Commentary on ‘How did you find your co-founder(s)?’

Valerie Aurora wrote How did you find your co-founder(s)?, about the very early days of the Ada Initiative containing the “moonshot email” we also referred to in our article Funding activism for women in open source last April.

It contains the following unpromising description of me (at that time):

The very first person to reply was Mary, a PhD student and primary carer for an 11-month-old baby who lived across the Pacific Ocean from me and whom I’d met in person only twice before. Our only previous joint venture had failed miserably (the great Attempted LinuxChix Coup of 2007). Less than two months later, we were sitting on her parents’ porch in Orange, writing up budgets and discussing how to keep her PhD supervisor from having a fit when he found out she’d started a business. 4 years later, we are running a growing, healthy non-profit that’s changing the world. (Mary also has a PhD and a second child.)

So how did that all work out? Other than healthy and growing and changing the world?

Why did I do it? That email was sent in December 2010. Negative/less promising reasons first: by then I had fairly firmly decided that I wouldn’t pursue an academic career. I didn’t publish enough, and particularly not prestigously enough, during my PhD to make an academic career likely without a big turnaround, and I had a child and husband whom I didn’t want to drag around the world for postdocs. My husband also had a salaried job (at the time, he worked at Canonical, in 2011 he moved to Google) and is generally uninterested in risky career choices; and in addition, at the time I earned very little income: my PhD scholarship had run out years before, and I had a few very low-hours academic support jobs only. Unless I went into debt, we had lots of room for me to make risky career choices: I didn’t even have a career to risk, and further, we were already living on one income.

Positively: at that point, I believed I had two career options that I had some background for. The one that wasn’t academia was open source software. In addition to volunteering for LinuxChix for years (although I was only coordinator for a few months in 2007), I had done a lot of volunteer work for the Sydney Linux Users Group and, and I am a programmer, so the open source/open source associated end of software development seemed like the other. While “advocacy for women in open source” (we quickly widened to “open technology and culture”) wasn’t exactly that, it wasn’t completely out of left field either. The unproven aspect was whether there was liveable money in it, and my family had a cushion to find that out.

The unknown co-founder. I think Val is underselling that a touch. It’s true that we’d only met a couple of times, and not recently. (We’d met in California in 2004 and Sydney in 2007.) In addition, we’d not been in contact between 2007 and 2009. But we had done a lot of online collaboration prior to 2007, and after the formation of the Geek Feminism project in 2009. The big risk was, probably, that we wouldn’t like each other personally for extended periods, but we actually had a fair amount of practice doing work together.

How did my PhD supervisor react? First, it’s probably worth noting that I was enrolled part-time at that point (a change I sought after my baby’s birth on the grounds of caring responsibilities, the university wouldn’t have allowed it for employment purposes), so I had considerable time in the week that notionally didn’t belong to the university. The main conflict between the company and the PhD was in early 2011, before the Ada Initiative paid me, when I only had a few days of childcare each week and used them for both purposes. Once I was being paid, I bought additional childcare days and had a better firewall between them.

My former supervisor knows where I work and what I do now — we still have lunch every month or two — but to this day I don’t know how aware he is of the timeline of when it started. But lots of stuff was going on there: we were both part-time, and both had caring responsibilities for young children. It wasn’t the stereotypical situation of the single-mindedly driven late middle-aged professor and the conflicted young woman student with work-life balance issues. (People don’t really look to me as a model of work-life balance.)

The baby thing. Yeah, well. I think starting a business, having a PhD in progress and a little kid is somewhere between one and two too many things. I think my husband would say “between two and three”; there is a reason my children have a four year age gap between them, one of them had to wait on the PhD. (I was pregnant again at my graduation.) But probably my most questionable decision was…

The finishing the PhD thing. I recently spoke to someone who had lost contact with me in 2009 and we spoke for half an hour about my business before I mentioned in passing that I’ve finished the PhD. They couldn’t hide their shock.

I don’t know that I can bring myself to say I should have made a different decision about whether to continue it, but I might advise other people to do so. To be fair, in early 2012 when I did the bulk of the work finishing it, the Ada Initiative was still a fledgling with a longer life by no means assured, and me taking unpaid study leave was helpful in a really narrow sense for its finances. Broadly though, as I said, between one and two too many things.

Conclusion. I think identifying a workable co-founder relationship is non-trivial, but then, I don’t even know how one chooses a career. Co-found your next company with me today!

What it was like to have a newborn

I promised a friend I would answer this question: What do you spend all that time on, when you have a newborn?

Let me start with my general philosophy of learning to baby parent, which is to read people’s baby parenting blogs. Especially really funny, wise or kind people. For example, you could do worse than read… basically Julia’s entire blog, or Rivka’s blog from the start of her first, second or third pregnancies (warning: the second one miscarried). Or Yatima’s birth story.

Something I was told a lot before I had babies was that nothing prepares you for what it is like, and actually, I didn’t find that to be so. Mothers’ stories prepared me for what it is like. Plus, great writing.

The other very useful thing I did was to attend a private birth and early parenting course taught by Renee Adair of the Australian Doula College and specifically for the purposes of this entry she drew a clock face covering 24 hours, marked out (provisionally) the time between 1am and 5am as “hopefully baby’s long sleep if you’re lucky”, and divided the rest up into three hour chunks: nursing and baby care, baby sleeps. Three hours is up, start again. And that’s the first six to twelve weeks of a baby’s life.

Spending a couple of days or more in a birth/baby care class can be worth it, I think.

The major mistake I made was knowing so much about the early weeks of a baby’s life that I didn’t realise that this phase is temporary and so instead of checking out of life to the extent that I would have been allowed, I forced myself to be out of the house walking around and doing errands and such because this is the new normal, princess. (Spoiler: no it isn’t, older babies are really different.)

Note that I am only covering things that happened to me in this entry. So there’s, eg, no pumping or otherwise trying to bring up a low milk supply, because my problem was oversupply rather than under. There’s no prematurity care, or post-Caesarean recovery. Do read more than one story.


Damn, this took up some time. It is worth noting that my feeding sessions were a lot faster than many mothers. A newborn can feed for an hour in many mother-baby relationships, rather than my babies’ five to fifteen minutes of hovering by the milk jetstream.

Learning to breastfeed. My babies had the rooting and suckling instincts at birth, but that’s not the same as being able to pop them on and wander around freely first thing. There’s a lot of looking and fiddling and puzzling over positions.

Dealing with the pain of breastfeeding. The first two weeks of nursing my first baby were painful. Me nursing involved getting my husband to be nearby and applying pain to some other part of my body to distract me, and hissing as I felt my nipple go stretch-stretch-stretch until it was sucked into place.

Second baby didn’t hurt, but I spent some time anticipating that it would!

Breastfeeding in low light. Newborns can’t hold their heads up. So breastfeeding them at all involved holding their head in the vicinity of a nipple, and doing so in low light meant squinting or feeling for their mouths and my nipple and trying to line them up in the dark.

My babies have both slept in my bedroom and I learned to nurse them lying down after a few nights with the elder. That skill is WIN.

Cluster feeding. Days when suddenly, the feeds have five minute breaks in between because the baby is trying to gain 300g or more in a week.

Stupid oversupply routines. The undersupply ones are worse, but the oversupply one ended up at: apply warm press to aid let down, express a small amount so that the nipple is soft for the baby, nurse (complete with the pain management rituals), apply cold press to reduce inflammation. Only for a day or two, but that’s a big routine.

Having mastitis. I had mastitis when my elder baby was five days old, probably because I had the milk supply of a quadruplet mother. It was 40°C or so, my thighs hurt in the morning (this is a really reliable sign in me that I’m about to develop a 40°C fever), I woke my husband in the middle of the night to say that I had gone through a 24 hour allowance of both paracetemol and ibuprofen in 18 hours and I didn’t know if I could make it until morning. Neither did the health hotline; they were worried about infection in my stitches. We called one of the night GP services and they diagnosed mastitis and I spent a fortnight on antibiotics without further incident, but gosh that was a terrible 48 hours. If you’ve ever had influenza, well, like that.

Being puked on. One problem with oversupply was that my newborns would sometimes belch slightly and then start helplessly overflowing like boiling-over saucepans. So in addition to carrying floppy babies around awkwardly, we would always have towels draped on ourselves for hurried protection. It didn’t seem painful for them though. It was annoying with my elder, as he’d completely empty his stomach by doing it and then cry urgently for more milk, which demand had the effect of increasing my supply even further. No love.

Baby care

Cuddling. My newborns liked to be held, and newborns are really floppy and fragile. So there was a lot of gingerly moving around discovering that I am used to having two hands to do things. (I didn’t find baby carriers super helpful for my hands until the baby had some muscle tone, which is the same point at which they are easier to carry anyway. What was useful with baby carriers was just getting used to carrying the baby’s weight before the baby gained its first 2kg, that first 2kg taking my first baby a whole six weeks.)

Cuddling for hours before sleep. Only one of my babies needed this, but he peaked one night at needing five hours lying down with me in a completely dark room while screaming, in order to sleep. That is some cuddling!

The other baby used to be put down on a flat surface and just go to sleep. We spent the entire newborn period just waiting for her to stop doing that and being prepared. (She has had periods of having trouble with sleep, but not at the age I’m talking about here.)

Changing nappies. Something I wasn’t warned about: nappy changes. For several weeks after birth, both my babies pooped after every single breastfeed, so, maybe 12 times a day. Pick up the baby. Walk to the change area. Get a nappy. Take off the existing nappy. Put a new one on. Take the baby back to whereever I wanted to be. Around about twice a day, I also needed to wipe down and change the outfit on a baby that had pooped through the nappy onto its clothes.

Gosh it’s nice to go down to every three or four hours and an all-night nappy. (On the flipside, newborns don’t move around…)

Keeping the baby cool. This was a whole project with my first, who was born in a heat wave. Newborns have shitty temperature regulation, don’t really sweat, and on top of it all, get kinda sleepy when they’re hot and don’t necessarily feed well. We were wiping him down and spraying him here and there.


Birth recovery. I felt amaaaazing after my second birth (allowing for an hour’s lie-down and a shower), because the active labour and birth were very fast (90 minutes all up), and wheeee not pregnant now I can breathe again. (Until later in the day when I remembered that I’d been in early labour for most of the night instead of sleeping, and I slept so hard that night I kept forgetting to put the wee baby back in her bed and leaving her asleep between me and the toddler.)

But I haemorrhaged after my first birth and my iron levels fell by about a third. Walking at all was a bit of a challenge, and it didn’t help getting mastitis within the week. I did this super-hard thing — late pregnancy and birth — and as a reward, I got to be sick, tired and weak while parenting a newborn.

The actual process of recovery was resting and iron tablets, but unfortunately not enough…

Sleep. My second baby was a sort of miracle and slept to the point where we haven’t had serious sleep deprivation issues. The first though was more typical after his jaundice disappeared: no more than three to four hours of continuous sleep, sometimes hour long wakings in the night. So there was time spent asleep, there was time spent planning sleep, there was time spent missing sleep. There was that time the baby was crying in the night and I dreamed that he was telling me telepathically that he was actually OK and in was no way hungry or otherwise needing me. And of course, eventually waking up and realising I was wrong.

Dressing. I didn’t really properly dress after the first baby for¸ uh, a couple of weeks. I feel kinder to myself now that I remember the mastitis and the haemorrhage and the heat-wave though.

Recording TV and reading stuff on devices. Digital video recording, e-book readers and smartphones saved me. You know how many interesting books are kinda heavy and hard to hold one handed? Well, they were also very painful for the baby when I dropped them.


Laundry. This was the big one. Stuff we needed to wash:

  1. nappies (we use cloth), 3–4 loads a week with a newborn
  2. baby outfits that had been wee-ed or pooped or vomited on, actually not many loads as babies and their clothes are both small!
  3. our outfits that had been wee-ed or pooped or vomited on, I guess about 2 loads a week
  4. bedding. One million trillion loads a week, because I leaked milk like no one’s business, especially with the second baby who always had a long night sleep. I would wake up on top of three soaked towels and soaked sheets, so I was washing a king sized bed worth of linen most days for weeks and weeks with this second baby. (Pro-tip: waterproof mattress protector. My first newborn parenting experience ruined a mattress with leaked milk. Note though: you get to wash the protector too!)

Other cleaning I have had a house cleaner since my first pregnancy, so not as much of this as one might fear, but, lucky me.

Cooking My husband took over the bulk of our meal prep. (He did a lot of the laundry too.)

Leaving the house

Suddenly, we needed to leave a full hour between deciding to leave the house and actually leaving it, what with packing a bag, and changing a nappy, and then probably changing it again, and a feed, and someone getting puked on and needing to be changed.

And, unlike most other things in this entry, this hasn’t really gone away. 5 year olds are still a pain to get out of the house, it’s just different reasons why.

Medical followup

Newborns are medically fragile in a way that I’m glad I didn’t really appreciate at the time: they can’t regulate their body temperature for a few days, and their immune systems don’t work well for weeks. Luckily my babies were good nursers, but there was still:

Counting nursing sessions and urine and poop. The first time, I didn’t actually know I was supposed to do this until I had annoyed midwives around me in hospital wanting to fill in the chart, and it only lasted for a few days, but still. What time did the baby start nursing? How long for? Were the nappies wet? Any meconium? Any later stage poops? (There’s a pictorial chart that anyone who has anything to do with the Australian Breastfeeding Association has seen.)

The second time I was super organised and had a whole notetaking system set up, and then my milk again came in within 24 hours and we graduated from poop counting at two days old.

Three days in hospital after my first. He had jaundice they wanted to monitor.

Daily home visits after my second. Standard practice for my private midwife to do this for a week. It was nice, really, and she ended up skipping a few, but it was still something I had to set aside time for.

Longer term followup/cleanup for me. After my first, I had two and six week appointments, and also a renal physician followup. After my second, I had midwife followup at two, three and six weeks, and then a GP and gynaecologist (for an IUD).

The pregnancy treadmill of endless appointments continued for a little while, except I had to take a giant bag of nappies and outfit changes and feeding supplies and miscellaneous cleaning products with me. The first time it was inevitably at the one time of day I and my newborn both wanted to sleep. The second time I had a nearly 4yo child, so we were more on a day-night schedule straight away, and so it was actually less hassle.

Longer term followup for babies. Both had a two and six week weigh-in and developmental exam (I remember my elder howling as he “walked” along a table). There was also a vaccination at six to eight weeks. (Not to mention the ones at four and six months — basically, vaccinate early and often.)

In summary

Newborn care — even in my case of healthy late/post term high birthweight and milk-stuffed babies — is a full time job, ideally for more than one person if you have arrangements or can make them… Andrew took two weeks off after the was born and then worked part-time for another twelve or so weeks after, and took six weeks off full-time after the second was born. Epically great.

Podcast opinions, 2015

Over the last year, I finally joined the “listening to podcasts” bandwagon. It turns out that, like everyone else, I need a commute to up my podcast listening. My ‘commute’ is actually about 2km of walking around my suburb dropping off and picking up kids, but whatever.

Some of my regular podcasts:

Slate Money with Felix Salmon, Cathy O’Neil and Jordan Weissmann (and occasional guests). High finance and business, with occasional forays into gossip from finance journalism (Felix and Jordan) and quant-land (Cathy).

Sample episodes: The Davos Edition with Felix bringing gossip from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos and The “Smoking Up Behind the Bleachers” Edition talking about the creation of Big Weed and also Taylor Swift not streaming on Spotify. (Clearly, I tend to find finance less interesting than business.)

NPR Planet Money. I find NPR/This American Life house production style somehow strange, it’s really unlike, say, the ABC (Australian version) to the point where I have trouble with, say, 99% Invisible seeming a bit fake or overly polished. But Planet Money avoids the uncanny valley of radio, and apparently money is my thing as a podcast listener.

Sample episodes: Bell Wars about the multi-decade feud between the world’s two handbell manufacturers and We’re Short America in which they continue a tradition of making risky investments, dig up $400 or so and short the S&P 500 for educational purposes.

Galactic Suburbia with Tansy, Alex and Alisa talking speculative fiction and related media for about an hour and a half at a time. They have a weak spot in talking about the politics of speculative fiction because they’re often unwilling to name names (“sometimes bad things happen and I think we can agree that less bad things… would… generally speaking be… better”). Their strength is “culture consumed”: their informal reviews of what they’ve been reading and watching. They also do spoileriffic episodes when they talk about things they’ve all watched/read in huge detail.

Sample episodes: with a typical episode lasting ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes, and no formal scripting, episodes tend to be more variable. But a couple I’ve enjoyed most were Hugo Nominations 2014 and Episode 97: the Veronica Mars movie, which is quite a compliment when I’ve never seen any Veronica Mars, including the movie.

Law Report with Damien Carrick. This is an ABC radio show syndicated as a podcast, dealing with Australian legal issues or Australian perspectives on international legal issues.

Sample episodes: Lex Wotton speaks out about the death of Mulrunji and policing on Palm Island, after having his gag upheld for several years by the High Court. Very important for people interested in human rights in Australia. The problem with ‘Mr Big’ confessions, about the policing technique in which people are enticed to confess crimes to undercover police in the belief they are speaking with a senior crime figure.

Chat 10 Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. Gossip, literature and cooking with two very senior Australian women journalists. Sadly, they’ve only recorded five episodes and haven’t committed to doing any more ever.

Sample episodes: Episode 1 with Sales singing show tunes and discussion of the gendered idea of the “art monster” (the person consumed by art and cared for by a wife-cum-mother in every respect) and Episode 5 with Christmas baking and Leigh Sales’s total and complete disinterest in the beautiful birds that live in her yard.

Astronomy Cast with Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay. They do a little too much of the faux-clueless-host-listener-standin for me (although at least gender-wise it’s Fraser doing it and not Pamela), but, it’s friendly and high quality and ASTRONOMY. Right now they’re doing a series on living women astronomers, who, as usual, aren’t as well known as living men astronomers when their work is equally as good.

Sample episodes: Ep. 353: Seasons on Saturn pretty much single-handedly increased my interest in planetary astronomy to about the size of Saturn, and Ep. 360: Modern Women: Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a very interesting story featuring neutron stars, non-aggressive responses to institutional sexism (which I don’t think are better to be clear, but doesn’t mean Bell Burnell shouldn’t be heard), and male astronomers taking damage to their careers challenging institutional sexism. DID I MENTION NEUTRON STARS?

The Sydney Project quickies: Greenwich Baths, Circus Factory, The Tiger Who Came To Tea

My son begins full time schooling in February 2015. We’re coming to the end of our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

Greenwich Baths

Greenwich baths panorama

I’d never heard of Greenwich Baths until we went there because someone else mentioned liking the sound of them. It’s a great little harbour beach for kids. We normally go to Shark Bay at Nielsen Park in Rose Bay, which is more beautiful (but with Sydney Harbour it’s all fairly beautiful), but the beach has a rather steep drop-off that makes it less fun for kids, because they can only go about a metre into the water there. Greenwich Baths is a far better compromise between a beach that drops off so quickly that V can’t wade, and one that’s so shallow that I can’t get wet above the knee. They also have a pile of miscellaneous beach toys there. We’ll definitely go back.

We got there at 9am on a school holiday Friday and parking was pretty good, but I suspect after 10am it’s pretty typical of all Sydney swimming spots: awful.

Cost: $3.80 adults, $2.80 children.

Recommended: yup!

More information: Greenwich Baths website.

The Powerhouse Museum’s Circus Factory

I’ve previously reviewed the Powerhouse, and my son still largely treats it as a giant boring walk through boring things until you get to the Wiggles exhibit and can watch Wiggles videos. Not so great.

But we went there with another family today, and bought tickets to the Circus Factory special exhibit. They had quite a few fun exhibits, such as helium balloon animals blowing around in circles such that kids can chase and push them. And today there were hourly performances by Circa, which V greatly enjoyed since feats of strength are his thing at the moment. I’m not totally sure it was worth the price, but it was a less tedious than usual visit for us.

Cost: $35 adults, up to three children free with each adult, museum entry included.

Recommended: assuming the price is OK for you, yes. I imagine you can find cheaper acrobatic performances if you want.

More information: Circus Factory website.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

You can tell that this isn’t primarily a review site because Andrew took V to see Sydney’s very last performance of David Wood’s adaptation of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and so our review is useless to you, the child-caring Sydneysider. In short: Andrew reported that V enjoyed it, including singing along, which he isn’t always interested in doing in public performances, and that he had no trouble with the length and so on.

V reported only one thing, which is that you need to find your seat, that matches the letter and the number on your ticket. He has explained this to several people. Again, I suspect you can get the experience of finding a theatre seat by number cheaper than this.

It’s now playing in Melbourne.

Cost: from $26 B reserve.

Recommended: moderately.

More information: Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Sunday 4 January 2015

I was raised on one side of a very important cultural divide: the side of the teachers in the “how much looooonger can the holiiiidays last, I can’t take it any more” versus “I take care of 30 of them every day” perpetual war.

And now I’m on the other side. This summer is really killing any last lingering rosy thoughts I’ve ever had about what homeschooling V would be like. If I’m not being touched, poked, jumped on, whined at or rescuing a squawking baby, I’m on my phone or in my email organising playdates. Or dealing with his horror that he’s not going to see other children today. Or reminding him that he cannot visit our neighbours and their (older, mostly patient) kids every day. Or holding him while he cries when a playdate fell through at the last minute. I’m really glad he’s not a twin but at the same time I really want to turf V and his twin out into the backyard for 18 hours to wrestle non-stop. And I’m glad he’s going to school soon so that I don’t spend my entire life thumbing out 10 round text negotiations about which playground to meet at three weeks from now. Just the holiday bits of it.

Maybe I just don’t remember being 4, but I don’t recall my appetite for socialising being quite as insatiable.

Meanwhile, my own social life is a bit like that too. We don’t really have a “group” as such, and so every single social event is an email with a list of dates, then silence, then a reply with a totally different list of dates, then my new list of dates allowing for the time that’s passed in between, and on and on. It is of course also expat season, so that makes it worse because there’s a “last chance to see!” aspect to it as well. I miss parties, where the negotiation aspect was absent, and you got to catch up with everyone at once. But I can’t re-form a social group while I have little kids: I’ll just end up organising parties and then spending the entire party parenting my kids.

Since our ridiculous one-parent-is-in-Tokyo-one-in-Ballarat weekend a couple of months ago, we haven’t been quite as silly, but my calendar contains things like “cooking for cake sale” (really not an economically efficient way to support V’s preschool), the Saturday we wandered around two suburbs in unrelenting merciless Sydney glare with the children in tow inspecting houses for sale and of course my rather sad trip to Wellington with A. Sad because she sleeps twice a day, and, unlike in Portland where she was young enough to sleep whereever she was, she now sleeps in cots, when alone in the room. So I spent a lot of Kiwicon time around the corner in my hotel room trying to make myself inconspicuous so that she’d sleep. Which differs quite a lot from attending an infosec conference, which I was notionally there to do.

Next year she is being introduced to the joys of staying in Australia when I travel, which frankly I am also dreading, because it was horribly hard on V back in the day. Not really winnable.

The trip to Wellington was only two weeks before Christmas; I remember it as if it were a million years ago. But no. Barely had A got over the disruption of that trip when it was time for Christmas in Singleton, which to be fair was calm other than the water fight, which she seemed fine with. New Years we had R over for nerd talk, so we were sensible enough not to try and end the year by topping our overwork somehow. However, like a lot of parents, I think our calming future plans in fact involve returning to work this week.

Four weeks from tomorrow, V starts school.

Storm over Sydney

It stormed every day for a few weeks in December, and I kept missing it: either it didn’t hit my suburb or (on more than one occasion) I was taking a nap. But I finally managed to get some photos:

Storm cell over Rozelle

Storm heads east over Haymarket

Full set here.

2015: beginning mediocrity

As I said, I’ve always enjoyed Julia’s end of year posts but haven’t found that the questions worked for me. Likewise, I like the idea of planning for the year to come but find that the resolutions model doesn’t work for me. Likewise, I like Ju’s yearly theme (process here) but I’m not sure it would suit me every year.

But for 2015, it seems somewhat closer than resolutions do. It feels like this year has a theme along the lines of Awakening or Beginning.

This goes with some external changes. The biggest one is that as my elder child starts school, the end of the time that I have small children in my household is in sight. It’s not close as such: my younger child doesn’t start for four more years. But it is there, it’s a thing that is coming. Early in the year, the start of school and some changes in my daycare arrangements mean some changes in the amount of work I can do, with bigger changes coming this year. With the end of my PhD in 2012 and (briefly) 2013, and the forthcoming end of small-child-parenting, but a continuation of work, I suppose it makes sense that a lot of what springs to mind is beginnings outside of work. What is my life going to contain as my children grow away from me and into themselves?

Another odd emerging theme is Mediocrity, which I intend as value-neutral thus: I have had a tendency as an adult to do either things that I’m really good at (for obvious reasons) or really bad at (less clear why, but it was presented to me as a teen as essentially penance for having things that I’m good at, so possibly that). And it occurs to me that what I’m still failing to do is things that I’m OK at but not motivated to be exceptional at. And it leads to an inaccurate identity. Specifically, despite the fact that I take oodles of photographs, and have spent some time on self-education about photography and that there’s a small audience (family) who like my photographs, I don’t describe myself as a photographer, let alone as an artist. (When I said this to Andrew, he also observed that I do a lot of writing but don’t seem to call myself a writer, let alone an artist.) But while I have no aspirations whatsoever to be a professional photographer, and I think any professional writing I do will always be in service of some other job description or goal, that’s not actually a reason to not call myself an artist. Believing I’m an artist (writer, photog) doesn’t imply either professional or exceptional.

I have some thoughts about things to explore on these themes, although I suspect that the real projects are yet to emerge.

Music. The above exactly describes my former musicianship: I’m reasonable at it, I’m neither terrible nor exceptional. So naturally I’ve never played music as an adult.

I end up getting stuck on which instrument to play, since I can’t see having time for ALL THE AMAZING INSTRUMENTS. Obviously, the perfect is the enemy of the good here. Likely candidates are recorder (because I used to play it well), voice, guitar and keyboard (those because they’re useful for popular music).

Calligraphy. Given what a fidgeter I am, it’s always puzzled me that I’ve never taken up knitting or crochet (or smoking). I eventually determined that it’s because I don’t have any use for the end results. I don’t wear scarves or jumpers in anything like the volume needed to create or sustain a serious crafting habit, nor do I know many other people who would welcome them as gifts. (In the smoking case, you can probably guess at the reasons I don’t do it.) Calligraphy seems like a meditative craft where I wouldn’t feel nearly as much guilt about discarding most of my output sooner or later.

In keeping with the theme of mediocrity, I need to remind myself that this is a JFDI thing: I don’t need to take classes or go through some kind of apprenticeship, I can just buy some pens or brushes and do it.

Language learning. I think 2015 is less likely to have time for this one. It has the same problem as music; I get a bit stuck on choosing the “right” language to learn. I think there’s three real candidates: Spanish and Latin, because I’ve studied them both to an elementary level in the past (a few thousand words of vocabulary, a couple of regular verb tenses), and Latvian because my husband and children are (as of just a few weeks ago) Latvian citizens. (The whole idea of what it means or should mean for them to be Latvian when we don’t speak the language nor live in the culture is puzzling me.)

It also only belatedly occurred to me that I can pick and choose my language proficiency if I want to. Obviously conversing with native speakers on a wide range of topics is a common goal of language learning and one of the more useful ones, but it’s also a frankly intimidating one. If I want to be able to read the language without speaking it, or be able to talk about its linguistics without either reading or speaking it, or have those as intermediate goals, those are OK goals too. I don’t have to do all the things, all the time.

2014 in threes

Answers to my own end of year prompts.

Three moments of 2014

1. January, and deep night in my living room. My induction has taken effect, nineteen days (yes, one, nine) after my due date and she will be born in four hours. I have rarely spent time in my living room in the darkness and I labour in the glow of quite a few LEDs. My life is measured three minutes on and one minute off: in between contractions, we work down our mental packing checklist, and I walk and walk.

2. June, and deep night over the Pacific Ocean, 10km up in the air and about 1000km from any significant features on the map (we were south of Hawaii), most of the plane asleep around me, including, incredibly, my five month old baby who I have nonsensically taken on a business trip to the United States. My seat is reclined and I reached to close my window shade behind me. I partially dislocate my shoulder joint and spend ten seconds gazing into the vortex of getting a non-covered pre-existing condition incurred on a plane treated in the United States. Then my shoulder joint goes back into place. I spend some time awake afterwards.

3. August, sunshine over Thredbo. I am on the magic carpet — Syd’s Snow Runner — riding up to the easiest run, so shallow that when I am on the run I keep having to use my poles to push myself along. There are young eucalypts across the creek to my left. I am smiling because it is my first day of skiing and I haven’t fallen over constantly and when my instructor looks at me she says things like “you have good balance!” rather than “you really really try hard”.


Also August, standing in a crowded underwater tunnel at the Sydney Aquarium, really really pissed off and seeing the sharks swim around me and thinking that no, I absolutely am not in any way done with SCUBA, not even close.

Three meals of 2014

1. April, Café Sydney. I can’t remember for the life of me what I ate. (Maybe pork belly?) But the point is, this is our yearly tradition. Instead of birthday presents, we go out for lunch at a restaurant of finer quality than we usually do some time between our birthdays in February and April.

This tradition was about to be killed off at all of three years in, because of the new baby. But unexpectedly, the new baby had a childcare place at three months old. I was very ambivalent about it, but it did get me to this lunch with Andrew, the first time A and I had ever been in a different suburb. (To this day, we’ve not spent a night apart.)

2. October, a Sydney Picnic Co picnic with Andrew on Cockatoo Island, which turns out to not have great seating if you aren’t camping, so we balanced oddly on a steep hill. Those picnics, in addition to being expensive, are really really huge, so it’s basically a day’s worth of eating. But they really are delicious scandalously expensive enormous picnics. I think the Le Dauphin has spoiled me for any other cheese.

3. The chicken, fig and quinoa salad at one of my local cafes, which I’ve had a few times. I think this is the first year I’ve had quinoa, which I feel is a bit embarassing (I think of myself as reasonably adventurous with food, and I am in that I like most things, where I fall down is trying them in the first place). There’s no single visit to the cafe that stands out, but the salad is memorable.

Three photos of 2014

The number one photo of 2014 is a photo I haven’t put on the web and won’t: a photo of me seconds after my daughter was born (she’s curled up in my arms, blue, with the cord still alive) with an expression of “WHAT THE HELL? THIS IS NOT HAPPENING” on my face. If you know me well, ask me to show it to you some day.

Here’s some runners up:

Newborn hiding!
My daughter’s face, when she was an hour old. She already looks like herself.

Sibling love
One of the earlier photos of my children together, when my daughter was two days old and still rosy, and apparently feeling pretty pleased with the world somehow.

Storm cell over Rozelle
One of many December storms bears down from Rozelle.

Three pleasures of 2014

1. For all but eight days and nine hours of 2014, I wasn’t pregnant. This is so amazing I can’t even begin to explain. I first learned the details of pregnancy from reading one of Sheila Kitzinger’s pregnancy guides (probably The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth) that my mother had, when I was seven and eight. I was fascinated. I learned so many things from it, from what episiotomies are to simple genetics (as it applies to blood typing) to the various breech presentations, all sorts of things.

While being pregnant was an interesting finale to this nearly lifelong project of reading about it, essentially every other part of the experience sucked. The first time sucked because it was so medicalised, and the second time sucked because I had a non-stop three year old to look after, and because I had an anterior placenta and couldn’t really touch the fetus or feel her all that much and because organising labour childcare was, no kidding, a huge undertaking and massive emotional journey. (Suddenly I sympathise with social inductions a lot more.)

Anyway, that’s really a 2013 reflection. But from my first post-birth shower after A was born, in 2014 I wasn’t pregnant any more and I sure did enjoy all that stair-climbing and walking down the street and being able to get into and out of cars in narrow parking spots and into and out of public toilet stalls and all the other non-pregnant accomplishments of the year.

2. Losing arguments to my older kid when I am definitely for sure right. For example, I cannot win an argument with him about when his birthday is, what day tomorrow is, which way is north, or what the rules of any game are. His bush lawyer skills are very annoying on issues like bathtime and whether watching three Pixar movies in a single day counts as “a lot” of TV or merely “some” TV, say, but on the simple clear facts of the world that he categorically denies, they’re usually fun.

3. Many many things about babies that I’d forgotten once and am already forgetting again. I enjoy babies a lot, contrary to my expectations prior to having them. (I thought I was having kids in order to have a two year old. Not so much.) The one that I always think of is the link between their breathing and their attention. Huff-huff-huff as the baby stares at coloured lights, or learns to work its hand.

I also got an odd pleasure from realising that while I love babies, I don’t miss the baby when the child gets older. So I didn’t feel as ambivalent about the disappearance of baby things as they marched off one by one in A than I did the first time when V was a baby. I am happy to have the time, and then for it to be done as well.

Three news stories from 2014

1. Again with 2013 for a moment: I recall that a frequent style of commentary following the Federal election in September 2013 was “the incoming Abbott government knows this is a centrist social democracy, stand down from the panic station, there will merely be tinkering at the margins.”

So my first story is the May 2014 budget, which I hardly think is tinkering at the margins, and the ensuing year in Federal politics spinning around whether it will pass. I won’t make predictions; I notice that the predictions of people who regard themselves as politics tragics or even insiders make terrible ones. I was relieved that other people also thought it was terrible.

2. The death of Reza Berati. The pregnant women and new mothers in offshore refugee detention. I don’t have a lot to add about Australia’s treatment of refugees. I give money to organizations that I hope are better placed than I am to make the best changes.

3. The Lindt cafe siege. I’ve been to that cafe three or four times; one of them was the night of my wedding. (I can’t recall, but I think we got there after it had closed for the evening.) Katrina Dawson’s youngest child is the same age as my eldest. I can think about it only in little fragments.

Three sensations from 2014

1. The smells of the baby’s head. A lot of people sniff babies in order to smell some special baby smell that I’ve never really picked up on (babies smell of milk and poo to me), but after a while she started napping with her father in the mornings, and so for a while she smelled disconcertingly of him. Later, she began to smell of my perfume oils. Always amusing.

2. The taste of Rekorderlig ciders. Which, sure, is mainly the taste of sugar. But we drank Rekorderlig many nights as an indulgence while Andrew was on his six weeks of paternity leave+annual leave, so I have a fondness for it (in addition to generally liking sickly sweet things). It tastes of long lazy days inside the house with a newborn that did a hell of a lot of sleeping.

3. The smell of BPAL’s Vice (“a deep chocolate scent, with black cherry and orange blossom”) which I really hated when I first tried it, but returned to again and again. Apparently I want to smell like a chocolate truffle. (I’m wearing Carnal right now, same thing.)

Three sadnesses of 2014

1. So much sadness through a glass: more than one friend has lost a mother in 2014, among other deaths of the family and friends of friends. ♥ all.

2. None of my grandparents will meet my daughter, or vice versa. They will be even more of an old tale seldom told than my own great-grandparents are to me.

3. I am a little sad that I did not have my planned homebirth. I think in reality it would have been rather flustered to get the room cleared, and then Andrew distracted by being a gopher. But my favourite bit of labour was at home by a long way.

Three plans for 2015

1. This is stretching the definition of “plan”, but Andrew and I will continue our thing where two or three times a year, we take a day off work to have a “date day” while the kids are at childcare (well, soon to be school in V’s case). In 2015 whole new vistas are opening up because I have Friday care, and we can go to the many many places that are only open for lunch on Fridays!!!! My family Secret Santa gave us a voucher for The Boathouse, so that’s a good start. I’m also going to go back to Skyzone.

2. More concretely, we’re planning to travel to Montréal in April to see my sister-in-law before the baby turns two and needs her own seat. This is likely to be the only time we go overseas as a foursome for quite some time, other than to New Zealand. Having flown across the Pacific alone with each child before, I know what I’m getting into: I anticipate the flights will be exactly as horrible as you’d imagine.

3. We’re also looking into skiing again, probably in the first week of September. V is so excited that he insists most days that it is about to be winter. It’s complicated by needing to choose between paying one billionty dollars to do it in school holidays versus incurring the wrath of the nation-state by doing it in school term.

Three hopes for 2015

1. I hope to overcome my Australian political inertia where I tend to get trapped thinking that because I am not doing all that I could do, that doing small things and doing nothing are morally equivalent. They most certainly are not.

2. I hope to find the money, time and energy to go diving once or twice. Energy is the main problem, with a 6am-ish wakeup for morning diving and on from there.

3. I hope to see my daughter and her same-age cousin having serious fun in each other’s company at some point during the year.

End of year question template: the year in threes

The end of the Gregorian calendar year is an increasingly significant time for me, with both of my children born in January, as well as, sadly, having had three of my four grandparents die in the last months of different years. And as the children get older, the school year forces itself back on our notice to go with the long standing summer traditions of our household. (Which are, for reference, Christmas and the Boxing Day test. I’m trying to get the solstice to sneak in there.)

And so I’ve always enjoyed Julia’s end of year reflections (see 2014’s version) but I’ve never found the question set resonated, and increasingly less so as I get older. (Did anyone close to you give birth in 2014? Me, but I don’t think the question envisages that answer.)

So I thought I’d come up with my own set that I can do each year. They’re broad to the point of banality, but I want to leave room for answers. Here they are, by all means use them if they suit you too.

Three moments of YEAR.

Three meals of YEAR.

Three photos of YEAR.

Three pleasures of YEAR.

Three news stories from YEAR.

Three sensations from YEAR.

Three sadnesses of YEAR.

Three plans* for YEAR+1.

Three hopes for YEAR+1.

* Not resolutions, but plans. Things I don’t need to resolve to do because they’re already in progress.

As a side-note, my Internet archeology is not good enough to find the source of the questions that Julia uses. The earliest year I can find them being used is 2004 (here and here) and then not again until 2007, and then just a few people each year until in 2011 it either got a lot more popular or Google has indexed it better. Anyone got a source earlier than December 2004?

The Sydney Project: Skyzone

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.

When I say “child-focussed”, I really mean “Mary’s inner-child-focussed”. Much like Wet n Wild, Skyzone, which is a warehouse full of trampolines, was really more for me.

The structure is that you buy access for an hour. I don’t know if they were full up for our hour, but it was the middle of the day on a weekend, which tend to be their popular times. If so, their capacity management is pretty good overall.

It didn’t start off very promisingly, with V and Andrew queueing up for a quite a while for the foam pits:

Waiting for the trampolines

I was a bit grumpy, because when there’s a one hour access window, spending most of it in queues doesn’t seem fun. Even if there were moments of fun to be had:

Into the pit

But the foam pits have the worst of the queues. V soon moved onto the basketball trampoline, and actually his shot was half-decent:

Basketball trampoliningNearly!

We spent most of the hour on the free trampolines, for which there aren’t queues:

Kids bouncing

And which still have ample fun for adults:

Foot clapping

(nb, Andrew is not jumping on the person who has fallen, it’s a trick of perspective. You know, if you wondered!)

Of course, things that you recall being easy as a kid always turn out to be an epic workout. What surprised me was the abdominal involvement called for in lifting my legs up in order to bounce from trampoline to trampoline. And the foam pit is a killer if, like me, you can’t really haul yourself out of, say, a pool without using a ladder (I have a shoulder injury that makes it difficult for me to bear weight and pull up), because it’s about five feet deep and full of… foam.

But it was great fun. If we lived just a little closer I suspect I’d probably just about live there. I think we had a bit more fun than he did, but then, if you’re following this series you know that he believes that warehouses full of trampolines and parks full of waterslide rafts are a fairly normal way to spend your time. He enjoyed it though. And it’s one of those unicorn physical activities that actually noticeably tired him.

Cost: $16 per hour per jumper, an additional $2 to buy their mandatory socks (which you can re-use). On weekdays there’s a toddler area which is $10 for a toddler and carer. Book in advance online, they often sell out their weekend timeslots.

Recommended: yup! Just a caution that on hot days, their air conditioning is not up to the task. Take water and pick your time of day.

More information: Skyzone website.