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.

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

    *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.
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