2021: A year of rolling with it

In 2021, I have become a father, bought an RV, and spent 6 months off work – the longest period away from my job since I was 15.

An advice that I quite often give is to accept reality as it is and act accordingly, instead of demanding it to improve. We took our own advice this year and it has been paying dividends.

COVID has disrupted our carefully crafted jetsetter lifestyle full of travel and exotic destinations. We interpreted it as a signal to start a family and adopt a dog. We always talked about getting an RV to travel with the whole piszek gang, so we bought one as well (Hilariously, the conversation forked from the tough task of buying a baby car seat. After all, if we’re buying a seat, we have to get one that will fit both the car and the future RV).

Two years of consecutive lockdowns and travel bans later I now recognize, how lucky we were to implement all of those plans at once without dillydallying. Instead of clinging to hopes of our past lifestyle returning, we were able to enjoy a new, quite awesome one. Many people came to the same conclusions 6 months later, only to be met with years-long wait times for the RVs.

One sliver of my glorious globetrotter past is my Star Alliance Gold status, which I managed to retain, despite two years of being grounded. We will see how long I can keep up the charade.

Parenting

The first lesson my best friend gave me about parenting was:

The key is to have no expectations. The moment you start expecting anything, you have lost

On one front, I have internalized these wise words. I promised my daughter not to coerce her too much and I think I have kept that promise, to our mutual benefit.

I am known to dabble in self-development, so many of my friends assumed I will put my poor child through “educational” apps, experiences, and toys. So far, I have been able to treat those with utter indifference, allowing Ewa to direct her learning herself. I hope to continue that trend.

The area where I made too many assumptions was the curriculum of my parental leave. As I mentioned before, I am fortunate enough to work at a company that gives all parents 6 months of paid time off. This probably deserves it’s own post.

Caring for a 6-to-11-month-old turned out to be much more of an involved affair than I hoped. It corrected my prior assumptions about what goals I’ll be able to accomplish, but it also gave me so much context about women’s and primary caretakers’ role in society. I have so much more respect for both of those groups now.

My wife always suspected she would leave her job after we’d start a family, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea. I always felt it was a little presumptuous – maybe I wanted to share the day-to-day of wrangling family life, maybe being a stay-at-home-dad was my future and should deserve an equal chance?

After experiencing it, I am now fully convinced that my strengths lie elsewhere. There are probably endless jokes about clueless men, but I really gave it my best shot and spent precious moments with my baby. Still, meaningful contributions at my work feel much more effortless whereas playing with the same toy for the nth time is just exhausting. I am deeply grateful that it’s the other way around for my wife.

If 2021’s theme is to accept the new reality and roll with it, then us scaling down the spending and me becoming a sole provider is probably the way to go, at least for some time.

Health & Fitness

Getting a better handle on my health was one of those goals of my parental leave that I failed to achieve. Despite close to 200 workouts, my weight barely moved. Maybe it staying still despite pizza, pasta, and wine is a win after all.

In the end, I think I didn’t really care enough about that goal. My mom put me to shame this year:

My new resolution for 2022 is to take it seriously. I’ll begin with a habit of eating mostly the same things – trays of baked veggies & chicken thighs

Memorable experiences

  1. So many smiles of my baby girl. Digital photography is a blessing, and observing the changes of the little cheerfull creature living under our roof is the best thing ever.
  2. My Wife and I managed to approach (almost) all challenges as a team, and the Baby strained our relationship like never before. We strived to play to our strenghts, and ensure everybody’s needs are met, with no bookkeeping, and grudges. I hope we manage to keep it up or even get better.
  3. Exploring Europe with our RV – particularly small towns and mountains of Southern Tyrol, strolling through charming (and quite empty) Venice, Swimming in lake Garda (and many others), and enjoying Italian sunshine, tomatoes and wine,
  4. Visiting friends abroad was much more fun than expected. Every time I do it, it feels a little bit of a hassle, but am very happy afterwards. I wish I reached out to my Munich friends one day sooner to enjoy Octoberfest with them,
  5. We invited a goat to our remote meeting at work. I am really proud of it
  6. Zooms are fine, but finally meating my team in Mexico was such a great experience – we realized how amazing of a fit we are, and I remembered how I miss flying (and turtles),
  7. One day before our meetup, I manage do squeeze in Scuba Diving in Cozumel Coral reef – the second biggest in the world. I hope to scuba more in 2022
  8. Helping to organize a Solarpunk Art Contest, resulting in some amazing submissions

My work

When I stepped back from the annoyances of day-to-day for six months, I realized that Automattic is quite an awesome company and I have been doing great, challenging, and fulfilling work. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work on projects critical to our mission a couple of times, solving complicated problems with friends.

My only concern is bureaucracy bloat that can be inevitable with the company growth, but we’ve been fending it off successfully so far.

My writing

Throughout 2021 I have managed to keep up my posting schedule, managing to publish at least one post per week. Only in the last stretch – November, and December, I have failed to keep up due to parenting responsibilities. That is why I am so determined to publish this post today, on January 1.

Two of my posts ended up on top of Hacker News, bringing quite a bit of traffic to my site:

It seems that I have developed a bit of a framework to getting featured in this community. I also re-took the Write Of Passage writing course, which I still endorse wholeheartedly. If you want to work on the inner game of blogging, developing your ideas, and the substance of your writing, this continues to be the best resource out there.

Till September of last year, I was running two blogs: Deliber.at, where I would write about self-development and making your life deliberate, and Piszek.com, where I would put all my other writing. The reason to have Deliber.at as a separate entity was my hope of turning it into something bigger and more focused – a project that could stand on its own.

This year, I decided to limit my concerns, and roll everything into Piszek.com. Now, all my writing is unapologetically a personal affair, touching on a variety of subjects. I feel freer now to pursue my curiosity, and if you want to tag along – you are more than welcome!

I hope 2022 to be the year of Leisure.

Book: The Scientist in The Crib

But what makes a science really advance isn’t just the astonishing geniuses, it’s the methods that allow us ordinary idiots to do the same thing as the astonishing geniuses.

“The Scientist in the Crib” by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl explores how children explore the world using scientific methods or – the scientific method is built on the framework that children use to explore the world.

Children build theories on the world, test them methodically, and will try out just about anything with unwavering enthusiasm.

It’s not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children.

Children and good scientists use the same methods, and they are equally baffled and amazed by the world. They conduct real experiments and note their effects with astounding diligence.

The “Theory Theory” states that children have theories of the world

Babies learn about the world by interacting with it. Only after having an experience they can name it. They have a “language explosion” at the same time they learn to solve new problems – like object permanence, manipulation, etc.

  • Babies who are figuring out the sounds of language babble
  • Babies who are figuring out how we see objects play hide&seek
  • Babies who are learning how people think, play imitation games

Experiments show that babies are born with the ability to recognize every syllable of every language. After 1 year, they are limited only to the language they hear at home, so they’ll lose vowels they don’t hear their parents speak. After another 14 years, they’ll pay big money for language classes to recognize those sounds again.

I was dismissive of Baby Talk, but it turns out its really valuable and tailored precisely for language learning:

  • Elongated vowels
  • Clear sounds
  • Slight variations of the same sentence “What a nice toy you have, such a nice toy, who has a nice toy?”

Funny how we’re such great teachers instinctively. Put down your Mozart tapes.

There are no adults

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that in fact there are no adults, and we’re all big babies in oversized suits trying to figure this all out as we go along (I even wrote something to that effect in my wedding vows).

But if even children themselves aren’t “childlike,” the whole picture collapses. There are no savages, noble or otherwise, and there are no “children of nature,” not even among children. There are only human beings, children and grown-ups, women and men, hunter-gatherers and scientists, trying to figure out what’s going on.

As with hard distinction between people and animals, or mind and body, Aristotle is yet again proven wrong. Hilariously, the book shares Plato’s student’s work on Men and Women having different numbers of teeth, a view he probably didn’t consult with his wife. Men have a long history of theorizing without confronting their ideas with facts.

like Aristotle with the teeth, neither Freud nor Skinner took the step of doing systematic experiments with children or babies. Freud largely relied on inferences from the behavior of neurotic adults, and Skinner on inferences from the behavior of only slightly less neurotic rats. And like the philosophers, Freud and Skinner got the developmental story wrong, too.

The more we learn about babies, animals, and the universe, the more we are confronted with our own unremarkableness. It was a nice myth to treat ourselves as the final achievement of evolution, but we’re just lucky animals.

Due to frequent child deaths (as described in Factfulness), children were treated as less than adults for the majority of history. It was an easy way out of both the gruesome reality of child death and the preservation of the special status of the full-grown humans. But we have to get real now.

Parenting

Maybe this book’s biggest benefit is preparing me for the challenges ahead. My baby girl is 6 months old now, and already testing her parents’ patience a little bit more every day. So-called “Terrible Twos” sound particularly scary, and the book helps me to mentally prepare and understand her antics later. She is not out to make me angry, she’s just trying to learn the world. Repeat that again and breathe.

The terrible twos seem to involve a systematic exploration of that idea, almost a kind of experimental research program. Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict.

It will also help to prevent me from strolling up and down the block like a proud peacock whenever she does something impressive:

Parents egocentrically tend to think that they are the deciding factors in their children’s lives. But for a two-year-old, an older brother or sister may actually be a more enthralling exemplar of human nature.

I’m already struggling as my little girl tests the object permanence where she drops toys on purpose to see if that picks them up. He does.

The traditional environment where the children grew up was very different from the modern family. Remote work brings us back, with children being closer to their parents during the day instead of being locked away in daycare

“Perhaps the telecommuting home office with the crib next to the fax machine will turn out to be the contemporary equivalent of the baby on the sling on its mother’s back or the father plowing next to his children”

Read more in “Farmers always worked from home”

Related Books

My Kindle highlights

  • We decided to become developmental psychologists and study children because there aren’t any Martians.
  • worst of all when we turn to the sounds that
  • Our job as developmental psychologists is to discover what program babies run and, someday, how that program is coded in their brains and how it evolved.
  • Finally, the babies have the universe’s best system of tech support: mothers.
  • For human beings, nurture is our nature. The capacity for culture is part of our biology, and the drive to learn is our most important and central instinct.
  • It’s not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children.
  • But if even children themselves aren’t “childlike,” the whole picture collapses. There are no savages, noble or otherwise, and there are no “children of nature,” not even among children. There are only human beings, children and grown-ups, women and men, hunter-gatherers and scientists, trying to figure out what’s going on.
  • Luria, wildly excited by his results, couldn’t wait for the Trans-Siberian Railroad journey back and telegraphed Vygotsky, “Tatars have no illusions.” He was immediately arrested; there was only one subject about which Tatars could have no illusions. Luria decided to leave developmental psychology and became a military brain surgeon at the front—it was safer. Vygotsky himself avoided the purges only by dying young, at thirty-eight.
  • like Aristotle with the teeth, neither Freud nor Skinner took the step of doing systematic experiments with children or babies. Freud largely relied on inferences from the behavior of neurotic adults, and Skinner on inferences from the behavior of only slightly less neurotic rats. And like the philosophers, Freud and Skinner got the developmental story wrong, too.
  • But what makes a science really advance isn’t just the astonishing geniuses, it’s the methods that allow us ordinary idiots to do the same thing as the astonishing geniuses.
  • One-month-old babies imitate facial expressions. If you stick your tongue out at a baby, the baby will stick his tongue out at you; open your mouth, and the baby will open hers.
  • The newborns imitated, too.
  • When babies are around a year old, they begin to point to things and they begin to look at things that other people point to.
  • The terrible twos seem to involve a systematic exploration of that idea, almost a kind of experimental research program. Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict.
  • Systematic studies indicate that two-year-olds begin to show genuine empathy toward other people for the first time.
  • (3 y/o) always thought there were pencils in the box. It’s as if the children think that since there is only one world out there, a single reality, everyone will understand it the same way. People will never have different beliefs about the same thing, and they themselves will never change their minds about anything.
  • The children, though, make just the same mistakes whether they are reporting their own mental state or predicting the mental states of other people.
  • A relatively brief experience of a friend or an aunt or a teacher can provide children with an alternative picture of how love can work.
  • Three-year-olds do act like lovers toward their parents. In fact, they act like lovers out of Italian opera, with passionate and sensual embraces and equally passionate despair at separation and jealousy of rivals.
  • We can show systematically that “real” lies only begin to appear at about four, at the same time that children start to understand “false-belief” problems like the deceptive candy box. Similarly, children only begin to understand that they can be deceived at about that age.
  • Children with autism don’t seem to have the fundamental presupposition that they are like other people and other people are like them.
  • They are likely to understand the trick box problem at a younger age than older siblings. And the more brothers and sisters children have, the better they do.
  • Parents egocentrically tend to think that they are the deciding factors in their children’s lives. But for a two-year-old, an older brother or sister may actually be a more enthralling exemplar of human nature.

Hello World!

Life does not come with a user manual. But why?
This series of posts is addressed to my baby daughter and documents the aspects of life that I should have learned at school but didn’t.


The World says Hello

This week, you were born. The angels, wise wild animals from the depths of the jungle, fairies, elves, and wizards came by to welcome you to this endlessly fascinating world. They also gave us lots of advice about your magical powers and supernatural destiny, but that is not relevant now.

Today, I’m writing to let you know about all my good intentions. I know life can be bumpy sometimes, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to stay the course and be a half-decent dad. My dad (grandpa Robert) was an amazing example, and I can only hope I can play the same role for you.

I have no experience of growing up as a girl, so I will probably behave awkwardly at times (or all the time). But I’m also a firm believer that there is no such thing as ‘girly’ or ‘boy’ things and games. We’ll have tons of fun dressing up our dog for the ball, hiking, pointing out this funny bird, building tables, and whatever else will captivate us both.

I think all parents start with good intentions and high hopes of being there for their children. But good adults, good parents, and good people sometimes do stupid things (quite often actually).

We sometimes convince ourselves that the best way to do a [good thing] is to suffer through a [bad thing] first. For example:

  • “I need to work plenty of overtime, sacrificing playtime so my family is wealthy and my baby can have a good life.
  • “We cannot stay and watch the leaves fall because we have to rush to the pottery class so that my baby can do something interesting.”
  • “I need to teach my baby respect so that she can appreciate me.”

If you stop and think you may discover that the thing in front of you is what you were seeking all along and this convoluted game in your head is useless.

I have to note that daddy is not super smart here. This is a very often repeated lesson – something we call a cliche.

But we adults forget things all the time, especially the cliches we hear a lot. We like to pretend we are so smart that these basic lessons are beyond us. And that is what I need your help with.

I need you to help me remember these basic lessons and make me stop and think about them with you. We, adults, are always in a hurry and in our heads. But you are smart and not yet tainted by the adult ways of thinking. I encourage you to try to stay that way.

Many adults like to play the “I have this figured out” game. It’s like playing house or any pretending – we act as if we know everything, we dole out advice, and act like we are better than everyone who admits they don’t know.

It’s only a game and the truth is that we’re all learning – just as you. I’m here a little bit longer but don’t have all the answers yet. I hope I can answer your questions thoughtfully and admit when I don’t know. “Because I say so” is never a good answer and you should not accept it from anybody – even from Daddy.

My final ask is that you have some patience for Mommy and Daddy. We are sometimes tired or hungry and say things we don’t mean (like “because I say so”). You will do things you don’t mean when you are tired too. As I said – I’m here a little longer, but otherwise, I’m a child too.

I’m sure the next few decades we spend together will be filled with fun and learning. They are the same thing really.


Your loving Daddy.

PS: Your Mom also has a letter for you.