Friday, February 29, 2008

We are Spring

I wrote this for the Scientiae Carnival. The theme this month is renewal, hosted by skookumchick, who started the whole thing one year ago. Check it out!

My husband returned from a business trip this evening. I did truly miss him while he was gone, and not just because of the tasks that went undone or that I had to take over because of his absence. I think something has shifted between us, and the spirit of teamwork has been revived.

I recently went to a major conference to present my research for the first time outside of my university. I was away for four days, and if you had been in our home in the week before you would think that I was leaving forever. It was endless requests to make sure this or that was done before I left. It was teary eyes and, “you’re going to be gone HOW many days?” I could understand that everyone who was cognizant of what was about to happen was nervous about how things would keep running smoothly without me. But I found this to be almost comical – because I don’t really think things run that smoothly when I am around, so I wasn’t really expecting there to a noticeable difference while I was away. I had faith that hubby could handle it. Plus, after three plus years of keeping it together while hubby worked in another city all week have only taught me that the stuff that doesn’t matter outweighs the stuff that does.

So I went to the conference feeling a tad bitter about how the lead up had gone. And the bitterness really stayed with me for too long, even when hubby told me he had a new appreciation for how hard it was while he was away all week. I really wished I could just let it go, but I couldn’t do it. Not all at once, anyway.

But it did slowly melt away. I found myself in his shoes all too soon, facing the prospect of his week-long trip, while struggling to finish the preparations for the accursed guest lecture. He was quietly supportive of this endeavor – the coffee flowed abundantly. When the lecture didn’t happen, he bought me a drink and listened as I vented my frustrations. I fussed over his packing and tried to help him find space to prepare for trip. I missed him while he was gone. And when he returned last night, I found myself wanting to take care of him, even though I was exhausted from the week with the two Things with no back-up. Last night, after he collapsed with Thing 2 resting in the crook of his elbow, I knew that we had pulled through a mighty rough patch by working together.

It’s been a year, now, since hubby found a job in [New City] and it has been harder than either of us anticipated readjusting to living together full time. Though spring has not yet sprung in our neck of the woods, I feel that feeling of promise that for me defines the beginning of spring. It’s when the snow is melting, the air is damp, and the sun shines in a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. The buds are so tiny, you can barely see them, but before you know it, they will be in full flower.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A little sympathy

In case anyone was wondering, Thing 2 received a clean bill of health at her check-up today. Thank goodness for reminder phone calls! I am so glad I didn't have to reschedule - our pediatrician announced to me today that she is pregnant, and her schedule is rapidly filling up. She's really an inspiration to me. She already has three children, she has breastfed them all, and has a healthy pediatric practice (there's always a wait for well visits, which I take as a sign that she has plenty of patients). And she is always so happy!

Sorry to gush, it's normally my style. I think the real reason I love my pediatrician is that she has always made me feel like she's rooting for me and my family. When I met her, I was nearing the end of a difficult pregnancy, my husband was working in another city, and I had fired my doctor who was also Thing 1's doctor. At every subsequent appointment, she asked me how I was handling working and parenting without backup during the week. And she gave me suggestions for ways I could get the help I needed to get through the roughest parts of the day. It was she who brought up at Thing 2's first well visit how miraculously perfect she was, in spite of the rough pregnancy. I don't know if she's just really good at making notes on her charts, but I don't care. I think a good pediatrician should at least take note of the state of mind of the parents of their patients, and try to get to know them. This is important - if parents are stressed, children suffer. Besides, it's easier to get information from someone with whom you have a rapport. But the bigger reason, in my opinion, is that doctors should be partners with parents in raising healthy children. Because my doctor listens to me, I am much more likely to listen to her, and follow her advice. Besides, it made my day a little bit brighter to get a little bit of a pat on the back.

In fact, the day ended that way, too. My PI runs a monthly evening lecture series, with invited speakers from around the area. When one is scheduled, we labmembers are expected to help with set-up, and of course to attend the talks. I couldn't go to the one tonight, however, because hubby is out of town, and I needed to pick up the kids. When I let PI know that I wouldn't be able to stay, he said, "Oh, my wife just got back from a trip. It's so hard to do double duty, isn't it?" We shared a couple of laughs, then I walked out. As I walked, I realized that not everybody could expect that kind of interaction with their PI. Of course, I was bummed that I was going to have to miss the talks - they are usually pretty interesting, and I did choose to go to graduate school because I actually like science. Plus, I had a long night ahead of me. The last thing I needed was somebody bitching about the fact that I wasn't going to be able to stay. And because I didn't get that, I'm more likely to make that extra effort the next time it's needed.

And I just feel a little happier than I expected to this morning.

I miss my coffee maker

I mean, I miss my husband. He's been on a business trip since Thursday, and won't be back until Thursday. It's so hard to get up without that friendly cup of coffee. But, still, the kids need to be woken up, and breakfast has to be made. So, I'd better get my butt in gear.

Today should be an interesting day, though. I got a reminder call yesterday from our pediatrician's office about the two-year old well visit for Thing 2 that I was just kicking myself on the way home last night for not scheduling yet. Either I'm more on top of things than I thought, or I have somehow broken the time-space continuum and gone back in time to make that appointment. Thank goodness I didn't have any long experiments scheduled for today. Or maybe I do, and I just don't know it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some poeple just don't know when to stop

I was at the grocery store the other night, with both Things in tow. Thing 2 really loves grocery shopping. She loves seeing all the fresh fruits and vegetables, looking at all the packages, and, when she’s in the right mood, being quite chatty with the other shoppers. At the very least, she gives out lots of flirtatious, “Hey, there,” glances, which are, of course, only encouraged by reactions like, “Oh, isn’t she cute?” Thing 1 isn’t as crazy about grocery shopping, but she is pretty helpful, and Thing 2 being on a little bit of a copycat jag, she really wanted to take groceries off the shelf and put them into the cart. Well, for a while, every time she said, “I want pick it” the item was too high, or too low, but finally, we reached an item that was just at her height as she sat in the cart – she got to pick the liquid soap. She was so proud. Just then a store employee walked by, and Thing 2 said to her, “Hi! I big girl! I picked it!” The employee was suitably enamored. Thing 2 beamed.

We finished our shopping, and went to the checkout. Just by luck, we had as our cashier the enamored employee. Thing 2 and the employee smiled at one another, and then the employee recounted the story of their meeting to the woman who was in line behind me. The woman commented that it was great that Thing 2 was so friendly. Then she turned to me and started to lecture me that I should not try to train my daughters not to speak up for themselves. I tried to cut her off by saying that, of course, I would never do such a thing (being pretty uppity myself). I was still smiling. She meant well by this, I believe. Just as every person who approached me while I was pregnant to make sure I knew that “Breast is Best”, and every person who has ever told me that I really should make sure my child had a hat on, or that my child was overdressed and would surely overheat (sometimes within a block of each other, with no wardrobe change in between), as well as all those people who felt that they should express their concern for the health of my back when I used to carry Thing 1 around town in a hiking backpack instead of using a stroller.

Then she started ranting about how much sexism there is in [New City]. She had moved from another region, where apparently there was far less sexism. I replied that, yes, there may be more sexism here than in some other places I’ve lived. Really I was just trying to get her to wrap it up. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s true. I think it has a lot to do with the circles you walk in. She continued her rant, moving on to the “Good Old Boys” network that is apparently running the town. Maybe she thought she was educating me. She'd clearly forgotten about the two kids she was initially concerned about. I turned to her after paying for my groceries and said, “Well, I’m a scientist, and my experience has been…” She drowned me out by saying, “Oh, well then, you must really know what I’m talking about.” Blah, blah, blah, a bunch of other stuff, and then she said, “You know the real problem in [New City] is all these immigrants. I mean we have people here who are cutting up women’s genitals back where they come from. And did you know that in Japan it’s still not illegal to beat your wife.” (Actually, a quick Google search revealed that this may not be true. Japan’s law is a newer entry here, that doesn’t show up on another similar page, and one can argue whether or not it is well written and packs enough punch, but it does exist) She continued to immigrant bash, saying, “Some people who hear this think I’m a bigot, but there’s going to be a talk at [Local Ivy League University]…” To which I said, “Oh, well I’ll be sure not to miss that,” and walked away. She kept talking at me as I went.

I was really angry, and it took me a little while before my head cleared and I figured out why. Sexism is when one person is judged to be less valuable or capable than another on the basis of gender. I have to agree that there are a lot of sexist people in the world, and it sounds like this woman had the misfortune of running into a lot of them. However, I don’t think it’s any more acceptable to judge a person to be less capable of treating women fairly because they were not born in this country. Neither is it right to blame our society’s problems on one particular group, simply because they are “outsiders”. That kind of thinking has led to all sorts of sticky messes (insert your favorite forced relocation or genocide here).

Yes, it is true that what passes for appropriate behavior varies greatly from country to country. In some countries, the general consensus is that it’s okay to treat women like shit. In some countries women are treated relatively well. There are lectures about this all the time. I would not say that America is leading the pack, however. And individual people, though they may be shaped by their environments, make their own choices about how they will behave. Some, as this woman graciously demonstrated for my kids and myself, make better choices than others.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I feel very special

I am pretty new to blogging, and I am still catching up on the etiquette, so forgive me if this is gauche (as opposed to when I am rude on purpose - don't forgive me for that). But I want to thank DrugMonkey over at ScienceBlogs for saying some really nice things about this blog. And for sending over a lot of new readers by adding me to his blogroll. I am truly honored.

I am returning the favor, not that he needs it from a fledgling like myself. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Also: star generator hat tip and thanks for the positive comment to Abel Pharmboy

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What is fair?

A somewhat lively debate about the fairness of allowing job flexibility to parents has been going on, first at “On being a scientist and a woman” where ScienceWoman recounted an absolutely horrific story about being told that she should pick up extra work because the male colleague who was supposed to do it shouldn’t be burdened because “he’s got a little one at home”. This, to a woman who has a one year old daughter herself. So, a few whiny little piss-ants piped up in the comments, saying “It’s not fair – those breeders get all kinds of slack, and we poor, single and childless people are working ourselves to death to carry the load. And Zuska called them on it on “Thus Spake Zuska”. Of course, I had to get in the fray. You can all read the posts and comments if you want, but I’m really bringing this up because it made me start to think about what does "fair" really mean?

As a parent, I have had to develop a pretty nuanced definition for fairness that I use when dealing with my family. For those of you not in the family way, let me lay out the problem for you – there are four people, who all need things like food, clothing, education, attention, etc, and those resources are limited. How do you divvy things up in a fair way? Well, I can tell you the short answer: fair is not the same as equal. The simpler case is to just consider the kids. My two year old does not eat the same amount of food as her nine year old sister (or her 6’4” father, for that matter). Nor does she need to be bought the same amount of new clothes as her older sister; she has plenty of serviceable items waiting for her in storage. She does, however, require a safe, reliable and stimulating environment in which to spend the day while both of her parents are at work. For a toddler, that’s really expensive, but her sister can go to the excellent public school near us for free. And, she needs to be engaged in something or with someone almost all the time at home, so that she doesn’t decide to entertain herself by turning back-flips off the couch. Meanwhile, her sister can happily read a book while waiting for dinner. If we look at each category (food, clothing, education, attention) separately, it is clear that one child is getting more than the other. I’m not even going to try and make any kind of claim about how the books balance overall. Because I don’t care. What is important to me is that these two human beings in my care are having their needs met. Their needs are not identical, so what they get is not identical either.

I think that this could be considered to fall under the category of moral reasoning. Lawrence Kohlberg did significant research into the development of moral reasoning, and he found that there are six stages of moral reasoning, grouped into three levels:

Level 1 – Preconventional Morality (typically seen in children younger than 10 or 11)

  • Stage 1 – Obedience and Punishment Orientation
    In this stage, children see rules as things that exists outside of themselves. They obey these rules for fear of punishment.
  • Stage 2 – Individualism and Exchange
    This is the stage at which children begin to realize that different people have different points of view, and that what is right for one person may not be right for another. However, they still see punishment for breaking “the rules” as something to be avoided.

Level 2 – Conventional Morality (children begin to exhibit this as they enter their teen years)
  • Stage 3 – Good Interpersonal Relationships
    At this stage, children begin to be concerned about the intentions behind an action, and judge actions accordingly. They believe that people should have the best interests of their family and community in mind.
    Stage 4 – Maintaining the Social Order
  • In this stage, people move from being concerned with what is best for friends and family to what is best for society as a whole. There is an emphasis on following rules, not for fear of punishment, but because we must do so to maintain order.

Level 3 – Postconventional Morality
  • Stage 5 – Social Contract and Individual Rights
    It is at this stage that people begin to think about the difference between a smoothly functioning society and a “good society”. They feel that individual rights should be protected, and that there should be some democratic mechanism for changing the rules if they are unfair.
  • Stage 6 – Universal Principles
    At this stage, a person makes decisions based on the principles of justice, which apply to all people. This is similar to Stage 5, except that at this level, civil disobedience may be seen as an obligation in response to an unjust law (think Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Hope you are still with me. Here’s the point of all this – when you hear someone saying “I worked 5 hours and you only worked 4,” they are using Stage 1 moral reasoning, what you might expect from a five year old.

When someone else says, “Why do you get to leave work early because your kid is sick? I’ve got stuff to do, too,” that is probably Stage 2, which you'd expect from someone less than 10 years old.

What about, “I don’t mind if you need to take some time, as long as you plan to make up for it,”? Well, I’d put that at Stage 3, a teenager, maybe.

“Look, the work has to get done somehow, everybody has to put in some extra hours.” I’ll generously give that a Stage 4.

Supposedly Democratic governments are modeled on Stage 5 reasoning. I like to think that I live in a Democratic society, so I’d like to see at least that level of reasoning applied to the issue of "Parental Accomodation". What do I think that would look like? Maybe something like, “I understand that you have to take care of your kids, and that’s going to require us to be creative in structuring your work schedule. Let’s figure this out.”

Is that really too much to ask? I don't think so.

(In the interest of fairness, I am choosing to write about fairness as regards parental obligations because that is what impacts me, not because I don't think there are other issues out there that require accomodation of this type. Also, I am not a psychologist, so this is a lay-person's reading of Kohlberg.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What I have learned...

I've calmed down a bit since the fiasco with my guest lecture. I received a very contrite email, apologizing for not giving me information, because it apparently really never did occur to the guy that I might not have known where to go. Those were almost his exact words. Followed by "Can you do it Monday?"

Wow. I feel soooo much better. I'll just do it on Monday. 'Cause I'm always available to give an hour and a half long lecture at the drop of a hat on the other side of town. At 5pm. Did I forget to mention that? Yes, my kids are in daycare/afterschool programs that end at 6pm. There's a $1/minute late fee for each of them. For the day I was scheduled, I had arranged with my husband that he would absolutely pick them both up (most days I get Thing 1, he gets Thing 2, then picks us up on the way home). Unfortunately, hubby is away on a business trip on Monday, so the 5pm lecture is not going to work out so well.

And, by the way, what kind of class is he running that there are perpetually open slots for speakers in the next scheduled meeting time?

So, here's what I have learned:

  1. Whenever anyone asks me to do something (give a talk, write something up, etc) estimate how long it will take to do it, then multiply by two. Give that as the minimum time required to prepare.
  2. If getting something done within the timeframe I am proposing is going to mean pulling multiple all-nighters or working more than one day on weekend, the timeframe is too tight. The other party may provide a compelling reason for me to do those things, but it had better be good.
  3. Only take things as seriously as the other parties involved.
  4. Get everything in writing at least one week before the due date. This includes, but is not limited to: date, time, location (exact!), number of participants, context (ie: syllabus or list of other speakers).
  5. If compliance with number four is lacking, see number three.

I don't know when I will be able to give this blasted lecture. I can't believe that after I spent so much time and effort preparing for it, I really feel quite ambivalent about giving it now. I know, I know, "It would be a shame to waste all that work," and, "The students are really looking forward to hearing what you have to say," and, maybe, "You share a little bit of responsibilty for this, too. You should redeem yourself by giving a kick-ass lecture."

M'kay. Sure. When I get around to it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What kind of fuckery is this?

Today I was scheduled to give a one and a half hour guest lecture in a highly specialized course. The topic: my research and some of the technichal background to how it's done. I have been preparing for this for over a week. I probably could have done with about a month. I have been staying up way too late for several nights in a row, and finally, today was the day.

You can probably guess from the title, there was a problem. My university has a main campus and a medical school, and they are separated by about 30 minutes of travel time. My lab, and the lab of the organizer of the course for which I was to guest lecture, is in the medical school campus. When I was asked to give the lecture, I somehow got the idea that the class was being held at the medical school campus. Turns out I was wrong. The course organizer never bothered to tell me what room to go to, and when I went to find him to ask, he had already driven to the other campus. Without telling me. Or letting anyone else know where the class was. I guess it never crossed his mind that I might need to know where to go. Or that it might be nice to offer me a ride, so I wouldn't have to lug my computer and the whole stack of handouts on the bus. To teach an hour and a half lecture for his class. For free.

I'm not going to try to recreate what I said when I finally found out (he called someone in his lab to ask where I was). I can't really remember. It was loud, though.

I've heard it said that you need about 10 hours of prep time for every hour you will be lecturing. My previous experiences (giving lectures for sections and teaching various tutorial style classes) have been right on that estimate.

So, when I was asked to give the lecture, I said I'd need a week's notice to prepare. Which, of course, was pretty much all I got. I was asked by the class leader twice on a Friday, "So can you do it Wednesday?" The first time, I said no, because I was going to be out of town for a conference. The second time, I said I could do it the next week. Some people I talked to suggested that I was being too nice, considering the amount of work, but I was thinking that:

  1. I didn't want to go back and forth until the end of the semester.
  2. It would be a good opportunity for me to get some serious lecturing under my belt, without taking responsibility for an entire semester-long course.
  3. I was flattered that anyone was so interested in my work my and valued my knowledge of the field.

Well, the 10 hours prep/hour lecture rule did not hold for this scenario. For one thing, I haven't taken courses for a while, now, and I have moved and re-organized, etc. So all the relevant background material was not, as they say, readily at hand. And I have a lot more distractions now than I did the last time I taught. And I just think that rule only holds under certain conditions, which, if not met, result in something more like prep time = 10 (lecture time)^a. I don't know how a is determined. I don't really want to find out.

So, now I have a dilemma: when this guy asks me to give the lecture next week, what should I say? I'm torn between three options:
  1. Sure, no problem. The lecture is prepared anyway.
  2. I'll have to see when I can fit that in. I'll get back to you.
  3. Fuck off, you disorganized piece of...

Maybe I should search through some more Amy Winehouse lyrics to find a fourth option.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Little One

My second daughter turned two years old today. It's hard to believe that just two years ago, I was completely immersed in the drama of bringing her into the world.

My pregnancy with Thing 2 was a pretty rocky ride. To begin with, I hadn't affiliated with a lab yet when she was conceived. I was pretty sure that the PI of the lab I wanted to join would have me, and likewise pretty sure that he would not have an issue with this, but it was still pretty nerve-racking to have to say, "I'd really like to join your lab," followed immediately by "I think you should know that I'm pregnant." I was so relieved when his responses were, "I'd love to have you join the lab" and "Wow, that's great!" Though some of my colleagues like to rib me, saying that I will not be able to graduate if I don't move past this stage, I genuinely like and respect my PI, and the adoration-meter jumped to eleven in that moment.

All was going pretty well for the first few months, except that I was completely exhausted all the time, and it seemed like my belly was growing large way too fast. My doctor dismissed my concerns by pointing out that it was my second pregnancy (a stretched uterus pops out more quickly) and I was working really hard. And I was. I was in the lab full-time, running experiments that took a minimum of six hours from start to finish, and I was taking care of Thing 1 by myself all week. We were living in New City (to which we moved so that I could go to my top choice graduate school) while my husband was still working in Old City and just with us on the weekends. We thought he would get a job in New City any moment. It ended up taking almost four years. But that is another story.

But I had worked nearly as hard during my first pregnancy, and nobody who didn't know me really well would have realized that I was pregnant just by looking at me until I was five months along. This time, I was falling asleep at my desk and I could just barely keep it secret for three months. Then I went and had an ultrasound. They made me wait a really long time after the scan was done, and then came out and said the doctor who read the scan wanted to see me. She told me that the baby was fine (whew!) but that I had two very large fibroid tumors. One was nearly 10 centimeters in diameter. Just as a point of reference, a fully dilated cervix has an opening 10 centimeters in diameter, so that's roughly the size of a full-term baby's head. She then went on to tell me that though fibroid tumors are not malignant, there was a risk that a tumor that large could outgrow its blood supply and infarct, the same process that occurs when a part of the heart muscle dies in a heart attack. She advised me to talk to my obstetrician about this.

Of course, I did at my next appointment. But she seemed to think that it the likelihood of that happening was extremely small. About a month later, I went to a departmental retreat. My belly was huge - people though I was going to have the baby right then. I was exhausted, and I could hardly stand up for more than five minutes. But I thought it was just muscle pain from my stretching uterus. About a week after I got back, the pain started to get worse. I called my doctor and described what I was feeling. She thought it was heartburn. I walked to the drugstore to get some antacid. I noticed that every time my right heel hit the pavement, a sharp wave of pain ran through my torso. That did not seem like heartburn. I called a bunch of people, including the nurse on call for my insurance company who advised me to insist that my doctor see me immediately. By the end of the day, I was hospitalized and on a morphine pump. I have never felt pain like that before, and hope never to feel it again. The diagnosis: infarction of an extremely large fibroid tumor.

I fired my obstetrician (who was a family practitioner - really my case was out of her depth) and surveyed my options. I called my PI when I finally went home, and laid it all out for him - I could work, but it was risky for me to exert myself because I could have another episode. The adoration-meter leapt to twelve when he told me that he would rather have me take care of myself and the baby and do what work I could at home where I could rest. All he requested was that I try to make it in once a week for group meetings.

So that's what I did. It's a good thing, too, because the pain never really went away, it just changed from acute to chronic and nagging, and the exhaustion only got worse. The actual birth was a grueling, exceptionally complicated caesarean that had nurses running for equipment that hadn't been used in twenty years, and my doctor asking for a camera because she had "never seen anything like this before". And it was all worth it when I saw her. She was perfect - you would never guess that her womb had been touched by such turmoil.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Working from Home"

I have a hard time keeping up with all the nonsense that needs to be done at home. Of course, I get help from my husband, but I still haven't recovered from the 3.5 years that he was working in another city and thus was only here on weekends. I don't ask for enough help. And maybe there is not enough help available - it doesn't seem like either of us spends an inordinate amount of time sitting around doing nothing. We both bring work home, and then there are the two children that, for some reason, always seem to need the most attention just when you are trying to get something big done, like cleaning the fridge out or doing the laundry.

About once a month, or so, I just can't take it anymore - the house is disgusting, there are half finished organizational tasks strewn about, nobody has any clean clothes, and I realize we have some extra stuff on the agenda that reduces the amount of time I have to try and get things under control over the weekend. So I snap! And I decide to "work from home" for a day. Usually I say that I'm going to do data analysis, or work on some writing that has been put on the back burner for too long. And I tell myself that I'll just spend a couple of hours putting a few things in order around the house. I'll just get that done first, so that I can work in a tidy environment. It never, ever works out that way.

Take today, for instance. All the conditions for the snap had been met by Wednesday of this week. There are toys strewn all about that have no home. The new storage units I bought for the toys last weekend are only partially assembled, and nobody can walk through the Things' room because I have shoved everything into the middle of the room to make way for the construction. The laundry pile is even larger and smellier than ever. I need to get the guest lecture I will be giving on Wednesday planned and PowerPoint slides made. And we are having a birthday party for Thing 2 on Sunday.


I finished assembling the units, put most of the toys away in them, and vacuumed the Things' bedroom. It had been a lot longer since I'd done this than usual, so it was quite a big job. I lugged all the debris from the storage units down to the recycling bin in the basement of our building. The I decided that since I had the vacuum cleaner out, I might as well do the living room, too. It's now about 1:30, and I am considering tackling the laundry in between making slides. Oh, yeah! I need to get detergent. Maybe while I'm out I'll just pick up a helium canister and balloons for Sunday, and didn't my husband want to get Thing 2 a couple more presents...

I'm going to be up all night on Tuesday trying to get that lecture done.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

I must confess - I have always loved Valentine's Day. There is something so charming about reserving a day especially for telling people that you love them. Before you get started, I know that Valentine's Day is largely a capitalist creation of the evil Hallmark company (or whatever your gripe may be) so please bear in mind that my idea of Valentine's Day is not the one they are selling.

First of all, I believe that Valentine cards sould be homemade, not storebought. I don't care how much they pay some copywriter, s/he is not going to be able to express my love adequately or accurately.

Second of all, I don't think that Valentine's Day should be some sort of test - potential lover coughs up red roses and jewelery, gets end away, happily ever after. No roses, no bling, no happy ending. That hardly seems fair. Either you like each other or you don't, so you get it on, or you don't. Simple, right?

Well, not always. Love only begins as a heady potion, that once drunk can lead us to make fools of ourselves. That's the hook. And, oh, boy, does it feel good. But after the "honeymoon stage" you have to figure out how to keep loving the person you choose, without acting like a fool. I have to say that after thirtheen (yes THIRTEEN) years of marriage, I'm still figuring this out. But it helps me to occasionally remember how I met my husband.

It was my first trip abroad. Everyone else in my family had been to Europe, including my younger sister. And now my older brother was doing a whole semester abroad. It wasn't fair. I had do get out beyond the boundaries of this country so I could call myself a citizen of the world. So I did what any girl from the midwest who was afraid of being kidnapped by gypsies would: I went to visit my brother for my Spring Break. The trip cost me all my savings, and I almost didn't get my passport on time. Then there was a blizzard on the day I was scheduled to depart. The airline told me there were no seats "in my class" available for a week. I cried - in one week, Spring Break would be over, and my parents would never agree to me missing school for this. The reservation agent felt sorry for me and gave me a business class seat on the next fight. After a red-eye flight spent getting hopelessly drunk with a firecracker of an older lady who was meeting friends to drive around Europe, I set foot on non-American soil for the first time in my life. I spent the week checking out museums and getting lost on trains because I didn't speak the language, and for my last full day, took a bus trip with my brother, who, of course, paid more attention to his girlfriend than to me. So I ended up sitting next to a very tall man with a powerful Scottish accent and a bag full of oranges. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but it wasn't. He tried to speak to me in the local language, to which I snarkily replied "I speak English". He sheepishly went to sleep beside me. Several hours later, my opinion had changed, and I guess his had, too. Then after months and months of letters, phone calls, and trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, he moved to the States.

Now if this was a Hallmark Special, that would probably be the end. Maybe a soft focus epilogue of our wedding, with some super short clips of our following travels together tacked on to the end. But that was just the beginning. We have two children together, now. We own our home. We have both worked hard to balance our career goals, which usually ends up meaning taking turns taking priority. We have fought mightily. We have clung to each other in tragedy. We have drifted nearer and farther from each other in real and emotional space, and the two have not always been correlated.

And I was still completely surprised to see a florist box on our front door when I got home today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


First of all, thanks for the encouraging comment, contrary-wise. I will keep writing.

Second of all, I tried out a meme you had on your blog. I guess you never leave your youthful self completely behind...

acmegirl --

A person who is constantly high
'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Guest Lecture

So I've been asked to give a guest lecture for a class on [male-dominated sub-sub field] and its application to [male-dominated field] and [another, slightly less male-dominated field]. I'm supposed to talk about my own research and how it fits into the grand scheme of the field in which I work. Which is, of course, male-dominated. And the lecture is supposed to be "very technical", as requested by the man who is running the course. Which I interpret to mean "with lots of math". Though I've been working on this stuff for a while, now, and generally feel that I understand what I'm doing, it's been a while since I've had to discuss the theory behind it all, let alone in front of a bunch of posturing Ivy League students. I'm a little bit nervous, to say the least.

It's not that I can't handle the material. I did all the problem sets and exams in [male-dominated field] as an undergraduate and did them well enough to land myself a slot in a top tier graduate program. It's really that I haven't quite shaken the idea that when people see me, they won't buy that I know my stuff. And it's hard to give math intensive lectures. It's hard to write a derivation on the board and not lose track of where you are in your notes, or just make a mistake. When I was an undergrad, I used to get an perverse pleasure out of catching the professors' math mistakes and pointing them out. I must have been a really annoying little prick. And now, I have to stand in front of a room full of annoying little pricks and try to keep track of my notes, while worrying that I'm not being taken seriously. What a nightmare.

Still, it's a good opportunity for me to get more teaching experience. It's one lecture, not the whole semester, and it's material I'm familiar with. At least in theory. Oh, who am I kidding! Why the hell did I say I would do this?

Shit Happens

I wrote the last post on the weekend, and I have to say, I think I underestimated how surreal the mornings can be. Yesterday morning, we had reached step six (where I attempt to get dressed) and things were already feeling a little unhinged. Breakfast had already been an utter failure - Thing 1 was dissatisfied with the specials of the day and Thing 2 had requested two unproductive trips to the bathroom and refused to eat more than a mouthful of banana. I had given up on catching the little monkey and chosen to change up the order and dress myself first. I was in the intermediate state (pajamas off, but work clothes not on yet) when I heard a HUGE commotion from the Things' bedroom. "Mom! She's got a huge turd in her pants!"

Yes. Potty training is a multi-step process. Thing 2 has got the liquid waste part down pat, but sometimes the solid waste catches her off guard...

I run to the bathroom to find Thing 2 sitting on the little potty with her pants around her ankles, and one leg is FILLED with shit. And not a nice, well behaved, solid turd either. And Thing 1 is standing as far away from this as possible while still remaining in the bathroom. What a trooper.

On my arrival, however, she bolts, and I begin the unimaginable process of cleaning it all up. Lucky for me this is my second time along the potty training road, so I know about the dunk and flush method of removing shit from tiny little clothing, and have no problem hosing down a small child in the bathtub with a handheld shower head in spite of her eardrum shattering shrieks. Good thing I hadn't gotten dressed yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A day in the life of...(Part 1)

On any given weekday, I am fully awake by around 6:30 am. Of course my sleep has been a bit fitful since around 4 am, which is when Thing 2 toddles into the queen sized bed I share with my husband for a "cuddle". The word is in quotation marks because what Thing 2 seems to think is cuddling is actually stroking mommy's belly, a slightly creepy comforting habit that both my children enjoyed. The enjoyment is not really mutual, unfortunately. And true to her temperament, Thing 2 has kicked it up a notch: where Thing 1 would surreptitiously slide her hand under the bottom of my shirt, Thing 2 just aggressively and unceremoniously yanks my shirt up and has at it. A couple of months ago, I was ready to completely ban her from the bed, but she became inexplicably compliant when I started to ask her to please, PLEASE stop yanking on my clothes. So, she now serves as a pre-alarm clock: shirt yank, "please stop", "okay", back to sleep, repeat. My own little organic snooze button. But I digress.

Sometime during this little cuddle-fest, touchy-feely snooze button torture, my husband gets up, brings me coffee and gets ready to leave for work early enough to miss the morning traffic. Lest you think he is a saint, rest assured that the "Coffee Wars" will be covered in a future post (or ten). The coffee is necessary, but not sufficient for me to then:

1) Wake up Thing 1. This requires calling her, on average, 10 times. (But I suspect the lag time is exponentially distributed)
2) Get breakfast for both Things.
3) Pack peanut-free lunches for both Things that require neither refigeration nor reheating, yet will still taste good 5 hours from now.
4) Encourage Thing 2 to get washed up and dressed.
5) Catch Thing 1 and convince her to stand still long enough to get dressed. Or chase her around with clothing items attempting to sort of lasso her with shirts and the like.
6) Dress myself while being distracted repeatedly by needing to find out why someone is shrieking. By this point, getting to work is really starting to look very attractive.
7) Corrale everyone toward the door and hastily check that I haven't forgotten more than two things. (though my threshhold is gradually increasing)
8) Walk everyone to school/daycare, about a 1.5 mile walk, pushing a stroller.
Then I walk to my lab, getting breakfast on the way because I just can't handle a routine longer than seven steps before leaving the house. I usually get in sometime between 8:30 and 9:00.

This only just barely captures the essence of the gauntlet that is my morning routine. But I'm not complaining. I'm just demonstrating the fact that when I arrive, on the early side of average arrival time in my lab, I've already been working - hard - for a good 2 hours.

ScienceWoman wrote here about feeling that the "Active Dads" are receiving more consideration for their responsiblities outside of work than mothers, which resulted in a few snarky comments about how we parents have chosen our lot, and shouldn't expect co-workers to "pick up the slack" for us. I don't think that my needing to schedule meetings no earlier than 9:00 means that I want someone to do my work for me. Maybe if I started asking my labmates to make my kids' lunches or call me on the phone to help me get up on time I could be accused of "slacking". Or maybe I could just stop doing those things altogether, since this self-indulgent need of mine to take care of my children may be inconveniencing everyone that I work with. That's where these "personal choice" arguments fall down. If I don't take care of my kids, then it falls to the state to do it. One way or another, society must absorb some of the costs of raising children. Or maybe what these people really mean to say is that since my husband and I have chosen to have kids, I should no longer be chosing to pursue my career.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why am I doing this?

Although free time is at a premium for me these days, I've been thinking about blogging and reading blogs for a while. I was inspired to take the plunge by ScienceWoman's post about a month ago on the barriers facing women in science, here, where she wonders,

At what point are the hurdles simply too high? What level of obstacles defeat us all, no matter how much drive, determination, and intelligence? When do we admit that for some people's lives, there are no examples? When do we admit that we don't know whether "it can be done"?
Though it may be the height of arrogance, I felt like she was talking about me.