Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Surprising Realization

I don't normally post "big" posts on the weekends, but I've spent a lot of time at my desk this weekend, watching work emails. We're were finishing up a big project, and my role at this point was largely to watch, answer questions, and standby to jump in if necessary. Anyway, this gave me the time to write up some thoughts that have been nagging at me recently. Fair warning- this is a ridiculously introspective post. If that's going to bother you, click away now! But it helped to write this all down, and since I've shown time and again that I absolutely cannot predict which posts will strike a chord with someone out there... here it is.

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I've been struggling with a lack of motivation at work lately. I have had a hard time figuring out why. I like my colleagues, and I'm well-respected at this job. I'm doing work that I'm good at, and that most of the people I work with value. I've got a great team working for me, and the people I have to collaborate with are mostly easy to work with, albeit with some quirks (but we all have those).

So what's my deal? Why am I daydreaming about finding some other way to make a living?

I figured out the answer while I was out for a lunchtime walk. I use my walks as a time to think. I like to set myself thinking about a hard problem I'm trying to solve at the start, and it is sort of magical how I often have a solution by the end of my walk, even though I don't force myself to think about only that topic. I let my mind wander where it wants to go.

Anyway, on this particular walk, I couldn't come up with a problem to think about. And I realized that lately, I haven't been thinking about work problems on my walks. I've been thinking about posts I want to write, or process optimizations we need at home, or a parenting conundrum, or... anything but work. I thought about that a bit more, and decided that isn't because I'm shirking any work. It is because I don't have any hard problems to solve right now, and haven't had any for at least a month.

I'm busy at work. There is lot that I need to do, and some of that is not trivial. It draws on my experience and on things I have figured out in the past. But none of it is hard for me. The only challenge is one of prioritization, and I solved the general form of that problem a long time ago- these days it is mostly a question of applying that solution to the specifics at hand.

Some people might be happy to find their work life so ordered. But I am bored. I spent some money on some career counseling several years ago, and one of the exercises I did was to determine what my "work values" are- i.e., what things I want in a job. One of my top values was that I want to be working on hard problems.

And I'm not.

And worse... I realized, as I thought more about this on that walk, that I haven't been working on hard problems for a long time. Or at least, the majority of my job has not involved hard problems for a long time.

This may sound strange, since my team just successfully completed a major, high profile project on time. That certainly required a lot of hard work, from me and everyone on my team. But my part of that work wasn't intellectually challenging. Once we worked out the schedule, my contributions were in communications (within the team and outside the team), task tracking, deciding when we needed to make a compromise on what we were trying to accomplish in order to ensure we could complete the project on time, and keeping other people from bothering my team. In short, I was the project manager. And none of those things are an intellectual challenge for me anymore.

One I  realized this, I understood why I keep getting restless in my jobs. The intellectually hard part of what I do is figuring out how to get things done in a new environment. Once I've done that, then the execution isn't an intellectual challenge- although it can be a challenge for other reasons. Based on my recent record of employment satisfaction, I'd say that it takes me roughly 6-9 months to figure out how to get things done at a company. Then I get 3-6 months of happily accomplishing things. And then I get bored.

So now that I've figured this out, the question is what to do about it.

I could stay in my current line of work (which pays well, after all) and just devote more of my time and attention to my hobbies- like writing. Perhaps I could tackle some bigger writing projects in addition to writing this blog. The problem is that I can't really cut back on my work hours, and I don't want to cut back on the time I spend with my family, so that would mean squeezing in more time for hobby work around the margins. I'm not sure this would work well.

I could talk to my boss and tell him I'm bored, and see if we can come up with any changes to my job that would fix the problem. Unfortunately, I know full well that the reason I was hired was because I am good at managing projects and getting things done- so it seems unlikely that I'll be able to stop doing the work I'm doing now. And I don't really want more work. I want different work.

I could stay in my current line of work, but change things up to try to get more intellectual challenge. I could go out on my own as a consultant (which is financially risky, so would require some lead time and preparation) or I could try to find a "bigger" job in my current field. I wonder if this would just be a short term fix, though.

Or I could try to find a new line of work. I lean towards doing this, but that opens up another huge area of introspection. I've done well in my current career- it seems like pushing my luck to toss it all in for a new career, and if I do, it seems unlikely that I'll get yet another chance if my second choice goes poorly. So it seems that I should make that second choice carefully.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I might want to do. About 18 months ago, I was unhappy in my job (it was a different job), and thinking that I needed a "life reorg". I even wrote a series of posts about it. My post about my "core competencies" is particularly relevant here. I had identified "organizing information" and "getting things done" as my core competencies. In fact, I think those collapse down to one: organizing things. Unfortunately for me, what makes me happy is organizing information, but what I've found people to pay me to do is organizing people and projects.

So I've got a lot to think about. How to get back to doing something that I really enjoy for work? (Note that I don't hate my current work, I'm just a bit bored by it.) Could I find a way to get paid to lose myself in masses of information and organize it? How to fit all of this in with my larger ambitions? I don't know the answers to any of these questions yet. I guess I know what I'll be thinking about during my lunchtime walks for awhile!

Feel free to give me advice in the comments. What would you do in my shoes? As always, I may or may not actually take any of the advice I get, but I enjoy reading other people's perspectives.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Kids Are Cute Edition

We're midway through the final weekend of one of the big, high profile projects I mentioned in my post about "big careers" and work-life balance (a.k.a. "the mental load post"). We're bringing it in on time, too. I don't have many hands on tasks this weekend, but I am on call if there are issues, and I need to monitor my email. And it has been a grueling week. So let's have some lightweight weekend reading links, all about cute kids.

First, Mommyshorts has had a couple of really funny posts about the words toddlers mispronounce.

Then, Parisienne Mais Presque writes about house hunting with a preschooler.

And finally, my husband found this video that I'll be sure to think of next time I'm complaining about how Petunia climbs on the things:



Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Unexpected Benefit of Day Care

When I went back to work after my first baby was born, I- like most working parents- worried a bit about what I'd miss while my baby was in someone else's care. I figured that was just the trade off I'd have to make so that I could keep working.

I never thought I'd end up thinking that missing something was a good thing... but I do.

Petunia was looking at a book of shapes. She saw the diamond, and said "dimen" and made a diamond shape with her fingers. Then she saw the heart, and patted her chest and said "ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM." I was surprised- in a wonderful way. I had never taught her those things, and neither had my husband. She learned them from day care. It was such a cool thing to be completely surprised by something she had learned, like getting a surprise gift from someone.

Petunia does a lot of cute things right now. She's at that age. She calls band-aids "nay-nays" and insists I put one on if I get a scratch on my arm- after she's noted Mommy's owie, and kissed it better, of course. And she's learning a lot of things, too. She's almost got her alphabet down, and she's getting much better at jigsaw puzzles. But few of these are surprising. I've been helping her practice her alphabet, and I do the jigsaw puzzles with her. I kiss her owies better, so it is no big surprise that she wants to kiss mine better. Her telling me that her heart goes "ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM" was a complete surprise, and that made it even more delightful. Thinking back, I remember having a similar reaction when Pumpkin first sang us "I'm a Little Teapot," complete with actions, back when she was about two. I knew the song, of course, but had never tried to teach it to her. Her day care teacher, on the other hand, had an entire lesson plan built around nursery rhymes.

I missed watching my kids learn these things, but in return I got the happy surprise when they showed me their new skills.  I know that I'll be having more and more of these moments as my kids start school, but for some reason I never thought about how fun they would be. I expected to miss my kids during the day- and I do. I didn't expect to also find myself happy to think about my kids off at day care during the day, learning things without me. But I do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Limits of Imagination

Last week, I came across a comment that seemed to imply that women who balance motherhood and careers, and have "utterly crazy lives, scheduled to the hilt" are (1) not really happy, and if they write a post saying that they are happy, they are just trying to convince themselves that they are happy, and (2) that they aren't enjoying their kids, because they would need to take time off from work to do that.

My first instinct was to write a comment in reply saying how strongly I disagree with that implication. I was busy and had a fair amount of schedule in my life before I had kids- that's just the type of person I am. I am definitely busier now, but my pre-kid life was not some sort of schedule-free nirvana. In fact, "schedule-free" and "nirvana" don't really go together in my book.

I am also enjoying my kids very much, thank you. I love watching Petunia when she decides she'll put her PJ bottoms on by herself, or when she decides she needs to give her sister another good night kiss, and directs me to wait in her room while she goes and does that. I love how Pumpkin and Petunia both want to help me weed our front garden, even though they are completely ineffectual at it. I love listening to Pumpkin explain things to Petunia. I love listening to Pumpkin read. I could go on and on, but the point is just this: the idea that I am somehow missing out on the everyday joys of having children- that I am not in fact enjoying this journey- is completely wrong.

If my blog posts say that I am happy, then I am actually happy. I do not need to convince anyone else of that, and I certainly don't need to convince myself of that. If I am not happy, and I feel like writing about the reasons, then I will do so. One of the reasons I blog, after all, is to help me figure things out. You can believe that I am truly enjoying the journey, or think that it is just the corny subtitle to my blog. I don't care. I know the truth.

But then I decided (based in part on the rest of the comment, in which the writer says she does not yet have kids but will take time off to enjoy them when she does) that this comment wasn't about me.

Oh, it was perhaps written with my post on how I "have it all" in mind- she was commenting on a post that referenced FeMOMhist's blog carnival. But even if she was responding directly to my post, her comment wasn't about me, because she doesn't know me.

The comment was, in my opinion, about the person who wrote it, and the limits of her imagination. She imagines life with kids and a career, and can't see how she would enjoy that. But she can't stretch her imagination enough to see how someone else may in fact enjoy that life. So she projects what she thinks onto the rest of us- which would be no big deal if it didn't feed into the ongoing cultural angst about mothers and work.

But to be fair, imagining how someone else feels can be hard, particularly when that other person is living a life you do not live and cannot even imagine yourself living. I run into the limits of my imagination quite a bit, too. I frequently come across blog posts or comments from women my age or younger who are deeply unsatisfied with their work-life balance, often because their partner is not doing much (if any) of the parenting, or because their partner does not support them in their career. These are not the occasional "gosh this sucks" sort of thing (which I suspect we could all write), but posts and comments that make it clear that the author is really, really unhappy with how her life is playing out. These are also not generally comments and posts from women with no options- they usually also make it clear that they have education and either have or had a career.

I honestly cannot imagine the reasons why those women let their lives be that way. Was it a big surprise when their partners turned out not to view them as equals? Why do they tolerate such inequality at home?

And I know that these thoughts are unfair, because there is a larger culture at work as well, feeding into the expectations of both the women and their partners about what their home and work lives will be. Kids change everything, and I suppose that it can be hard to tell how your partner will react to parenthood. Heck, I was surprised in some ways by how I reacted to parenthood! But still, I cannot imagine living my life in that way. If I were that completely unhappy with how things were, I'd have to change something.

I don't comment on those posts, or reply to those comments, because I know that my answer of "well, if you don't like the way things are change something" would be neither welcome nor helpful. In fact, I am not sure why I keep reading them. Perhaps I am looking for the one that can stretch the limits of my imagination a bit farther, because I'd rather not project what I think onto other people, either, and I suspect that understanding why these women put up with the crap their partners dish out would help me understand why my culture is so unsettled by happy working mothers.

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I think I'll just apologize in advance to all of the people this post will offend. The usual caveats apply. If the anonymous commenter wants to take some time off to have kids and that is what makes her happiest- hooray for her. I just want her to recognize that maybe the people who have made different decisions also did so because that makes them happiest. And if you are in the group of women who are deeply unhappy with your work-life balance- I truly am sorry and wish you could be happier. I just don't understand why you don't make some changes to increase your happiness. Feel free to try to explain it to me in the comments.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Unusual Sort of Getaway

We're just back from a long weekend with my parents, who live in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ. My aunt and uncle were in town, and the family planned an early celebration for my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary. I wanted to be there for that, and thought the kids would have fun visiting their grandparents, so we figured out the logistics and off we went. My husband had just taken a couple of days off when his parents were in town, so he couldn't spare any time off. I could, but didn't want to drive over to AZ with the kids on my own, so we decided that my Mom would fly over to join us on the road trip. My husband would fly over on Friday night, go to the party and hang out with us on Saturday, and then we'd drive back on Sunday.

It was a pretty good plan. But nothing went quite as planned. The basics all happened as we planned- but everything was just a little bit off.

First of all, we were all sick. We all caught a nasty cold, starting with my parents a couple of weeks before the trip. None of us were likely to be contagious, but we weren't feeling like going out and having a lot of fun. Of all the travelers, the only one who felt really good was Pumpkin, who shrugged this cold off in a just a couple of days.

Then, Petunia's usual post-infection mild constipation turned for the worse, making the drive over pretty miserable for her- she screamed in protest when we got her back into her car seat after our mid-morning break and after our lunch/play stop. She cried and screamed "Mommy! Help! Poopies!" for most of our first evening at my parents' house. I finally had to go get some laxative for her to sort things out.

Finally, we got spooked by the specter of the vacation tummy bug, and ended up making only a brief appearance at the anniversary party. My cousin hosted the party, and one of her kids got sent home from day care after throwing up. We are still a bit traumatized by the great Hawaii Christmas Norovirus incident, and were more than a little afraid of the thought of trying to drive home with vomiting children... so we bowed out of the party and just swung by for a little while when the party had moved outdoors. (It turns out that we need not have worried- the poor kid had gotten four teeth in quick succession and probably just had an upset stomach from the teething drool. Better safe than sorry, I guess.) We did go around to spend more time with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle that evening, and the kids played happily while we visited- so at least we didn't miss out on seeing everyone.

But, you know what? It was still a nice little mini-vacation. It was great to see my grandparents, and to give them a chance to see the kids- who behaved better than I dared to hope during our visit, leaving my grandparents and my aunt and uncle with a false but flattering opinion of our children! (They are cute, but they are not usually so angelic.) The kids had a lot of fun at Mimi and Boppa's house, even if we didn't get in the fun outings we had expected. I got the chance to lounge around a bit while the kids were entertained by my parents. I even read a book.

So, despite the general air of feeling not quite well that hung over the trip, I'm glad we went. The alert reader may notice that our travel plans were quite different from those we employed during our California Road Trip- on that trip, we tried to keep the driving to only a couple of hours per day. On this trip, we drove from San Diego to Phoenix (a six hour drive if you don't stop) in a single day. 
Frankly, I was surprised at how well the drives went. Both directions, we left in the morning and stopped in Yuma for lunch and a good long play at the West Wetlands park, which is a truly great park, with a "regular" playground and a gigantic castle "imagination playground". On the way over, I decided to break up the morning drive by stopping at the Desert View tower outside of Jacumba. The kids were moderately impressed with the tower and the view and not at all impressed with the large number of unleashed (but incredibly docile and non-threatening!) dogs roaming around the place, so they would not explore the rocks nearby as I had hoped. We really should work on getting Pumpkin comfortable with dogs again- and I guess now we need to work on Petunia, too, who hadn't previously shown any fear of dogs.

I wish I could say that I have figured out the secret to keeping young children amused in the car, but that would be a lie. Petunia slept a lot, which obviously helped. Pumpkin read, colored, and played with a felt board my Mom had made her. I had my Kindle Fire with me, and she played with it a bit, but mostly preferred to read or look out the window. She napped a little bit, too.

I did pick up some ideas to make the driving (and flying) portion of our upcoming Texas vacation easier: I think I will get each kid her own clipboard and pouch of appropriate crayons/markers, and stock it with papers for coloring. I will also take along some small plastic bags to use to pass snacks to the backseat- we don't let them snack in the car very often, so getting a snack is a treat and serves as a good whine-diffuser. But really, I'm have no idea why the kids tolerated the long drives so well. I I am officially accepting the universe's offer of two good travelers as payback for the fact that neither of my kids slept through the night much before they turned two (heck, Petunia still doesn't reliably sleep through the night, and she is two and a half already). I wonder if the universe thinks this also covers the fact that the kids won't eat vegetables?





Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Feeling Vindicated Edition

I'm only human... it makes me happy when I come across something that I feel vindicates something I've said, something that supports an argument I've made. Today I have some links that make me feel vindicated:

First, an article largely about Sarah Hrdy, and what she has written about how humans evolved as a cooperatively breeding species, in which mothers relied on a network of support from other people (their babies' fathers and others) to raise their children makes it obvious that the argument that I and others have made that mothers have always worked is actually not going far enough: our maternal instincts evolved in an environment in which mothers had to do non-mothering work. I'm sure I'll have more to say about Hrdy's arguments once I finish Mother Nature.

Next, an article about why we should bring back the 40 hour work week made the rounds of the internet. It references another white paper on the same subject, which focuses more on the software industry and has references to research that established the standard week of 5 eight hour days as fairly optimal for productivity. I confess that I had never gone looking for actual research to support the conclusions I have drawn based on my own experience both as a worker and a manager, which I summarized in my work limit post. (I know! And I call myself a scientist.) Most of the research cited in the paper was done on industrial work, but the evidence seems to imply that people maintain productivity at "mental work" for even fewer hours than they can maintain productivity at physical labor.

If you're only going to read one of those two links, I recommend reading the white paper (the second link)- the first one has some logical flaws- she undermines her argument that a shorter work week will make people able to produce more work (and not less) by turning around and trying to argue that we'd create jobs if we all dropped back to a 40 hour work week. Still, if you are willing to overlook this problem, it is a fairly good article.

Regardless, I'm glad I came across that paper (which made its way to me from multiple sources), since it led me to the productivity research papers. You'll undoubtedly hear more from me on this subject, too, once I've had a chance to read and digest the research.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Perspective

I've been reading Mother Nature, by Sarah Hrdy. Actually, I've stalled out on it recently, not because it isn't excellent (it is), but because a cold has sapped my energy and my reading has therefore tended towards decidedly more fluffy fare. I also know what she will be covering in the upcoming chapter, and no matter how many times I read about the experiments with the baby monkeys and the wire surrogate "mothers", the description never fails to make my heart ache and make me want to run and hug my children. (If you haven't read about these experiments, you can go read about them now- but don't say you weren't warned. In fact, if you're feeling fragile, you probably shouldn't click on any of the links in this post.)

Don't get me wrong- I'm glad the experiments were done. They provided the evidence needed to overcome some truly dangerous theories about what constituted good parenting. But the description of the sad little monkeys breaks my heart. And I think the fact that they needed to be done stands as a warning to scientists and those of us who look to science to guide our parenting: human development is a complex thing, and we do not understand anywhere near its full complexity. We should be humble, and careful not to over-interpret our data.

One of the things I'm really enjoying about Hrdy's book is how she describes mothering in other species, and uses this to challenge some of our myths and misconceptions about what is and is not natural for a mother to do. I haven't gotten far enough yet to see how she pulls this all together to explain "maternal instincts" in our own species, but I've already found plenty of things to think about.

For instance, I have heard people say that humans are the only animals that murder each other. From Hrdy's descriptions, this is just not true. The stories of infanticide in other species put that idea to rest.

Still, it seems that our species goes about murder with particular gusto. At least in other animals, we can usually understand the violence in terms of competition for resources and the pursuit of the biological definition of success- i.e., producing living progeny who themselves produce living progeny. Our large brains give us the capacity to make a better world for ourselves- and for the most part, we have done that. I do not regularly have to fight other mothers for the food to feed my children, for instance.

But then, I clicked over to CNN today, and saw the news of the shooting in Toulouse. And, of course, there were still stories about the soldier who gunned down innocent villagers in Afghanistan. I can barely stand to read the stories about Trayvon Martin. And I almost cry whenever I think about Syria.

I cannot fathom how we do not do better at protecting our children. But then, I think of the infanticidal apes in Hrdy's book, and I remember the revulsion I felt when I read about an ancient seige in which live children were used as fodder for catapults (found in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World- but it wasn't the Mongols doing the child-flinging), and I think that maybe we've come a long way already, and just need to summon the will to finish the job. That doesn't really make me feel better, though.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post, other than to say that sometimes, my little problems seem almost wonderful to have. Which is not to say that they aren't real problems, and that I won't try to solve them- or complain about them from time to time. But I wish everyone in the world had no problem bigger than a nasty cold made worse by some mild asthma, a vague sense of dissatisfaction with a well-paying career and some annoying mold that keeps cropping up on the outer walls of the house.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shorts

My crowdsourcing experiment worked out well- you all convinced me that Colorado in early May with a 5 year old and 2.5 year old would probably not be the best choice. I listed out the other places we can fly to non-stop from San Diego, and we looked at the list and our map and decided to visit San Antonio and Austin, instead. Depending on how the trip plans out, we might head down to somewhere on the Gulf, too. My husband (who desperately needs a new blog name- he hates Hubby, and I hate typing out "my husband" every time I want to talk about him) is lobbying for including Houston, so he can go see the space center. I've got a couple of guide books, and am about to start the planning. If you have any ideas on what we should see and do in that part of Texas, leave them in the comments!

I haven't figured out where to go for our getaway, but I got a lot of ideas, and @Calee sent me a link to an Orange County post that describes a getaway that we might do in the future, if we don't do it for my 40th.

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Pumpkin LOVED her first soccer lesson in the new, more competitive class.  She did not notice that several of her friends are quite a bit better at soccer than she is, and I'm certainly not going to point it out to her. Anyway, she's not the worst at soccer, either, despite her father's worries about her "ball skills."

Pumpkin also loves having all the soccer gear, so I guess I should stop being a grump about it. It is startling, though, to look out across the field and see her running around in real soccer gear, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, just like the big girl soccer players. A lot of her day care friends are in the same class, and I look at them all running around and can't believe how big they look, how much like kids instead of the babies I remember them as.

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One of the other moms at soccer was also pretty startling to see. She is friends with one of the moms in the day care crowd, but her child isn't in our day care, so I'd never met her before. Her child, in fact, refused to play soccer- she had been signed up for the class Pumpkin played in last year, and screamed and clung to her mother when her mom tried to get her to play. When I saw that the "little kid" class was right next to the "big kid" class, I tried to convince Petunia to play in the little kid class, and she would have none of it. Who knew a soccer class could be so scary? Petunia LOVES kicking the ball around at home.

Anyway, this mom was painfully thin. Not, "gee, she must have a high metabolism" thin, but thin enough that my first thought when I saw her was that perhaps she has an eating disorder. Her legs were honestly about the same size as my arms. I could tell this because she was wearing leggings. Of course, I have no idea why she is so thin. Maybe that's just the way her body is. But she did not look healthy- her eyes looked sunken. Her little girl, on the other hand, did look healthy- so hooray for her if she indeed does have an eating disorder and is not passing that to her little girl. I can't imagine navigating the rough waters of feeding toddlers and preschoolers if I had eating issues of my own.

I realized that I'd rather be in my situation (trying to lose ten pounds) than in hers, any day, whatever the reason for her extreme thinness.  I was surprised to find myself so comfortable in my own skin.

And then I grabbed a handful of the Cheetos someone had brought, because they are yummy.

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Petunia is getting more intelligible, but she still has many, many adorable toddlerisms. She asks for her "cue-kick" instead of her music, and at dinner time she usually wants to sit in my "wap". She knows the signs for all the colors (and a lot of other things- the fact that she's been slow to become intelligible when speaking has meant that she's kept using signs), and she's been teaching them to her day care teacher, which is amusing all of us.

She can count to five, and even higher if you don't notice that she always skips "seven" and often skips all they way to "seventeen" for some reason. She also knows most of her letters, and every time she sees the letter her name starts with, she points it out and reminds us it is "for Petunia".

I think the cutest thing she does right now, though, is sing and dance along to Pumpkin's Dance & Learn Chinese DVD. Pumpkin can sing all the songs, and Petunia tries very hard and does surprisingly well. And she loves doing the dances with Pumpkin.

A close second is how she reads Blue Hat, Green Hat, a Sandra Boynton book my parents recently gave her.




"Re' shirt, boo shirt, lehlow shirt.. POOTS!"

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We're at a fairly happy time in sibling relations. Petunia often wants to do whatever her big sister is doing, and Pumpkin is not yet old enough or bored enough with the phenomenon to protest most of the time- so we get a lot of heart-meltingly cute "sisters playing together" moments. They will both run around the backyard flapping their arms and yelling "fly! fly!" Or, Pumpkin will start singing and acting out a song about taking baby steps and then taking big steps, and Petunia will run over to join in.

They still yell at each other, though, and today they got in a huge pout contest over whose turn it was to play with one of the trains- so don't be fooled into having a second kid on my account.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Inspiration Edition

This week, I have some links that I find inspiring, and a link that wants to be inspiring, but I just find interesting.
First, the inspiring ones:
And now the sort of inspiring but really just interesting one, which my husband (a TED talk junkie) sent to me:



First of all, I completely disagree with him about velcro. That was an awesome invention, and my husband tells me it is taught as an example at engineering school. I think he is suffering from a bias against practical innovations in favor of theoretical advances. In truth, the world needs both.

I'm also not sure what to make of his assertion that you don't want to let your family stand in the way of your success. I like the line about not treating your spouse and children as jailers- but what solution is he advocating? Not having a family? Reaching for "it all"? Being a crappy spouse/parent so you can focus on your career? It is unclear. He should have talked less about how he is not a child-hater and more about what he actually meant here, I think.

Personally, I am not just aiming for a great career. I am aiming for a great life. And for me, the components of a great life include family and career.  I think that neither having a great career nor being a great parent are all-consuming pursuits. In fact, for me, I would do worse as a parent and worse at my career if I tried to make either of these things all-consuming. So maybe I agree with him- but it isn't clear if this is also what he is arguing.

And, also courtesy of my husband, The Real Housewives of Disney isn't inspiring at all but made me laugh.

And finally, the discussion of giftedness, etc., in the comments section of my last post may well be more worthwhile than the post itself... go check it out if you find the topic at all interesting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Perfectionism and Non-Academic Pursuits

FeMOMhist has had a couple of really interesting posts about recent testing that has revealed just what a rare zebra her son is. (She had an earlier post where she made the analogy of having a gifted child to be like having a zebra in a world that expects horses.)

This, in conjunction with some recent events, has got me thinking. It is too early for me to know whether Pumpkin is a zebra or just a rather speedy horse, and it is way to early to know how Petunia will develop. (For what its worth, I myself was probably a fast horse growing up, although I did get "tracked" into the gifted program and that was awesome. My husband was probably a zebra.) So, the musings in this post are not really directly about my kids. They are more general musings that may or may not apply to my kids. Time will tell.

Anyway, one problem that a lot of gifted kids have is perfectionism. The theory is that they are so used to having things come easily that they are afraid to try to do something that they can't be perfect at- or something like that. I am not as up on all of this as I probably should be, with kindergarten barreling down on us and all.

To me, the fact that school often fails to give gifted kids the opportunity to overcome this perfectionism in a safe environment is one of the most troubling things about the thought of trying to navigate a gifted child through standard schooling. I've watched far too many unreformed perfectionists flame out in college or graduate school to take this lightly. In all cases, the person was clearly gifted, but at some point ran into a class or an experiment or something that was too challenging, and just couldn't handle it. None of the cases I am aware of turned out tragically- everyone is living a reasonably happy life, if not necessarily fulfilling the potential that people- and they themselves- saw in their younger selves. But my god, they went through hell for years getting to that point. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, and I certainly don't wish it on my children. I am convinced that it is far better to figure out how to handle challenges and failure young, when most people figure that out.

So it scares me a bit to see Pumpkin suffering a bit from perfectionism. We have been working on this with her, and I think we have made progress. As I point out above, for all I know, school will provide sufficient challenges for her, and give her the chance to learn how to get her perfectionist streak under control.

But still. This is an area of parenting I think about quite a bit.

I've been pondering how my husband and I escaped the perfectionist trap. My husband still has a bit of a perfectionist streak in him, but he (mostly) uses it to ensure he produces high quality work, and is not paralyzed by it. I, on the other hand, am definitely not a perfectionist. I take pride in my work, and I try to do a good job. But I am for some reason rather good at letting things go, even when they are not perfect.

Now, obviously, basic temperament plays a big role here. But I am starting to form a theory about another factor that might be involved. Both my husband and I were fairly active in extra-curricular activities, right through college and beyond, keeping with them even though we weren't anywhere near the top of the field. For him, it was sports- even though he does not have the build that makes him a natural at most sports. For me, it was music. I can't speak for my husband, but I know that one of the things I had to consciously work on and overcome with my music was the tendency to want to stop and go back and fix a mistake. This is obviously not "allowed" in music- you just keep going. I clearly remember struggling with that, and even once I'd gotten to the point where I'd keep playing, I had teachers tell me that I needed to work on my "poker face"- i.e., I shouldn't wrinkle up my nose and shake my head when I hit a wrong note. I never completely conquered that tendency, but I got a lot better. Apparently my "tell" in later years was that I'd raise my eyebrows when I hit a wrong note.

I have long credited this experience with my relative comfort with public speaking. If you make a mistake when you are talking, you just correct yourself. This is so much easier than having to just keep going without even acknowledging the mistake- my God, people might think you don't even know you did something wrong!  But now I think the impact was perhaps more profound than I realized. Could this be why I'm comfortable taking risks and making mistakes at work now?

This train of thought has changed the way I look at the non-academic pursuits we've signed Pumpkin up to take. I used to think of swimming as just a necessary thing (because everyone should know how to swim) and soccer as something we did because Pumpkin wanted to hang out more with her friends (and because my husband had a weird issue with her lack of "ball skills"). Now, I think that they may be more important than that.

Recently, Pumpkin announced that she wanted to stop going to swim lessons. Since she announced this right at the end of the day on swim lesson day, and neither of us had the energy to force the issue that night, she got her way for that one lesson. But as my husband and I talked about what we would do if the swim lesson refusal continued, he hit upon the reason she was refusing to go. There had been a trainee teacher shadowing her regular teacher at the last lesson, and she had let Pumpkin's head sink underwater at one point, which (1) freaked her out, and (2) convinced her she was "no good" at swimming. My husband worked out a plan to get her over that experience, and she went back to swim lessons. A couple of weeks later, she swam across the pool unassisted. She was so unbelievably proud of herself. And we took the opportunity to point out how this was something she thought she couldn't do, but she practiced and got better at it.

So tonight, Pumpkin and I went out after dinner and bought her the gear she needs for the next round of soccer classes, which start on Friday. She's excited for this class, but I'm a bit nervous for her, because it is more structured and competitive than the class she took last year- hence the need for shin guards and cleats (which annoys me no end- do five year olds really need this gear? I need to find the less upwardly mobile soccer class, I think). She has many talents, but so far, we have seen no sign that sports will be one of them. She will no doubt start figuring out that her friends are better at this than she is soon. I no longer think that is a bad thing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Crowdsourcing my Travel Plans

This weekend, my parents came over and watched the kids for a night while my husband and I absconded to the O.C. for some grown up time. We stayed in a business hotel near a mall, and slept, watched dumb TV that was not at all appropriate for children, did a little shopping without a child begging for whatever bauble had caught her eye, lingered over dinner and margaritas, and just enjoyed each others' company. We do this from time to time, and it is awesome, even though people snicker at the fact that our romantic getaway is a nondescript business hotel in Orange County. I can't really explain to them- a really cool location would actually detract from the point of the trip, because we'd feel like we needed to go out and appreciate it. This location is enough like our regular life to let us just relax. We are both very, very grateful to my parents for giving us the chance to do this from time to time.

But... in a couple of months, we have a bigger getaway coming up. I'm turning 40, and my parents have offered to give us two whole nights away. The big birthday and extra night away seem to demand something a little extra, so we're planning to go some place different. The only problem is, we don't know where.

On this getaway, I realized what I want for my 40th escape. I want a place with a nice, low key bar with a good view (ocean, probably, but that isn't required) and yummy fru-fru drinks (margaritas are on the outer end of the allowable non-fru-fruness), within a couple of hours by car or plane from San Diego. The bar should be walking distance from a nice, comfortable hotel- not necessarily super luxurious, but that would be OK, too. I only turn 40 once, right?

I am drawing a blank, although, to be fair, I haven't done much searching yet. But I thought I'd ask you guys- where should I go to celebrate my 40th birthday? And make no mistake- I'll be celebrating not drowning my sorrows. I have a great life to show for my 40 years!

And while I'm asking for travel advice.... we're also in the early stages of planning a family vacation. As you may remember from our Great California Road Trip, one of my secrets for happy travel with little kids is to plan the trip to just this side of obssessiveness. OK, maybe to just on the other side of obsessiveness. So there is a lot of planning ahead.

Anyway, my husband really wants to go in May, to take advantage of the fact that this is the last year we can take a trip without worrying about school holidays. We've tentatively picked Colorado as our destination. We'd fly into Denver, spend some time there, and spend some time driving around a bit. We'll probably only have a little over a week, given the current state of our time off balances.

So: is it insane to go to Colorado in May? My husband really wants to go to Aspen (I have no idea why- we aren't skiers). We'll obviously want to see the Rockies. What are the chances that we'll enjoy doing that in May?

If we go, what are the must see things with a 5 year old and a 2.5 year old?

Flood me with advice, oh wise readers. I don't guarantee I'll follow it, but I'll definitely read and appreciate every single comment!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Short and Funny Edition

Today is my husband's birthday, and my parents are here to watch the kids while he and I get some alone time this weekend- so I'll keep this short. And funny.

I found this Cracked post about how The Karate Kid ruined us all via another post about things that rich people shouldn't say.  I don't remember how I found the first post, but I will note that it references the same article about rich people in Toronto that set Scalzi off on the rant that I liked so much.

On a completely different subject: this video came from the birthday boy, who swears that they used to show sheepdog trials on prime time TV when he was growing up in New Zealand:




To be honest, I get the giggles just thinking about the fact that sheepdog trials were once considered prime time viewing. But I think the video is funny even without that background.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Blog Carnival on Work-Life Logistics

I love the internet sometimes. First, I wrote a post about how I'm still ambitious, even though I am now also a mother. Someone read that post, and emailed me a question about how I make my life work, and I decided to answer that question on my blog, even though I was sure that the details of my daily routine would be pretty boring reading. A lot of people thought otherwise, and that post has lots of comments now, which proves, once again, that I actually have no idea what posts people will like.

Then FeMOMhist took the idea of that post and expanded it, organizing a blog carnival about work-life logistics. While I still think the details of my daily routine are pretty dull, I think that the details of lots of working parents' daily routines will be powerful, because it will be a counter voice to all those voices in our culture telling parents (and especially mothers) that they can't do X, Y, or Z and still be a good parent.

FeMOMhist has timed the blog carnival to coincide with the Blog for International Women's Day, which has a theme of "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures." I think this is a great topic for the day. American culture sends so many messages to girls and young women that they can't "have it all" and that they must choose between motherhood and a role in the public realm. That is a false choice, as so many of us are showing with how we live our lives. But our reality is often overlooked, and we are scaring girls and young women into limiting their own options.

So, anyway- go check out the posts FeMOMhist has gathered for her carnival. Since I already wrote my post about my work-life logistics, I won't write another. But I will take a minute to highlight some related posts, both of mine and from other people.

First some links to other people:
And now, a few of my older posts that are relevant to the topic at hand:
 If you have found any good posts about the logistics of making life work when you're living the "full catastrophe"* (to borrow a phrase from Jon Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living, who was himself borrowing it from Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek)- leave them in the comments.

-----------------------------------------
* The actual quote from Kabat-Zinn is:
"I keep coming back to one line from the movie of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel Zorba the Greek. Zorba's young companion turns to him at a certain point and inquires, "Zorba, have you ever been married?" to which Zorba replies (paraphrasing somewhat) "Am I not a man? Of course I've been married. Wife, house, kids, everything... the full catastrophe!"


And a little later:
"Ever since I first heard it, I have felt that the phrase "the full catastrophe" captures something positive about the human spirit's ability to come to grips with what is most difficult in life and to find within it room to grow in strength and wisdom. For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves. There is not one person on the planet who does not have his or her own version of the full catastrophe."


Monday, March 05, 2012

Ebb and Flow

I had thought I might write one of the umpteen million thoughtful posts I have backed up on my blog to do list (yes, of course I have one of those- I have a to do list for just about everything). But Petunia is sick again. We have long since acknowledged that her frequent fevers are just something we have to accept- a cold that another child will shrug off (and therefore bring to day care), will give Petunia a high fever and send her whining into my arms, asking for her favorite shows on TV. It was my turn to stay home with her today, and as long as the Tylenol was working, she was reasonably happy. We played outside in the morning, and went for a walk (pushing her baby in the green stroller, with her toy keys shoved in the stroller pocket).

So, I could theoretically have had a semi-productive day, either managing to do quite a bit of work or writing a meaty blog post. But I didn't.

I was feeling a bit run down, too. Petunia had a rough night, so I was tired. And somehow I forgot that I'd given her Tylenol at 6:30, and thought that I'd given it to her at 8... so I missed the time when I could have given her another dose, and let her fever spike up again. (There is no chance that I'd ever mess up in the other direction, and give her a dose too early, because we always write the time of the dose on a piece of paper that we keep next to the Tylenol on the counter.) Her fever had started to creep back up much earlier, and she had gotten clingy and just wanted to cuddle with me on the sofa and watch shows- so I put in a series of her favorites, and got my Kindle out and read while the shows played and Petunia snuggled into me.

By the time I went to give her another dose of Tylenol, her fever was over 102 and she was so miserable she didn't even want the Tylenol, let alone her lunch. I managed to get the Tylenol in her and some lunch in me, and then we went and had a nap together. I woke up after two hours, but when I tried to get out of bed, Petunia whimpered pathetically and said "Mommy, bed." Really, how could I say no? So I grabbed the Kindle and read next to her for another hour, while she dozed and snuggled and complained anytime it seemed like I might be trying to leave.

We finally got up at 4, and I was so happy that she was awake that I let her watch another show, while I sat with her on the sofa and read some more. She perked up a bit after her next dose of Tylenol kicked in (the fever had come back up in the middle of the nap), and "cooked" with her toy stove for awhile while I started to make dinner. But on the whole, we spent the majority of the day snuggled together on the sofa or in her bed, and I spent most of that time reading. It felt almost decadent to read so much. I was reminded of Anandi's recent post about how it is OK sometimes to not be productive. I'd had a crazy busy weekend. If Petunia had not been sick, I would have gone off to work today and work hard to be productive, just like I usually do. But when the universe offered me a chance at a little break... I think it is a good thing that I took it.

I have a lot of things I want to do, but I don't always have to be trying to do them. And it shouldn't take an incredibly snuggly sick toddler to give me license to just sit around and read every now and then.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Quotable: Maternal Ambition

"A female's quest for status- her ambition, if you will- has become inseparable from her ability to keep her offspring and grand-offspring alive. Far from conflicting with maternity, such a female's "ambitious" tendencies are part and parcel of maternal success."

- Sarah Hrdy, in Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species.

Dr. Hrdy is writing about chimpanzees, and speaking of the strictly biological meaning of "maternal success" (i.e., getting your genes propagated into successive generations, and not worrying at all if the offspring carrying the genes are happy and well-adjusted except to the extent that those traits help them pass the genes along to the next generation). Still, I thought it was an interesting quote, given my recent discussion of ambition and motherhood.

(I'm less than 100 pages into Mother Nature, but I am really enjoying it so far. I've had to put it on hold for awhile, though, while I read my next book club book, The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht, which I am also enjoying.)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Making Cool Things Edition

My links this week all have ideas about how to go ahead and try to do whatever cool thing you dream of doing. I figured they would fit right in with the theme of the week, since I wrote about combining my ambition with motherhood.

First up, this amazingly succinct post, aimed primarily at techies who want to build something cool, also contains the secret to effective networking, for everyone- techie, or not. Go read it. It is short and spot on. Also read it if you already know how to network and despair for the youth of today. This guy gets it, and he's just barely out of college.

The next post is quite a bit longer, but it is funny, which compensates for the length. And it is packed full of interesting ideas. It is like a 12 step program for making it in the "new economy", with each step illustrated by a story about someone who did something cool. I suspect that there are a lot of ideas in it that are relevant to people trying to make it in the "old economy," too, but I'm too tired to parse that out right now.

Finally, after reading my post on the logistics of having it all, FeMOMhist had the brilliant idea of setting up a blog carnival in which a bunch of us write posts about how we make our lives work, and tying that in with Blog for International Women's Day, which has a theme of "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures." I am really honored that the post I thought was a sort of dull look at the minutiae of my life inspired her to make something cool- because I think a bunch of posts that show a bunch of different ways to build the life you want is going to be pretty cool. So, go take a look at FeMOMhist's post on this, and if you are so inclined, sign up to participate. If you want to participate and don't have a blog, I'd be happy to put up a guest post.

So- go forth and do cool things! Or have a good weekend, anyway.


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