design pilot project I’m working on there. Then the afternoon, I want to find the best job posted on LinkedIn and apply for it. We’re going to make this happen.

Mother’s Day: Halvening Edition

Today is Mother’s day. Everyone is up and in a good mood — it seems. After I finish this I’m going to make mimosas and cook breakfast. We don’t have anything planned today, but I imagine it’s going to involve a lot of movies and sweets. I’m going to keep the kids productive, though, there are a couple rooms of the house that are in dire need of tidying.

It’s also been over six months since I did the house accounts. I use GNUCash, to keep tabs on the house expenses, mainly the mortgage and utilities, but it also let’s me stay on top of contributions between my wife and myself. She’s put up large lump sums in the past, for the roof and the HVAC, and I have to balance that against my monthly deposits until we’re more or less even. Things are even more complicated because she pays the health, car and home insurance and has also made the daycare payments. We split those payments and I credit her on the house account, but we’re not very disciplined about keeping up with adjustments.

We don’t track groceries or clothes for the kids or anything like that. We tried once using an app, but she just spent more than me, and it became too much of a conflict when it came to buying groceries, or eating out, or buying things for the kids. So we just try to take turns with the groceries and call it a day. We also make our own contributions to the girls. Missus prefers our state’s 529 plan, and I have bitcoin wallets for the two of them on my hardware wallet. Like driver’s licenses, I don’t think the kids will have a need for either by the time their old enough to use them.

I’ve managed the other bills through the joint account, but we’d never been able to keep much of a buffer in our savings. My individual account usually hovered just above water, maintaining tenous balances on my credit cards that I would struggle to pay off each month. She’s since started building it up through her side job, and with the addition of our stimulus payment and a hefty tax return, we’re sitting on close to six months expenses in that account.

I told Missus about my Sixty Days to Six Figures goal, and we wrote up all our debt on the board, which is about two hundred and seventy grand for the mortgage, my student loans, and my car. We wrote it up on the fridge. I also wrote up the current price of Bitcoin, and where we needed the price to be in order to pay all that off. Without disclosing how much I’m holding, I’ll just say it’s between a new all time high and six figures.

One of the responses above reminded me that mortgage interest on a $250,000 house is more than the house itself. It seems absurd now that we would have done such a thing, but given where we were coming from when we bought this place five years ago, I don’t think we could have fathomed any other alternatives. We know better now, so we’re going to do what we can to get out of this trap. And more importantly, teach our kids how not to get caught up in it either. There’s so much that could be written about this aspect of the American Dream, how the banks get rich off of servicing this loan debt, both mortgages and credit cards. The banking economy is driven by this extraction. It remains to be seen whether Bitcoin will fulfill the promise of P2P currency; it looks like it’s getting swallowed up by traditional finance. I am, however, more confident than ever of it’s worth, and am looking forward to the upcoming halving, now in about one day and eleven hours, early Tuesday morning.

Life goes on: Day 51

Life imitates art, as they say, and Groundhog Day is probably the movie that life most represents right now. Life has collapsed to this house, and our street, and while it’s not just me that’s stuck in this time loop but the entire world. Routine has become destiny, and everything seems to be about structuring the day to make things as low-friction as possible. Kids are acting up during morning scrum calls? Move their TV time up an hour so it’s not ending when then call starts. Kids want to horseplay before bed? Don’t forget the afternoon bike ride to let them get it out of their system. Make a little progress on this project, do a little bit here. Pretty soon, ten thousand days will have passed and we’ll masters off the universe.

At the start of this lockdown, I thought I was going to be able to settle into some sort of rhythm between working and taking care of the kids, but deep work is proving impossible to come by; the sisters are fighting. Younger smacked her sister in the face with a doll yesterday, Elder has a mark under her eye now. The crying and whining and yelling pulls me out of whatever I’m trying to do and breaks my train of though. Even now, they’re in the other room. Elder is trying to get her sister to help with some task, and the only way her sister knows how to negotiate is by yelling back at her like some toddler Earl of Lemongrab. I can’t help wondering where they get it from, and fear I know the answer.

The DadPoint bribes have done little to help them focus on picking up after themselves. If anything it’s made me less high-strung about it. Yesterday was a bit much since I slept horribly and needed two naps just to get through the day. We’ll see if today is better. I’ve given them a goal to allow them to get a cat, which Missus and I have been talking about with them for many months, and Elder is very excited about it, although she seems to be more focused on the less routine tasks that I’ve set up for her; mopping the floor is still new enough that she’d rather do that then actually set the table.

Last night in bed, as I was reading about technological unemployment in The Future is Faster Than You Think, Missus remarked that we were so lucky to have chosen the fields that we’re in. “Everyone needs therapy at this point,” she said. I’m still not convinced that the current situation has been traumatic for the kids, any more so than average. We’re just lucky we have a large house with a backyard, and not holed up in some Italian apartment. I can only imagine what that’s like. I keep thinking about the bomb shelters of the Cold War era and thinking it amazing that people thought they were going to survive like that? Life goes on, I suppose.

Grades came in for my numerical methods class: A-. I got penalized because I couldn’t submit my solvers as single files; this was expected. I sent one last email to my professor to try and milk a bit more out of it, I’m not sure quite why, I suppose it was just to say goodbye. Perhaps I was looking for some kind of acknowledgement from him, after much of the extra work I did was ignored. Last night I wrote up a Docker guide for independent study. I have one or two more pages to write, guides for students and faculty on using GitLab for collaborative learning. Degree conferral day is Saturday, and then I will have my BSCS.

I’ve got two retainer clients now, and have a third to sign up. $250/month for two hours a week is not where I want to be in the long run; I’ll start charging more as we start making results. Maybe some project work will come. After I wrap on the schoolwork, I’ll put some more work on the CV site and get a resume posted, then start applying to jobs on LinkedIn and Monster.

Mother’s day is Sunday, and I haven’t bought gifts. I was going to get my mom a pair of socks with my brother and my faces on it — a gag gift — but I haven’t ordered it yet. I think I’ll go ahead and order them along with a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I think I’ve seen her do everything related to art: craft painting, stained glass, now felting, but I think drawing is about the only thing I haven’t seen her do. My wife, on the other hand, just wants a clean house and sleep.

Parent hacking: Chores with Rooster Money

One of the biggest challenges being home with the kids during “the Great Lockdown” is keeping them out of trouble and keeping them busy. It would be super easy to let them watch TV for eight hours a day, but I’m determined not to rely on that. Missus and I have very different outlooks on this, and it’s one of the ongoing sources of frustration in our marriage, along with what type of food we eat. “We both watched and ate garbage all the time,” she likes to remind me, “and we turned out fine.” While I’ll not argue about our shortcomings in that regard, I think the environment in which we grew up is much different from the one which our children are growing up in, and I think it calls for different rules.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, we grew up in the days when cable TV was just becoming prevalent, and video games were fairly primitive. There was no internet, no smartphones, and the battle for attention hadn’t reached the level of warfare that we have today, with cognitive neuroscientists being employed by tech firms to make apps more addictive. And we’ve learned a lot more about how the brains of children form, and how screen time can stunt emotional and cognitive growth. So I try to set limits.

Of course, enforcing those limits is another set of challenges. With the whining, complaining and temper tantrums that accompany them. Trying to maintain consistency, while making allowances for the carrot or the stick type of motivation, is a hard balance to pull off. It’s even harder when my spouse is often all to willing to just let them have it when she needs a break. We’re still working out the kinks.

We’re obviously very privileged to both be working from home. Since her job provides health insurance and provides her less freedom than mine, I’m primarily responsible for the kids meals and schedules during the day, while she’s locked in the office. I try to let the kids play on their own as long as they’re behaving, and try to make sure they get outside time, snacks, and some learning time in. Elder has daily school conferences and some homework, so I try to spend half an hour with Younger, doing alphabet flash cards or Khans Academy Kids before I let her watch PBS for an hour.

The kids are usually pretty good about getting themselves ready in the morning, getting dressed, brushing their teeth and eating breakfast. I don’t want them watching TV as soon as they wake up, so I’m making them wait till 8:30 and have an hour of free screen time. They can have a second hour in the late afternoon, to watch whatever show or play games on the computer.

One of my main peeves is the importance that screens seem to play in their lives. I get especially triggered when they throw tantrums when I ask them to stop a show, or when every day turns into a negotiation around how much they’re going to watch. It turns me into a tyrant.

Today I’m starting something different. I’ve been using the free version of the Rooster Money app for several months to track the kids’ allowances. They get a dollar times their age each week, split between save, spend and give buckets. Spend is (mostly) unrestricted, give is for spending on gifts for others, (we’re not charitable givers,) and save is reserved for treating themselves on their birthday or budgeting big-ticket items. This latter one we’re still figuring out. In addition to dollar allowances, Rooster also allows children to earn “points”, which it also considers a currency, so profiles can’t be mixed between both. Kids can earn automatically as a weekly allowance, or a parent can boost their accounts.

One thing I decided early on was that I was not going to tie chores to their allowance, or use it as a punishment. The whole goal around giving them an allowance was to teach them financial skills. Teaching them work ethic and how to contribute to the household is another thing entirely. Motivating them to do so has been hard. Everything has turned into a transaction for Elder. She keeps trying to demand some sort of reward or tit for tat when I ask her to do something. “I’ll do x if you let me do y,” she’ll say when I ask her to do something. I won’t have it. We fight all the time.

Missus has been having some luck getting them to do work with a “MomPoints” system. She wrote a few tasks up on the fridge’s dry erase, with MomPoint rewards and TV time. It worked great for a while, but it seems like the kids lost focus after a few weeks, and the dry erase has been overwritten. So, this morning, after weeks of delay, I finally implemented a DadPoints system. I upgraded our RoosterMoney account ($20 annually,) created a DadPoints account, and loaded up a bunch of chores. One DadPoint is redeemable for a minute of screen time, and I’m trying to maintain a four to one balance between the amount of time it takes to do the work and the reward. Things shouldn’t be that easy, should they?

It’s going to take a while to tune the tasks and the reward, and figure out the best way to implement this system. Rooster is a bit limited; tasks can be either daily, weekly, or monthly, and I don’t want to have to maintain individual lists for each kid. Getting them excited about helping with the kitchen, doing chores, or special projects that need to be done will prove priceless, and will help remove any ambiguity around what they should expect out of me.

We will see what kind of change this has. Hopefully it will be for the better.

Nothing punny today: Quarantine day 42

So we’ve begun week six. Writing has proved difficult recently, as I’ve been getting up roughly the same time as the girls and have been unable to focus on writing until later in the day, after my day seems to have filled up with tasks. Saturday marked the first real bit of restlessness I’ve felt since we started the lockdown, a bit of ennui and listlessness about what to do.

We’ve rearranged the room over the garage. My wife’s desk is setup and she’s able to telework. I took one of my old workstations and set it up for Elder. I tried using Wine for the first time, but had trouble with some fonts and wound up wiping it an installing Windows 10. I’m hoping she’ll take interest in computer art or music production, but she’s mainly interested in playing Roblox. I gave her a free pass yesterday and asked her what she wanted to learn about. She said “music”, so I threw on a YouTube video lesson for children.

She’s been accepted by the gifted program and will be going to the city’s gifted center for third grade. Her teacher called me Sunday to ask if I would be interested in letting her be part of a small group in the class that would be doing more advanced math, and of course I said yes. I’ve managed to get her to do piano without too much fuss, but I haven’t pushed too much. I can’t say for sure, but it seems that there’s been fewer tantrums.

We’ve discovered Amazon Music and that it has Trolls and Disney music, so the girls have been playing that a lot.

I’m in the midst of my final exam for my numerical methods class, and have been getting my solvers working. Right now the Gaussian elimination is the only one working, and I’ve got 3 more days to get the others working. The professor wants us to generate surface plots in Excel, of all things, and to turn those in for our answers. Since all the solvers are supposed to return the same results, I could just turn in the answers I’ve generated thus far, but I still need to turn the solvers in for assignment credit. The problem here is that I’ve built a large build and test suite in CLion, and my professor just wants a single CPP file that he can run in CodeBlocks. I’ve painted myself into a corner, but I’m not concerned with grades since I think the professor is going to grade on a massive curve.

One of the graduation requirements is financial aid counseling, and I got the first look at my student aid totals in a long time: over fifty-seven thousand dollars. There seems to be some discrepancies that I’ll need to review, but this is obviously a lot more than I was expecting. I hurt myself by taking cash payouts for personal expenses. These went to pay credit cards, and quite a bit to bitcoin. I’ve already accrued five grand in interest charges. It puts my post-graduation plans in a bit more context. The status quo will not hold.

I’ve got until next year before I’m expected to start paying these loans back, but the interest is well over four percent, so the first thing I’ll be looking to do is refinance.

I’ve decided that I need a proper professional presence online, so I’ve registered a few domains and started setting up a new CV site. This blog will remain separate for now, but I’ve started reposting some articles on Medium, and will be linking to my Github repo on it. I’ll worry about the ramifications of a recruiter seeing my Tweets and blog posts later. For now, the only thing that comes up when you Google my real name is my political work, so I’ve got to work on changing that.

I’ve also started trying to use LinkedIn more. There are a lot of jobs for software developers and engineers lately. About twenty new ones a day. I’m not saying I can take my pick, but there’s been about one or two each time I look that I’d be interested in. Not that I would necessarily be qualified for, but once I get through my exam and independent study requirements, I’ll be finishing up my resume and applying to some. Not that I really have any desire to work for another firm full time, but I doubt I would turn down an eighty thousand dollar a year position right now.

Or would I?

Privilege and child rearing

boy sitting near glass wall

Our family has been extremely fortunate so far with this pandemic, and it has reinforced the great privilege that we enjoy. Beyond the threats to our health, this lock down has actually left us more financially stable and brought us closer together. At the same time, it’s proving hard not to raise two spoiled children.

Between the savings from taking our children out of daycare, the stimulus bill payment, and our tax returns, we’re looking at enough cash on hand to pay our mortgage for six months. We’ve been stocking up on groceries for six weeks or so now, and another pickup today has us with more than we need to get though the next several weeks: a full fridge, chest freezer in the garage, kitchen pantry, dining room shelf; and another closet upstairs full of “hurricane supplies. With the help of the LDS food calculator, I’ve even started putting together a prepper list of bulk sized containers of salt, grains, and nuts, as well as stuff I would never have ordered ever, like canned cheese, powdered butter and eggs.

We’re expecting peak infections to start in another week and to run through the first week of May. I took Younger for a ride down the street yesterday, Easter, and saw way too many people gathered together. Lots of cars parked in front of houses. I can’t blame people for wanting to be together; at least the churches were closed. I’ve seen the news, and I’m sure we’re going to be seeing a lot more cases near the end of the month.

Of course my wife is very concerned. She’s been gathering PPE for her union members via social media. One guy donated one hundred 3D printed face-masks; she said the line of people waiting for them when she handed them out today was ridiculous. Still, today she asked me about taking unpaid leave for the next two weeks. I told her ok — more privilege on our part.

Today was Elder’s first day “back at school”. We had a real bad morning with her talking back and had to engage in a battle of wills. I felt miserable about it. I didn’t push anything, but she wanted to do a logic problem that the school had recommended, and I sat down to help her. She got frustrated and wanted to quit, and when I sat down to help walk through it with her we both got into one of our power struggles. Sunday I asked her to clean her room and wound up spending an hour sitting in the hall listening to her wail. I’m not sure what I think I’m doing other than making her dig in, so I’ll need to refine my approach. It’s just that my wife an I have completely different, and somewhat contradictory, parent styles. I thought it would be good for me to have them during the day so they couldn’t play the two of us against each other, and I’m not sure how I’ll feel when she’s working from home and here with us full time.

Just the prospect of it is going to cause some logistic problems. She’ll need a private space due to confidentiality requirements for her WFM approval. The only place in the house with doors besides the bedrooms and bathrooms is the finished room over the garage, which was originally my man-cave and guest bed. It’s going to require some reorganization. We’ll probably lose the bed and bring another desk in. We had planned to put a laptop in Elder’s room, but I’ll probably pull my old Windows workstation from downstairs and make it into something she and I can use for music and gaming.

I’m trying to be less of a tyrant with the things I’m asking the kids to do, but be more firm when I ask them to do something. In spite of the practice I’m working on to be a better parent, I still cannot abide them telling me “no” when I ask them to do something, or being picky about their food. Obviously I’m less strict with Younger, and usually only put her in timeout when she’s making a game of disobeying or having an actual temper, but I think that’s because I can easily pick her up and move her for timeout. Elder is harder to handle. And more likely to fight with me in the first place.

My wife had gone out of her way to make sure the kids had nice Easter baskets waiting for them when they came downstairs yesterday morning, and when we got down the first thing Elder said to her was that Younger had more eggs in her basket than she did. It was my fault, some of them had shuffled between baskets when I brought them down the night before, but the sheer lack of gratitude from her has been an ongoing issue, and one that I’m not sure how to correct. Is withholding the solution? I don’t know.

Elder and I woke up early this morning, she disappeared to her room while I was meditating. Halfway through it I realized she had probably taken a tablet to her room, and saw it missing when I finished. I found her lying on her bed, I asked her if she knew where it was, she said no so I lifted the sheet and found it right in front of her. She had pulled the sheet over it right before I walked in the room. Busted.

We were out of milk this morning, so I told the girls I was making oatmeal with what was left. I think that’s what started the fits, and I’m wondering whether I did it to be petty. I picked up groceries before lunch, they wanted ramen and I told them to eat some rotisserie chicken and leftover carrots and rice. Elder picked at it, which I knew she would, so I picked the meat off the bone and put it in her seconds of ramen. It set her off, which I knew it would.

I told them that they were going to have to get used to eating what we gave them. I don’t want them throwing out food, and I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to get what they like. If it gets to the point where we have to eat emergency supplies I can’t have them being picky eaters. But I guess I should remember the old programming axiom about premature optimization.

You ain’t gonna need it. Hopefully.

Raising successful kids

Having the girls home from daycare has really given me more hands on with their education. The little one is still too little to do much formal learning, but I’ve been trying to engage my second grader with various activities to help drive her creative and technical talents for some time. My wife and I have always made reading a part of their daily routine since they were in utero, and it’s paid off. We got Elder’s acceptance letter to the gifted school earlier this week.

I had behavior problems when I was in primary school, mostly due to me being ahead of the class in some way or another. I can see the same issues with Elder when she’s doing her Zoom conferences with her class. She’ll be distracted by messing with her camera background, painting her face, or working on something else and constantly interrupting what’s going on to chime in with a progress update. It’s hard for me to witness without trying to correct her, so I’ve taken to leaving her alone to it.

Once she had the dexterity and reading skills to starting using the computer and keyboard, I got her a typing game to play. I had one when I was little, and want to make sure she has proper technique. She finished it, but I still catch her two finger typing, so I need to reinforce it, or find something to mix it up a bit. I hear speed typing is a competitive thing now, so I’ll see if she’s interested in that. Of course I realize that voice first is now a big thing, but I want her to have the underlying skill.

To that end, I’ve started asking her to do morning pages. I gave her one of my Ubuntu laptops and set it up for her with Atom, and tasked her with doing twenty five written words, as a sort of morning pages exercise. I don’t put any requirements on what she writes, and she’s still struggling with it. I’m not sure I’ve really made the case for why I’m asking her to do it. She sees me writing these blog posts in the morning, so I think she gets what I’m doing, but she complains about not having anything to write.

Music is very important to both my wife and I. I’ve played guitar for twenty five years, and we both love singing. The girls enjoy their cartoon musicals, and will often make up songs. I wanted the girls to have access to the tools to make their own music, so I bought a ukelele for them early on. It didn’t take — they haven’t figured out frets — so I bought a piano and got Elder doing Playground Sessions. She still complains about it, but I keep encouraging her to push through the lessons. Getting to the point where she’ll be able to play her favorite songs and create her own is hard, but I want her to see through it. Younger seems to enjoy the song modes on the piano, and likes to “play” along with The Muffin Man. Lately we’ve being taking turns with the pre-programmed rhythm and accompinament options and have been holding dance parties. It’s super cute.

I started Elder on’s lessons about a year ago. Most of the exercises are centered around moving a character, say a bee, around a path using move forward, turn right, repeat and while blocks. It was fun working with her to solve the puzzles using the minimum number of code blocks, and one of them took us several tries to optimize.

A few months ago I started picking up a few Python For Kids books from the library and tried to entice her into taking a look at it, but she wasn’t interested. We had talked about making programs for various things, but I guess the timing wasn’t right and we set it aside.

Perusing Barnes and Nobles kids gaming section in the pre-COVID days, I came across books about Roblox among the Minecraft and Fortnite books. So I finally set it up on her shared computer a few weeks ago, hoping to give her an alternative to watching TV. And man, she loves it. I pretty much leave her to it, although I have walked in on her playing shooting games on it. She really gets sucked into some of them: a pizza shop simulator, a mansion building time sink, and some sort of boat builder river obstacle course.

I took a look at the Roblox developer docs; it’s actually a sophisticated gaming platform. It incorporates 3D modeling for the various game assets, as well as Lua scripting for the game logic. Elder and I have spent some time playing with the Roblox Studio, placing models and messing around with terrain generation, then letting her playtest by running around in them. We’ve talked about making a game together, and she wants my help building one. I have to question why she wants to make a hunting game where the goal is to shoot bears and lions and “sell their meat” for money, but I’ll take it one step at a time.

Roblox is free to play, but it does have in game purchases using Robux. You can spend this in game money on items for your avatar, or powerups in game, but we’re not doing that. Instead, I decided to see what we could do by creating our own assets. I found out that you can import and export models from the Studio, so I went and downloaded Blender on her computer. We spent Friday and Saturday night watching tutorial videos on YouTube, and took turns sculpting faces in Blender. I even broke my old Wacom tablet out of the closet to play around with. The package is way to sophisticated for her, but I’m glad she took a little bit of interest in it. She says that she has no interest in any of the animation features, but I can tell you that it’s spurred my interest!

Of course making sure the two of them get plenty of non-screen time is important, so I’m making sure they get plenty of outside time. It’s hard since we’ve been isolating for the last two weeks, cause it’s just the two of them. We’ve been taking daily bike rides for exercise and I’ve been trying to get them to sit through some mindfulness lessons via Anaka Harris on the Waking Up app. It doesn’t seem possible for Younger at this age, but Elder at least seems capable of about thirty seconds max before she starts fidgeting. We’ll see how practice goes. All I can really do now is set an example and try to encourage three to give minute sessions.

I want to wrap up by mentioning a Knowledge Project podcast I listened to yesterday with Esther Wojcicki, author of How to Raise Successfull People. Ester’s learning model goes by the acronym TRICK, for trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. There’s a lot of good points in here, although, as other’s have noted, Esther’s privelege and affluence is quite grating in some respects. Still, it’s something that I shared with my wife last night and am going to share with the girls also.

Creating balance for my kids

I assume, that, much like 911, life will come to be known as before COVID-19 and after COVID-19. Today is, different, and I’m trying to be as conscious as possible about how this new life plays out. The chart above is one my wife posted in response to a question from someone stuck home with two small children about activities they can do to keep from going crazy, and I’ve already started making a list in my head of things I want my children to do.

I had a conversation with my oldest last weekend where I tried to explain the importance of attention. There’s a quote I kept seeing in the Waking Up app: “There’s a multi-front war on our attention, and we’re losing.” It’s resonated with me. I thinking about it much lately, whenever I’m feeling guilty about spending too much time on Twitter, or when my youngest is trying to get my wife to pull her nose out of her phone. But what especially irks me is the way my children act with regard to the television.

My oldest does not exhibit much, let’s say, resiliency, when it comes to not getting her way. She’s very prone to defiance and tantrums, and entitlement. Lord, the entitlement. Especially around television. I’ve tried various tactics over the years, both the carrot and the stick. I’ve put it (the television) in “timeout” for one or two weeks, we’ve tried Friday to Saturday night Shabbats. Lately I’ve been allowing them thirty minutes right after they get home from school that they can have a show, with the understanding that they’ll do their chores without any fuss afterward. Even that is starting to lose it’s efficacy.

As part of our drive to FIRE (financial independence, retire early), we’ve cancelled all of our subscription services, Hulu, Prime, and Netflix was the last to go a few weeks ago. The library has an app with short films and movies, mostly non-Disney animated versions of fairy tales, that they’ve been enjoying, and I recently purchased a ProtonVPN subscription so I can torrent anything else that we really want to see without worrying about my ISP cutting off service.

We take them to the library weekly, usually leaving with twenty or more books. My girls are readers, that is for sure. My wife and I are voracious readers, and we’re both glad to have handed that habit down to them. And my oldest has finally found something that she likes better than watching TV: Roblox, which I would describe as a Minecraft-type game.

During our conversation last week I tried to explain to her the difference between active and passive activities, why TV was a passive one and doing things like Roblox and learning apps was was not. It was a Saturday morning, and she had already spent more than half the time she’d been awake watching TV, and I tried to tell her that I wanted her to have some balance. I tried to sketch out a pie graph to show her what her waking hours looked like and what I thought a good balance between active and passive activities, screen times and chores, inside and outside play. I’m not sure how much I got through her head before she lost interest and started fidgeting, but I think some of it stuck.

So we’ll use the activities chart as a starting point, but make it a bit more dynamic. We’ll play with the timing and activities and see how things go for the kids. It’s also not a bad idea for me to put something together like that for my own time. I’m going to have to keep focused also.

Dad blog

My kids are so different from each other. Some researchers have used birth order to describe some of these differences, but I tend to think that stress hormones during pregnancy and early childhood are more responsible. During my wife’s first pregnancy, we were living in a small, seven hundred square foot home in a lower income area of town. I lost my job several weeks before she was born, and was unemployed for three months after she came to us. In some respects, it was good to be around to help with the baby during those first couple months, but the stress of the firing didn’t help my wife relax.

Like all first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing. My wife worked in daycare when she was younger, and studied early childhood education when she was younger, so she has more experience dealing with kids that I do. Still, we fretted over sleeping arrangements, worried about SIDS and whether it was safe to co-sleep. My wife nursed, and the constantly re-evaluated whether to have a bassinet in the bedroom, keep the kid in her crib, or let her sleep in the bed. Her maternal instincts were often at odds with my sleep needs, and I was constantly trying to sleep train the kid.

After our daughter was old enough that we could start thinking about weaning, I ferberized our baby. This procedure, named after one Dr. Ferber, hypothesizes that the reasons young children have problems falling asleep is because they aren’t conditioned to do so on their own. Ferber’s method is to leave the child alone in their room for increasing lengths of time, five, ten, fifteen, and so on, until the child finally falls asleep on their own. I had no problem following this plan. Listening to my child cry for a few minutes in order for the promise of sweet, sweet, sleep for my wife and I was worth it. My wife, however, found it very difficult to bear.

The first night, it took me over forty-five minutes for my daughter to fall asleep, so it must have been when I set my timer for twenty minutes. After a few more nights of progressive success, our child was able to go to sleep without much fuss. Now my wife and I have differing accounts as to the ultimate success of my attempts, so whether she stayed asleep throughout the night or whether this is all a sleep-addled delusion on my part is very well up in the air.

We moved into a larger house before we decided to have our second child. The two girls are four years apart in age. I’ve been gainfully employed since our first was born, and my wife scheduled regular prenatal massages during her pregnancy. And the way we’ve handled our second daughter has been completely different that our first. First off, we were way less worried about SIDS, and my wife eventually began co-sleeping very early on, purchasing bed rails and special pillows to prevent any falls. We introduced daughter number two to solid foods very early, letting her gnaw on large pieces of vegetables long before she had teeth. And my attempts to sleep train her have been rebuffed by my wife.

I must have spent well over a year sleeping on the guest bed, giving my wife and younger daughter the master king size to themselves. My daughter had a tendency to sprawl horizontally across the mattress, pushing her feet or knees into my back. And she also wants to fall asleep with an arm or leg on top of me or her mother, and sometimes, if she finds that she’s not in contact with one of us, she’ll swing an arm across her body. I’ve gotten more than one hand across the face after coming to bed.

So she’s almost four now, and even when we get her to fall asleep after laying with her in her own bed. She always wakes up a few hours later, crying, before coming to find her mother. My oldest child has no problems falling asleep know.

All of this is just a long way of getting to the point about the differences between the these two during the rest of the day. Our oldest child is very difficult, mostly pessimistic, and very headstrong. My wife, taking the feminist perspective, says this latter quality means that she’s got leadership potential, but we both agree that she is extremely negative and unpleasant. I struggle with her behavior. My parenting style, inherited from my father, is rather authoritarian. She rebels, much as I did, and I’ve browsed books on child behavior with words like defiant and oppositional in the title.

Number two is like the sun to her sister’s moon. She usually cheery, happy, and helpful. This morning I was meditating while she was in the kitchen eating breakfast. She was having a conversation with herself and imaginary friends, singing songs, making up stories. It was all so rapid-fire, and it make me think about the so-called monkey mind that I meditate to quiet.

That’s not to say that daughter number one isn’t beautiful and fun to be around. I just wonder if we broke her somehow. I read once about childhood stresses causing changes in the amygdala, affecting behavior throughout life. It causes individuals to be very responsive to stressors and respond negatively. I would also describe it as a lack of resilience.

So she’s a challenge, as all children are. My boss has two girls who are both in their teens, and he listens to my stories and responds with a “you have no idea what you’re in for”. Perhaps not, but all I can do now is be the best dad that I can be, give my girls my love and do everything I can to make sure they have the skills to be kind to others and successful in life.

Parental payback

I’m not sure whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or just the holidays, but I’ve had a bit of ennui lately and have had trouble keeping up with things. I know it all stems from bad behaviors tending toward staying up late which has just been screwing with things the next morning, interfering with my good morning habits. I’m sure I could come up with lots of excuses as to why I didn’t exercise or have been consuming lots of sugar, caffeine and alcohol; staying up late on screens and so forth, but I’m not going to bother justifying it.

One of the thing that I’ve learned from meditation is the illusion of the self, specifically the storytelling that we all do to ourselves throughout the day to try to make sense of our lives. Our post-hoc justification for the way things are the way they are, or our apparent lack of free will. It’s so easy to fall back into old traps, old habits, and living with the cognitive dissonance between the way we are and the way we want to be can be disorienting if we pay too much attention to it, so we find ways to justify the way things are.

When I was younger, in my adolescence, I used to have these unhealthy behaviors with relationships — for whatever passed for relationships back in high school. Part of it was an inability to communicate, or even be able to acknowledge what I wanted, let alone express it when it came to another person. Eventually these unrequited feelings poisoned the relationship, a pattern that played out time after time until later in my adult life. I still struggle with it in my marriage now. But a few experiences opening up over the past few years have proved that a lot of the fear of acceptance that I might have felt were unfounded. It seems silly to say it as someone who has been married for almost ten years, or almost sad to thing that feelings of self-worth that I formed as a child are still affecting my ability to be happy as an adult. It just emphasizes the huge importance of being a parent.

Ultimately, I feel like I’m failing in that respect in some ways as well. It’s easy to slip into detrimental patterns in response to the way my children act, and it’s tiring to pay them the proper type of attention that they need. I have this need for authority in my household, for my children to obey and help with things like setting and clearing the table, doing laundry, and so forth. My children are so young, though, I wonder whether I’m pushing them too hard, but I always suspect that I’m not pushing them enough. I could tell stories for hours about my own experiences growing up, and I’m just emulating the behaviors that my father expressed, even though I have plenty of first-hand experience with how that backfired.

Or did it?

I won’t say that my dad was abusive. We get along fine these days. He just has a lack of, how do you say, couth, in many respects that I’ve managed to escape, thankfully. But he no doubt grew up in a much different world than today, and his daddy’s method of discipline would no doubt be considered child abuse today. Somehow, though, I feel like I’m failing as a father whenever words and reason fail me and I have to resort to physical discipline. But there are some times when my child just will not listen, becomes belligerent, and it feels like backing down is the wrong thing to.

My wife is a bit of a trained professional when it comes to kids. She’s worked in daycares and counseling with a background in early childhood development. I didn’t know shit about kids until I had one. She tries to tell me what’s ‘appropriate’ behavior for their ages, but even she resorts to less than ideal responses when our kids are being particularly difficult.

When I was younger, back home in the rural county where I grew up, I was around my cousins almost all of the time. We used to take great pleasure in driving the adults around us completely insane. Acting up to see how we we could push the limit, driving the adults around us to cursing and yelling. We thought it was a game.

Turns out payback is a bitch.