5 things I wish I’d done before having kids

After my list of 10 things I’m glad I did before kids, I could only think of five things for this list, so I think I did pretty well in making the most of my pre-baby life and not having regrets. The only thing on this list that I beat myself up over is #2, because that should have been easy to accomplish, so I really have no excuse for not having done it.

1.    Live in a foreign country

I love the feeling of getting to know a new place and seeing it slowly become home. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere completely different and be immersed in a new language or accent, surroundings, culture, and way of life, to see the foreign become familiar. This is something I wish I had done when I was single, with nothing to keep me from attaching fully to a new place.

2.    Go skinny dipping

My husband and I had this on our To Do list for two years and it never happened. I don’t know why, but skinny dipping symbolized freedom to me. Also, it seemed like something that could only be properly done in Alaska, where beautiful lakes are often secluded. But it turns out that Alaska is a hard place to go skinny dipping, with hypothermia and mosquitos, etc. Now we’re parents and I don’t know when we’ll ever be able to get away by ourselves to a place where it’s possible.

3.    Do a long wilderness expedition with my husband

We’ve done plenty of long trips on our own and short trips together, but never a long trip together. To spend a month or more living and traveling with someone in the wilderness is an accelerated form of intimacy that would beat any honeymoon hands down. And living in the wilderness forces you to confront every personal deficiency and interpersonal conflict in ways that are much better than therapy. It would have been great to do this as a prelude to having kids—but who has the time? Hubby and I have dreams of thru-hiking the CDT someday after we’re retired.

4.    Make lasting friendships

As an INTP, finding people to be friends with and forming fulfilling relationships is probably the hardest thing for me to do. Also, I suck at keeping in touch and maintaining friends, and I really regret not doing more to hold onto the good friendships I’ve made over the years. It’s exponentially harder to make friends as an INTP mom. I’ve met and socialized with a lot of moms, but none yet who I have much more in common with besides being a mom. I’ve never met another INTP mom or even another NT mom. On the other hand, it’s also hard to meet childless friends when I’m always toting around a baby.

5.    Finish graduate school

Because obviously that proved to be impossible after I became a mom.

Living frugally

I’ve mentioned before that my husband is extremely un-materialistic and fiscally responsible. One of his hobbies is personal finance, and I call it a hobby because his idea of a really relaxing activity at the end of a long day is creating financial spreadsheets. I find this utterly adorable, and I’m thankful for his skills in this area because I don’t have them.

Hubby introduced me to the Mr. Money Mustache blog, which has inspired me to take on the mantle of financial responsibility. Mr. Money Mustache is a badass who retired at age 30, solely by living far below his means and saving the majority of his (not outrageous) income. Hubby and I have taken on the goal of early retirement through frugality, though our goals also include being able to pay for college for our daughter and future children.

The “Mustachian” way won me over with two revelations. The first is hedonic adaptation, the principle that material things don’t bring lasting happiness because we very quickly adapt to them. Each new purchase or elevation in lifestyle quickly becomes the new baseline, so there is no real difference in happiness, and the more you have, the more you want. The goal of being frugal is recognizing that you can be just as happy no matter how much money you spend and how much stuff you have. It’s not about buying or having less, it’s about training yourself to want less.

The second is the principle that money equals time. I now think about each unnecessary purchase I might make as being paid for not in dollars, but in the time that my husband or I have to spend apart from our family in order to pay for it. Money can equal time, or it can equal things, and the exchange rate for things is not favorable. Our ultimate goal is to end up with more time than things, by retiring while we are young and healthy enough to spend time doing what we love.

Being frugal also allows us to lead a more balanced life now. If we can live far below our means while saving aggressively, we don’t have to work for the highest bidder at the expense of our family life. We can choose jobs that allow us to spend more time with our family but have lower pay. (Being a stay-at-home-mom falls into this category.) You can always turn time into money and money into things, but not the other way around.


My first job after college was doing field work in Oregon, working rotating shifts. In the mornings when I was on afternoon shift, I would set up a tray table and folding chair on my back porch, and eat breakfast while looking out onto the Columbia River Gorge to the mountains across the river. Sometimes I went hiking for a few hours in the mountains, and showed up to work already full of sweat and the scent of spruce.

When I was single and living alone in Alaska, I dedicated one morning every weekend to lounging in bed. I would stay in bed for hours, drifting in and out of sleep and daydreams, reading books, or writing. When I finally rose after noon to run errands or find the day’s adventures, I was sated from soaking in my relaxing bed and all the daydreams I could muster.

My favorite mornings were the weekend mornings spent with my husband, pre-baby. On Saturday mornings we would both sleep our fill and wake up slowly and sleepily. I loved waking up to him, cuddling close and warm with the luminous day settling around us. We talked and laughed and daydreamed with the vulnerability of having not yet been hardened by the world outside our bed. Those mornings felt like the beginning, the dawn of something wide and wonderful where anything was possible.

These days I am startled awake early by a cry on the baby monitor, pulling me fast and far through many deep layers of sleep. The unrelenting cries pierce through all the efforts of my brain to disappear back into the pillow, and I rise reluctantly to go to the baby’s room. She sits up in her crib and looks at me expectantly while I pick her up and change her diaper. Then we sit in the rocker and she nurses hungrily while I soak in her warm baby smell and try to catch the last rays of relaxation, before she wiggles out of my arms and it’s time to start the day’s race.

Sluices of infinity

9780316187374_custom-a6979da2f8157e8aabbe3508f472c61072bcab8c-s6-c30I have many favorite books, but there are a very few books that echo my mind exactly—in its way of organization, if not in the content it possesses. I’ve found one such book in Thinking in Numbers, a collection of essays about math, by the savant and synesthete Daniel Tammet. If books have personalities, this book is definitely an INTP, which is why it is so kindred to me. Reading these essays helps me reorient my mind to itself and embrace my INTP-ness. Perhaps such kindred books help me remember what I am, as they are an echo of what I could be.

If reading a good book is usually like walking through a gallery of ideas and being introduced to them by the author, reading this book is a boat ride along a river of thought, completely effortless. Each essay carries me along a stream of ideas, carving the same path through the pages as it would in my mind—but with hidden dimensions, illuminated by a mind much more brilliant than mine. Each stream of ideas meanders smoothly, sometimes detouring into a whirlpool that causes a thought to spin around and around in my mind until it makes sense of me. And of course, because this book is an INTP, sometimes there is a jarring leap of ideas in an attempt at smooth transition that makes me wince with awkwardness. But even the awkwardness is of the same kind that I produce.

Each essay explicates a mathematical concept such as fractions or prime numbers, weaving it into a non-mathematical narrative so that they illuminate each other. My favorite essay so far is “The Admirable Number Pi,” which reveals the staggering beauty that I never knew was held in this infinite number.

Circles, perfect circles, thus enumerated, consist of every possible run of digits. Somewhere in pi, perhaps trillions and trillions of digits deep, a hundred successive fives rub shoulders; elsewhere occur a thousand alternating zeroes and ones. Inconceivably far inside the random-looking morass of digits, having computed them for a time far longer than that which separates us from the big bang, the sequence 123456789… repeats 123,456,789 times in a row. If only we could venture far enough along, we would find the number’s opening hundred, thousand, million, billion digits immaculately repeated, as though at any instant the whole vast array were to begin all over again. And yet, it never does. There is only one number pi, unrepeatable, indivisible.

In 2004 the author broke the record for memorizing the most digits of pi. Using his synesthetic ability to see order and meaning within the numbers, he recited pi to 22,514 decimal places.

In my mind, it is I, not the number, who grows small. I diminish myself as much as possible before the mystery of pi. Emptying myself, I perceive every digit up close. I do not wish to fragment the number; I am not interested in breaking it up. I am interested in the dialogue between its digits; in the unity and continuity that underlie them all.

A bell cannot tell time, but it can be moved in just such a way as to say twelve o’clock—similarly, a man cannot calculate infinite numbers, but he can be moved in just such a way as to say pi.