Sustaining the unsustainable.

Now that we’ve been in physical distancing mode for a few weeks, I’m trying to get out of bunker mentality and figure out how to live like this for a while. Depending on who you ask and which theory of the the testing numbers they subscribe to, we could be doing this straight through for a year or more, or we could be doing it in waves for a while.

There’s been a weird impulse to engage in pre-nostalgia for this time, with lots of preachy memes about the value of everyone slowing down and cooking more and spending time with their families, and children looking back on this time as an extended summer vacation, and just… gross. This is a crisis caused in large part by a failure of political leadership. It didn’t have to be this way. I plan to hold our national leadership accountable for that failure in any way I can.

And yet. We have this enforced time at home together whether we want it or not. While I feel a certain sense of responsibility to stay angry about it, it’s also my job to help keep the family running, and to ensure my son feels safe and protected. So it would not be the worst thing if he grows up and remembers long afternoons playing with LEGO, reading books, making pizza dough with Dad, and taking family bike rides.

So I’m giving myself a break on anything I can. I’m only emphasizing some basic skills practice for school, plus the video calls so he can feel connected to his teacher and classmates. Reading books and acting out elaborate stories with his toys is plenty of exercise for his mind at this age.

I’m trying to add what I can, too. I try to eat breakfast and/or lunch with the fam. I’m trying to prioritize getting out on my bike as much as possible, even though my grand designs of picking Charlie up from school and taking him and his friends to the playground on it are on hold. I’m doing Zoom happy hours with friends (but not too many, because we overdid it that first week and it was exhausting). I’m trying to get more outdoors time, at least before the mosquitos start showing up.

And I’m resisting (loudly at times) the urge to ratchet up the precautions and the sanitizing of every possible surface and the shaming others for not social distancing to some arbitrary standard of “correctness.” Not because people shouldn’t Clorox wipe their Amazon boxes if it really makes them feel better, but because this performative “I’m being SO much more careful which means I will be extra safe, and therefore I need YOU to do the same thing” behavior is counterproductive and anxiety-inducing for everyone else. We have to live like this, possibly for a long time. We cannot do that if we are constantly worried if we’re doing enough, perfectly enough, to say 100% safe.

Preparing for Pandemic Parenting Pandemonium

While state and local governments are scrambling to limit the effects of COVID-19 in their communities, there’s a lot of talk about how to handle being suddenly forced into remote work.

Since I work at Automattic, I’m already working remotely and my job will remain largely the same. But I’m anticipating that my 6 year old son’s school will soon announce a lengthy closure, and that means I’ll need to juggle my job with his needs all day, for potentially weeks at a time. I can take some time off, of course; we have unlimited PTO. But since hundreds of my coworkers will potentially be in the same position, how much time and when it makes sense to take it is still very much a question. And besides, with everything closed, I’ll just be sitting at home anyway.

My son is very social, and an only child, so our usual way of occupying him when there’s no school is playdates with friends. Those are harder to come by as we’re all practicing social distancing.

So this is what I’m thinking for how we’ll get through the next several weeks:

Consistency: I’m thinking I’ll write up a daily schedule, with clearly-designated times for screen time, playing or reading by himself, any school assignments that need to be completed, and doing activities with Mom and/or Dad. Perhaps we’ll even go over it every morning like they do in circle time at school.

Novelty: I’m working on getting a stash of small LEGO sets and other small toys that I can occasionally dole out, sort of like the “bring wrapped toys on airplane trips” advice, but stretched out over multiple weeks.

Choice: We’ll make a list of activities that he can choose for the time with parents. We can cross them off as we do them, so we don’t end up playing SORRY! ten days in a row. Some of my ideas:

  • Bake banana bread (math! fractions! following directions! deliciousness!)
  • Play board or card games.
  • Write a story, then stage scenes with LEGO minifigs, and then I’ll take photos of them and print them out with my smartphone photo printer, and we can make a book out of it.
  • Go for a ride on a cargo bike to explore the outdoors a bit.
  • Listen while a parent reads some of a chapter book.
  • Playground time.
  • Watercolor painting.
  • FaceTime with a friend.

I think this is going to be a long period of disruption, friends. Stay safe out there.

Who is cleaning the juicer?

It’s not a new observation, but I’m pretty well done reading articles about productivity and “morning routines to help you win your day” (is my day a competition?) from wealthy dudes* who do not have caregiving responsibilities.

Like, you can get up at 5 AM and go for a run in the park and then come back and meditate for 30 minutes and drink a perfectly-balanced green juice before taking a cold shower, reading for 30 minutes, writing in your journal, and THEN commute to the office? How nice for you. Who is cleaning the juicer?

My morning starts at 6 when my alarm goes off. I do not make the bed at this point, because my husband is still in it. I try to get up a bit before everyone else in the hope of being up and showered and dressed before my 6 year old wakes up and wants my attention. (Admittedly, I move very slowly in the mornings and need to build in “stare into space and think about stuff” time; not everyone does.) He’s pretty capable of getting himself dressed, though he frequently argues with me about it, so my husband and I tag-team him through it. If I’m very lucky, I get downstairs before him and have a few minutes to think about my own breakfast needs before he comes tumbling down and wanting a waffle or a jelly sandwich or something, which I will repeatedly remind him to eat while he gets distracted by telling elaborate stories with his Legos.

If it’s my turn to take him to school, we leave around 8-ish, fight traffic and get to school around 8:30-ish, and then when I have the car to myself on my way back, I can sneak in a podcast or some new music I’ve been wanting to listen to. If traffic is on my side, I can steal a few more minutes to read something or do some other hobby before I get online at 9AM.

If it’s my husband’s turn to take him to school, they leave around 8-ish, and I have the unspeakable luxury of an entire hour to myself to do whatever I think will start my day off right. I try to fit in some reading or some art time, but the truth is I’m often using this time to finish up the dishes or tidy up a little.

And look, I’m pretty privileged: I have a well-paid job, where I work entirely from home. I don’t have to worry about making it to an office on time, and if I get online a little later than I wanted to, no one is standing over me to question me about it. I have a partner who can and does actively participate in parenting, and I only have the one child to be responsible for. Just one school drop-off, no elder-care or other caregiving responsibilities. But the presence of one young child in my house pretty much wrests away control of my morning.

So here are the habits I’m trying to stick with, because I have a reasonable level of control over them:

Get 8 hours of sleep. I just need it. I can get by on 6 or 7, but that catches up to me quick. I’m just happier and more functional when I prioritize getting 8 hours.

No devices for 1-2 hours after waking up. At our Automattic Grand Meetup a couple of weeks ago, Jim Kwik spoke, and something he said stuck with me: for the first hour after you wake up in the morning, your brain is at its most relaxed and focused it will be all day, so if the first thing you do is reach for your smartphone, you’re just training yourself to be distracted. So I’ve set my phone to show me no notifications at all until 8AM. Frequently by 7:30, our day has gotten rolling enough that I need to look things up or start an Instacart order or something, but by then I’ve theoretically been awake for 90 minutes. I’ve been liking the results from this.

Make time for reading and other self-enrichment activities. I can’t read novels in 30-minute chunks; all I want is to lose myself in a story for hours. But I can read books to learn stuff in small chunks, and I can draw quick sketches or write out quick journal entries. I’m only going to be able to do more than one of these activities on days when I’m not taking my son to school, but on days when I do, I can carve out time for one of them. The point of this exercise is as much about the actual activity as it is about making the effort to prioritize myself when allocating my own time, which is something I’m notoriously bad at.

*I mean, I’m done reading these takes from people without caregiving responsibilities in general, but it’s almost always dudes whose articles about the 25 things they do every morning that require complete solitude go viral.

Playgroup Strong

Our neighborhood playgroup got an email this morning from one of the parents on it, breaking the news that they have been diagnosed with a medical condition that will require a grueling course of treatment that will likely last months, but also expressing gratitude for the way they knew they could count on us to show up for their family in the times ahead.

And they were right. The mobilization was immediate and impressive. Our phones lit up with WhatsApp notifications: plans to provide child care and meals, to take the older child along on the playgroup beach weekend that the affected family was going to have to back out of, and to designate point people to coordinate our efforts so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. “Playgroup Strong,” we tell each other.

Continue reading “Playgroup Strong”

I can’t wait to show you…

This post was originally a Twitter thread, but I delete my tweets after three months. So I’m preserving it here.

A while back, after feeling shamed by– of all things– an XKCD cartoon, I started adopting a posture of delight when someone tells me they haven’t seen/heard/read some bit of culture that I consider essential or universal.

Which is how it came to be that I recently spent a Sunday night on the couch, lights dimmed, drinking good wine and eating spaghetti with homemade sauce, watching The Godfather with a friend who was seeing it for the first time.

I’ve been watching this movie since I was a kid– it was a family favorite– and to this day if I flip past it on cable, it’s what I end up settling on. I’ve seen it so many times now that I literally forget which parts are supposed to be suspenseful. That’s why I love riding along when someone sees it for the first time- their reactions make it fresh for me, and I discover nuances and contours I had previously missed.

We both have young kids and clearly can’t watch it with them, so we had to start the movie pretty late, and it’s long, so the next day we were both pretty tired. But it was worth it! She loved it, I loved watching it with her, and we’re already plotting when to watch the next one.

So I truly believe that adopting the phrase “Oh! That means you still get to see it for the first time!” will enhance your life, and I recommend it to all.

Eight remote workers walk into a meetup…

Today is the third anniversary of the day I left the office at my federal contracting job like:

That means it’s been three years of working from home. Three years of being home more or less alone all day, hanging with the family in the evening, seeing friends on the weekends. As an introvert, I’ve grown accustomed to this level of human contact and have come to prefer it.

So imagine the abrupt adjustment needed to go to my team’s meetup last week and live with my coworkers, most of whom I had never met in person, in a rented house for a week.

I feel like I’m going to spend some part of Monday staring at the wall.

There is nothing quite like living with semi-strangers you work with for a week to throw all your weird quirks and habits into sharp relief.

The Hour of Tiff

When I started my new job at Automattic a couple weeks ago, I went from having a lot of time on my hands as a never-busy-enough freelancer to suddenly being at my desk for 8 hours a day during my Happiness Rotation. (On rotation, I have the freedom to decide my own schedule for doing support work, but the best time to do it is while everyone else is at work and school.) Suddenly I felt like I had no time for anything- I’d get the kid off to school, do a full a day of work, and then it was time to head out to pick up my son and have evening family time. 

Looking at my color-coded schedule (a post about my planner is coming another day), I realized that the only way I was likely to get another hour in my day is to get up an hour earlier. I can do that and still get enough sleep, but I’ve never been a morning person, so this is going to be a hard habit to establish. 

I read recently that the only way to establish a habit like getting up early is to tie it to something you’re excited about doing instead of something you “should” do- if you’re getting up to clean the house or work more, you’re never going to make yourself do it. But if you’re getting up to do something you like – reading, catching up on your favorite TV show, making art – then you’ll be motivated to actually get up out of your comfy bed and get moving.  (It sounds obvious, but this was a little bit of a revelation to me, after reading a million profiles of tech dudes who swear that they only need 5 hours of sleep and get up before the sun every morning to walk the dog and meditate.)

Anyway, partway through week I declared The Hour of Tiff, AKA, Time for Doing Whatever the F— I Want. Here’s how it went:

Continue reading “The Hour of Tiff”