Monday, August 29, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

As I've been reading the wonderful comments on my last two posts (and they really are wonderful, every single one of them- I'm lucky to have such thoughtful commenters), I've been trying to better pin down my thoughts on the issues we've been discussing: what careers are "better" for mothers, how unfair it is that we rarely worry about what careers are good for fathers, the differences between difficulties inherent in the work and difficulties that are artificially created by the culture of the field or the company involved.... I want to write a thoughtful, well-organized post about all of this, but I can't do it yet. My thoughts just are that organized, I guess.

But I still wanted to get a few more ideas out there, before I move on to other topics for awhile.

The first is the thought, which I am sure is not novel, that motherhood is a lot like the Choose Your Own Adventure books I loved as a kid. You make choices along the way, and they shape the choices that you are presented with down the road a bit, and it is not always easy to predict the ultimate outcome from any one choice. But also (because these were books written for kids), the alternate outcomes were rarely bad- just different.

I see four sets of choices around motherhood. As I've written before, I don't think there is an easy way to be a mother- I think that no matter how you do it, you get an adventure.

1. You could choose to leave the workforce when you have kids and never really go back, or at least not go back until the kids are grown. I don't really have a lot to say about this path, because it is so far removed from my experience. I think I have one friend who has gone this path, and we see each other so infrequently that I wouldn't presume to comment based on that one example. But I want to make sure to acknowledge this option, because the women who choose this path do make valuable contributions to the community- they are often the classroom volunteers, soccer coaches, and the den mothers, for instance. Just because our society hasn't figured out how to place an economic value on the work that they do, we should not ignore it or belittle it.

2. You could choose to leave the workforce for a shorter period, maybe five years or so, staying out until your youngest kids is two, or starts kindergarten, or whatnot. I do know several people who have done this, although it is rare in my particular line of work.

3. You could choose to stay in the workforce full time, just taking your maternity leaves. Obviously, this is the path I took, and it is also the path that most of my friends have taken.

4. You could choose to stay in the workforce, but go to part time work. I know two people who have done this, and they were doing a job share with each other. I think it is hard to set this option up, but if you can get it, it can be pretty awesome... unless you find yourself permanently on a "mommy track", I suppose.

I'm sure I'm missing something, but my main point is that there are different ways to do motherhood, and each has its pluses and minuses. In my view, the trick to being happy is to be happy with the path you took. The problem is, of course, that it is not always obvious ahead of time which path will make you happy. Also, sometimes you get forced down a path due to financial considerations, and you would actually prefer to be on another path, or you really want to leave the workforce for awhile, but the career you love isn't very accepting of that. And of course, you may think you can switch paths- going back to fulltime work after a stint of part time work, and find that it is harder than you'd like to make that switch. And a whole host of other things can go not quite according to plan.

So its a high tension Choose Your Own Adventure, I guess.

The second thing that I've been thinking about is the difference between things that are hard for working parents that are inherent in the work required by a job (the difficulty with leaving for a mid-day doctor's appointment if you are a teacher, for instance) and things that are hard due solely because of the arbitrary way in which the culture of that job has evolved (the late-shifted hours of some computer programming jobs, for instance, or the difficulty of re-entering science after a break of a few years).

If I ran the universe, the only difficulties would be those inherent in the work, and we'd actually try as a society to minimize those. But I suppose that is obvious. And I don't run the world.

Finally, at the risk of calling privilege on myself... I have been thinking about how invisible mothers working in service industry jobs are in these discussions. People will tell me that I must have a hard time balancing my career and my family, and the truth of the matter is that it isn't all that hard for me. Sure, there are challenging times, and times when I sit and want to cry out of frustration or exhaustion and think that surely there has to be an easier way. But those times are infrequent, and for the most part, my life isn't that hard. It is pretty darn good, actually. But when I try to imagine making it all work with a service industry job, my mind boggles. Those are the working mothers who have it the hardest, I think, and I don't see my society doing much at all to help them. I don't actually see many viable solutions to this problem, either.

And on that depressing note, I'm going to go watch some TV with my husband. Thanks for the interesting discussion everyone. Keep the comments coming!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Clarifications on My Last Post

I started to write a long comment on my last post, in response to the awesome comments I'd gotten. But then I thought, "Hey! This is my blog. I can make this into a new post." And so here it is.

First of all, I didn't mean to imply that I think we should never try to educate the sexists, or call them out. I just think that it is smart to choose your battles carefully. At least in my career, there have been times when calling out the sexist would have done more harm than good- I wasn't going to change his mind and the kerfuffle it caused would have been more damaging to me than him. I think it is better in some cases to just go around the sexist, particularly if you are trying to get ahead in a very male dominated field and will need male allies. This is not right or fair, but it is not my job to make the world a fair place. I'm just trying to live my life and work in my chosen field.

Second, on the question of which careers are more friendly to mothers... I think I was unclear there, too. I don't think teaching is a worse career for a mother than mine, I just don't think it is a better career for a mother than mine is. They both have challenges for mothers- they are just different challenges, and I do not agree with the view that the challenges I face are harder or worse. Sure, teachers get the same random days off and holidays as their kids (if they are in the same school district), and I do not (unless I take my vacation days)- but that is a problem that money can actually solve fairly well, in the form of camps and babysitters. And on the flip side, my friends who are teachers had a much, much harder time pumping than I did. Their pumping schedule was dictated by their class schedule. Mine was set by me, to closely match my baby's nursing schedule- and if my milk was flowing slow one day, I could usually extend the session, or add an extra one. My teacher friends got their allotted time and that was it.

I do see that teaching is a very mobile career, and one that it is easier to interrupt if you want to stay home with your kids before they reach school age. But, as I said in my first post, on the other hand, teachers have a much harder time scheduling doctor's appointments and the like, and can't work from home with a sick kid.  And I guess I don't see the portability thing as being an issue, since I am actually considered the breadwinner in my family (I make more money than my husband). I think it is easiest if one spouse has a portable career, but I don't see why it has to be the woman.

So- my view is that no job is perfectly easy to combine with motherhood. But very few (if any) jobs are truly incompatible with it. And yet we scare young women off of perfectly good careers because of this idea that some jobs are too hard to combine with a family.

And I stand by my assertion that we mislabel a lot of jobs in male dominated fields as hard to combine with motherhood. Mine, for one. But even more puzzling to me, I've heard people argue that computer programming is a job that isn't compatible with motherhood, and that just boggles my mind. It is extremely portable. If you decide to take some time off to raise kids, you can actually keep your skills fresh (and your resume up to date) by volunteering some hours on open source projects. The work can largely be done from home, and usually has very flexible schedules. Sure, working at a start up may require more hours than most mothers would be comfortable with- but there are lots of other places to work as a computer programmer. It is also one of the easiest fields I know of in which to strike out on your own as an independent contractor, which gives you even more flexibility over hours. And yet it is a heavily male-dominated field, and supposedly one of the reasons women don't go into it is worries about "work-life balance".  I don't get that at all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Lets Just Get On With It Edition

The Hermitage organized a panel of bloggers to answer questions about being a woman in academia, without any questions about having kids (because apparently all the women in academia events she goes to devolve into discussions about work-life balance and the like). I read some of the posts, even though I am not in academia and I clearly have kids, because I like the bloggers she had on the panel and I figured they'd probably have some smart and interesting things to say. They did. All of the posts are worth reading. But I was particularly struck by GMP's answer to the question about how to handle women who deny the existence of sexism:

"It is a fact that over the course of your career you will most likely get some (or quite a bit of?) friction under your professional wheels because you are a woman. Life is definitely too short to try to convert naysayers. If you suspect that someone is biased against you professionally, don't waste time going around looking for validation; assume they are indeed biased and try to minimize their influence on your career (I am talking about unconscious bias and the virtually imperceptible inequalities it creates; egregious violations of your rights to a safe work environment or sexual harassment should always be reported). Focus on surrounding yourself with supportive people of both genders and keep looking and going ahead."

It reminded me of one of the quotes I highlighted in Bossypants, by Tina Fey:

"So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: "Is this person in between me and what I want to do?" If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you're in charge, don't hire the people who were jerky to you."

Good advice from both GMP and Tina Fey, but of course, hard to follow.

I've been thinking about why it is so hard to follow, and I think it is related to the whole "motherhood is incompatible with a career in X" meme that our culture seems so enamored with these days. (I'm not part of the panel, so I can talk about babies.) Bear with me on this... maybe you'll see the connection, too.

When the career you've worked really hard for is not as awesome as you think it should be, particularly when things seem so much easier for other people (who all happen to be men), or when you're trying to understand why you can't get the career success you think you deserve, particularly when other people (who all happen to be men) are getting that success... well, you want an explanation. And if you manage to rule out the "I'm just not good enough" explanation that a lot of us women default to, the next obvious thing to consider is sexism.

But these days, the sexism you've run into is almost always subtle, and hard to identify, let alone prove, so you look to other people to agree with your diagnosis about what's going on- to help convince yourself that you really are good enough. However, most people hate conflict, and the men you suspect of sexism are probably nice guys and no one wants to believe they are sexist. So they point you at the fact that you have a family and a working spouse, while the men who are getting ahead instead of you have stay at home spouses, and they say maybe its just that the demands of your career are incompatible with the demands of your family, and of course something has to give and you're a good mom, so it is no wonder that you compromised your career in favor of your family.  Or maybe, you've just been told so many times that there is no sexism anymore, it is just women opting out to raise families, or "downshifting" to focus more on their family or whatnot, that you think of this explanation before sexism.

I've written a lot about how I don't think motherhood and a demanding career are incompatible- maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but not incompatible. But lately, I've been thinking that the whole discussion is predicated on a false assumption- i.e., that the careers that have lots of women in them, and therefore presumably lots of mothers, are some how easier to manage with kids. I am not sure this is true. Take teaching, for instance. This is supposed to be such a great job for working mothers, right? But why? The hours are long (every teacher I know brings work home- I would guess they are working at least as many hours as I do, probably more), the pay isn't all that great, making it harder to buy time. There is very little flexibility in the work schedule- whereas I can duck out for an hour or so to take care of a doctor's appointment and make up the hours at night, teachers generally have to take a sick day for that sort of thing. And they certainly can't work from home while watching a sick kid! So how is this easier than my job, exactly?

I think similar arguments can be made about nursing, and even a lot of the lower level "pink collar" office jobs- if our receptionist wants to go run an errand in the middle of the day, she has to arrange someone to cover the front desk. If I want to go run an errand in the middle of the day, I check my calendar to make sure I have no meetings, and then I just go. My job may be demanding, but with those demands comes a fair amount of autonomy and flexibility. Not to mention the money.

But we never hear about how a career in teaching or nursing is incompatible with motherhood. It is just the traditionally male jobs that are. This makes no sense.

And the data don't support that conclusion. I came across fresh evidence of that this week, in this article about the Forbes Most Powerful Women list - apparently 88% of them are mothers. With an average of two kids.

I don't argue with the statement that it can be hard to balance the demands of a career and the demands of family. I have plenty of examples of the challenges in my own life. But I think we do a disservice to all women when we say that these challenges are unique to male-dominated careers. They aren't. And as Nicoleandmaggie point out- for a lot of women, the alternative of being a stay at home mom is just not appealing, even if they don't admit it, because our society judges that a bit harshly (see, for instance, the old "if you don't want to stay home with your kids, why did you have them?" canard).

So I say it is time to apply the advice from GMP and Tina Fey, and ignore the people who say there is no problem for women in the traditionally male-dominated careers and their close cousins, the people who say that the problem is just that the demands of these careers are incompatible with motherhood. The data don't support either of these contentions. We need to charge ahead and just keep working. It won't always be easy. Sometimes sexism will get in our way. Sometimes we'll choose to make adjustments to our career because of family (or other non-work) considerations. And yes, sometimes we won't get something we aim for because someone else really is better suited for the job. But sometimes, we'll get the success we want- even if we have kids. We won't know until we try.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is This Karma or Just the Universe Laughing at Me?

I have mentioned before that I was a picky eater as a kid. I am partially reformed now, but there are still a few things that I just can't stand, and two of the worst are beans (it's the texture) and peas (it's the taste).

When Pumpkin was about 3, we noticed that her day care reports indicated that she would eat refried beans. In fact, she would eat them all up, which was (and is) unusual for her.

This was big news, since she didn't (and doesn't) eat much in the way of either vegetables or protein.

So I dutifully bought a can of refried beans and made them for dinner one night. I took a deep breath and put some on my plate, figuring this was just one more of the many sacrifices of parenthood.

But she wouldn't touch them. We tried several times, with different brands and cooking techniques, trying to make the beans just like day care. Nothing worked, and we finally accepted that refried beans are a food she will only eat at day care, for reasons that only she knows.

I was secretly relieved. I hate beans.

This week, I looked at one of Petunia's day care reports and noticed that she'd eaten all of her vegetables that day. This is big news, the last time she ate a non-pureed, non-grated vegetable, she was about 10 months old- back then she really liked cooked carrot sticks and green beans.

So what vegetable did she gobble up? You guessed it. Peas.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Scene

Tonight was one of the good nights.

I got lucky today, and my drive home had relatively little traffic, so we got home on time even though I had left work a little late. (I was pushing to test an upgrade we'd just made- I wanted to know if I was doomed to have a very bad day tomorrow. I am not.)

It was Petunia's turn to pick a show to watch, and she picked one that Pumpkin also likes, and actually watched it without too many trips out to the kitchen to check that I was still there.

So dinner was ready on time, and we finished eating it on time, and had lots of time to play outside before bath. The girls played happily with their outdoor kitchen toys for awhile, but were starting to disagree about whose turn it was to have the plastic strawberry and things like that, so I suggested a walk. They agreed- they usually will if we ask them if they want to go on a walk- so we headed out through the garage. I intended an old-fashioned walk with no wheels involved, but Petunia wanted in her stroller. So I agreed to get that out and strapped her in. Then Pumpkin wanted to push the umbrella stroller, so I got that down and unfolded it for her. And we set off. But we hadn't even gotten off our driveway before Petunia was saying "wah, wah", which means she wants to get out of her stoller and walk. (We do not, by the way, have some sort of big, long driveway. It is long enough to fit two cars if they park close together. She's just fickle.)

So I got her out of her stroller, and she went toddle-running back to the front door, and banged on it saying "wah, wah!"

In a rare stroke of insight, I realized that she wanted to push a stroller, too, just like her big sister. So I went in and got her the doll stroller. And, thinking ahead, I picked up her baby doll (cleverly named "Baby") and one of Pumpkin's baby dolls, too. Petunia happily snuggled Baby into her stroller and set off after Pumpkin- who ran back to get her baby doll and secured it, not in the stroller, but peaking up from the mesh bag that hangs from the stroller's handles.

And so we set off down our street, two little girls pushing babies in strollers, with their mother following behind, wishing she had her camera.

It was an unusually nice walk, with very little argument from anyone about which way to go or when to turn around. I wish I had put rocks in Pumpkin's stroller, though, to tire her out, because she has called me back into her room 5 times now. I think her bedtime needs to move later, too, but I'm not sure my sanity can take that. So I'm focusing on what a good night it has been up to this point.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Short Attention Span Edition

I have some really interesting things for you to read this weekend, but no unifying theme for them. I'm having trouble focusing at work (I have a post planned about that) and I guess I can't even focus on internet reading- I bounced around form topic to topic.

First, via Micro Dr. O's twitter feed, I came across this article about the things that still stand in the way of women's advancement at work (hint: it is not just kids). There is some discussion about problems with work-life balance ("Many women engineers who left the field reported that it was difficult to prioritize work and family if bosses were not sensitive to those issues.") But there are also other problems:

"Women who left engineering reported a lack of training opportunities, being passed over for challenging assignments or struggling with ambiguous roles that left no clear path to advancement. "They had tried many times to get to [higher] positions, and they kept getting stymied in their efforts," says Singh."

And this quote highlights how subtle sexism around preconceptions about family roles can hinder even women who are not choosing to step off the high-powered career track after having kids:

"She recalls an executive management meeting she once witnessed as a consultant, in which a woman was being considered for an overseas post. Although she was clearly the most qualified for the position, one manager remarked that the woman probably would not want the job because she had two small children. "They actually thought that this was a sensitive remark," McGrath points out. In the end, the company did offer the position to the woman, who happily accepted."

Yikes. But it is an interesting read.

Second, I really liked Laura Vanderkam's post about the current trend for homegrown food. I did plant a small garden this year, which yielded a lot of arugula, some carrots, and some green onions, in addition to my usual herbs. It was fun, but it didn't make Pumpkin eat any vegetables. And I didn't feel that this was a superior way to get my carrots. It was a superior way to get my arugula and green onions, but that is because it cost less for the arugula and I could harvest the green onions as I needed them, rather than buying a bunch, using 5,  and letting the rest go slimy in my fridge.

I've saved the best for last, though. If you haven't come across the wonderful post from Bernestine Singley about "The Help" and her childhood as the daughter of an African-American maid in the South, go read it now. I came across it via Mocha Momma's post about racism, which I found via Mom101's twitter feed. I'm white, a generation removed from the generation Dr. Singley is discussing, and I grew up in the Southwest, where our racism took on different forms. But her post was still moving and thought-provoking. Really. Go read it. I'll stop writing now so that you have no excuse not to!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Blame the Howler Monkey

First of all, this post is a bit whiny and self-indulgent. Click away if that is going to annoy you. If you stay- don't say you weren't warned!

Second of all, to understand this post, you need to remember that Petunia is in the  "I know what I want, but I can't always communicate it, and I certainly don't accept that I can't always have it" phase. I had forgotten how frustrating that phase is for all involved. I am well and truly tired of being screamed at.


Thursdays are the day of the week that I (theoretically) go for a run (OK, pathetic jog) after work. Originally, Hubby was going to pick both kids up at day care, and I would leave straight from work to drive to the bay and go for a run. Even with the run, I'd get home before everyone else, and get a load of laundry started and some sit ups in before Hubby got home with the kids.

That lasted for about a month, and was glorious while it lasted.

But then we wanted to start Pumpkin in swim lessons, and decided to do it on a weeknight because we already have Chinese lessons every other weekend. Both swim lessons and my run interfere a bit with our usual dinner routine, necessitating leftovers. Because we prioritize family dinners, we didn't want to do that twice a week. (And now that we have soccer on Tuesdays, which leads to us eating out every Tuesday night, we're even less inclined to add another leftovers night to the mix.)

So I started picking Petunia up before my run, and taking her with me. The idea was that she would come along in the jogging stroller for my run, and then get 5-10 minutes at the playground before we went home.

That worked for maybe two weeks. Then Petunia started fighting getting in her stroller. Despite what Hubby might tell you about what a softy I am, this is not just a case of me being insufficiently stubborn: one time, she screamed for 20 minutes in the stroller. I hate to inflict that on everyone else trying to enjoy the bay.

But then I had an idea- what if I took snacks and a drink for Petunia? I could bribe her into her stroller! That worked beautifully.  For one week.

Today, I left my workout clothes at home, but remembered everything else I need (jogging stroller, drink and snacks for Petunia) and was wearing comfortable shoes, so I decided to go for a walk by the bay. I bribed Petunia into her stroller and set off. But, about 10 minutes in, she started asking for cereal. I didn't have any. Screaming ensued.

After what seemed like an hour, we finally got back to the playground. (Have you ever noticed how slowly time passes when your toddler is screaming?) Petunia wanted to go on the swing, but only if she could hold her bowl of crackers (which she had previously tried to throw on the ground in a fit of pique over the absence of cereal). With the lid off. At a precarious angle. If I tried to adjust any of this, she screamed.

Then, when it was time to go, she screamed.

Then, when I got her in the car, and took the now empty bowl of crackers and dumped out the crumbs before handing it back to her, she decided to scream the entire way home.

I'm leaning towards giving up on the Thursday evening run idea. Getting screamed at for 20-30 minutes in a public place is stressing me out.

After all that screaming, I really wanted to do yoga tonight. But Petunia's bedtime has had to shift later, to minimize the screaming at bedtime (if she's tired, she goes down with much less fuss). I tried to convince Pumpkin to trade the first part of her bedtime routine (listening to exactly four songs on one of her CDs) for 15 minutes of extra time before bedtime. No dice. She tried it twice, and wanted to go back to her original routine. Doing yoga when Petunia is awake is just not possible- she thinks it is a variation of a game she plays with Daddy and climbs on me. So, no yoga. (Although... Pumpkin hasn't called for me in a good five minutes... maybe she's asleep and I can go do it now? Or, I could have a beer and try to forget all the screaming.)

This, my friends, is why I have not lost the five pounds it would take to get me back into the "healthy" weight range. When some well meaning person tells me that I "just" need to "make time for myself" and go exercise, I want to punch them in the face. I'm good at logistics. I view scheduling everything that everyone in the family needs/wants to do as a puzzle and don't generally mind figuring out how to make it happen. But I haven't figured this puzzle out yet. I'm now looking at whether I can protect enough time during one of my work days to allow me to go work out during the day with any regularity. That's hard at this job, so I consider that a seriously suboptimal solution, which will probably result in me skipping a lot of workouts due to meetings. But if my only other option is getting screamed at while I try to run? Maybe it isn't so bad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trouble with Transitions

We have a problem with transitions in this family. It isn't the kids- they actually handle them OK, although modifications to Pumpkin's bedtime routine are never easy. No, the real problem is with the grown ups.

For instance, it is probably time to move Petunia to a "big girl" bed. She asks almost nightly to be put down in our bed. Her bedtimes have become a bit of a nightmare. We'll rock her to sleep, only to have her wake up screaming as we try to lower her into her crib. When I cave and bring her to our bed to put her down, she falls asleep fairly easily as long as she's been rocked almost all the way to sleep first (which doesn't usually take all that long), and then I can roll away and leave her. I'm fairly certain that once she has a big girl bed, her bedtime routine will be easier. We'll still rock her until she's sleepy, but then we can snuggle her in bed for a bit and then roll away.

But Hubby isn't on board yet. He was similarly slow to get on board with getting Pumpkin a big girl bed- a move that ultimately coincided quite closely with her finally sleeping through the night in her own bed. To this day, she does not get up at night and roam the halls, which was what he worried about. If she wakes up, she sits up and yells for one of us (usually me). I suspect Petunia would do the same.

To be fair, I'm dragging my feet on this one a bit, too. I'd like to use the transition to the big girl bed as a trigger to stop bringing her into our bed when/if she wakes up at night. Instead, one of us would go snuggle her back to sleep in her bed. But... we're going on vacation in September. She will almost certainly be sharing our bed for most of that vacation- we're not rich enough to get hotel rooms big enough to avoid that. (Although I am intrigued by the idea of tossing both the girls into a bed and seeing if that helps or hurts in the sleep department....) So part of me thinks that we should wait and get the big girl bed when we get back from vacation. But another part of me isn't sure I can take another month or so of bedtime struggles, so I may yet argue to go ahead and get the bed now.

Regardless, that is hardly the only transition that we struggle with. I dragged out the end of pumping both times around. Every time one of the girls moves to the next room at day care, I get all wistful. They, for the most part, are happy to move up. I had another bout of this recently when the center's associate director told me that not only would Pumpkin be moving to the next (and last!!!!) room, but that Petunia will move up to her next room as soon as she turns 2. Pumpkin is thrilled with her move, which happened on Monday. I can't believe that my first little baby is a bona fide preschooler now. Nor, for that matter, can I believe that my second little baby is a bona fide toddler now.

I don't think I can do anything about my cliche "oh, they're getting so big, so fast!" feelings about the day care transitions. But I should probably fight down the mixed feelings on the big girl bed and just get the damn thing bought.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dinner during Dora: Pumpkin-Parmesan Scones

As I was making dinner tonight, I decided that I needed to write it up as a Dinner during Dora post. This recipe is a bit of a stretch for Dinner during Dora- I have to do some preparation the night before, and even so, the time from entering the kitchen to putting dinner on the table is closer to 35 minutes than 20. But the recipe stays in high rotation in our house because it produces one of the only vegetable-containing substances that Pumpkin will currently eat.

So, without further ado, I give you...

Pumpkin-Parmesan Scones


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup fat-free plain yogurt (I use Greek yogurt. I do not know why, and I am not inclined to experiment with the recipe now, so Greek yogurt it is)
1 egg
A small amount of milk
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs pumpkinseed kernels

The night before:

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and cover the bowl.
2. Measure the pumpkin and yogurt into small bowls, cover, and refrigerate.
3. Grate the Parmesan cheese, cover, and refrigerate.

When you get home from work:

1. Turn on oven to 400 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (sorry, trees- this makes clean up so much easier).

2. Situate child(ren) in front of TV or other distracting device. I don't recommend letting them in the kitchen to help unless you are willing to have this recipe take 45 minutes. Trust me on this.

3. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Or rub it in, using your hands (my preferred method- but either will work). I think you could actually do this the night before, but then you'd have to find room in your fridge for the large bowl as well as the small bowls, and my fridge just isn't up to that task.

4. Crack the egg into a medium size bowl and beat it lightly with a whisk.

5. Dump in the pumpkin and yogurt, and stir with the whisk.

6. Dump the pumpkin/yogurt/egg mix into the dry ingredients/butter mix and stir. I can never get it to combine fully, so when it looks about like this:

I stop stirring and mix the rest by hand.

7. When the mix is mostly one lump of dough, dump it out on a floured surface, and finish mixing/kneading the dough. You don't want to over-knead the dough, so just go until all the stray dry ingredients are mixed in, and then give it a couple more turns.

8. Pat it into a circle.

9. Cut into wedges and arrange them on the cookie sheet that you prepped in step 1.

10. Brush the tops of the wedges with a little milk. Sprinkle cheese on top of scones, except for the scone destined for the picky 4 year old who likes cheese on everything except these scones. Push 4-5 pumpkinseed kernels into the scones, except for the one for the aforementioned 4 year old and the one for the toddler who you were once afraid might choke on the seeds (and whose love of these scones you are afraid to mess with).

11. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

I serve these with soup. If we have leftover soup frozen, we use that. Tonight, we didn't, so we had a boxed soup from the grocery store (it was nice- acorn squash-mango). Pumpkin has Campbell's Princess Soup because that is the only soup she likes. Well, she also likes the Dora soup. (Yes, we pick our battles in this house, and soup is not something I care to argue over- some nights everyone gets their own can of soup, so this doesn't feel like the dreaded "short order chef" syndrome to me.) Petunia actually tried some of our soup tonight, and seemed to like it.

Source: I modified this recipe slightly from the original, which is from Cooking Light. If you follow the link, you'll notice that a couple of people think that you can't really taste the pumpkin. I agree. This may be why they are so successful in this house.

Who eats it: Everyone! Both kids really like these. And so do the grown ups.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quotable: A Quiet Life?

The people asleep in those houses, I thought, tried to live like the mice in their own kitchens; to make no noise, to leave no trace, to slip over the surface of things in the dark."

Willa Cather, in My Antonia.

I'm not sure if I think this is an entirely bad goal... similar to the old curse about living in interesting times, I suspect that a noisy life might not always be a happy one.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Contradictory Time Use Research Edition

This week's weekend reading is going to be a short one- Petunia got a runny nose this week (but no fever!) and now Hubby and I are both sick. Petunia seems to be on the mend already, so we're hoping this is a short cold. Still, the sofa is calling me...

But I came across two posts about time use this week, which I want to share. I don't really agree with either of them, and they seemed to contradict each other. So, of course, I have to write about them.

First, the study referenced in this post (the actual article is behind a paywall, and I'm not curious enough to pay) says that men and women are now spending almost the same amount of time on paid work and unpaid work (i.e., chores), but that men spend more of it on paid work and women spend more of it on chores.

I don't agree that this is anything to celebrate- it is impossible to tease apart cause and effect. Are women working less paid hours and perhaps hobbling their careers because they feel they need to put in more time at home? Or, are women just choosing to do more at home and therefore find that they can't put in as many paid hours?

I also wanted to know if the study had tried to match men and women based on type of job. The study I'd seen of academic scientists indicated that men and women put in approximately the same number of hours at work- but that the men still put in far less time at home. (See this old post of mine for my take on this and a link to the study- which was small.)

The study referenced in this rather depressing post finds the same thing- male and female scientists are working about the same number of hours. The study finds that they work long hours- close to 55 hours per week.

The problem I have is that this study is based on just asking people how many hours they work. That method has been shown to be less accurate than having people track their time- and that won't surprise anyone who's actually done a timetracking exercise (here are the results of my most recent one). I'd love to see a survey of academics and/or scientists that uses the more rigorous timetracking method. I think we'd find that they are working long hours- but not 55 hours/week. My guess is that it would come in closer 45-50 hours/week- still high, but I can tell you that 45 hours/week is very manageable, because that is roughly what I'm logging in my new job. (Remember, in these surveys, sitting in your office does NOT equal working- you track what you're actual doing, not where you are.)

My second problem with that post has nothing to do with the study, or really even the post. It was the comments. I actually felt that I had to add a comment to be a counter to all of the comments saying that it was impossible to work in science and be a mother. As I think I've shown, that's just not true. I've got absolutely no problem with a mother who decides that working is not for her. I agree that the way we've structured our workplaces and our paucity of family leave time adds unnecessary challenges to the lives of working parents. But it isn't as dire as some of those comments imply, and I was a bit shocked by the way the husbands of many of the commenters seemed to be let completely off the hook- if there was a conflict between work and home, it was the woman's problem to solve. Yikes. For instance, one comment bemoans the fact that if she worked her child would have to be in day care 9 hours a day. First of all, that is OK. But second of all, that is not the only way it could turn out. My husband and I slightly stagger our schedules, so our kids end up in day care for about 7 hours each day. I know that this isn't possible for everyone, but a lot of the people at our day care do something similar, so I know that we aren't utter freaks in this regard.

It also occurs to me that maybe one of the reasons I am not bothered by having my kids in day care all day is that "all day" isn't really all day- they don't go to bed until about 8:30 (Petunia) and 9:15 (Pumpkin), so we get quite a bit of time with them after work. And they wake up between 6:30 and 7, so we actually get a fair amount of time with them in the mornings, too. I guess that's a plus side to living in the low sleep needs universe....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

But I Won't Call it a Project

For some reason, I got it in my head that I really had to read The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. I'm not sure why. I'm actually a pretty happy person.

But anyway, I'm reading it. So far, the parts that have resonated with me the most are where she is defending the pursuit of happiness as a worthy goal and where she is exploring the way that other, less happy people, interact with happy people. This is no doubt because I believe that happiness is the point of life (making it a very worthy goal indeed) and because I have, at various points in my life, found myself in that strange dance between a happy person (me) and someone who seems to simultaneously want to draw on my happiness for energy and convince me that my happiness is all a delusion.

The funniest thing about reading this book, though, is how I felt compelled to write a list of things I want to do in order to be happier. Even though I'm not unhappy. I think this means that I am very suggestible. Regardless, here's my list:
  1. Listen to more of my music. Almost all of the music I listen to these days was either made for children or selected by my husband (he is the one who is motivated enough to put CDs in the cars). That isn't to say it is bad music (OK, some of the kids stuff is, but mostly I try to avoid that kind of kids music). But whenever I take the time to put on my Pandora station or dig out one of my CDs, I'm always struck by how happy it makes me. So I should do it more often.
  2. Do more yoga. I need to do this for physical reasons- I have a repetitive strain injury on my right arm, and yoga is the only thing I've found that keeps it at bay. But also for mental reasons. I love how yoga makes me feel. And yet... I haven't settled on a yoga class since changing jobs (and therefore not being in the right location to continue going to my old yoga class). There is a free one in my building, but from what I can tell it is more vigorous than I really like. I'm not doing yoga for exercise. I like a very gentle class. But maybe I should take it anyway.
  3. Get out more. I live in a top vacation spot. There are lots of fun things to do. We should go do them.
  4. Lower my expectations. I have more fun when I let go of my perfectionist streak and just let life happen, even if that means that Petunia's nap gets screwed up. It turns out, Petunia doesn't really mind that. 
  5. Put a positive spin on things. I wasn't stuck taking a day off with a sick kid last Friday (Petunia had another one of her fevers). I was given a chance to get some errands and chores done while also spending more time with my adorable toddler! Yeah, that only works up to a certain point... but up to that point, it really is amazing how much changing the way you look at something helps.
I haven't finished the book yet, so maybe I'll add more things to this list. But maybe not. Five is a nice number. Large enough to seem meaningful, but small enough to seem doable. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Networking 101

I recently participated in a career advice session on a local campus. The session was attended by grad students and post docs who were either interested in the field in which I work or desperately casting about for something to do that is at least somewhat relevant to their training. I had fun- hey, I write a blog, so it should be no surprise to you that I don't mind talking about myself. I was also struck by how completely clueless some of them were about networking.

To be fair, I was probably equally clueless, if not more so, when I was where they are now. But regardless, I thought I'd write up some of the advice I gave them, so that maybe a few more people might benefit from what I've learned from two rounds of "layoff school" (a.k.a. "outplacement services") and more than ten years experience in industry.

First of all, it really is true that most industry jobs are landed by networking- at least in my industry (biotech). I have never landed a job any other way, in fact, and I do not think that I am unusual. This is not because we are all heartless jerks who only want to hire our friends. It is because most industry jobs require not just the appropriate technical skills but also the appropriate cultural fit, some sort of clue about how to function in a corporate environment (surprisingly lacking in many scientists), and various other traits that are hard to discern in an interview.

So, like it or not, if you want to go into industry, you need to network. Now, this is hardest to do when you're looking for your first industry job. Once you've had a job or two, you have a natural network of past coworkers, who- if you weren't a complete jerk or flake- will almost certainly put in a good word for you if given a chance. So how do you get a network before you have worked in industry? I can think of two good methods:

(1) Join organizations like AWIS, industry associations, and local industry networking groups. Go to the meetings. Talk to people. And, most importantly, volunteer on a committee or two. If all you've done is schmooze with me, all I can say is that you didn't seem like a freak (still a valuable recommendation, but you want better- particularly in this tight market). If you've worked on a committee with me, I can talk about how you work in groups (very important in industry), your work ethic/reliability, and other relevant things. This, incidentally, is how I landed my first industry job. That, and I got incredibly lucky in that I graduated with experience in a relatively hot field at the peak of the dot-com/biotech bubble. But even with that luck, without that networking connection, I may not have gotten that first job.

(2) Organize some "informational interviews". These are interviews where you ask someone who's working in a job that sounds interesting to you lots of questions and try to figure out if you'd like the job and how you might get such a job. You do NOT contact someone and ask for a job. Even if that person has a job you want posted. You contact her and ask if you can ask some general questions about her field and how she got to where she is today. When someone emails me and asks me for a job, I generally ignore that email. Sorry- but that shows a level of cluelessness that I don't really want to have to deal with. But if someone emails me and asks me if she can ask me some general questions, I generally take her out to lunch and answer those questions. And, here's the kicker- if it turned out that she was a potential fit for the job I had posted? She'd have a pretty good chance of landing an interview.

Yes, I said that if you contact me and want to ask me general questions about my field, I'll usually take you out to lunch and try to do anything I can to help you in your job search. Think about that. The worst outcome of this scenario is that you get a free lunch. Not everyone takes people who ask for informational interviews out to lunch, but a lot of us do. It gives us a warm fuzzies and an excuse to go out to lunch. So don't be afraid to ask for an informational interview. They are a great way to start building a network.

Those are the basics of networking. Well, you should also always be nice to people and remember that biotech is a small world. If you're going to gossip about someone to me, there is a good chance I know that person. Do you really want to gamble on me sharing your opinion? The old "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" adage is a good one.

Questions? Ask 'em in the comments. I'll try to answer.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Self-Destructing Pharma Industry Edition

Like most people working in drug discovery and development, I've watched the waves of mergers between pharma companies with sadness. The mergers never seem to do much good for the companies- hundreds of people are laid off, but even worse, the productivity of the resulting company never seems to live up to the promises made by senior management at the time of the merger.

No company demonstrates this sad recent history more that Pfizer. When I was leaving graduate school, a job offer from Pfizer was greeted with enthusiasm. Now, people are reticent to take a job there, because the industry scuttlebutt is that morale is at rock bottom, and no one trusts that his or her job is safe.

As I've written before, I think we all need to adjust to a world without job security, but I can attest that it is possible to have high morale in the absence of such security- most biotech jobs are quite insecure, but I love the energy and team atmosphere in biotech.

Last week, Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline had a post that led me to a recent write-up in Fortune about the most recent shake up at Pfizer. It is depressing, but fascinating, reading. I think everyone should care about this, not just those of us whose industry has suffered from the upheavals at Pfizer. If the pharmaceutical industry self-destructs in a wave of short-sighted, finance-driven mergers, who will develop the new drugs that will treat the many conditions still in need of treatment?

Despite what you may have heard, government and academic scientists do not make new drugs. They excel at identifying new drug targets (the proteins that the drugs modulate), and recently they have started to do some very good work in lead discovery (identifying a small molecule that has the right properties to be the starting place for the development of a drug). Some have even started to push towards clinical candidate identification (a clinical candidate is a small molecule that has been thoroughly tested for activity at the target, checked for undesirable off target effects in vitro and in various animal models, and also shows good properties with respect to metabolism, absorption, etc.). But I am not aware of any academic or government site that is doing large scale development- the work of taking a clinical candidate and figuring out the formulation that can go into humans, doing the preclinical testing required by the FDA, and more. Maybe they will start to do so. Maybe small and medium-size biotech will adapt to fill the void. Maybe the resulting system will work even better than the one that has been destroyed by the recent rounds of mergers. But I have to think there was probably a less painful way to get there.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Why I Blog

A little while ago, I stumbled onto this post from Stirrup Queens about why she prefers blogs to tweets, and it got me thinking about why I blog. I'm not trying to get a book deal, or make enough money at my blog to allow me to quit my day job, or do anything obviously measurable with my blog. There are plenty of other things I could do with my limited kid-free time, and there is a good case to be made that many of them- tackling that pile of papers on my desk, for instance- would be more useful. So why do I carve time out to write blog posts and read the blogs of others?

When I first started this blog, I thought I'd write stories about traveling- and I still do that, from time to time, but that didn't turn out to be a compelling enough reason to write for me.

The blog didn't really take off until my first child was born. Pumpkin was- and is- an intense little thing. Delightful, wonderful, and, along with Petunia, one of the biggest sources of joy in my life. But her arrival tore my life apart, and I turned to this blog as a way to figure out how I wanted to put the pieces back together. It was my touchstone, a place where I could work out who I was now that I'd added "mother" to my identity. A place where I could admit that reworking my identity was hard-  one of the hardest things about adjusting to motherhood for me, harder in some ways even than the sleep deprivation.

I don't need that so much anymore. I'm now comfortable in my reconfigured life, and usually feel well-connected to who I am, although I do occasionally still need to work things out in that regard.

I also used to write a lot more about the mechanics of motherhood- sleep, breastfeeding, and the like. These topics do still pop up from time to time, but if that was all I used my blog for, this site would probably have gone dark a long time ago.

Now I write because it gives me a way to explore issues that are on my mind- from working motherhood to food to my thoughts on work-life balance- and pretty much anywhere else my fancy takes me. The blog probably spares my husband from having to listen to at least one rant a week. I do love to rant.....

The blog also retains one of the roles it has had since the very early days of motherhood: it is the proverbial room of my own, a place that is all mine, paradoxically untouched by the needs and wants of my kids and husband while also often being about them.

Over the years, I've gained valuable insights from the comments left on posts, and found friends whom I will probably never meet. I have felt less alone, able to pull away the perfectionist veneer that often covers real life conversations with other parents, to expose my parenting reality and find others who understand it. I think the blog has probably made me a better parent, both by giving me new ideas and by boosting the confidence and patience I need to follow my own parenting instincts.

I don't really have any goals for this blog. I've dabbled in money-making ideas, but realize that I do not take this anywhere seriously enough to truly monetize my blog. I have more ideas, but pursuing them is not a priority for me right now, because I am realistic enough to know that they are unlikely to provide a sound return on the time I'd have to invest in them.

(This, incidentally, is why you won't find me at BlogHer this weekend, even though it is in my hometown and I would have enjoyed meeting some of the people whose blogs I read. Just looking at the agenda gave me unrealistic ideas about what I would do with my blog if I were to devote much, much more time to it. It seemed silly to spend money to go somewhere that would probably leave me feeling unhappy. But I hope everyone who comes has a great time, and enjoys both the conference and my city.)

My hit statistics have gone steadily but slowly up, but I am not really trying to get them to any particular level. It is gratifying to know that people out there like to read what I write, but I don't know what I'd do if my readership suddenly skyrocketed. Probably freak out a bit, and then keep writing the same things I write now.

If I have an agenda at all, it is in my hope that I can serve as an example to ambitious young women who are afraid they can't have a satisfying career and a family- but I am not egotistical enough to think that many of those young women are reading my blog. I suspect they hang out in far cooler corners of the internet.

Given all of that, the only conclusion I can draw is that I truly am writing for myself, as a slightly (or maybe hugely) narcissistic hobby. Most of the benefits I derive could probably also be gained from an old-fashioned journal, but the publishing aspect has made me keep the habit going far longer than any previous journaling attempt. And I've learned a lot and gained interesting perspectives from the other blogs I've found via comments sections (both mine and others) and blog rolls. That is enough for me- at least right now.

What about you? Why do you write a blog, if you have one? Why do you read blogs?

Monday, August 01, 2011

A Rambling Post about Sleep, Lessons, and Our Collective Need to Snap Out of It

I sometimes think that people parenting kids with lower than average sleep needs and people parenting kids with average (or, wonder of wonders, above average) sleep needs are occupying parallel universes. Our experiences are familiar to each other, but not quite the same.

For instance, I was talking to someone the other day who casually mentioned how she gets so much done in the evenings, after her kids are in bed at 7:30, since she can go to bed as late as 11 and still get a full night's sleep- the kids don't wake up until 7 a.m.

I just nodded and smiled, because what could I say? My toddler doesn't go to bed until 8:30, on a very good night (on a bad night it is after 9 before she is asleep). My preschooler's light goes out at about 9, and our bedtime routine is done at about 9:15... but sometimes, particularly during the week, when she naps at day care, it is close to 10 p.m. before I am sure she won't be calling me back in. At least she sleeps through the night- the toddler is usually up once. And they both wake up at about 6:30 or sometimes 7 in the morning.

(And before anyone lectures me about how much sleep they need, and how I'm depriving them of sleep... no, I'm not. They show absolutely no signs of sleep deprivation (which is more than I can say for the grown ups in the house), and they generally wake up on their own with no help from us. Actually, they generally wake us up.)

Anyway, to get anything close to a good night's sleep, I basically have to go to bed as soon as I'm done getting Pumpkin to sleep. Which doesn't really work, since there are also dishes to do, and every once and awhile I'd like to talk to my husband. (Blogging generally happens during the 15-30 minutes of "on call" time while I wait to see if Pumpkin's really down, or after everything's done, as way to unwind and "shut down" the day, usually with a beer, and usually only if Hubby has to do some work and is therefore not available for chit chat or The Daily Show.)

This means that we have started to find ways to grab some time to ourselves when the kids are still awake. For instance, tonight I did yoga while my husband put Petunia down for the night. I just had to do it with Pumpkin. She keeps up a running commentary for the entire DVD and doesn't really do the stretches, but she loves to do yoga with me. So I'm adding that into our weekly routine, because I really want to do more yoga.

I find it funny that I get a vestigial twinge of guilt about this, as if some part of me thinks that we should be doing a more enriching activity instead.

This is wrong on a couple of levels.

First, I find yoga to be an almost miraculous way to decrease stress and increase my sense of well-being. If my kids pick up a yoga habit from me, that is probably a good thing, as good as picking up a love for reading or an interest in science.

Second, when did we as a culture decide that our kids need so much of our attention and focus? Yeah, yeah- newborns do. But a 4 year old? It is probably good for her to start seeing her parents as separate people, with their own agendas. To start coming to the slow, and hopefully gentle, realization that no, she is not in fact the absolute center of the universe.

I alluded to the fact that I think modern kids get a lot more focus from their parents than kids did in the past in my weekend reading post about how mothers have always worked, and the comments on that post included some really interesting thoughts on that subject. I have some half-formed thoughts on this, which, if I had more time, I'd love to research and turn into a carefully crafted blog post. But that's not going to happen anytime soon, so instead, I'll just type them out in all of their half-formed glory, and y'all can tell me where I've gone off the tracks.

I look around me, and even the sanest of the other day care parents have filled their kids' schedules with at least as much stuff as we have. We're all discussing kindergartens as if we actually had a bad choice in front of us (for the most part, we don't- we almost all live in areas with schools that are at least decent, and frankly, some of the most worried parents I've talked to live in areas with downright awesome schools). When we go to someone's house on a play date, the toys on offer always include a fair number of educational/enriching options- and they would think the same about our toys. I know at least two parents who don't let their kids watch any TV at all, and we all limit screen time.

All of these things are fine, and even good. But I can't help but think that we've gone a bit off our collective rockers. It is like we all see our kids as having been born with almost infinite potential, and think that it is our job to try to keep as much of that from "leaking away"  due to suboptimal activities as possible. Watching Yo Gabba Gabba instead of an educational DVD- or better, doing a science experiment in the backyard? There went some of that precious potential, gone forever.

Since I've clearly bought into this to a certain degree (hence the Chinese lessons, and our own ever-evolving rules about what constitutes acceptable screen time), I can't judge the other parents. And I don't want to.

But I do wish we could all give ourselves a big Moonstruck slap and snap out of it.

The way I see it (in my saner moments), the human brain is this amazing plastic thing. It is adapted to learn from experience, but also to give us second and third and even hundredth chances, and to learn the most from repetition, not from casual encounters. For centuries, humans have passed on the skills their offspring needed just by making those kids a part of their daily lives. My kids are going to live in a technologically rich world- so of course I should let them learn about technology the way human children have always learned: by using it. It makes no sense to try to pick and choose what things they need to know- how would I possibly be able to predict that? I can take my best guess, and that is what school and any enriching classes will cover. But I won't get it all right. And even if they learn some frivolous things, so what? If all Pumpkin learns from Yo Gabba Gabba is what "break it down" means, is that such a bad thing? Some day, that knowledge might smooth a social interaction and spare her a awkward moment of feeling like a clueless geek.

I'm not arguing at all that we should stop giving our kids lessons in various things, or just sit them down in front of the TV all day. But I am arguing that we should take this parenting thing a little less seriously. There are no guarantees, no matter how we do it. We rolled the genetic dice when we conceived our kids, and all we can do is try to give them a fair shot at living up to the potential set by the genes they received.  It is not our job to shelter that potential and make sure that it is never harmed, because that is just not possible. It is our job to introduce them to our world, and try to give them the skills they need to go out and enjoy it. While also maybe giving them an obstacle or two to overcome, because we all have to have the story we tell at cocktail parties, about how we overcame such and such and went on to achieve so and so. We wouldn't want to deprive them of their chance to look noble and heroic by making things too easy for them.

And now my beer is gone, and it is past time for bed. I can already hear Petunia shuffling around in her crib. If I want some time in bed without a toddler bedmate, I should hurry. So I'll just ask you- what do you think? Should modern parents loosen up? Or is our current state of affairs a perfectly reasonable response to a society in which most families only have a few kids who mostly live into adulthood, and therefore we should invest more in our kids than our forefathers and mothers did?