Friday, May 27, 2011

Weekend Reading: Mixed Media Edition

So, Petunia's infectious disease expert doesn't think we should take her tonsils out. We officially asked one too many doctors- now we don't know what we're going to do. Personally, I'm curious to see if she gets a fever this Sunday. I'll probably write a post with more details soon, but in the meantime, she's fine and happy right now. Except that she's got a snotty nose, but really, what toddler doesn't?

I'm going to keep this one short, because I have today off and I want to go play with my kids. But I couldn't not send anyone who hasn't heard about the family in Canada who is not revealing their baby's sex (after the baby was born) over to read about it. I don't have a strong opinion on this one. You can check out what blue milk and Julie at A Little Pregnant think- they said smart things. I find myself torn between two gut feelings: on one hand, I think that gender identity is a fairly important thing and that we don't really understand how it develops, so I wonder if this family is playing a bit with fire on this. But on the other hand, I think kids are generally pretty resilient, and that the kids in this family are clearly loved and cared for, so everything will probably turn out fine. Maybe one of them will write a memoir as an adult and let us know what they think.

The story did make me think about the book Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides, which was an interesting fictional look at what happens when a child's gender is undetermined.

And finally, apropos to nothing, I give you this funny YouTube clip, thanks to my husband. Having once experienced something similar to the event described in the video, but with Abba's "Dancing Queen", I can confirm that it will indeed make you a bit crazy. (The video has a little bit of bad language, so you might not want to do what I did and watch it in front of your kids- Pumpkin mostly picked up on the cats, though.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ideals and Reality

We had a great weekend.

On Saturday, we took the kids down to Balboa Park for a visit to the fish pond, carousel, and zoo train. This was Pumpkin's idea, and it was a great one. Pumpkin still judges the main carousel to be too fast for her (and it is a fast one), so she climbed into an airplane in the little ride nearby, to show Petunia how it was done. Petunia happily allowed us to strap her in behind her sister, hung her arms on the side of the airplane in an almost perfect mimic of her big sister, and enjoyed the ride.

After the ride on the carousel, we headed over to the nearby train, and again, both girls loved it. Petunia was quite serious, and seemed more interested in her crackers than the train ride until we passed the mosaic lion, at which point she said "raaarrr" and started to smile.

Then we met my sister at The Station for lunch. San Diegans with kids- if you have not yet discovered The Station, you should check it out. You may never eat the over-priced zoo lunch again. Of course, we still do, because Pumpkin likes to eat at the zoo.

On Sunday, the mother of one of Pumpkin's day care friends emailed to see if we wanted to meet them at the Sicilian Festival in Little Italy. We decided that we did- so we packed Petunia's snacks and milk into the diaper bag and headed out. Pumpkin enjoyed getting her face painted, watching the short parade, and jumping in the bouncy. Petunia was a little overwhelmed by it all, but had a great time walking around on the little patch of sidewalk we grabbed to eat our lunch. The adults enjoyed some good food, although I wish I'd been able to hack the long line to get a cannoli.

After nap, I took the girls outside to play for awhile, and decided to thin the carrots Pumpkin and I had planted a couple of months back. Both girls enthusiastically wandered the yard with carrots in their hands for awhile. In fact, I only rescued the last carrot from Petunia with great difficulty. And yet, neither would eat the carrots for dinner. Ah well, at least we had fun with them before they were cooked.


Here is what I left out of the above synospis:
  • The nap time f*** up on Saturday that resulted in me taking an hour long walk instead of the nap I so craved (the walk did at least get Petunia enough sleep to allow her to make it through the rest of the afternoon without trouble)
  • Me losing it at bathtime on Saturday when Petunia kept climbing out of the bath and sitting on my lap.
  • Hubby giving Pumpkin a time out in her empty bath tub on Sunday because she kept demanding that I come dry her off, when I was nursing Petunia.
  • Me losing it during pre-bedtime snack on Sunday when Petunia threw her strawberries on the floor. Why do I fall for this over and over? She never eats the strawberries. But she signs '"strawberry" and she says "raw-bury" so convincingly, so I get out the strawberries I've cut for the next day's morning snack at day care. And she squishes them and throws them on the floor.
And probably a few other less than idyllic scenes that I've already blotted from my memory.

All of this was fresh in my mind when I read blue milk's post (and linked article) about why women work. It is refreshing to read an article in a mainstream publication that acknowledges that work for mothers is not all about economics- it is also about sanity.

It sometimes seems to me that we have all entered into a collective vow of silence about the reality of parenting. Perhaps it is just because we love our kids so much that we highlight the good parts and gloss over the bad. But surely we have all struggled to answer the question from the childless (or is it "child free"?) friend or colleague about why we had kids, and ended up with some lame answer about how they make us see things with fresh eyes (and they do!) or how there is nothing quite like making a baby laugh (and there isn't!)- all while our friend/colleague looks at us with obvious disbelief and cannot comprehend how whatever good thing we're highlighting could possibly compensate for the lost sleep and lack of free time.


Then today, both Female Science Professor and Dr. Isis had Q&A posts from women who wanted to take time off to stay home with their kids (or, in FSP's case, had already done so). It is interesting that the comment sections diverged quite a bit- the comments on FSP's post slant heavily toward "yes, I'd hire someone with a gap"- perhaps because the woman in question had actually been working part time and producing papers during her "time off"- while the comments on Dr. Isis's post slant heavily toward "your kids will be fine in day care, don't take time off".  It is an interesting dichotomy, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Perhaps it is just another in a long string of mixed messages mothers get these days. One one hand, there is still a fairly large societal bias towards staying home- even though the majority of mothers in America do not stay home. It seems that we reconcile this by saying that they would stay home, if they could afford it. But of course, as that blue milk post- and my own experience- indicates, that isn't necessarily true. Plenty of us could afford to stay home and choose not to. That reality is rarely acknowledged.

Of course, some women really do want to stay at home with their kids, and that is great. But I wonder if some women end up feeling pressured to stay home, and worse, to give up all of their non-child interests. If no one really wants to admit that sometimes, parenting sucks, then it is hard to explain why sometimes you just need to do something else for awhile, particularly if you've decided to leave your career to spend more time with your kids.

This all feeds into a society that has frankly gone a little bit off the deep end in terms of what we expect good, middle class parents to do for their kids. We have taken an already intense experience, and intensified it further. Just when the kids are coming out of the time period in which they truly are quite needy and demand more time and attention than it sometimes feels possible to give, we decide to tack on more expectations. Rather than saying "phew, now I can rest a bit," we decide that our kids need lessons of all sorts, and sports leagues, and various other enrichment activities. It is easy to see how a mother could end up in a situation in which the entire focus of her life, all of her dreams and aspirations, involve the kids. In fact, that is in a way what our culture tells us is the ideal mother.

Until the kids get older. At some point, this focused mother is not the ideal. She becomes a "helicopter parent" and is ridiculed for not being able to let go and let her kids succeed or fail on their own.

I am certainly no fan of helicopter parenting, but I can't help but think that we have at least in part created this phenomenon. Perhaps the helicopter mothers are just the natural extension of the false ideals that we are fed about parenting. Maybe we'd have fewer helicopter parents if we all just acknowledged that sometimes, parenting is no fun at all, and that it is fine and normal for any parent to want some other thing in his or her life, too, be that paid work or volunteer work or a hobby.

But I don't know. This is all just semi-coherent musings- I have no data to back me up and it is past my bed time. What do you all think? Is this all related? Or have I finally gone crazy from the sleep deprivation?


edited to ad: In the light of morning, after a fairly good night's sleep (thanks, Petunia!) I realize that I left out the other half of the mixed message- that if you decide to keep working, it is hard to ease up a bit. There aren't many part time jobs, and it is hard to even just downshift your drive for a few years and "idle" in a good fulltime job without aiming for promotions, etc., without being shifted permanently to a "mommy track".

So the choice that may feel most natural to some women- lower your career expectations a bit for a few years while the kids are in the very young, very needy time and combine that with motherhood that isn't all consuming- doesn't feel available. It can be easy to feel that you are making an all or nothing decision, and making it quite early in your baby's life, since we don't give decent maternity leaves in the US.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Surprisingly Profound Kid's Art: Mommy's Face

Shapes were provided by the teachers. Placement was provided by the artist.

The subject wondered if perhaps the placement of the ears was a statement about how well Mommy listens. The artist indicated that those were cheeks.

Mommy's Face
Artist: Pumpkin, age 2 years, 1 month

This is the second entry in a  series. The first entry explains the concept: these are pictures of art my kids make that seems to be saying something a little more than most.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekend Reading: The If You Read One Thing... Edition

Thank you all for you nice comments and ideas on my last post. Petunia is better now and back to her playful self, but unfortunately, we doubt it will last. We have an appointment with a pediatric infectious disease expert next week and will also be getting a sweat test to rule out (or in, I suppose) the unlikely possibility that she has a mild case of cystic fibrosis. Once we've done those two things, we'll have all the opinions of a wide range of doctors:  allergist/immunologist, ENT, infectious disease, pulmonary function, plus our excellent regular pediatrician... that's a lot of doctors for a 19 month old who seems to be a basically healthy kid who gets a lot of sore throats with fevers. At that point, we'll just have to make a decision.

Anyway, it has been a hectic week. Between Petunia's illness and an intense week at work with a vendor onsite trying to get a new version of a key tool rolled out and integrated with some things we wrote (disappointingly, we didn't quite make it- but we made good progress), I am exhausted. So I don't have a lot of links for you this week.

What I lack in quantity, though, I make up in quality. I came across a wonderful post on the Daddy Dialectic, via a link from blue milk. It is a story about racism on the playground, and it broke my heart and made me angry all at once. Truly, if you only read one thing on the internet this weekend, this post should be it.

Also, if you are interested in feminism, politics, motherhood, and how they intersect and aren't already reading blue milk, you should head over there now and add it to your reader. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This is My Heart Breaking

Petunia had a great day on Saturday. She was funny and playful, and on the go. She mastered the stairs on our little outdoor jungle gym, and slid down the slide all by herself- grinning and laughing her big belly laugh at the end.

On Sunday, she got sick again. She was clingy, and by the end of the day, she was whining, shivering, and just wanting to be held until the Tylenol kicked in and she was able to really go to sleep.

She wouldn't go down in her crib at bedtime, so I sat in my rocking chair, holding her and trying again to figure out what we should do.

Everyone agrees that Petunia's frequent fevers aren't just the normal routine for a day care kid. Something else is going on. But what? And what should we do?

Her core symptoms are remarkably consistent: a high fever, refusing to eat, a strong preference for cold milk, and red, inflamed tonsils. Around that core, there is variability: she may or may not have a runny nose or a cough, for instance. She's usually better in about three days, but one time, she was sick for a full week.

She's had throat cultures, which have always come back negative. But on the other hand, she generally is healthy when she's on antibiotics, so maybe there is some sort of persistent infection that is not showing up in the standard culture.

She's had her immune system checked (it is fine), her adenoids x-rayed (also fine), and blood drawn enough times that she now cries if she sees a nurse in a pink shirt (because that's what the technicians who draw blood wear).

We recently took her to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who prescribed another course of antibiotics (which we finished last Thursday) and decongestant (which knocked her out so strongly that we had to cut the dosage to one quarter of what was initially prescribed). Hubby took her back for the follow up today, and came back with the recommendation from the doctor that we could try a tonsillectomy.

I wasn't surprised by this, but I'm not sure I want to do it, either. There is evidence that this sort of problem with recurrent tonsillitis will resolve on its own with time- some doctors argue that we should just wait. But it might take until puberty for the problem to resolve on its own, and right now, puberty seems a long way away. On Sunday, as I sat there rocking my miserable little girl, I kept saying "we have to do something"- but is surgery really our only option?

We've considered getting a nanny and taking her out of day care- but since her fevers are so consistent, there is a good chance that this won't do any good. The problem could be in how her tonsils respond to germs, not in the number of germs she's being exposed to. And, as my husband points out, it is not like we'd be able to keep her in a bubble if we took her out of day care. Her older sister would still go to day care. We'd still go out and about on the weekends. She'd still run across germs. So we could disrupt her routine (she loves day care and is visibly excited to go back after having to stay home for a few days while sick) and increase our child care expenses and get nothing from it.

We could push for more antibiotics, or perhaps for the next line of antibiotics- so far, she's had nothing but amoxicillin (and augmentin, which is sort of like amoxicillin plus). I've read some interesting things recently about persistent bacterial infections. But since the throat cultures keep coming back negative, that might not do anything but upset her tummy. "Interesting" is a fine criteria for choosing which science papers to read, but it is not such a good criteria for choosing how to handle a sick kid.

Or we could do the surgery. It is fairly safe, but it is still surgery. There are risks. And even if all goes well, the post-op recovery sounds like it would be two solid weeks of hell in which Petunia wold have a very sore throat, probably wouldn't want to eat much, and we'd need to work hard to keep her hydrated. However, as my husband points out, that isn't all that different than what we have now. She's been sick three of the last six weeks, and when she's sick, she has a sore throat and won't eat much. Still, there is no guarantee that surgery would solve the problem, either.

So I'm a bit stuck. I know that we have to try something different for Petunia. The difference between Saturday and Sunday was too stark to leave me any doubt on that point, but I really have no idea what we should do. I don't like any of our options.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quiet Time Mom Blogging

It is "quiet time'- the fiction we cling to that we'll have two hours of quiet from Pumpkin, since she will no longer nap on the weekend. Actually, she does OK, as long as I keep a show on. Sometimes, we color or do puzzles instead, but since the real purpose of this time is a little sanity break for the grown ups, we usually put on a show. This is her chance to watch her longer, non-educational shows- she has Cinderella (I bought it used for her when I decided that she should get to see at least one of the princess shows all of her friends at day care were talking about. I chose Cinderella as the one least likely to scare her- she typically doesn't do well with the scary bits of shows.) and Madagascar (a birthday gift, after she saw while we were visiting some friends and loved it- despite the scary bits).

But today, she picked out her current favorite video, The Wiggles' "Ukelele Baby", a gift from her New Zealand grandparents. You can't buy that here in the US, but apparently you can buy lots of other Wiggles DVDs. They're good singers, but the lyrics are mostly the typical kids song inanity.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here is one of Pumpkin's favorites:

Speaking of inane lyrics, Hubby showed the Rebecca Black YouTube hit, "Friday" to Pumpkin. She loves that, too. Her day care teachers are very amused with her rendition of the song.

Petunia hasn't shown as much interest in songs, with or without inane lyrics, although she does still love to dance with her Daddy to Amy Winehouse's "Rehab", a song that Pumpkin first heard at a restaurant during our trip to Wichita, and loved. Hubby decided that we'd keep playing it at home, and now both girls like to dance to that song with him. Since I apparently used to like to serenade the other shoppers with my rendition of Arlo Gutherie's "Lightening Bar Blues" while grocery shopping with my Mom, I figure I can let my girls listen to Rehab.

Petunia has been doing some cute things lately, though. Last night at dinner, she threw her cup on the floor because we weren't figuring out what she wanted fast enough. We were going to leave the cup there, since we don't really condone the cup throwing reaction to parental slowness. Pumpkin didn't want her to cry, though, so she went and got the cup. She handed it back to Petunia, who said "ank do" (thank you) and signed "thank you". She repeated this not long after dinner when Pumpkin handed her a toy she wanted, so I know I wasn't mistaken- she says thank you now.

She also likes playing with blocks. Her current favorites are the old wooden blocks that were mine as a kid (similar to these blocks, but mine are from Playskool and in an old canister with a metal lid). She'll stack three up, then stop and clap and say "yaaaaaay!" She repeats that after every block she successfully stacks. When the tower falls over, she throws her arms out wide and says "uh oh!"

My favorite Petunia game right now, though, is the "come to Mommy" game, in which she runs repeatedly into my open arms, giving me a hug each time. Sometimes we vary it, and she goes between me and Hubby, giving us hugs. It is possibly the sweetest thing ever. It is hard to believe that in a few short years, she too will probably want nothing more than to watch DVDs of grown men singing silly songs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Fictional Characters Edition

First, some blog business: Blogger says that they'll be restoring the comments that have gone missing since they had to rollback a failed upgrade this week. As someone who has had to rollback upgrades herself, I'm a bit sympathetic to their plight- although it does seem that something went catastrophically wrong and that perhaps their rollback plan wasn't quite up to snuff. Regardless, if they can't get the comments back, I'll go in and restore them by hand- I have them all in my email.

I've also noticed that the search feature on my blog doesn't seem to be working since I switched to having my own domain. I might get around to troubleshooting that- maybe I just need to somehow tell Blogger to rebuild an index? But I suspect I am the only one who ever used it. I used it to find specific old posts, but honestly, plain Google search is working just fine for that, so it doesn't seem like something I want to spend a lot of time on- particularly since I have long term plans to move off of Blogger and do lots of snazzy things with my blog. Those may not get implemented anytime soon, though- it all depends on whether Petunia's sleep stays as good as it has been lately or goes back to the crap state we were in. If she's sleeping, I'm willing to stay up a little later at night to futz with my blog. If she's not, I just want to get into bed as soon as I can!

Anyway... on with today's links. I hadn't checked in with the Parenting Blog (see, it is not just your blog I've been ignoring... I've been busy!) so I didn't see her post about the effects of believing in fictional characters (like the Easter Bunny) until well past the time when we caved and went along with the Easter Bunny story that Pumpkin had heard at day care. Luckily, the conclusion seems to be that these sorts of fictions do no harm, and that kids are pleased, not mad when they discover the truth- which probably won't surprise anyone.

It seems that fictional characters are doing a bit of harm in Russia and Ukraine- they are arguing with each other about maps showing the "homes" of various fairy tale characters. Apparently, these sites are big tourist draws, so the stakes are high. Still, I couldn't help but giggle at the idea of two nations getting so worked up about fairy tales- until I thought about how upset Americans would probably get if Canada suddenly decided that Johnny Appleseed had lived in Canada.

A lot of people are also upset about the "plight" of the modern man, so it was refreshing to come across (via @lvanderkam's Twitter feed) an article from Dan Mulhern arguing that now is a great time to be a man. Of course, he's writing from the upper middle class point of view, but I think some of his points about how our concept of manhood needs to change are valid across all economic classes.

Finally, I have some updates:
That's it for this week. Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on the #Scimom Experiment

Awhile back, I wrote a short post for the #scimom project initiated by David Wescott. I thought that this project was a good idea, and I still do- as I said in my initial post, I think the scientific blogging community and the parenting blogging community could learn a lot from each other. I'm also a passionate advocate for the idea that it is not only possible, but even perhaps enjoyable, to combine a career in science with motherhood, and I thought that the #scimom project might raise the profile of us "scientist mothers" a bit. David has a wrap up post up, in which he talks about what the #scimom meme did and did not accomplish. One of the successes he highlights is that it got scientists who are mothers to write about what that means to them, and I agree- that was definitely a good thing. He was perhaps a little disappointed by the fact that he didn't really get much cross-talk between the two blogging communities, though.

I frequent blogs in both communities, and I have some thoughts on how they might learn to engage with each other. I've written and deleted several attempts to explain my thoughts- so if what I write offends you, please believe me that I tried hard to write this in a way that would not offend. I genuinely liked and appreciated the #scimom initiative. There are excellent blogs written by wonderful people in both communities. But for there to be significant cross-talk between the communities, I think both will need to make some changes and be willing to go outside their comfort zone.

There is no question that there are differences in style between the two communities. One of the most significant, in my opinion, is the tone of the comments. Perhaps because we're all so tired of the "mommy wars", most mom bloggers try to temper disagreements and discuss issues as non-confrontationally as possible. People seem to really go out of their way to try to acknowledge the validity of opposing points of view. Science bloggers, on the other hand, engage like scientists- i.e., arguing the points vigorously, letting the chips fall where they may. In fact, I think some science bloggers may be more confrontational online than they would be at a scientific conference. There's nothing wrong with this, but it is a definite difference in style, and I have to keep that in mind as I bounce between the communities, and it might make commenting on some of the bigger science blogs a bit intimidating for someone used to a more welcoming comment section, particularly someone from outside the science community.

Because, let's be honest, scientists can sometimes be dismissive of the contributions of people who are not scientists, particularly to debates that we feel rightly belong in the realm of science- just look at the way many prominent science bloggers dismiss all alternative medicine as "woo". Now, I agree that medical treatment should be based in science. But the dismissive, sarcastic, and frankly condescending tone of some of those posts will win no converts to that cause. In most cases, I think this is no big deal. If people want to believe in homeopathy, that is their prerogative.  In the case of vaccinations, though, I think the science community owes it to the children of the world to swallow our pride and try a little harder to reach the decision makers- who, as David rightly points out, are more often than not the mothers. I'm pretty sure that calling them stupid for having any doubts about vaccinating their children won't do us any good.

I once got involved in a discussion on a mom blog on vaccinations. At one point, someone posted a comment that said I had changed her mind- she was going to get her child vaccinated. I have no way of knowing if that was true, but I hope so. If it was, it was one of the best things I've ever done via blogging. For a long time, I wondered why someone would dismiss the advice of the pediatrician they no doubt carefully selected but listen to some random person on the internet who doesn't even use her real name when she posts. Then, I came across an opinion piece in Nature that helped me make sense of this. The piece, called Fixing the Communications Failure, is by Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale. It summarizes research that shows that people filter facts based on their connections with communities to which they belong. They studied how people perceived the risks and benefits of nanotechnology, and "found that relative to counterparts in a control group, people who were supplied with neutral, balanced information immediately splintered into highly polarized factions consistent with their cultural predispositions towards more familiar environmental risks, such as nuclear power and genetically modified foods." They also find that "the experts whom laypersons see as credible...are ones whom they perceive as sharing their values."

This helped me understand what had happened on that mom blog. It was a blog to which I posted frequent comments. I was seen as a member of the community, and it was known that I shared many of the same parenting values (roughly put, an attachment parenting slant). So when I explained the evidence for vaccines and against the false scares, this one mother listened to me- even though I am sure that I did not do as good a job explaining things as the experts on a site like Science-Based Medicine would.

All of this leads me to believe that if scientists want to engage with the mom blogging community, they will need to venture out from their blogs and go to the mom blogs themselves. And to have their voices really heard, they will need to become part of those communities, not just fly-by visitors. This is what I have done, not because I have some ulterior motive to sway the opinions of other mothers, but because I enjoy those mom blogs. If my involvement there brings a little more science to the discussions than would otherwise be there, that is great, but it was not my goal.

None of this is to say that mom bloggers should just sit back and wait for scientists to come to them. I think science has too much to add to important parenting decisions for that to be wise. At the very least, they will have to be willing to engage with scientists a bit more on their own terms, and accept the inevitable uncertainties and scientific difficulties into their views. A recent tweet from the excellent mom blogger Mom-101 reminded me of the obstacles to this. She retweeted a link from @selfmademom to a NY Times opinion piece about BPA. I've been on the fence about BPA, because I think the science is still unclear, but I sort of agree with the idea of asking manufacturers to do premarket testing on new chemicals, as suggested in that opinion piece. However, I also think that the issue is way, way, way more complicated than that piece implies. For one thing, what would we test for? Carcinogenicity? Endocrine disrupting potential? Neurotoxicity? All of those and more? And once we settle on what we want to test, what models would we use? As the scientific controversy around BPA demonstrates, the choice of model system can have a profound impact on the results. Even if we know what model we want to use, is it feasible to use on the scale that such testing would require? I have seen estimates that to test even a subset of commonly used chemicals for just neurotoxicity would require more rodents than are present on the planet. How would we pay for this? If manufacturers bear the entire cost, are we ready for the $20 baby bottles that might ensue?

None of this is to say that the goal is a bad one. As I said, I actually agree with the goal. But given the obstacles between us and that goal, I don't think there is any negligence going on in our governmental agencies. I think that it is just a really hard problem, and the scientific community is going to need some time to come up with solutions. They are trying. For instance, I recently came across the work of Linda Restifo, who is arguing that the humble fruit fly might provide a useful model for a neurotoxicity screen. If this model system works out, it could greatly reduce the number of rodents needed for neurotoxicity screening, and move us closer to being able to screen all chemicals.

This is a long, complicated response to a single tweet. I obviously couldn't send that response as a tweet. So here is what I said instead: ", I'd also like to see premarket testing. But there are hard problems to solve, in terms of $ and # of animals needed to do tests."  Did this do an adequate job of getting my point across? I don't know. It is hard to convey scientific complexity in 140 characters.

I'm not sure how we bridge the gap between the type of explanation needed to describe the scientific reality and the sorts of opportunities we get to convey it, but I know that it is going to require mom bloggers (and other interested non-scientists) to tolerate longer winded responses than they are used to. None of this is to impune on the wonderful Mom-101 feed or blog- in fact Liz not only tolerates my occasional long-winded scientific comments, she seems to welcome them.  But I think it illustrates the problem.

So while I applaud the #scimom initiative and have genuinely enjoyed reading the posts, I am not surprised that it did not achieve the sort of cross-talk David hoped for. That is going to require more effort from both sides than can be captured on Twitter, and it is going to require some genuine cross-community bridge building, not just some blog posts from scientists who happen to be mothers- although that is an excellent start.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Zenbit: Layers

Location: Fengdu, China
Date: March 26, 2006

Friday, May 06, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Flashback Edition

After last week's long and involved weekend reading post, I thought I'd go for something shorter and lighter this week. Instead, I've got a bunch of unrelated links that reach back to earlier posts.

First I want to clarify that I did not mean to imply that everyone should send their kids to public schools. I really do think that this is a choice each family has to make based on the unique circumstances they face. I do think, though, that we should all at least consider public education, and if we look at our local public schools and find them inadequate, we should think about what that means for our supposedly meritocratic society. If I look at my local public schools and think that they won't give my children an adequate education, I don't think I can pretend that everyone in our society has the same chance to succeed.

Anyway, if you are interested in education, Bad Mom, Good Mom has two more good posts on the subject this week, one with more thoughts on testing and one with more thoughts on the practice of redshirting. They are, as usual, well thought out and thought-provoking.

I've written before about my thoughts on sugar and HFCS, most recently in a weekend reading post on food. Marion Nestle had a post this week about shenanigans in sugar politics. Apparently, the sugar people are suing the corn people because the corn people are trying to get the FDA to allow them to rebrand HFCS as "corn sugar".  Meanwhile, both of their products are at best empty calories. Dr. Nestle also tells the story of how the sugar folks once sued her. It is pretty funny reading.

Finally, I have some more links and thoughts about the many pressures on working parents. I used to read the Joel on Software blog fairly religiously- he has some excellent insights on software and start up culture. His blog has mostly gone dark these days, so I was surprised and pleased to see a new post in my reader. When I clicked through, it was a post about how important he thinks it is that the entire team eat lunch together every day. He argues that it makes a more humane workplace. I say maybe, maybe not. You see, most days I work through lunch, eating at my desk. It is one of the ways I try to squeeze a full work day in before I have to leave to go pick the girls up at day care. I don't have a lot of flexibility at the end of the day- if I'm not out the door of my office by about 4:50, I won't get dinner on the table on time, and our bath and bedtime routine will get messed up. For some families, that's no big deal. For our family, that often means a night of poor sleep. Happily, Petunia is outgrowing this stage, so soon this may not be such a big issue for me. However, it will still be true that if I leave at 4:30, my commute home will be roughly half as long as if I leave at 5:00 (20 minutes vs. 40 minutes).

At my previous company, this was no big deal. I scheduled a monthly lunch with my direct report (which, incidentally, we still do), and ate at my desk every other day. No one minded or thought that was odd. At my new company, I'm having to find a new equilibrium. My new group eats together most days. In fact, they go out to eat most days. I don't really want to spend my money that way or consume that many calories at lunch, but even if I did, my schedule just doesn't allow me to spend that much time eating lunch.  My boss and colleagues understand the constraints I'm under, and no one tries to make me feel bad for not joining them everyday,but I also don't want to miss out on all of the team bonding. I'm working my way towards a routine where I join them at least once a week, but that hasn't settled into practice yet.

I also came across a post from The Happiest Mom about hiring help, particularly cleaners. The post itself was an interesting reminder that household help used to be more common than it is today. But what really got me thinking (ok, fuming) was the comments section. In particular, the comments from "MamaMeYeah" really illustrate the way that working moms can get sideswiped from the political left as well as the political right. In this case, it is on the issue of whether or not it is possible to hire household help with out being exploitative. I've also seen sideswipes on environmental issues (e.g., the use of disposable diapers- most working moms decide that they don't have the time to deal with cloth, or their day care providers won't accept cloth) and food system issues (e.g., we should all make our own baby food rather than by from the big, bad corporations). I continue to be surprised by the fact that these sideswipes surprise me. I know that many on the political right think that all mothers should stay home with their kids. I continually forget that many on the political left think the same thing, if for very different reasons.

Speaking of the help that makes my life as a working mother possible... I'll close with a link to Amy Poehler's Time 100 acceptance speech. If you haven't watched it yet, you should. It is funny, and spot on about how the achievements of working moms (and, I would argue, working dads) owe a debt to the people who have made it their life's work to care for children- and also to the grandmothers, aunts, and others who help fill in the gaps that inevitably arise. I'm sure that there are attacks on this speech from both the left and the right. But I've made it a point not to go look for them.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Missing the Time to Do

I have a pretty good life. If I try to tell you differently, don't believe me.

Sunday, we took the girls to our favorite beach on Mission Bay. It is over on the side of the bay nearest to the ocean so the water is fresh, if a little cold. Sometimes there are gentle waves- big ripples, really- but it is mostly a calm and protected beach. Pumpkin can splash in the ankle deep water while I play with Petunia in the wet sand.

We had a great time at the beach. Petunia wasn't too interested in the water this time, but she had fun running between me and my sister, giving us hugs. Hubby got a wonderful movie of that. There is one frame in particular that I like. Pumpkin is digging happily in the sand near us, and Petunia is coming towards me. I have a big smile on my face and my arms open wide, ready to accept her hug. My sister is off to the side, smiling. Really, we look like an advertisement for San Diego.

And Sunday's weather was perfect. In one of the brief moments during which I was sitting on our beach blanket without a child demanding my full attention, I had a flashback to our time on the beach in Thailand. I think it was a combination of the warm air, sun, gentle breeze, and sounds of the water. But then Pumpkin wanted me to come see the "cake" she was making out of wet sand (chocolate) and dry sand (vanilla), and the flashback was over.

So, yes, I have a great life.

But there is one thing that is driving me nuts right now: the imbalance between the time I have to think and the time I have to do. By nature, I'm a doer. I make lists, I get things done. Right now, though, I am stalled out on my to do lists (at least at home- at work I'm making excellent progress). The reason? I can't put together solid chunks of time to get things done.

After my last post, someone I know if real life asked me how I find the time to think about such complex issues. I told her that I have lots of time to think these days- I have the 10-15 minutes that I spend rocking Petunia before she goes to sleep every other night (Hubby and I take turns). I have the duration of the four songs that I listen to with Pumpkin every night before she goes to sleep. I have my afternoon commute- Pumpkin wants to listen to her music and inching along in traffic doesn't take too many brain cells. I have the time I spend doing dishes when it is my night to do them- that's something else that doesn't take too many brain cells.

So I have time to think about complex issues, and dream big dreams about my career aspirations. I have time to write umpteen blog posts in my head and mentally review the items on my "at home" to do list. But I am struggling right now to grab a solid 30 minutes to make any progress on that list, or write those blog posts, or take any steps towards making my career dreams a reality.

The problem is two-fold: work and kids. I have a big deadline coming up at work in a couple of weeks, so I am spending a lot of the time during which I am "typing in the guest room for a lot of minutes" (per Pumpkin's parting instructions to me at bedtime) on work. This has been exacerbated by the fact that Petunia has had a lot of doctor's appointments recently, as we continue to work to figure out what is causing her recurring fevers and persistent congestion. Hubby and I trade off on those, but the time away from work has only added to the time working after the kids' bedtime.

And then there are the kids. Petunia is in an extremely mommy-centric phase right now. It is at its worst in the middle of the night, which unfortunately, we're seeing a lot more of due to her persistent congestion. Hubby is happy to take his turn holding her, but she objects. Strongly. And loudly enough to wake up her big sister. I don't see the point in having four tired and grumpy people the next day, so I've been sucking it up and doing most of the middle of the night work. This means that most nights, I want to go to bed as soon as I can, not work on my to do list.

Even during the day, Petunia wants me if I'm in her sight. I've been sneaking off to the back room to do some work or just get some space- but she's figured this out, and now comes toddling down the hall to stand outside the closed office door, crying. This interferes a bit with my concentration, so mostly I've just given in and spend my time playing ring around the rosie or building block towers, instead.

I know from past experience that this clingy phase will end, and I'll get a little more space. I am hopeful that we'll figure out what's going on with Petunia's health soon, and maybe then her sleep will improve- she is actually a pretty good sleeper when she's healthy. I'm still new on my job, and I know that it will settle down, or I will find a way to prioritize things so that I don't have to work nights and weekends.

So I know that I'll get time to do things again soon. And then I'll complain about how I never get anytime to think.