As I mentioned on Twitter, we got Ollie a camera for Christmas and set it up to post automatically to Flickr. He loves it so far, and it's been fascinating to see how he sees the world...which is mostly low-angle and mundane. The account is private, but here are a few of my favorite shots of his:
Ollie's great grandpa Looking out the door (note the low angle) Making espresso
But often the camera is a tool for him. Yesterday morning we were trying to build a boat out of blocks..."the same as we built last week," Ollie said to me. I couldn't remember how we'd built the boat last week and Ollie couldn't really describe it or duplicate it by himself. "We should have taken a picture of it. Then we would remember," he said. And a couple of weeks ago, his toy computer (basically a glorified Speak N' Spell) ran out of batteries and when he came running in to the kitchen to tell me, he held up his camera with a photo of the computer in question, "see Daddy, the screen's not working"...as if I wasn't going to take his word for it.
After I tweeted about the camera, a number of people asked what setup we were using. We had an old Powershot SD450 laying around, so we gave him that instead of buying a kids camera. Ollie's three and a half now and pretty conscientious; he doesn't throw stuff around or smash things so we figured we could trust him with an actual camera. And for the most part, he's been really good with it. He puts the cord around his wrist so the camera won't fall on the floor if it slips out of his hands. For the first few days, he was accidentially sticking his fingers in the lens area and that caused the little shutter that covers the lens when the camera is off to stick a little bit, but he stopped doing that and learned how to fix the sticky shutter himself. He sometimes gets stuck in a weird menu after pushing too many buttons, but mostly he knows how to get in and out of the menus. He knows how to use the zoom and can shoot videos. He also can tell when the battery is running out and knows how to remove the battery to recharge it. Giving an "adult" camera to a three-year-old may seem like a recipe for confusion and broken electronics, but I'm continually amazed at kids' thirst for knowledge and empowered responsibility.
For the automatic uploading to Flickr, we put an Eye-Fi card in the camera. The Eye-Fi is a regular SD memory card with built-in wireless networking...the low-end 4GB card is only $45 on Amazon. And you can link the card to a Flickr account so that when the camera is on and in range of a trusted wifi network, the photos are automatically uploaded. Pretty simple once you get it set up.
My wife is a bit of a statistics nut. A few years ago, she hooked herself up to a heart rate monitor during a playoff football game and graphed the results. Sometimes I think she does things just so she's got an excuse to open up Excel. So I wasn't really surprised when she showed me this graph yesterday afternoon:
That's a record of Meg's weight from when she got pregnant with Ollie to the present, 80 weeks of data in all...40 weeks with Ollie on the inside and 40 on the outside.
Charles Joseph Minard may get all the accolades for his graphic of Napolean's march to Moscow, but for me, the above chart is the most beautiful ever created. When I look at it, I see Ollie. The graph is a portrait of him, as sure as this photo is. It's also a record of an intense time for our family. I'm reminded of Meg, happy and pregnant but also struggling with her changing body. Trips we took, doctor visits, the growing belly and anticipation, the birth itself, and then falling off the cliff into the giddy, difficult unknown of new parenthood. And then you can see Meg slowly but surely getting back into shape while being a full-time stay-at-home mom (and managing an architecture project to boot), and achieving her goal of getting back to her pre-baby fitness level in a scant 8 months. You can't really see it, but there's a happy father and proud husband in there somewhere as well.
That's a lot of emotional impact for a simple black and white line graph with few labels. Imagine if it were in color and isometric 3-D! ;)
Salon had an interview with Pamela Paul the other day, author of Parenting, Inc., a book about the business of parenting. Paul starts out by disparging the $800 stroller phenomenon. Ollie's stroller was somewhat expensive (not $800 but not $100 either) but it's well built, flexible in use, nicely designed (functionally speaking), and was far and away the best one for our needs. We didn't feel good about spending so much money, but the eventual cost-per-use will be in the range of cents, so we're really happy with our choice so far. Some parents buy expensive strollers more as a fashion statement, so I can see where Paul is coming from on this one.
I thought the rest of the interview was quite good. We're still new to this parenting thing, but Paul seems to be on the right track. Here's her take on the best toys for kids:
When you think back to the '60s and '70s, all the right-thinking progressive parents thought toys should be natural and open-ended. Crayola and Kinder Blocks and Lego were considered raise-your-kid-smart toys. Then, all this data that came out which said that kids need to be stimulated. They need sound! They need multi-sensory experiences! Now, the more bells and whistles a toy has, the supposedly better it is.
Our parents' generation actually had it right. The less the toy does, the better. Everyone thinks: "Toys need to be interactive." No, toys don't need to be interactive. Children need to interact with toys. The best toys are 90 percent kid, 10 percent toy, the kind of thing that you can use 20 different ways, not because it has 20 different buttons to press, but because the kid, when they're 6 months old is going to chew on it, and toss it, but when they're a year they're going to start stacking it.
And then later:
At the most basic level reuse, recycle, repurpose. The average American child gets 70 new toys a year. That is just so far beyond what is necessary. Most child gear, toys, books are a lot cheaper, relatively speaking, than they were decades ago. In the aggregate it ends up being a lot more expensive, because we're buying a lot more of it, but kids just don't need that many toys. Kids lose out when things become less special.
We've been avoiding toys that make noise and light up. Half of his toys are garbage -- old toilet paper rolls, bags that our coffee pods come in, 20oz soda bottles filled with colored water or split peas, scraps of fabric, etc. -- or not even toys at all -- pots and pans, measuring spoons, etc. It seems like the right approach for us; Paul's "90 percent kid, 10 percent toy" really resonates.
Paul also talks about not overstimulating kids. When I get up in the morning or come home from the office, it's hard not to scoop Ollie up and give him constant attention until he goes to bed or down for a nap. Instead, I've been trying to leave him alone to play and explore by himself. He's getting old enough that when he wants me involved, he'll come to me. In this way, parenting is like employee management; give people the resources they need and then let them do their jobs.
This last bit reminded me of our trip to Buy Buy Baby (subtle!!) to procure baby proofing supplies. They totally had a Wall of Death designed to entice parents to coat their entire house in cheap white plastic.
The baby-proofing industry completely preys on parents' worst anxieties and fears. It really doesn't take a brain surgeon to baby-proof a house, and every store has the "Wall of Death" with like 10,000 products in it that you can affix to any potentially sharp surface in your house, if you choose to go that route.
It's difficult not to feel incredibly manipulated by the Wall of Death. You know deep down that it's ridiculous; your parents didn't have any of this crap and you turned out fine. But then the what-ifs start gnawing away at your still-shaky confidence as a new parent. Our encounter with the Wall paralyzed us, and with the exception of those plastic wall outlet plugs, we've punted on baby proofing for now. We're letting Ollie show us where all the problem areas are before committing to any white plastic solutions.
Ollie and I invented a new game last night. Actually, it's more fair to say that he invented it and I followed along. The playing field consisted of two couches facing each other with a coffee table in between. All the furniture was raised off the ground so that the ground-level lines of sight were clear. He started by crawling around one of the couches. I gave chase and caught up with him; he saw me coming and started laughing and crawling away faster. I overtook him and he started chasing me. So I crawled around to the back of the other couch, intending to ambush him from behind. But Ollie peeked underneath the furniture, saw that I was going the other way, and turned around to catch me. There was so much laughing when he ambushed my ambush...he was just so tickled that he'd figured it out. Then it was my turn to chase him again. We played this rudimentary game of tag -- chase the other person until you "catch" them and then you become the hunted -- until my knees were all red and sore.
I thought kids had to be much older before they could start playing like this, much less inventing their own little games. But kids are amazing little adaptive sponges...Ollie understood the rules of the game at least as well as I did, even though we hadn't actually agreed on any rules (or that we were even playing a game!) before starting. He just crawled off and followed his instincts.
The Edge Annual Question of 2008 is: What have you changed your mind about? Why? Lots of fascinating responses from interesting people, mostly science-related. My response would be a bit more personal: I've changed my mind about wanting to be a dad. I never thought much about having kids and didn't see the point of it, fulfillment-wise. I'm sure my life without Ollie would have been nice but nothing compared to this. (Happy 6 mo. bday, little guy!)
In the Kottke/Hourihan household, much of the past 4 weeks has been spent determining which has the most sensitive built-in accelerometer: an iPhone, a Nintendo Wiimote, or our newborn son.
The iPhone was eliminated fairly quickly...the portrait-to-landscape flip is easy to circumvent if you do it slow enough or at an odd angle. The Wiimote might be the winner; it registers small, slow movements with ease, as when executing a drop shot in tennis or tapping in a putt in golf.
Newborns, however, are born with something called the Moro reflex. When infants feel themselves fall backwards, they startle and throw their arms out to the sides, as illustrated in this video. Even fast asleep they will do this, often waking up in the process. So while the Wiimote's accelerometer may be more sensitive, the psychological pressure exerted on the parent while lowering a sleeping baby slowly and smoothly enough so as not to wake them with the Moro reflex and thereby squandering 40 minutes of walking-the-baby-to-sleep time is beyond intense and so much greater than any stress one might feel serving for the match in tennis or getting that final strike in bowling.
Some vital statistics: He was born on July 3 just before 1pm, weighed about 7 lbs., 2 oz., loves to eat (and then sleep), is O.K. (ha!), dislikes sponge baths, unfortunately doesn't have any descenders in his name, both mom and baby are home and doing fine, Ollie is not a particularly popular name right now (and is not short for Oliver), and I've never been quite so content as when he fell asleep on my chest yesterday and we snoozed together on the couch for an hour or so. A little slice of heaven.
Also, I'm going to be taking about two months of paternity leave from working on kottke.org. I'll probably post a few things here and there when I can, but it won't be a priority by any means. I hope you all have a good rest of the summer and that you'll find the site again when I start back up in the fall.