MonthJuly 2015

on to the next normal

Today marks the last day of my monthlong stint as a stay-at-home dad (or househusband, as one friend called it). Leslie reminded me that this was a good moment to reflect, so look out, stream of consciousness follows. I was incredibly lucky to have a job that offered enough parental leave that Leslie and I could stitch together four months of leave from our jobs after Anne was born, and lucky again that I got to spend a whole month (the best month, so far) with her at home.

The days with Anne are predictable, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes monotonous. Every now and then, I get a taste of the magic joy that parents talk about: she’s mine! She’s getting older! Look at that smile!

When the month started, Anne was sleeping not-so-well during the day, fully swaddled and with a pacifier. Last night, she slept with her arms free and no pacifier. This kind of progress seems like the definition of banal parenting minutiae, but it still represents the centerpiece of my parenting achievements so far. Taking care of a baby collapses your world down to a very basic, very physical cycle involving sleeping, eating, and taking care of the other end. It’s a kind of meditation–there’s no real trick to it, there’s no automating it, it’s just the same few things happening over and over, changing little by little.

In my professional life, situations like this are, by definition, problematic, targets for optimization. Write new software, create a new process, so that we don’t have to go through the drudgery of repeating this process by hand. Do it at the scale of thousands, millions, or billions of work items; marshall an army of computers to do what humans don’t have the patience or time to do themselves.

But with the baby, it is only me and her, and there’s no way to even change tonight’s diapers this morning to get it out of the way. You just have to change the right-now diaper and be with her, in the moment. I recognize this discipline from dabbling with mindfulness, and even more from raising Sous up from a puppy.

In some ways, it’s a prison of chores. It was this sensation that made it so hard on me to deal with the new responsibilities of getting a dog eight years ago: you mean I have to take her out every day forever? How inconvenient. But of course, once you get used to the rhythm of that responsibility, it becomes a part of you, it forces you to go outside for that walk, to pull your head out of the clouds and check out what the dog is sniffing instead. Already, the same rhythms of Annie’s life are forming their grooves in my brain. Thanks, Sous, for getting all the anxiety out of the way before we had a human baby. You’ll always be our first.

Next week I’ll be back at work, and so will Leslie, and the next “normal” will start. At this very moment, a paid employee of ours is upstairs with Annie reading her a book which means that I can sit down here and type. She’ll watch Annie during the forty-plus hours a week Leslie and I are at our jobs, until we find a day-care and we move on to that. No longer will every one of her cycles belong to Leslie or to me; we’ll be part-time parents like everyone else in the working world.


she knows what she wants


Now that her arms are out and she’s rolling over, we’re trying to wean her off the pacifier bit by bit. But it’s still in the crib. This is how I greeted her at the end of her last nap. Three months and already striving.

sleeping on the job


This is immediately after a 2.5 hour nap.

they see her rollin’, they hatin’


This girl is getting serious ideas about rolling over. This was her first move on the play mat, after she got 90% of the way over with Mom after breakfast.



my face as hand playground


So apparently it’s a good thing to let your infant learn about touch by exploring your face. So, I have let her claw at my mouth for the last 15 minutes. Harvard, look out!

mom takes the reins at the of the day


caesar-like in her repose


Yes, father, that is a barely acceptable method for serving me my meal, I suppose.

hardware store helper


puppy training


I always secretly thought that early parenting was not dissimilar from dog training. Now that I have a human puppy of my own, I’m free to experiment with the techniques that worked well on Sous.

One of the core ideas in dog training is generalization: you first teach them a behavior in a very specific context, and then you generalize it. First, teach them to stay in the quiet of the kitchen, then the back yard, then the dog park, with the hope that one day you could yell “stay!” from the opposite side of a busy street and have them obey.

We’ve trained Annie to sleep well when swaddled–basically, with her arms pinned so she won’t swing her arms around and hit herself in the face. But, it would be nice if she didn’t need the swaddle to have a good nap. So, I’ve started to let just one arm out at a time during naps. First, it only worked for 45 minutes. Then, this morning, she had an arm out for the whole nap. A couple more days of this and I’ll have her napping without the straightjacket. Then, I guess, she should learn to nap while riding on Sous?


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