Monday, April 30, 2012

What I Learned about Chores

I have to confess that I am a bit sick of thinking about issues related to being a mother in the workforce. Things got a bit nasty on my last post on working motherhood, and I had to threaten to delete comments written by actual people (as opposed to spambots) for the first time ever. And with the recent Rosen/Romney insanity and the fact that the English edition of Elisabeth's Badinter's book about how we're all being oppressed by motherhood was just released, triggering a bunch of annoying articles about it that I stupidly went and read... I think I'm just weary with the judgment and venom that the topic brings out in people. I can't even bring myself to go find the appropriate links for the Rosen/Romney and and Badinter stuff. You'll have to resort to Google. I'm sorry.

If you're sick of the topic, too, you may want to click away now. Don't worry, I won't blame you.

But I need to write one more post on this topic before I take a little break from it for awhile. I really want to wrap up what I learned from my recent post about men, women, and chores before the discussion fades from my memory. That post beat my previous number of comments record by at least 2x- and I read every single one of the comments. It sparked several posts from other people, which had their own interesting comments sections, and I read all of those, too. Here are the posts I know about (let me know if I missed one, and I'll add it):
Nicoleandmaggie also had a deliberately controversial post about chores, in which they argue that we are a little bit too obsessed with cleanliness, and that many of us might be happier if we'd let our standards in this area slip a bit. That post was planned well before I wrote my post, though, so I can't claim any credit for inspiring it. Still, it is quite relevant to my thoughts on this topic, and has some really interesting comments, so if you are interested in the topic, go read it if you haven't already.

You may remember, that part of what motivated me to write my original post was a desire to have better advice to give to worried young women who are hearing from all directions that they will certainly be doing more of the housework and parenting, and that this is why women are leaking from various pipelines, etc., etc. They see me claim that this is not how my life worked out and they want to know how I solved this problem. And up until now, I've mostly been limited to telling them to choose their partner carefully. Which I still think is good advice, but perhaps a bit limited.

But now, maybe I can tell them a little more.

I've decided to write the rest of this post as if I were giving advice to that hypothetical young woman (or man! Gosh, wouldn't that be refreshing?) who has emailed me worrying about how to combine parenthood with a career. I'm doing this because it makes it easier for me to write, and as I mentioned last week, writing time is at a bit of a premium for me right now. However, please note: if you do not feel like you need advice in this area of your life, then I am not writing to you. If you've made different choices than I have, and are happy with them, then hooray for you! Really. If you've made different choices than I have, and are somewhat unhappy with them but have decided you don't want to try to change them but want to complain about them anyway, then, um, I guess that's OK, too. I'll make you a deal: I won't be bothered by that if you don't make me listen to the complaining. Regardless, I am really, truly NOT JUDGING ANYONE. Really. Truly. I save my judgmental streak for people who hurt other people. 

But some people do want to change things, or avoid getting into unhappy situations in the first place. And here is what I would say to any of those people, if they were to ask me:

First, it is OK to take the division of household work seriously. I didn't read a single comment or post that would make me think otherwise, but if you need a reason other than comment volume, here is mine: chores equal time, and time is precious. It is irreplaceable. I have a limited amount of time, and I don't even know how much of it I have. So I guard my time jealously. Time I spend cleaning the toilets is time I don't spend playing with my kids or working on the various projects I have going. And playing with my kids and having time to work on those projects help keep me sane and happy. So, someone who won't do his share of the chores is essentially saying to me: "my sanity and happiness is more important than yours"- and I won't have that. You may feel differently than I do about that, which is obviously fine. But don't let anyone tell you that this subject isn't worth worrying about.

Second, sort this out with your partner before you have kids if at all possible. Again, I didn't read a single comment or post that said that having kids made this easier. Quite the opposite, actually. As I alluded to in my post about being a feminist mother, having kids made this harder for me and my husband- and we started from a really good place. Even if you try really, really hard to share the parenting equally, chances are good that the mother will spend more time on parenting tasks than the father, particularly when the kids are really little and the mother is breastfeeeding, dealing with separation anxiety, and all that. My husband and I had to make a conscious decision to trade off some other chores for the parenting work, even though we both think that is a sucky decision. For instance, I'd like to spend less time snuggling Petunia in the middle of the night. My husband would like to spend more. Too bad for us- Petunia has her own ideas on the subject, and right now, we've decided to let those trump ours. I think agreeing on this sort of trade off would be much, much harder if you're starting from a less equal starting point.

Along those lines- if you haven't found your partner yet, I'd suggest asking him if he plans on taking any paternity leave when he has kids. Don't be surprised if he hasn't thought about it, but do pay attention to what his eventual answer is. Nicoleandmaggie referenced a study showing that the division of household work is more equal in families in which the father takes paternity leave. This makes intuitive sense to me, because a Dad who has spent a significant amount of time being the sole caretaker for a little baby probably understands how much work that is. Even if he doesn't also have to lactate. And a Dad who understands how much work caring for a baby is may be more likely to think "hey, I think I should just do those dishes tonight, while my lovely partner gets our baby to sleep." 
For what it is worth, my husband took some paternity leave both times, including splitting a month with me: for both Pumpkin and Petunia, when the baby was four months old, I went back to work 3 days a week and my husband stayed home with the baby for those days. It is nowhere near what the Swedes do, but it did give him several days per week when he was the sole parent with the baby for over eight hours. We live in California, so we both qualified for some paid parental leave- it didn't completely cover our lost salary, but it did make this an easier decision to make. I think he's inspired one or two of his colleagues to follow the same pattern, too. And completely independently, I know of at least one male colleague of mine who did something similar. I hope someone is studying how these changes are playing out here in the US!

Third, don't assume that people can't change. I say this not because I have myself brought about change in my husband- I lucked out, and he thinks that it is "obvious" that having an equal division of labor is the right thing to do. I say this because Ginger and Hush wrote comments saying that they were once the guilty party who wasn't contributing as much as their partners to the household chores- or whose partners thought that, at least. If they can change, so can your partner, if he really wants to. Yeah, yeah, I know. There are cultural influences at work that might make this harder for him. But the great thing about being human and having a big, powerful brain is that you can choose to actively work against those influences. Now, I'm not saying that it will be easy to get this to change, or even that it will necessarily be worth the effort it will take you. But I am saying that it is at least possible for your partner to change and start doing more chores.

OK, so given all that, if you are in a relationship in which the division of chores is not as equal as you would like, what can you do? The way I see it, you have three options:

1. Care more
Some people here and on Laura Vanderkam's post were surprised that I'd leave a partner over this issue. But as Cherish's post and Erin's comment on my post show, I'm not alone in that, and while I do not think any less of people who would not leave over this, I do think that if you care enough that it is a deal-breaking issue for you, chances are excellent you'll end up with an equal chore split, particularly if you take my second point above to heart and sort this out before you have kids. Once you have kids, you may be stuck with lingering inequality even if you do leave, because you are too good a mother to make your children suffer because their father can't get his act together and remember that it is his turn to take in treats for the class or whatnot.

2. Care less
This is the approach advocated in Nicoleandmaggie's post, and I think everyone should really consider it. Laura Vanderkam has argued something similar before, too (but I can't find the post- Laura, send it to me and I will link it)- namely, if you and your partner are disagreeing about how often the windows need to be washed, there is a chance that he is right and they don't need to be washed that often. If your house is not a health hazard, then it really doesn't matter if it is a bit messy. Note that I say that as an asthmatic who has a severe dust allergy. Removing dust is a priority for me. Removing clutter... not so much. Cleaning the windows? I care about that only because my husband does. 
3. Decide to stop caring
You can also decide to make peace with the inequality on the chores front. Partners are people, and are a total package. Perhaps your partner provides something else that you decide compensates for the fact that he can't ever remember to do the dishes. That is fine. Great, even, as long as you are truly at peace with your decision to let this issue go. Shandra and GMP had really good comments about this approach.

I guess there is a fourth option, too- just stay unhappy. But I'd try the other three options first! Personally, I'd go with a mix of 1 and 2. But that is just me. Only you know what is right for you.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to write comments on my first post and/or write their own posts on the subject. I truly learned a lot from reading your words. I wish I had the time to link to more comments in this post- but if I try, this post may never get posted. I am much, much happier with the answer I can now give to a young person asking me about this topic. If you feel I've missed something essential, or just have more to say on the topic, by all means- leave me a comment here. For some reason, this topic gets emotions running high, so please, try to keep your comment respectful to people who think differently than you. Feel free to argue points, but please do not bash other people for their opinions. I'm feeling a bit touchy on this point right now, so I might moderate with a heavier hand than usual.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Travel Edition

I've come across some good links about travel lately. Or maybe, I've got travel on my mind because I've been in full on vacation planning mode. It is hard to say.

Anyway... my friend Steve just got back from a trip to France that sounds way more exciting than my upcoming vacation. I'm trying not to be jealous, but failing miserably. Click backwards through all his posts if you want to feel jealous, too, and don't miss his tongue in cheek scorecard of "us vs. them."

One of the things I have listed as a possible activity for Austin is a visit to the Umlauf Scupture Garden. I figure that the outdoor setting and size of the pieces might make it doable with children. But after reading about the aftermath of caro's visit to a sculpture garden, I wonder if I should reconsider!

I referenced this one earlier, but in case you missed it: Anandi had a post about her vacation limit, and a follow up about dreaming your own dreams, and not having travel on your list of dreams if it doesn't belong there. Now, obviously, travel is something I really enjoy and it has a prominent position on my list of dreams. And my vacation limit is clearly a lot longer than Anandi's, since I came back from a four month trip feeling a bit bittersweet about being home. But I definitely agree: don't travel out of a sense of obligation to "see things." Travel because it brings you happiness, or a since of fulfillment or whatever else you want out of life.

Speaking of not traveling... or traveling to less exotic locales, Laura Vanderkam had a post about whether or not the Disney version of things give the highlights without the lows. I think the answer to that depends on what you're hoping to get out of travel to the more exotic locales. Here is what I said in a comment on her post:

"For me, a lot of the charm of travel is getting to experience a different culture, and learn about how they approach life. Now, I suppose there is a case to be made that Disney is a culture unto itself… but I think I need to real thing. For instance, one of my lifetime highlights was going to Easter Island. Sure, seeing the big stone heads was really, really cool. But what was even cooler was seeing how the culture on that island had survived and thinking about how it was changed by the calamity of the loss of trees, and by interactions with other cultures. Disney or Vegas could recreate the big stone heads. But they can’t recreate the people and their culture."

But again- that's just me. And I don't think going to Disney or Vegas is bad. I've done both, and I'll go back! But they can't replace the "real thing" for me.

Do you have other good travel links for me? Leave them in the comments. I always enjoy a good travel post!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sparse

Posting may be a bit sparse around here for the next month or so.

I could say that I'm really busy at work, and that we have a vacation coming up, and we promised Pumpkin a new big girl desk to match the new big girl computer we got her as a late birthday gift, and that requires some serious thinking about how to rearrange her room. Also, that will free up her "little girl" desk for Petunia, and getting that into the oversized closet that passes for Petunia's bedroom will require even more serious thinking. And all of that would be true.

But the real reason that posting may be sparse is that Petunia has decided that bedtime is a quaint tradition that perhaps other 2.5 year olds still observe, but that is quite beneath her now. Last night, she did not really go to sleep until sometime between 11 and 12. I'm not sure, because I'd dozed off by that point. Lights went out at 8:30, at her request- she usually tells us when she is done reading stories and settles herself into bed. Back in the old days- you know, roughly a week ago- the adult in charge of her bedtime would then turn on her music and her bedtime turtle nightlight, snuggle her for 15-30 minutes, and then leave the room. No more! My husband has been able to get her down if he snuggles her for 1-1.5 hours. Last night, I snuggled her for over an hour, was convinced she was in deep sleep, so rolled out of her bed, only to be called back immediately by a plaintive "Mommy!" She is quite patient. She will snuggle me peacefully as long as I stay. She does not demand to get up unless I try to do so. So three of the last four nights, I have just given up and gone to bed with her.

Now, I know we could just say good night and walk out and let her cry. (I will note, however, that she has figured out how to open her door, so this approach would require an adult to continually return her to her room.) Or we could try moving her bedtime later (which we may do). But I also know that she has had phases like this many times before. They usually last until I am just about to lose my mind, and then she goes back to sleeping well.

Also, I am inclined to be patient with sleep issues. I figure that for most of evolutionary history, a toddler whose mother tried to leave her alone at bedtime would quite rightly scream as if her life were being threatened. Because it was. So I am sympathetic to the deep instinct to insist on my presence, and am actually pleased that most times, she will accept a substitute, allowing my husband and I to take turns snuggling her. I know, from my experience with her sister, that she will slowly but surely learn to go to sleep on her own and stay asleep all night. I also know that although I may think the sleep disruption is killing me, I, too, will survive.

So we're working through this patiently. We're trying to get her more exercise, both physical and mental, because we know that helps her sleep. My husband and I went out to lunch today, so that we could actually talk to each other about the various things that we're trying to get done.

But blogging will be difficult until this phase passes. I'll see you when I can!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not Itchy Yet

Seven years ago yesterday, I walked down an "aisle" on a sandy beach in Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga, and married my husband. We had both known from the start that we wanted a beach wedding, and once we thought of the idea of having it in Rarotonga, we couldn't not do that. I went into the planning fully expecting that I'd wear some breezy white sundress thing, but once I started trying on dresses, I realized that I'd be happier in a "real" wedding dress. So that is what I had. I even had a train. But I did at least get flowers in my hair.



We got the barefoot beach wedding we dreamed of, but just barely- the night before the island was brushed by a cyclone, and we went to bed unsure whether we'd have to move the wedding indoors. At the time, we failed to fully appreciate how awesome it was that all of our friends and family were willing- happy, even- to stand outside in a drenching (but warm) rain and have a rehearsal BBQ with us. We appreciate it now. We have some great friends and family, and the picture of me standing next to my best friend from college, soaking wet but laughing is one of my favorite photos from the wedding trip.

The day of the wedding dawned cloudy but dry, with a breeze and not gale force winds. The location was perfect, right down to the group of guys having their "Friday night beers" in the lagoon behind us. (It sort of makes our own Friday night beers tradition look a bit lame. I mean, we just sit on our sofa. How boring!)



Really, my only regret about our ceremony was that I walked way too fast, and therefore no one got to hear the carefully bridged repeat my husband labored for days to put in the instrumental version of Storybook Love. It was the perfect music for us- from The Princess Bride (a movie we both love), with lyrics that were appropriate (although we didn't use them), and to top it all off, it is played by Mark Knopfler, who is my husband's favorite musician. True story: when asked later what the highlight of 2005 was, my husband answered "seeing Mark Knopfler play Telegraph Road live," merrily skipping over the wedding, honeymoon, and the start to our big trip, which included seeing Easter Island- easily one of the highlights of my entire life, let alone 2005. No, I will never let him live that down. Having seen Mark Knopfler play live several times since (we see him on every tour), I can at least appreciate how rare that event was- it has never been repeated. But it doesn't even break into my top 5 highlights for 2005, unless I factor in how happy it made my husband.

I also wish that someone had captured a video of our recessional- we shocked the venue owner a bit by choosing the theme from Mission Impossible for that. I still think it is perfect (my husband still wishes I'd let him have the Imperial March from Star Wars). Now that we've added kids to the mix, it only seems more appropriate. We truly had no idea what mission we were accepting that day! But then, I think you never really do, whether you have kids or not.

I am not going to turn this post into a gushy tribute to my husband, although that is not for lack of material. But I do feel like reflecting a little bit, because while we officially made a far bigger deal out of our 5th anniversary, the 7th feels more important. Maybe because of the fabled seven-year itch? 

I'm thinking back over all that we have done in these last seven years:

 Incidentally, we still have that stroller- which we bought for $40 back when Pumpkin was a baby. It  was definitely a good deal.
And of course there were also the car trips to see my family in Arizona, the day care dramas, the birthday parties, and all the other usual things. It has been a great seven years. You never really know what you're getting into when you take those vows. I think I've been pretty lucky so far. Except on the sleep front.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Zenbit: Resistance is Futile




If you are going to be assimilated, this looked like a fairly nice spot to have it happen.
 
From our guidebook, I gathered that this motel has been there for a long time. I wonder if they are tired of the Star Trek jokes yet?
 
Location: near Monterey, California
Date: September 21, 2011

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Lighting the Way Edition

Sheryl Sandberg is in the news again, for saying that she leaves work at 5:30 to go home and have dinner with her kids (and good for her, both for doing it and for talking about it). I've read the basic Sandberg quote a gazillion places, but I found the link above via @fianros, in a tweet saying "The questions at the end are really the pertinent part. The rest is fluff."

And this is the quote with the questions, from Krissah Thompson:
"My generation has lived through the mommy war debates and heard the “you-can’t-have-it-all” harangues. We’re tired of all the talking — but we do want to hear how you do it. Sandberg’s pronouncement has the potential to change the culture at least a little if we let it… Powerful women like Sandberg have got to be willing to own up to how they manage.
Does she have a cook? Does her husband cook? Does she have a nanny? Is she involved with the school PTA? Is her husband? When I meet a highly successful woman raising small children who is willing to be real, I ask those questions.
It drives me crazy feeling like my generation is left to figure out how to make our lives work when so many other women already have. And is the trail really blazed if you keep it a secret?"
I have two responses to that quote: the first is directed to the folks who think that the younger generation has this all figured out and that maybe people like me are talking about it just a little bit too much: I won't say "I told you so" but... this is an example of why I don't think I'm making up some angst that doesn't exist in our culture right now.

The second is directed at women like Ms. Thompson, who may be understandably frustrated at women in my generation and older for not sharing their details. As I tweeted back to @fianros, my experience with trying to tell the details has not been a universally happy one. It seems that any post I write on the topic attracts at least one comment or email telling me I'm wrong. Perhaps because there is no "one true way" to be a mother, people whose details are different than mine feel threatened or just annoyed by what I have written and leave comments implying that I am judging others (I'm not! I triple pinky swear it!), or am lying, or deluded. They say I am privileged (a fact I have never denied, although I do not come from a wealthy background) and therefore dismiss my experience, or tell me that I must be oppressing other women in order to support my lifestyle. They leave comments on other people's blogs saying that women like me are over-scheduled and not enjoying our children, and sometimes they write comments that imply not so subtly that we must be bad mothers whose kids are doomed to fail to achieve their potential because we've put them in day care and sent them to public schools. I have gotten a fairly thick skin about this "mommy wars" crap, but I'll admit that comments of that last type hurt enough that I can't even bring myself to link to an example, because then I'd have to read the comment again.

I try to focus on the positive responses, which, to be fair, are more numerous. And I also try to learn from the thoughtful and fair criticisms of what I write. I do not want to offend other women unnecessarily. But this topic is a minefield, and navigating it wears me down, which is why I often turn to other topics on this blog, even though it is obvious from my stats that posts on combining career and motherhood are what most people come here to read. I don't want to be constantly defending my life. I just want to live it and be happy. I keep this blog because I truly enjoy writing about my life, but I have come to understand that writing about certain aspects will provoke responses that I might find draining, not energizing, and so I am a bit more careful about what I post than I used to be. I also find that sometimes I read a comment somewhere that includes a subtle or not so subtle jibe at my style of mothering or my approach to being a feminist (because, let's be honest, the judgment on women's choices flows from all directions) and I just opt out. I click away and don't engage, because the mental and emotional effort of replying just doesn't seem worth it.

I think this is how women like me have disappeared from the cultural narrative, leaving the younger generation hungry for role models even as they are surrounded by moms in the workforce. This is why Ms. Thompson is frustrated by the lack of details on how to "have it all"- because the women who would give her those details must learn to shrug off judgment from all directions if we try to share. I'm not ready to shut up on the topic yet, but I'm also a lot less naive about the costs of speaking up than I used to be. I now know that I cannot write about my life without offending someone else. Does that also mean that I cannot live my life without offending someone else? Probably, but it is only when I speak up that I hear about how offensive or wrong I am, and I'm only human, so sometimes- a lot of times- I'm going to just close my computer and go play with my kids or talk to my husband instead. And I'm in no hurry to volunteer to say these things with my real name and picture attached to them. As I said in last week's links post, I'm just not that secure in my position in my career. I hope that when I'm as successful as Sheryl Sandberg, I'll feel differently.

But please understand, women like Sheryl Sandberg have almost certainly already absorbed a lot of crap, and are in fact continuing to absorb a lot of crap while they blaze that trail to the top of the business world. It is wonderful if they are willing to speak up and be role models, but it shouldn't be demanded of them. Until the response to a woman sharing the details of how she makes her life work is an unanimous "thanks for sharing" instead of "you suck and you're doing it all wrong," don't be surprised if mothers who are successful in the workplace don't want to paint yet another target on their chests. I suspect that just about any such woman will, if asked in private and in a tone that makes it clear that no judgment is forthcoming, tell all the details about how she makes her life work. But it is unfair to expect all women to be willing to do so in public forums, and it is doubly unfair to expect this only of the mothers who are successful in workplace. Let's start asking fathers in the workforce these questions, too. After all, they are also responsible for the children. I've seen a lot of shocked reactions to the description of Steve Jobs as a father in his biography. But is anyone really surprised? I can't recall ever hearing anyone fret about how he was combining his control freak management style and fathering while he was alive. Why not? A woman in his position would have had her mothering dissected in excruciating detail before her kids were in school- before they could walk, even- and if she tried not to discuss it, people would have simply assumed the worst.

Ahem. This is supposed to be a weekend reading post, not a rant. So, for those looking for blueprints and ideas about how to organize their life as a mother with a demanding career, I do have a link to suggest: Equally Shared Parenting. There is a blog and a book. I haven't explored the site that much yet, but it looks like it might have some good resources. I found it via Laura Vanderkam's repost of her review of the book.

In related news... in the comments on last week's weekend reading post, I mentioned that I have a feeling that pop culture (by which I primarily mean TV and movies) does not often portray mothers like me- i.e., mothers in the workforce who are happy, and not conflicted about it. An anonymous commenter called me out on that, and I have to admit here as I did there that since I do not actually watch a lot of TV or go to many (any?) movies, I am responding primarily to the ads and the general buzz about things, which is completely unfair on my part. I am sure there are excellent examples of strong, happy working mothers out there, and I am not finding them in large part because I have given up looking. Still, it was nice to read FeMOMhist's recent post in which she mentions that she, too, sees the narrative in which the working mother must be punished and/or redeemed to be the dominant one, and offers the example of Bones as a show that avoids that trap.

If you don't want to fuss around with the video FeMOMhist links to, here is a rough transcription of what Tempe says, after she confesses to missing her baby daughter during the day, and then tells Seeley, that no, she doesn't want to quit her job: "What I do is for her, now, too. She should know that what I do is important. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean that I shouldn't do it."  Exactly. (But we all get to choose what hard things we want to do to the extent that our lives let us.)

Finally, @Mom101's twitter feed led me to this hilarious post about the Mommy Wars Hunger Games. I agree with Reedster: I am not at war with any other mother. Or non-mother, really. Incidentally, Mom-101 had an excellent post up about the myth of the selfish working mom. Or, as I'm trying to train myself to say "mom in the workforce," because hey, if some stay at home mothers find "working mom" offensive, I'm willing to try to change my language. I think most of us are willing to try to avoid offending our fellow mothers. As FeMOMhist pointed out, a lot of this Mommy War crap is pushed by the media in how they choose to frame stories.  Do you suppose we could all call a truce and send a press release to the media to let them know?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trip Story: Taman Negara

Anandi had a post up today about her "vacation limit"-  which got me thinking about our "big trip," when my husband and I took four month sabbaticals from our jobs, bought a "Circle Pacific" airfare, and backpacked (in fairly luxurious style, for backpackers) around the pacific and Asia. It was a great trip, one of the highlights of my life. As I said in my comment on her blog, I was ready for some easier traveling (and familiar food) at the end of our Asia leg, but I was really sad to get on the final flight home from Honolulu. So I guess my vacation limit is longer than four months.

I came home from work and dug out the journals I kept on that trip, and read a few entries, including the ones about our stay in Taman Negara, in Malaysia. We were coming off of a few days in Kuala Lumpur, which we enjoyed, but found a bit difficult, mainly because we stubbornly refused to move when we discovered that the hostel we'd booked into sucked. Its air conditioning was out, I kept waking up with new bug bites on my legs, and there was a car alarm going off outside our window literally the entire time we stayed there. I have no idea why we didn't move. We could easily have afforded a better guest house, and we walked past several on our way to do just about anything. I think we just kept convincing ourselves that the air conditioning would be fixed when we got back to the hostel, and that surely that damn car's battery would die soon.

Anyway, we loved Taman Negara, starting from the boat ride you take to get there. (You could, in fact, go via bus, because that is how we left, but the boat ride is much, much more fun.) You ride in a low, long boat, sitting on wooden seats that are essentially in the bottom of the boat, so you feel like you are practically in the river.



It is a leisurely ride, giving you a chance to enjoy the scenery and even catch site of some animals.
Still, we were quite ready to get out of the boat at the end- the seats were getting rather uncomfortable after 2.5 hours. We had to cross a rickety gangplank to get from the boat to the shore, an then hike up a small hill to our lodging. I was pretty fit by this point, and had no trouble, despite my big pack. I doubt I'd do so well now.



The motel we'd booked into was basic, but comfortable and we were thrilled with it. It had an awesome hammock with a view of the river, and every afternoon, the owner fried up bananas and sold them for a ridiculously low price given how delicious they were.

We did not try to do a night hike out to a hide to see the big animals- we had heard that it was likely that the only wildlife we would see would be rats attracted by the food that careless people left around the hides. But we did go on a "night safari" in a 4x4 truck, which gave us the chance to see some of the smaller animals that are no doubt boringly common to the locals, but seemed exotic and cool to us, like a loris. I imagine it is like going to Colorado and taking a tour out to see some raccoons, but we still had fun.

We also really enjoyed the canopy walk. We were too tired from our poor sleep in Kuala Lumpur to get up super early and do this hike when there was a better chance of seeing the birds and other animals of the park, but even with a late start, the walk was amazing, affording beautiful views.


You climb up a ladder and then you can explore the tree tops, via a walkway that is suspended from the trees. It is supported by iron cables secured to large trees (with spacer blocks in place to minimize damage to the trees). A net-like thing is hung from the cables, and a metal ladder lays flat at the bottom of the net. Wooden planks lay on top of the ladder to make the walkway. It feels both secure and adventurous- perfect for tourists.



We ate dinner both nights in one of the restaurants floating on the river. The food was good, and the view was better. There was no alcohol available- Taman Negara is in one of the Muslim areas of Malaysia. But I really enjoyed the ginger "tea" that I drank instead- it was made by pouring hot water over minced ginger, and then adding sweetened condensed milk. At the time, I was sure I'd try to make it when I got home. I never have.

My favorite thing about our stay in Taman Negara, though, was the swim we took on the second afternoon. We had gone on a moderately strenuous hike in the morning, so felt we had earned some time lounging around. There is a spot on the Tahan river, approximately 1 km from the resort, which the locals and some tourists use for swimming. There were locals swimming when we got there, so I did not strip down to my swimsuit- I only zipped off the legs on my hiking pants to make shorts, and even that felt a little risque. But it felt wonderful to be in the water, which was cool and clear.


The swimming spot is at a gentle curve in the river, which meant that we looked back over the river to a bank lined with lush trees while we soaked. It was one of those travel moments that feels almost too perfect to be true- and it lasted for over an hour. Then we got out, dripped off a bit, put our boots (and my pants legs) back on, and headed back to our motel.

That trip was not all good times. Sometimes, travel is difficult and annoying, and traveling with a big pack on your back through countries whose customs you understand only from your guidebook and whose language you understand not at all can be tiring, to say the least. But there were enough experiences like that swim to more than compensate for all of the indignities of travel. My husband and I both came back from that trip convinced that eventually, we'll find a way to do something similar again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Musings on the Different Types of Success

One of you (TodayWendy, I think) recommended the book The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley. I finished it awhile ago, and I liked it. If I remember correctly (never a safe bet), TodayWendy said it was interesting, but that she didn't love it. That pretty much sums up my opinion, too. I am glad I read it, but I didn't love it. I found his arguments interesting and convincing- to a point. I think he under plays the importance of pessimists. Yes, as he says, the optimists (of which I consider myself one) are correct that mankind generally innovates its way out of problems, but the pessimists have a role to play in pointing out what those problems are. And in making us all take the problems seriously enough to focus on the solutions.

He also writes in a mostly persuasive style, which always annoys me, because it makes me suspect that the wool is being pulled over my eyes. I prefer a more even-handed style, because then I feel like I'm learning things.

Still, it was an interesting book. And- completely unrelated to its thesis- it helped me solidify some thoughts that had been kicking around in my head about success. One of the central points in the book is that the marketplace is where ideas "have sex"- or cross-pollinate, to use the more usual and less graphic terminology. Ridley argues that this cross-pollination is in large part responsible for the continuing improvement of the lot of humanity- we mix and match ideas to solve new problems.

The book argues a lot of other things, too, including that the exchange of the marketplace is what has raised our living standards, but those things aren't relevant to the topic I want to discuss, which is about what we mean when we say someone is successful. Thinking about how we might solve the big problems that face us (like cancer, climate change, racism), and how Ridley argues we've solved such problems in the past (largely via the motivation and idea exchange offered by the marketplace), clarified my thinking on success.

I've been thinking that there are three general types of success:


1. Biological 
This is the most fundamental, and yet most optional form of success. Biological success is quite simply producing offspring who go on to produce offspring (who go on to produce offspring, etc., etc).  Note that this is not really my definition- it is a rough summary of the formal definition of biological fitness. I don't have a lot more to say about this, except to note that I don't actually think someone who does not have biological success is a failure. One of the great things about humans is that we have, to a certain extent, transcended our biology in this regard. There are actually a lot of interesting scientific theories about altruism and kin effect and all that... but I prefer to just think that we have learned how to work for the benefit of all humanity, even if we don't have any progeny in the gene pool.

2. Societal
Speaking of working for the benefit of all humanity... the second type of success is the one that The Rational Optimist got me thinking about, namely success in creating new ideas that benefit humankind. These may be practical (like Velcro- I don't care what TED talk givers say, I think Velcro is awesome) or theoretical, and they may occur in any field, not just the science and engineering fields we usually think about when we think "innovation." A desire for this form of success is what drives my ambitions. For me, and many others, it can best be summed up by a feeling of wanting to leave the world a better place for having been in it. For others, it is a desire for status, usually in the form of money and/or prestige. And I'll be honest, while a desire to be rich isn't driving my ambitions, a desire not to be poor certainly plays a role, and I'm not immune to the lure of prestige.

For men, it has always been accepted that societal success can increase biological success, but for women the two are often set up as being in competition. I don't think that is necessarily true, particularly if you look across many years and acknowledge the role that a mother's societal success can play in helping her children to thrive. The book Mother Nature has some really interesting insights in this regard, which I will have to come back and explore more thoroughly some day. For now I'll just say that even among apes, there is no one single way to be a successful mother.

3. Personal
I don't necessarily think that everyone who has achieved societal success has a great life, and that is because I think there is a third form of success, which is in many ways more important than the other two combined. I've called this "personal success." This is the form of success that comes from inside, from considering your life in all of its aspects and being happy with it.  Unfortunately, achieving happiness can be really difficult. The combination of biological success, societal success, and je ne sais quoi that will make someone happy differs from person to person, so no one can give you "the one true blueprint" for living a happy life. Even if they could, life wouldn't necessarily cooperate- think, for instance, of people who really want children and discover that they cannot have them, or people who find they have a serious illness that prevents them from chasing their long held dream of a certain type of societal success.

Also, the impact of the rest of society on our ability to achieve happiness can be large. The "mommy wars" and related nonsense are obviously one example of this impact, but I've also been thinking a lot about the pressure to achieve a narrow form of societal success (usually, attaining status within a single career), as I have recently realized that my career, as it is currently formulated, is not optimizing my happiness and have started to explore the possible reasons for that. I plan to come back and write more on that topic soon, but for today's post the key point is just that personal success is not necessarily the easiest form of success to achieve, even though it may seem to be the form over which we have the most control.

Still, personal success is what I want more than anything else. Yes, I really do think that being happy is the most important thing in life. I do not think there is only one way to achieve personal success, though, even for one person. For me, motherhood is part of what makes me happy now, but I can imagine happy lives I could have led if children hadn't been in the cards for me. I think some sort of societal success is necessary for me to be happy, but as I've been thinking about my next career steps, I've been surprised to find how many different types of next moves sound compatible with happiness. I'd say the ability to travel is an important component of happiness for me, too, but if pushed, I can actually imagine a happy life with no travel whatsoever. Figuring this all out is hard, but for me, it has helped to remember that there are multiple possible solutions. I don't need to optimize all the parameters, I just need to get them all within their allowable ranges.

What do you think? Have I captured all of the forms of success? Which matters most to you? Do you find it easy or hard to figure out what makes you happy?

Monday, April 16, 2012

My One Personal Care Hack

Let's take a break from the serious topics, shall we? In fact, I'm so ready to have some thing less serious up on my blog that I'm doing something unusual and posting this from work. I'm trying out the "post via email" feature. I figure that if I want to write a really long email to myself on my lunch break, that shouldn't be a problem. So we'll see how that works. Who knows? Maybe this will become my new favorite lunchtime break!

Anyway, let's talk about skin care. Or specifically, the one thing I do on that front that saves me time and money.

I used to use fancy face washes. I was always looking for the "perfect" one. I'd cycle through them pretty quickly, too- a tube or tub of face wash would probably only last me a month.

But then, we decided we want to go on a big trip;. We'd each take one big backpack and one day pack, and we'd travel around for four months. Suddenly, every personal care item I used came under scrutiny for necessity and how easy it would be to replace on the road. I wear contact lens, and knew I'd need to take some soap to use to wash my hands before taking them in and out- you can't count on hotels to have something that won't make your eyes sting when you do that, and I certainly didn't think I could count on the guest houses and small motels we intended to stay in when we were in Asia to have what I needed. So I figured I'd take a bar of Neutrogena glycerin soap- you know, the plain orange, sort of see through bar with nothing fancy added. And then I wondered if I could just use that to wash my face, too. I figured it might not work as well as my fancy potions, but I was backpacking around, so who cares?

It turns out, my skin never looked better. Really. Plain old Neutrogena soap works better on my face than anything else I've ever tried. And one bar lasts more than six months, and can be bought at just about any drug store or grocery store, so no more trips to special stores to buy one tube of face wash.

Needless to say, I never went back to the fancy potions, although I have added a simple face moisturizer to my evening routine. (I always had a combo moisturizer/sunscreen in my morning routine.)

Do you have any similar stories you want to share? Distract us all from the latest round of the mommy wars and whatever else is upheaving our corners of the blogosphere these days!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Excluding Women Edition

A couple of weeks ago, I followed a link from a Scalzi post to this post explaining how criticism written by women is treated differently than that written by men, and how this difference silences women. Not being particularly connected to the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers, I have no real opinion about the piece of writing that sparked the discussion, but the discussion is still well worth reading.

The comments thread on Scalzi's post led me to two other good things. First, this post about how women are bullied on the internet, and how that bullying leads to exclusion. I particularly liked this quote:

"Give us the space to be ordinarily wrong, misguided, angry, weird, biased. If only the rational angels of sweetness and light are allowed to speak unmolested, that’s just another kind of gag."

Also, this old piece written by a woman explaining why she blogs under her own name, and why making the decision to do that is different for women than it is for men. If you have ever wondered why so many women bloggers choose to use a pseudonym, particularly when so few men bloggers seem to choose to do that, I recommend that you read this post and pay attention to the part where she talks about the internal dialog that she conducted when making her decision. (And if you haven't heard about what happened to Kathy Sierra, go read up on that.)

Fear for our safety is not the only reason women choose to blog anonymously. I choose to blog under a pseudonym primarily because it gives me greater freedom in topics. If I were blogging under my real name, I would worry about potential employers judging me based on my posts about mothering. Although I have not experienced any negative career repercussions since becoming a mother, the research indicates that this is at least in part because I have been lucky. I do not hide my status as a mother in the workplace, but I prefer not to push my luck by making this blog be the first thing that someone Googling me would find.

C. Pellegrino tweeted a link to me this week, about getting more women in technology to "sit at the table". Go read it- it is really good. Someone left a link in the comments to a 1996 essay about how computer culture excludes women. It is also a really good essay, but to be honest, I'm a little depressed at how much of what she wrote is still true.

I wish I could end this post with some upbeat ideas about how we can fix these problems- but I don't have any. Other than to just keep on trying to stay included.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sweetness and Light

Thank you all for commenting in my post about chores and relationships. I learned a lot from your comments. I'm going to let them percolate in my brain for a week or two, and then I'll probably write a follow up post summarizing what I learned. Because I'm geeky like that.

But since my brain is now full, I thought I'd just put up some pictures of things that have made me happy recently.

First, we dyed eggs for Easter, even though we don't do much else for the holiday. We haven't even introduced our kids to chocolate bunnies! Yet.



Those are Petunia's little hands. She was really fond of the green and "lel-o" cups of dye. Pumpkin is right on the cusp of the phase where you can't help but turn all your eggs gray, as you experiment with different colors. Remember that from childhood? This year, she only turned a couple of eggs gray. Next year, I expect they'll all be gray.

And yes, we also did the egg hunt, with our 12 real eggs and 12 plastic eggs with one jelly bean and one gummy bear inside each. We were worried that Petunia wouldn't get it, or would not be able to compete with her sister, so we had my husband help her out. It turns out that we needn't have worried- she caught on right away and ran around the yard finding eggs. It was very cute to watch, but the only bloggable picture I got of that is too blurry to post. I did manage to capture this one of Pumpkin, though:



The final score was Petunia 13, Pumpkin 11. Pumpkin didn't mind at all until she got inside and realized that Petunia had more of the candy-containing plastic eggs. So I got out the bag of jelly beans and let her have as many as she wanted. Petunia spurned the jelly beans (although she did try and spit out one), but ate up all her gummy bears and demanded more. So I gave her some.

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Pumpkin's swim teacher is moving on, and Pumpkin decided to make her a card. I didn't get to see the inside of the card, because Pumpkin insists on sealing all envelopes right away, and I was in getting Petunia to bed when the card was produced. My husband assures me it is very cute. But even just the way she addressed it to her teacher makes me go all gooey.



I also can't help but smile when I look at this paper she brought home from day care recently.






When do they learn to put in spaces, I wonder?

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And lest you think that only the kids are up to anything good, I'm happy to report that last weekend we bottled our second batch of home brew. The first one was surprisingly good.



What's making you smile these days?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Women, Men, Chores, and Relationships

Over the last few weeks, a weird sort of "almost conversation" has played out in my blog reader, with bloggers I read writing about relationships and what happens to them when the chores aren't split equitably. It was clear that at least some of the writers were reading each others' posts, but no one was linking to the other posts, possibly because everyone was looking at a different aspect of the issue. Whatever the reason they did not want the dots connected, I'll respect that and won't link back here, either. But if you are curious and want to see the links, let me know and I'll send them to you.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have some thoughts on the subject of chore division and relationships. As I wrote most recently, I struggle to understand the dynamics at work when a smart, educated woman- a woman who is not, or at least does not need to be, financially dependent on her partner- tolerates an inequitable arrangement at home, but is clearly unhappy about it, because she writes posts or comments about it on the internet.

Occasionally, I try to ask a question about this on a post similar to the ones I've been reading lately, but it doesn't really go well. Either the blogger and commenters are as puzzled as I am, or the mere act of asking that question provokes ire, and I am told that asking it is offensive and/or boring. Or a symptom of my privilege. Or that if I read more feminist theory I would understand. Or any number of other codes for "go away." I believe strongly that people should be able to write about whatever they want on their own blogs, and if they send someone away, that person should go- so I go. But I feel like we're missing an opportunity to learn something important.

I think the problem is that I have been asking the question in the wrong places. Most posts on this topic are too polarized to host an open discussion. One side or the other is clearly painted as "right" and there is usually an undercurrent of implication (or even an explicit statement) that if you disagree, you aren't really a feminist. I don't think that is true. I have read posts written by feminists with opposing viewpoints. I think that perhaps this is one topic that can be looked at from multiple feminist viewpoints. And maybe they are all valid- but they aren't getting at the questions I have, so I'm frustrated.

Therefore, I've decided to try to ask my question here. I acknowledge that given my past posts, this might not seem like a neutral place, either. But it is the best I have, so all I can do is try, promise to be open to different viewpoints and respectful in the discussion, and explicitly ask my commenters to do the same.

To help keep things neutral, I've decided to lay out the scenario with invented people. To keep the discussion focused, I want to stipulate that we're talking about fairly privileged women here: professionals with the means to leave their partners if they wanted to without plunging themselves or their children into poverty. I do this for a couple of reasons: (1) if the most privileged and powerful women among us can't sort this out, how will we sort it out more generally? (2) It decreases the chance that the whole thing will derail into a discussion of my privilege- something I readily admit I have in spades, but which I don't think is germane to this discussion, since I see the dynamic I'm talking about played out most prominently among women with every bit as much privilege as I have.

I'm also setting this up as being about heterosexual couples- this is primarily because I do not feel qualified at all to comment about whether or not this dynamic also plays out in homosexual couples. I think that would be a fascinating question to explore, though, and if anyone wants to do so in the comments, please feel free. I'd love to read your thoughts.

Anyway, here is the scenario: Consider two couples, Janet + Steve and Joan + Tom. Both are dual career couples with a couple of kids. Both are genuinely loving couples. Janet and Joan both consider themselves feminists, and if asked, both Steve and Tom would say that they consider their partners to be their equals, and that they think men and women in general are equal. However, Janet and Steve have an equitable home arrangement, while Joan and Tom do not, and Joan is unhappy about this. Joan and Tom argue about it with some frequency, but the issue never resolves between them, leaving Joan quite frustrated. Janet and Steve argue about the chores from time to time, too- after all, chores basically suck and most people would rather be doing something else- but for some reason, their arguments resolve the issue at hand, and Janet is pretty happy about her home arrangement.

What do you think? Why can't Joan and Tom resolve the chores issue, but Janet and Steve can? Is the different dynamic within these two couples due to a difference between Janet and Joan or a difference between Steve and Tom? Or is it something external to the couples? Or are there multiple differences at work? What might they be? For instance, do you think the amount of money that each partner makes plays a role?

I'm most interested in why Joan and Janet's situations play out so differently. I am less interested in the cultural influences that make us tend to see the woman as the lesser partner in a relationship, except to the extent that these influences inform the different outcomes. Remember- Janet isn't living in a bubble, and neither is Steve. They're exposed to these cultural influences, too, so that can't be the whole story. Why do the influences have different effects on Janet and Steve versus Joan and Tom?

Anyone who has read my unicorn post knows that I identify more with Janet than Joan. So why do I care about this? Isn't this essentially a solved problem in my own life?

I care because of the message we're sending to the young women coming up behind us. Every once and awhile, I get an email from a young woman who has stumbled on my blog and doesn't quite believe what she is reading. She wants to know, how do I arrange my life so that I can "have it all?" because most of what she reads these days tells her she can't have it all, or at least not all at once. And how do I "make" my husband pull his fair share of the work around the house, because she has correctly intuited that this may be an important component of "having it all" (a phrase I actually dislike-what is "it all", anyway?- but am using as a convenient short hand).

I wrote my "logistics of having it all" post in answer to the first question. But I have no answer to the second question, because any answer I can come up with runs afoul of the fact that different women- who seem to be very similar to me- have a completely different dynamic in their relationships, and I have no idea why.

These young women are scared. Our cultural vibe these days is telling them that they can't aim high in their careers and also have a family. And even on feminist blogs, they overwhelmingly read that the uneven split in chores is cultural, is bigger than any choice they might make, except, I suppose to choose to stay single and child free.

Hell, if I thought that, I'd be scared, too. When I thought that, I was scared. I've written before about how the constant message about the "impossibility" of combining a career in science and motherhood almost scared me away from the life I'm now leading (and loving). We seem to have taken that meme and extended it to all careers, now, and I don't think good things will come of that.

I don't know how to balance this concern with the fact that women must be free to speak their truths about their relationships, except by speaking my different truth. I am not blind to the cultural forces that seek to dictate how we arrange our relationships. I know that they are strong and pervasive. But I also know that they are not all powerful, and they do not necessarily overwhelm individual's choices, because couples like Janet and Steve do actually exist. I am half of one.

The fact that I do see the cultural influences on relationships is another reason I care about this topic. I want to change those influences. The most powerful way I see to do that is to change the dynamic within our own relationships. It is to find a way to swim against those cultural influences, and show our kids what an equitable relationship looks like. Sure, we should also call out the sexism and false assumptions in our TV shows and ads- but the sexism is there because it sells, and it sells because it resonates as true to a lot of people. I think we have to figure out how to change that, and maybe the way is to make the sexism false in more cases.

But I don't really know the answers, and I don't want to pretend that I do. I want you all (or at least the ten of you who are still reading!) to help me find them. Post your answers to the questions I've posed here. Post if you identify with Janet. But also, please post if you identify with Joan. Know that I am not trying to "fix" your relationship- I assume that it is working for you. I am not judging you, and I do not think you are stupid or weak. I may not understand your choices, but my assumption is that you have good reasons for making them. I want to hear what those reasons are. So comment. Comment anonymously if you want to. And any men reading out there, I'd love to hear your viewpoint, too. You are the other half of the equation, and my own husband has been singularly unhelpful in helping me understand why his behavior is different from so many of his peers. He says it is just "obvious" that it should be so. But clearly it is not obvious, so please- enlighten me.

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I'll be reading and responding to comments, and in the unlikely event someone gets mean or rude, I will step in to moderate. But remember, I have a day job, and they don't pay me to blog! So there may be a time lag. 

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Update 4/30/12: I wrote a follow up post summarizing what I learned from this discussion.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Weekend Reading: The (Mostly) HBR Edition

I can't remember when I added the Harvard Business Review feed to my feed reader, or why I did it. I skip roughly 2/3 of the stories in the feed. But there are enough really interesting stories that come along from time to time that I leave it in my feed reader. This week, I have links to some of the interesting stories I've gathered up over the last few months, plus a few other things I came across this week that are too good not to share.

This week, HBR had a post summarizing some data that indicates there is still discrimination against women when it comes to being promoted into senior management. Not surprising, but... ouch.

Speaking of women in leadership, I really liked this post about the voluminous and often contradictory advice given to women who want to get into leadership positions, and how it seems to aim to turn them all into "Stepford Leaders".

My favorite HBR posts aren't all about women in leadership, though. I also really liked this post arguing that we should idolize Bill Gates, not Steve Jobs.

I also rather liked this post about workplace myths that hold us back- and I doubt anyone will be surprised when I say that myth #4 really resonated with me.


Elsewhere on the web... Laura Vanderkam had a great post this week about whether any activity really is "all-consuming".  I love her point that allowing something to become all-consuming requires an enabling helper. After all, if you can be "all-consumed" by your work, there must be someone else around to make sure you get dinner,  or you'd starve. I like this quote:

"since I’ve never had a life where writing a book could be all-consuming, it never has been. "

and this one:

"To me, the idea of work-life balance means this recognition: that nothing is truly all-consuming. There is space in a full life for multiple identities — to be an entrepreneur and mother, to be a devoted volunteer and father, to be a loving family member and athlete and artist, or whatever you choose."

@Fishscientist retweeted a link to this short post about how Sheryl Sandberg leaves work at 5:30... and no longer feels bad about it. See! It is not just me.

I can't remember where I first came across this post about subtle sexism in the tech industry, and being told to "lighten up" but I then saw it linked several other places. Regardless, go read it, it is good. You might want to skip the comments, though. There are some good ones. And a lot of guys telling her to, you guessed it, lighten up.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Five

As I mentioned in my last post, today is Pumpkins fifth birthday. I find it a little surreal to think that my first baby is five. My intense little baby who always wanted to be in someone's arms (but wanted to be held so that she could look around- she hated being worn in a sling until she got big enough to face out), whose sleep patterns just about drove me insane, who grew into an intense little toddler with language skills that amazed us all, even her day care teachers- but who still got so frustrated by her inability to communicate that sometimes she resorted to biting, who potty trained in about two days, but then decided that she wouldn't use the potty, after all... well, she's a full on little girl now. Who loves to be in the center of the activity and won't play outside without someone out there with her because she gets lonely, but has learned how to play on her own, too. Who goes to sleep on her own and sleeps through the night in her own bed. Who never gets in trouble at day care anymore, and is in fact known for taking new toddlers at day care under wing. And yeah, she has the whole potty thing down, too.

This year, I've been surprised by how quickly she learned to read, and how well she's reading now. If she sees words written anywhere, she will read them, and she will pick just about any book off of one of the many shelves in our house that store the kids' books and try to read it. Once again, she is amazing all of us, even her day care teachers.

She's still enjoying her Chinese lessons. Recently we made flash cards to practice some words, and she likes to try to beat her record for the most remembered. Her teacher says her accent is good. Her tone deaf parents can't keep up.

She's still enjoying her soccer lessons and swim lessons, too, and the sight of her decked out in her soccer gear made me catch my breath in shock at how big she's getting. She's not the best soccer player in her class, but she's not terrible, either, and she doesn't seem to mind that some of the other kids are better than her.

She loves playing with Petunia, at least as long as Petunia will go along with the detailed games she invents, usually involving some sort of party. She has taught Petunia her favorite game of building a "cake" out of blocks and singing Happy Birthday to someone. Last weekend, she made a flag out of a page from one of her coloring books and a stick from the garden (with her Daddy's help), and led Petunia on a parade around our backyard.

Of course, it isn't all perfect. Sometimes Petunia won't do what Pumpkin wants, or wants to play with a toy Pumpkin doesn't want to share, and there are tears and sometimes Pumpkin storms off to her room and slams her door. She is still an unbelievably picky eater (but she's growing and healthy, so I've stopped worrying about that). She doesn't always listen to her parents- but what child does?

But to be fair, we're not always perfect parents, either. We do our best, and have learned as we went along. As my first child, Pumpkin was the one who started my lessons in learning to be Zen, which her sister has continued. From her, I learned to listen to the needs of the child in front of me, instead of the mythical child in the advice book or the child described by my friends and colleagues. She's still teaching me things, and I like to think I'm getting better at learning them. Most importantly, I've learned how to relax and enjoy the parenting ride- at least some of the time.

The last five years have been happy, crazy, frustrating, wonderful, and humbling. Happy birthday, Pumpkin. Thanks for everything.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Mitigating Factors

Thanks for all of the comments on my last post. It was really nice to read that other people with "good" careers get bored/restless. And you all gave me some interesting ideas to consider, and a bunch of books to add to my "to read" stack.

I'm not in a huge hurry to change anything at work, but I do think I need to start thinking about what I might change, because I don't want to slide into mediocrity at work, and I think long term boredom would likely lead to that.

But I also remembered that I'm only about a month past the point when I could finally say that Petunia was weaned. Dropping feedings has always caused disturbances in my mood- some of the earlier drops sent me into quite a funk for...wait for it... about a month. So maybe I'll perk up in a week or so just because my hormones have stabilized. But then again, I have no idea what complete weaning will be like, because last time around, I was pregnant by the time I'd completely weaned

We've also all been sick lately- we caught a very nasty cold in early March, and only Pumpkin shook it off quickly. I was finally starting to feel better, but suspect I am now sick with our next cold, since my throat hurts and Petunia got sent home from day care today with a fever. (She was definitely sick when I picked her up, but showed little sign of illness when it came to bedtime tonight- I dozed off and woke up several times before she finally stopped talking and fell asleep.)

All of which is to say... I am definitely needing more intellectual challenges, but perhaps my lack of motivation has other contributing factors, too. So, since I am not miserable (by a long shot!) I think I can afford to move slowly and deliberately in this area.

Also- life outside of work is busy right now. We're in the final stages of planning the combined birthday party for Pumpkin and a couple of her friends who have birthdays at almost the same time. We will also have a "family only" party on Thursday, Pumpkin's actual 5th birthday. I am having a hard time processing the fact that my first baby will be 5. I am actually having a harder time with that than with the fact that I will soon be 40! We've settled on the Texas trip for our vacation, and that is coming up fast. I'm deep in the detailed planning I like to do before traveling with the kids, which is fun in someways, but still a chore.

In short- life is good, even if work is not optimal. I've got a bunch of posts that I want to write, and in fact thought I might start on one of them tonight. But Petunia is restless, and I am already tired, so I think the smarter thing to do would be to head off to bed!
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