The IRS was kind to us

Yes, that was my letter from the IRS.

I misfiled our tax extension. My husband, who is hilarious, wrote a letter to the IRS asking for clemency due to new-baby-induced Jello Brain. The IRS, who are apparently also hilarious, quoted him in their response.

I scanned the letter and he put it on Facebook. It went viral.

That afternoon during a lull in the daily baby-management, I hopped on Reddit to post the letter and discovered that someone had put it up hours earlier. Our funny IRS letter was now at the top of Reddit’s front page.

Over 1,800 people left comments and opinions. Everyone was pretty nice and we enjoyed the discussion. Some IRS employees even chimed in, talking about their jobs and lives.

This is the nature of the Internet. Something strikes a chord in our collective subconscious, and we share it with ourselves at the speed of thought.

I think we are all a little afraid of the IRS.

They seem to speak a slightly different language. They use phrases like: “A nonbusiness bad debt must be treated as a short-term capital loss” and look at us expectantly.

Every year they make us do math. They know our financial secrets, and they remind us that our money will be spent by people we probably didn’t elect, on things we might not like.

They could put us in jail. They took down Al Capone.

As a result, people yearn for a bit of humor from the IRS. I think any reminder that the government is made of people who are themselves parents and taxpayers is welcome news.

Anything to break the tension.

Tube Food

My young daughter is eating solid food. She has two lower teeth, which she uses to great effect, scraping away like a reverse-squirrel. This is an exciting time for my husband and I, since we get to share some of our favorite foods with her. We also get to see these favorite foods converted into sneeze-splatter and spread across the front of our work shirts. Know this: Bibs are not just for infants.

After a few weeks of experimenting with toddler-cuisine, I’ve changed the way I shop for groceries. Instead of perusing the shelves of my local organic butcher, thinking “hmm would this hanger steak would be good pan-seared with truffle salt?”, I now think things like: “I wonder what other tube-shaped food this Safeway carries?” and, “Oh wow, you could really get a grip on those cheese sticks.”

As a freshly-minted Bay Area foodie, Elizabeth is more pencil sharpener than connoisseur.

As a freshly-minted Bay Area foodie, Elizabeth is more pencil sharpener than connoisseur. We hand her a Morningstar Farms veggie sausage when she wakes up, and listen for the high pitched buzzing sound as she fragments it into a light rain of sausage-shavings which patter to the floor. We then lift our soy-sawdust covered child out of the highchair, shake her up and down, and deposit her back in the living room where she carries out her daily experiments.

Bagels are her favorite. Despite its mammoth size, a cinnamon-raisin bagel is easy to grip in both hands and wave around. After a few minutes eating the proportional equivalent of a telephone pole, she holds the bagel over her head and shrieks in delight, praising her sky-gods for the gift of carbohydrates.

she holds the bagel over her head and shrieks in delight, praising her sky-gods

At the end of a long day’s eating, it has been my distinct pleasure to discover bagel parts at the bottom of my bra, where they have been covertly deposited by Elizabeth during one of her periods of arm-waving and violent twisting. I believe she has come to view my cleavage as some sort of pantry for the deposit and withdrawal of delicious food items. Rather than admitting defeat and covering my lingerie with contact paper, I’ve decided to try and interest her in vegetables, which I hope will be gentler and more refreshing in the knockers-region.

Things that now qualify as “me time”

Breastpumping
My commute to work
Taking a shower
The three block walk to return my library books
Sleeping
Leaning on my similarly exhausted husband and staring vacantly at something on a screen

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**UPDATE** I just finished Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants and was put to shame by her fantastic list of “Me Time” activities. I totally forgot to mention “Say you’re going to look for the diaper crème, then go into your child’s room and just stand there until your spouse comes in and curtly says, ‘What are you doing?’”

Go buy her book.

A Parent’s Life as a Video Game

Header Texture

I work in the video game industry, so I tend to think of life in these terms. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I realized that pregnancy is essentially a really immersive resource-conservation RPG. I was always asking myself questions like: “Do I pick up this stuff on the floor, or do I save my Bending Over points for later?”

Recently several of my coworkers became parents, so in celebration of my fecund and nerdy cohort, here’s a description of my last week written entirely in video game terms:

Select character

  •   Warrior (Battle baroque parental leave laws)
    .
  •  Wizard sprite Wizard (Create nutritious meals for baby using own body)
    .
  • Rogue sprite Rogue (Sneak around to accomplish things while the baby sleeps)
    .
  •   Paladin (The power of the Coffee God will protect your party)
    .

New player tutorial

Read Kid Wrangling by Kaz Cooke, SuperBaby by Jenn Berman, and The Cat in the Hat over and over and over and over.

Challenge

Find outfits for upcoming family photo. Avoid decade-indicating fashion or hairstyles.

Parental achievement unlocked!

Raffi song stuck in head for more than four days.

Bonus

How long can you deflect drool from your work clothes? GO!

Level up!

Child can now turn pages of a book. Good work!

Save game

Improve your long-term memory by adding minutes of sleep during train commute

Cheat

Enter “Up up down down left right start” in the deductions section of your tax form

Parenthood by Percentages

image courtesy of Thorne Enterprises

In case anyone is interested in the relative effects of a New Baby, I ran a few numbers this morning.

-65% Cussing
-50% Cups of Coffee Consumed
-98% Cups of Coffee Consumed While Still Warm
-98% Alcohol Consumed Before Childbirth
+98% Alcohol Consumed After Childbirth
+50% Loads of Laundry/Week
+100% Loads of Laundry Involving Poo
+350% Smiles from Strangers
+60% Visitors
+300% Visits to Library
+10% Upper Body Strength (12 pound weight)
+75% Breast Size
+30% Body Size
-5% Brain Size
-50% Sleep
-100% Uninterrupted Sleep
+200% Jokes About Sleep
+200% Jokes About Poo
+50% Actual Poo
+10% Unsolicited Advice
-10% Need For Unsolicited Advice per Weekly Age of Infant
+3000% Life/Injury Insurance
+25% Ominous Feeling That Adulthood Has Arrived
+100% Heart-stopping Baby Smiles

Books for busy mums and other humans

Reading has been a challenge lately, due to new baby and the delirium that accompanies around-the-clock breastfeeding. On the other hand, it has taken me three months to be able to comfortably leave the house, so I’ve had quite a bit of downtime.

My favorite book that I’ve read lately is, appropriately, about raising happy infants. Superbaby, by Dr. Jenn Berman was a gift from my mom the librarian, and has been a great help. It is a compendium of research and useful information from a variety of sources. So rather than an exhaustive study of, say, the positive effects of using ASL as baby sign, it dedicates a nicely summarized chapter and moves along. For the attention deprived among us, it is a quick way to wade through a pile of information.

When I was pregnant, I read about 500 Terry Pratchett books. I was emotionally wrung-out, and they provided just the right balance of humor and comfortingly happy endings to keep me going. If you haven’t read any of the Discworld novels, I often recommend Small Gods, or Guards, Guards!, but you can start anywhere. If it were possible, I and almost everyone I know would like to give Terry Pratchett a hug for being such a nifty writer.

Connie Willis. I’ve been working my way through everything she has ever written, novels, short stories, novellas, introductions and interviews. I don’t usually obsess this much over reading an author’s full catalog, but Connie Willis shares many of the same qualities that make me enjoy Terry Pratchett, in addition to a fantastic grasp of European history and a charming tendency to always turn the Most Frustrating character into the means of Everything Working Out in the End.

If you haven’t read any Connie Willis, I suggest starting with the short story Firewatch, then her novel Doomsday Book. Next, skip over and read the classic Jerome K. Jerome story Three Men in a Boat: to Say Nothing of the Dog. Once you’ve done this, grab Willis’ To Say Nothing of The Dog, a wonderful homage to both Jerome and Dorothy Sayers.

Oops. Happy Daughter is waking up. That’s all for now. Website improvements will continue at their current plodding pace. Thanks for reading!

Out in the daylight with a stroller

By Mo Kaiwen 莫楷文

I’m sitting at a cafe with my infant daughter. I feel like a monster of productivity, having successfully left the house twice in one day, eaten actual meals, and avoided being covered in poo (for the time being).

Elizabeth is the daughter, three months old. She sleeps in the stroller I thought I would never use. As a non-parent, I had overlooked its function as a laptop/sweater/blanket/grocery/diaperbag-carrier, and had no understanding of the speed at which it knocks out a fussy baby.

The last three months have been a time of great change. I am clocking in at about one life lesson every three hours.

Recently I’ve learned:

  • To type fast and not muck about with formatting while the baby’s napping. Editing is not for parents.
  • If you can afford it, fresh fruit is always a worthwhile purchase.
  • That you can’t go for a walk in my neighborhood without tripping over a stroller or a border collie.
  • Sweden makes awesome baby equipment (Jané: the 4×4 truck of strollers)
  • If you join a clan and are online regularly at 3am, you can make lots of friends in Finland, and Norway.
  • Other Scandinavians mock Swedes out of some obscure national rivalry. The punchline of every joke is inevitably “Svensk”. If you understand this, please let me know.

Right, that’s it for now. Elizabear is waking up and we’ve got some major walking to do.

Top Five Things I Have Learned About Babies

My daughter, Elizabeth West Firment, was born in early November. The last…ever since…has been a nonstop, nonsleep blur of boobs, love, fuss, and delirium. In the process, I have learned these five things:

  • Ceiling fans are TV for babies.
  • At week six, nursing goes from being a special woodchipper for your nipples to something fairly ok. Eventually, it will become rather pleasant, and you will be able to play World of Warcraft while feeding your child, like my friend Kelly’s wife does. I’m pretty sure she levels up faster by simultaneously breastfeeding and p0wning n00bz.
  • The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day.
  • There is a 4am. It comes before 5am, which is that time  you read about once that precedes 6am. You do not have the right to a full night’s sleep. You have given that right to your baby, who may use it as she sees fit.
  • Your baby’s smile generates a burst of hormones that if necessary will enable you to lift a car or cut out your own spleen.

Photos are up on flickr. Thanks for all the casseroles!

Happy Fathers Day

This is my dad, the best joker in the world.

Who else would dance to “Re: Your Brains” (Jonathan Coulton’s Zombie song) at his daughter’s wedding?

My dad, the legally blind man who taught me to drive a stick shift.

This is the guy who plopped me in front of a VIC-20 when I was 5 years old and taught me LOGO.

He kept Adobe font catalogs and WIRED magazine around the house, inspiring a lifelong love of design and geekery.

I owe him most of my bad jokes, and all of my pedanticism.

It’s a good life. Thanks Dad!