Goal-setting: let’s be reasonable (and baby friendly)

A baby does similar things to your house and your brain; it gleefully, carelessly, adorably takes over everything. When the Lizard is awake, I’m basically 100% in Mum role, which sometimes gets to involve sitting and reading while she plays happily solo, but anything more serious-writing-business than jotting down a few notes is completely out of the  question. Because of this, when she goes down for her nap and I get two hours of baby-free time, I want to switch immediately into Writer role.

…ok, fine, I want to tidy everything up, grab a bite to eat and then switch into Writer role.

But having your brain shunted from side to side like that multiple times a day tends to shake things loose. To keep everything nailed down, I’ve taken to Habitica (again) with a vengeance, and within that I’ve joined up with the splendid Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ink Slingers guild of spec-fic writers.

Mostly, this has been a great move – I’ve got commonality, I’ve got help with goals, I’ve got accountability. They’re splendid people; I’m having fun and feeling engaged.


This month the guild has been having a challenge about weekly goals. I figured this would be great: when I was ramping myself up into full production mode back in 2014, I got great mileage out of setting and checking against weekly goals. When I set this week’s goal, I felt like it was challenging, but achievable if I pushed – and I wanted to push.

What I forgot is that this is 2016 and I have a baby; I cannot do full production mode; I cannot push. There is simply no room in which to push. There is basically no elasticity in my life, nothing I can give up to make room for getting more writing done.

What’s more, not making the goal this week – watching it slip further and further out of reach – has had a tremendously demoralising effect on me. As the week’s progressed, I’ve had less and less energy and will for writing even during those golden nap times. Last night was really low: I felt useless and grumpy and resentful of everyone and everything, especially myself. Which was amazingly unfair because I’d achieved an amazing amount of non-writing stuff and I’d finished my daily writing target.

Fortunately, I woke up this morning realising (with a little help from awesome Twitter friends) that I was being too hard on myself. I simply cannot achieve what I used to achieve pre-baby. One day – probably sooner than I realise – I will be able to. But until then, I really need to be kinder to myself, because failing is very unhelpful.

So I’m making a goal for next week that is better suited to what I can and cannot achieve. Since I can’t control how much time I can give to writing, having an output based goal (“revise 10 scenes”) is asking for panic. Instead, I think I’ll just aim to work on the book – actually on the book, not just those note-jottings – six days out of seven.

After all, baby steps.

If everyone else were jumping off a cliff…

Little Miss Lizard is four-and-a-half months now, which means all of the supporting medical professionals are talking seriously about moving towards “solids” (which as far as I can tell actually means “mush”, but anyway). Baby wisdom is pretty nebulous in general, because unless you’re the Nazis, it’s difficult to get run with babies the sort of tests that get you genuine information about medical and behavioural development. But there’s a lot of “try this” and “think about that” and “oftentimes the other”.

One of the others in this case being that it’s good for the baby to sit up at table with the growed-ups. She sees that people eat, and she becomes interested in doing the same. And they particularly like food that comes off Mum or Dad’s plate. “Similarly,” the nurse noted, “we find that even picky-eating children, when you sit them down at a table of their peers for lunch, will eat when everyone else is eating.”

It reminded me of something we observed with the Lizard. Christmas and New Year’s was, as always, a time of lots of gatherings, and we included bub as much as possible (because she loves people, and people love her). After a party day, when she’d been around lots of people chatting away, she would chatter a lot more, burbling and babbling happy syllables at the ceiling. “She’s learned that this is what our tribe does,” I joked. “We make mouth noises. Better join in!”

But it’s true, isn’t it? Babies learn from us. They copy us so as to become a part of our society. Fitting in is less about fitting in and more about learning how to human.

Succumbing to peer pressure is a biological imperative. Or at least a strong drive.

I just hope I can remember this when she’s a teenager and driving me batty with the need to have, do and be in accordance with her peers. Remember, Evans, it was a developmental requirement. Growing up means overcoming it, but it’s not easy. Have patience!

Baby on board: taking care with language use

Yesterday as I handed the baby over to her father, I said, “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

That pulled me up short, because it so easily translates as, “Be quiet. Be biddable. These things are what makes a girl ‘good’.”

That’s not what I meant, of course. I wasn’t even really talking to her. I was using my voice as an attempt to reassure and soothe her through this transition of cuddles, but my words were directed to Mr Dee. “I hope she won’t kick you or scream in your ear,” I was saying, “but to be honest I’m not hopeful, because she’s quite cranky at the moment.” I was saying, “Thank you for being here to take her, I’m so grateful for the break.” I was saying, “I’m glad you’re with me on this crazy ride.”

But I was tired and frustrated and lazy, so what I said was: “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

I do want my daughter to grow up with an understanding of appropriate behaviour, so that when she screams and kicks it’s not because she doesn’t know better, or can’t control herself, it’s because screaming and kicking is warranted. It’s her choice. But I don’t want her to grow up thinking that “good” girls have to be quiet and biddable, especially for men.

Do I think one stray line from me will make the difference? Of course not. But hundreds of iterations of it from me as she’s growing up, and thousands of variations on it from her relatives, her peers, her teachers, the television, society as a whole… yeah, that’s going to start adding up. The least I can do – in my position of considerable influence – is counteract that pervasive messaging. I want to try not to parent unthinkingly.

Let’s see how I go.