Greg Boone

Category: Uncategorized

How parenting has changed me so far

Before I became a dad, a few of people told me something along the lines of “being a dad changes your brain chemistry.” The new person in the world, the unique responsibility you have for that human, and the pure joy they bring to your life rewires your brain. There’s some science to the idea that parenting builds new pathways in your brain, that fathers and mothers both new and unique hormones during pregnancy and once the baby arrives. Not exactly rewiring but upgraded wiring?

This really makes a lot of sense. Becoming a new parent, you go overnight from getting a full night’s sleep any night you want one to wondering when you’ll get a full 90 minutes again. Add to that the stress of somehow remaining a productive employee at work on low sleep. Your brain has to push itself to the limit. You want to keep up with your kid’s development and you also have a mortgage or rent to pay. Eventually, you have to cook something. Eventually, you have to go for a bike ride. Eventually, you adapt. The bizarre state of parental leave and health care in our country means that most parents have this much worse.

One thing I don’t think happens is long term changes in your brain chemistry. You might have a temporary surge of different neurotransmitters which may make the depression less visible but in the end, your brain will adapt and the chemical imbalance will return.

About a month after László was born, my mom left my dad. It was a bombastic event that, while somewhat expected, didn’t have to happen when or how it did. A lot of responsibility was thrown on my brother and me that day that cumulatively lurched my depression back to life. The easiest coping mechanism available was all to familiar: Run. Disregard. Withdraw. Dwell.

Trevor Noah recently did a great interview for WNYC’s Death Sex and Money podcast where he talked about depression. He, too, belongs to the roughly 20% of Americans suffering from depression. One thing that resonated with me about how he talked about depression is how a lot of people think it’s about being sad. It’s not about being sad. As Noah put it, it’s more like “sometimes I do not see the purpose of getting out of my bed or living life.” Sometimes, I do not see the purpose of going to my job, or baking a pie, or exercising. Other times, I obsess over things that don’t require obsession: Big things beyond any one person’s power like the sorry state of bike and transit infrastructure in the US; small things that are 100% changeable like how I’m perpetually dissatisfied with how my clothes fit. If I don’t catch myself, I fall hard.

Depression is a terribly selfish thing to suffer because your default settings indulge yourself at the expense of everyone else. Becoming a father doesn’t change any of that. I hoped it would but it doesn’t.

What it does do is give tremendous new urgency to the work of maintaining my wellness. Suddenly, the custody over a new human means the basics of my life need to be covered. I need to work smarter and can no longer defer maintenance. This means making sure medication is in my bag the night before a trip so I don’t fall behind. It means keeping up with a counselor and following through on their advice. It means setting boundaries and actionable goals instead of obsessing and dwelling on problems.

Another thing that changes is the frequency of opportunities for breaking the cycle. It’s no longer an option to not get out of bed, and it’s easier to reset and see the purpose. That baby, that infant crying in the next room, your partner sleeping beside you: that’s your purpose. If nobody gets out of bed, that child doesn’t eat, doesn’t grow, doesn’t learn, doesn’t thrive.

Of course, it’s possible to ignore all that and blaze ahead on your selfish default settings. Plenty of men did that for centuries. Doing the work helps surface those opportunities, though, and create a virtuous cycle, insulating my depression and helping me, and my family, thrive.

So how has parenting changed me? I’ve been radicalized (again, the first time was in high school). I think a lot about how intractable the privileges our family enjoys are for too many people in our country. This was perhaps most visible in the NICU where we had the privilege to sleep in the hospital and spend every possible moment by László’s side. We were keenly aware of it seeing other parents who had to find time to come into the hospital between shifts, often in uniforms. We shouldn’t live in a society where that’s possible.

When I hear politicians talk about a public option for health care or medicare for all being too costly, too hard to coordinate, all I hear is a lack of will to bring more equity to our economy and political system. When people who paid a few thousand dollars a year to go to college dismiss plans to cancel student loan debt, I hear a lack of empathy for real problems facing millions of young people in our country. When people dismiss climate change I hear ignorance and negligence to act on the number one threat to our collective future.

When I hear the most powerful people in the world spit racist vomit all over the Internet, I feel this sense of mission to raise this kid right. He has an opportunity to be a man who stands up for justice and face down the inequities and inequalities in his future, and we have an opportunity to guide and nurture him to be that person.

Rocky Mountain Way: A crossword puzzle

This is my second crossword, a 15×15 themed puzzle with 68 words. It is themed and though it’s still only an OK puzzle it’s much better than my last in some important ways.

  1. Many fewer obscure clues. The last puzzle had many clues that would be considered too obscure for a submittable puzzle. For example: “Gujarat City SANAND (6)”, “Like a Dickens abbr. SER (3)”, and “Transporter Protien inits. OATP (4)”.
  2. Better clues, or fewer misspelled words. My first puzzle had, for example, “Newsome arrested over racist flag BRI (3)” when her name is BREE (4). It’s still a good clue, I just wish I had been able to use her actual name.
  3. A far superior grid. This puzzle was done with the whole of the NYT “How to make a crossword” series complete and part 3 was immensely helpful for designing a grid that made the puzzle fun and challenging to solve.

My first crossword was designed in Numbers and exported to PDF for printing and submission. The NYT series pointed me to a new web-based and open source crossword builder called Phil. It comes with a word list built in which saved me a few trips to onelook and helped maintain symmetry as I was designing the grid. Phil also exports the puzzle to a printable PDF, including a version ready for submission, PUZ file, and an “xw” file, which appears to be just JSON under the hood.

Here’s the puzzle (and the submitable version with the solution). If you’re so inclined, give it a shot and leave your thoughts about it in the comments. Oh, and despite the improvements, I still don’t have a good clue for 38 across. But here’s a clue for 52 down

Reducing dependence on Amazon

A couple years ago, I fell in love with Amazon Subscribe & Save. I thought it would be handy to have more toilet paper, shampoo, cat litter, and other things we use on the regular shipped straight to us when we ran out. It worked better for some things — like cat food and litter, which we run through more predictably —  than others. We ended up with like a year’s supply of paper towels. It was included in Amazon Prime and we even got a small discount for scheduling more things together.

Dash buttons took us to a whole next level. How convenient, I thought, to be able to just order more of the exact thing I needed at the press of a button. So I got one for paper towels, trash bags, and laundry detergent and promptly cancelled all of our Subscribe and Save.

The thing with Amazon is, they have all kinds of convenient things like this. Amazon Prime itself is super convenient but do we really need it? No. As I’ve started to learn the social cost of these conveniences, I’ve begun thinking twice about whether the convenience is worth the cost.

We cancelled our Prime membership a couple months ago.

Amazon’s impact on Seattle

While Amazon has added thousands of jobs to the city of Seattle, it has also made it a dramatically expensive and inequitable city to live in. The company’s rapid growth has caused a housing shortage to become a housing drought, with the city unable to keep up with demand, despite building new apartments fast than any other city in the country. This wouldn’t be terrible in and of itself but the company doesn’t seem to be doing anything to neutralize the inequities it’s created in the city. Shrugging it off instead as the price of having a company of its size in the community.

Commerce ethics

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person. One might think that means working for his company must be lucrative, right? Maybe it is if you’re one of their software developers, but if you’re one of their delivery drivers, not so much. Amazon Flex pays well for an hourly job, but like many gig economy jobs, employees don’t get the guarantees and protections that full-time employment would carry, and even fewer still than a union-represented job.

Warehouse workers, too, don’t see much share of the fortune being made off of our Prime membership. In fact, several stories in the last couple years have illustrated the social cost of rapid delivery and the conditions endured by the invisible workforce behind Amazon’s product. While $120 per year may be the appropriate price consumers are willing to pay for this product, if that price can’t support the infrastructure keeping it running, it’s not worth supporting.

Too Big to Quit?

Amazon is everywhere. They’re increasingly diversifying their product line to the point where you can get an Amazon brand anything. I have to admit they’re doing a pretty good job of it.

I own several AmazonBasics products because they’re cheaper and about as good as other brands. Walmart, Target, and other big box stores all have their off brands, and AmazonBasics isn’t much different, except that they make basically everything. Amazon Prime Video, too, is turning out some excellent original programs that deserve to be made. I’m glad Amazon is giving them a chance. Finally, Amazon Web Services is inescapable and invisible from most choices you make on the web. One thing these three Amazon products have in common is that they’re really good at what they do. Together with acquisitions like Whole Foods make Amazon increasingly difficult to escape. (A seemingly-local coffee roaster here in Denver is actually owned by Whole Foods and, now, indirectly Amazon.) They’re yet another agglomerate company endemic to modern life.

Just as we can’t stop our bank from selling our mortgage to a giant commercial bank, we can choose to put our microeconomic choices into local businesses. Just as we can bank with a local credit union or community bank, we can choose not to give Amazon $120 every year just for access to their elite delivery service.

We can still get free delivery, it just takes longer without Prime — as long or longer even than the free delivery options from competitors like Target, if our recent experience is any indication. The forcing function of this is that we now seek out things we need quickly from local sources. This sometimes includes big box stores like Target, but also includes the shops in our neighborhood as well. Target may be a big box, but they pay a fair wage to our neighbors and full time employees there have the guarantees and protections that one should expect from a good job.

Some specialized items may only be purchasable from Amazon, but it’s increasingly worth the effort to be more conscious about the social costs of our spending.