Maternity Leave and Brain Mush Avoidance

I am thrilled to be on maternity leave with my sweet boy Micah for an entire five months. He is now three weeks old and reality is starting to set in: Kenny is back at work and my mom has just returned home to California after spending five weeks helping me out in so many ways. If this leave is anything like the one I spent with Gloria two years ago, I’ll be looking back early next calendar year wondering where the heck the time went and how I’m going to bear leaving my helpless little cutie every day so I can spend a large chunk of my day locked up in a room with a breast pump. Without attempting to make my time off too “structured” (because how structured can one’s time be when hanging out with a newborn anyway?), I have been pondering a few questions to help make the most of the next few months. The first few pertain to quite obvious tactical Micah goals, while the last is much more aspirational and has little to do with him:

  1. Can Micah get acclimated to the bottle so that my return to work (and Kenny’s paternity leave) is less stressful than it was last time?
  2. By the time he’s four months old or so, can I help Micah develop some semblance of a nap schedule?
  3. By the end of my leave, will Micah be sleeping reasonably well at night so that I’m able to function in the office during the day?
  4. Will we figure out a routine or at least some strategies for managing as a family of four?
  5. Will Micah and I find some ways to get outdoors – and socialize with other families – this fall and early winter so that we don’t develop severe cabin fever? (This one is also important for me with respect to getting back in shape post-baby – thanks to breastfeeding I only have about 7 lbs. left to lose, but I have a long way before my muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness reach their pre-baby levels.)
  6. What can I do to keep my intellect active and engaged, and avoid allowing my brain to turn to complete mush?

Brain Mush Avoidance Plan

For me, item 6 is an important element of ensuring that I both enjoy my maternity leave and ease my transition back to adult life, but of course it’s also the item that is most likely to be neglected if some of the others (especially 2-4) don’t work out as well as hoped. To achieve 6, I have some areas that I’d like to delve into as part of my Brain Mush Avoidance plan – all of which will allow me to remain engaged with some of the topics I focus on in my professional life, but in a more abstract “personal enrichment” sense rather than the more focused tactical approach I generally take when learning on the job. The plan is probably too ambitious, but I love having a huge list of topics to choose from as I’m thinking about how to spend my time. I suspect that the plan will morph over time if these topics lead me in unexpected directions.

Tech Explorations

After spending 8 years deep in the Microsoft stack and the last year working in Java, I’ve been ignoring a lot of not-so-new tech. I’d like to spend some time with a few languages and frameworks for my own enrichment, including (in rough priority order):

  • Ruby (and Rails)
  • AngularJS
  • Scala
  • Various modern databases (NoSQL and otherwise)
  • Python

Books

Obviously books (especially those I can read on my Kindle/phone) offer the easiest way to ingest information during maternity leave, because they can be consumed while nursing or being slept on by a newborn. Of course I plan to spend some of that time looking lovingly into my baby’s eyes and some of it sleeping, but I expect to have some time left for reading as well. I’m about halfway through the first title and finding that reading on my phone while nursing is a pretty good plan, although I am developing some soreness (tendonitis?) in the knuckles of my right hand.

MOOCs

I’ve never taken a MOOC before, but interested in trying it out – it’s been years since I’ve been a student, so we’ll see whether I have the attention span to watch lectures or the dedication/time to do homework. I’m thinking about a course on Epidemics via Penn State as a starting point, but I have my eye on some other fun/general interest courses for later if time and interest allow.

Make Something?

If possible, it would be fun to do something creative as well – perhaps by making some contributions to code.org or codecademy.com, or potentially by implementing a project or two using the technologies I’m planning to learn. This area is probably the most ambitious/undefined and least realistic of all of the items in my plan, so we’ll see what I accomplish if anything.

Of course the ultimate stretch goal is also to document some of my experiences and deviations from plan. I’d like to at least publish some rough notes here.