Saturday 24 May 2014

May is a time of reminiscence for me, again. Two years ago, I was in the final days of preparing my PhD thesis. Last year, I was in the thick of first trimester pregnancy symptoms, wanting to sleep 16 hours a day and eat about half a meal total. I have been reminded of it pretty strongly the last few days. On Thursday I needed to nap from 4 until 6 in the afternoon.

It’s another hot May, even more so than last year. Two years ago, the leaves had well and truly turned in my street by this time, this year they’re just partly yellowing. The temperatures are more like early March than late May. It might be that we can do a last beach day of the season after all.

Andrew went to California at the start of April, which went fairly easily other than me needing to spend a day sick in bed a few days before he came back. Even the assured magic of Pixar makes V tough on days like that. I also went to two doctors and drove my children all the way out to my parents’ place and all the way back, squished into less than 48 hours by doctors appointments and one way in the rain. Not ideal. I’d usually want to have three days before facing a solo drive back. It’s lovely to have gone out there after some OK rain though. In summer everything was the same sickly yellow colour for hundreds of kilometres around.

Once Andrew came back, I celebrated my birthday by having a small benign skin growth taken off my scalp by a ludicrously expensive dermatologist (I think there are few alternatives in that speciality), a souvenir of pregnancy apparently. (I have another such growth, but amusingly, because it’s bigger she recommended keeping it, since removal would scar and require wound care and such.) And A vomited all over me in the very expensive and spacious waiting room and at a dermatologist there are no towels and wipes and such. Happy birthday.

The day after was the first anniversary of finding out I was pregnant with A. With V I’d had a couple of months of disappointment and so had stopped pregnancy testing and didn’t test until I was about five weeks pregnant. That test was positive gratifyingly quickly. With A, I wanted to know so as to get my private midwifery care. So I tested as early as I could, sighed in disappointment, wandered off, and then did an obligatory peek at the end of the testing time window and then had to go upstairs to Andrew to see if he agreed I was pregnant. It was a family affair.

It was even more so a whole week later when V came to me with his eyes all squished up as if he was doing something naughty and said “Mama, do you have a baby?”

“Where would I have a baby?” I asked him.

“In your tummy.”

Well, yeah. I never did find out why he’d asked out of nowhere, whether he’d overheard something or if a classmate had just got a sibling. The lives of three year olds are mysterious.

Andrew had been back less than a week when we piled into a car to spend Easter in Canberra. It went well overall. I think of Canberra as a concentrated home of stuff that’s fun for children. I’ve never been in such bad traffic in my life as we were on the way down, so we got off the Hume at Campbelltown and had a nice, low traffic, tour of some of the Southern Highlands before rejoining the highway. I only lived in Goulburn for a couple of years as a child, but it was at an impressionable age clearly, because whenever I’m down there I react with “rocks! hill! lush grass! mist! home!”

I went back to work after the Easter-ANZAC Day week of holidays. So far I’m working two days a week, the plan is to increase to three from July (I already have three days of childcare for A), and perhaps to four once V starts kindergarten in 2015. (At first glance this seems unfair to A, since I’ve been three days a week so much raising V, but he had to live through my PhD finishing and business founding.) I am really going to miss my do-anything Monday that I have at present. I could add a day of childcare each time, but then I’d miss be-with-the-children day instead. I think an eight day week would really suit me. I’d work four, I’d have a me-day, I’d have a me-and-kids day, and I’d have a two day weekend.

V in kindergarten this coming year is just… alarming. I remember feeling rather stagnant when I realised my PhD supervisor’s daughter had gone from being a tiny baby at my enrolment to being in Year 1 and I was still slowly chipping away at the thing. What had I accomplished in that six years that even began to approach what she had? This rather self-indulgent line of thought isn’t too applicable to the time since V was born, because we’ve moved, Andrew and I have both got new jobs, we’ve travelled a lot, we’ve faced multiple hospitalisations and surgeries. And A was born. I don’t necessarily want to get into a fight with V about whether that beats his achievements, but I think we’re competitive. Our mid-twenties were actually far less changeable than our early thirties have been.

The clock is suddenly ticking very fast though. V will be in pre-school from October. Pre-school is a hideously overloaded term in NSW, meaning essentially any daycare program for the 3–5 age group, but this one is a two day a week program, 9am to 2:30pm, for eight weeks at his actual soon-to-be-school. It’s essentially two day a week kindergarten. It starts in October. We’ll probably send him on what are currently his two non-daycare days. So that’s it. He’ll be a five-day-a-weeker from late October.

It is perhaps suitable then that his social life is vastly out-doing ours. He’s been to three birthday parties in eight days. And two weekends before that he had a birthday party and three playdates in a single weekend. During that time, Andrew and I have hauled the kids to Woolwich Pier Hotel to mark our wedding anniversary, attended a Eurovision party and had lunch with my family. Not nothing, not at all, but not quite V-scale these days.

Most unexpectedly, since A got daycare far sooner than we expected or planned for, Andrew and I were able to continue our tradition of jointly celebrating our birthdays with a nice meal, this time at Cafe Sydney. We discussed emigrating. We were probably rather stacking the deck against any such thing by discussing it with views of the bridge and Luna Park. Whoops.

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More fun with Fedora

Still going with Fedora 20 and my new X1 Carbon. I’ve decided it’s dangerously light. What if I got really annoyed? I could throw it quite far!

Linux does add something special to the new laptop experience after all, dodgy support for hardware for the first months I have a new laptop. I foolishly believed I had finished the install just because it booted and I could use a web browser and send email, but I kept noticing new problems as time went on.

First, the laptop’s screen (her name is Irian by the way, because I name them for female wizards, which, well, spoilers, but I do like Tales of Earthsea and you should read it) is very high resolution. GNOME tries to detect this and (essentially) make all its screen elements extra big to compensate. The trouble is, I usually use an external monitor which doesn’t have 2014-grade DPI (it’s 24″ with a , and GNOME doesn’t detect that, so things were being displayed on the external monitor extra big as well. This can be reverted with:

$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface scaling-factor 1

But that now means that when I disconnect my external monitor, everything on my laptop screen is eensy teensy. So switching between my laptop display and the external monitor involves plugging or unplugging a cable and a command line interaction. Judging from the discussion on bug 1025391, the task of figuring out when to apply what scaling factor is no mean feat, but all the same, it’s annoying that it’s been handed to me.

Second, speaking of external monitors, this is what happens when I boot now: the machine starts. My laptop screen goes black. My external monitor displays a featureless grey, ie, the background colour of gdm but without any content whatsoever (ie, it doesn’t display a list of users or a login prompt… just featureless grey). I have worked out that I can hit Enter, type my password, hit Enter again and then it will log me in, which is an improvement over the previous sequence which was “swear, pull out monitor cable, force a reboot, log in without external monitor, reconnect external monitor”. I’ve run Fedora 20 on my previous laptop and this didn’t happen, so I presume again there’s some specific hardware support issue where Fedora+gdm can tell I have an external monitor but not to the point of actually displaying a login prompt on it.

Meanwhile, I mentioned before that it wouldn’t resume from suspend and that I needed to upgrade the BIOS to get that fixed. There are a few ways to upgrade the BIOS within Linux but they all seemed horrifying, so rebooting into Windows was, in theory, going to be the way. However, as foretold in the prophecy, I didn’t have dual boot working in this new UEFI+Windows 8 utopia. In fact I still don’t, because I get a “cannot load image” error trying to boot Windows 8 through grub, and that error seems to either mean (a) you have Windows 8 and Fedora installed on separate physical drives (no) or (b) you shouldn’t be using grub but could maybe use one of a number of other bootloaders maybe because secure boot something something I don’t even. I messed around with this sort of thing until my eyes bled, and eventually resigned myself to going through the BIOS’s menus to boot Windows (ie, press Enter to interrupt startup, press F12 to get a startup menu, select Windows, it’s not that bad). I only use Windows for upgrading the BIOS and communicating with the Australian Tax Office on behalf of my business in any case (because you haven’t lived, died, and died again until you’ve tried to get the Australian government’s AUSkey authentication working under Linux, but I digress). I can deal with the BIOS menus for those cases.

The BIOS update went fine though, and now I can suspend and resume. And while I was in Windows random nagware immediately fired up to ask me to hand over my email address so as to confirm my subscription to a million anti-virus and anti-malware bundleware things that come pre-installed, so that certainly reminded me why it is that I don’t use it.

Standard disclaimer: I still don’t want tech support and no, I’m not going to file bugs. My Ubuntu-using days, in which you file a bug and the only response is having to extensively reconfirm it exists every three to six months for three years lest it be closed has pretty much cured me of bug-filing. I like shouting into the void on my own domain now.

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Well, here we are (the key of WordPress)

After much, much too long, I’ve finally stopped hosting puzzling.org on a custom CMS that only I was using. It’s now on WordPress.

I’ve owned the domain since 2000 and this is the first time it hasn’t been run on code I wrote myself, even though my enthusiasm for maintaining the software that ran it disappeared at least five years ago. However, so did my enthusiasm for migrating it, so the code had to soldier on for a bit.

This is the final piece of a (slight) simplification of my web presence that’s been ongoing for about that same five years. Here’s the rundown:

  • mary.gardiner.id.au is my professional website
  • puzzling.org remains the home of my personal “online diary” (it was a couple of years old before I even heard the word “blog”) and also of the kind of content that used to appear at lecta.puzzling.org. All the content from lecta.puzzling.org has been imported.
  • incrementum.puzzling.org is my parenting diary, separate partly for tone and partly for historical reasons (I had a lot of childfree-and-child-bored ‘net friends at the time V was born, not so many now…)
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New laptop blues

At a previous employer, my husband, who worked from home as a developer, was given a new laptop every three years, since it was his primary work tool. One of his colleagues, after going through the hassle of setting up a new laptop, apparently opined that he wished he was getting a new coffee machine or something similar.

Speaking of which, hello from my new Lenovo X1 Carbon, likewise my primary work tool! It’s amazeballs. It is the size I like (14″) while having the weight I’ve always coveted and previously associated with <12" laptops (as weight little as possible of course, but 1.2kg or so is OK). I'm also joining the world of SSD drives, luckily modern spinning drives have way more space than what I use on a laptop (my photos are stored on an external drive, my music in FLAC on our central server and Vorbis or MP3 on our phones) so I didn't even need to dial back in order to settle for 120GB. So far, so win.

But, oh, the setup.

First, I've never had a new laptop that entirely worked with Linux, and this one is no exception. It doesn't resume from suspend (looks like this is bug 1084742 and I’m going to need to update the BIOS, so writing this entry has already paid off!). And sheesh moving my working environment from one laptop to another is a monumental pain. Especially when I’ve just reinstalled my Linode for the first time in about a decade, in order to install a 64 bit distro and thereby be able to use their SSD offering.

If you look for how to do such a thing on the ‘net, you get a few possibilities.

Use some kind of scripting/automation of the installer to get exactly the right packages, your config files set up the way you like them and such. I maintain a small number of Linux machines: three (hetrogenous) Ubuntu servers and a Fedora laptop. That’s, in my opinion, about three too few to find it worthwhile to, eg, semi-manually maintain a list of all the packages I need, work out the common versus custom bits of their config files, and such-like, especially when I reinstall so seldom. By the time a reinstall comes around, I can guarentee you I will have accidentally busted my automated install config through lack of testing, or the entire software stack I was relying on for the automation has been discontinued for years.

Copy /home and /etc to the new machine. Yeah, don’t do this.

Well, /home is basically OK, as long as you check the user ids carefully. (Fancy that, some people still run multi-user systems.) But don’t wholesale copy /etc. It worked OK for the Linode, once I edited /etc/fstab to mount the new drive configuration and chowned a bunch of things in /var to account for some of the user ids changing. Which was silly of me and which isn’t really what you’d call working, but it works now.

It was a monumental disaster on Fedora though, because I don’t speak new-fangled Linux. Specifically, I have no idea how one mounts LVM partitions from the command line and had to rely on Nautilus for it, and it turns out that if I, eg, move a new file in over the top of /etc/postfix/main.cf, SELinux won’t let it read it any more and I have to either understand SELinux or invoke random magic commands found on Google that probably amount to “disable SELinux and mail my SSL private key to the NSA while you’re at it”. Or I could understand LVM and SELinux of course, and that would be what I’d do if rebuilding a laptop wasn’t a 3–5 yearly task for me. Once again, whatever I learned will be thoroughly out of date by the time I next need to apply this knowledge.

And separately, there’s the package installing problem. Basically, both Debian-verse and Red Hat-verse systems both now have package managers that track the difference between “this package was installed at the administrator’s request” and “this package was installed as the dependency of another package”. But neither of them, as best I can tell, can export this reliably to a second machine, which means that on my new Fedora laptop, both Firefox and libwhatever.something.the.millionth are treated as sacrosanct “installed at the administrator’s request!” packages and I’m stuck with libwhatever.something.the.millionth forever, because I used rpm -qa. (There’s attempts at getting only the right packages out of the package manager, and the leading solution is now busted to the point of giving about 200 errors and then telling me I’d only ever installed 10 applications on my old Fedora install. You see what I mean about this stuff aging.)

Use some other operating system. Judging from commentary on the “yay, a new lapt— shit, a new laptop, now to spend three days of my life spinning my wheels on reinstalling all my favourite apps and redoing all my config” situation I’ve heard from Windows and Mac-using peeps, I get the impression this is a universal problem.

Use some magical program where one points at an existing laptop and say “make it like that one!” Dreamland. Although you’d think it would be something of a market advantage for Linux, which typically is agnostic on which packages you use (as long as they are open source and have certain trademark properties, admittedly, browsers are an issue here).

But I’d use the hell out of a desktop replicator, if one existed. Or even something that reliably dumped my package status including the “installed as a dependency” distinction, plus gave me some hints as to which bits of /etc I probably want.

Standard disclaimer! I’m not after any of: requests for further information for debugging purposes, exhortions to file bugs, or explanations of how to do anything with LVM and SELinux. I can figure out where to look that up when hell freezes over or it becomes a paid job of mine, one or the other.

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Travel tip: Wentworth Falls Lake

I’ve frequently had cause to try and meet people in the Blue Mountains in a kid-friendly place, and I’ve found it surprisingly hard to do so. There’s teeny playgrounds of various types. There’s all the big tourist attractions which might work for older kids but about which mine couldn’t give a damn.

After poking at a map for a while, I discovered Wentworth Falls Lake, which seems to hit a decent amount of criteria for people with little kids. There’s two small but not uninteresting playgrounds, a number of fairly level and even paths, picnic tables scattered about, electric barbecues and a sheltered eating area, general space, and a decent-sized (albeit unfenced) bit of water to please the eye:

Wentworth Falls Lake

I’ve apparently managed to catch the train past this about 50 times without realising that it was a place worth remembering.

Note: it’s in the town of Wentworth Falls, it’s not at the actual falls. It’s on the north of the highway, the falls are on the south.

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Not the Sydney Project: Questacon

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney… only without the Sydney bit this once.

We rudely interrupt the Sydney Project to bring you a Canberra attraction: Questacon. In short, Questacon works nicely for V in a way that the Powerhouse did not, probably because it’s pretty shameless about catering entirely to children, complete with buttons, lights and hard hats.

We were there on a very busy day: the Saturday of the Easter weekend, the middle weekend of NSW school holidays. It was merely obnoxiously busy; I guess being used to Sydney crowds was helpful. That said, we did get there at 9:15, just after it opened. And as it was, the admission tickets to Mini-Q, the under 6 area, which is in limited numbers sessions on busy days, were only available from 11:30 onwards. I think they’d completely gone by about 10:30 in the morning. Go early, go often.

We’ve been once before, about a year ago, and Questacon was a hit to the point where for some time afterwards he asked to “see the science again!”. It took him longer to warm up to it this time. Much like last time, he shot through Measure Island without engaging. It took him a while to settle into Wonderworks, eventually getting interested in the Energy Machine and Frozen Shadow. Much to my disappointment, he’s never given a toss for my precious Harmonograph. (Much of Wonderworks has been there since I was a kid. Questacon’s exhibits are surprisingly timeless in their appeal.)

Best exhibit

Andrew and I and his father were very taken with the Cloud Chamber, which is in its own little-visited room from the steps between Wonderworks and Awesome Earth (closed for renovations), in which subatomic particles leave continuous trails through a cloud of vaporised alcohol. Andrew is keen to bring a banana next time. V was not willing to stand still for a story about how all the time, everything is being hit with tiny tiny particles moving at high speeds. Perhaps not one for the littlies.

V’s favourite exhibit is pretty unique to him. He can roll ping pong balls down a ball rollercoaster for about an hour at a time. Other children come, roll five or ten balls and go. He stays. We only extracted him with a promise to return after.

Blue tunnel

Next up was one for the watching adults, Excite@Q. V was most naturally drawn to the blue tunnel, and he was one of several smaller children jostling under Whoosh to grab a scarf and stuff it back in the wind tunnels. But we were there for one thing: to see our four year old agree to do Free Fall. I wrote about this elsewhere:

It’s a horizontal bar suspended over a very steep slide. You hold the bar. You let go. You drop freely for three metres or so before hitting the slide and sliding to the floor of the room.

The ride is, as you’d hope, very into consent. You go to the top. You get a briefing about how it works. You are told, repeatedly, that it’s OK to say no. And the day we were there, about three quarters of children did say no. (It’s a bit of a study in gender performance actually. Adult men by and large grab the bar, drop themselves down to dangle, let go and are done. Everyone else takes far far longer.)

V loves slides and heights, and so we asked him if he wanted a go. He said yes. He was dressed in the safe suit for it (I guess no risk of catches or tears), he waited in the queue and watched child after child look at the drop and shake their head and walk back down the stairs with an adult for a hug. Andrew took him to the top. He got the chat about whether he wanted to say no. He gave them a puzzled look. He got his instructions. He took them very seriously.

He held the bar:

Preparing for free fall

He dropped his weight from it:

Dangling

He looked down:

Looking down

And he let go:

Fall

He seemed to have fun, if a mystified about why this was such a very big deal.

Vincent the builder

After Free Fall, his ticketed time for Mini-Q came up. I didn’t go in, but apparently it was all construction all the time in there.

Finally, for bonus points, I put my camera down somewhere in Wonderworks, and someone found it and handed it into staff. “People who come to Questacon are generally very honest,” the information desk staffer told me, although somewhat spoiling the effect by saying she’d been tempted to keep the camera herself.

Cost: $23 adults, $17.50 children 4 and over, younger children free.

Recommended: yes, has something for the jaded adult radioactivity fans and the child who wants to drop from extraordinary heights, wear a hard hat in a playground, and roll ping pong balls down a slide for an hour alike. Try not to go on holiday weekends, and try not to leave your camera lying around.

More information: Questacon website.

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The Sydney Project: Powerhouse Museum

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

This was our second visit to the Powerhouse Museum, both times on a Monday, a day on which it is extremely quiet.

Bendy mirror

The Powerhouse seems so promising. It’s a tech museum, and we’re nerd parents, which ought to make this a family paradise. But not so. Partly, it’s that V is not really a nerdy child. His favourite activities involve things like riding his bike downhill at considerable speeds and dancing. He is not especially interested in machinery, intricate steps of causation, or whimsy, which removes a lot of the interest of the Powerhouse. Museums are also a surprising challenge in conveying one fundamental fact about recent history: that the past was not like the present in significant ways. V doesn’t really seem to know this, nor is he especially interested in it, which removes a lot of the hooks one could use in explaining, eg, the steam powered machines exhibit.

We started at The Oopsatoreum, a fictional exhibition by Shaun Tan about the works of failed inventor Henry Mintox. This didn’t last long; given that V doesn’t understand the fundamental conceit of museums and is not especially interested in technology, an exhibit that relies on understanding museums and having affection for technology and tinkering was not going to hold his attention. He enjoyed the bendy mirrors and that’s about it.

V v train

I was hoping to spend a moment in The Oopsatoreum, but he dragged me straight back out to his single favourite exhibit: the steam train parked on the entrance level. But it quickly palled too, because he wanted to climb on and in it, and all the carriages have perspex covering their doors so you can see it but not get in. There’s a bigger exhibit of vehicles on the bottom floor, including — most interestingly to me — an old-fashioned departures board showing trains departing to places that don’t even have lines any more, but we didn’t spend long there because V’s seen it before. He also sped through the steam machines exhibit pretty quickly, mostly hitting the buttons that set off the machines and then getting grumpy at the amount of noise they make.

Gaming, old-style

He was much more favourably struck with the old game tables that are near the steam train. He can’t read yet, and parenting him recently has been a constant exercise in learning exactly how many user interfaces assume literacy (TV remote controls, for example, and their UIs now as well). The games were like this to an extent too; he can’t read “Press 2 to start” and so forth, so I kept having to start the games for him. He didn’t do so well as he didn’t learn to operate the joystick and press a button to fire at the same time. He could only do one or the other. And whatever I was hoping V would get out of this visit, I don’t think marginally improved gaming skills were it, much as I think they’re probably going to be useful to him soon.

Big red car

We spent the most time in the sinkhole of the Powerhouse, the long-running Wiggles exhibition. This begins with the annoying feature that prams must be left outside, presumably because on popular days one could hardly move in there for prams. But we were the only people in there and it was pretty irritating to pick up my two month old baby and all of V’s and her various assorted possessions and lump them all inside with me. I’m glad V is not much younger, or I would have been fruitlessly chasing him around in there with all that stuff in my arms.

Car fixing

It’s also, again, not really the stereotypical educational museum experience. There’s a lot of memorabilia that’s uninteresting to children, such as their (huge) collection of gold and platinum records and early cassette tapes and such. There’s also several screens showing Wiggles videos, which is what V gravitates to. If I wanted him to spend an hour watching TV, I can organise that without leaving my house. He did briefly “repair” a Wiggles car by holding a machine wrench against it.

Overall, I think we’re done with the Powerhouse for a few years.

Cost: $12 adults, $6 children 4 and over, younger children free.

Recommended: for my rather grounded four year old, no. Possibly more suited to somewhat older children, or children who have an interest in a specific exhibit. (If that interest is steam trains, I think Train Works at Thirlmere is a better bet, although we cheated last year by going to a Thomas-franchise focussed day.)

More information: Powerhouse website.

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Thursday 3 April 2014

When last we spoke, I was mourning the end of Andrew’s paternity leave, and thus our sabbatical of cryptic crosswords (him) and writing a fairly large amount of hobbyist computer code (me).

That’s all long in the past now. He went back to work, I celebrated by combining three outings into our first day, everything settled down after that. On Mondays and Fridays I have both kids, on other weekdays, just A. Fridays are structured around his swimming lessons, Mondays are a free day. Andrew is at work Monday to Friday and I am told those are the relaxing days of his week, despite his being given a major new work project and direction within minutes of arriving back.

No sooner had I set up a massive todo list of personal projects that in several cases are left over from my previous maternity leave four years ago than we were offered a daycare place for A, much to our surprise and to a great extent consternation. She’s so little! We hardly know her! She starts… Monday.

All being well, I will return to work at the end of the month. In the meantime, I have several delightful parenting level ups going on. The first is that I’m in the first week of solo parenting while Andrew travels. We, perhaps still high on the misty haze of his having six weeks of leave, thought how nice it would be for him to visit his sister in Montreal for a week after this work trip, so that I have thirteen long dark consecutive nights of kid time.

Actually it’s been fine, because A is such a calm and self-contained baby. Her bedtime routine is entirely contained between 7 and 7:15 each evening and consists of a nappy change, a nursing session, and being placed in her cot. (She used to be put there awake and chat herself to sleep, now she just helpfully goes to sleep straight away.) V’s bedtime routine, on the other hand, starts at 7:30 and takes an hour, consisting of his shower, his searching out his special blanket and toys, brushing his teeth (A is so cheating on that), reading his story, and then lying next to him until he goes to sleep. And this is an improvement over about eighteen months ago when it took three hours. (In fact, he’s quite cooperative, just all the steps take a while.)

I then have to level up further in teaching A how to use a bottle, readying a stash of expressed milk, sorting out her daycare bag and all its contents, and seeing how she does. And acting like it’s not breaking my heart. That too.

As always, Andrew’s absence shows that I over-rely on him as my source of adult conversation. Most days, I’m not talking to other adults other than in a transactional fashion. I had coffee with Stevie yesterday and will visit my parents over the weekend, and then it’s straight on until morning. Saturday morning.

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The Sydney Project: Art Baby

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. I’ve therefore decided to embark on a self-imposed challenge to go and do different child-focussed activities in Sydney and review them!

Art Baby is a preliminary Sydney Project entry, because it wasn’t an activity for preschoolers! Instead, it’s an activity for carers of babies, who tour the Museum of Contempoary Art with their babies.

Entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art, nighttime

by Robert Montgomery

Mostly, it’s a short (45 minute) tour of one of the exhibitions (it was Volume One today), and the fact of having babies in tow is largely irrelevant. (Most of the babies today were two or three months old, much too young to do much touching or exploring.) I very much enjoyed our tour guide, who significantly contributed to the artworks with some background about each artist, and with her personal reactions to the art works. Fine art has really grown on me in recent years, as I’ve come to understand many genres — fine art in this case, but not it alone — as a conversation, and that you need to come at it with a cheat sheet that brings you up to speed on the conversation. A good tour or audio guide is the way to go with fine art museums, given that I’m unlikely to ever follow the conversation as a practitioner or serious student. Today’s tour, by an art educator and artist, was an excellent insider briefing.

The baby-relevant part of the tour is the conclusion in the Creative Learning room where the older children would do the Art Play (3yo and under) and Art Safari sessions (3–5yo). This includes a piece specifically commissioned for the children’s room, a child-safe and welcoming artwork for them to interact with. (Much of the museum is an attractive nuisance for children, with many bright, changing objects that they must not touch. It’s a shame. This adult would like a museum of fine art you can beat upon.) Afterwards, everyone has coffee (included in the price) and goes their separate way.

I’m keen to trial Art Safari with my 4yo now.

Cost: $20 plus booking fee.

Recommended: yes. It’s a good introduction to the MCA collection, and the timing is suitable for people with babies in tow. You could also just attend a normal tour, of course, but sometimes it’s fun to be part of a WITH BABY market segment.

More information: Art Baby website.

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Saturday 22 February 2014

My first day alone with A, Thursday, we cluster-fed and puttered around the house. So far so good, so for the second day, Friday, with V at home as well, I thought it would be a really good idea to go to his swimming lesson and then two separate appointments in the afternoon. All on public transport.

My sister Steph lives close to us, but in a tricky way on public transport. There’s direct buses to the city, but the bus between us and her means walking up a steep hill at the end of the visit. For that matter, V’s swimming lesson means going down a steep hill on the way and climbing it on the way back.

This is all extra taxing now that we’ve re-added a pram to our lives. I do sometimes use a carrier for A instead, but, just as with V, it doesn’t always fit the trip as well as you might think. For example, eating is not fun while babywearing, as you alternatively eat and pick food you’ve dropped from the baby’s head. Likewise, when carting a lot of stuff around, the last thing I want to do is have the baby on the front and a huge backpack or something of her nappies and multiple changes of clothes plus V’s toys on my back. And finally, my habit of having babies in January means that when they’re young, I don’t really want their hot little bodies clamped to my chest for hours on a humid day.

Anyway, pram. Down the steps we went to the tram. The aquatic centre itself is pretty accessible, so that was just rolling, and trying to work out when the swim teacher wanted me to intervene in various minor things with V (mostly, he doesn’t see the point of swimming when his feet can touch the bottom of the pool, which really makes a certain amount of sense, but is inhibiting his progress) and when it was making it worse. Around the long way on the way home so as to avoid the steps, but there’s no avoiding the slope.

Then we dumped some things at home and replaced them with other things and set off on the bus, which got us not quite near enough to the park where Steph was waiting for us. We had a small picnic there which ended when we realised there were no public toilets in the park (always aggravating when they’ve put a playground there) and we needed to hurry off to Steph’s place where baby C smiled and reached for us, baby A fed a lot, and V talked a lot about Max and the wild things.

V’s friend A lives around the corner, so adding that to the day seemed trivial. Hours later, after V and A had made a game of piling toys shin-high throughout A’s room, a curtain rod had fallen on his younger brother, and we’d failed to get any dinner into V, less so. It was a lovely visit, just that playdates seem like they should be less work and usually are more.

For a finale, up the long long hill back to the bus. V worked hard at this point and was very patient. More so than me, even, when I discovered the bus was 26 minutes away, and then when it disappeared from the real-time app altogether, which left me in a quandary. Four year olds are exempt from car seat laws in taxis, but babies aren’t, and getting hold of a taxi with a baby seat is notoriously difficult (and they won’t assist with the fit of the seat, so you’re left struggling with fitting a completely random seat by yourself). I called Andrew but he’d been at Friday afternoon drinks and therefore wouldn’t be able to drive a GoGet car to me. Eventually two buses —­scheduled half an hour apart — showed up together and we were home. In the end we’d been almost completely out of the house from 10:30am to 8:30pm.

Steph has repeatedly missed this same bus because either it has two prams already on board, or they’ve sent a non-wheel accessible bus along the route.

It did make me think about getting a car again. We’ve been doing well so far, but there has always been one adult to be with the kids while the other fits the car seats. Now Andrew may be at work when I use a car, and in a month or two he’ll be overseas for a fortnight, and that would be a bad time to be hauling 30kg of baby plus accoutrements around with V as well and discover that the bus has been cancelled. On the other hand, my gut still says ‘no’. Our last car was such a pain. A car’s not going to be a lot of help to me while Andrew’s away if its battery constantly goes flat or if the bonnet lock breaks and needs $1000 of labour to break into or if the alternator goes while I’m on the Pacific Highway in peak hour.

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