Thursday, January 28, 2010

Trade Offs

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that Hubby and I were avid travelers before we had kids. In fact, this blog was originally going to be a place for me to write up stories about a four month trip around the Pacific and Asia that we took. We've managed a few trips since Pumpkin was born- Seattle, Kauai, Oregon, as well as several trips to Arizona to see my family- but these were nothing like the trips we took pre-kids. Unencumbered travel is the number one thing that I miss about my life before I became a mother, followed closely by the freedom to sit in a pub with my husband and get pleasantly buzzed on some good beers.

I know that these things aren't gone from my life for good- they're just on hiatus. And there are some aspects of traveling with kids that are actually better than traveling without them. I certainly enjoyed the sea lions in Oregon more with Pumpkin there to show me just how cool they are.

But for the most part, I view the parenting thing as a trade off. I lost unencumbered travel and beer buzzes. I gained a little hand in mine as we walk and the feeling of giving and receiving unconditional love. Recently, I discovered the number one thing I've gained, which completely compensates for the inability to jet off to exotic locales: my toddler pulling silly faces to make my baby laugh. It heals the soul.

Unrelated aside- I am still adding to my post on scientists who are mothers. I've started putting in links to other posts/articles about being a mother and a scientist. I welcome suggested links.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who Is Exploiting Who?

One of the interesting little side notes in the housework study that I wrote about in my last post was a mention of the idea that some people have been advancing recently that hiring household help is somehow exploitative.

I don't really understand this argument. How am I exploiting someone whom I pay to do work? I chose my housecleaning service carefully, and found one that provides a decent wage and benefits to their cleaners. Does the woman cleaning my house make as much per hour as I do? No, not even close. But she makes more than she would make working at a typical fast food restaurant, and I don't hear anyone saying that eating fast food exploits the people working in the restaurant.

I have even seen arguments that I am exploiting my child care workers, although, to be fair, those are usually aimed more at women who use nannies than those of us who use day care centers.

Yes, we have a problem with low wage jobs in this country, and with the use of illegal workers that are more easily exploited than legal workers. Some people who employ housecleaners and nannies are no doubt bad bosses, perhaps even exploitative. But I don't think these jobs are necessarily exploitative. Let's address the real problem of low wages and lack of work place protection for these workers, and not heap more guilt on the working women who employ them.

I also don't think that it is the natural order of things for a mother to have to raise her children without any help from other members of her community, be that paid help or otherwise. In fact, as I have written about before, there is at least one anthropologist who thinks that humans are naturally "collective breeders" who rely on our larger social group for help in raising children. I am thoroughly tired of people looking back at a relatively short period of time in which all child-rearing and housework was done by a single woman in each nuclear family and crafting arguments that imply that this is the one "correct" way to raise children.

I think there is something more than concern for the nannies and housecleaners going on here. There are almost certainly some class issues bubbling under the surface- do I think I am too good to clean my own toilets? (Answer: No, and either Hubby or I in fact clean them once a month.) I suspect there are also some issues with powerful women at work here. Afterall, the families who hire nannies and housecleaners usually have women working in fairly high power positions, and maybe that makes some people just a little bit uncomfortable. We must have gotten there by exploiting someone else, right?

Whatever. I try my best to avoid exploiting anyone, but I won't claim my life would stand up to careful scrutiny by someone determined to prove otherwise. But do you know who I think really exploits other women? The women who make careers out of writing books and articles that tell other women that they shouldn't have careers, or that they shouldn't use the resources available to them to enable them to thrive in those careers while also having a reasonably clean home.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Housework Logistics

I came across a study this week about how much housework academic scientists do. There are quite a few interesting statistics in the study- you should go read it and get the full story. The statistic that was highlighted in the news article that lead me to the study, and the statistic the study authors lead with, is this: partnered female scientists do 54% of the housework in their households, while partnered male scientists do only 28%. Even when the partners of the male scientists work, they male scientists do far less than 50% of the housework.

I doubt anyone is surprised by this statistic. I agree that it is unfair. But I am also inclined to think "so what?" It seems to me that the female scientists have it about right- housework should be split roughly 50-50 in a household in which both partners also work outside the home. The male scientists are getting a free ride on the housework, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they are spending that extra time on their science. For all we know, they are spending their extra time at the pub drinking beers. In fact, the study found that the men and women were spending roughly the same amount of time in the lab/office:

"Partnered science faculty in our sample average nearly sixty hours a week at work. Men and women scientists log the same number of hours (mean hours for men is 56.4, mean for women 56.3, and standard deviations—about 11—are the same as well)."

So this study just tells me that a woman who wants to work outside the home should be wary of marrying an academic scientist. Those dudes aren't pulling their fair share of the household chores, and their wives aren't getting their fair share of the time at the pub drinking beers. My take home message from this study is very similar to the advice I already give young women scientists who are wondering about how to balance career and home life- namely, to choose your partner carefully.

I actually find the 54% number heartening, even though a closer look at the numbers shows that the partners of these women are not actually doing 46% of the work- these couples are using paid help, such as cleaners, to fill the gap. Still, the numbers show a far more equitable distribution of household labor than what is normally presumed to happen. I have written before about how Hubby and I have a very equal split of household chores. Anytime I comment about this on a women in science blog, I get told that my arrangement is not normal. But these statistics indicate that there actually are other women scientists with a similar arrangement.

Another type of comment I've seen a lot on blog's like Female Science Professor is the plea for specifics. The writers of these comments want to know exactly how women with successful careers and "balanced" home lives arrange things. I have replied to these sorts of comments with the observation that the specifics are going to vary for different families. Heck, the specifics are varying within my family for different babies. The things we did to make our lives work when we had a baby who didn't sleep very well are different from what we're doing now, with a baby who sleeps pretty well and a toddler.

I still think that each family will need to work out the specifics for themselves, based on the constraints provided by their jobs, their children, and their tolerance for mess/dirt in the house. However, I thought I'd share one of the things that works really well for us. We use a chores schedule to make sure that Hubby and I are on the same page about what needs to get done and when, and to help us carve out some guilt-free time to not be doing chores.

Here's how it works: I (with input from Hubby) wrote up a schedule showing all of the recurring chores that need to get done. I also included opportunities to pull one time chores from our master to do list. Here is our current schedule:

Week 1 (Cleaner comes)Week 2Week 3Week 4
Mondayto do list chore or extra shoppingphotosclean bathroomsphotos
Tuesdaygarbage outgarbage outgarbage out, pay bills*garbage out
Wednesdayto do list chore or pay bills*to do list chore or pay bills*clean kitchen (cabinets, stove, etc)to do list chore or pay bills*
Thursdaygarage cleanup**Freeclean living room, sweep floorsFree
FridayFreephotosClean officephotos
WeekendOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundryOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry + 1 deep clean choreOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry + clean bedroomsOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry

Every night: dishes, clean booster seat, sweep kitchen
As needed: Make bread (we have a breadmaker, and use it to keep Pumpkin supplied with the bread- often the only thing she'll eat from our dinner)

* pay bills 2x/month, on which ever weeks contain the 1st and the 15th
**run washer cleaning treatment, pick up clutter

Each night's chores are supposed to only take about 30 minutes to do. Every night, someone gives Pumpkin a bath, someone reads her stories, and then I snuggle her to sleep (this last step takes about 20-30 minutes). Petunia's bedtime is so easy that it doesn't figure into the planning- at about 6:45, I nurse her, burp her, and put her into her cosleeper, and then she falls asleep. (And no, I don't know why Petunia's bedtime is so easy. If I did, I'd write a book about it and get rich. I think we just got lucky.)

Whoever is not giving Pumpkin a bath either cleans up the kitchen or picks the chore from the schedule. The person giving the bath does the same once he or she is done with his/her part of the bedtime routine- if the kitchen is already clean, he/she does a chore. Otherwise, he/she cleans the kitchen. Sometimes it is obvious from the chore who needs to do the kitchen. For instance, on nights when "photos" is the chore, I clean the kitchen, because Hubby does the photos in our family.

There are also weekend chores, and obviously, someone has to cook dinner every night. Hubby does the yard work on the weekends, because I am quite allergic to a lot of things in the yard, like grass. I do the cooking during the week more often than Hubby, because I get home from work first. I also do the meal planning, because it makes Hubby really cranky to do it, and I don't usually mind.

This system works well for us. Hubby and I don't waste our precious "adults only" time after the girls are both in bed arguing about chores. We each know what needs to get done every night, so we don't waste time and energy figuring out what needs to be done. It is important that all of the recurring tasks that either partner considers a chore must be on the schedule. This ensures that there are no problems where one person "sees" a chore that the other doesn't, and starts to get resentful because he/she is always doing that chore. It is also important to revisit the chores schedule from time to time, because things change. For instance, we suspect we'll need to add a mid-week load of laundry to the schedule once we're both back at work and no one is at home during the day to do a quick load of laundry to get us through to the weekend.

The system is not perfect, though. We're currently struggling to figure out how to make sure that we each get some nights off without having to discuss it- we want that to just happen automatically if we follow the schedule. Right now, since I always do the last step of Pumpkin's bedtime, I find that I tend to feel like I should be doing a chore- I can't goof off until that night's chores are done. Therefore, I don't get many nights off. And everyone needs a night off now and then. Because if you work your fingers to the bone, and what do you get? Boney fingers.

(My Mom used to play this song while we cleaned the house. I plan to do the same for my kids some day.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Geek Joy

I have a little task at work that will be trivial with UNIX tools (some basic PDB file munging, for any readers in the field) but that I honestly do not know how to do in Windows. All of my serious techie work has been done in Unix. Windows is for management work. I don't know how to do much of anything truly techie in Windows. In fact, I am having our IT support guy (who reports to me) train me in basic Windows administration, so that I can be his back up and let him take vacation days that aren't interuppted by desperate phone calls and emails from work.

So tonight, I logged in to my work machine and downloaded Cygwin. It took maybe five minutes to get it installed and get some soft links set up so that I can easily access my desktop and My Documents files without having to escape a bunch of spaces in directory names.

It is sort of pathetic how happy it made me to type the commands. I was literally bouncing up and down in my seat with joy. I should have installed Cygwin ages ago (to which Hubby says "Duh!")- I already feel less like a hopeless manager and more like a techie again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Traffic Reporting by Pumpkin

Here is a conversation I had with Pumpkin on the way home yesterday:

Me: Wow, we're making good time. We'll be home to Daddy and Petunia in no time!
Pumpkin: Because there are only a couple of other cars.
Me (confused): What?
Pumpkin: You can go fast because there are only a couple of other cars. Just a couple.
Me: Oh.
Pumpkin: When there are lots and lots of cars, you go slow.
Me: You're right.
Pumpkin: And that's nasty traffic.

I can't argue with her logic. And yes, I do frequently comment on the nasty traffic on our ride home.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Effects of Job Insecurity

Female Science Professor has a couple of posts up about the perception that academics don't live in the "real world". One of the special things abut academia that many commenters on these posts (myself included) mention is the job security in academia. This is usually taken to refer to the extreme security of tenured professors, but I think this applies even to the less secure untenured professors and postdocs- although they don't have a guarantee of a job forever and ever like tenured professors do, they at least know when they next risk being unemployed. I, on the other hand, could walk in to work tomorrow and find myself laid off.

In fact, I once walked in to work on what I thought was a work day like any other and found that literally half of my colleagues were laid off. That day was a wake up call to me. I work in a very unstable industry- biotechnology companies are mostly young start ups. They grow and shrink and merge and get acquired and sometimes (OK, a lot of times) go out of business as they attempt to commercialize their founding technology. There are some spectacular winners, but far more spectacular losers. I knew all of this from the start, but it wasn't until that awful day when I watched so many of of my newly unemployed friends walk out of the building that I really understood what this meant.

The biotech industry is unusually unstable, but the days of permanent employment are over in all parts of the private sector. I think (or hope) that as people begin to realize what this really means, we'll see some changes in people's behavior, particularly since the American welfare system is not all that generous. I thought it might be useful, or at least interesting, to discuss what the insecurity of my job means in terms of how I live my life- to provide a worked example of the effects of job insecurity.

There are two main ways in which job insecurity effects me and Hubby: (1) in terms of our financial planning and decisions and (2) in terms of how I manage my career.

Job insecurity and financial planning

My income accounts for slightly more than half of our family income. Until we bought our house, either Hubby or I alone could have paid all of our bills and bought all of our essential items. When we decided to buy a house, we had to decide whether to try to keep that arrangement, or whether to undertake a mortgage that would essentially require us both to be working. We had to balance the risk of one of us losing a job against our desire to live close to work and to stay in the coastal climate zone (two things that minimize our environmental footprint). We decided to buy a house that requires both of our incomes, but not to take as much money as the lenders were offering us, thereby increasing the number of months that we could live off of one salary plus our reserves. One of the results of this decision is that we have a smaller house than many of our peers.

Speaking of reserves... we keep a large amount of money in reserve. This means that we live well beneath our means. We aim to have enough reserves to cover six months' worth of expenses- this would allow one of us to be unemployed for over a year without risking defaulting on any committments. Our reserves are currently a bit depleted, because we are coming out of our maternity/paternity leave period. Although we live in California, which provides some paid family leave via a state-sponsored insurance scheme, we have lost significant income during this period. I received something close to full pay for my eight week disability period (eight weeks instead of six because I had a Cesearan delivery). Hubby and I both received partial pay for up to six weeks of family leave via California paid family leave. Hubby and I both are also working part time for the month of January, and are therefore receiving partial pay from our employers during this month. Despite all of this, we have spent down almost two months worth of our reserves during this four month maternity/paternity leave period. Some of this will be recouped when more of the paid family leave money comes in, but I expect to end at least one month down from where we started.

As you can tell from the previous paragraph, we had to think about money when we were deciding whether or not to have another baby. I don't think this is unusual- babies are expensive, even if you don't take any unpaid leave. However, I also had to think about the timing of when to have a baby. I wanted to be sure of a job for at least a few months, and preferably a full year, after the new baby was born. I also wanted to be reasonably confident that I would not be laid off while pregnant (yes, this is legal as long as it is part of a larger reduction in force). If I had been laid off while pregnant, I would not have received any disability pay and would not have been eligible for any paid family leave. I could not even claim unemployment unless I was actively looking for work. I would essentially have been on unpaid leave, with no idea of when I'd have a paycheck again.

These are just a few examples of how job insecurity figures into our planning. In reality, it figures in to any decision that involves more than a few hundred dollars. And if Hubby and I, who are both pretty well paid, have to plan this carefully to acheive financial security, imagine what people with less well paying jobs have to do. I suspect a lot of them just live with financial insecurity as well as job insecurity.

Job Insecurity and Career Management

I have gotten better at reading the corporate tea leaves since that day when I was surprised to find half of my company laid off. However, I am nowhere near senior enough to be confident that I would know when a round of lay offs is coming. Since I never really know when I'll next need to find a new job, I have to actively manage my career at all times. I should always be thinking about what my next job might be, even if I have no intention of looking for a new job anytime soon. I never know when the decision that it is time to move on will be made for me.

In my industry, most positions are filled via networking. I think this is because of the tight timelines most companies work under- if you only have a couple of years' worth of cash, you don't have time for many hiring mistakes, so you place extra weight on finding candidates for whom someone you trust can vouch. Before Pumpkin was born, I was very active in a couple of local networking groups. I have found it next to impossible to keep that up now that I have children. I hope to be able to become active in these groups again once Petunia is about two years old. Right now, I simply try to keep up with my current network as best I can, mainly via email and occasional lunches during the work week.

I should also be going to conferences and taking courses from time to time, in order to expand my skills and keep my resume looking impressive. My current company would actually pay for one conference or course per year. It is practically criminal that I am not taking advantage of this, but I am not. As long as I have a nursing baby at home, it is hard to arrange for a trip away for a conference, or the extra time away from home for a class.

While my children are so young, I am essentially gambling- hoping that my current job will stay secure or that I'll be able to land a new position using my current network. I am hoping that I will have time to get another professional development activity on my resume before I need it to impress anyone again. For me, this is actually one of the hardest things about being a working mom. I have the time to do my current job well, but not to make sure I am positioned for the next job that I know I'll eventually need.

I hope that I don't sound bitter in this post- I am not. I knew the rules when I decided to work in biotech. Because most people in my industry are fairly well paid, we can handle the insecurity (or at least, we should be able to handle the insecurity). However, as the rest of the work force starts to face the same level of insecurity, our society may need to change the rules a bit. We're off to a good start with health care reform- one of the most unnerving aspects of being laid off is the fear that you'll eventually lose your health insurance. COBRA doesn't run forever, afterall. I think we also need to either increase our welfare safety net or put programs in place to encourage people to build their own financial buffers so that job insecurity doesn't necessarily mean financial insecurity.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Unexpected Reactions

Everyone warned us about how jealous Pumpkin would be of Petunia. We were prepared for it, and had discussed plans for how each of us might spend some time just with Pumpkin to help combat it.

We weren't prepared at all for Pumpkin's actual reaction. She seems to genuinely love her little sister with all her heart, and has become surprisingly fixated on the fact that the four of us are a family. She is constantly talking about her family, naming the members over and over. She spurns all offers for "Mommy and Me" outings, preferring instead to go out as a family. I'm still trying to find time for just the two of us, but the only time she really seems to want that is at bedtime. She always wants me to read her stories and snuggle with her until she falls asleep. We trade off nights reading stories, but if I'm in the house, I am the only one she wants to snuggle her to sleep.

We're not sure what to make of this, so we're just following her lead, and trying to plan outings that we can do as a family.


Before we had Pumpkin, Hubby and I were in agreement: we wanted two kids. After the sleep deprivation of our first year and a half with Pumpkin, I wasn't as sure. Hubby still was. I waffled, and waited, until one day, when I was watching Hubby play with Pumpkin in the backyard. She was smiling up at him, laughing happily, and he looked so comfortable and at home in his role as a father. I just knew that I had to let him have another kid, and I had to give another kid him as a father.

So I got pregnant again, and was surprised at how much harder the pregnancy was the second time around. There were no real complications, but I was always exhausted and uncomfortable. Another chance to eat as much ice cream as I wanted was a redeeming feature, but I was definitely looking forward to not being pregnant, and not just because I wanted to meet my baby.

Petunia is a much easier baby in terms of sleep (as in she will actually sleep). I think she is also a mellower baby, but I don't discount the chance that it could just be that I'm less stressed by it all this time around. She is also a bigger baby- Pumpkin has always been in the 15th percentile for weight, and Petunia is in the 90th. She is already almost 15 lbs, and, at 3 months old, has out grown most of her size 3 months clothes. Newborn clothes that Pumpkin wore for months lasted Petunia just a few weeks.

Today, I put Petunia in her bouncy chair (she likes to sit in it and play with a toy) and took her into her room to sort clothes. I pulled out the clothes she had outgrown, and put the next size up in her drawers instead. As I folded her little fuzzy sleepers and my favorite polka dot onesie for storage, I felt a bit sad. When I put away the clothes Pumpkin has outgrown, it has always been with the expectation that I'd see at least some of them again. This time, I am putting them in bags to either give away or sell. No baby of mine will wear that little pink polar bear sleeper again.

I don't want another baby. But maybe I wish that Petunia would slow down, and stop growing so fast. I'm trying to savor her babyhood- she likes to take long afternoon naps in someone's arms, and for the most part, I'm happy to sit on the sofa and hold her while she sleeps. With Pumpkin, I was always looking ahead to the next milestone. When will she roll over? When will she crawl? When will she talk?. With Petunia, I'm holding on to the milestones for longer. I'm still enjoying her smiles, a full two months after they first appeared. She doesn't seem to be in any hurry to roll over, and that's just fine with me. Of course, I want her to develop and grow just like her sister did. I'm reading to her and giving her tummy time and all that. But I feel like I'm looking back more than I'm looking ahead.

I was prepared for another round of sleep deprivation and feeling like any moment I get for myself is stolen from someone else. But I wasn't prepared for how bittersweet it feels to watch my last baby grow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Attention All Parents of Toddlers

You may have missed the new addition to my rather limited blog roll- the Child of Mine blog, in which a couple of developmental psychologists write about parenting issues. It is one of my new favorite blogs. This week, Isabel is tackling toddler discipline. I love this for two reasons- (1) I'm learning some useful things and (2) I get to cross "research discipline ideas" off of my to do list.

Isabel and her husband also have a book about when to time sleep training, based on their knowledge of child development. It is called Bedtiming, and the US edition has just been released. I am tempted to get it even if Petunia continues to be a good sleeper (we've had a bit of a setback with my return to work, or possibly because of the 3 month growth spurt, so I'm still not sure what kind of sleeper she's going to be, other than "easier than her sister"). The first few chapters are apparently a review of childhood development, which I think would be really interesting and useful.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Some thoughts on Cooking and Cookbooks

Now that recipes for just about anything you could want to cook are available online, some people are predicting the demise of the old-fashioned paper cookbook. I don't think that is likely. Nothing beats a cookbook as a source for ideas on what to cook. Also, a good cookbook provides interesting context for recipes, and also gives help on the techniques needed to successfully complete a recipe. I have a sizable collection of cookbooks. Periodically, I try to whittle the collection down, usually because of some sort of space crunch. I find it hard to get rid of cookbooks, though, even the ones I rarely, if ever, use. It is like wasting potential- who knows what gems are still in there, waiting for me to discover them?

For instance, I don't have time to bake much anymore, but I won't part with my A Piece of Cake cookbook, even though I only use one recipe with any regularity (Anna's Swedish Cake, which is my favorite birthday cake, and even makes a nice cupcake for toddler birthday parties).

I was thinking about this over the weekend, as I wrote up the menu plan for the week. I have a few "go to" cookbooks (including a hefty notebook of recipes clipped from Cooking Light over the years). Most of my "standard" dinners come from one of the following books:
  • Cooking Light Superfast Suppers. This has a recipe for tortellini in tomato broth that is just about as easy as boiling water, as well as an excellent recipe for crock pot lasagna. The latter is a weekend only recipe, because it takes 6 hours in the crock pot, and you can't let it go longer or the lasagna noodles will be overdone. I just tried out a recipe for crock pot BBQ pork sandwiches, too, which was really good. Pumpkin won't eat it, but if we limited ourselves to things that she will eat, we'd be eating a lot of chicken nuggets, Annie's peace pasta, and quesadillas.
  • Cooking Light Five Star Recipes. This has another favorite tortellini recipe (what can I say, tortellini may be Pumpkin's favorite dinner)- this one a "salad" with cherry tomatoes and corn. It also has a really nice greek pita pizza recipe that was a favorite of ours before we had kids. Maybe I should dust that recipe off, because Pumpkin has shown a fondness for "peanut bread".
  • The Minimalist Cooks At Home (I'd get the more comprehensive Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times if I were buying a Mark Bittman book, though). This has a good stir fry recipe that I make with cashews. It also has a linguini with zucchini and mint, that is similar to carbonara, believe it or not. Very yummy.
My "reference" cook book- the one I pull out overy Thanksgiving to look up how long to cook the turkey- is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. The companion Fannie Farmer Baking Book gets even more use around here (I really prefer baking to cooking). It is the source of my recipe for scones, which I use in combination with bacon and smoothies for dinner. Bacon is one of the only meats Pumpkin will eat, and I think adding smoothies to just about anything makes it a good meal. I make my smoothies with frozen strawberries and pineapples, plus OJ, water, and whatever other fruit I have on hand. I freeze any fruit that is getting past its prime, and save it for smoothies.

Quesadillas are another favorite meal in combination with smoothies. I'd love to do a smoothie plus dips and bread meal, but we can't get Pumpkin to eat any dip. I'm very jealous of the people who have kids that like hummus.

I have decent recipes for red sauce and pesto, so we use those with pasta a lot, too. I make both in bulk and freeze the extra. I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. I find that one cube plus a little bit of the water the pasta cooked in makes the right amount of sauce for us. I also combine a lot of meats with sweet potato fries (yes the frozen kind- I can't imagine having the time to make these from scratch), since these are the only thing resembling a vegetable that Pumpkin has ever eaten. She doesn't eat them reliably yet, but I keep trying. She finally ate some scone last night, on what was probably her 15th exposure. Let's just say that she warms up to foods slowly.

We've tried various rice recipes on Pumpkin, with no luck yet. She'll eat refried beans, but only at day care, where the teacher confirms she loves them. She won't touch them at home. I can't figure out why- I checked with the teacher, and the day care beans are just regular old refried beans. I periodically attempt these at home in combination with tacos, but the only thing she'll eat out of that meal is the tortillas. (I was the same way when I was a kid. I grew up in Arizona, and my parents and sister liked Mexican food. I ate a lot of tortillas.)

This week, we're trying fish sticks again. We'd had some luck with "little fishies" (fish sticks shaped like little fish), but our grocery store stopped carrying that brand, and we've yet to find an acceptable substitute. I'm not a huge fan of fish sticks, so I confess to being less than enthusiastic in my search. However, I'm getting bored with our usual meals, so decided it was time to try to branch out (again).

So what about you? What are your "go to" meals? I'd love some new ideas!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Pumping Logistics

I was about to type a long comment in answer to Paola's comment on my last post. Instead, I'll make a new post:

Paola's questions weren't inane at all. Figuring out pumping was one of the more stressful things about going back to work the first time. This time, at least I have a baseline idea of what to do.

So... I pump 3x a day at work. Under California law, my company is required to provide me with a room that isn't a bathroom for the purpose. I am also guaranteed two 15 minute unpaid breaks to pump. Since I am salaried, that is not so much of an issue. Also, since I am in charge of IT at my company, I make sure there is a computer with a network connection in the room. I can, and do, work while pumping. I pump from 15-30 minutes at a time, depending on my schedule and on how the milk is flowing. With Pumpkin, I was able to cut down to pumping 2x a day when she was about 10 months old. I went down to pumping 1x a day when she was about 13 months old (I think- I'd have to go back through my blog archives to be sure), and dropped pumping altogether when she was about 17 months old. We continued to nurse until she was 23 months old.

With Pumpkin, who was basically on a 24 hour eating schedule, the three pumping sessions were enough to replace what she ate during the day. This is only day 3 back to work with Petunia (I'm part time for the month of January), but she is eating more during the day than I pump out. I suspected this might happen, because Petunia was basically sleeping through the night and is therefore eating roughly every hour that she is awake. On Wednesday, I pumped out 18 ounces of milk while I was at work, but Petunia ate 22 ounces. I am handling this by keeping a before bed pumping session but not having Hubby give any bottles in the middle of the night/early morning. This isn't too bad, since Petunia is sleeping through until about 4 a.m. most days.

We have had a change in sleeping patterns this week, but I'm not sure if this is due to me going back to work or the three-month growth spurt. For the last two nights, Petunia has woken up at about 2 a.m. to eat. She never really settles back into her co-sleeper at that point. She nurses, poops, nurses, poops, nurses, and then will sleep another couple of hours if someone holds her. I've been dozing on the sofa with her sleeping on my chest. Even with this latest change, Petunia is a better sleeper than Pumpkin was, so although I am incredibly grumpy and tired when I first get up in the morning, I'm actually feeling pretty good during the day.

I'll keep my before bed pumping session over the weekend, too. This will help keep my supply up and also help build up some extra milk to make up any shortfall during the week. I should be fine as long as I'm only working three days a week. However, I go back to work full time in February. If I find that I can't keep up with Petunia's milk consumption at that point, I'll probably start taking fenugreek and also try to add one day time pumping session on Saturdays and Sundays. As a last resort, I'll supplement with formula. I want to try to avoid that because of my concerns about Petunia's digestive system- I'm still not eating much dairy. If dairy in my diet is suspect, then formula based on cow's milk is probably not a good idea. However, Petunia seems to be handling it OK when I eat cheese, so this may not be a concern. Also, babies tend to handle dairy better once they are 6 months old, and I suspect I'll have enough frozen supplies to allow me to make it to that point before I have to consider formula supplementation.

I have more mundane details about pumping in an earlier post, from my days of pumping milk for Pumpkin.

Anyone else want to share how they handle all of this?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Back to Work

Today was my first day back at work. I'd say that it was easier than it was when I went back after Pumpkin was born, but that would be a lie, because I don't actually remember how easy or hard my first work day was after Pumpkin was born.

Things went relatively well today. I forgot my lunch, but remembered all the crucial things, like my breast pump. I seem to have drunk enough water to avoid the dehydration headache that I do remember from my early days back at work after Pumpkin was born.

Pumpkin was beyond excited that Mommy took her to day care today, and the smile I got when I picked her up reminded me why day care pick up was always my favorite time of the day.

Petunia is always so full of smiles that I couldn't really tell whether she was particularly happy to see me, but she did nurse for a long time. Of course, she tends to nurse a lot at about that time every day. It felt good to hold her.

So, despite the worries confessed to me by several coworkers today- I am back to stay. (My direct report and my boss both admitted to worrying that I might not come back. That was a nice little ego boost. It is nice to have been missed, especially since my direct report did an excellent job running things in my absence.) Now, I just have to figure out the routines and processes I need to make sure I have clean pump parts when I need them and don't leave my lunch on the counter every day.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Tyranny of Things

When I was younger, I always had New Year's Resolutions. I loved the idea of a chance to change things for the better. I no longer really make resolutions, but I do still like to sit back and take stock, and ask myself what I'd like to improve in my life. Hubby and I also review our finances and think about what we'd like to improve there.

This year, the obvious goal would be to get back into shape. I'm pretty sure that Petunia is our last baby, so I could theoretically try to whip my body back into pre-pregnancy shape. However, I don't think that is a realistic goal for this year- I remember from the first time around that it is hard to find time to exercise until the baby is nursing less frequently. So I'm giving myself a pass on that, and just went out and bought some new pants that fit the body I have now.

Instead, I'm going to focus on getting our stuff under control. I don't mind a little mess now and then (just ask my parents, who can tell you about my bedroom when I was a child- it usually looked like a tornado had blown through it) but it drives me nuts when things don't have a home. There has to be at least the theoretical possibility of order and tidiness in every room in my house. Right now, our toy and children's book storage situation is not up to par, and our office/guest room drives me bonkers. I've started working on the toy storage problem, but am having a hard time figuring out what to do with the bigger items. We don't have a room that can be a dedicated play room, so I need to think of a way to store things like the Little People Garage (a Christmas gift that Pumpkin ADORES) and the bags and boxes of blocks and Duplo that will keep me sane without interfering with Pumpkin's play too much.

I don't think Pumpkin has too many toys- she has a lot, but not an unreasonable amount when you think about the fact that her job right now is basically to play. I think the problem is that toy manufacturers don't worry about the footprint of toys anymore. Really, nobody seems to worry about the size of things anymore.

We have sucumbed to a tyranny of things. We all need big houses to store all of our stuff, and big cars to carry it around. Never mind the cost to power the cars or heat the houses. If you want to buck that trend, every purchase you make is difficult. Our house is under 1400 square feet (which is considered small now but really isn't). When we want to buy furniture we have to really search for items that will provide the functionality we need (seating for 4-5 in our living room, for instance) and fit into the space we have. We are having a similar problem buying a new car- there aren't many cars out there that get decent mileage and still have the room to carry the combination of people and things we want to be able to carry. (The front runners in our car search are the Mazda 5 and Kia Rondo, by the way).

I don't know what the solution is. I don't know if there is any way to break the cycle of people buying bigger cars and houses to store their stuff and the manufacturers of stuff not worrying about size because everyone has a big car and house, anyway. But this year, I will find a way to keep the things under control in our home, at least.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Zenbit: Neon Devotion

Location: Melaka, Malaysia
Date: January 31, 2006

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bottle Woes

I have a friend in real life who stopped giving her baby a nightly bottle when she started sleeping through the night a few weeks ago, and now the baby (who is about 3 months old) is refusing to take a bottle. My friend is going back to work in about a month, so needs to get her baby back on the bottle. Does anyone have any suggestions? Pumpkin never slept through the night until she was weaned (although she did start refusing bottles at some point- but it was well past the point where it mattered, since day care had already transitioned to cups). Petunia has recently started sleeping through some nights (YES!!!!! I'm extremely happy about this, but it is too soon to say she "sleeps through the night"), but we've kept up the bottles to avoid just this sort of problem. So I have no personal experience of any help to my friend.

I will take this opportunity to issue a public service announcement: if you are going back to work (or just want the option of giving your baby a bottle now and then), you really need to get the baby used to switching between breast and bottle early. The breastfeeding support group I go to now (the same one I went to with Pumpkin) recommends giving a bottle at about 3 weeks old. Petunia and Pumpkin both got their first bottle at about that time. Once you get your baby to take a bottle, you should keep giving a bottle every day or two, even if you don't really need to. I have never actually met anyone whose baby refused the breast after being given a single bottle a day (although I'm sure those people are out there), but I personally know many women who have struggled to get their baby to take a bottle because they waited until the baby was older or because they didn't give the bottle frequently enough. This only adds to the stress about returning to work... so don't let it happen to you!

Updated to add: Laura makes an EXCELLENT point in the comments- you can do everything "right" and still have a baby refuse to take the bottle. All you can really do is try to increase your chances of success by starting early and not stopping.

Also, here are some of the suggestions about how to try to coax a baby to take a bottle that I've heard from people in real life:
  • Try a "dream feed"- i.e., wake the baby up an hour or so after she falls asleep and try giving the bottle. Or, if the baby is still waking up in the middle of the night, try on that feeding, when the baby is really sleepy.
  • Try giving the bottle when the baby is likely to be very hungry, like at the first feeding of the day.
  • Try giving the bottle after nursing for a little while.
In general, the recommendation is to have someone other than the mom give the bottle, on the theory that the baby won't eat from the bottle if she smells mom around. However, given my counter-intuitive night weaning experience, I'd say try both ways. Maybe the baby is freaking out because she thinks she can't have Mommy anymore, and if she gets Mommy she'll take the bottle.

Another recommendation I've heard is not to be too persistent- don't try to force the bottle on the baby, or the baby may develop an aversion to the bottle, making things even harder.

And now, I'm going to count my blessings that Petunia seems happy to eat from the bottle or from me!

Another update: my friend reports success- achieved on the day before she had to go back to work! The bottle that finally did it for her baby was the Nuby Softflex Silicone Nurser. Apparently the magic trick was squeezing that nipple to show the baby that milk came out. Her baby sucked on it a bit the first time they tried it, and then after a few days, was back to taking a bottle without complaint.