Thursday, February 28, 2008

Working Mum: Transferable Skills

I'm reading The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, by Katherine Ellison. One of the later chapters deals with the transferable skills developed in parenting. She mentions time management, dependability, leadership, care-giving, and conflict resolution. The skills she mentions are applicable to most jobs. I think there are also some skills specifically applicable to management positions. Two in particular come to mind:

1. The ability to get things done despite constant interruptions.
Any mother and any manager can tell you that constant interruptions are a hallmark of their jobs. To be successful at either, you have to learn how to get things done- even complex things- while subject to interruption at any time. I don't think this is a skill that can really be taught. Different people will have different methods based on their other strengths and weaknesses.


2. The ability to make decisions with incomplete information.
Both mothers and managers often have to make important decisions based on the information at hand, whether or not that information is complete. In either job, insisting on a complete analysis of every decision would be disastrous. Sometimes the missing information is just not available. Sometimes the time it would take to do the full analysis would result in an undesirable outcome, even if the eventual decision reached was the "right" one. However, both mother and managers also have to know when to say that the information is too incomplete to allow a decision, and take more time to go search for the necessary information. In my experience, the confidence in your ability to recognize which situations can be handled with a decision based on incomplete information comes from practice. I've gotten better at this with more time managing and with more time mommying.

I'm sure there are more transferable skills. Feel free to add some in the comments. I'll keep thinking about this topic and will probably revisit it in the future.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Six Quirky Things

Caramama tagged me to list six quirky things about myself. I'm a little tardy with this post- Pumpkin was sick this weekend, and I started a new job on Monday, so I haven't had much time to post.

Here are the rules:
1) Link to the person that tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4) Tag at least 3 people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6) Let the fun begin!

I have to confess that I don't think I can satisfy rule #4- I think every other Mommyblogger I read has already been tagged. Clearly, I need to read more blogs. (My husband might disagree.)

But here are the six quirky things about me:

1. I park my car in a "car park".
I'm American. I should park my car in a parking lot. I blame my Kiwi hubby. He's suffered a similar fate. He should take the rubbish out, but actually takes the garbage out.

2. One of the four things I can say in Swedish is "Can I have an ashtray?"
I don't smoke.
(The other three things are: Thanks very much, I don't speak Swedish, and I don't understand.)

3. I live by the ocean, but I don't like fish.
If pressed, I will eat some salmon. But I won't like it.
(Given the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, I now take fish oil pills.)

4. I am a big rugby fan. This is also due to Hubby. When he first moved to America, he didn't have anyone to watch rugby with, so I started watching. Before long, I was hooked. Now we go to the USA Sevens every year (yes, we took Pumpkin this year and I went while quite pregnant last year) and pay $15/month for the channel that shows rugby on TV. And we timed our big trip to have us in Hong Kong for that sevens tournament.

5. I like to drink in high places.
Hubby and I have a tradition of finding the highest place in every city in which to have a drink. By far the coolest was the bar in Bangkok, which was Distil, an outdoor bar on the 64th floor of the State Tower in Bangkok. The bar on the 63rd floor looked even cooler:


6. I don't like to go to the movies.
I rarely want to go to the movies. The exceptions are Jane Austen movies and some Sci-Fi movies. This is a puzzle to my family, particularly my father and sister who are bona fide movie buffs.

Now, to prove that I have no one to tag, here are links to the similar posts by all the Mommybloggers I read:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mind the Gap

I started a new job today. I left my old job last Thursday. My former employer has a policy of canceling insurance coverage at 11:59 p.m. on the last day of employment. My new employer has a policy of starting insurance on the first day of the month.

My options to cover me and Pumpkin during this time are:

1. COBRA (which I'd have to pay for the entire month of February, even though my former employer already paid for my insurance through Feb. 21)
2. Add us temporarily to Hubby's plan
3. Do nothing

We're actually going with a mix of 1 and 3, because you have 60 days in which to get your COBRA paperwork in and it is then retroactive to the day after I left my former employer. So, we will pay any costs during my gap in coverage out of pocket, and if it looks like they are going to be more than the cost of COBRA, we'll go ahead and submit the COBRA paperwork. This maximizes the chance that we will have to do minimal paperwork. I liked option #2, but Hubby talked me out of it with tales of his dysfunctional Human Resources unit, and convinced me that they would be unlikely to get us added to his plan before March 1.

Of course, our chosen method only works because we have the means to cover most costs out of pocket and the credit cards to ensure that we would not be denied treatment based on a presumed inability to pay for the costs. I know that many are not so lucky.

This is a crazy system. We have a term for this sort of thing in the database design world- it is a patchwork quilt design. A system was designed at one point that made sense given the requirements known at that time. Then new requirements are discovered and the system is patched. Repeatedly. At some point, you really just need to toss out the system and redesign from scratch. I really think we are at that point.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Zenbit: River, Running Through It

















Location: Idaho (north of Boise)
Date: October 8, 2005

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Risk Adversity

I often think about how so much of parenting involves making cost-benefit/risk analysis type decisions with woefully incomplete data. Given the incompleteness of the data and the obvious uniqueness of each child, I try to avoid judging other parents' decisions. After all, we are all just trying to make the decisions that we think are best for our children, and who am I to judge someone who comes down in a different place on any particular cost-benefit spectrum?

However, there is some news in my home town that is making this difficult: we are in the midst of a measles outbreak here in San Diego. At last report, we were up to 12 confirmed cases, all children, none of whom had been vaccinated. Some of these kids were not vaccinated because their parents have chosen not to have them vaccinated, either for religious reasons or because they believe that the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine is associated with autism. I do not have any desire to retype all of the evidence that contradicts that theory. You can read this short summary from the CDC if you have somehow managed to miss this information. And if you don't believe the CDC, then there is nothing I can write that will sway you, anyway. (I am specifically not talking about people who choose to tweak the vaccination schedule or ask for three separate shots rather than the MMR- I may or may not come to the same decision given their family history, etc., but their kids end up vaccinated and it is no concern of mine if they do it with more shots over a longer period of time.)

The measles outbreak occurring here in San Diego began in a 7 year old child who contracted measles during a family trip to Switzerland. The child's parents had decided not to give him or her the MMR vaccine. The disease quickly spread to the child's siblings, and then to other unvaccinated children at a charter school (which, incidentally, has a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated children, probably because it is a bit of an "alternative" school). So far, I'm thinking "too bad for the kids that their parents didn't get them vaccinated". But then it started turning up in babies. The MMR vaccine is not usually given until a child reaches 12 months. So the 10 and 11 month old babies who have caught measles were not victims of their parents' decisions. They were victims of the decisions made by other children's parents and some bad luck. At least one baby has had to be hospitalized. This news article includes a graphic detailing the course of the outbreak. For those of you who don't live in San Diego, I'll just mention that the neighborhoods affected are quite wealthy areas of town. Whatever the reason these parents have for deciding not to give their kids the MMR vaccine, it has nothing to do with money or lack of access to information.

At this point, I think it is worth noting that according to the news report I cited above, three children died during the last measles outbreak in San Diego. Yes, died. I think most of us here in the developed world have forgotten how catastrophic these childhood diseases can be.

So I'm warily keeping an eye on the reports of an outbreak that is moving in circles disconcertingly close to my own, knowing that there really isn't much I can do to protect Pumpkin from the consequences of decisions made by other parents. Decisions that I think are just plain wrong. And, because I am a scientist, I can't help but wonder what has happened to make such privileged, educated people distrust the scientific evidence, which at this point is quite strong.

I do not advocate blind acceptance of every recommendation from scientific and medical experts. I have recently been reminded about the controversy over estrogen-mimicking compounds in plastic, and have printed off some studies that I plan to review soon. However, there is a world of difference between making the decision to use a more expensive baby bottle because of possibly unfounded concerns about a chemical in the cheaper ones and making the decision not to vaccinate your child because of really rather disproven concerns about autism. My decision on the baby bottles has no impact on your child. Your decision on the vaccine can have a profound impact on my child.

I am also very much aware of the limitations of any "research" I might do into these concerns. I put "research" in quotes, because to really research the baby bottle issue, I would need to read the literally hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles on the potential impacts of bisphenol A, carefully considering the limitations of each study. I might have questions about some studies that were not answered in the articles reporting them, so I might want to write to the authors and request the original data so that I could run my own analyses. This would take me weeks if not months of concentrated effort.

Of course, I do not have time to do this. I have a job and a baby who needs me to take care of her. The best I can hope to do in the time I have is to find the most recent review-type articles in PubMed and read them to see if I agree with the recommendations of the true experts. Luckily for me, there are scientists whose job it is to do the thorough research, both on the bisphenol A issue and on the autism issue. In fact, I pay them to do just this sort of research for me. These are the good folks at the CDC and the EPA. The only reason I feel the need to do a cursory review on the bisphenol A issue is that the current president's administration has a track record of having the political appointees censor the scientists.

And when I do that review of the information on bisphenol A? I will be using information from peer reviewed scientific articles. The peer review system isn't perfect, but it sure beats the internet popularity contest or Hollywood celebrity endorsement methods of information selection.

I suspect that if people would do the same thing when they research the MMR vaccine and autism, I wouldn't be worrying about whether Pumpkin will catch measles.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Working Mum: More on Working with a Baby Who Doesn't Sleep Through the Night

I realized as I read the comments on my earlier post on being a working mother with a baby who doesn't sleep through the night that all of my tips were about how to get more sleep. I completely neglected the equally important topic of how to function on far less sleep than you'd like.

Pre-Pumpkin, I prided myself on my memory. Sadly, memory is one of the first things to go when you're sleep deprived. However, I still pride myself on my follow through, particularly at work. If I say I'm going to do something, I make it a point not to forget to do it. I have two main methods to help me maintain follow through with a memory that has turned to swiss cheese: lists and processes.

I have always been a list writer, so it was only natural for me to turn to lists in my newly addled state. Pre-Pumpkin, I had a to do list at work and sometimes, when we had a lot going on at home, one at home as well. Now, I have an extensive, categorized to do list at work. I have a column on my white board for each project, and I write everything I agree to do under the appropriate label. I also make a note of any due dates. At home, we keep a Google Document to do list and also usually write a paper to do list for the weekend (we agree on our "goals" for the weekend Friday evening or Saturday morning- really, the romance of parenthood blows me away sometimes).

The processes I use to handle my forgetfulness are new. Businesses define processes to deal with the fact that not all employees are brilliant. If you have a good process, even an average (or below average) employee can follow it and contribute (or at least not create huge problems). It occurred to me that on my sleep deprived days I was like a below average version of myself. So I started to define and follow processes. Here are some examples:

1. I never close an email before I either answer it or write an item on my to do list. I do a lot of work with people on the East coast, so I often come in to three hours' worth of "urgent" emails. I need to read through and answer the most important ones first, but I also need to be sure I don't forget about any of the less important ones.

2. I always put new pump parts into my bag when I get home. I had to drive home to get various parts twice before I came up with this one. Duh.

3. I schedule reminders for recurring tasks in my calendar. For instance, every Wednesday I have to email some of my plans for the next week to one of our administrative assistants. I used to just remember to do this. Now, I have a reminder in my calendar.

Using my lists and processes, I manage to hide the fact that some days I can barely remember my office number. Now, if anyone has any tips for how to fake mental quickness when you've only slept three hours the night before, I'd love to hear them!

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For those who tune in hoping to read cute stories about Pumpkin (Hi, Mom!), I'm pleased to report that she is well and truly into the "role reversal" phase. It started with her attempts to give me a drink from the water bottle she was playing with. Now she also tries to give me bites of her crackers when she's eating. (Yum. Mushed up cracker.) And just tonight, while I was bouncing her in my arms trying to get her to sleep, she kept reaching up and trying to give me her binky to suck on. I couldn't help but laugh, which made her laugh and greatly hindered the whole going to sleep process. I can tell that these are great days, and know I should document some of these things, but what would I put this under in her baby book? First time she delayed doing something she didn't want to do by making me laugh?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Zenbit: Indigo


















Later, we snorkeled near the larger of these islands. The water was as amazing when in it as from above.

Location: Easter Island
Date: December 18, 2005

Friday, February 15, 2008

Luck Should Have Nothing to Do With It

I live a privileged life. Hubby and I make good salaries, and enjoy the benefits that this brings. This blog, after all, was originally intended to be a place to tell stories from a four month trip around Asia and the Pacific that we took, which I am fully aware is not something everyone can afford to do (although it is not as expensive as you might think). We have gotten to this state through a combination of hard work, good decisions, and luck. Yes, luck. I have had a lot of good luck in my life.

Obviously, I have not always made as much money as I do now. When I was in graduate school, my stipend would have worked out to a little bit better than minimum wage, assuming a 40 hour work week. Of course, I was in graduate school, so my "work week" was much more than 40 hours. I remember reading a story about the gap between the official poverty level and a true living wage, and noticing that my stipend was roughly equal to the poverty level for a family of four. I remember thinking two things when I noticed that: (1) How in the world would someone support a family of four on what I make? and (2) Boy, am I glad that I won't be making this small amount of money forever, because it sure would be nice to finish a month and not have my bank balance hovering near zero.

That second thought describes one way in which my graduate school situation was different from that of many people who find themselves living on such a small salary- my circumstances were temporary, and I expected that I would be able to get a better paying job once I finished graduate school. (That this turned out to be true was one of the instances where luck played a big role in my life. I happened to leave graduate school at a particularly good time for finding a job in my field. Had I graduated two years later, things would have been very different.) Delayed gratification is very different from no foreseeable prospect of gratification.

There is another, more important way in which my graduate school situation was different from than that of most people making the same amount of money. I had excellent benefits. I had the best health insurance I have ever had as an adult. I could go see any doctor at the hospital/clinic associated with my graduate program. For free. I had a very small co-pay for prescriptions, and was never told that a drug my doctor prescribed wasn't on the insurance formulary. I also had paid sick leave- since I was technically studying, rather than working, I could call in sick to lab whenever I needed. Neither of these things are true for most people working actual minimum-wage jobs, which means that even a relatively minor medical emergency or a illness that keeps them home from work for more than a day or two can be catastrophic. I remember the buffer I had in my finances during graduate school, and I know that it would not have been sufficient to cover such a thing, and I was only supporting myself.

You only have to go and read some of the requests for help at ModestNeeds.org to see how many people find themselves teetering on the brink of financial disaster due to some bad luck with their health, or the health of someone they love. For the most part, these are people with jobs, but whose jobs offer no health insurance or insurance that is too expensive or inadequate to be a reasonable choice. Go read this post, a guest post from Kyla at MOMocrats for a more detailed story of someone who is caught in the insanity that is our current health insurance system.

I haven't really blogged about politics, and I don't intend to start. Others do it better than I would. However, this is an issue that I really think should transcend politics. Access to health care without bankrupting your family should not be a matter of luck. I lean to the left, so I tend to think that some sort of government-mandated universal health care is the answer, but I'm open minded, and am willing to consider any plan to get to the same goal via private enterprise that someone cares to offer. Just don't try to tell me that this isn't important. Too many people are crossing their fingers and hoping for good luck, when luck should have nothing to do with it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Well, That Was Fun

Do you know what is worse than having your usual 20 minute commute home take close to an hour?* Driving said commute with a screaming baby. Let's just say that Pumpkin likes traffic jams less than I do. And I'm not really all that fond of them.

*It rained today in San Diego. We don't drive well in the rain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Working Mum: Working with a Baby Who Doesn't Sleep Through the Night

I met a mom at support group last week whose 3.5 month old baby has recently gone from sleeping through the night to being up every 2-3 hours. (Regular Ask Moxie readers are probably familiar with the four month sleep regression and are nodding their heads knowingly right about now.) I told her that a lot of babies have this problem, and that it is just a phase and will pass. She said "but I'm going back to work next month", with a slightly panicked look on her face. "How will I handle working if the baby isn't sleeping through the night?"

Well, Pumpkin has yet to sleep through the night (and I mean that phrase in the everyday, "she sleeps the entire time I sleep" sense, not the silly "she slept five hours in a row" sense). And I am doing just fine at work. I won't lie and claim that there haven't been some very difficult weeks (these usually involve some sort of illness for Pumpkin and/or other members of the household), but on the whole, we do OK. Here are the things I think make this possible:

1. Hubby and I split the night. Each of us gets to sleep relatively uninterrupted for half of the night. I find that as long as I get 3-4 hours of uninterrupted sleep and an hour or two of additional sleep, I actually feel fine. We did this even before we started nightweaning. My advice to mothers planning to go back to work: introduce a bottle once breastfeeding is well established, so that Hubby can help out (and so that you have one less thing to worry about when transitioning into day care). The lactation counselors at my hospital recommended
introducing the bottle at ~3 weeks if breastfeeding was going well.

2. We take advantage of all offers for sleep help. My Mom is here now, because Pumpkin had an eye infection and couldn't go to day care. She offered to take a night shift so that Hubby could get some more sleep (he's been losing more sleep than me lately, due to the nightweaning efforts). We gladly accepted. Earlier, when Pumpkin's sleep was worse than it is now, I would accept offers from anyone who wanted to take her for a walk while I napped.

3. We catch up on sleep whenever we can. We take turns sleeping in a bit on the weekends. When sleep times were particularly bad, I would send Pumpkin to day care on one of my Fridays off and sleep for a couple of hours in the morning. I'd go pick her up at lunch time and we'd have a fun afternoon together.

4. We have seriously relaxed our housekeeping standards. Pre-Pumpkin, we did a fairly thorough cleaning every other weekend. This doesn't happen much anymore. Now we ar emore likely to do spot cleaning. Of course, a certain amount of housework is necessary for our sanity (I hate grungy bathrooms) and for Pumpkin's safety- I caught her about to eat a dust bunny the other day, and decided that perhaps our standards have gotten too lax. We're probably going to get a maid service to help out (the reason we don't have one yet is a topic for a future post on the differences between New Zealanders and Americans). Most other working moms I know swear by their maid service.

5. I go to bed really, really early. When Pumpkin's sleep was at its worst, I'd go to be before she did- I'd finish her last nursing, then hand her to Hubby and head off to bed. Now I go to bed at 9 most nights, and am almost never awake at 10.

Speaking of which... it is almost bedtime now! I'd be interested in reading any other tips for working moms with babies who don't sleep particularly well. I'm always looking to improve our routine.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Zenbit: Safe Clothes



















Yes, the clothes are made out of condoms.

Location:
Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant, Bangkok, Thailand
Date: March 3, 2006

Friday, February 08, 2008

I Love These Days

I currently only work 35 hours/week. I have been at this slightly reduced number of hours since Pumpkin was 5 months old (she's 10 months old now). At first, I tried to take every Friday off, and just work an hour or two from home while she napped. If you read back through my archives, you'll see that napping has not always been Pumpkin's forte, so that plan didn't work so well. In January, I switched to taking every other Friday off. That works much better. I don't have to try to log in and do any work, which (along with an attitude adjustment about naps in the stroller and a general improvement in Pumpkin's napping skills) has made napping much less of an issue.

To be honest, I find the Fridays off more tiring than my work days. Pumpkin apparently demands much more concentration than my job. However, she and I have recently found our groove on our days together. Today, for instance, was an almost perfect day. We went to my breastfeeding support group for old times' sake. She was cute and charming just like the older babies from my early days at the group. I hope she and I provided some comfort to the new moms like the older babies and their mothers did for me. Instead of just saying it gets easier, we demonstrated it! Well, except for the bit where I chased her all over the room keeping her from sticking her fingers in plugs or littler babies' eyes... that is definitely harder than the days when she'd just nap in my arms or play on the blanket I brought for her. But I'll take that over the sore nipples, raging hormones, and non-stop nursing of the early days.

After support group, we came home and ate lunch. She got mad at me because I stopped at the drug store for a quick errand on the way home. She burst into tears when I hefted her car seat onto her stroller. I could almost hear her saying "No, Mommy! We're supposed to go home and have lunch now!" Once we were home and she was happily ensconced in her high chair, though, the smiles came back, and she actually ate all of her lunch with minimal fuss. This is another vast improvement over... well, over two weeks ago. Another parenting problem solved just by waiting. Really, I should learn to take that problem solving approach more often.

Once lunch was done, we played in the backyard a bit, but not too long, because I got tired of taking things out of her hands and saying "we don't eat X", where X=grass, leaves, rocks, etc. Still, she loves to be outdoors, and it was a beautiful day. We played some more indoors, and then I got out her stroller to take her for a walk. First we stopped in to visit the older couple two doors down. They have been stopping me in the morning to say hi and apologize for not coming to welcome us to the neighborhood, and I thought they might enjoy meeting Pumpkin. I was right, and we had a nice visit (I now know where to go for any neighborhood history or gossip I need- they are original owners of their house, and seem to know everyone). Pumpkin was again cute and charming, but when she started yawning I knew it was time to go. We took a long walk around the neighborhood. She napped through most of it.

As usual, she woke up not long after we got home, but she fell right back to sleep when I picked her up, so I little her snuggle into my chest and went and took a nap on the sofa. I used to worry about "spoiling " her by letting her sleep in my arms, but now I think I should treasure these times, because I can already see that the snuggling days are numbered. She is in a cling-to-Mommy phase right now, and even so, she wants down a lot more often. She'll go away and play for a few minutes, and then come back for another hug. It makes it impossible to do any actual chores, but isn't the prolonged snuggling that she used to like.

After her nap, we read stories. She loves the Baby Says Peekaboo book her U.S. grandparents sent her. She is also enjoying the rhyming books from her New Zealand grandparents, like Down the Back of the Chair and Hairy Maclary's Rumpus at the Vet. Then we played peekaboo, and chase, and played with her blocks and toy piano until dinner time.

It was a wonderful day, but these days are numbered. In fact, there is exactly one of them left: I have accepted a different job, which I'm very excited about. However, I'll be working 40 hours a week. I start at the new job on the 25th, so I only have one more Friday off. I will miss these Fridays, even though I have only recently figured out how to really enjoy them (i.e., stop worrying and just follow Pumpkin's lead). I'm busy scheming for a way to keep some of the magic I so recently discovered. I'm sure I'll find a way. I am lucky enough to work in an industry where flexible hours are the norm, and where bosses generally don't care too much if you leave early occasionally, as long as your work gets done. Still, I'd be lying if I claimed that I'm not a little bit sad to say good-bye to this particular era. And I feel a bit like I cheated myself out of more of these perfect days by worrying too much about getting chores done, or getting her to take her naps how I wanted. There is a lesson there, but I suspect I will fail to really learn it....

Yes, the title of this post is a reference to an obscure Billy Joel song. Hubby has been listening to it recently, saying it reminds him of giving up our pre-baby lifestyle, but in a good way. I'm not sure what that means, actually.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Boy

I just hurried off the phone with my Mom, feeling a little guilty because this was the first night all week when Hubby and I would have a chance for some together time. Pumpkin went down relatively easily, we don't have any pressing chores, and neither of us had anything on the calendar. I came into the office to find Hubby engrossed in some online game site (it looks like a cross between mazes and pattern-matching puzzles). He answered my questions with monosyllabic grunts and clearly doesn't want any together time right now. Fair enough. He had two nights in a row of difficult baby duty earlier this week (she wasn't so easy to get down) and has been a champ on the nightweaning front- Pumpkin didn't nurse until 5:40 this morning! He was up with her at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30, though. If he wants to play pointless online games, who am I to complain? I've got a blog to write, after all.

I've been thinking about how the things that we've evolved to find attractive in a mate (big muscles, etc.) are absolutely crap predictors of what actually makes a good mate. Really, it is all down to chance whether the husband you end up with is truly what you'd want in this modern world of two-career families. Who cares if your husband can lift heavy things? What you really want is a husband who pulls his fair share of the work around the house, thereby making it possible for you to be a decent mother, work, and not spend every waking hour not spent at work or with the baby on household chores. It turns out that, computer games notwithstanding, I got pretty lucky in this department.

Hubby has always been refreshingly egalitarian on the home front. Even pre-baby, he cooked at least half of the meals, did the dishes on the nights he didn't cook (I did the dishes on the night he did cook), and cleaned our apartment with far more enthusiasm than I could ever muster. Now, the cook may do the dishes, but only if the other parent is busy giving Pumpkin a bath and getting her down for the night. We didn't negotiate this. It just happened. It is not that we split every chore equally, but I do feel that we split the work equally. In fact, I may come out ahead. I tend to get the chores that require an organizational system (so I'm in charge of the bills and of trying to keep the family calendar organized), but he takes care of the trash, does more than his fair share of laundry (to be honest, I don't remember the last time I washed the sheets), and does the yard work (due to my allergies).

Hubby is also a very involved father. He has always changed his share of diapers, although he once confessed to an issue with poop so I tend to do more of the poopy ones. As soon as we introduced a bottle, he started taking one of the nighttime feedings most nights. He loves to play with Pumpkin, too, and will often take her for long walks (or runs, now that she is old enough to ride safely in the jogging stroller while he runs) on the weekends, giving me time to nap or read or just wander around the house without a baby following after me. Again, the organizational chores fall to me- I track her doctor's appointments and have the system for storing the clothes she has outgrown. But I figure the fact that he is solely in charge of the yard makes up for that, so I don't mind.

Of course, I didn't have any idea that he would be like this when we first moved in together. I was attracted to the usual things- big blue eyes, a laid back approach to life, the easy athleticism and love of the outdoors that pushed me to do things I never thought I could do, like kayak across Auckland Harbor or hike to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. The domestic bliss is a bonus. I often wonder if his egalitarian approach to home life is a quality unique to him or a typically Kiwi male trait, along with a love of rugby and difficulty expressing emotions (hey, I didn't say Hubby was perfect). If it is the latter, I think I should set up a New Zealand-American dating service. If it is the former, I think I should send my parents-in-law a thank you note.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

They're Onto Us....

A lot of the blogs I read are part of the BlogHer Ad Network. Lately, I've noticed a lot of ads from worthy charities (the latest one I saw: ModestNeeds.org, which is a very good idea- but my rant on how sad it is that so many of the modest needs have to do with medical bills will have to wait for a night with more blogging time in it). I think the charities of the world have figured out that mommies are big softies.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Reading Ahead

One of the benefits of Pumpkin's improved sleep is that I have more time to read. You'd think I'd take this opportunity to read some of the novels and general interest non-fiction in my large "to read someday" stack. But no, I'm reading parenting books instead. More specifically, parenting books about toddlers and older children. Wait, you say. I thought Pumpkin was only 10 months old. This is true. (Really? 10 months already???) I've always been prone to reading ahead of the class- when I was in college I was one of those weird, geeky students who had always read the chapter before the lecture. So now, I am reading ahead of Pumpkin, trying to prepare myself for her marvelously free-form lectures on life. (Yes, I know my sidebar says I'm reading The Mommy Brain. I am. I can only read one novel at a time, but can happily have several non-fiction books going at once.)

I am a little freaked out by the fast approaching need to have a discipline plan worked out. We certainly don't want to be one of those parents- you know, the ones with the wild, out of control toddlers who disrupt public spaces and run roughshod over their wimpy parents. But, we don't want to be one of those other parents, either- you know, the ones who fail to nurture the inherent exploratory urges in their toddlers, and crush their little spirits before they ever have a chance to blossom.

So, I've been reading books with an eye towards what sort of discipline plan Hubby and I might formulate. I am really drawn to the ideas in Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen. And I have already benefited from reading this book, even though it is primarily focused on children older than Pumpkin. I used to struggle with how to play with Pumpkin. His idea of "following the giggles" has helped me let her show me how best to play, which right now involves a lot of peekaboo and chase. (I know. Duh. Do what makes the baby laugh.) I also took his idea of making games out of things the child doesn't like to do and have used that to help with getting Pumpkin in her car seat. (This also involves a lot of peekaboo. I suspect the other parents at day care think I'm crazy, but getting her into her car seat in between rounds of peekaboo is a lot easier than trying to wrestle her in. She can do a mean plank, let me tell you. I wish I had abs like that.)

Still, I am skeptical that we can truly avoid the need to discipline, so I have looked at other books, too. I haven't found one I really like yet. I expected to like The Science of Parenting, by Margot Sunderland. However, I have been disappointed by the way this book doesn't include the caveats and limits on what has been found by research. For instance, in her section on crying and separation, she mentions a study on Romanian orphans that show defects in brain development in children than were deprived of love and comfort. However, she fails to mention that the babies in these orphanages were often deprived of almost all care and affection. (See this summary of some of these studies.) This is quite a bit different from the treatment the children of most readers of glossy parenting books are likely to receive! This (and the rest of the section) could easily freak out a parent, particularly a working mother. She goes on to imply that day care may be harmful to children's emotional development. In fact, the research on the impact of day care is mixed. Grace at badmomgoodmom has a good series of posts on the most recent research. Lise Eliot, in What's Going on in There? has a good summary of the older research. (I really liked this book, by the way- I think I may reread it now that Pumpkin is heading towards toddlerhood.) When I come across areas where I know that an author has glossed over the complexity of the research, I find it much harder to trust any of her other points- which may be quite good. It is certainly a nice book, with lots of pictures and an interesting layout.

So my reading continues. Now I'm looking at The Mother of All Toddler Books, by Ann Douglas. I liked her sleep book, so I suspect I'll like this one, too, but it is too early to know. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Zenbits: Ancient Faces II

















Enigmatic replication. (Click here to see the first set of ancient faces.)

Location:
Angkor temples, near Siam Reap, Cambodia
Date: March 8, 2006

Friday, February 01, 2008

Interesting Health/Biology News

There are several interesting studies being reported in the media right now. Sadly, I don't have time to go find the original research articles, but even the media write-ups are informative.

1. The results of a study on food allergies on the Isle of Wight indicate that the incidence of food allergies is not increasing, but that parents often perceive their baby to have food allergies when the baby does not. (Read the BBC's report.) I can certainly believe the bit about parents erroneously believing their baby has a food allergy. Many people tried to label Pumpkin's issues with dairy in my diet as an allergy. I never thought it was an allergy, because gas is not usually a symptom of an allergy. I always considered it a sensitivity, and that I was avoiding dairy products because I preferred that to the risk of a screaming gas attack (particularly in the middle of the night) and not because I thought I'd Pumpkin would be at any real health risk if I ate dairy.

In retrospect, I think the sensitivity was gone by six months (as it apparently usually is), and my more recent dairy-free time was a result of a misinterpretation of a few bad nights. But really, can you blame me for trying anything that I thought might get me a few hours of uninterrupted sleep? I think doctors should be understanding of this type of parental misdiagnosis- you're so desperate for sleep and so loopy from sleep deprivation that just about any explanation starts to look good. I think aliens are tickling Pumpkin and waking her up every hour, one parent might say. And the other would just nod wisely and agree. It is as good a theory as any.

2. Making sure babies are well nourished can have a profound impact on their future life. I know, this is one of those duh studies, but it has apparently managed to show that just improving nutrition during early infanthood will improve a person's prospects later in life, regardless of whether or not the child goes on to lack access to good schools, etc. (Read the BBC's report.) This is almost certainly a brain development effect, in my completely unresearched opinion. And reading this story almost made me cry (see yesterday's post for an explanation). The world is just not fair. I'm pretty sure I'm not donating enough to UNICEF.

In a discovery that is related (in my mind), I recently came across Kiva, a direct microfinance website where you can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries so that they can pull themselves and their families out of poverty. (It is related because many of the entrepreneurs are mothers, and you know that the first thing they'll do with their improved earnings is buy better food for their children. Wouldn't you?) I love this idea, and will be making my first loan soon. I love the fact that I can keep loaning the same money over and over, so that whatever amount I can afford can keep doing good for more and more people.

3. Apparently sugary drinks cause gout. (Read the BBC's report.) This one just made me laugh because it reminded me of the biochemistry class I took as an undergraduate. There wasn't an actual undergraduate biochemistry for majors class, so they had us take the class with the medical students. Our textbook was geared toward the medical students, and was therefore full of little sidebars on "clinical correlations" of whatever concept was being presented in the main text. I was amazed at how often gout appeared in these sidebars. One of the enduring pieces of information I took from that class was that you can get gout in lots of ways. And here, almost 15 years later, is a report on a previously underappreciated way.

4. Hubby and I, both blue-eyed people, may share a common ancestor. A study has traced blue eyes to a mutation in a single person, who probably lived about 10,000 years ago near the Black Sea. (Read the report in the NZ Herald.) That Hubby and I, both of northern European descent, might share a common ancestor 10,000 years ago is not at all surprising. But it is still strange to think about.

Let's Hear it for the Boy

I just hurried off the phone with my Mom, feeling a little guilty because this was the first night all week when Hubby and I would have a chance for some together time. Pumpkin went down relatively easily, we don't have any pressing chores, and neither of us had anything on the calendar. I came into the office to find Hubby engrossed in some online game site (it looks like a cross between mazes and pattern-matching puzzles). He answered my questions with monosyllabic grunts and clearly doesn't want any together time right now. Fair enough. He had two nights in a row of difficult baby duty earlier this week (she wasn't so easy to get down) and has been a champ on the nightweaning front- Pumpkin didn't nurse until 5:40 this morning! He was up with her at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30, though. If he wants to play pointless online games, who am I to complain? I've got a blog to write, after all.

I've been thinking about how the things that we've evolved to find attractive in a mate (big muscles, etc.) are absolutely crap predictors of what actually makes a good mate. Really, it is all down to chance whether the husband you end up with is truly what you'd want in this modern world of two-career families. Who cares if your husband can lift heavy things? What you really want is a husband who pulls his fair share of the work around the house, thereby making it possible for you to be a decent mother, work, and not spend every waking hour not spent at work or with the baby on household chores. It turns out that, computer games notwithstanding, I got pretty lucky in this department.

Hubby has always been refreshingly egalitarian on the home front. Even pre-baby, he cooked at least half of the meals, did the dishes on the nights he didn't cook (I did the dishes on the night he did cook), and cleaned our apartment with far more enthusiasm than I could ever muster. Now, the cook may do the dishes, but only if the other parent is busy giving Pumpkin a bath and getting her down for the night. We didn't negotiate this. It just happened. It is not that we split every chore equally, but I do feel that we split the work equally. In fact, I may come out ahead. I tend to get the chores that require an organizational system (so I'm in charge of the bills and of trying to keep the family calendar organized), but he takes care of the trash, does more than his fair share of laundry (to be honest, I don't remember the last time I washed the sheets), and does the yard work (due to my allergies).

Hubby is also a very involved father. He has always changed his share of diapers, although he once confessed to an issue with poop so I tend to do more of the poopy ones. As soon as we introduced a bottle, he started taking one of the nighttime feedings most nights. He loves to play with Pumpkin, too, and will often take her for long walks (or runs, now that she is old enough to ride safely in the jogging stroller while he runs) on the weekends, giving me time to nap or read or just wander around the house without a baby following after me. Again, the organizational chores fall to me- I track her doctor's appointments and have the system for storing the clothes she has outgrown. But I figure the fact that he is solely in charge of the yard makes up for that, so I don't mind.

Of course, I didn't have any idea that he would be like this when we first moved in together. I was attracted to the usual things- big blue eyes, a laid back approach to life, the easy athleticism and love of the outdoors that pushed me to do things I never thought I could do, like kayak across Auckland Harbor or hike to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. The domestic bliss is a bonus. I often wonder if his egalitarian approach to home life is a quality unique to him or a typically Kiwi male trait, along with a love of rugby and difficulty expressing emotions (hey, I didn't say Hubby was perfect). If it is the latter, I think I should set up a New Zealand-American dating service. If it is the former, I think I should send my parents-in-law a thank you note.
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