Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Zenbit: Santa Down Under

















I've been suffering from a serious lack of Christmas spirit, so I dug up this picture. It is not as good as the flip-flop Christmas tree, but it makes me smile. (Here's another Christmas-related Zenbit).

Location: Burleigh Heads, Australia
Date: January 17, 2006

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm the Reason Our Planet is Doomed

Here is a story that I think explains why we can't just rely on people's good nature to save us from climate change and other environmental problems:

As you might have guessed from the post about our car buying dilemma, Hubby and I are fairly concerned about the environment. We try to consider the environmental impacts of all of our decisions. So, when I was pregnant with Pumpkin, I did some research about diapers. We knew that we'd have to us disposable diapers at day care, but we could use something else at home if that made the most sense. I found an analysis from some academics in Ohio (which of course I cannot find now) that convinced me that in my drought-plagued location, cloth diapers aren't necessarily the best choice. As any new parent can tell you, babies go through a lot of diapers, and that's a lot of laundry, which translates to a lot of water- especially when Pumpkin was little and we lived in an apartment with an old, inefficient shared washer.

My research led me to gDiapers, which I still think are ingenious. They consist of cute cloth "little g" pants, a plastic liner that snaps into the pants, and an insert that you press into the plastic liner. The system works great. They seem to be comfortable for the baby. Pumpkin refuses to wear them anymore- she says they are "too tight"- but I think that is due to her aversion to change more than any actual problem with the diapers. They contain the "poop-splosions" of babyhood far better than disposables. I almost always have to wash the plastic liner after a big poop (but this rinses out easily, and can be washed in with the rest of our laundry), but only rarely have to wash the little g pants. And I can't remember a single time with either Pumpkin or Petunia when the outfit over the diapers got dirty. With disposables, I have to change Petunia out of a poopy outfit several times a week. My only functional quibble is that the baby fusses when wet earlier than with disposables. However, since the wet diapers can be composted (really!) that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. The poopy diapers are meant to be flushed: you tear open the insert, dump it into the toilet, and swoosh it around with a long plastic stick they give you with your starter kit. This is far easier and less messy than it sounds, and I've never had a problem with the diaper flushing, either here at the house or in our old apartment.

So... why am I struggling to get through the one pack of 40 small size inserts that I bought before Petunia was born? She is about to outgrow the small size, and I still have about 5 inserts left to use. Given the fact that Petunia easily goes through 7-8 diapers in a day, that pack should have lasted about a week. Petunia is 11 weeks old. So one time out of 11, I do the "right" thing. The rest of the time, I put her in a disposable diaper. I do this because I am lazy. The extra work required to use the gDiapers is minimal- I have to "load" the insert into the lined little g pant. When the diaper is used, I have to either flush it or compost it. But that extra little bit of effort over wrapping the diaper around itself and dumping it in the diaper pail is apparently too much for me. Hubby, who is arguably more environmentally conscious than I am, will almost never reach for a gDiaper. Two environmentally sensitive adults who know full well that our actions are suboptimal in terms of the environment can't be bothered to add a a few extra (easy) steps to the diapering routine.

And that is why our planet is doomed.

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I will, however, dig the medium size little g pants out of storage and order some appropriately sized inserts. If we get moving and buy the low water use, dual flush toilets we've picked out, I should be able to report back on whether we have any difficulty flushing the inserts with a 1.6 gallon toilet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Vagaries of Toddler Speech

I've got a "real" post brewing for the next time Petunia lets me put her down (maybe sometime in 2010?) but in the meantime... can anyone explain to me why Pumpkin calls the thieving fox in Dora "Swifer" but when she asks me to put Naima (her favorite song on Dreamland, her favorite bedtime CD) on loop, she tells me to make it "repeep"?

Friday, December 11, 2009

What I Learned Today

Some things I learned today:
  • If I were a stay at home mom, I would eventually scream at Pumpkin "NO! I will not read that book again! I have JUST NOW read it to you five times in a row!"
  • If I were a stay at home mom, there would be far more Dora in my life than I am comfortable having.
  • Petunia may be too easy going for her own good.
At about 10:30, just as I was finally getting myself and Petunia dressed for the day, Pumpkin's day care called and told me that she had a fever. Petunia never did get dressed for the day- we drove up to day care to pick up Pumpkin.

When we got to day care, they told me that they were watching a movie because it was raining. (They couldn't play outside... this is San Diego. No one has decent rain gear for their kids.) Given Pumpkin's issues with their last rainy day movie, they let her pick the movie this time. They probably figured she would pick something she has at home and all would be fine. Of course, she doesn't have any Disney-type movies at home, so she picked the one that she was most curious about- Finding Nemo. She is always pointing at little orange fishes and calling the Nemo. She must have been pretty excited to see a whole movie about Nemo. Unfortunately, it apparently has a shark named Bruce who eats two Nemos and an octopus, and that's not very nice! She had to snuggle with one of her teachers, who noticed she was feeling a bit hot, so took her temperature and discovered a fever.

I shrugged, and decided that I'd try to explain about the movies another day (basically, if there is a plot, it is too scary for Pumpkin). I drove her home, listening to her version of the Nemo movie the entire way. I told her we could watch one of her favorite Noodlebug DVDs when we got home. So, we put the DVD in as soon as we got in the door, and I got out the thermometer to see if I needed to give Pumpkin any Tylenol. I got a normal reading. I tried several times during the day, and she always read normal.

All things considered, the day went well. But I never want to read Big Dog...Little Dog again, and oh my, am I tired. Poor Petunia spent a lot of time laying in her baby gym, smiling and "talking" and either being ignored or being smothered by her adoring big sister, until finally it was time for her usual late afternoon nurse-fest, which is when I had to break out the Dora.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mommy Needs to Recharge

I just gave Pumpkin her bath. She behaved beautifully (an unusual event these days) and objectively, watching her play story time with her bath toys- she put the alligators in time out for biting the bear and the froggie- was pretty darn cute. But I was nowhere near as engaged and playful as I'd have liked to be. By bath time, I'm like Petunia's swing when its batteries are running down. I'm going through the motions, but without the bells and whistles that make it fun. After a full day of caring for Petunia, my mothering battery is running low.

I've been trying to figure out how to recharge that battery during my last few weeks of my maternity leave. (I return to work part time in January, and then full time in February. Working recharges my mothering battery- which is one reason why I'm a happy working mom.) When Pumpkin was this age, my solution was long, hot showers with nice smelling shower gel. Pumpkin would sit in her bouncy chair, and miraculously be fairly content. Sometimes, she would even fall asleep. This practice is getting harder to justify as my region sinks deeper into drought. Also, the bathroom in our house is not big enough to allow me to bring Petunia into it in her bouncy chair and close the door, and the hot shower is less rejuvenating with a cold draft blowing in from the hall.

I've tried to consider my almost daily walks with Petunia to be "battery recharge" time, but I'm not fooling myself. I take those walks to ensure Petunia gets her afternoon nap when she needs it, and to try to make it possible for me to squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy pants.

Blogging helps, but frankly it takes too long. I can't always squeeze in the time when I need it the most. Similarly, I can't quite see how to make room for a regular yoga class yet, although I'm sure that will come with time. Petunia is sleeping really well, but the flip side of that seems to be that she wants to nurse every hour when she's awake, making it hard to schedule an exercise class.

Does anyone have any ideas? What do you do to recharge your batteries? So far, I've been eating cookies, a practice that I'm going to have to stop (or at least scale back) if I don't want to have to buy a completely new wardrobe for my return to work next month.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What Do You Do When They Don't Make What You Want to Buy?

We're in the market for a new car. Sort of. We've been in the market for a new car for well over a year now. The older of our two cars (a 1996 Subaru Outback that Hubby bought used before we were married) has been slowly racking up the repair dollars for the past few years. After each repair, Hubby and I think "we really should be ready to replace this thing in case the next repair is too big to be worth doing."

But we still haven't bought. It isn't that we lack the money to replace this car. We have the money. We've been diligently saving since we last bought a car (replacing the sporty two door I drove pre-kids with a Prius).

The problem is that they don't make the car we want to buy. Here is our wish list of features:
  • At least 30 mpg highway. We're on the green side, we live in a city that has poor public transit, and our job locations pretty much ensure that we're going to each drive solo to work. We need good gas mileage to keep us from feeling too bad about our lifestyle. (And to save the planet, of course. But mostly, its about guilt.)
  • Enough cargo space so that we can haul ourselves, our two kids, and all the stuff we need for the two kids to Arizona to see my parents. We're also looking ahead to the days when we can have hobbies again (and when the kids start having hobbies) and guessing that we'll want some toy-hauling capabilities. The Subaru is great for carrying surfboards. One stroller just about fills the Prius' trunk.
  • I would really like a optional third row of seats.* Or at least a back seat big enough so that an adult can squeeze in there with the two car seats. Kids are in car seats for a long time these days- we have several more years of dual car seats. It would be nice to be able to pick my sister up to join us for a family lunch. When my parents visit, it would be nice if we could all fit in one car for the outings to the zoo, etc.
  • We don't care if the cargo space and the extra seating are mutually exclusive. We don't need to haul a lot of people and a lot of stuff at the same time.
Given this list of features, it is pretty obvious that what we want is a hybrid minivan. Too bad there isn't one available in the US. (Toyota does make one: the Estima, and it gets great reviews. Unfortunately, they do not sell it here. A quick Google search will find you lots of articles by people bemoaning this fact.)

Ford, GM, Chrysler- are you listening? Here is your chance to regain the lead in the minivan market that you invented and get back in the good graces of the coastal environmentalists who hate the SUVs you've been making for so long**. Make a hybrid minivan. Chances are, we'd buy it.

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*Hubby would be willing to forgo this feature. He'd be perfectly happy with a full-sized station wagon that got at least 30 mpg. This car does not exist, either. Right now, the Ford Escape hybrid is his front runner for a replacement to the Subaru. However, our current plan is to wait until someone makes the car we want or the Subaru fails and forces us to settle on something else.

**Yes, I know, they only made them because people bought them. Since having kids, I can understand a little better why people buy SUVs. Kids come with a lot of stuff. Perhaps part of the reason the SUVs sold so well was that they solve a real problem. Perhaps some of the people who bought SUVs would have been interested in alternative solutions to that problem that didn't involve driving a gas guzzler. Surely there are other enviromentalist parents out there, who are facing the same need to haul kids and stuff that we are, and are just as unwillingly to ditch their environmentalist principles and just buy an Expedition. Have the car companies even considered that market?

Friday, December 04, 2009

On Newborns

Petunia is two months old now- no longer really a newborn. I had forgotten a lot of things about the newborn stage. I had forgotten how many diapers there are to change and how much laundry there is to do. I had forgotten how mind-numbingly dull I find a lot of the day to day care of an infant to be, particularly during the growth spurts where it seems I do nothing all day except feed her and change her diapers.

But I had also forgotten how snugglely a newborn is, and how impossible it is for me to carry one without kissing her head. I had forgotten how captivating those big eyes are.

Petunia has been smiling for a couple of weeks now, and I love how she positively lights up when she's in a playful mood and I make eye contact with her. Her face breaks into a big grin, she squirms and wiggles, and she gurgles and coos. It is heart-meltingly wonderful.

However, my favorite thing may be this: sometimes, when she is nursing, she starts to make a high-pitched, whiny cry. Her little arms and legs pump feverishly, and she shakes her head from side to side. I've learned that this means that she has a gas bubble, so I move her into an upright position and burp her. Eventually, she lets out a burp that would make a frat boy proud.

I almost always greet her burp with a hearty "good job!" or "nice one!" I remember saying similar things to Pumpkin at this age. I do not greet Pumpkin's burps with such enthusiasm now. I guess newbornhood is the only time in life during which your mother will congratulate you on your burps.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

In Defense of 2.5

I'm sure someone warned me about two and a half, but somehow I am still surprised by the tantrums, and the constant "NO!", and the attempts to outsmart us and push bedtime later (I'm ashamed to say that sometimes, she succeeds at this).

Lest we forget the nice things about this age, I present to you a zoo:

This is an early design. More recent designs include more spacious "caves" for all the animals.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Learning from the Wider Community

I don't blog much about my work. This is largely because I am not at liberty to discuss details of my work- I've signed non-disclosure agreements at every job I've had. I can say that one of my areas of interest is the design of databases to store biological data. I don't get to do this much anymore, but at one point, it was my primary job function.

One of the things that drove me batty when I was first learning about databases and how to use them for the data that interested me was the insularity of some of my fellow database designers. They were certain that biological data was so unique that there was nothing they could learn from databases designed in other fields, or from relational database theory. Consequently, they made a lot of entirely avoidable "rookie" mistakes, and designed some disastrous schema. There are some unusual aspects to biological data (the difficulty in uniquely identifying genes and proteins is a big one, but that is not what I want to talk about here). I have on occasion designed a database that flouts some tenet derived from relational database theory. However, I have always done so in full knowledge of the theory and of the trade offs I'm making in my design. I never understood why some of my colleagues didn't want to learn from the wider community. That community couldn't tell me exactly how to design my databases, but I did pick up some useful ideas that I could apply to the particular problems I was facing.

I've been thinking about this as I've read some of the blog threads about combining motherhood and a career in academic science. It seems to me that some people are making a similar mistake- they are certain that a career in academic science is so unique that there is nothing they can learn from working mothers in other fields, even in industrial science. I think there are some fields with unique, or at least highly unusual challenges (for instance, fields that require extensive field work, as Flea pointed out on some of my earlier posts). However, for the most part, an academic position has a lot in common with jobs in other fields. In fact, as one commenter on one of Female Science Professor's posts pointed out, academic positions have some advantages in terms of flexibility. So why not learn from the wider community? It won't tell you exactly how you should balance your work and home life, but you'll probably get some useful ideas. (In fact, as I said on FSP's post, I don't think anyone can provide someone else with an exact blueprint for how to balance their life. There are just too many variables. Does the baby sleep? What sort of job does the partner have? What is your work style? Etc., etc.)

I remain convinced that a lot of the supposedly unique problems with balancing motherhood and a career in science (academic or otherwise) stem from plain, old-fashioned sexism. We do not, after all, hear much about the problems of balancing fatherhood and a career in science. The horrifying thing is that we've internalized it, and young women are limiting themselves, rather than forcing "the patriarchy" or whatever you want to call it to explicitly limit them. I have said before that I wish I could go back and tell my grad school self (who fretted a lot about this sort of thing) that she shouldn't worry. She should act like a man: assume she can have a family and a career. Don't self-limit- if someone wants to limit you, make them do it themselves. I was thrilled to read similar sentiments from an academic scientist in the Fall 2009 edition of the AWIS magazine (sorry, it is not yet available online). In an interview, Dr. Erika Matunis, associate professor in cell biology at Johns Hopkins says:

"I don't think guys ever sit around and worry about whether they should have kids or if that is going to ruin their career, so why should women?"

and

"Just do the science you love, and follow it. If you have restrictions based on luck, or timing, or geography, accept them and adjust to them- but don't say ahead of time that you're going to limit yourself."

She also identifies two of the same factors for successful work/family balancing that I did in my post on being a happy working mother: quality child care and a fully participating partner.

In the same article, she does say that she thinks her career was affected more by the decision to have children than her husband's was. I hope she attributes that to its true cause: not the children, but the sexism of the system.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Family Resemblances

Petunia is almost 12 lbs now. I'm amazed by this- Pumpkin wasn't that big until she was about 3 months old. Petunia is 8 weeks old now, and she seems simultaneously huge and tiny. Her growth has followed a more "normal" progression than Pumpkin's did- she's gained roughly an ounce a day, sometimes more, whereas Pumpkin was a slow grower. Petunia is a rounder baby, with extra chins and chubby cheeks. Pumpkin never had chubby cheeks, and has always had only one chin.

Still, I can see the resemblance between my two daughters, both in their looks and in their mannerisms. Petunia gets the same little self satisfied look after nursing as Pumpkin did. She turns her head to one side, presses her lips together, and half-smiles. Pumpkin did exactly the same thing. I wonder, is this a universal baby thing? Or is it somehow encoded in my daughters' DNA? It appears almost immediately- too early for it to be something they have learned from me or Hubby.

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Pumpkin came home from day care a couple of Fridays ago with stories of a scary movie her class watched. She told us that there were dinosaurs and big cats, and that she was scared and had to cuddle on her teacher's lap, and then leave and go next door to the younger toddlers' room. Hubby asked on Monday, and the movie was Ice Age (although now that I see the synopses, I wonder if it was the third Ice Age movie instead). Pumpkin was the only one in her class who was scared.

Hubby laughs at this, and wonders how in the world this can be an inherited trait. I won't see scary movies, either, and consider a lot of things scary that other adults would just call interesting. In general, I like Sci-Fi movies (sometimes scary, but clearly not real), Jane Austen movies, and kid's movies. (Strangely, I am also a huge fan of British detective shows. I think it is because they are more focused on the puzzle of the mystery than the tension of having a murderer on the loose.)

We were talking about this over Thanksgiving, and I was reminded that I had to be carried screaming from a showing of Fantasia when I was a child. My Dad confessed that he made his parents leave Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. So maybe it is an inherited trait, but is it inherited via genes or via uprbringing? Nature or nuture? I suspect an influence from both- my sister and I had similar upbringings, after all, but she will go see movies whose trailers I can barely stand to watch. Some studies have found specific alleles of dopamine receptor D4 and the serotonin transported HTTLPR associated with risk taking behavior.* Sensitivity to tension in movies is a bit like an aversion to risk taking.... Of course, Pumpkin is happy to take risks in some situations, and so am I, so it is obviously more complex than this.

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When I was a kid, we used to ask my mother for a Christmas wish list. We would roll our eyes at the list she produced: black eyeliner, white socks, nice note cards... We couldn't understand why she didn't have more interesting items on her list.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Pumpkin's day care sent us a homework assignment. (I know! The nerve of a day care center to give me, their paying customer, a homework assignment!) We were given the outline of a turkey and asked to decorate it in a way that reflected our family. Hubby had the brilliant idea of turning the front half of the turkey into a kiwi bird, thereby neatly capturing our combined New Zealand-American family. I decided that we should give the turkiwi some construction paper feathers, just like we used to do in grade school, and that each feather would have a picture pasted to it. The pictures would represent something important to at least one family member. Here is the end product:


I easily selected a picture of a Southwest airplane (which brings Mimi over to play with Pumpkin and give her parents a much needed break), a picture of Pumpkin going down a slide (her current playground favorite), the rubber duckies from our wedding, and a rugby ball for Hubby (during the appropriate season, we have other rugby fans over once a week to watch a game). The Matrix-inspired background seemed obvious for a family headed by two computer geeks, and we all love the beach.

But what to use to represent my own interests? I was stumped. I eventually settled on a violin, even though I haven't played since before I got pregnant with Petunia, and wasn't even making my post-Pumpkin goal of one Irish session per month before that. It was, however, the closest thing I could think of to an interest that isn't related to my children or my work.

And suddenly, I understood my mother's Christmas wish lists. As I sat at our dining room table, pouting a bit about my lack of hobbies, I realized that my Christmas wish list this year would read a bit like my mom's did when I was a kid: lotion/shower gel set, book of kid-friendly recipes, nice note cards...

At least I'm fairly certain that this trait is not genetically determined.

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*I haven't read these papers carefully, and even if I had, it is not my field of science. So I am not making any judgement here on the validity of the association reported. However, the genes are at least involved in pathways that could plausibly be involved in controlling risk taking behavior.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mother of Two

I have to admit, I haven't really found my groove as a mother of two yet. I do pretty well during the week, when Pumpkin is at day care and I can spend my days trying to come up with ways to entertain a newborn (so far, this mostly involves nursing her, but she does seem to enjoy a rousing game of "knock over the foam block tower" now and then) and running errands. But on the weekends, Hubby and I are struggling to figure out how to cater to the differing needs (and schedules!) of a toddler and a newborn, while also managing to get the necessary chores done.

Yesterday, we went down to a park by Mission Bay with both kids and my sister, to take some photos for our Christmas cards and to let Pumpkin have a good long play at the park with the fast slide and bouncy bridge. The plan was for me to make dinner when we got back- tacos and sweet potato fries (shut up, food critics, you try to come up with gourmet meals that don't feature cheese- I'm still not eating dairy as we try to figure out if Petunia will have the same issue with that as her sister did- and that contain at least one component a picky toddler might agree to try). We got home, and I went to start dinner. I started the taco meat, cut up the tomatoes and got the cheese into a bowl (yes, food critics, I use pre-grated cheese). Then Petunia started fussing, and needed to be nursed. So I told Hubby what needed to be finished for dinner, and sat down to nurse Petunia.

And then it hit me. I hadn't put the sweet potato fries in the oven (yes, food critics, when I said "sweet potato fries" I meant "frozen sweet potato fries" and not "lovingly made by hand sweet potato fries"). At this point, it was too late to start them, so they were not part of the dinner. Unfortunately, they were the dinner component I had hoped Pumpkin would eat, since I knew the taco meat was probably a non-starter for her. She was hungry (I know this because she actually tried the taco meat before spitting it out and saying "I don't like it"). So I missed an opportunity to get something approximating a vegetable into her stomach, and she had a dinner of cheese and tortillas with butter on them.

Hubby and I are also suffering from a general lack of child-free time in which to talk. This has led to some problems. For instance, I finally found the time to research non-stick skillets (and you thought I was joking when I said we have to research every purchase). I determined that Scanpans are probably are best bet for non-stick skillets that stand up to Hubby's high standards for durability coupled with his general disregard for instructions on how to care for them. Hubby never actually trusts my research, so he went to Amazon to read the customer reviews. As we passed each other in the hall, me on my way in to get Pumpkin down, him on his way to do the dishes, he said he'd been on Amazon and thought Scanpans were indeed the way to go. I assumed that he had actually ordered them. He assumed I would handle this. The pans did not get ordered.

These are just a couple examples of the daily reminders I get that no, I really don't have this all figured out. The tantrums from Pumpkin and Petunia's evening fussy time are further reminders. Pumpkin's tantrums can often be short-circuited by some Playful Parenting type techniques, but Hubby and I are having a hard time coming up with the energy or brain power to use them. Petunia's evening fussy time can usually be avoided if I take her for a walk at about 4 p.m.- she falls asleep for 20 or 30 minutes of the walk, and is in a much better mood for the rest of the evening. But on the weekends, it is hard to fit this walk in. Last night, we were at the park. Today, I had to get the grocery shopping done.

So at least once a day, I sit there listening to a child meltdown, and think "I suck at this mother of two thing." It reminds me a lot of how I used to feel when Pumpkin was a little baby- incompetent and a little bit overwhelmed. The difference is that this time, I know that I will figure things out, and that eventually, I'll feel like a competent parent again, and eventually, Hubby and I will get new household routines figured out.

And then, I'll go back to work and we'll have to figure out how to get everyone to work or day care on time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Conversation

Me (to Petunia): Come here, sweetie.
Pumpkin: No, she's not sweetie! I'm sweetie!
Me (to Pumpkin): You're right, sweetie. So what should I call her?
Pumpkin: She's Pumpkin!
Me: But you're my little Pumpkin. She's my Petunia!
Pumpkin: No, she's not a Petunia.
Me: What is she, then?
Pumpkin: Corn.
Me: Corn?
Pumpkin: Yes. Corn.

And really, what could I say to that?

Homecoming

A post over at Dr. Isis' blog has got me thinking about how to encourage girls to consider careers in math and science. I don't think I have any original insight on that. It has also got me thinking about my own experiences in high school, and since this is a blog and blogs are good for self-indulgent reminiscing, I think I'll go ahead and indulge.

I have very clear memories of our homecoming assemblies in high school. We'd all gather in the auditorium, and former members of the football team, cheer squad, and pom line would come back and be introduced to our applause. The returning cheer/pom line women would perform a dance, too.

I have no recollection of how the returning football players were introduced. The returning cheer/pom line women were all introduced using the following formula: "This is X. She graduated in Y, and now she's married and has Z kids!" For some reason, probably related to the number of years after high school at which coming back and performing a dance sounded like a good idea to former cheerleaders and pom line members, Z usually equaled 3. So we would sit through a bunch of introductions like this: "This is Janet Smith, but in high scool she was Janet Brown. She graduated in 1985 and now she's married and has three kids! And she still fits in her old cheer uniform!"

I had a fantasy of returning and being introduced as "This is Cloud! She graduated in [let's not say], and now she's married and has three degrees!"

I, unfortunately only have TWO degrees. My graduate institution did not award MS degrees on the way to the PhD. I suppose I could go get an MBA or something so that I could live out my fantasy. But that would be silly. I wasn't in cheer or pom, so I would never be on that stage in the first place.

So here's my thought on encouraging our geeky kids, male and female: maybe our high schools should start inviting their academic high achievers back for homecoming, too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ambivalence

Petunia has found her thumb. I looked down at her napping in her moses basket this morning, and she was happily sucking on her thumb. So I guess I can give up on the pacifiers. I'm not sure how I feel about this (not that it matters...): if she attaches to sucking her thumb as a self-soothing method, at least it will always be available to her. I won't have to get up in the middle of the night to find her binky. However, when it is time to wean her from it, I can't just take it away from her or start storing it on a high shelf where she won't notice it (yes, this is our current approach with Pumpkin's binkies).

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Our cleaner came yesterday. I love coming home from work to a clean house. It is, however, a little weird to be here while she's cleaning. I tried to disappear for awhile, but I couldn't really stay out of my house for the almost four hours it takes her to clean it. So I was here to deal with the aftermath of our first cleaning mishap- the cleaner broke one of our souvenirs from our big trip.. She broke the jade happiness ball we'd bought in China. We'd been told that the layers in the ball represented the generations of happy family... I'm not sure what to make of our broken ball. The outer layer and the third layer broke. The other three layers are intact.

As you can see from the above link, we can replace this souvenir (and the cleaning company will pay for that)... but not really. We bought the ball in Xian. Our guide in Xian was one of our favorite guides from our time in China*. She took us to the jade shop first thing in the morning, instead of heading straight to the Terra Cota Warriors. We were a bit surprised by this (especially since we were a bit, um, jaded after our experience with our guide in Beijing, who always wanted us to "rest" at shops), but we understood her logic once we got to the shop. We were the shopkeeper's first customer that day, and apparently it is good luck to make a sale to the first customer. He was very motivated and we got a pretty good deal on our purchases.

No ball we order online will truly be a replacement, because it won't have that back story. We have plenty of other souvenirs from China, so perhaps we should just take the money for the ball but not replace it.

However, it was a lovely jade ball and we liked having it. Perhaps we should replace it, and add the bit about the cleaner breaking the ball to the story of the piece.

What would you do?


*The China leg of our big trip was the only one in which we used a tour operator. We found our tour on the internet, and were pretty happy with the itinerary- Beijing, Xian, Chongqing, Yangtze cruise, Shanghai. We booked the tour, nervously hoping that we'd like the other people on the tour. It turned out that this was a private tour- we were met in each city by a guide and a driver. The tour operator was actually the Chinese government. It was a very interesting experience, which I should really write a trip story blog post about someday, before I forget anymore than I already have about the trip.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ode to a Dishwasher

When Hubby said he wanted to make replacing our dishwasher a priority to get done before Petunia arrived, I rolled my eyes. We had a dishwasher. Sure, it sounded like it was doing a hand brake skid when it drained water, and it didn't do the best job on our glasses. But it was functional, which was more than I could say for the baby's future room. That was still an office at that point.

Still, he had done the research and picked out the line of dishwashers he thought we should consider. All I had to do was waddle around a showroom and help him decide which model in the line to get. My Mom arrived to help out with Pumpkin before (and after!) Petunia's birth. She took Pumpkin over to my sister's place for her first sleep over one night, and as part of our final pre-baby date night, Hubby and I went dishwasher shopping. Marriage is so romantic.

We picked out our dishwasher and arranged to have it delivered and installed. It was installed roughly two weeks after we brought Petunia home.

I owe my husband an apology for the eye rolling. The dishwasher is amazing. We ooh and aah over our glasses and plates as we unload the dishwasher- they are unbelievably clean. We load it up with all of our dishes now- not just the ones that aren't too dirty. We don't have to pre-rinse and wipe and soak. It doesn't have any exposed heating elements, so my pump parts and Petunia's bottle bits can go in it without worry. All of this saves us a considerable amount of kitchen clean up time. It is so quiet that it has to project a little red light onto the floor to let us know when it is running. And it uses hardly any water, which makes us happy both from an environmental and a financial standpoint.

Who knew that a household appliance could make us so happy?

I haven't received ANYTHING for this post. In fact, you'll notice that I didn't say what brand dishwasher we bought. In case anyone else wants to upgrade and doesn't have a husband who will do the ridiculous amount of research Hubby puts into any purchase, we bought a Bosch Ecosense. I forget which exact model- I think it was the middle of the line one. So we don't have the absolute quietest dishwasher available in America. But it is pretty darn close.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Give a Mother a Break

Circumstances conspired to make me think a lot about our judgmental culture today. First, at the very end of AskMoxie's post on how to shift from a work mind set to a mommy mind set, someone posting as millay wrote a nice comment saying how encouraged she was to read all the other comments from mothers who liked their jobs enough to need tricks for switching off their work brains at the end of the day. She's been feeling guilty for enjoying her work now that she has a baby.

I, of course, had to pipe in with the fact that I am a happy working mom, and the fact that I think there are a lot of us happy working moms out here. As I said in my comment at Moxie's, I think there are many different types of good mother. Some good moms like to work outside the home. Some good moms don't like to work outside but have to in order to provide important things for their children, so do it anyway. Some good moms want to stay at home with their kids. All types of moms can be good moms, and no one should make anyone feel guilty for her choices in this regard.

Then, I went to the breastfeeding support group run by the hospital where I gave birth. This support group pretty much saved my sanity when Pumpkin was born, so I've been going since Petunia was born. I am less likely to be falling to pieces this time (although I still have questions and concerns), but I remember how helpful it was to have moms in that group who had made it through those first difficult weeks and could demonstrate that indeed, it did get easier. So I go even when I don't have questions or concerns, to tell some other mother what I needed to hear in my early days as a mother: It is really hard now, but it gets easier. You're doing a great job. It is worth it. Yes, you will figure out how to feel like a well-rounded person again. Etc., etc.

Today, there was a mom there who was having a really hard time. It is not my story to tell, so I will just say that her baby has reflux (now being treated), and is growing slowly, and is probably high needs as well. She was in tears telling us how her friends keep trying to get her to meet for lunch or coffee, but how she didn't want to go out because she was afraid her baby would meltdown and when that happens people look at her and ask her what's wrong with your baby? and she feels so judged.

Oh, how I remember that feeling. I was afraid to go places with Pumpkin for the same reason. She could go from happy to screaming in 0.5 seconds, and sometimes it seemed that nothing I did could stop the screaming. And I would feel people's eyes on me, and feel so judged. (In retrospect, probably only a small minority of onlookers were actually judging me. But in those early days of motherhood I had little confidence in my mothering ability and was prone to feeling very judged.)

I am much less worried about that this time around, although Petunia is also capable of throwing a good meltdown now and then, and sometimes the only way I can calm her is to sing loudly into her ear while doing a bouncing, swaying motion that would no doubt look like the geekiest dance on the planet. (Well, maybe not as geeky as Matt's dance....) I just am less likely to feel judged this time.

Then this poor mom told us about her sister-in-law, who has a much easier baby, and who tells her that she just needs to get over it and go out. And again I recognized a common problem of parents who have fussy babies- even other parents may not really get it. Until you've had a child who is "high needs", it is easy to think that the reason your child is not so fussy/sleeps well/eats well/cured cancer is that you are an excellent parent. Now, these parents may in fact be excellent parents. They probably are. But so are the parents of the fussy, reluctant to sleep and eat kids. Some kids are just harder to parent than others. Being the parent of a child who is not a great sleeper has taught me a great deal of parenting humility. I try very hard not judge how other parents are dealing with their own parenting challenges.

It is not that I think the rest of us should just butt out and ignore the parenting going on in our midst. That would be very isolating for parents, and would deprive new parents of the chance to get ideas and support from the other parents around them. But surely we can strive to be supportive, and not judgmental? It seems that we are all a little too quick to cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the actions mothers take, and a little too slow to offer encouragement and actual help to mothers- particularly new mothers- who might need it.

So, to all those of you out there who take the time to tell a struggling mom "you're doing a great job" or "it gets easier": thank you. I always appreciate hearing that, even now that I know from personal experience that it gets easier.

To those of you who think you know how to solve whatever parenting problem I'm dealing with in public: maybe you do and maybe you don't. But I guarantee, I don't want to hear about it from some random stranger in a parking lot. And I can't think of anyone outside my family whose opinion on whether or not I work matters at all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Postscript (about Sleep)

The following is a postscript to this afternoon's post:

I just put Petunia down for the night. Here is how it went: I nursed her. I burped her. She fussed a bit, so I walked with her for less than a minute. Then I wrapped her in a blanket, put her hat on her, turned on the wave sounds we use as white noise, and put her down in her co-sleeper. She fussed a bit, so I picked her up and walked for another 30 seconds or so. Then I kissed her forehead, put her down, and left the room. I could hear her on the baby monitor, shuffling about for maybe a minute.

I snuck back in to check on her, because I still can't believe it is this easy. She is fast asleep.

At this age (6 weeks old), Pumpkin's bedtime routine was: I nursed her. I burped her. Someone bounced/rocked her for at least 15 minutes. We carefully laid her down, and then sat with a hand on her tummy for another 5 minutes or so until we thought she was sound asleep. If we missed any step, she would usually wake up and scream at us. We knew that we wanted her to go down "sleepy but awake" but could never make that work, and I was beginning to think that advice was a cruel trick being played on parents.

Thinking about Sleep

Thank you all for the nice comments on the last post. I should clarify- Hubby doesn't really give me any grief for the differences in our to do lists. He (usually) recognizes the fact that I do a lot of things that he can't do (e.g., make milk for the baby) or that don't show up on to do lists (e.g., figure out new routines and processes so that our life "flows" again). The criticism is all in my own head!

One thing that I can't claim, though, is that he's getting more sleep than me. I think we're both getting about the same amount of sleep right now. Petunia wakes up to eat twice per night. Hubby does the first feeding with a bottle of breastmilk and settles her back in the co-sleeper. During this part of the night, he is sleeping in our bedroom with Petunia and I am on our sofa. If Petunia doesn't cry too much during this first wake up and if Pumpkin doesn't fall out of bed or loose her socks or something like that, I might even sleep straight through to Petunia's second feeding. This gives me 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is what I need to function well.

When Petunia wakes up for her second feeding, Hubby comes and gets me, and we switch places. Petunia is often very restless after this feeding, so I may or may not get any further sleep. Hubby sleeps on the sofa until Pumpkin wakes us both up ("Mommy! I turned on my light all by myself! I want to watch my horsey show!"), usually about 3-4 hours after Hubby moved to the sofa.

This is obviously not our ideal sleep situation. We, for instance, would like to both sleep in our bed again at some point. However, it is working so far, and we are cautiously optimistic that things might improve. Petunia, you see, is completely unlike Pumpkin was in the nighttime sleep department. First of all, I can put her down with her eyes open and she will shuffle about a bit and then fall asleep without me even in the room. Pumpkin still needs me (or more precisely, my hair) in her bed with her in order to fall asleep.

Petunia's first stretch of sleep lasts between 4 and 5 hours, and subsequent stretches are 3-4 hours. At this age, Pumpkin's longest stretch of sleep was about 3 hours, and after that, she wanted to eat every two hours (and remember, we count from the start of one feeding to the start of the next- so I would often only get 20-30 minutes of rest before the cycle started again).

When I tell people that Pumpkin wakes up at 6 a.m. most mornings, people sympathize with me for having such an early bird. This is nice, but a bit funny, since we were very excited when she started sleeping in until 6. When Pumpkin was a baby, she started her days at 4:30 a.m. She didn't sleep in until 6 until she was almost one year old. Petunia, on the other hand, didn't wake up for the day today until almost 7.

Yes, Petunia is just better at sleep than Pumpkin. However, I know that she is not the gold standard in baby sleep. We have friends whose babies sleep far better than Petunia does at night. And Petunia hasn't really figured out the nap thing yet. She wants to be held for most of her naps. I can usually get her down for one nap per day, but I can't predict which nap that will be. For instance, she is sleeping happily in her moses basket now. I had thought that she'd be awake and fussy about now, and that I'd be taking her for a walk to deal with that and (hopefully) coax her into taking her final nap of the day. I even had an errand planned for our walk. I guess that errand will wait until tomorrow! And there will be no nap for me- it is too late in the day for that.

I wish I understood the reason for the striking differences in sleep patterns between our two girls, and why some other babies sleep better than either of mine. I swear that our parenting style has not changed between babies. It seems pretty clear to me that there are some differences in sleep patterns that are set at birth. Is it all genetic? Afterall, Pumpkin's sleep patterns were very similar to mine as a baby, and like her, I still have a hard time falling asleep sometimes. Was there some influence from my diet while pregnant? I took fish oil supplements this time around. Did the fact that Pumpkin was born 5 days early and Petunia was born 2 days late have anything to do with it? I do not know.

Regardless of the underlying cause, what is the mechanism? Is there some protein (or more likely, set of proteins) in the brain that determines how easily we fall asleep and whether we stay asleep through the night?

If I were still choosing my own research directions, I'd be tempted to start trying to figure these things out. Last time I checked in, we were starting to sort out the components that set our internal body clocks, i.e., the proteins that determine whether you're an early bird like Pumpkin or more of a night owl like I was before I had kids. I don't recall seeing anything about the mechanism that enables us to actually fall asleep. But maybe we know more than I realize- I am not up to date on the literature in this area, and frankly, I'm too tired to try to fix that!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Inadequate

Yesterday was my first day home alone with Petunia- Hubby had to go back to work. He'll take some more time off in January, when we will both work part time. It did not start well. I am still getting over the cold that Pumpkin brought home to us from day care, and between my plugged up nose and sore throat and Petunia's decision to squeeze an extra middle of the night feeding into her schedule, I was seriously short on sleep. Pumpkin did NOT want to get ready for day care- and let's just say I'm not really happy with how I handled that parenting challenge. I think there should be a rule that only one child in a given household can be difficult in any one day. Since Petunia had insisted on eating at 2 AND 4, Pumpkin should not have been allowed to tantrum about getting ready for day care.

It wasn't a terrible day. I spent most of it either feeding Petunia (hello, 6 week growth spurt!) or bouncing her back to sleep after she woke up from a nap she needed. After a day spent helping Petunia sleep, I wasn't really in the mood for an evening spent helping Pumpkin sleep, but no one asked me. Pumpkin set a new record and took over an hour to fall asleep. I really need to figure out how to teach a toddler how to go to sleep. I wonder if conscious relaxation techniques would work on a toddler? I can't really have her use my trick of reciting a mantra in her head- I think that would lead to a rousing rendition of the ABC song or "Down by the Station". I am seriously looking forward to the day where I only have to worry about my own sleep issues. But I digress.

Given the rough start to my day and my general sleep deprived state, I should feel like a rock start for managing to achieve anything. I called my disability insurance company to continue my efforts to get them to pay me for the time I took off before Petunia was born. And I paid my hospital bill. That is TWO things in addition to caring for Petunia, not even counting the fact that I showered, and I think we all know that the consensus is that you should only aim to do ONE thing a day.

But I don't feel like a rock star. In fact, I feel a bit inadequate. I think the problem is that I can't help but compare myself to Hubby, who is the genetic source of Pumpkin's unbelievably high energy levels and low need for sleep.

Here is what Hubby accomplished in the 5 weeks that he was off from work, in addition to the obvious things like bouncing/holding Petunia for naps when necessary and playing with Petunia:

  • Cut hair
  • Bought bamboo trellis for backyard
  • Got tree in front yard trimmed
  • Checked tires on car
  • Got headlight on other car fixed
  • Replaced the outside light that was smashed when Pumpkin threw the door open
  • Installed door stop to prevent future light smashage
  • Replaced air filter on furnace
  • Touched up paint in Petunia's room
  • Took junk in garage to Goodwill (two car loads!)
  • Recycled electronics piled in garage
  • Organized garage so that we can get a child into each side of the car
  • Replaced inner tubes on bike
  • Sent away for new passport
I just copied the above from the To Do list he wrote for himself the day we got home from the hospital. He crossed everything off his list. I think he mowed the lawn, too.

Here is what I accomplished during the same time period:
  • Fed Petunia
  • Regained ability to lay on my side and to get out of bed quickly
  • Cut toenails (twice!)
  • Found halloween costume for Pumpkin
  • Added Petunia to my insurance
  • Had several phone conversations with my short term disability insurance provider about the fact that they didn't pay me for the weeks I was off work before Petunia was born despite my doctor's signature sending me out from work
  • Organized flu vaccinations for family
I resisted the urge to put "showered every day" on that list. Now you could argue that item #1 is a pretty big one, and balances about 5 things on Hubby's list. In fact, I argue this frequently. But still... you have to admit, my list looks pretty inadequate next to Hubby's. I may be the only wife in the world who wants her husband to stop doing so many chores....

Monday, November 09, 2009

Quick Thought on Newborns

It occurred to me, as I was bouncing Petunia down for the umpteenth time (she kept burping or pooping herself awake during her much needed morning nap)... one of the nice things about having a newborn again is that I sing a lot more. Petunia likes to be bounced and sung to. I have a couple of playlists for the purpose.

Pumpkin used to like the same thing. Now, if Hubby or I try to sing along with her DVDs (we do know most of the songs by heart, afterall), she tells us "No. You don't sing. Only the man sings." The man is whoever is singing on the DVD. In her defense, this is a fair critique of our singing abilities.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cross That Off the To Do List

As of 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, my little family is as protected from the flu as we can be. Pumpkin got the second of her two H1N1 vaccine doses yesterday. Hubby and I had gotten ours last week (we qualify because we have a newborn in our house). We all got our seasonal flu shots last month.

Phew. I'm glad that's done.

I sure hope the people in charge of planning for pandemic avian flu have been paying attention, taking notes, and thinking about what we can do better, because I give our performance during the swine flu pandemic a C-minus at best.

On the plus side, a vaccine was produced and expedited through the necessary tests (and yes, I think it has had plenty of testing and is safe). A sensible plan for who should get priority access to the vaccine as it rolled off the production lines was put in place. Public health experts made valiant efforts to communicate the priorities and the reasons for those priorities.

On the negative side, the distribution of the vaccine has been unnecessarily confusing. I can only speak to what happened here in San Diego, but I don't necessarily mean this as a criticism of our San Diego authorities. My understanding from my inside sources is that some of the screwiest decisions were taken at a higher level of government. I have two main observations of things that could have been done better:

1. Once the vaccine started arriving in San Diego county, its availability was announced on the San Diego county website, and eventually, in the local media. The majority of the vaccine went to doctor's offices and clinics, not to the county's own public health clinics. However, the county's website and the media only reported the locations of the public health clinics- they didn't say where else the vaccine had gone. Not surprisingly, long lines formed at the public health clinics, since this was the only place we knew had the vaccine (I had checked with my doctors, and they did not have it).

If we wanted to rely on our usual vaccine distribution networks- i.e., people's primary care physicians- then more of an effort should have been made to make sure that most doctors got at least some vaccine. My family uses one of the big medical groups in San Diego, and some friends of ours use one of the other ones. Neither had any vaccine.

If we wanted to rely more on vaccination clinics, then the locations of all of those clinics should have been announced. My family was able to stand in long lines on multiple days only because I am out on maternity leave. Asking working parents to do that is just ridiculous. Yes, we all want to protect our kids from the flu. But we want to keep the jobs that allow us to feed and clothe them, too.

2. We needed to prioritize not just who got the vaccine, but who got each type of vaccine. Our public health department received far more of the FluMist (live, attenuated) vaccine than the shot. The FluMist is just as safe and effective for most people, but there is a lot of misinformation out there about it, so some people chose the shot even though they could have had the FluMist. This meant that they ran short of the shot and had to limit its distribution to just pregnant women, leaving children under 2 and people with chronic conditions (like asthma) with no options. I think they should have told people that if they met the criteria for the FluMist, that is what they were getting, and saved the more limited shot supplies for the people for whom FluMist is not an option.

We went to get Hubby and me vaccinated on the third day after a large batch of doses arrived (they arrived on Friday afternoon, and we waited until Monday so that we could send Pumpkin to day care and not try to wait in a two hour line with a toddler AND a newborn). While we were waiting in line, they announced that only FluMist would be available. Technically, I should have skipped the vaccination at that point. I have very mild asthma. However, getting me vaccinated (and getting antibodies into my breastmilk) was the only protection available to Petunia. I called a friend, who looked up what the concern was for asthmatics. It was that the live, attenuated vaccine might induce an asthma attack. I have never had a true asthma attack, so I made the decision to neglect to mention my asthma to the workers distributing the vaccine. This worked out fine for me (but I'm not advocating that anyone else do this!) but I shouldn't have even had to make that call. The perfectly healthy people who are listening to talk show hosts rather than medical authorities about what vaccines are safe should have been told that they could have the FluMist or nothing at all.

This particular virus is worrying for certain groups, but it is nothing compared to what could come eventually. I hope we learn from our "trial run" on pandemic management, and do better next time- when the stakes may be much higher.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Yes, Virginia, There Are Scientists Who Are Mothers

After my last post on Female Science Professor's post on childless scientists, Dr. Isis wrote a post about her own effort to combine academic science and motherhood, and invited commenters to say why the did or did not have children.

So, of course, I've been thinking about this some more. Events have conspired to leave me with no chance of a decent (i.e., more than 20 minute) nap today (its a long story, involving the final H1N1 vaccination in my family, some of which I may tell in a post later tonight or tomorrow). But I do have time for a little blogging, so I'm going to write some more of my thoughts on combining motherhood and science down. Long time readers may remember that I've written on this topic before, as well.

The people who say they don't have kids have given three main types of reasons:

1. They don't like/want kids.
2. They think having kids is irresponsible due to environmental concerns.
3. They don't think they can combine their chosen career with kids.

I've got absolutely no argument with people in the first category. You should only have children if you want them, and I don't think there is anything wrong with not wanting them.

I disagree with the people in the second category, but that is a topic for another day. I'll just say that last week's Economist had an interesting lead article about population trends that would probably figure into any argument I might make on this topic.

I don't fault anyone in the third group, either- who am I to tell anyone else what challenges to undertake or what they can or cannot manage to do? However, I think some of the women in this group might be scared off from science and/or motherhood unnecessarily.

When I was in graduate school, I was deeply ambivalent about motherhood. I was dating someone who didn't want kids, and I didn't really know whether that mattered. I had heard how hard it was to have a career in science and have children, and I was concerned by what I had heard. There were few positive role models of women with children in my field. One night, I had a dream in which I learned that I was unable to have kids for some medical reason. In my dream, I felt relief.

Now here I am, 10 years later (has it really been 10 years????) and things look very different. I am married to the man who helped me pick up the pieces when that graduate school relationship fell apart. He wanted children, and so, I realized, did I. So, we had them. First, we enjoyed our SoCal lifestyle and a lot of international travel for several years. We both achieved a reasonable amount of success in our careers. But then, when I was 34, we decided it was time to get moving on the kids thing. Almost a year later, Pumpkin was born.

I won't pretend that it has been easy. As Dr. Isis notes in her post, it is exhausting. There have been many challenges along the way. I definitely want more sleep than I get. But here's the thing- I think motherhood is difficult and exhausting no matter what your job is. I know, in real life and online, mothers who stay at home, mothers who work part time outside the home, and mothers like me, who work fulltime outside the home. We're all exhausted.

I actually found staying home with a baby or a toddler to be much more tiring than my regular job- and no, I don't have some sort of easy, kick my feet up sort of job. Staying home with both a baby and a toddler is unbelievably exhausting, and so far, I've only done that with my husband at home, too. Caring for a child is hard work. I love the fact that some anthropologists are now arguing that we always relied on the wider community for help in doing this work.

I'm also a little confused by the people who say that having children will necessarily decrease the quality and/or quantity of any work you do. Do these people currently spend every waking hour working? I certainly didn't before I had kids. I had hobbies. I read, I baked, I played fiddle, I kayaked, I rollerbladed, I kickboxed, I did yoga, I hung out at our local pub with Hubby. We traveled a lot. Those were the things that having kids cut into. I still read and bake, but not as much. I look at my fiddle and think that some day soon, I'll get it out and play again. It took me almost a year after Pumpkin was born to really get back into my yoga practice. I'm sure I'll pick it up again, or maybe I'll get back into kickboxing. If Petunia sleeps better than Pumpkin, I might make it out to play fiddle before too long. The trips to the local pub have been replaced by Friday night beers at home, and I'm looking forward to starting those up again once Petunia's sleep patterns and nursing schedule allows it.

My work productivity hasn't dropped noticeably- at least not consistently. It goes down when we're sick or when sleep is particularly bad. But overall, I'm still getting stuff done and keeping my career on track. Sure, I'm not shooting for a big promotion or looking for the next big thing to do, but that's OK. That's not where I'm at in my life right now, and I'm not sure I'd be there even if I didn't have kids.

Now, I'm just one woman, in a slightly non-traditional science-related job. But there are others out there who are combining motherhood and a career in science. I'm going to make the rest of this post a running list of scientist who are also mothers. It will definitely not be complete, but I'll keep adding to it and I'll put a link to this post on my sidebar. Send me your suggestions for additions- including yourself. Let's use the power of the internet to make a community of role models for the women who are where I was in grad school: looking ahead to an uncertain future and hearing over and over again how what they want to do can't be done.

I decided it might be helpful to know the stage of career and high level field for the people on my list, so where I can easily find that, I'm including it. Let me know if I get anything wrong.

People with blogs:

Academic Scientists

Industry Scientists
  • Me! ( When I first wrote this, I was an associate director/department head at a small to medium sized biotech. Now I am a group leader/program manager at a slightly bigger biotech.)
  • Momma, PhD, a scientist at a medium sized biotech.
There are lots of other scientists in industry who are mothers (most of the women over 30 at my company, for instance), I just haven't found any blogs yet.

Government and Non-Profit Scientists
Type of Institution Not Immediately Obvious:

People without blogs:

Academic Scientists
I know there are many, many more out there- but it is time for me to end Pumpkin's nap (or I'll never get her down tonight), so I'll have to come back and do more later.

Here are some other online articles/posts about combining motherhood and science:

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    To Everything a Season

    Petunia is refusing to take a pacifier. I've bought just about every type I can find, and so far I have gotten her to suck on only one of them (a Soothie) and she's done that exactly five times. I know that lots of kids never take pacifiers, and that it will be OK. Still, I miss having the all-powerful binky in my bag of baby soothing tricks! Instead, we do a lot of bouncing, to music. She seems to really like music.

    Pumpkin, on the other hand, is still very attached to her binky. We are constantly pulling the binky out of her mouth and asking her to repeat herself so that we can understand her. We're in the midst of a long gradual process of getting her to give up her binky (Hubby is a little more gung ho on this than I am at this point).

    The fact that I'm desperately trying to get one child to take a pacifier even while I'm trying to get the other one to give it up is an example of both the absurdities that come with parenting and the most valuable lesson I have learned as a mother: that everything is a phase. Some phases are more fun than others, but they all pass.

    I was thinking about this today as I read the comments on Female Science Professor's post asking her childless readers why they have chosen not to have kids. I found the answers to be pretty depressing. I am not one of those parents who thinks everyone's life would be improved by having children. I love my kids, and I am very happy with my life, but I recognize that the decision to have kids involves a trade offs in your life, and that for some people, the things they would gain do not outweigh the things they would have to give up. I understand that some people think that the world doesn't need more people, even if I don't agree with their arguments. However, a large number of women posted that they didn't have kids because they didn't think they could combine motherhood with science. And that makes me sad, because for me, it has worked out just fine.

    I don't know that much about life as an academic scientist. Perhaps it is a much more demanding career than that of an industry scientist. However, I have come across several blogs of women who do combine academic science and motherhood. These women seem reasonably happy and successful. I worry that the idea that you can't combine motherhood and a career in academic science has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is too bad for the women who are scared away from science, and too bad for science- many of these women are no doubt talented scientists who would ask interesting questions.

    I also wonder about the idea that your life needs to follow a straight path, with a career that is always progressing to greater and greater things at its center. If you'd asked me in graduate school, that is probably the sort of life I would have imagined for myself. It is not, however, how I am experiencing my life now. I now see life as a series of phases. In some phases, my career has taken center stage, and I've focused most of my energies on it. In other phases, my career has chugged along at a steady state, but not really grown, and I've focused my energies elsewhere- travel and motherhood being the two things that spring to mind. Perhaps I am being naive, but I think that when (if?*) I want to focus more exclusively on my career again, I will be able to do so.** And even if I find that I have somehow taken an irreversible step to the side, and can't get back on a high growth track, I don't think I'll regret any of my decisions. My life is richer for having had these other phases in it.

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    *I find that the aspect of my pre-baby life that I miss the most is not more hours to dedicate to my work, but the freedom to travel. So maybe I will never want to focus so much on my career again. Maybe I'll want to travel again! And that would be fine, too. I don't think a career has to be high growth to be meaningful.

    **I realize that the realities of the tenure clock may make this attitude more difficult to have in academia, at least until tenure has been achieved.

    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    To Anyone Who Thinks the World is Setup for Parents....

    ... all I have to say is "extra hour of sleep my ass!"

    I was up before 6... in yesterday's time frame. Which means I've been up since before 5 a.m. using today's time frame. And I didn't get a nap, because Pumpkin decided she didn't want one today. (Actually, she fell asleep on the way home from our morning's excursion to the aquarium, "the bird restaurant" (Islands), and the park, but woke up when we got her out of the car and two exceedingly loud military jets chose just that instant to roar over our house, which is not, by the way, usually in Miramar's flight path. She had me lay down with her so she could play with my hair just long enough for me to get nice and sleepy and start thinking longingly of a nap, then she sat up and announced that she didn't want a nap and she was going to go play. Bah!)

    Predictably, Petunia fell asleep early tonight, without finishing a proper nursing. This means that she will probably shift her entire night time schedule, and that my sleep schedule will shift accordingly (i.e, be trashed).

    My one remaining hope is that Pumpkin will fall asleep really, really quickly since it is actually past her usual bedtime according to her body clock, and she didn't get a nap. Fingers crossed.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    On Pumpkins and Petunias

    It was a reasonably successful Halloween. Pumpkin was a horsey and seemed to enjoy that, even though the horse's head was maybe a bit heavy for her. Hubby and my sister took her for a short round of trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. They say that she said "trick or treat" at the right time, but didn't quite get the saying thank you part- she just said "trick or treat" again. She didn't want to stay out long- she came back with five or six pieces of candy in her bucket, and seemed happy with that.

    I stayed at home with Petunia, because it was time for her to nurse and then go to bed. She took the occasional interruptions to hand out candy well. The mothers shepherding their kids around were all duly impressed with our cute little baby, dressed in her "Little Pumpkin" sleeper.

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    While I sat on the sofa, nursing Petunia and listening for approaching princesses, fairies, ninjas, and firemen, I thought about how much easier it would be next year, and how next year, I'll probably look back at this time when Petunia was so small and easy to handle and think "it was so much easier then!"

    Petunia is a fairly easy baby, at least she seems that way to me. I'm not sure if that is because she really is easy, or because she seems easy compared to Pumpkin, or because the second one always seems easier. She fusses, and even melts down sometimes when she is too tired and can't figure out how to fall asleep because she's not nursing. However, some music and bouncing usually sorts that out pretty quickly. She still mostly eats, sleeps, and poops, but she has started giving us more awake and alert time. She likes to knock over block towers that we build for her. I've convinced myself that she is actually playing with us- not just jerking her hand and accidentally hitting the tower. She is certainly focusing on the blocks, and I'm her mother, so of course I think she's a genius and has figured out that she can knock them over already.

    --------------------------------

    Pumpkin's vocabulary continues to grow, and she is cleaning up some of her pronunciations. I'm sorry to report that "bobbin" has now been replaced by "bottom".

    She continues to talk about the things Hubby and I will do when we get little, though. We will ride in her carseat while she drives us around, and she will change our diapers and buy us binkies. And then she will tell us to take our binkies out because she can't understand us when we're sucking on binkies.

    She is so verbal that it is easy to forget how little she is, and how much she still doesn't quite understand. I am always taken by surprise when she gets somethign completely wrong- like when she tells us to put Petunia next to her by saying "put she here". She has most of her other pronouns sorted out already. Of course, I'm her mother, so I think she is a genius. But I still want to hold on to "bobbin" and "when you get little" and "baby is crying- pick she up!" I think I will be sad to see each one go.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    A Simple Solution?

    If you'd asked me yesterday, I'd have told you that my children were conspiring to prevent me from getting four hours of consecutive sleep. The previous night, Petunia had adopted a schedule that made my longest stretch of sleep about 3 hours- and that was with Hubby giving her a bottle of pumped milk for her first nighttime feeding. The night before that, Petunia slept pretty well, but Pumpkin woke up at 4 a.m. and came in to tell me that she couldn't find her sock. I had to get up, find the sock, and then snuggle with her briefly to get her back to sleep.

    Today, though, it is a completely different story. I went to bed a little before 10 and Hubby brought Petunia in for me to nurse her a little before 4. That's almost six hours of uninterrupted sleep! I feel great. Petunia did TWO stretches of about 4 hours of sleep in a row. After I fed her at 4 a.m., she went back to sleep fairly easily, and I snoozed from about 4:30 to 6:15, when Pumpkin came in, awake for the morning.

    What was the difference? Well, its gotten a bit chilly here at night. I finally got our duvet out, and put Pumpkin's duvet on her bed, too. We put Petunia in a fuzzy fleece sleeper last night, even though the legs are too long.

    Apparently, we were freezing our children.* Everyone tells post-partum mothers to let their husbands determine how much clothing the kids need. Our hormones are all over the place, and we tend to be warm even when its cold. Well, that's bad advice in our family. Hubby didn't think it was that cold.

    Of course, one good night does not mean that we'll get more good nights. But it gives me hope!

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    *Actually, I think some of the improvement, particularly in the ease of going back down after a feeding, is due to my recognition that I have a fast let down, and my subsequent changes in nursing position to help Petunia deal with that. I'll probably post more about this later.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Parenting Ups and Downs

    It has been an up and down run of days on the parenting front.

    Last night, I lost my temper with Pumpkin, who was being oh so difficult at every stage of our evening routine. She wouldn't sit on her potty or get ready for her bath at all, so I picked her up and whisked her into her room for a time out. All I succeeded in doing was making my abdomen hurt (and it had been healing so nicely after the C-section!) and making Pumpkin scream. In the end, she skipped her bath and I felt like a terrible mother.

    But tonight, we got her into her Halloween costume, to check that it will work. She wanted to be a horsey, so we bought the Get-Up Clippity Clop Horse from Amazon, and some brown clothes. My Mom made a tail out of some white fleece. We put it all together tonight, and Pumpkin LOVES it. She was so happy, galloping up and down our hall in her horsey outfit. I felt like a much better mother.

    Now, I'm sitting here watching Petunia sleep, wondering when babies start to settle into something like a predictable schedule. I can't remember, and I suspect I knew this when Pumpkin was a baby. I think I have forgotten a lot of the "what most babies do" facts I knew, probably because Pumpkin didn't behave at all like "most babies". Poor Petunia, not only am I not doing much research now, she doesn't even get the benefit of the research I did the first time around!

    I really want Petunia to wake up and nurse one more time before going down for the night. Unfortunately, I think she is in the midst of her first (and longest) snooze of the night, which does not bode well for me and my hopes of getting a good four hour stretch of sleep. (We've started Petunia on one bottle of pumped milk per night. Hubby does the first nighttime feeding, which means that if Pumpkin goes to sleep reasonably close to on time I can get four- or even five!- hours of sleep before Petunia wakes up for her second feeding.)

    We are apparently not fated to have babies who sleep "well". I knew that this was likely, but still, I had hoped for better luck this time around. I'm not ready to give up that hope yet, but the signs are so-so. Petunia does nap better than Pumpkin did. But our nights are interrupted by three feedings, and she is usually quite difficult to settle back down after her last feeding, which is usually around 5 a.m. I can't really remember what Pumpkin did- although I do remember that her days started at 4:30 a.m. for the first month or so. I guess I should consider myself lucky that Petunia will consent to sleep in until 7 many days, albeit with some parental effort required!

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Thoughts on Food

    While I was pregnant with Petunia, I suddenly wanted to understand more about where the food I ate came from, and to formulate some sort of coherent opinion about what I should be eating and feeding to my children. These days, my thoughts on food are more along the lines of wondering how long I can get away with eating so many cookies and watching for correlations between Petunia's fussy periods and my diet (so far, I suspect that too much lemonade in my diet may make her fussy. I haven't done the experiment to see if she has the same problem with dairy that Pumpkin had- given our experience with Pumpkin, I decided to just eliminate dairy from the start and add it back in when Petunia is about 4 weeks old.) Still, I thought I'd write up my thoughts on food from my earlier reading, before I forget everything I learned in the fog of newborn-induced sleep deprivation.

    I had read some books about food earlier, and read two more during this period. Here's my food reading list:
    • Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, by Marion Nestle. She has written a lot about food and food politics. I read this one a long time ago, as part of a work project I was doing. I came away with the distinct impression that our approach to food safety in this country is driven more by politics and what is convenient for our food industry than by what science tells us about how to best keep our food safe.
    • Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. This one has a definite agenda, and is trying to convince you of the evils of our current system. Therefore, I found it a bit one-sided and often found myself wondering about the counter-arguments that were never made. However, it was still an interesting read. I also read this one a while ago, but a bit more recently than the Nestle book.
    • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. This book is a more personal story than the others. It documents how Kingsolver and her family lived on food they grew on their small farm for a year. I found it very thought-provoking, but also a bit sanctimonious at times. I also wanted more balanced information about some of the issues it raises- the author's opinions about food policy issues are often stated as facts. Kingsolver and her family clearly believe passionately that we should eat more locally, and they were able to make changes to live the lifestyle they believe in. It is less clear how to translate this into action that an average family could take.
    • The End of Food, by Paul Roberts. This was definitely the most satisfying of the books for me. It presents a more balanced discussion of the issues, and includes plenty of references. If you only have time to read one book on food, this would be the one I'd recommend. It will give you the information you need to formulate your own opinions- although the author also presents some of his own opinions.
    I learned a lot from my reading. For instance, The End of Food has a fascinating discussion of how the addition of meat to our diets has made us bigger and healthier- there is a reason that societies become more carnivorous as they get wealthier. Of course, Americans now eat far more meat than we really need, but I don't think that the solution to our food problems is to all become vegetarians.

    So, after all of that reading, what do I think about our food system? Well, I think it is under strain. I think that our approach to food safety is insane. I'd love to see a more rational, science-based approach. For instance, the way we feed our cattle favors the growth of the pathogenic strain of E. coli that causes potentially serious illness (0157:H7). Both Food Safety and The End of Food make the point that if we switch cattle from corn feed to grass or hay before sending them to slaughter, we could significantly reduce the risk of E. coli contamination. Corn feed leads to a more acidic cow stomach, which favors the growth of the of the 0157:H7 strain. This strain can withstand the acidic environment that kills the other strains of E. coli. Unfortunately, this also means that our own acidic stomach environment provides no protection against 0157:H7.

    I also think that we are insane to routinely dose our livestock with antibiotics. We do this because it makes them grow a little bigger on the same amount of feed. However, we are essentially breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the process- bacteria will evolve to survive in the presence of the antibiotics. To decrease the risk of this practice, there are some antibiotics that are reserved for human use only. However, given the fact that many different antibiotics work by blocking the same bacterial processes, this seems like a poor safeguard to me.

    I routinely buy organic meat, eggs, and milk because these are antibiotic-free. However, it is a lot harder to buy grass-fed beef- my local supermarket does not carry it, and neither does the speciality meat market down the hill from me. I'd have to go to a store in a different part of town to find it, and we frankly just don't have the time right now for that amount of shopping. Grass-fed beef is a bit of a hot item right now, though- several buger joints in town advertise their use of it. This makes me hopeful that I'll be able to buy it in my local stores soon.

    Beyond the safety of our food, there is the question of whether we have food security- i.e., do we have enough food to feed everyone, and is that food supply reasonably robust? The End of Food argues rather convincingly that our food security is shaky. Our agricultural industry is very specialized and we are over-reliant on corn and soy. In fact, most farmers plant the same few strains of these crops, which have been optimized to work in our industrialized farm setting. Roberts argues that we should diversify our crops. He makes the case that more medium-size farms, all innovating in their own ways will provide us with a more secure food supply. There are aspects of our government's food policy that work against the development of such a system. I don't feel that I understand our food policy well enough to have firm opinions about how we should change it, but I do think that we should try to include all of the costs of food production in our system- including the environmental costs of our heavy reliances on petroleum-based fertilizers.

    So what should I feed myself and my family? I do not have the time (or land!) to make the sort of changes Kingsolver documents in her book. Nor, frankly, do I have that level of interest in gardening. Hubby and I will continue working our office jobs, juggling the demands of work with the needs of our family. We do not have time to shop in four different stores to get our weekly groceries- most weeks, we're lucky to make it to the one supermarket. I have a picky toddler who likes store-bought chicken nuggets but turns her nose up at my home-made breaded chicken strips. I do not have the energy or the desire to fight her on this. I'm mostly happy that there is some meat she is willing to eat. (She also like bacon. She's such a health nut.) Given all of this, I've come up with the following ideas for how we might change our eating habits, once we emerge from the survival mode neccesitated by having a newborn:
    • Eat less meat. Hubby and I both like meat, and we've gotten a bit lazy about including vegetarian meal options in our plans. Unfortunately, I'm a picky eater, too, and am not a big fan of beans (its a texture problem) or fish (I just don't like the taste). Still, I'm a grown up. I can try to get better at this.
    • Eat less processed convenience food- within reason. Pumpkin gets to keep her beloved tortellini and chicken nuggets. But we'll try to introduce more home-made items.
    • Try to buy more regionally. The End of Food argues that locally grown doesn't always make sense, but that it does make sense to try to buy food from your region. I think Pumpkin would enjoy a trip to a farmer's market now and then, and we would all benefit from trying to eat fruits and veggies that are in season in our hemisphere, rather than paying for items imported from the other side of the globe. However, we won't outlaw the imports- we'll just make them more occasional treats.
    • Set up a backyard garden. I have an herb garden now, and we're working to make space for a bigger garden. I think it would be fun to have a garden with Pumpkin (and Petunia, as she gets older). Next on my list of things to grow are tomatoes and zucchini. We may also plant a citrus tree. Citrus trees are thirsty, but we can use our gray water to help water it.
    These seem like reasonable steps that I can take without turning my life upside down. Real change, though, will probably need to come from Washington- and I just don't have the time right now to push for that.

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