One evening in Gran Canaria, I noticed a book lying abandoned on a deck chair, next to a pretty pink scarf. It was still there the evening after. The third evening someone had moved both items from the deck chair (probably they wanted to use it!) onto a ledge. The scarf looked nice but not my colour. The book I picked up because it had a smiling baby on the front cover. If no one had claimed it during three evenings, I figured I could adopt it.

From the back cover of Why Love Matters – How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain:

Why Love Matters explains why love is essential to brain development in the early years of life, and how early interactions between babies and their parents have lasting and serious consequences.

Sue Gerhart goes through all the various ways in which human contact and human relationships affect brain development, and how experiences during the first months and years of life can leave marks for life.

The main thesis is that a baby cannot regulate its own needs, physical or emotional. It needs the help of a caring adult. If that relationship is dysfunctional, if the adult is unable or unwilling to fulfil the baby’s needs, the baby suffers not just immediate discomfort but also longer-term effects. Brain chemistry becomes subtly imbalanced, some parts of the brain do not develop properly, inappropriate emotional habits are founded. In the long run, all kinds of mental and emotional troubles can arise, and Sue Gerhart shows how the former can lead to the latter. Babies of depressed mothers get used to a lack of positive emotions; babies of angry, resentful mothers learn to suppress their feelings. Babies who get no help with soothing negative emotions do not learn how to keep on an even keel.

While some other author on the back cover says “I would recommend it to all new parents” it really isn’t written so as to be accessible by most parents. I would guess it really wasn’t written for the general public but for politicians, social workers, those in charge of childcare facilities, psychologists etc. In particular the book is unlikely to be read by those who need its message the most: those depressed mothers, or the parents who meet their babies’ demands with anger.

A reviewer in The Guardian expresses resounding support and provides a thorough summary.

If there is one thing to take with you from this book, it’s this excerpt (p. 91):

Good timing is a critical aspect of parenting, as well as in comedy. The ability to judge when a baby or child has the capacity to manage a little more self-control, thoughtfulness or independence is not something that books on child development can provide: the timing of moves in a living relationship is an art, not a science. Parents’ sensitivity to the child’s unfolding capacities can often be hampered by an intolerance of dependency. This is partly cultural and partly the result of one’s own early experience. Dependency can evoke powerful reactions. It is often regarded with disgust and repulsion, not as a delightful but fleeting part of experience. It may even be that dependence has a magnetic pull and adults themselves fear getting seduced by it; or that it is just intolerable to give to someone else what you are furious you didn’t gt yourself. […] Often, parents are in such a hurry to make their child independent that they expose their babies to long periods of waiting for food or comfort, or long absences from the mother, in order to achieve this aim. Grandparents only too often reinforce the message that you mustn’t “spoil” the baby by giving in to him.

Unfortunately, leaving a baby to cry or to cope by himself for more than a very short period usually has the reverse effect: it undermines the baby’s confidence in the parent and in the world, leaving him more dependent not less. In the absence of the regulatory partner, a baby can do very little to regulate himself or herself other than to cry louder or to withdraw mentally. But the pain of being dependent like this and being powerless to help yourself leads to primitive psychological defences based on these two options.

[…] The dual nature of the defensive system seems to be built into our genetic programme: it’s either fight or flight. Cry loudly or withdraw. Exaggerate feelings or minimise feelings. Be hyper-aroused or suppress arousal. […] Whichever way the individual turns to find a solution (and these strategies may be used consistently or inconsistently), he or she will not have mastered the basic process of self-regulation and will remain prone to being overdemanding of others or underdemanding.

Adlibris, Amazon US, Amazon UK.

Ingrid loves picking flowers. There is no end to the amount of flowers she’d pick if given the chance. I ask her to pause when we run out of vases in suitable sizes.

We limit the picking to flowers in our own garden (with bulbs like daffodils and crocuses off-limits) and in no-mans-lands: outside fences, on roadside greens etc. And we try to leave flowers that are large and beautiful but few, such as if there’s a small stand of poppies just outside someone’s fence.

Other than that, she’s got free hands, and I don’t guide her. She picks anything that flowers. Scillas, hyacinths, wood anemones, daisies, cowslips, dandelions, forget-me-nots, pennycress, buttercups… cow parsley or something like it (hundkäx/harakputk), deadnettle (vitplister/piimanõges), greater celandine (skelört/vereurmarohi), etc etc etc. I think we had about a dozen species on our kitchen table as of today.

It turns out that cowslips, grape hyacinths, daisies and deadnettles keep very well in a vase, for many days. Both cowslips and daisies can even recover after wilting when running out of water if the water is then replenished. Scillas don’t live long in a vase; anemone flowers survive for several days but their leaves wilt quickly; buttercups spread lots of annoying yellow particles around them.

Adrian is working hard at learning to crawl. He starts out sitting on the floor and then tips/turns/folds into the crawling position, usually with much effort but also success. (Sometimes the last bit requires so much force that he hits the carpet with his face.) Then he stands there and rocks in place and complains. He is not very close to actual crawling yet – in order to lift a hand he lets himself down on his tummy.

The interesting question is, why does he do it? How does he know that this is a productive position that can lead to something useful? He certainly isn’t learning it from us, none of us crawls around on all fours. And he doesn’t have any other crawling babies to watch either. But it is obvious that he wants to be crawling.

On this my tenth day at work I broke my run of codeless days and wrote about three lines of javascript and three lines of C# (both surrounded by lots of boilerplate so it looked like I’d done more work than I did). And a teeny little html page. All this I sent off to a team of developers somewhere to whom we’ve outsourced the development of the next version of our web site, as an example of how we expect the web site to integrate with our product.

But most of my limited hours at work I spent in meetings or with Outlook, discussing and organizing. Activities like this used take up less than half of my time. Now that (a) work has piled up while I was gone and (b) various one-off things are happening, such as us hiring new staff and offshoring web work and (c) I only work half days, they take up all of my time. Not much to be done about it, I guess.

On the home front, Adrian is happier than he’s ever been. And I, too, feel better than I’ve done in weeks. Everybody is feeling good. And the reason is simple: we all have time for each other. Each afternoon the whole family is at home. Everybody gets the attention they need and want.

I spent the last weeks (or maybe even months) of my time at home in a near-constant state of low-level stress. Alone in charge of one to two kids for about eleven hours every weekday, with Eric at home for an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening. Each afternoon was a three-hour juggling session, trying to get dinner on the table while offering some love and attention to both kids.

The stress sort of crept up on me, so while I noticed it, I wasn’t fully aware of its weight on me. I was irritable much of the time, true. And I wasn’t sleeping very well. And each evening after the kids went to bed I was so exhausted mentally that I couldn’t even find the energy to read a book. But it somehow came to feel normal. Not good, but normal.

Having a stressed-out, irritable mum affected the kids, too, especially Adrian. I think we were both mirroring each other’s frustration, which is why he was mildly dissatisfied so much of the time. Now that I’m feeling better, he is, too.

I suppose that this is as good as everyday life can get (for the foreseeable future). Soon I will work longer days – probably not full load but I will at least get back to my previous 80% – because this is financially untenable in the long run. That still gets me home by 4.30 or so, well in time before someone needs to start cooking dinner, so it will reduce but not totally take away the time we can now spend with the kids in the afternoons. But then in January Eric also goes back to work, full time, and Adrian starts at nursery, and our evenings will again have lots of hurrying and little time for just being with each other.

I will savour this as much as I possibly can, while it lasts.

At work today I got started with handing over the responsibility for customer support to our new employee. This included some admin work around e-mail inboxes, aliases, logins, access rights etc., and looking for helpdesk software. JIRA, Zendesk, HelpSpot, Tender… too many options!

Yesterday’s comic at XKCD includes an interesting bit of Wikipedia trivia: “if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at "Philosophy"”.

I tried a few random Wikipedia articles (a random link from the Wikipedia front page, cucumber and Georgia) and it worked in all cases. The tendency became obvious after just a few hops: we skirted linguistics, science, then information, and via quantity on to philosophy.

From philosophy it’s six hops back around to science and you can go another round. The full loop is Science > Knowledge > Fact > Information > Sequence > Mathematics > Quantity > Property_(philosophy) > Modern_philosophy > Philosophy > Existence > Sense > Organism > Biology > Natural_science > Science. So you could equally well argue that all Wikipedia queries have their root in Existence, or in Knowledge, or in Information. Whatever you think is the most fundamental of all – take your pick.

Now some developer has actually made a tool for you to try this on your own: xkcd wikipedia steps to philosophy.

It is becoming a sport for me to see how many days I can do useful work – things that I do actually need to do, and now rather than in a month’s time – without writing any actual code. Today I resolved a few customer support issues, brought some of our stats and metrics files up to date, and looked through unprocessed bug reports in our backlog. The number of open bug reports that we hope to fix at some point (as opposed to those we close because fixing them would be too much work for too little benefit) has increased by 16% while I was away. That doesn’t surprise me at all. The number always goes up, as soon as we stop focusing on it. Now that we have a chart to look at again, hopefully we can get it back down again.

It was my sixth day at work and I did not touch any code today either. Instead I followed up and checked various statistics and went through bug reports, and held an almost two-hour intro to our product for a new employee, and then joined the team for a welcome lunch for the new employee, and then prepared for a customer meeting I am to have tomorrow. And that meeting is scheduled to last 4 hours so there won’t be any coding done tomorrow, either.

The new joiner, by the way, is going to be in charge of customer support, help files, and other such stuff. Handing over the responsibility for customer support from the developer team to a dedicated support person will be such a good thing. Getting her up and running will take a lot of my time but the potential gain in productivity over a longer time is huge.

A bright and sunny day in more than just the literal sense. Both kids happy, everything running smoothly. Basically a lovely spring Sunday.

We tried cycling with Adrian again and it went swimmingly. Having Ingrid by his side as company and as chief dummy-popper-inner is a great help. We didn’t dare undertake a long trip, in case he totally hated it, so we just cycled to a nearby garden centre and bought some fertilizer and a few perennials (Astrantia “Moulin Rouge” and Coreopsis verticillata “Grandiflora”) and some seeds. I managed to plant the perennials but the seeds are still waiting. I also got rid of some more dandelions, this time at the back of the house.

Morning: cycled with Ingrid to a birthday party. I can do that kind of stuff again now that Adrian is somewhat used to being without me. It felt good to be able to give Ingrid my undivided attention for a while. And it felt good to cycle.

Afternoon: dug out dandelions from our lawn. I don’t aspire to a weed-free lawn, indeed I don’t aspire to any kind of a lawn, but I don’t want the dandelions to spread out of control. I got rid of a few dozen today, I think – rather satisfying. Meanwhile Ingrid made me a “soup” with dandelions and daisies, birch catkins and lilac flowers.

Evening: neither of the kids was tired after dinner so we headed to the playground. Or rather, Eric and Ingrid headed to the playground, and I thought I’d let Adrian wind down for bedtime. He was immediately upset about their departure – started crying as soon as they left, became happy again when we went into the hall, and dived from my arms towards the stroller. So we followed them (although with a hip seat instead of the stroller) and watched Ingrid enjoy herself on the swing and the slide and the merry-go-round. Then we fed dandelion leaves to the sheep who live at Spanga gymnasium next to the playground.