The long game

I’m a fan of shortcuts (things we, at the moment, are calling “hacks”). Things like making hard-boiled eggs easy to peel.

I’m a fan of combining moving and brain work. Things like walking meetings and listening to audiobooks and podcasts while running (a recent favorite is Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.

I love that some chores can be done while I do other things. For a two-hour job, laundry has such a short hands-on time that I can toss it in the washer, then go do 45 minutes’ worth of anything else, move it to the dryer and disappear for over an hour, and then it needs folding at some point. I can put five pounds of chicken breast in the slow cooker, spend hours doing everything else, and then I have dinner for two for a week.

I love processes that I can batch. Email a couple of times a day. Portioning a few days’ worth of salads into containers; same for oatmeal.

I think there are some diet and wealth schemes that can get you where you want to go quickly, even if I’m wary of their sustainability.

Discipline can be a good substitute for productivity. Skip the time-wasters, find a routine that includes good habits (meditation and exercise, for example). You’ll find if you take away choices, you get more done.

But not everything is meant to be done quickly.

Health, for instance, is a long game. You can do some things quickly, but then they need maintenance. Lower your blood sugar. Decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Get your kidney health on track. Lower your inflammation. Gut health. Hydration.

Relationships, too. You can form a friendship or business partnership or client relationship in a heartbeat. It takes a lifetime to nurture and build each.

And for every time we’ve looked at a kid and said she’s six going on 25, it’s not true. It takes 18 years to raise an 18 year old. There are no shortcuts.

When I was in kindergarten, I skipped reading group and went to the library. I already knew my ABCs and wanted to read an actual book.

Throughout elementary school, I went to math class in the next grade up.

But it still took me 12 years to get to 12 years old.

And so with a three-week-old girl at home, there’s a giant learning curve. We’re trying to put some weight on her; she’s butcher-scale sized right now and we don’t have a scale that’s going to let us know if we’re getting a couple of ounces on her every three days or so; we just have to wait for doctor’s appointments.

We guess whether her cries are for food, diaper, cuddles or soothing. Her food/soothing cry is distinct; we can tell when she’s hungry because when we pick her up she’ll start looking for a nipple. I have the peck marks to prove it. [OK, not really.]

It’ll be great when she can tell us what she needs or wants, but that time is not coming tomorrow. I don’t want it to come tomorrow.

One thing I learned from comedian Louis CK is this: We’re not raising the child she is. We’re raising the adult she’s going to become. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error along the way. We’re going to do the best we can, realizing that we’re just making it up as we go along.

There will be opportunities for failures — for us as parents and for her — but make no mistake, they are opportunities. You don’t learn anything new when you get things right all the time.

Remember that thing about me being in advanced math throughout elementary school? I would go upstairs from my fifth-grade class to take math with the sixth graders. The teacher introduced to us pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. She briefly mentioned the mystery of the number and that people looked for repeating patterns in the decimal, and then offered it as a fraction, twenty-two sevenths (22/7), without noting that it was a fractional approximation.

Twenty-two divided by seven brings a repeating decimal very quickly, at six decimal places (3.142857142857142857…). I had done the work long-form on paper (no calculator) while in class and presented her with my calculations at the end of class.

“You might be the first person to ever find a pattern!” the teacher exclaimed. And then she looked at my work and frowned. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Twenty-two sevenths is only an approximation.”

That was a failure for her to learn from — explain approximations when they’re approximations — and it was a moment for me to recognize that (a) adults sometimes underestimate children and (b) fifth-graders aren’t actually generally smarter than their teachers. Those were good lessons for me: question everyone and everything, but find a little humility.

I’m not sure why I’m reminded of that, but I’m glad I am.

I’ve long joked with my wife — since long before we had a kid — that if we get a call from a kindergarten teacher that our kid called someone a fucking asshole, my first question would be if the person in question was being a fucking asshole, and if so, my kid wasn’t the problem.

I get the distinct feeling some of my choices as a parent are going to be a little on the unusual side. I’ve got some good role models and peers to lean on.

But the hardest thing for me to remember here is that, unlike using baking soda and a temperature shock to make peeling hard-boiled eggs quick, there is no shortcut. It’s a long game raising a decent human, and I’m in it for the long haul.


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