Alex Goldman is the co-host of Reply All, Gimlet Media’s popular podcast about the internet. (For an intro to Goldman and his work, check out “The Secret Life of Alex Goldman”, the episode in which he lets his co-host PJ Vogt hack his mobile phone, and “Long Distance, Part 1 and Part 2”, where he digs into a scam phone call and winds up on an insane investigation on the other side of the globe.) He’s currently on paternity leave, taking care of his family’s new addition: Three-week-old Polly. Here’s how he parents.
Name: Alex Goldman
Location: New Jersey? New York? I live in New Jersey and work in New York
Job: Host of the Reply All podcast
Family: Wife Sarah, and kids Harvey (three) and Polly (three weeks!)
Tell us about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
I would say the surprise was that I had kids at all. For me at least. I had serious reservations about having a kid because I think that the Earth is slowly becoming an uninhabitable ball of flames and I have issues with anxiety and depression that I was genuinely concerned about passing on to a kid. I didn’t want to create a creature, just for them to be sad all the time.
Through our 20s, we just said, “If we think it’s right, we’ll do it.” But we did not arrive at that moment at the same time. Sarah decided she wanted to have kids way before me, which resulted in a sort of painful reckoning that we had to work through together.
And at some point, I was like, “There are no guarantees in this world and there is no ‘perfect time’ to have a kid. If you do it, you have to go into it with the knowledge it’ll be terrifying and confusing and you’ll feel totally out of your depth and you may not even be sure you want to. No one is all that sure.” And I just took the leap.
Even up to and a little after Harvey was born, I was wondering if this was the right decision for me. And then he smiled at me for the first time and that was that.
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door?
Harvey is really into Thomas the Tank Engine, and is much more responsive to me and Sarah if we speak in the voice of Sir Topham Hatt, the head of the railway. Like a very stentorian, slow, sort of British shouting. “Now Harvey, a very useful little boy will put on his coat — you don’t want to cause confusion and delay.” Harvey even asks for it. “Do Mister Topping Hat!”
How do you divide household/childcare responsibilities with your partner?
My wife is a stay-at-home mum, and nights on Reply All can run very late. Monday through Wednesday, the kids are almost entirely her responsibility. I try to make sure I’m home for dinner on Thursday and Friday, and I do bedtime/bathtime with Harvey on those nights and on weekends.
As for housework, Sarah is a much better cook than I am, so I try to make up for it by doing all the dishes. I also ask her to leave kid mess for me to clean up when I get home, but she understandably finds it stressful to have to navigate piles of toys, so she usually cleans them up before I get home. I compensate with foot rubs.
How much outside help do you get as a parent?
My in-laws live about 45 minutes away from us, and their help with both the kids has been invaluable. They are totally comfortable taking Harvey for a weekend and he absolutely loves spending time with them.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
With Polly, I have been saying over and over to myself, “How did parents get any sleep before technology?” This is mostly in reference to pretty unsophisticated but totally essential technology like bassinets that rock themselves. I am listening to the motor on one chugging away as we speak, knowing that Polly would not be asleep but for that tiny innovation.
With Harvey, the thing I rely on the most is Spotify — he loves music, and needs specific songs pretty much whenever there’s a speaker around. The big one right now is California Sun. He wants to listen to this song 100 times a day, and for me to sing it to him when he goes to bed.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
Mostly it has just dragged me kicking and screaming away from being plugged in 24/7. Sarah was five months pregnant when Reply All started, and I was working crazy hours.
I still work pretty crazy hours, but I have really worked hard to set aside time to be around for my kids and just... not be so anxiously plugged in to work when I’m not there. I should note that I do this with varying degrees of success. It’s really hard not to be very involved all the time.
What does your evening routine like?
On the days I am home for dinner, we eat, and then I do the dishes while Harvey plays. Then we do bath time and then read books. We read three books as a family, and then I go into his room with him and read two more, and then sing him a song. After that, it’s cleaning up and then reading a book or watching TV.
How do you decompress?
I have been playing a lot of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the past few months. It’s nominally a swords and sorcery game, but it’s an open world, so if you want to, you can just climb mountains and collect flora and fauna, and then float around using a hang glider. It’s incredibly relaxing.
Beyond that, I have been fiddling around a MIDI controller and trying to make music in Pro Tools, which is kind of undiscovered country for me, because I have only used the program for the past decade to make radio.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
Not a moment, per se, but I’m very proud that I have at least one kid with a sense of humour. He loves to joke and make up words and just be imaginative and silly. That all makes me very happy.
What moment are you least proud of?
Any time I lose my patience with my kids, I later excoriate myself. Because they don’t know any better. Kids haven’t learned to be selfless or to understand why they have to share or why they can’t eat yoghurt for every meal. I have to teach them that. But no one learns from a big angry oaf shouting at them.
What do you want your kids to learn from your example?
To have fun, that music is the most important thing in the world, and that dancing and singing are appropriate in any situation.
What’s your best parenting hack?
Use your kid’s short attention span to your advantage. If they’re freaking out about something it’s often easy to just distract them out of being mad.
What’s the hardest part about being a parent?
Being present and really paying attention to your kids. To put down your phone and chase them around the playground.
What’s your favourite part of the day?
Harvey usually wakes up about 6:30 every morning, and gets his toy train and his giraffe toy and silently climbs into bed with us and either sleeps or just lays quietly for a half an hour or so. It is just this quiet acknowledgement before the day starts that he loves and needs us. It feels very nice.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
It doesn’t really get easier. You just come to accept that in both work and family, you just have to give some things up.