The Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve

March 1st, 2015 by Potato

In all my years and all my learning, I have never quite got the hang of mornings. I used to be pretty good at sneaking up on them from the other side, staying up all night to get them when they least expect it, but waking up and facing a new day is just such an impossible concept. I know some people can basically just roll out of bed and be something called “chipper” and “alert”. I am not one of those people. I used to play snooze-button basketball with my alarm clock to gradually wake up over the course of an hour and a half, then search for caffeine before risking communication with other humans.

At several points in my life I have studied the evidence and become convinced of the utility of breakfast, and have woken up early to eat this mystery meal before leaving for work. Inevitably, after a few weeks of that I decide (consciously or not) to forgo breakfast in exchange for more time in bed, or less stress at cramming the rest of my routine into an unrealistically short period of time.

And time is the big problem with mornings: it doesn’t behave or flow right. I can sit there at night, when everything is sparkly and sleek and working as it should, and time myself as I perform the necessary house-leaving preparatory tasks to plan when I need to haul my ass out of bed for the morning. I can put two poptarts in the toaster, determine that it takes 90 seconds to toast them, 25 seconds to slather them with peanut butter, and all of 195 seconds to shovel them into my food hole and wash them down. Practice run done: 310 seconds for breakfast, add it to the morning time budget, set the alarm clock back appropriately and we will be able to squeeze breakfast in. But then morning comes and time stops working properly. My carefully practiced and timed breakfast routine goes horribly awry. It’s going on 12 minutes and I still have half a pop tart to eat and somehow there’s melted peanut butter dripping on my pants.

I cannot accept that this is merely a subjective time dilation effect, caused by my severe case of night owlism. My toothbrush has a digital timer so that I brush for precisely 2.0 minutes. Yet in the morning, even though it still ticks up towards 2:00, it takes five minutes to get the whole process over with — the morning effect clearly affects even piezoelectric crystal-based time measurement.

Anyway, all this is to say that I am “morning challenged” and pretty much always have been.

Then into my life comes a wonderful bouncing baby, who becomes an amazing little toddler girl. Now instead of an alarm clock I wake up to the sound of “Daddy! Come pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease!” Bopping her on the head does not get me an extra 15 minutes to snooze so I pretty much have to get up at that point. For a long, long while she was waking up too late for me to even see her before I left for work, but then over the last year that has flipped so that she wakes up crazy early, following the ancient toddler urge to be up before dawn so that they can watch the sun rise and ask “why?”

And while to me it all sounds universally crazy early, there is a big difference to waking up at 5:30am and 7:00am, and incredibly it leads to a totally non-linear relationship in the time to be ready for work, a function I call the Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve. You would think that it would take about the same amount of time to do basically the same sets of things each morning, no matter when your wake-up call happened to come in. Indeed, if there was a non-linearity, you’d expect to become more efficient as the time to get out the door for work came closer and you started to hurry or cut non-essential things out of the routine — the hurry-up hypothesis. But it’s not so simple.

The Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve, showing that the amount of time needed to get ready is not a constant -- as you get up earlier and earlier it takes longer and longer, in a non-linear fashion. At some point -- about 5:30am or so -- the inefficiency becomes so severe that even though you have an extra hour and a half to get ready you still somehow end up being late for work.

If she wakes up at a “normal” time (normal for her, not for me), let’s say 6:30 to 7 am, then things proceed reasonably well. We can spend 10 minutes or so where I am just a useless bag of shambling meat, a zombie barely able to greet her and see if she needs a diaper change immediately or if it can wait a few minutes for the strength and dexterity to return to my hands. At some point shortly after waking up, I can go potty, tell her that I’m about to go potty, reassure her that I will be back in just one minute, and then go potty and listen to her wail for daddy to come back because this is a surprising and distressing abandonment and not something we do every. single. day. that daddy always comes back from.

Then we’ll get her dressed, maybe have some time to read a few books, play for a bit, or watch an episode of Mr. Rogers, then we go wake mommy up so I can have a shower and get dressed myself.

If she wakes up later, we can cut down on the playing or TV watching, but then have to deal with the whining that happens around the severe and unfair deprivation we’re causing through that action. The bigger issue though is that sleeping in just a bit seems to activate the lazy sunday lay-in region of her brain (the posterior cingulate? it’s got to be used for something, and seems to deactivate with any other active behaviour) and she no longer wants to get dressed. She wants to wear her PJs all day.

Even more inexplicable and fascinating is the phenomenon of waking up earlier. So many early theorists in parental dynamics predicted that if you had more time in the morning, you would at worst be finished everything by the same deadline — that the lateness barrier could not be breached from the left-hand side of the curve. How wrong we were.

Instead, we have the case where daddy is a nearly-immobile shuffling zombie, eyes 75% closed (often one closed entirely and the other largely closed against the harsh light of a 10 W night light), while the toddler draws unholy manic energies from the predawn night and tears circles around him. When it’s time to get dressed, she becomes and impossible squirming octopus of giggles, pleased as punch that she can so easily avoid having clothes put on her, free to live out her dream of running around the house naked.

Add to this the propensity for shuffling-sleep-zombie daddy to collapse onto any bed, couch, or other soft-looking surface “for just one more minute” of “inspecting his eyelids for holes”, and the whole thing becomes non-linear: the delays and funny effects on the flow of time from the early morning start using up more time than the extra head start provided in the first place, and everyone ends up late for school and work.

Tater’s Takes: Tax Refunds Are Not Windfalls

September 11th, 2014 by Potato

I haven’t had a Tater’s Takes round-up post in approximately forever. Preamble: early summer was crazy at work, so it was good that I finished the draft of my book in the spring so it could sit with the editors over that time. Several people now have copies in their hot little hands and are providing great feedback so I can make one last round of polishing before I start getting proofs made up. I’m getting super excited for the book. I’ve put a tonne of effort into it (way, way more than I expected when I thought I’d just make a PSGtDIYI 2nd edition) and I think it’s shining through in the manuscripts. Most people who haven’t gone completely silent have praised the initial copies, particularly novices to finance (the target audience). There’s still almost two months to go before I run out the clock on the window to hear back from publishers, and at this point I almost want to get rejected because it’s just so close to being ready to go in the self-published route that it would hurt to have to pause to work out the details with a traditional publisher.

Blueberry is (as every proud daddy will say, I’m sure) uncanny smart sometimes. Like most toddlers, she has become attached to a blanket as her “lovie”. We’ve heard the horror stories of kids who lost their lovies or those that get disgusting because it’s hard to separate them long enough from the child to wash, and Wayfare planned in advance. We bought multiple copies of the blanket in question, and have kept them in rotation so there’s always a clean one ready and so that they all have the same degree of wear. These blankets are identical in every way, right down to their electrons sharing the same spin states. So we were caught completely off guard when Wayfare surreptitiously did the blankie swap for laundry and Blueberry instantly noticed and freaked out. How could she tell? How could she tell so quickly and decisively? Baby genius, that’s the only answer.

Ok, links.

First up is yours truly, scraping the bottom of the barrel for active investing ideas. I hardly post at all on that topic, and considering I’ve got a book on how easy index investing can be coming up it was best to shunt it to another venue. Nelson was kind enough to host this post on HNZ over at Financial Uproar.

I’ve just discovered Steve at Kapitalust. I’d suggest starting with this recent post on the intersection of ethics and investing.

Sandi’s back! Or semi-back, as someone else takes over half-way through.

Robb at B&E preaches about the inevitability of changes to embedded commissions for advisors in Canada.

Michael James has a new twist on comparing car salescritters to mutual fund salescritters and why embedded commissions make more sense for one than the other.

Oh, so this is public now.

Dan at OBFW reviews a new book (not mine, despite what you may think when you see the title — I’ll unveil the title of mine in just a few more weeks, be patient kids) and raises an interesting question: “Would you rather get a $1,000 windfall at age 27 when you are trying to scrape together a down payment for a house or a $1,300 windfall at age 70 when you have close to $1 million in savings?” in suggesting that young people use their RRSPs over TFSAs (and spend the refund).

I think that’s unfortunate framing. A tax refund on an RRSP contribution is not a “windfall” — it’s a deferral of a government obligation. Michael James puts it best when it calls it the government’s share of your RRSP. Of course the short answer is that if you really need the money to buy a car or pay down debt then you should just use the money for that rather than investing it and then redirecting a part back towards the more urgent need in a roundabout way that involves filing paperwork with a large government agency. But let’s do the math on this suggestion:

Let’s say you scrape together $1k to invest while you’re in the 20% tax bracket at 27, and expect to end up withdrawing in retirement at age 70 in the 31% tax bracket. We’ll use 6% real returns. If you suddenly realize, no, you need $200 of that back to pay down some debt you forgot about or to buy something shiny, then you could either put just $800 in your TFSA, or contribute $1k to your RRSP and spend the $200 refund.

If you just trusted your original decision to invest $1000 in your TFSA, you’d have $12.3k to spend in retirement. But to be more fair, the invest-$800-in-your-TFSA scenario would leave you with $9800 to spend at age 70. If you put the $1000 in your RRSP and got a $200 refund to spend on stuff then you’d only have $8453 to spend after the CRA took their cut in retirement. Spending the government’s share and mistaking the TFSA vs RRSP issue adds up to a much bigger deal than just $1000 when you’re young or $1300 when you need it less — you could spend the same “windfall” amount on whatever necessities you have when you’re young in that case, still use your TFSA, and come out way ahead.

If you only decided to spend the refund because it came months later and you were weak (and you didn’t get commiserate value from the dollars spent), then picking the RRSP over $1k in the TFSA would be like borrowing $200 from your future self and paying an interest rate of nearly 7%. But, maybe spending $200 now is more important than spending $3847 when you’re 70 and don’t need it. Of course that logic of “X now is more important than Y later” can lead to a lot of debt if you don’t put some reasonable limit on it.

Nelson also posted about why he prefers the RRSP to the TFSA. I left a weak, off-the-cuff comment about why I still like the TFSA. One other point that came to me when re-reading it is the issue of the refund timing: if you run the math, assuming you’ll be in the same tax bracket before and after retirement then the two shelters come out neck-and-neck in terms of outcomes. If you end up in a lower tax bracket the RRSP provides an advantage; higher and the TFSA will win out. However, the canonical comparison assumes you invest with pre-tax money and avoid withholding (or have the funds available to invest the refund in advance). In practice not only do people run the risk of squandering the refund, it also tends to come later, so the TFSA gets a tiny, miniscule head start on compounding (when looking at it from multiple decades in the future). Anyway, nitpicky.

Blueberry: Life at Two

May 12th, 2014 by Potato

I had a good day with Blueberry today. In reading the anecdotes I chose to share it might not sound that way, but any day that includes an uninterrupted 2.25-hour nap and a few hours snuggling and reading books is a pretty good day.

We had our first potty-training accident of the past few days at lunch. I should have known better and asked if she needed a break before giving her the blueberry* course: nothing interrupts blueberry dessert. She’s started learning her numbers and counting, which means that at lunch I can now say that “she stuffed 8 blueberries in her mouth” rather than the previous estimates of “holy crap she just stuck two giant handfuls of blueberries in her mouth at once!” Counting them individually as she crams them in is also way cuter and seems more refined than the simultaneous two-handed “holy crap, Blueberries! I need them all in my face right now!” approach she used before.

As she is now entering the “terrible twos” I have seen a lot more random meltdowns. Today’s meltdown seemed to be triggered by the fact that the inside of her mouth was wet. We had just finished on the potty, and she was crying “wet, wet, weeeeeet.” I tried to reassure her that in fact she was a good girl and had done everything in the potty, and had kept everything important bone-dry. “No, wet.” She’d continue to scream and cry. Then she’d start pointing to her mouth, finally licking and goobering all over her hands and showing me: “WeeeEEEeeEEEeeeEEEEt!!!!”

“…Your mouth is wet?”


“Ummm… Daddy doesn’t know how to make this better.”

She has a little sweater that says “bookworm” on it, and we did spend a large part of the day reading books. Today’s innovation was to read a book, then read the same book backwards. I personally didn’t find it added much to the experience, but she seemed to think it worked. I’m just hoping she didn’t overhear the idiom of knowing something “forwards and backwards” and taking it literally. She knows that her sweater says that on it, and pointed that out many times through the process (in a way that is way more adorable than I’m making it sound).

We also built a little garage for her toy boats and cat. She’s really into her building blocks lately, but usually gets frustrated when I try to help engineer things (though she also gets frustrated when her towers collapse under their own weight). So today she seemed fully willing to take direction, and listened raptly as I explained at a level entirely unlike that appropriate for a toddler, how important braces and structural support were for stiffening the frame against sheer forces. One day she’s going to talk like a total weirdo and I don’t know if it will be my proudest moment as a father, or if I will realize the folly of letting scientists raise small children in their crucial language-development years.

* – She acquired the Blueberry nickname when she was that size in the womb, but they’re also totally her favourite fruit.

Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2013 by Potato

I normally try very hard to resist the urge to plaster pictures of adorable Blueberry all over the internet, but this was so cute I just couldn’t resist.

I had put the skeleton in her wagon thinking it would make a neat, creepy prop. She’s never before had any interest in pulling her wagon, only riding in it. But with a new friend in there who needed a ride she just grabbed the handle and was off! Wayfare says she was at it for nearly half an hour. Then at the end, she went up and gave the skeleton a kiss. Awww.

Anyway, hope you all have a wonderful Halloween.

Pinkshirts (Blueberry Shorts)

October 14th, 2013 by Potato

Wayfare bought Blueberry some new outfits recently, including one that looks like the DS9/late TNG Star Trek uniforms: bar of colour across the shoulders, black body and pants. “Aww, she’s going to be in the Starfleet Confectionary Corps!” I said on seeing it. Explaining further, the colour is pink, rather than red/yellow/blue, so my mind immediately filled in the gap: blue for science and medical, etc. — what would fit pink? Confectionary is what seemed appropriate. Anyway, whatever else a pink Starfleet uniform might signify, it’s cute.

She’s starting to get afraid of stuff. In one tragically hilarious episode, she has a few stuffed animals that make noise when you squeeze them. She leaned on the cow without knowing, and it started mooing behind her, scaring her. Then the next day, she had taken all the toys out of the box to play with except the cow, stuck in a corner of the box. “No” she’d say, shaking her head and pointing at the cow “Shhh, shhh.” [Translation: be quiet and don’t wake the scary cow!]

Things I have inadvertently taught her today: to punch daddy in the crotch, and to pee on herself. The parents out there will know that the context is almost entirely unneeded: at this point I’m boned. To tell the tale anyway, bathtime is the best time. She typically gets a bath every other day, and even at 18 months knows it: on her off days she’s pretty good about not asking for one, but when she knows it’s bath day anything will have her hopefully asking “bath?” Running the water, seeing an ad with people on the beach, getting dirty, anything. So this morning she woke up with a diaper malfunction, covered in pee. “Well, let’s go have a bath.” “Bath?” She asked at first, confused by the unusual timing and not sure I’d actually said it. Then it sunk in: “Bath! Bath!” So yep, now I expect every morning I’m going to find her covered head to toe in pee, ready for that morning bath.

Then later we were playing with flashlights. On, off, on, off, on, off, etc. Then she gave me the flashlight, and then wanted it back. So the next time rather than just holding it behind my back, I put it in my pocket. Then I put it in my pocket while it was on. “Off!” Ok, I turned it off while it was still in my pocket. And back on while it was still in my pocket. Then I let her do it. “Great,” deadpanned Wayfare, “you’ve now taught her that something cool happens when she punches you in the crotch.”

And finally, we were at the park today and for some reason Thanksgiving seems to be bring-your-hamster-to-the-park day around here: there was a group of kids ~8-10 years old with 6 little hamsters in their cage on a picnic table. Blueberry sat transfixed by the hamsters. She was so good: didn’t squeal at them, didn’t bang the cage, just watched as the bigger kids played with them. The kids were great too, they kept showing her their hamsters and telling her what their names were and why they got named that. I’m always impressed at how even-tempered she is when it’s time for us to stop doing something fun (like staring at the hamsters) and move on to something else (like going to visit Grammy or going to bed).