Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Short Rant on Women, Negotiation, Self-Promotion and All That

Several people in my Twitter network tweeted about this Reddit post on how women need to negotiate better in order to get better pay. And then Jeff Atwood, whose Coding Horror blog is pretty darn awesome reading if you are interested in software and tech, pointed out that Clay Shirky had said basically the same thing (and much more) awhile ago, in a fairly famous (infamous? I guess it depends on your perspective) post about why women don't get ahead.  

I've read this same basic advice many, many times. And you know what? It is reasonably good advice.


It makes a whopping big assumption, which has actually been shown to be false, that women could just start doing the same things that men do and they will get the same results as men.  Put simply, it is not at all clear that aggressive negotiation (or self-promotion, or any other of a number of stereotypically male behaviors) are actually the most effective strategy for a woman to employ if she wants to get ahead. In some cases, these behaviors may actually hurt a woman's career.

And that's leaving aside the objection that doing these things requires women to break free of a lifetime's worth of conditioning about how women (and girls) are supposed to behave.

Personally, I am not that great at negotiating my starting salary and the like, and I know it. I try to get better, and I do make the effort every time I have to do it, but I don't go at it as aggressively as many of my male (and some of my female) friends and colleagues do. I can't say whether or not this has hurt me in terms of my career advancement or salary. In every company I have ever worked at since entering the professional world, my salary has followed the same pattern: I am hired in at something close to what I was making previously, and then in my first performance review, I get a sizable raise. I have compared my current salary to the standard range for people in my position with my level of education and experience, and I come out slightly above average. Would I be making more or less if I negotiated aggressively when hired? I don't know, and judging from the research I've read neither does anyone else.

I'm not arguing that we can't all learn from that Reddit post or Clay Shirky's rant- I, for instance, am working on getting over my aversion to self-promotion. But I am saying that it isn't anywhere near as straightforward as those articles make out. This is one area in which our society has well and truly stacked the deck against women- we're damned no matter what we do. So please, let's recognize that when we're doling out advice about how to reach equality. And let's recognize that this is not a problem women can just decide to solve on their own.* The men have some work to do, too.

Unlike the working mom guilt issue, for instance- scroll to the bottom of that post to read about how I think that problem is one we can tackle on our own.

Monday, November 28, 2011

School Questions

I had a post half-written in my head, talking about how hard my December is going to be. But then I listened to the words bouncing around in my head, and realized that they sounded whiny and obnoxious even to me, and decided not to write the post. Suffice to say that we'll be very busy this December. We actually had to write "put up Christmas tree" on our calendar, to make sure that we left enough time to do that.

I'm going to spare you my whining. In fact, I'm going to try to spare myself my whining, and change how I think about December to just be grateful that we have so many friends, filling our weekends with parties and jobs, filling our weekends with software releases and other "fun" things.

Tonight, I am going to write about our upcoming decision about where to send Pumpkin for Kindergarten. She will start next fall. We have decided to start her in a public school- or at least we will start our decision making process by assuming that she will go to public school. I suppose that if we are seriously unhappy with what we see when we look at our public school options, we would consider private school for her.

We are considering three public schools: our neighborhood school, a Spanish immersion magnet (all instruction is in Spanish for the first few years), and a Spanish enrichment magnet (they study Spanish every day, but the main instruction is in English). The emphasis on language is for two reasons: (1) she likes learning languages and seems to be good at it and (2) we think kids should get the chance to learn a language young, when it is easier and they are more likely to be able to master the new sounds. The Spanish immersion magnet is our closest school.We have to make a decision by February 15, 2012.

I looked up the test scores for all three schools. Our local school has the highest test scores, but also the richest students- so that didn't tell me much. I didn't really expect it to, and I don't have the patience to go spelunking through the data like Bad Mom Good Mom did. Test scores, particularly as we currently use them, are actually a rather poor indicator of whether or not I want my child to go to a particular school. And yet I felt compelled to look at them- compelled enough to spend several hours one night finding the scores and printing them out for comparison. My husband says it was so that we could be sure that nothing truly terrible was lurking in them. I suspect it was so that I can tell the parents who are shocked that we are considering such "rough" schools for our children that the test scores aren't bad.

So, if the test scores are no help, how will we make our decision? First of all, the decision isn't entirely ours to make. We are deciding what schools to put as our first and second choices on a lottery form. The fates will decide whether or not we get our choice. But obviously, we only want to try for one of the magnets if we like them.  And if we are really unhappy with what our local school can offer, we will need to think about what we want to do about that. Go to a private school? Enrich with a tutor? Enrich with specialized after school programs? Decide we just need to get over ourselves and accept what is on offer at the local school? I think I have listed those options in descending order of both expense and ease of implementation.

Anyway, we will be going to visit the schools, to hear about their programs and ask some questions. Here is our current list:

Questions to ask all schools:

  • What is discipline policy?
  • What is homework policy?
  • What happens to kids who excel (GATE)? What about in early grades, before GATE kicks in? How are kids who are performing above grade level handled?
  • What will happen with a kid who is already reading before Kindergarten? (Umm, and who knows how to add and is figuring out multiplication on her own?)
  • What happens with kids who are struggling in a subject? (Let's not assume that our child will be universally brilliant, right?)
  • What extracurriculars are offered? Music?
  • What are the after school care options? (All three have some sort of program, but I want the details.)
Questions for the Spanish immersion magnet:

  • How are kids helped into the immersion program? What will happen with a kid who doesn’t really speak any Spanish before kindergarten?
  • Do children learn to read in English in kindergarten/first grade? Or in Spanish? Or both?

Questions for our local school:

  • Are there any foreign language programs available to kids at all? (I fear the answer is no, there are not- even though a lot of schools in the area have after school language programs that you pay for. So I guess the follow up would be: what would it take to get an after school language program in place?)
So, parents who have already passed this phase... what questions are we missing?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Just Plain Good Writing Edition

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone! I hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving yesterday. We had 10 people at the table (including our two kids) for a traditional feast. We've been doing Thanksgiving at my place since graduate school, and by now, I don't find it intimidating at all. Petunia is sick right now, though, so it was challenging getting her to accept someone else for comfort when I had to be in the kitchen. My Mom and my sister did a lot of the cooking, too, so it all worked out.

Anyway, since I still have a houseful of guests and Petunia is still sick and will undoubtedly realize that she is cuddling with her Boppa and not me soon... I'll keep this short.

I have two links for you today. They have nothing in common except for the fact that they are both beautifully written.

First up, small animals has a moving post about attending the funeral of a family friend from her youth. It is sad, yes, but also uplifting. Whenever I think I'm doing OK at this writing stuff, I read something from small animals and I realize that I'm not really writing.  I don't pay attention to it as a craft in the way that a truly good writer does.

Next, Sweet Juniper has a post about some unfortunate happenings in his neighborhood. If you are interested in the life and plight of struggling cities, and haven't found Sweet Juniper yet, you should start reading him. He writes a lot about his life with his family in Detroit, and it is almost always as wonderfully written as the post I linked to above. 

My presence online may be sparse for a few days... or Petunia may perk up and decide she wants to play with her grandparents, in which case, I may write a post or two. We'll see. Either way, I hope you all enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Being a Feminist Mother

I've been thinking some more about my "unicorn post" and the response to it. I've been thinking about the various types of feminism (summarized nicely by Nicoleandmaggie). And I've been thinking about the changes motherhood brings to your life, your marriage, and your feminism.

I can't promise that this will be an entirely coherent, well-argued post. But I thought I'd write down some of what I've been thinking about, and see what everyone else thinks.

First of all, it occurred to me that people don't seem to have a problem believing that a married couple without kids has an equal division of labor at home. But once kids enter the scene, it seems to become a lot harder for people to believe that a couple might have a 50-50 split in the home workload. Only one person left a comment on the unicorn post saying that she didn't think I really split the work 50-50 with my husband, but I've heard that opinion plenty of times when I speak up in other places online, along with its cousin, the opinion that my arrangement is so rare as to not merit consideration: to may people, I am ridiculously lucky at best, deluded at worst.

I think some of this is probably due to the fact that it is true that for a lot of women a previously equitable- or at least not unbearable- household chore arrangement breaks down when kids enter the scene. The interesting question there is why is that so? I think the answer is related to the another reason that so many people don't believe me when I say that I have a 50-50 split, namely that the division of labor necessarily changes after kids come on the scene.

I know a lot of couples without kids who split every single chore 50-50. They alternate nights cooking dinner. The person who cooks doesn't have to clean up. They either alternate laundry weeks or do the chore together. Etc., etc. In fact, that was pretty much how my husband and I split things before we had kids. We even set aside a few hours every other weekend to do all of our cleaning. I took care of the car that I brought into the marriage, even though I hated doing it and was constantly forgetting to schedule service visits. We were scrupulously fair- we never discussed this really, it was just how we did things.

Then we had kids. And suddenly, that system made zero sense. I'm sure there are some parents out there who maintain the "split every chore" division of labor post-kids, but that just wasn't going to work for us. As I mentioned in the comment I quoted in my working women weekend reading post, the division of labor had to change, partly because biology assigned certain tasks to me, and partly because the amount of work grew exponentially, and suddenly specialization started to make a lot of sense. It no longer made any sense for me to try to maintain one of the cars, since my husband is much better at it. It takes him less time, and we need all the time we can get. Similarly, it makes more sense for me to keep track of what needs to go to day care every day, initially because that fit well into my routine of gathering up pump parts, etc., and now because I have a system that works.

Even for chores that we're equally good at- like laundry- it makes sense to divide and conquer. One of us will get a load of laundry going while the other one plays with the kids, or tackles some other chore. On any given weekend, I may do most of the laundry, or he may do most of the laundry, or we might serendipitously land on an equal mix- but we've stopped judging the division of labor on a chore-by-chore basis, so it doesn't really matter.

And then, of course, there is the parenting. This is unlike any other chore- for one thing, it isn't really a chore. It is work, yes. But it is also fun, and it is far more rewarding than doing the dishes. And it is also almost impossible to divide along strictly equal lines. Biology has other ideas- and so do your kids. The dishes don't care who washes them. Sometimes, a child very much cares who puts her to bed, or who plays certain games, or- and this is my current downfall- who helps settle her back to sleep when she wakes up in the night. My husband is a fully equal co-parent, not just because that is what is fair, but because that is what he wants, but that doesn't mean that we are 100% interchangeable. Could he do it all if I weren't around? Of course. Will the kids accept that when I am around? Not quietly. And sometimes, quiet is more important to me than fair, so we absorb the inequality in one area and try to balance it out somewhere else.

I can see how someone looking in on all of this would think that there is no way the division of labor is equal. It is almost impossible to judge, even if I wrote an exhaustive list of all of the work that occurs in our household. It is a never-ending negotiation, as the kids' needs change and work demands ebb and flow.

   -- I'll trade you the dishes for 15 minutes of time without a child demanding anything from me
   -- I'll take the car to the shop if you'll drop the kids off tomorrow
   -- I'll go to the store if you'll handle bathtime and snack on your own
   -- I need to stay late to finish up this big release. Can you handle dinner? I'll give you a couple of   hours of time this weekend.

And so on and so forth. Sometimes the trade off is unspoken, or assumed. Sometimes things don't run smoothly, and there are arguments (Dammit, anything I have to do at 2 a.m. counts double!) but we work things out, and in the end we both think we've reached equality.

Maybe it is impossible to understand this without living it. I don't know. There are aspects of motherhood that I struggle to explain even to my husband, and there are aspects of fatherhood that I don't fully grasp. One of the hardest things for me to get my head around after my first child was born was just how much she needed me. Pretty much all the time. I am used to that deep, seemingly unquenchable need now- but I still struggle with it sometimes. It is the reason I sometimes beg for just 15 minutes without a child near me, which is a request my husband respects but does not completely understand, because the kids do not draw on him in the same way. He is both envious of the closeness and not 100% convinced that it isn't something I could just say no to. We try hard to share this load- trading off bedtimes and bath times, having him provide comfort after little owies, etc. But this is one area of our life that is most definitely not equal.

I've been thinking about this aspect a lot lately, because Petunia is weaning. I'm weaning her now because I want (need?) a little more space. It is one of the many paradoxes of motherhood that the only way to get that space is to go through a phase in which she is even more intensely clingy than before. At least in my house, the easiest and least screamy way to wean is to make sure the kid being weaned knows that she can still have mommy when she wants, even if she can't have mommy's milk. So Petunia is spending a lot of time in my arms. Which is sweet. Except maybe at 2 a.m. Or when I'm trying to do something else. My husband, who needs far less sleep than I do, would love to help out in the middle of the night- but Petunia screams if he tries, and that wakes up Pumpkin, and pretty soon we are just one big unhappy sleep deprived family. So I am bearing the brunt of this phase, and he is just trying to compensate where he can. He does a good job compensating, but it is not how either of us would really like it. Petunia, on the other hand, likes this arrangement just fine, and in our approach to parenting, that is what matters most at this age.

The unreasonable and yet somehow absolutely undeniable demands my kids place on me are simultaneously the best and the worst thing about motherhood. I have routinely been pushed to the limits of what I thought I could bear, only to find that I can in fact keep going. I am amazed to find myself thinking "I can't take her clinginess for one more second!" and then instinctively scooping her up and giving her a kiss on the head. Somehow, the space in my life expanded to accommodate the demands of motherhood without crowding out the essence of me. I cannot explain it. During my first year of motherhood, I was sure it was not possible, that I was in fact being subsumed into this new mommy person. But I came out the other side wanting both to devote myself to my kids and to pursue my own goals with full vigor.

Perhaps that is the essence of what it is to be a feminist mother- the realization that your own goals can coexist with your love and absolute devotion to your children. Motherhood can grow your life rather than contracting it.

This post is perhaps even less coherent than I thought it would be. But it is late, and Petunia will no doubt be calling for me before too long, so I think I will leave it there and invite you to tell me what you think in the comments.

Quotable: Boundaries

"I'm always asking myself if a near-accident is an accident, if standing right next to a disaster makes you part of the disaster or just a neighbor."

- Sherman Alexie, in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but if I'm honest, that is probably because this one forced me to confront more uncomfortable truths.

If you've never read either, pick one and read it as an act of appeasement for the lies we tell our kids about Thanksgiving. (Pumpkin is old enough now that her day care class talked about Pilgrims. I found myself struggling to explain the Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, and what came after in a way that would be both accurate and accessible to a 4.5 year old. I am pretty sure that I failed miserably at it. Luckily, I can try again next year....)

Regardless, they are both good books. You won't be sorry you read them!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Parenting Edition

Let's take a little break from talking about unicorns and dinosaurs, eh? (But of course, if you have more to say on the topic, please do go and leave a comment!) The links I have for you this weekend are all about parenting:

First up, Mark Sloan, who wrote Birth Day, an awesome book on childbirth, now has a blog. Go check it out. So far it looks pretty good.

Coding Horror, one of the better geek/coding sites, had a post about parenthood. It is a pretty good read. I particularly like the pie chart, and the quote: "That one percent makes all the difference." So true.

From programmers to economists... I forget how I came across this review of a freakonomics podcast on parenting, but both the review and the podcast are worth your time. But then, I lean towards the "don't freak out about it" school of parenting, mostly because I can't maintain the intensity that so many of my parenting peers seem to be able to handle. This may be because I'm not selfless enough, but I prefer to blame the fact that my kids don't sleep as much as many of their peers.

I mentioned in passing on my unicorn post that one of my husband's areas of non-perfection is his tendency to make jokes about the fact that women are supposedly just naturally worse at spatial reasoning than men. He doesn't really believe this, by the way. He's just trolling me- which is fine, I troll him on things, too. But now that our girls are old enough to understand what he's saying, we had to have a discussion about this and he's recently agreed to stop. So it was perfect timing when I came across Parenting Science's recent post on the development of spatial reasoning. She has a follow up post with suggestions for games and toys to help kids develop their spatial reasoning. I found the bit about the benefits to building a Lego toy by following instructions and/or copying a picture particularly interesting, since I tend to think that free form building is somehow "better" (since it is more creative). Of course, Pumpkin already knew better than me- she does both.

(Update: FeMOMhist has a post up with some awesome looking toys to help practice spatial reasoning.)

Finally, my husband came across this and it is hilarious. I had to explain it to him, though, since they didn't have The Reading Rainbow in New Zealand. Even without the explanation, he thought it was pretty funny, so if you also don't know what the Reading Rainbow is, don't let that stop you from watching it:

(The Reading Rainbow was a show on PBS in which Geordi La Forge LeVar Burton read picture books.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Unicorns, Dinosaurs, and Why it Matters Who Does the Dishes

Recently, the editors of Nature saw fit to publish a short piece, meant to be humorous, about how much better suited women are to do household chores, like shopping. Dr. Isis has an excellent discussion of the many things that are wrong and sexist in this piece, so I won't take the time to dissect it myself. Frankly, I could barely force myself to finish reading it. As I tweeted after I saw it: I'm not married to a unicorn, but there are still dinosaurs out there.

However, some might read a piece like that and conclude that the mindset I ranted against in my unicorn post is actually correct- here, after all, is an article (published in a prestigious journal!) that seems to confirm it. But I actually think that the Nature article and Twisty's IBTP piece are two manifestations of the same problem: namely, that we live in a society that has a hard time seeing that housework and parenting can be done equally well by men and women. On the one hand, we have one of the most prestigious science journals in existence publishing a blatantly offensive piece claiming that women are just better at these things than men (so of course, the men shouldn't bother doing them). And on the other hand, we have a subset of feminists who apparently can't even imagine the possibility that the man and woman in a two career family might share the work that goes along with keeping up a household and raising children.

In the middle, there are women like me, who have married men who are not dinosaurs, but are also not unicorns. We share the work at home with our partners, and have partnerships in which the dreams and aspirations of both partners are considered equal- even if the couple decides to arrange their lives such that one partner (or both) prioritizes something else (usually kids) over his or her own career aspirations for awhile. We're invisible to both the dinosaur who wrote the Nature article and Twisty the radical feminist. When the mainstream notices us, it is to tell us that we are somehow "lucky" to have partnered with men who are not jerks, when we know the truth is that we wouldn't have had it any other way.

I would argue that we're remaking the world. Progress is slow- painfully so at times. But now my husband tells male candidates about the good treatment he got during paternity leave, and they are interested to hear that. Now I can say "I can't stay late for that meeting, I need to take my daughter to soccer practice," and not have that negatively impact my standing in the office- instead, we all tell stories about our kids and soccer practice, even though I'm the only woman in the room.

We aren't done yet. Clearly, women like me are still in the minority, flying under the radar of the mainstream culture. But, as the comments and lovely follow-up posts on my unicorn post show- I'm not a singularity. And we're raising the next generation, teaching them, either by example or by more explicit instruction, that housework is not women's work- it is people's work. Parenting is for parents, not just moms. Careers are for anyone who wants them (even if there are some systematic barriers in the way of some people).

So, you might wonder, if we're making progress, why does any of this matter? Why do I keep posting on this same issue? Because the dinosaurs and unicorn-theorists out there are scaring the generation of young women coming up behind us. They are convincing these ambitious women to lean back in their careers before they even start them. Because they are complicating the quest for more realistic work cultures, in which everyone, man or woman, parent or not, is allowed to have a life outside of work, and this is no doubt depriving the world of the talents of many women- and men- who don't want to devote every waking hour to work. Because they are perpetuating the view that an unfair division of labor, in which women do far more scut work and men get far more glory (or at least intellectual challenge) is a biological norm, not a cultural construction. And because it perpetuates the idea that fixing all of this is something that only women need to worry about, when in fact, the solution must involve everyone.

I think that we can do better than this. And when I look at my girls- so full of energy and potential- I think that we must do better than this. And soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Am Not Married to a Unicorn

A few weeks ago, Blue Milk reposted a post where she responded to a post at I Blame the Patriarchy in which the author Twisty, in the midst of a post supposedly making a plea for mothers to make common cause with her particular brand of radical feminism, says that she, in essence, wants to free us from the oppression of our children. Here is the section that Blue Milk quotes (emphasis is from Blue Milk):

"We are desperate for women to reject the specious narrative that within the nuclear family we have “choice,” when in fact the “choice” (regarding motherhood) is between doing one full-time job (stay home and raise kids) or two full-time jobs (do paid work and also raise kids).* We are desperate for women to stop buying into the patriarchy-sponsored message about women’s fulfillment — that is, the notion that you are a selfish blob of failure, or worse, that you are missing out on life’s greatest joy, if you don’t martyr yourself to home and family and totally subsume your identity in the process. We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place."

Go and read Blue Milk's entire post- it is good, and interesting (as her posts usually are), and not at all about what I want to write about.

The thing that struck me when I read that excerpt, and then clicked over and read the entire IBTP post was that according to Twisty, I don't really exist. Or, maybe I exist but am deluded and unaware of my oppression. Whatever- I've made peace with the fact that there are a fair number of feminists out there who think I am greatly oppressed and need my consciousness raised. Who knows? Maybe they are right.

But the person who really doesn't exist in Twisty's post is my husband. Notice how in the quote from her original post up there, I have two choices- I could stay home and raise the kids and take care of the house or I could go to work and still do all the parenting and housework. I got my hopes up when I saw that asterisk. I thought that maybe she was going to allow for the existence of the option that I think I am living- in which I have kids and go to work and split the parenting and housework with my partner, such that while neither of us has anywhere near the free time that we had before we had kids, neither of us is doing two full time jobs. (Unless there are four full time jobs to be had in this scenario. Maybe housework and parenting are both full time jobs? They could be, if you chose to do them that way, I suppose.) Anyway, my hopes were dashed. The asterisk allowed for the option in which I can pay another woman- whom I oppress and pay "only slightly more than you pay for a meal" (yes, that is a direct quote)- to do the work of raising my children. My only response to that is that the IBTP folks eat at much nicer restaurants than I do. I use a day care center, not a nanny, and I still pay them a lot more than I pay for a meal.

I'll leave aside my oft-repeated rant about my frustration with the idea that it is somehow impossible to pay someone to do "women's work" without oppressing her (and my still unanswered question about whether I am oppressing the men who work at my day care center), and just focus on the fact that fathers are entirely missing from Twisty's world view. Apparently, there are NO fathers who pull their fair share of parenting and housework. In fact, it appears that there are no fathers who do even enough parenting/housework to decrease their spouses' burden from two full time jobs.

In short, according to Twisty, my husband does not exist. I am married to a mythical creature. Maybe a unicorn? (If that is the case, I want the kind that poops out chocolate, please. We've eaten all the good chocolate from the Halloween candy and I am once again reduced to raiding the chocolate chips.)

This is obviously nonsense. I am not married to a unicorn. My husband exists. He is human- i.e., not perfect, but he does pull his fair share of work around the house, and he is most definitely an equal parent. I know that this is not common, but I do not think it is so rare that he should be up for some sort of feminist husband prize. (I'd quash that, anyway, because I've been hounding him to stop making jokes about women's supposed inability to handle spatial reasoning. See? I told you. Not perfect. But in his defense, I think he finally understands why he needs to stop making those jokes in front of his daughters.)

As I argued in my recent working women weekend reading post, I think we need to acknowledge that marriages like mine exist, because otherwise we risk portraying the housework inequality issue as some sort of unsolveable problem. It is not. Not at all. In fact the solution is pretty simple. Men just need to start believing that they should do equal amounts of work around the house and spend an equal amount of effort raising their children. Easy!

Yeah, I know. Easy to say, hard to do. My husband and I may both start from the same assumption- that we should be equals- but working out the details is messy, and does involve the occasional argument. And, as  another post from Blue Milk, and indeed, the responses I get to posts like the one I wrote about our housework logistics (now woefully out of date) remind me, not everyone starts from that same assumption.

So, since there seems to be some interest in knowing the details of what an equal partnership looks like, here are ours:

We both work full time. I think my husband puts in a few more hours on paid work- maybe about 50. I average about 45. However, I make more than him (about 20% more, I think), so take from that... nothing. Different people have different work styles.

Most days, he drops the kids off at day care. I pick them up. Except on Thursdays, when I drop them off (he has an early meeting), and we both pick them up (Pumpkin goes to swim lessons and Petunia comes home with me).

I leave for work earlier, so he does more of the morning routines. If Pumpkin wants her hair braided, though, that is all me. Maybe he should practice on one of the My Little Ponies we have laying around the place.

I cook dinner on weeknights. He cooks dinner on weekends. One of his areas of non-perfection is that he frequently needs to be reminded that our cooking experiences are very different. He generally has as much time as he needs and I watch the kids while he cooks. I generally have 20-30 minutes and must deal with the kids while I cook. Hence the occasional Dinner during Dora post. Although these days, it is more likely to be Yo Gabba Gabba.

I make most weekend lunches, but those are pretty low key, so I don't get many brownie points for this.

Laundry is done by both of us. If I'm completely honest, though, he does more of it. And he is almost always the one who changes the sheets on the beds.

We have a housecleaning service (yet another group of women I oppress!) and since we caved and started having them come every two weeks instead of every four weeks, neither of us does much toilet scrubbing. If anyone does it, though, it is usually me. He is more likely to pull the bed out and sweep up the dust or clean the windows. We split the prep work for the cleaners (i.e., the work of putting all of our stuff away). The girls also help with this, to varying effect.

I handle all communication with the housecleaning service, and I write the checks for them.

The nightly kitchen cleanup is done by whomever finishes with kid bedtimes first. We alternate nights on that- each of us takes a kid each night. However, since I am the required "finisher" for Pumpkin's bedtime right now, Hubby does the dishes most nights. I usually clear the table and do the initial dishwasher loading, though.

We also alternate handling the kids' bathtime.

He almost always unloads the dishwasher and puts away the washed dishes in the morning.

If Petunia wakes up in the middle of the night, I go to her. If Pumpkin wakes up, I elbow and kick Hubby until he wakes up and goes to her. This works out to me doing about 90% of the middle of then night parenting. This sucks, but Petunia is still in the "scream if I see Daddy in the middle of the night" phase, so there isn't much we can do about this. Whenever we argue about workload, though, I pull this out and win the argument. Therefore, we are both looking forward to the end of this phase.

He does almost all of the yard work, since I have allergies and asthma and am quite allergic to grass. I do some weeding from time to time, and plant herbs and veggies, usually with help from the kids.

I do the vast majority of the menu planning. I plan the weekday meals and pester Hubby to plan his weekend meals. I am also the one who figures out how we'll respond to Pumpkin's picky eating and thinks up new things to try feeding the kids.

I usually do the grocery shopping, but since I usually get to do this without the kids, I consider this a bit of a benefit, not a chore.

We split the non-grocery shopping. He does more of the driving to stores and buying stuff, but when I go (usually to Target) I have to take at least one child, so that evens out. I do most of the online buying of stuff, and we do as much of that as we can. (We buy time.)

We split taking the garbage out- usually, it is done by whoever is not doing bath on a Tuesday night. Sometimes he does it early, though, so this skews towards him.

I am definitely the social secretary. Except if rugby is involved.

He is the one who handles our family photos, and he does a quite thorough job of it. We have our own online site, with captions.

We both keep track of what needs to be bought, although this may skew a bit towards me.

He does the bills. I used to do them, but this is one of the things he took over when Pumpkin was a baby and I spent all my free time lactating, and he's kept at it. I know how much money we have, though, and could take over this again without trouble.

Extracurricular activities for the kids are split. He does swim lessons. I arrange the Chinese lessons. We both did bits of the work required for soccer lessons.

I'm totally in charge of remembering when we need to send stuff to day care. He's hopeless at it.

He's totally in charge of remembering when we need to get the cars serviced. I'm hopeless at it. (Before we married, I always had the reminder sticker on my windshield.)

I do almost all of the research on parenting things, but he'll occasionally read a book or article if I give it to him.

We split big projects- we both usually have one project we "own" at any given time. Right now, I own the kindergarten research and he owns dealing with the ants that invade our kitchen after it rains. (Since it keeps raining at just the wrong intervals, preventing us getting an exterminator in to deal with the problem, this is actually a very annoying project for him. I came out ahead, even allowing for the annoying nature of the local school district's website.)

We both wrangle kids on the weekends, but this skews a bit towards me. While I'm wrangling, he's doing chores, though. And we try to do at least one family thing every weekend, just for fun. I don't suppose we should call that kid wrangling. That's quality time.

So... what do you think? Am I oppressed and just deluded? Am I married to a unicorn (and if so, where is my chocolate)? How does this all play out in your house? Have I bored you senseless? Have at it in the comments.


Update: Alyssa at Apple Pie and the Universe and Anandi at The House of Peanut have both written their own posts about this subject, and how the chores are split in their houses. Go read those, too! And if you write one, let me know and I'll add a link here.

Also, Alyssa's post reminded me that I didn't include the very important task of staying home with sick kids in my list. We split that- basically, the person who doesn't have meetings (or has meetings that can be missed or rescheduled) and/or isn't under a deadline, stays home. But we also are very fortunate in that my mom will come be our backup babysitter when a kid gets sick. Thanks to Southwest (and the fact that she is retired), it is easy to fly her over from Phoenix on short notice, and it is cheaper than a day off without pay, which is what we figure we'd eventually end up taking if we use all of our time off on sick kids. We both like to travel too much to not have a vacation! If my mom wasn't able to do this, the sick kid burden would be a lot harder to handle, particularly given Petunia's run of mystery fevers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trip Story: Santa Barbara, Oxnard, and Home

I decided that I needed to write the last post about our not-so-recent-now California car trip soon, before I forget all the details. Last time I wrote, we were in Morro Bay and then driving through Solvang on our way to Santa Barbara. We arrived in Santa Barbara in time to check into our hotel and settle in a bit before heading out for dinner. We walked to The Brewhouse, a brew pub that was near to our hotel. It turned out to be a really lucky find- good food and great beer. My only complaint was that it was a little too loud, which was a bit overwhelming for Petunia. She handled it OK, but her eyes were huge for most of the dinner, as she struggled to take all the hubbub in.

The next morning, we rented a surrey bike and took a ride along the beach path, ending at the Andree Clark bird refuge, where we stopped for a snack. Then we biked back, stopping for awhile at a beachfront playground. The ride was surprisingly fun for all. Pumpkin and Petunia had a little too much fun ringing the bell, though. Helpful hint for the designers of these bikes: put the bell string by the grown ups, not the kids. The people whose apartments and hotel rooms face onto bike paths will thank you. (We did try to keep our kids from ringing the bell willy-nilly all along the way, but our success rate was probably only 75%. So 25% of the people along the path probably hated us.)

After we returned our wheels, we had lunch at the El Torito next to the bike rental shop. For the non-Californians out there, El Torito is a chain. The food is reasonably tasty, but it is far from authentic. There were many restaurants in Santa Barbara that would have had better and more authentic Mexican food. In fact, there is apparently a hole-in-the-wall place that is so wonderful and famous that people drive up from LA just to eat there. But it was sure to have a wait, and Petunia doesn't do waits right now. Petunia likes the rice at El Torito, they are extremely welcoming to children, and it was right there. And the margaritas aren't half bad. So I count this as one of the better lunches on our trip.

After lunch, we did some light sightseeing- we walked out onto the pier and along State Street. Then we went back to the hotel for a rest. Once we were all awake again, we headed out to take a ride on the Lil' Toot water taxi.  We had to wait around by the harbor for a bit, so there was quite a bit of excitement when we saw the taxi headed towards us.

Pumpkin was pretty excited to get on the boat. Petunia didn't really know what was going on, but didn't protest.

Then we cruised across to the pier, getting a nice close up look at some pelicans on the way.

We decided to take the return trip, too, and were rewarded with a chance to try out piloting the ship.

Amazingly, the novice captains didn't run us aground, and we disembarked without incident. We strolled back to the pier for a dinner memorable mainly for the fact that Petunia spent most of it as far away from our table as possible, dancing to the music and charming a couple of older women who were eating at a table near her preferred dance spot. It was definitely a tag team meal for me and Hubby.

The next morning, we packed up the car for the last time and headed home. The drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego is about four and a half hours- and there is the wild card of LA traffic in the middle. I have literally never driven through LA without hitting a traffic jam somewhere, even the time in graduate school when I drove through at two in the morning. Therefore, we decided to split up the day. We got up in the morning and drove to Oxnard, where we visited the small but excellent Gull Wings Children's Museum.  This was a far less flashy museum than the Kidspace museum that started our trip  in Pasadena, but it was just as much fun. Our kids really liked it, and I actually think that kids just a little bit older than ours would have liked it even more. If you are ever near Oxnard, I recommend stopping in.

We played at the museum until lunch, and then drove to a nearby Olive Garden for lunch. Once again, the chain lunch went well- sorry, foodies, but some of our best dining experiences on the trip were at chains. I think they just have the routine for dealing with young kids worked out. They provide a coloring sheet that is busy enough to distract even a two year old for a little while, they fawn over the kids (which also distracts them for awhile), and the food comes out fast. With that said, Pumpkin actually did great at most of the restaurants we visited, so perhaps a wider range of restaurants will work for us soon, once Petunia is past the super short attention span phase.

After lunch, we packed the kids into the car and headed home. The requisite LA traffic jam was very short, and we made excellent time. Still, we didn't make it home before the end of nap time (I just don't drive that fast). We stopped at a park in Carlsbad for one last vacation playground visit and afternoon snack, then drove the remaining 40 minutes home. It was good to be home, but I would have been happy to stay on the road for another few days- so I guess this was a very good vacation, indeed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Things I Never Thought About Before Edition

One of the fun things about reading blogs is that I sometimes come across a post that makes me think about something I hadn't thought about before. This weekend, I have three such posts for you.

The first, from Bad Mom Good Mom, is about reducing waste in the garment industry. She's also had earlier posts about sewing with pre-consumer waste fabric- i.e., the scraps from the garment trade. I must confess that until I read these posts, I never once thought about what happened to the fabric leftover when my clothes were made.

The second is from my friend Stevil, who had a post about our country's motto, wondering if perhaps it is time to change back to what we had before the communism scare of the 1950s. Again, before I read this post, I hadn't really thought about our motto at all.

Via @Cydharrel's twitter feed (a good feed to follow if you are interested in tech stuff and like haiku), I came across this post on how government is not a startup and saying that it should act like one is a bit daft. I have heard the same calls for government to be more like a startup, and had never really thought about what a crazy thing that is to say- and I've even worked as a government contractor.

What about you? Are there any posts that you've come across recently that made you think about something new? Or something in a new way?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weaning, Exercise, and Other Updates on Things That Aren't Going As Well As I'd Like

Thanks for all the sympathy and ideas on my last post, everyone. The cold is receding, albeit slowly, so things don't look quite so grim. But I still don't feel up to writing any of the "real" posts I have queued up, so I'll give you some updates on a few things.

First- weaning. As you probably guessed, I am too adverse to being screamed at to go hard core at this. I also have noticed pronounced effects on my mood as I drop feedings, so I go very, very slowly for my sanity, too. You'd think this would be easier the second time around, but I weaned Pumpkin when I was about three months pregnant with Petunia, and I was probably helped by the changes in milk supply and composition that brought on. Certainly, my resolve to wean was helped along by the fact that nursing exacerbated the queasiness I felt almost constantly in the first trimester. Even so, I remember having to back off for awhile and then try again. When I did try again, weaning was very easy.

I have no real reason to wean Petunia right now, other than that I'm ready to do it. I've set myself an arbitrary goal of being done by the end of the year. We'll see how it goes. I started following the "don't offer, don't refuse" method about four months ago, and now I'm in the actively distracting/trying to substitute method- but I'll usually go ahead nurse her if she won't be distracted, except when I physically can't do it, such as when I'm trying to cook dinner. I've substituted a bowl of her favorite cereal (Oatmeal Squares) for the after day care nursing, and mostly that is working out OK, particularly if I start a DVD or TV show ("Doh!" in Peunia-speak) right as she finishes her cereal.

The first thing in the morning nursing looks likely to be the next one to go. I am intrigued by the fact that she's following the same pattern Pumpkin did as far as dropping nursing sessions. I'm hoping that means she'll drop the middle of the night one soon, too....


Next- exercise. A couple of weeks back, I realized that even if I succeeded in convincing Petunia to let me go for a decent run on Thursday nights, it was soon going to be dark by the time we got home, and the thought of running in the dark just didn't appeal to me. So I needed another plan.

I've never been a big fan of exercise DVDs (or videos- this aversion goes way back, although I do remember doing Jane Fonda's workout with my Mom and liking it). But I was out of other ideas, so I went looking for a likely DVD on Amazon. Petunia likes to dance in her cute toddler way, so I searched for a dance workout. I settled on 10 Minute Solution: Fat Blasting Dance Mix. It came over the weekend, and I was planning to try it out tonight.

I stuck with that plan, even though I'm still not 100% over the cold and even though I got home late thanks to the extra traffic that the Chargers-Raiders game provided. I started with the simplest workout. It wasn't what I was expecting- I thought there would be actual songs and we would dance/exercise to those. Instead, there was just a techno/dance beat. Still, Petunia was intrigued- but then decided that she wanted me to hold her while I did the routines (we often dance with her in our arms). So that didn't go so well. Then she decided she wanted more cereal, and I decided I wanted a chance to get some exercise more than I wanted her to wait for her dinner, and let her have the cereal, which allowed me to do the second half of the 10 minute routine unencumbered. It wasn't bad.

When the first 10 minute routine finished, Petunia decided she wanted to watch another routine, even though I thought I would turn it off and get our dinner heated up (hooray for leftover night), so I put on the abs routine, and even tried a little bit of it while I shuffled dishes in and out of the microwave. Also not bad.

So the jury is out on this one. I like the 10 minute workout idea- I'm already scheming about how I could maybe squeeze one in on one of the nights when Hubby is giving the girls their bath- and the workouts I tried weren't bad. But it is still an exercise DVD.


Next- big girl bed. Remember way back in August, when I said that I thought we should get Petunia a big girl bed? Well, we finally did it. The one we'd bought for Pumpkin was no longer available (both the store we bought it from and the manufacturer are now out of business), so we had to shop for a new one. This was a major undertaking- Hubby doesn't make furniture decisions lightly. Unfortunately, we couldn't find many beds like what we wanted: with a bookcase headboard and under-bed drawers, but not a tall captain's bed, since Petunia is not that big. We finally ended up ordering the bed and headboard on Amazon. (Why not? We buy everything else from them...)

They arrived last week, and we set the bed up over the weekend. When I say "we," I really mean Hubby. I took the crib down and eventually put the sheets and duvet on the bed, but he did all the hard work. Petunia LOVES her new bed, which is no surprise, since (1) she likes to get on everyone else's bed and (2) she likes anything that her big sister has. I had hoped that the bed would make bedtimes easier, and maybe it will. So far, though, it hasn't. My plan was to continue to rock her to sleep in her rocking chair, and then lay down with her and thereby do away with that annoying thing where she's asleep, but then wakes up when we put her down. She won't have anything to do with her rocking chair, anymore, though. She insists on climbing into her bed- by herself, thank you very much- and going to sleep that way. The first couple of nights were disasters. But then I thought to tell her that Pumpkin goes to sleep by getting her back patted. I asked Petunia if she wanted to try that, and she said yes- and amazingly, that is working. Our bedtimes are back down to 30 minutes, which is a big improvement.

The bed is definitely making it easier to get her back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night (I just lay down next to her), but has yet to work the magic that Pumpkin's big girl bed worked, and do away with those night wakings altogether. Its still early days, though, so I continue to hold out hope.


Finally, an update on something that IS going as well as I would like- Pumpkin's reading. My Mom came over when Petunia got sick last week and stayed for the weekend. She took Pumpkin to the library to pick out some new books to try reading. Our library didn't have most of the things that you all recommended, but they still found some good books. Pumpkin really likes reading Hop on Pop right now. I'll probably order some of your recommendations soon, either from Amazon (of course) or via interlibrary loan, but for right now she's happy with what she has. She definitely prefers to read one book over and over until she basically memorizes it, which is fine with me- it gives me more time to get my act together and get some more early readers on hand.

That's all the updates I have right now. Is there anything I missed that you're wondering about? Ask away in the comments.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

I'm Not Dead

... I just feel like maybe I should be.

I exaggerate. I have a head cold, courtesy of Petunia. I am sitting here drinking a pathetic virgin hot whiskey (i.e., honey and lemon in hot water- virgin because once it is done, I'm having a Benadryl), feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to sit and watch TV with my husband while I drank my pathetic drink, but he doesn't have anything not annoying recorded. Our DVR died a while back, and he never set up the Daily Show and Colbert Report again. Boo.

Even so, I don't think I have a real blog post in me tonight. So I'll just give this helpful advice to fathers and other people who have never breastfed: weaning is harder than it looks. Saying "just say no" is no more helpful in this context than it was in the context of convincing teenagers not to take drugs. And the next person who suggests this to me may be required to come to my house after work and attempt to cook dinner while the addict toddler screams at your feet, alternating between frantically signing "more" (which also for some reason only known to her, means "I want to nurse") and trying to physically push you away from the counter.

I defy anyone to withstand that and not cave and just go ahead and nurse already when the phone rings and the person on the other end tells you he's going to be 20 minutes late for dinner because there is an accident on the freeway.

And then you look at the sweet little happy face nursing and wonder why you're weaning in the first place.

And then you blow your nose for the 7000th time since walking through the door, and you remember that once you wean, you'll be able to take something stronger than Benadryl for a cold.

So you suck it up, balance the still traumatized little addict toddler on your knee while you eat your now cold dinner (which no one else is eating, anyway), and tell yourself that you'll do better tomorrow.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Working Women Edition

I went to see Rebecca Skloot (author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) talk this week, and that one night out had ripple effects on the rest of my week. It was definitely worth it, but it also definitely reminded me of what I do that sort of thing all that often.

I'd love to write a post about the lecture (it was great), or about how that night out messed with my week (less great)- but I haven't really got the mental energy for that right now. So instead, I'll give you some links I've come across recently about women in the workforce.

First, FSP had a post that really resonated with me, about how you gain confidence as you get older and have more work experience. I find that I can't really summarize it well, and it is short, so just go read it, OK?

It reminded me of the difficulty I have when I am asked by a young woman for advice about how not to have your career take second place to your spouse's. I understand where that question comes from, and I wish I had good advice, but I don't. My answer is as simple as it is useless to the questioner: "Don't let it."

Like I said- I know that is useless advice. But I guess I mean that there is no shortcut, except, perhaps, to marry someone who is uninterested in his or her career. You have to do the work of choosing a partner who will value your career as much as his or hers, and then you have to do the work of making sure that you both have equal opportunities to advance your career.

On that last point, Blue Milk had an excellent dissection of that Time cover article declaring that we should end the "chore wars". She does a great job of explaining why that piece made so many of us angry. Here's what I said over there (with typos fixed, as usual):


This is a great post.

You did a much better job of taking this apart than I did when I first came across it. I just focused on the “but maybe the women would rather be doing less at home and more at work and can’t because someone has to make the damn dinner” angle.

I also wondered what would have happened if the research had matched men and women by career type. The (admittedly small) surveys I’ve seen in which that is done don’t look so good. I referenced one on academic scientists in this post: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2010/01/housework-logistics.html

In that survey, the men and women are doing the same number of hours at work while the men do far less at home (on average, of course).

I think the reason things slide so much more out of balance when kids come along is because that requires a different type of division of the work. Before kids, we could just split all chores 50-50. I cook one night, he cooks the next. He takes one car to the mechanic, I take the other. Etc., etc. But then you have a baby, and suddenly two things happen: (1) you have a lot less time, so the benefits of specialization become more evident. I am faster at X and he is faster at Y, so I should do X and he should do Y. (2) if you are breastfeeding (and probably even if you aren’t although I don’t really know about that since I breastfed) there is a whole class of work that he cannot participate in equally. In our house, this meant we very explicitly decided he’d do more of some of the other work, like dishes. But this is a hard thing to truly balance, because how do you factor in the fact that some of my baby-feeding/comforting work happens at 2 a.m., while the dishes never wake you up in the middle of the night?

That said, I do think it is important to acknowledge that there are some men out there who truly are pulling their weight at home- i.e., that some couples have figured this out. I think this is important not so much because I think those men or their spouses deserve a gold star, but because I think it is important to acknowledge that this is NOT a problem without a solution. It is very much solvable, but it requires two partners who want to solve it. (And yes, I count myself and my husband in the group of people who have this worked out- usually.)


As often happens when I write a post or comment saying that my husband pulls his weight at home, he did something last night that really annoyed me. It was raining, which is rare enough here that it inevitably screws up traffic. Therefore, I left work ten minutes early, so that I would still get the kids and get home on time to make dinner. He also knew that traffic would be bad, but decided not to leave work early, and got home after dinner was over. In his defense, picking up the kids and making dinner during the week is one of my chores. He does drop off in the morning, and makes dinners on the weekends. (There is, of course, a much larger balance sheet of chores, which I do think comes out equal- usually.) But I was mad that he didn't even seem to realize that the reason he had the flexibility to stay to his usual time despite the predictable bad traffic was that someone else was picking up the slack. And I pointed out that it isn't like I get up in the morning, see it raining, and then declare that I'm not going to help get the girls ready for day care and just rush out the door.

I think he saw my point, and all is peaceful again at Chez Cloud.

And I think this little exchange also makes my point about there being no shortcuts to some magical land of marital equality. You have to be willing to speak up when things are out of whack. Of course, this is much easier if you are both starting from the assumption that things should be equal, which is where I think there is a need for cultural change. But we don't have to wait for that change before we can have equal relationships. The details of how we do things have changed since I wrote the post on housework logistics that I linked to in my comment on Blue Milk's blog. Petunia's bedtimes got harder, we decided to have the cleaner come twice a month instead of once... and somehow we found our chores schedule went by the wayside. But we still manage to split the work fairly equally. As I said in my comment on Blue Milk's post, this is very much a solvable problem.

Frustratingly, though, even when we think we have solved this problem in our own lives, other people may have erroneous ideas about women in the workplace that impact our opportunities. I came across a defense of the ability of a mother to be a CEO of a start up recently, written by a mother who is a CEO of a start up, in response to an article written by one of her venture capital backers, who had concerns when he heard that she was pregnant. The venture capitalist's article is a bit depressing, but not as asshole-y as you might expect (he does come to the right decision, after all, and funds her company).

On a much lighter note, I came across this post about how annoying it is that tech conferences only have "unisex" (really men's) t-shirts. I laughed in recognition when I read this piece, since I, too, have a drawer full of t-shirts that resemble tents, all of the freebies from science and tech conferences or other events that don't really cater to women (like beer festivals).

And finally, Nicoleandmaggie had a post this week with a call from a reader looking for blogs written by working mothers. If you meet that description, go leave a comment on the post- or just go and browse the comments for new reading material.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Random Wanderings

Halloween was really good. The girls were both butterflies. This was probably the last year in which I could make them match- and I also thought a good year to have them match, to minimize meltdowns from Petunia about differences in costume accessories. So I talked Pumpkin into being a butterfly by telling her that I'd get her a leotard (a "ballerina shirt"- something long coveted) and letting her choose the color butterfly from the options available on Amazon. She chose purple. And then I picked the most unbelievably adorable monarch butterfly costume out for Petunia, and I even ordered a set of butterfly wings for myself. (Helpful hint: do NOT search Amazon for "adult butterfly costume," unless you mean "sleazy butterfly costume." Search for "adult butterfly wings" to find a pair of Large Red Butterfly Wings that worked out beautifully, although I found maneuvering down hallways in them difficult.)

Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of Pumpkinfly

 and Petuniafly:

We had tights for Petunia, too- but I don't have a decent rear photo of her in those. I do have a very, very cute photo of her running across the playground to us at our daycare's Halloween parade. She was walking around the circuit like she was supposed to until she caught sight of us. Then she took off running across the playground, with a huge smile on her face. That pretty much made my week.

The actual trick-or-treating went well, too. Pumpkin said "Trick or treat!" and "Thank you" and "Happy Halloween" at every house, with minimal prompting. Petunia said "twi-twee" everywhere, endearing herself to pretty much everyone. I called my husband and told him to be ready to capture that on video when we got home. But she wouldn't do it at our house, preferring instead to try to unload her candy into our candy bowl. She is not at all interested in eating candy, but she absolutely loved trick-or-treating. After almost every house, she said "more" and toddled off after her sister to the next house.


I carved a pumpkin on Saturday, so that our house would be appropriately marked as welcoming of trick-or-treaters, and because Pumpkin likes having one. Petunia was fascinated by the process. Pumpkin was not, but she did get her hands on our camera for the first time, producing some really arty photos (as well as some random photos of the sky). I think Santa needs to bring her a camera. Or maybe he needs to bring Mommy and Daddy a new camera, and we can just give her the old one. We'll have to think carefully about what to ask him to bring.

I really like this one.


Helpful tip #2: If you screw up and draw a line across the teeth of your jack-o-lantern with a sharpie, you can remove that line with rubbing alcohol.

Here is the final product, in all its glory:


On the way home from day care yesterday, Pumpkin told me: "Mommy, three fours makes twelve."

I was quite surprised by this, because although she has figured out addition, I'd never heard her extend it to multiplication before. I asked her how she knew, but she couldn't say. So I asked her how many four fours made. She thought for a minute, and then answered "16." We got up to six fours and then we got home.

She is also reading now. She can read The Foot Book pretty much all by herself, and tonight she read Cookie's Week to me with very little help. Halfway through, she confessed that she was using the pictures to help her get some of the words (she was also sounding some out). I told her that was OK, everyone did that, and that the more she practiced, the more words she'd learn, and before we knew it, she'd be reading books without any pictures, just like Mommy does. To her credit, she refrained from telling me that I read lame books and should get some with pictures.

Mimi and Boppa, be warned: she's looking forward to impressing you by reading lots of books at Thanksgiving.

Anyone with suggestions for other easy books to read should put them in the comments, because I'm struggling with that. I think she might be able to tackle some more Dr. Seuss, if I choose carefully. But I'd like other ideas, too.


We didn't set out to teach Pumpkin to read (or, for that matter, do multiplication) before kindergarten. "Everyone" says that is a bad idea, and conventional wisdom predicts that now she will be bored in kindergarten. But she is interested, and I refuse to prevent her from learning things she is interested in.

Besides, I dispute what "everyone" says. I knew how to read when I started kindergarten and I remember loving the letter workbooks we had. There was one for each letter and they had a textured letter on the cover. I think there were various activities inside, perhaps including cutting (which I was not as good at- and, to this day, my family teases me because I cannot cut a straight line).

So it will probably all be OK.

Particularly if we go with the Spanish immersion school- which is what Pumpkin wants. We've explained that the teacher will only speak Spanish, and she might not understand at first. But she says that she doesn't care. She wants to go and learn Spanish so that she can go back to day care and speak it with Miss M., one of her favorite teachers.

We've told her that there is a chance we won't get in to that school, and she always pulls a pouty face when we say that.

We haven't told her that there is a chance we won't even try. It is time to get serious about this school choice thing. I've started trying to figure out how we're going to evaluate schools, and so far, I have a growing list of questions to ask on visits, but nothing more. Readers who have already been through this exercise (particularly in California!) are encouraged to give me helpful hints in the comments. Its only fair- I gave you hints about how to handle jack-o-lantern mistakes!


I have meatier posts planned soon, I promise. But I'm getting slammed at work, for reasons that I (of course) can't post about (at least not yet). Suffice to say that the choice about Pumpkin's kindergarten will be made during a whirlwind of work activity. But so far, it isn't spilling over into home too much, except in that I can't find the mental energy to write thoughtful posts. That is a symptom of the fact that I haven't organized the giant boatload of work that has landed on my desk, so I'm holding a bunch of disorganized "do this, but do that first" thoughts in my head. Once I sort that out, I'll have more mental space, and will post interesting things soon. I have a post full of righteous indignation at some internet feminists on behalf of my husband (who remains blissfully ignorant of how he has been maligned- or willed out of existence, really) and another post about how I stay happy (downright chipper!) in the face of the sexism that pervades my field sort of written in my head, and I should type them out before they get swamped by thoughts about merging databases, revamping applications, and other random crap. Don't hold your breath, but feel free to tell me which of those topics you think I should write about next in the comments.