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Sweet

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If I had to describe Luca in a word, at two months and one week old, that word would be “sweet”. He’s sweet. Like Nico, he’s happy almost all the time, but his happiness is different: Nico’s is active; it comes from entertaining and being entertained. Luca is social too, but he’s a smiler and a chatterbox rather than a performer. He wants to ask how your day was and actually listen to your answer.

It’s amazing how easy having an easy baby is.

At the time, I never would have said Nico was difficult. I remember when he was this tiny, people would ask if I thought I knew what he was like yet, and I’d always say “determined”. His adjective was determined then, and it’s probably still determined now.

I wouldn’t have said he was difficult because he was so happy. He never cried a lot — probably because he nearly always got his own way. (His own way being, in order of preference: 1) a boob in his mouth, 2) being held, or in a pinch 3) a parent’s absolute and undivided attention.) For the first seven or eight months of his life, he had an apoplectic meltdown every single time I left his line of sight. He refused to lie on the floor or under his play gym unless someone was actively interacting with him the whole time. Just getting a glass of water was stressful.

Today I repotted my tomatoes while Luca sat in his bouncy chair having chats with the wind. I went up to the shed, got a bucket of compost, trotted inside and out and up and down, and he waved his little feet and noted my reappearance each time with a smile.

He’s so delicious.

Of course, it helps having two adults at home. It helps having experience in raising a small baby. It might even help that he spent his first week in an incubator, so although he never slept for long until the last couple of weeks, he’s always been willing to sleep in a bed. (Or the floor. Or his chair. Or someone’s lap. I have a whole series of photos of places he’s fallen asleep after we forgot about him because he’s just so freaking chill.) You can even put him down “drowsy but not asleep”, as all the books say, and he will actually go to sleep. Until I saw it happen I believed that particular piece of advice was a cruel MSM lie designed solely to make new parents insane.

He does loads of stuff I’d heard babies can do that Nico never did: stops feeding when he’s had enough, takes a bottle, poos less than every ten minutes. It’s a whole new world. We reckon we’ll probably keep him.

Periodically while going about my day I remember that our Prime Minister is a 37-year-old, unmarried, childless woman, and I get such a fizzy rush in my tummy that I feel like I could scale a mountain on the spot. I always believed in the importance of “if they can see it they can be it”, but I didn’t really consider it to apply to me. And yet I can’t help but feel like it’s so much more possible now to make a difference to my country, or to have my voice heard. I feel positive about our nation’s future for the first time in a long time, and it feels so freaking good.

Also, real talk: I reckon Jacinda and I would be mates.

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Luca

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I was due on the 23rd and born on the 30th. Luca was due on the 23rd and born on the 30th. He has Diogo’s nose, but my pale skin and hands and ears. His eyelashes are lighter than the rest of us but equally as long, and they curl up at the ends instead of sticking straight out. Maybe he’ll be a swimmer or a basketball player: he’s exactly average in weight, but 98th percentile for height, with the longest, skinniest feet I’ve ever seen on a human.

I’m so happy he’s here.

I’ll write about his birth, not just because it helps me to get these things out, but because I think it’s helpful to others who’ve given birth. I don’t want to scare expecting mothers and I definitely think there’s a very helpful place for uplifting natural birth stories, but I also think they crowd out the people whose experience was traumatic or awful or just so much more intense and affecting than they expected.

They sit with their births silently, thinking maybe the problem was them, or they’re weird or over-sensitive or just unlucky, but so many of the people I know use the word “trauma” when asked about their births… they just don’t say so unless you ask. Or get them drunk.

In the meantime, I’ll take the stitches and stretch marks and only sleeping in two-hour chunks while giving effusive thanks to any deities listening that I’m not pregnant anymore. The baby came out, and (once the shock wore off), my feelings came back. I looked at Brazil and felt a rush of love so overwhelming I proposed on the spot (I think maybe I did this after Nico too, he always just laughs and says yes like I’d asked him if he wants a cup of tea). My desire to do things came flooding back, along with the point of doing those things and the ability to look forward to them.

It’s been a rough nine months. This year has felt like a battle: against my hormones, against guilt and boredom, against my own body. It has, in a word, sucked.

Antenatal depression sucks. Antenatal depression with a still-small baby sucks. Add in bronchitis, a cracked rib, FOUR bouts of gastro, a sinus infection, constant daycare-induced coughs and colds, hemorrhoids, IBS, the state of the wider world, and then several weeks of contractions-but-not-labour and I think 2017 can officially be awarded my worst year ever.

But the baby came out, and my feelings came back.

Now, my heart throbs watching my big baby give my little baby his Phillip when he cries, and try his hardest to be gentle when he strokes his tiny head. It hurts as it expands for this new little person who’s somehow his own little person already.

Luca is seven weeks old and getting chunkier by the day. His furrowed expression of wide-eyed concern is interspersed now with gummy, scrunched-nose smiles and earnest chatting. He sleeps fantastically during the day and barely at all at night. Mostly he’s so chill we sometimes forget he’s even there.

Not that he really has a choice: Nico is 18 months old, and a ball of frantic, utterly charming energy. The speed at which he’s learning things is incredible to watch, and he’s suddenly so much fun to hang out with. He’s a performer and a show-off, and his comic timing is impeccable for someone who only has a handful of words. I’ve said before that happiness is different once you have a baby — the highs are higher but the lows are lower. You live in extremes. Turns out that’s also toddlers, but squared — ours is by turns the sweetest, most hilarious human you’ve ever met and a demonic, rage-fueled beastling. Every day is a new exercise in patience, but is also more fun than the day before.

Without the routine of work, time has gone sort of fuzzy around the edges. Days are faster and slower at the same time. I’m aware this time that Luca’s babyhood will be gone before we know it. People tell you that the first time, but you can’t actually grasp it. You will sleep again and see your friends again and wear a normal bra again, and your baby will roll and sit and crawl and then get up and run, until the day you find them standing on a chair trying to get into the fruit bowl.

We’re tired and frequently living at the very edges of our physical, mental and emotional tolerance, but we’re both at home at the moment so we get to enjoy this period, instead of having to just survive it. I can’t even imagine being alone with both of them all day every day — that most families don’t have a choice is dumbfounding to me now that we’re here. The correct ratio of adults to under 2s is at least 4:1.

Brazil is at home until May and I’m back to work part-time this week. It made perfect sense when we planned it, and it still does: I have freedom about when and where I work, and I make more an hour. He enjoys his job, but can’t do it in less than four days a week — so logistically, either he works full time and I’m at home all day with two babies, or he takes parental leave and I work part time, mostly from home. It’s a no-brainer. Plus he’s the best dad ever, so it’s awesome for him to get to spend extended time at home with the boys while they’re little.

But now that we’re here the guilts are back. I love what I do and I’m a better person and a far better mother when I have time and space to do things other than mothering… but it still feels terrible sometimes to admit that. And I still wish I was with them every time I leave them.

There are those extremes again.

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Attention, please

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“I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Is Google making us stupid?

To make this author’s point for him, I didn’t finish reading that article. I was researching something else, and it was one of about five open tabs I was skimming simultaneously.

Yesterday I read a fantastic interview on the Spinoff about why our political system is broken — policies tinker around the edges in neat soundbites rather than tackling actual structural change, which is not only seen as too big to manage, but too hard for the public to comprehend in a Stuff article or a news segment.

But the world is complex. Our problems are complex.

In my work, we take difficult government information and make it easier to understand and act on. Clients and users and user-experience researchers tend to think this means we can make it simple. We can simplify, but this type of information fundamentally isn’t simple.

After user testing, testers frequently used to come back to me with, “users said it was too long and hard to understand. We recommend you make it shorter.”

This is why we try our hardest to always be involved in planning and executing testing now — it’s valid feedback, but for government entitlements and processes, it’s also useless. We’ve already made it as short as we can: whatever’s left is the information required to do the thing. There are ways of cutting it up and displaying it and phrasing it to make it easier for most people to find only the pieces they need (which is where we try to focus testing), but until someone gives us leave to rewrite legislation along with the website, the information required is the information required.

Recently, we’ve had several meetings with clients’ senior managers about syndicating content. This is an idea that goes around government every few years before sinking back into the depths of 5-year technology strategies. It’s a great idea, in theory: rewrite your web content so you can serve compact, distinct “bites” of information on any site or platform (the word “snackable” was used repeatedly).

The thing is, I’ve never really seen it work in government. I’d argue it’s never really worked anywhere other than a google results page. If your content boils down into a three-line snack, it’s not content — it’s a fact.

There might be a place for this, if it’s ever worth the technology that would be required to centralise it: “The GST rate is 15%”, “Daylight savings changes on Sunday 24 September”, “Student loan repayments are 10% of your before-tax income”. (Also, Google is already doing this, and with reasonable accuracy.)

Anything beyond that would have to be so simplistic as to be functionally useless. We already try to write page summaries that say something definite about the content of the page, so our best suggestion is probably to just syndicate your page summaries where they fit and provide a link to the main content… then fix that main content as best you can. There will never be a way to claim paid parental leave or figure out your child support in three lines.

There will also never be a plan to end child poverty or a way to grasp the impacts of climate change that can be conveyed in a news break or a paragraph you can share on Facebook. I worry the internet is not only rewiring our brains to read less deeply and and spend less time thinking about what we’ve read (I did read some of the article), but to expect that everything we need to know can be rolled up into a Wikipedia page summary — and that it’s okay to form opinions and make choices and vote based only on that summary.

For anyone who’s interested, here are two things we’ve worked on lately that experiment with syndicating or bite-sizing content, with reasonable success:

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And anyway, Mozart died at 35.

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Twitter is now the place I go when I need something to make me furious at everything. Today I read an entire thread of men arguing over why work/life balance is a myth, and marathon hours and working weekends are fundamentally necessary if you want to be a success.

Look at Elon Musk, they said. Look at Mozart.

Newsflash, fellas: you’re not Mozart. Your work is probably not that important. And even if it is, if you’re doing it 12 or 14 hours a day you’re probably doing it badly.

Go the fuck home and see your kids.

Human brains aren’t designed to do creative or complex work for 12 hours straight. Long before you burn out, you’re going to stop doing good work. And your wife probably hates you.

How do these attitudes come about? There’s a wealth of evidence that extra hours of work don’t add extra productivity. The eight-hour workday is even based on maximum productivity for a factory assembly line — I’d argue the maximum creative output in a day is closer to four or five hours (with some padding for admin and meetings and eating sushi).

Your brain needs to rest to work creatively. Work/life balance isn’t important just because, you know, life is your actual life, but because without downtime your brain can’t process information and make new connections and break down all the things you’ve fed it into delicious spontaneous idea-mulch.

It’s also a socially dangerous argument to have. If it’s necessary to abandon your personal life to succeed at work, you either can’t have a family, are fucked if you already do, or you’re assuming you can dump all of your real-life responsibilities onto your partner forever in order to do your work.

I know I’m very privileged to not have to work in a 9-5 at-the-desk office environment, but here’s how I do my best work:

  1. Do a couple of hours of focused work.
  2. Take a walk, do a load of washing, knit, stare at the shops, eat chips, etc.
  3. Do another couple of hours of focused work.
  4. Stop working and hang out with my family.
  5. Sleep.
  6. Get in the shower in the morning and find a solution to whatever I was working on the day before waiting for me.
  7. Repeat.

I’ve yet to find a work problem that wasn’t solved faster by going to sleep than by continuing to try and actively beat it into submission after doing so had already failed. My brain is a wonderful and amazing creature that will come up with solutions to things without my help — if I let it.

The more I do creative work the more I realise that the time I don’t spend working is as important as the time I do.

I might send you an email at 9pm, but it’s not because I kept working until 9 — it’s because I went and made dinner and put Nico to bed and then sat on the couch staring at The Get Down and suddenly my brain was like “HEY, I GOT THE ANSWER!” and I got up and wrote it down.

Or The Get Down finished and because I’d had a few hours off the thing suddenly wasn’t as hard as it had seemed at 4pm.

And in the meantime, I also got to live my actual life.

Sixtyproof limit how much we take on not just because we have small children and partners and we like to interact with them (and occasionally also our friends and pets and television sets) but because we do better work that way — you can have 25 quality hours of work out of me a week, or 50 terrible ones.

Anyway, this whole post is a nice way of letting my clients know I’m going to start charging them for showers and Netflix.

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One.

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And just like that, he’s one. A whole year old. Yesterday I looked at the first photos we took of him — that wrinkled, purple, cone-headed little beauty with his treacle-slow limbs and his crooked stare. He looks exactly the same and nothing at all alike.

A year on, he needs a haircut. His hair is blonder than expected, and curling from the bottom while the top still sticks straight up, waving in the wind like down. He has seven teeth. He’s working on running and jumping and dancing and clapping. This morning, Diogo rubbed my arm and then Nico reached over and rubbed it too. Last night we discovered that if we give him the cloth, he’ll try and wipe down his highchair himself.

He doesn’t say anything but “mama” and “dada” and they both mean all sorts of things, but he’s having a concerted effort at “hello” (because everything from the remote to a stray sock is a phone this week), and it’s obvious he understands at least some of what we say now. (“Take that to Papai” is my new favourite phrase, especially with the most painful of his books.)

He’s happy pretty much all the time and almost all of his favourite toys are books — both these things make me feel like we must be doing something right. He loves people, animals, his two days at daycare, climbing onto and into anything dangerous, and pointing at things and saying “da!”. He’s hilarious and exhausting and charming and exasperating in equal measure.

Every night we lie in bed and say to each other “I want him to stay this big forever” and “I can’t wait to see what he does next”.

He’s pretty much a total fucking delight.

Happy first birthday, Nico pico bumble bum. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

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Hard work

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Lately I feel like I’ve been hearing people say “it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding” a lot. Or “it’s hard work, but it’s worth it”. Maybe it’s because I’m (for obvious reasons) talking to a lot of mums about mumming. But I’ve also heard it about writing, about sport or music, about craft and hobbies.

It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.

But.

Does that say something about our culture, that we think hard work and reward are somehow mutually exclusive? Has anything ever been truly rewarding that wasn’t also hard work? I’ve enjoyed watching The Crown this week, but I wouldn’t describe myself as having been rewarded by it. Entertained, yes. Occasionally charmed or delighted. Even educated, on the occasions I felt compelled to look up what really happened and acquire myself some history. But I don’t feel like it could reward me, because I didn’t put in any effort.

It occupied me. I wasn’t occupied with it, or preoccupied by it — I was occupied, in the passive tense. My eyes consumed pretty dresses while my mouth drank tea.

Why don’t we say “it’s hard work, so it’s rewarding”? So it’s worth it?

Surely everything that’s worthwhile is hard? Takes work? Have we broken down somewhere, with this idea that leisure should be easy, and that hard work and responsibility outside of paid work are to be avoided at all costs, or prefaced with “but”?

Is it because so much of the paid work we do feels worthless?

Children are hard work, obviously. So are dogs. If you want to look at it that way, so is baking. Creating. Writing. Gardening. Exercising. Cooking. All things we’ve made easier with technology and outsourcing and money used to be hard work. (And that’s awesome, believe me. I’m eternally grateful that I can tell a machine to wash our clothes, instead of spending all day scrubbing at the side of the river.)

But without hard work, what’s left? What are we doing now with all the time we’re saving buying pesto in a jar and hiring people to mow our lawns? Watching more TV?

My buddy Brock and I were talking the other night about what our lives will look like once the robots take our jobs. Not about the UBI or how we’ll work (for those who will), but what our leisure time looks like. Do we take the opportunity to do uniquely human things — invent, explore, create — or do we keep barrelling down the track we seem to be on, consuming more and more stuff with less and less effort? Do we return to playing and making and building things for ourselves, or do we spend our time playing VR war games while the robots (or the very poor) clean our houses and make our processed food tubes?

Brock made the great point that the way we work now — exchanging our time for cash that we spend on things that save us time — is a blip in history. This model has only existed for a couple of hundred years, and far less for women and minorities. That’s not to say there was some golden age of meaningful work (except perhaps for white dudes who own land, but that’s been true throughout history), just that the system is new, and we’re not tied to it. We can reinvent it, like work and family have been reinvented countless times before.

I think a lot while out in my garden about the ridiculous inefficiency of spending my time trying to grow food. If, as I’ve read on the interwebs, we should take our billable value at work and apply it to chores at home in order to decide whether to outsource them, I’m baking bread and growing carrots at hundreds of times the cost of a trip to the supermarket.

But although my time is valuable, I don’t believe my time is money. That seems, to me, to be the most insidious end point of our everything-is-a-business culture. My life is my life. My time is my time. It has value, but that value should surely be in how I choose to spend it: in the effort and satisfaction of accomplishing things (work or personal) and in my relationships.

I can absolutely pay a supermarket for a loaf of bread and save myself the effort of making it myself, but in return I spend the time I would have spent kneading and mixing in thoughtful (or, more often, deliciously thoughtless) contemplation sitting in a metal box, and then walking through a bigger metal box, to give someone money I had to spend time earning in order to save myself the time I’m now wasting in the car and at the supermarket.

I worry that the world is trying to convince us that things that are not only simple but enjoyable are too hard to contemplate doing for ourselves, while anything that’s actually hard — no matter how worthwhile — is a drag or a burden on our lives, rather than the whole point of them.

Anyway. Goals for 2017: watch less TV, buy less stuff, and work harder at things that aren’t work.

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Rogue One

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Dear Hollywood:

I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a good time. But, yet a-fucking-gain, can I just say: making your main character a woman doesn’t mean you’ve met your quota and don’t need to include any other women in your whole movie.

How is this still so hard for you? 52% of the population are women-people. We’re really everywhere now — just all over the place, doing all sorts of things. Your movie is set in space, in the future. It’s probably safe to assume there are some women-identifying folks in future space. They probably even do things like fly planes and shoot blasters, because you don’t really need a penis to operate either of those.

Of the thousands of people who appeared in that movie: in crowds and villages and bases and meetings and squadrons, I counted 11 who were discernibly female. 11. And that includes the main character, her mother, and the cameo at the end. Other than them, I saw two rebel leader types, two rebel pilots, and four others in the background of the big resistance gathering.

Everyone on the side of the empire appeared to be male. Admittedly, you can’t tell a stormtrooper’s gender, but every visible officer/bureaucrat/worker was a dude. All the engineers were men. Everyone who volunteered for the rebel crew. The six visible women in that big resistance gathering is not equality or representation: it’s the most pitiful of token efforts. In order to make crowd scenes with so few women, you surely have to really be trying. We are, again, 52% of the humans. We tend to just sort of crop up when humans are gathered.

And apart from the little critter with the glasses in The Force Awakens, have any of the non-human characters been women? And, while we’re at it, why do all the robots need to sound like dudes?

In a movie that did a great job with casting minorities and generally being a good time without being batshit insane, it’s disappointing. And frankly, I want to watch a movie where I don’t have to do this. It’s distracting and it makes me angry, and then I hiss things at Brazil under my breath and ruin the mood for everyone around me.

It’s not that hard, surely. Just look at all the people you’ve got standing around and talking and doing stuff, and unless their genitalia is actively necessary to the plot, make half of them women.

Seriously. Just do that. Please. Because half of us are.