Our first European family vacation...

We're back in the States after a great couple of weeks in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. While travelling with a seventeen month old toddler wasn't exactly pleasant, at least it wasn't the horror-show we were expecting. We couldn't imagine sitting on the 10 hour flight from SF to Amsterdam with a squirming ball of energy on our laps, so we splurged a little and got him his own seat.  

To lug around everything a toddler needs, we were able to find a really nice rolling carry on suitcase that fits comfortably under the seat and opens wide from the top. We filled it multiple small tetra-packs of milk, yogurt, cookies, and bread sticks, as well as diapers and creams, bottles, and a few busy toys including a portable shape-sorter. Thankfully, our son spent most of his time playing with the touch screen on the seat in front of him or raising and dropping the table tray, the latter of which annoyed the flight staff during take off and landing. Other than during a small bout of turbulence on the way there, our travel was almost entirely tear and drama-free.

Well, drama-free but a bit boring. As a general rule, I don't mind long flights; I'm more than happy to pack a few novels, an iPad, and one (or two) portable gaming systems keeping myself occupied pretty much the same way that I do back home[1]. Sadly, this is quite a bit more difficult with a curious toddler sitting next to you. Eating is also quite complicated - we had to get creative with ways to keep our son from grabbing food and beverages and spilling them everywhere. Alas, he still managed to kick at least two beverages into the aisle and pour a bottle of water over himself. Any landing you can walk away from, right?

Spanish family and friends wanted to see the baby, of course, so we didn't do as much sightseeing and travelling as in our previous trips. Thankfully, my Castilian[2] has gotten better, and I didn't feel quite as oblivious to everything that was going on around me like in previous trips. Hanging out with great people while eating and drinking amazing food makes for a great trip, sightseeing or no. Speaking of which, I'd like to finish up this post by spending a bit of time praising the Basque Country's culinary prowess. 


Even though Europeans won't shut up about it, I can't help but agree as to how much better the food is there. Yes, you can pay to eat at high-class restaurants with excellent food in North America, but the average family meal in Basque Country is of much higher quality than what most of us eat. Part of this is because of the concept of the 'siesta', whereby many shops and services close between one and five in the afternoon giving people time to go home and prepare meals[3]. It's also because many foods are simply of higher quality because they're purchased frequently and therefore don't have to be processed for long term preservation: bread, eggs, cheese, meats, etc. There are many local bakeries and butchers in each small town and most people buy fresh bread every single day. I'd love to have similar access to freshly prepared foods in North American towns, but it's really population concentration that make this possible: it's much more impractical to buy fresh bread if you can't walk to the local bakery in two minutes[4].

Another important difference comes down to portion sizes. They're smaller in Europe, and yet I never feel hungry after meals. Eating is a much more leisurely activity (in Spain at least), which probably leads to eating less due to the delay in time-to-satiation. The upshot of this is that I can spend two weeks in Spain during which I eat some of the best food I've ever had, and yet I don't 'feel fat' afterwards. 

The Basque people are particularly passionate about cuisine: as a hobby, many men belong to 'Sociedades' (or txoko in Basque), which are essentially cooking clubs where people can develop recipes with professional equipment. It's not surprising that 'El Pais Vasco' has the highest concentration of Michellin Stars per-capita of anywhere in the world.

... and drink

I've read multiple articles arguing that part of the reason for America's 'binge-drinking' problem is because of the country's long history of demonization of alcohol. I'm not saying that Spain doesn't have problems with alcohol, but in my time here I've witnessed a much more reasonable relationship with 'the drink' than I often see back home. 

Small towns have bars on every corner where people socialize quite frequently. It's totally common to see two couples sharing drinks and chatting while their kids snack on bar food. Oh, and the bar food here is legendary. Bars serve pintxos (pinch-oes), which are elaborate little plates showing off all kinds of different concoctions and ideas. They're a huge point of pride and the pintxo capital, San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) has competitions to encourage new and interesting recipes. These things are ridiculously delicious, and put garbage like fried cheese sticks and onion rings to shame:

This is an awesome pintxo place called  Bar Zeruko . Notice how the counter is filled with a huge variety of exotic and delicious finger-foods.

This is an awesome pintxo place called Bar Zeruko. Notice how the counter is filled with a huge variety of exotic and delicious finger-foods.

[1] I also brought a solo-play 'game book' called Destiny Quest that was recommended to me by a friend. I didn't get to play it as much as I would've liked as rolling dice on those small tray-tables is difficult.

[2] There are at least three fully differentiated languages spoken in Spain (Castellano, Catalan, and Basque [or 'Euskara' in Basque]) as well as several dialects such as Galiciano. I understand why people from cultures that speak languages other than the dominant Castellano bristle at calling it 'Spanish'. 

[3] The siesta blows my mind every time. In addition to being part of the culture, I also appreciate that by allowing people to close their stores down for a few hours in the afternoon, it allows small businesses to operate with only a single staff member. Nevertheless, coming from a place where I can buy whatever I want, whenever I want, it's tough to wrap my head around having to plan my schedule to avoid a three-to-four hour window each afternoon. This is probably a more general observation about European culture: if you're cool with it, it's very supportive of a high quality-of-life. If you're not used to it, it can feel somewhat rigid. This is something I often think about: when is culture an anchor versus a chain?  

[4] In some cases, I think there are just differences in preparation that lead to more flavorful foods in certain parts of Europe as compared to North America. See for example the larger number of regulations when it comes to processing eggs here in the States.

2016 in review...

I have to admit that 2016 was a bit of a rough year; and not in the John Oliver "F$%k 2016" because of Brexit and Trump's election kind of way (although there is that too). Rather happenstances at work coupled to the realities of being a relatively new dad conspired to complicate things.

As parents we learned that 'with mobility comes great responsibility'. Once our son was able to run around the apartment, gone were the days of being able to sit down and read or use a PC. As I should have expected - though perhaps hadn't fully appreciated - this led to an utter tanking of at-home productivity. In fact, I daresay that 2016 is the least 'productive' year I've had since becoming an adult. Don't get me wrong, a large part of the reason that I left academia was because I felt that the poor work-life balance wasn't justifying the rewards. Here I'm talking about the ability to do anything at home - be it work, hobbies, blogging, etc. Also, because we've been more-or-less sticking to a 'no-screens' policy, I've pretty much fallen off of the face of the earth when it comes to staying in contact with folks via FaceBook or email.

I knew that having a child would mean giving up a lot of free time, but I've seen other folks manage to continue productive postdocs or careers whilst being new parents. Unless you count watching the entire run of The Sopranos in short bursts once the baby was put to bed and the kitchen was cleaned, I did little at home, work or play. I know, I know - this probably shouldn't be a big deal, and again, I should've expected it. But as someone who, as a postdoc, used to work most weekends, I really felt like I was accomplishing nothing.

Things kind of took a weird turn career-wise as well: organizational changes and reprioritization of objectives led to my main project shifting unexpectedly. I was quite passionate about what I was doing and, unfortunately, it did bum me out. On the plus side, this forced me to learn a number of new skills and explore a completely new field. Thankfully, things are looking up for 2017 as I'm actively working on multiple manuscripts detailing our work on my 'passion project' and it looks like I'll be heading up some more exciting stuff.

I feel like I tell myself this every year, but my main goal for 2017 is to better balance the demands of work, family, and play. First, I'm crossing my fingers here, but I assume that our son will soon (eventually?) be able to occupy himself sufficiently such that I can get a little more work done here and there. You know, to keep treading water if nothing else. Second, I've always been pretty bad about staying in contact with folks via email, but as mentioned above in 2016 I fell off of the map. To be fair, our 'no screens' policy has a lot to do with this, but I don't think that becoming a hermit will do anything to help with my feelings of accomplishing nothing. Oh, and as always, I want to get back to blogging. Though I've wanted to get back to blogging since like 2009[1].

I'm not calling these resolutions, because those typically fail. Instead, I think that my holiday break is as good a time as any to adjust my priorities and objectives such that I can achieve as many of them as possible. All of this being said, I realize that I'm basically building a house of cards atop the expected behavior of a toddler. Plan B will be to start pounding two cans of Monster™ every day instead of one. 

[1] I have a good reason for wanting to blog. As I may have mentioned before, writing is a skill that benefits from regular maintenance. When I was blogging and writing papers regularly, sentences and ideas flowed much more naturally then they do now. If you want to get good at coding, code every day. Same goes for writing, no? Alternatively, I may just be getting old. Well, I'm certainly getting old.

Reflections on parenthood: one year in...

Our son recently had his first birthday, marking a milestone that I felt was worth reflecting upon. In some ways, the past twelve months have felt like five years, despite all of the talk about kids growing up so fast. In other ways, it's also been pretty fulfilling.

The best part of being a parent is seeing our son go through the fascinating stages of childhood development: beginning as a helpless, chubby little thing, but soon figuring out how to sit up, crawl, walk, and eventually, say a few words. Folks who know me also know that I generally haven't been a 'kid person', but things are completely different when it's your own. He gets so excited whenever he learns to do something new that it's infectious, and lasts for weeks afterwards. I've avoided being that annoying parent on Facebook, but the family's been receiving their regular dose of baby pics and videos.

As noted in a previous post, we've also discovered that we have a very active baby. As he's stumbled upon new modes of locomotion, he's become less-and-less interested in sitting still in his high-chair, stroller, or car seat. We're currently visiting my family in Canada, and I don't think that the grandparents quite realized how tiring it can be to follow him around for hours, as he tries to pull on everything, whether nailed down or not. You very quickly realize how much more effort this takes when you're visiting a non-baby-proofed home.

In retrospect, this is the aspect of parenthood that I was least prepared for: the complete inability to accomplish anything while our son is awake. On a typical weekday, the baby goes to bed sometime between 7 - 8:30 pm. By the time we've cooked dinner and cleaned up, it's easily 10. I know that many folks try to get in a few hours of work before bedtime, but sadly, I've been terrible at doing this. On a good night, my gf and I get in a 30 - 60 minutes of Netflix before one of us passes out. This has also had a pretty serious impact on my fitness routine and, sadly, I've begun to fall into 'dad bod' territory.

I work with several new parents and, from our discussions, I know that I'm not alone. We all feel the challenge of working in positions with semi-frequent spikes in workload and we all have a hard time taking our work home with us. As I've lamented before, living in the Bay Area necessitates existing in a two-income household, and I have no idea how some people can maintain the work demands of a postdoc or academic position without some form of extra-party solution [1]. I know that having local family available to take care of the baby once-in-a-while would make a huge difference for us: we've only hired the services of a babysitter once in the past 12 months, and it was wonderful.

We knew that having a kid would be a life-changing event. But, depending on where you live and your support situation, I think that it can be far more 'life-changing' than expected. Regardless, things are looking up, and our son seems to be falling asleep a little bit easier and sleeping a little longer (those 5:30 am mornings were awful). 'Fingers-crossed', but in a few more months he may actually be able to tell us what he wants, leading to fewer struggles to make him happy.

Now our attention has shifted from simply keeping him alive to seriously thinking about the future: if San Francisco and its surroundings continue on their current course, no reasonable amount of two-person income may get us to where we want to be in terms of living conditions, and unfortunately, we may have to begin considering alternatives.

[1] One extra-party solution that I've seen quite regularly is that of the 'au-pair' babysitter. This requires providing room-and-board, so it's not doable without a multi-bedroom house or condo. But even if we had the appropriate conditions, I'm not sure how I'd feel about the whole thing in general. You feel bad enough sending your kid to daycare without having a "substitute mom" around 14 hours a day.

Where did the time go?

This past Saturday, my gf and I went for a walk along a beautiful nature trail that happens to be near our place. We buckled our now 10-month old son into his stroller and started along the path. Around the 25 minute mark, he began shrieking [1]. See, he doesn't like to be in his stroller for very long - he'd rather be held. Except that that doesn't last very long either, and then he'd rather crawl around on the ground for a while... You get the idea. 

However, what I really wanted to discuss was this couple that we saw as we were walking back to the car. They had a kid about a the same age as ours, sitting in one of those three wheel activity buggies, and they jogged past us. They were JOGGING. I couldn't believe it. It was was so mind-blowing to us that we're still bringing it up days later. 

There's a reason that I haven't blogged, or posted much on Facebook, or done anything much, really, during the past three months: I'm always exhausted. I mean really tired - more tired than I think that I've ever been.

The baby books I read suggested that we could expect our kid to start sleeping through the night sometime between three and six months. Ha! We're lucky if he sleeps three hours in a row [2]. I'm probably getting about 6 hours of sleep per night at best, and my gf isn't even getting that. It's kinda crazy because we'd been doing so well from months three to seven. Then it all started going downhill.

It's amazing how chronic sleep deprivation will sap your productivity and ambition. Work, home, life in general - you name it - I want to get more done, but I just don't have the willpower. I have bags under my eyes. I've fallen asleep at work [3]. I've got a lot to write up at work, and forming coherent sentences is surprisingly challenging.

I can't imagine doing this as a postdoc. The baby needs constant attention and given that my gf is more sleep-deprived than I am, it wouldn't be fair for me to leave her alone with our son so that I could get more work done. It's a good thing that work-life balance is better in industry, but I still feel like I'm doing all the running that I can do to stay in the same place.

I think that both my gf and I feel like we're losing touch with the outside world. It's conceivable that people actually think we've moved away or something. Everyone is still telling us that this phase will pass, and that eventually we'll start getting more sleep as well as being able to do more in general. I cannot wait. 

[1] Like clockwork.

[2] Don't worry, we've been to all of the necessary pediatric checkups. He's fine - but, unfortunately, an unstable sleeper.

[3] Conveniently, we have these beds that anyone can use for napping purposes. Silicon Valley tech companies, eh?  

Three-plus months in...

The books that my gf and I have read about parenthood all refer to the three month mark as something significant and auspicious. For instance, all sources agree that the three month mark is when babies may actually begin sleeping through the entire night. Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet.

In fact, our experience has been that things have been getting more difficult as time goes on. During the past month, our son has been getting much fussier, requiring that someone hold and gently bounce him constantly [1]. I'm serious: with the exception of the few minutes when he'll play on his play mat in the morning, someone has to be holding the baby during every waking moment. This is particularly exhausting as the baby wants you to walk around with him - sitting down provokes an immediate freak-out [2]. We knew that this would be rough, so we were operating on the assumption that this was just a hump that we'd be getting over eventually.

Thankfully, this seems to be the case: for the past couple of weeks, our baby has been much more agreeable, even tolerating long walks in the Baby Bjorn and drives to run errands. We're still noticing some regression towards fussiness once-in-a-while, but being able to get out of the apartment for a bit during weekends has been amazing.

We can only hope that it's going to get easier from this point in, because reflecting on it now, it's difficult to overstate how much of a complete productivity-killer a newborn can be. It's pretty-much impossible to get anything done at home - yes, the baby will sleep for brief periods, but the frequency and duration of these naps are relatively unpredictable [3]. You could take advantage of the baby's early bed time, but then again, it's unlikely that you'll have much energy left. Seriously, I rarely went to bed before 11 pm before, while over the past several weeks, our entire family has been under the sheets by 8:30 multiple times. Taking care of a baby is exhausting, especially for mom.

All things considered, life is slowly inching towards some version of 'the beforetimes': I've been able to play a few videogames here and there, and it only took me two weekends to write this short blog post. Happy times! 


[1] Here's a life-hack: The Fitbit Charge HR that I purchased to 'game-ify' my attempt to lose the five pounds that I've gained since the baby was born, records knee bounces as steps. 

[2] The nice thing about the first few months was that at least we could sit down and watch TV or read while the baby fell asleep in our arms.

[3] Which brings me to a geeky sub-rant: Adults require that every videogame allows a) pausing at any time, and ideally b) saving at any time. Modern technology can easily accommodate these features, and games that forbid pausing/saving in order to 'increase challenge' are clearly targeting kids and the unemployed.   

Time, or lack thereof...

One of the best aspects of my new job is having a lot more free time. Don't get me wrong, I doubt that any job like this supports a nine-to-five work week, but compared to the hours that most postdocs put in, it's been really nice. I can't stress enough how important this free time is to productivity. While I have been playing videogames and building Legos [1], not feeling completely burnt-out by work demands has also made it much easier to spend free time developing work related 'skillz'.

For example, I've read book and played around to increase my programming abilities so that I'm now familiar with thing like pysam, pandas, matplotlib, and git/GitHub, which can all be added to my resume. Therefore, I'm continuing to support my new mantra that brute-forcing your way through problems and analyses never pays off as well as learning how to do it well. Sadly, this has changed significantly with the arrival of our baby.

Look, based on everything I'd heard and read, I expected that a baby would take up a lot of our time. Our reality seems to be a bit more extreme:  our baby takes up ALL of our time. The books say that newborns sleep an average of 18 hours a day in 2-3 hour bursts, in between which you need to feed and clean them. Our son has never slept more than ~10 hours in a day. Rather, he'll frequently stay up for 5-6 hours at a time and requires constant attention to avoid getting upset.

Under such circumstances, it's neither easy, nor fair to hand the baby off to his mother so that I can get work done [2]. Furthermore, it is important to me that my gf and I take care of our baby: it's nice to have family in the area or pay for a babysitter now and then, but I wouldn't want to have a full-time assistant raise my kid.

As I'm sure most parents can relate, it's often stressful. It feels like you're caught between a rock-and-a-hard-place, wanting to answer emails and get work done, while at the same time feeling guilty if you're not taking care of and/or spending time with the baby. I'd been told that there's no 'right' time to have children, which is now obvious: when is the right time to give up all of your free time and then some?

Thankfully, I've heard a rumor that babies grow out of this eventually.


[1] A few years ago, the Tested.com podcast revealed to me that there are actually adults who build Legos. I bought my first kit in years for 'shits and giggles' and discovered that putting blocks together is incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. I'm hooked, and am saving all of the blocks and manuals for when our son is old enough to play with them (which is 3+ according to the packaging).

[2] Mind you, sometimes 'tag-teaming' is unavoidable, if only so that we can catch a bit of extra sleep.

Should we agree to disagree?

This is a follow-up to a previous post wherein I complained about the lack of consistency in childcare advice in the maternity ward. We've since spoken to a pediatrician who told us that the number one complaint to healthcare professionals from new parents is the lack of consistency in information. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in childcare/parenting websites. 

Of course people can blog and share information about their parenting philosophies all they want. But some of these sites offer cross the hazy boundary between some random person's opinion into actual healthcare advice. While some sources are maintained by healthcare organizations and present expert opinion [1], a little digging reveals that more than a few are run by random moms who extrapolate from their own anecdotal experience [2].

See, it's not like we found these sites from random internet searches. Rather, multiple care-providers have given us pages of 'useful' resources. One such page of links contained several instances of contradictory advice, depending on which site we visited. Similarly, if we speak to our pediatrician or lactation consultant, we'll get yet more differing information. We're not looking for opinions on how to raise kids, here. Is it really so difficult to find out how much he should be eating?

My gut tells me that most of the stuff we're worried about is nothing, but you also have to keep in mind that our family is pretty sleep-deprived and antsy at this point. So when one source is telling us that we absolutely need to do X, while another says that we absolutely should not do X, it's more than a bit frustrating. I'm on the side of trusting our doctors, even though the handouts that they've given us contradict their advice.


[1] This is a much broader topic, but I think that we scientists don't give people enough credit for their mistrust of 'expert opinion'. It's a bit ironic how an healthcare organization can, in the same paragraph, 1) now strongly recommend that all babies be breastfed and, 2) point out that they spent years discouraging women from breastfeeding. Or how Dr. Spock used to recommend that babies sleep on their stomachs, while it's now 'obvious' that they should sleep on their backs. It would behoove folks to be more careful about making policy pronouncements. I suppose that researchers are people too and hedging suggests lack of confidence.

[2] There's value in sharing experience, but there is also a hell of a lot of woo and conspiracy theory on these sites. I've noticed a few instances of pairing mother-to-mother advice with organic/anti-GMO screed, for example. 

The reluctant minimalist...

I used to read voraciously. In fact, I kept an annual list of all of the books I'd finish, and most years I'd average more than a book a week. Most of the stuff I read as a kid was pulp-fantasy, but during grad-school I switched to reading a lot of science; both technical monographs as well as general audience stuff. Eventually, I accumulated a prodigious library, which I've managed to cart around North America at substantial personal expense.

A few years ago, realizing that moving more books into my tiny American apartments just wasn't practical, I went the way of the Kindle [1]. Thus while not growing physically, my collection of tomes has been patiently sitting in the closet for the day when we move into a larger place, thereby enabling me to construct the library of my dreams. 

However, as with all aspects of life, the baby changes everything. It's amazing how much space an 8 lb human can occupy. We're quickly landing upon the mantra of big-box department stores: shelf space is a scarce resource and therefore at a premium. It's past time to cut down on collecting crap that I'm not using.

I wonder if anyone at the donation place will actually want to read D'Arcy Thompson's,  On Growth and Form ? 

I wonder if anyone at the donation place will actually want to read D'Arcy Thompson's, On Growth and Form

With a heavy heart, I have begun purging my book collection of as much as I can bear, which is much more than it used to be. Over the years, I've become quite convinced that I'm carrying a little bit of the 'hoarder phenotype'. For example, I used to find myself worrying about what I'd do if a particular book went out of print. Obviously, the correct answer is, 'Who cares? If I haven't revisited it yet, it's probably not a big deal'.

I've also begun to think about that strange sense of pride that comes from displaying one's collection(s). Do we really expect people to be impressed by the number of movies, albums, videogames, etc. that we have on our shelves? In this era of Netflix and digital music, it seems even more odd to be proud of one's commitment to buying every single superhero movie or whatnot.

So, it's an uphill battle, fighting against this crippling desire to shove stuff onto my shelves, especially now that I've got more disposable income. Let's begin with baby-steps - rather a propos, no? I'll work on trimming down my junk and, whenever possible, converting everything to digital. At the same time, we'll agree that I can keep one useless physical collection going strong. I could never part with my videogames, of course...

[1] Super pro-tip: If you're going to have a baby, make sure you get an ebook reader (preferably with a backlight). You will rarely have more than one hand free, and at ~2 a.m. reading is a good way to pass the time as the baby falls asleep. 

The second crossing...

I decided to name this blog 'Crossing the Rubicon' because I knew that 2015 would be bringing big changes to my life. The first was my decision to leave academia and pursue a career in industry (still no regrets!). The second happened this past week, when I became a father.

Some folks who've known me for a long time were shocked to hear that my gf and I were having a baby. To be honest, it's not until relatively recently that I even realized that I wanted to start a family. I'd spent so long without any form of job or 'locational' security that I honestly hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it. But when I seriously began thinking about 'alternative' career choices, it opened up a whole new avenue of life-possibilities. This included generating the kind of stability that my partner and I wanted to pull the trigger on such a big move. 

Now we're here. I have no idea what kind of father I'll be. Cool, I assume, as I've already got a crap ton of Legos and video games for my son to play with when he gets older. I've also already begun reading things like Plato to him - the Dialogues mind you, we'll save The Republic for when he's more than a few days old. 

Now for a couple of observations about our experience with the whole maternity ward process:

Nursing staff seem to be obsessed with arbitrary thresholds. For example, babies lose weight during their first few days of life due to things like passing of retained stool and water loss. Most babies lose less than 10% of their birth weight before they shift to rapidly gaining weight. Our son lost just under 11% of his birth weight [2], which sent the nurses into panic mode. This led to them to admonish my gf for doing a bad job at nursing and not listening to their instructions, among other things. Conversely, the pediatrician wasn't worried about this number at all, rightfully pointing out that it's a threshold set by looking at the maximum weight lost by ~95% of babies. Less than a percent over the threshold isn't rare enough to panic.

In fact, one of the pregnancy books that I read, Emily Oster's Expecting Better, repeatedly emphasized this point: These are arbitrary thresholds, typically set at two standard deviations away from the mean of some measured distribution. Medical staff shouldn't be any more excited by what amounts to a P value of ~0.045 than a grad student should be about seeing it on the umpteenth test they've ran that afternoon. 

Secondly, we were somewhat disturbed by the lack of consistency between what we were told by different members of the nursing staff who could contradict one another multiple times in a single day. I'm not asking for super-human, encyclopedic knowledge of all things newborn in every nurse in the ward, but for sleep-deprived parents desperately trying not to kill the screaming, squirming thing that they're holding, it would be nice to feel like people weren't just making their answers up.

[1] Is this tautological?

[2] Some years ago, a grad student asked me what use the metric system would have in the lives of ordinary Americans. When my son was born, they weighed him in grams (3,570 g), converted it to pounds and ounces (7 lbs 14 oz), and wrote both on his chart. A few days later, a nurse came by and weighed him again - also first in grams (3,180 g) before converting to lbs/oz (6 lbs, 15.8 oz). She then looked at me and asked if it was more than a 10% weight loss. Instead of taking my word that he'd lost more than 357 g, she proceeded to open up some internal website and plug in the before-and-after lbs and oz values to get the dreaded news that the threshold had been crossed. Clearly the Imperial system's trouble with ratios, fractions, and percentages is not outside of the lives of 'ordinary' Americans. 


Well, we're about seven weeks out from 'B-day' and one of our major outstanding pre-baby tasks is complete: we have successfully secured daycare for the baby for when we go back to work.

Finding daycare is the part of becoming a parent that we most dreaded, mostly because of testimonials from friends and colleagues. Living near San Francisco is brutally expensive - the median price of a one bedroom apartment in the suburbs is ~$2,200/mo, which still pales in comparison to the city's price tag of ~$3,400/mo. This pretty much guarantees that both parents have to be working full-time to have any reasonable standard of living. Consequently, there's extremely high demand for childcare, and most facilities, whether home daycares or otherwise, have lengthy waiting lists. A common approach seems to be to tour a number of facilities[1] and put yourself on their lists, hoping that at least one of them will come through by the time you need their services. On top of  of the stress of leaving leaving this stuff  to chance, each of these centers charges a minimum $100 'administrative fee' just to be put on their list, with no guarantee that a spot will become available.

This being said, a one-time $1,000 fee to reserve a potential spot at ~10 facilities is small potatoes compared to the actual 'tuition'[2] fees that some of these places charge. One of the nicer centers that we visited costs $2,100 per month to take care of infants, which does not include food or diapers. Most places appeared to be in the ~$1,700/mo range, which, from the state of some of the facilities, made it unclear where that money was going. 

While debating the pros and cons of the locations we visited, a thought crossed my mind: do we really want to 'bargain-hunt' for someone to take care of our baby? Shouldn't we just look for the most highly-regarded spot and eat whatever cost comes our way? After mulling it over, I came to the conclusion that bargain-hunting was exactly what we should do. See, infants don't really need anything other than the bear necessities: as long as the facility has a good record of cleanliness and the people appear caring, that's about it. Paying extra because a particular daycare will start your baby on an intensive multicultural[3], liberal arts-plus-science-based curriculum is a waste of time. Babies will learn all of the skills that they need by sticking their fingers into their noses. In the end, we decided to go with a well-reviewed, lower cost home daycare that's conveniently located near where we work.  

I'll leave you with a quick rule of thumb: if you can't afford to start paying the rent of the tenants next door, don't have a baby in the Bay Area.

[1] Daycare centers generally open quite early to receive children before their parents begin work. However, our experience suggests that they only give tours during the most inconvenient times of the day. Visiting 10 daycares means showing up at 10-11 am on 10 weekdays. Hope you've got a flexible work schedule or a lot of vacation days saved up. 

[2] They're the ones that call it 'tuition'. Is that supposed to make us feel like our baby is going to be a 'genius'. Sounds more like word inflation to me.

[3] It's important to us that our son learns Spanish so that he can communicate with his family in Spain. Thankfully, it's rather trivial to find bilingual daycare in this area.