Me and my partner became parents. Our little one is the best. We shared parental leave throughout the year. Three months together. Four months with my partner leading care and me at work. Four months with me leading care and my partner at work. Then the final month together again. It’s a privilege to have the support of my employer to spend most of our baby’s first year together.
I can’t condense a year of new parenthood into something pithy and blog friendly. Instead I’ll pull out something that has stuck with me. Me and my partner split nights in the first few months. We swapped at 3am when I’d wake up and takeover care until 7am (I’d get more sleep later in the day). I’d head down to the lounge, hold my baby, and watch muted & subtitled films in the dark. It sounds rubbish but was oddly cosy. I got to see the days get a little longer each day over those dark months. Spring arrived eventually and we’d see the Sun rise each day. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before. There have been lots of things like this - weird, hard, exhausting, rewarding, idyllic - that I couldn’t have imagined beforehand.
The global plague meant that we couldn’t see much of our friends and family this year. They were sad not to see our little one as they’ve grown and changed. And it’s meant that we’ve had no time off, our baby has spent the entire year with one or both of us at all times. But the pandemic has had less of an impact than we’d expected, on balance. The whole year has been like the first mornings - weird, hard, exhausting, rewarding, and idyllic.
Few shout outs:
- Me and my partner figured out that stress and sleep deprivation made us weird at times. We decided to trust each other and give each other a free pass, for the most part. If we were being weird or grumpy it was the natural consequence of having 3.5 hours sleep and being worried about keeping a tiny human alive
- Our National Childbirth Trust (NCT) group was a life saver. Not being able to see much of family or friends could have made for a very lonely year. Knowing other parents in the area via NCT meant meetups for coffee and a walk at least 2-3 times a week. Weekly stay and play at the Children’s Centre also helped to get out and about with other parents
- Victoria Park in Hackney has been great for getting out of the house, meeting people, getting coffee, feeding the ducks (and geese, and seagulls, and moorhens), and (more recently) swings and slides. Lockdown would have been very different without this amazing public space.
I normally make espresso at home with my Gaggia Classic. It’s not particularly baby friendly. It takes a while to setup, gets very hot, and requires a lot of attention. Not something that works well alongside a small person. I switched to a moka pot for a while, and enjoyed it. But still preferred espresso. So I was intrigued when a new product appeared in the Summer. I watched a review of something that’s essentially a moka pot with an additional section that builds up the 9 bars of pressure required to produce espresso. The product’s called ‘9barista’. I bought one. It’s fun and fits my (extremely niche) set of needs. Here’s a Twitter thread showing my first few uses, and here’s a blog post with more info.
Coffee was an excuse to get out of the house and see people too. Me and my partner would go for walks for a takeaway coffee to escape the house for a bit. We’d meet other parents for a takeaway coffee then walk around the park. Takeaway coffee and cake was an easy way to support local, independent business. The coffee shop owners were lovely too. Our local coffee shop is particularly sweet with our little one and baked them a cake for Christmas. It was nice to have this little bit of normality in a year like 2020.
I finally registered with a GP in September 2019 after a gap of a few years. All was OK except my blood pressure was a little high. Nothing to cause a problem now but the kind of thing that could be serious in ten years. Looking at reasons for this, it was probably due to salt intake in my case, so I cut this down. More exercise would help too. Small baby meant that walking naturally increased to 2-3 hours a day. Carrying babies and prams for hours a day covers off ‘doing weights’. The thing still missing was exercise to get me out of breath a couple of times a week. I swam competitively at school but had never made it fit into my life as an adult, despite trying for years and years. I’d also cycled and run as a child, to help my swimming training. I’d always enjoyed the cycling and disliked the running. So it was cycling that I’d tried to get back into as an adult but never kept at because I don’t find London a nice place to ride. I’d been stuck in these failed attempts to swim and cycle for about a decade. One day in July I was thinking about this when I was interrupted by a runner appearing in front of me. Then another. And another. And finally realised that running is probably the thing that fits easiest into my adult life right now. It sounds obvious, and it is, but it never ‘clicked’ for me before.
I decided to give running a go the same day that inspiration struck. I’m approaching 40 and know that my body’s a lot creakier than it was as a teenager. So i got some tips on how to run safely in your 40s. Then went out in my dog-eared shorts, battered Vans, and baby-sick-covered t-shirt. I started in the Summer and am still going at the end of the year. Here’s how it’s developed.
- Location: Victoria Park is near me and lovely so I’ve always run here
- Version 1: Decided not to track distance or speed. Or to buy any specialist kit. Just go out, run, see what happens. I ran until I felt tired. Then walked until I felt better. And repeated. I naturally covered the east-side of Victoria Park in this way. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any distance at all so it was a good confidence-boost to be able to run after all these years. It took me about 50 minutes door-to-door, including walking to the park and back, and having two walking-breaks during the run.
- Version 1.1: I did this a couple of times before realising that my old Vans were not appropriate footwear if I didn’t want to injure myself. My demands were limited (basically: a lot of cushioning to protect my shins and knees, cuz I’m old) so had a lot of options. I went with a pair from Nike because they were on offer, had a video explaining how they work featuring their product manager, and would arrive in time for my next run. They successfully helped me to run in greater safety and comfort.
- Version 1.2: I’m running the east half of Victoria Park in 3 sections. I run the eastern-most side; then walk the corner; then run the straight along the canal; then walk across to the other side of the park; then run the back straight home again. I started using each section for a different purpose. First run is uphill so I took it slow, warmed-up, and paid attention to how my body was doing. Second section is flat so I’d run more quickly and get out of breath. Final section, I’d do whatever felt good on the day (slower if I was tired, quicker if I had more energy).
- Version 2: My partner went back to work and I switched to solo-parenting during the week. This made running during the day trickier. I didn’t want to lose the momentum I’d built up so decided to buy a running buggy. They are expensive but I wasn’t spending money on much else so decided to take the plunge. I paused running for a couple of weeks to choose one, order, and build one, then got going again. I went for the Out n About Nipper Sport, based on some kind advice from others. Then carried on my running pattern as before except this time with pushing a baby in front of me. Running became hard. I was way more out of breath by the end of it. And showering when I got home became logistically more interesting.
- Version 3: My partner’s work patterns change and twice a week they could go into work a little later. I made these my running days so I could run solo again and ditch the running buggy. The first day I did this I ran straight through my normal ‘walking’ section without noticing’ only realising later in the run. The buggy had helped increase my stamina in just a couple of months. I carried on doing the run with just a single walking section from this point.
- Version 3.1: One day I decided to try running the whole thing without any walking. And succeeded! I was very tired. And had to slow down a lot for a couple of bits. But did it. I’d started running in July when the thought of being able to run the whole route in one go seemed silly. Skip forward to October and it felt ace to have made progress in a few months.
- Version 3.2: A mate who runs properly joined me in November and we did the route together so we could catch up for the first time in months. He tracks his runs so this was the first time that I got some stats. I’m doing a distance of 3.25km, taking about 18.25 minutes, with a pace of about 5:43 minutes per km. I’d guess that I’ve run 120km+ over the year.
I don’t always enjoy the whole act of running, to be honest. But each run has moments I enjoy. Being the first person in the park in the morning feels special. Running through the mist is nice. And I always feel good afterwards. Next: In 2021 I’m going to try and build up to running 5km - helpfully, that’s the approximate length of the whole park. I’ll be happy if I’m doing that 2-3 times a week by the end of the year.
2010-2020 career retrospective
I took shared parental leave for a lot of 2020 and switched my brain off work mode, for the most part. But I also kept things ticking over in the background, helped by doing a ten year retrospective of my career. I gave myself 6 months. Didn’t rush. And learned things I’d never thought of before. You can see it here.
I’ve started a newsletter alongside the 10 year retro. It’s aimed at product managers in Government Departments or Agencies, Local Authorities, Charities, Non-profits, Social enterprises, or Non-Governmental Organisations. I’m hoping it’ll amplify product management that puts people before profit. Currently at 200+ subscribers after the first few episodes.
The retro and newsletter have helped me to sketch out the bones of a book about product management that puts people before profit. The working title is ‘Good Product Management’. I’ve drafted 15,000+ words, have figured out the overall structure, and hope to finish and publish in 2021. You can see the most recent update here.