Sunday, February 28, 2010

We Pause for Station Identification

I have lots of ideas for interesting posts, but it has been a bit of a perfect storm of suckiness here this week. Hubby was sick, so I gave him a couple of nights off from helping with Petunia in the middle of the night (she wakes up 1-2 times/night right now. We're planning to do some gentle sleep training when she's about 6 months old per the recommendation of Isabel's Bedtiming book, but she doesn't always need to eat when she wakes up and she already goes to sleep for the night on her own- as in we put her down awake- so I'm not really sure what that training will entail).

Pumpkin is also getting over a cold, so we are constantly wiping big globs of snot off her nose. Yuck.

My IT guy left on vacation on Thursday, so I'm handling end user support, which is not my forte, to say the least. I already greatly appreciated my IT guy, but somehow, I appreciate him even more now. I don't know how he gets anything done during the day, and why he hasn't snapped and yelled at people to just leave him alone.

And Petunia starts day care tomorrow*. Yikes!

Anyway, I promise some interesting posts, or at least some cute toddler stories, soon.

*Just about the only saving grace last week was that my parents were still here taking care of Petunia during the day, and could hang around a little bit after I got home to help me get dinner started, etc. Thanks for all the help, Mom and Dad!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Learning the Skills for Success

One of my younger colleagues was talking to me recently about how he struggles to manage his time at work. He often works long (10 hour or more) days, and usually blames this on the poor management skills of his supervisor and the managers of the projects he's working on. Only recently, has he started to entertain the thought that he might share some of the blame.

I don't know his supervisor well enough to know whether or not he is a good manager- all I can say is that he seems like a nice guy. One of the project managers in question is definitely quite poor. He is an excellent scientific lead, but actually takes pride in the fact that his project has no timeline. He is of the opinion that scientific projects can't have timelines. (I do not share this opinion, and we have other projects that would seem to be excellent counter-examples for him, but that is a subject of another post.) Needless to say, this causes a lot of problems for the departmental managers who are trying to balance their work load- they never know when this project is going to need material produced or studies run.

Regardless, my young colleague also bears part of the blame for his long hours. For one thing, he continues to work them without complaining up his management chain (complaining to me doesn't count- I run a completely different department and have almost no influence in his management chain). This sends the wrong information to his management- they can plausibly claim that they are unaware of any resource crunch. (I do not think this is true. I think anyone with two neurons to rub together could see the resource crunch, but that is also the subject of another post.) More importantly, though, my colleague isn't taking any steps to improve his use of time. I know, because I am the head of IT and I see the web usage logs, that he streams a lot of video. I know, because I sit right next to him, that the video he streams is episodes of Top Gear and not anything related to his work. Now, I don't think it is my business to tell people how to spend the "down time" that inevitably occurs while experiments are running. Some experiments run for more than 8 hours, and sometimes, people need to just relax while they wait. This is why we don't block YouTube. However, I have also seen my colleague sitting at his desk after his experiments are done, working on reports. He is always complaining that he can't keep up with his notebook and his reports. A smart time manager would do the reports from previous experiments during the experimental downtime, and leave work earlier.

I've tried (at his request) to give my colleague some pointers- for instance, I've suggested breaking his tasks for the day down into lists, and prioritizing them so that he gets the things that absolutely have to be done that day done first. He always has reasons why my ideas won't work. I suspect he thinks that I don't understand the constraints of experimental science, since I now work exclusively with computers. He forgets that my PhD work was 90% experimental. And anyone who thinks that computer work can't be a time sink has never chased a bug or fallen down the rabbit hole working on a difficult design issue.

All of this has got me thinking about how we learn to manage our time. Are time management skills something that we can learn, or are they largely a product of our personalities? I dont' remember ever explicitly learning how to manage my time. But maybe that is because I learned these skills when I was really young? I do not know. If we can learn them, is there a "golden period" during which it is easier to learn them, similar to the way it is easier to learn a new language when we're young?

It has also reminded me of the marshmallow experiment. This was all over the web a while ago, but in case you somehow missed it, here's the synopsis: a researcher gives a 4 year old a marshmallow and tells him that if he can wait 15 minutes before eating it, he can have TWO marshmallows instead of one. The research team followed up with the kids much later, and discovered that the ability to delay eating the marshmallow was an amazing predictor for success- all of the kids who could delay eating the marshmallow turned out to be "successful". Some of the kids who couldn't wait to eat the marshmallow turned out to be successful, too, but none of the kids with the ability to delay gratification turned out to be screw ups.

Here is a TED talk on the subject, if you want to know more (and see some cute video of kids trying not to eat marshmallows).

Hubby was very taken by this experiment. He read more, and learned that in South Korea, they were trying to develop curriculum to teach the ability to delay gratification. I thought this was perhaps taking the conclusions from a small research study a bit far, but oh well- it probably isn't doing any harm. Hubby wanted to try to teach Pumpkin, too. He would give her some M&Ms with her snack, but would dole them out slowly, throughout the snack, and would try to convince her that this was the better way. I just laughed at him. She was only two, after all! Of course, she wanted to eat all of her M&Ms NOW. She wanted everything NOW.

But Hubby may have the last laugh. Last Thursday, Pumpkin got two M&Ms right before day care, because she went pee on the potty. She asked for a brown one and a blue one. She ate the brown one right away. Then she rode the entire way in to day care (about 20 minutes) carefully holding the blue one between her thumb and her forefinger. She wanted to show her blue M&M to one of her favorite teachers. We got to day care, and she walked up to her teacher, showed her the M&M, and only then did she eat it.

So, did Hubby teach her the ability to delay gratification? Or was that just something that was always going to be part of her personality? We'll never know. And does this mean that she's guaranteed to go on to a "successful" life? I don't think I'll count on that just yet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Explains A Lot

We're replacing our front yard (previously a standard grassy landscape) with a native plants garden. The first step is to kill all the grass and remove the existing landscaping. The landscaper came today to spray grass killer and take out some paving stones that were enclosing a garden area near the house. He carted the stones into our backyard, beside the garage.

Tonight, Hubby went out to make sure the gate was locked. He came back in and said that it looked like the landscaper had gotten all the pavers stacked neatly. "We're going to have a new front garden, and we won't have to do anything at all." he said.

Well, yes. That is sort of the point of hiring someone to do something. You don't have to do anything.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Milestone

I've been back at work for 6 weeks now (4 part time and 2 full time), and just today, I finished going through the mail that had accumulated while I was gone.

And that was just the physical mail. I still have a folder of email to come back to and "handle".

I long ago gave up on feeling caught up at home. Perhaps I should surrender the hope of being caught up at work, too- just embrace the never-ending to do list in all aspects of my life!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Win or Fail?

I love my husband dearly, and he had many wonderful qualities. The ability to figure out a reasonable schedule that ensures we eat dinner roughly on time is not one of them. For some reason that is obscure to me, he likes to do our weekly grocery shopping at the end of the day on Sunday. Sometimes Pumpkin will go with him, but usually she wants to stay home with me and Petunia. This pretty much guarantees that I will not be able to start dinner until he gets home with the groceries- even if by some miracle I have all the ingredients that I need before we do our weekly shopping, I have yet to figure out how to get dinner started while also caring for one hyper toddler and one baby whose sole clingy time of the day is the late afternoon. (This is going to be a serious challenge in March, when my parents will be back home and no longer caring for Petunia during the week. Right now, my Mom helps with Pumpkin, Petunia, and/or the cooking. But I digress.)

Tonight, I decided that I wanted to try a new recipe for dinner: carrot cake pancakes. (Yes, I'm a big fan of breakfast for dinner, particularly since bacon is one of the few meat-like substances that Pumpkin will eat.) We eat dinner between 6:15 and 6:30 most nights. Most of my recipes take between 15 and 30 minutes to make. It takes Hubby an hour to do the grocery shopping and put the groceries away. Given all of this information, you can easily determine that Hubby needed to be leaving to go grocery shopping no later than 5 p.m. So what was he doing at 4:45? Yard work. FAIL.

I managed to get him inside and heading towards the store by 5, but then his phone rang, and he spent the next 10 minutes talking to a good friend from New Zealand. So I was predictably about 15 minutes late starting dinner. FAIL. Then Pumpkin threw a fit after one of her potty breaks because I wan' Mommy to wash my hands!!!! (Big mess of FAIL.) And when I told her that we'd have to hurry because I was making dinner, she looked up at me and smiled. Can I help? "Of course you can, honey," I say, while thinking that his will make us even later. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL.

Amazingly, Pumpkin was a good little helper while we made pancakes. She stopped banging the measuring cup against the bowl when I asked. She did not put her fingers in the egg mixture when I told her not to. She watched me pour the 2 cups of shredded carrots into the batter and asked What is that?. Now, Pumpkin is no fan of vegetables (she's no fan of many foods, actually). In fact, there is not a single vegetable that she likes. The most vegetable-like food item that she has ever eaten willingly is a sweet potato fry. So I certainly didn't want to tell her that the mass of orange stuff I was pouring into the pancake batter was carrots. Think fast, Cloud. Tell her it is something cool. "That's magic stuff, honey." But what is it, Mommy? "Uh.... magic, yummy stuff." MAJOR FAIL. (Late in the day on Sunday is not one of my more creative times, but to be fair, I still can't think of what cool thing I could call a cup full of shredded carrots. Ideas, anyone?)

Around this time, Petunia starts fussing. It is getting late. She wants to be nursed. Hubby manages to distract her for awhile, but pretty soon, it is clear that she will not put up with her evening meal being delayed much longer. I start getting flustered. I look at the pancakes cooking on the stove and get impatient. I turn them too soon. They don't cook all the way through. FAIL.

Hubby and Pumpkin sit down for dinner. I nurse Petunia. Hubby puts the second batch of undercooked pancakes back in the skillet, but to no avail. They remain gooey in the middle. Luckily, there are four nice ones, one of which is on Pumpkin's plate.

She eats three whole bites of a pancake with carrots in it. I like it, Mommy! she proclaims, before turning her attention to eating a blob of butter off of her plate. WIN.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I was updating my post on scientists who are mothers, and I noticed something: all three of the female biological and physical scientists who won Nobel Prizes in 2009 are mothers.

Surely that lays to rest the idea that it is impossible to combine a career in science with motherhood?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Potty Broken

Last week was my first week back to full time work, and it went about as you'd expect- I'm now much more caught up at work and much less on top of things at home. Mornings and evenings are extra chaotic, as we try to find a new routine. My parents are here this month (staying in a rented house nearby, not with us), taking care of Petunia during the day. Therefore, we don't have to have the full new routines worked out. There is still only one child to get ready for day care, and there is someone here when I get home to help with Pumpkin while I nurse Petunia and try to get dinner started.

It is a very good thing that we have some extra adult help this week, because we are full-on potty training. Pumpkin moved up to an older kids room at day care recently, and her teachers declared her ready to potty train. I can't argue with them- she certainly has the awareness and the skills. The problem is, she is not really that motivated to do it. She doesn't see the point. Her diapers are working well for her, so why change? I can't really argue with that, either. It does seem that the advantages are mostly for the grown ups around her, all of whom are frankly getting a little tired of changing stinky toddler diapers.

With the liberal use of M&Ms (one for sitting on the potty, more for actually doing something while there), we have mostly overcome the resistance to using the potty. She actually forgets to ask for her M&Ms most times now. When she is in underwear, she (mostly) remembers to tell us she needs to go potty, too, although we do help out with frequent reminders.

The problem is that she doesn't want to wear her underwear. She says they make her pee. I've tried to explain that "no, they make you notice when you've gone pee", but she doesn't quite get that. And despite our attempts to make accidents no big deal, she is clearly very bothered by them. So it is with impeccable logic that she resists our attempts to get her to wear her new Dora underwear. We have put them on a screaming, crying, struggling little girl more than once, but that just feels wrong to me. I'd back off the potty training, but she is doing absolutely great at day care- no accidents most days. She does great at home, too, once we get the underwear on her. On Sunday, I hit upon the idea of putting a matching pair of underwear on the rag doll her Mimi made her for Christmas (a cute little doll who was promptly given the unlikely name of "Grat"). That worked great, but only for a day.

So, does anyone out there have a good explanation for Pumpkin about why she should wear her underwear? She is not getting the "value proposition", as we used to say in my consulting days.


I've been posting comments on science blogs again... so there are no doubt some annoyed people who clicked through expecting to find a blog about life in biotech and instead found... potty training. What can I say? I can't really post about work. Biotech is too small of a world. However, I do have a relatively recent post about living with the job insecurity that comes with the territory in biotech.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Not Enough Time

One of the nice things about having a second child is the chance to look back and realize that some of things you thought during your first round of parenting were just plain wrong, based on your extremely small sample size (n=1!) and parenting hubris.

For instance, when Pumpkin was a baby, I never really understood why so many working mothers felt that they didn't get enough time with their babies. Pumpkin started her day at 5 a.m., and went to bed at about 8. I left for work at 7:40 a.m., and picked her up from day care at about 4:45 p.m.. Even disregarding the multiple middle of the night wake-up calls, I felt like I spent a lot of time playing with her.

Petunia has been sleeping until about 6 or 6:30 a.m. Pumpkin bounds out of bed at about the same time most days. I leave for work at 7:45 a.m. on good days, 8 a.m. on the majority of days. The time between waking up and leaving for work is a whirlwind of activity, during which two adults try to get themselves and a toddler ready for the day. Petunia nurses a couple of times and produces a few dirty diapers, but mostly just sits in her bouncy chair and watches the chaos swirl around her. Petunia currently stays at home during the day*- she was with Hubby on my work days in January, and is with my parents for the month of February now that Hubby and I are both back at work full time. I leave work at 4:30 p.m. and drive to day care to pick Pumpkin up. We get home between 5:15 and 5:30. I have time to nurse Petunia, but then I need to start dinner, and by the time we're finished with dinner, Petunia is heading for bed. She goes to sleep between 6:30 and 7:00 most nights, sometimes staying awake until 7:30 if her afternoon nap ran late.

Tonight, she fell asleep not long after 6:30. I had just nursed her, and she was well and truly out. But I didn't put her down right away. I wanted just a few more minutes holding my sweet baby.

Of course, today was the first Monday I've worked since Petunia was born. I'll get used to our new routine. We still have weekends, but those are really pretty chaotic, too, since we also have a toddler to entertain. I genuinely like working, but I'm still a bit wistful about the sudden decrease in baby snuggling time. I keep reminding myself that (1) I would be a lousy stay at home mom and (2) even if I were a stay at home mom, I wouldn't get that much baby snuggle time- see the comment above about entertaining a toddler.

So really, the problem isn't that I work. It is that Petunia is my second baby, and the first baby is now an intense, funny little toddler, while Petunia is a very easy-going, smiley baby. I think it will all work out, though. Petunia does stick up for herself and demand our attention sometimes. She often fusses when she's in her swing at dinnertime. If one of us picks her up and holds her on our lap, she calms right down, even before Pumpkin starts pulling funny faces and making funny noises to try to elicit a laugh. I think Petunia just wants to be part of the family dinner. I can't begrudge her that, even if it means that I scarf down my meal, and/or eat it one handed, while balancing Petunia on my lap. In fact, I think family dinner may become a favorite time of day.

*The experienced day care parents are now nodding knowingly and observing to themselves that all of this will change when Petunia starts day care. They are right. She'll probably nap in the car on the way home from day care, and move her bedtime later. I may be the only working parent in history to actually think this will be a good thing.