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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oh! Baby: What's drugs got to do with it?

We'd all like to think that when our kids are born, they come out as perfect creatures and that they'll need nothing but love and encouragement. But sometimes, things aren't quite right. With Toddler in Chief, it was his heart. And along with heart surgeries, he takes a lot of medication. I don't like filling him with an assortment of drugs everyday, but I've gotten over that because I know that they keep him alive.

Some women I know have a hard time even giving their kids over-the-counter medicine when they are sick (although I do know at least one mom who gives her kids Benadryl when they fly, so that the kids will sleep). For us, we didn't have a choice and TIC's meds were from day one. We don't know a life without them.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Viva Las Vegas -- Pregnant-style

Woo hoo! Three nights in Las Vegas without Toddler in Chief. It was just me, Father in Chief, and the sights, sounds, smells, and sensory-overload in general of Sin City.

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

My bag was packed with sassy pregnant outfits--polyester gauchos with glittery sashes, sparkly tops, flared short skirts, clunky black boots, small and fashionable handbags that did not contain a single diaper, goldfish cracker, crayon, or matchbox car. I had glitter eye powder, roll-on body glitter (courtesy of fabulous former dance companion Babs), liquid blue eyeliner, loud necklaces, negligees, massage oil, and red hot lipstick. (And there was no one's ass to wipe but my own.)

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

Few of those outfits ever saw the flashing lights of slot machines or disco balls. The morning after we arrived, I dropped some cash at the Walking Company because my clunky boots were killing my toes. My grand intentions were to live it up and make this trip--this glorious, child-free getaway--a comprehensive excursion of every hip spot along the Strip. I aspired to strut my pregnant self through a memorable extravaganza of dancing and late nights and people watching. All my plans were quickly redefined. My sore feet, upset stomach, and overwhelming exhaustion redirected my three child-free days.

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

Sure I was just a tag-along to FIC's Amazing Meeting conference. So there I was, walking the strip in my comfortable and practical shoes, feeling tired and yes, very lame. How lame is it to go to Vegas and prefer to stay in and watch March of the Penguins on Pay Per View instead of heading out to one of the hundreds of dance clubs? It almost seemed wrong that such a G-rated movie was one of the choices on our hotel television.

Penn & Teller was our nightlife highlight. No dancing. No blackjack. No glittery shows. Just my tired ass seated for the two-hour show. And all that passive entertainment was so exhausting, that we promptly went back to our room…and slept.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So what difference did it make?

After recapping the Lawrence Summers speech that trashed women in the sciences, I started thinking about what I've done since his speech more than a year ago. At the time I was angry, disgusted, disappointed, and motivated to participate in some kind of change for women who work--in the sciences or elsewhere. I wanted to be the voice for women who felt that they had no voice when it came to maternity leaves and job-shares. I wanted to rally women to speak out for what they needed and deserved in their jobs when it came to creating realistic expectations for balancing work with home.

But in the end, I have done little to nothing besides spout about inequities. I have been angered when women I know can't find what they are looking for and give up. I have been saddened by the stories I hear. I have been discouraged. In my own private life, I didn't want to curl up and give up on myself. So in that aspect, I have had some success. From a minor freelance stint to a regular part-time writing job, I have been successful. But what has that done for other women?

Several months ago, I even gave myself an assignment to get involved with two groups that work to help parents achieve fairer choices about returning to work post-baby--whether it were job shares, longer maternity leaves, paternity leaves, or flexible hours. And I even failed at that simple task of reaching out to say that I'm here to help, I want to help.

Maybe it's just the journalist in me, reporting what I see, but not really getting involved. The reporter isn't the story. If the reporter becomes part of the story, the story has failed. I suppose I need to stop thinking of myself as a reporter. I'm not a reporter. I have not been a reporter for many years. I'm just a writer. And I'm a person. And I'm a mom. Maybe changing my perception of myself is the first step in motivating me to be a little bit more like the person I want to be.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Oh! Baby: Sleep deprivation for all

Now that Toddler in Chief sleeps through the night, there are limited nighttime duties. Fill up the occasional water cup. Occasionally rearrange the twisted blanket. But as any parent knows, that isn't always the case. A new baby is exhausting. Having to be on duty during the night for a new baby can throw really throw you off balance physically, emotionally and mentally. During those first several months, sleep is a commodity that doesn't come in very large quantities--I think a four-hour stretch was a glorious and rare gift. It's hard. It's hard for the at-home parent. It's hard for the parent who works outside the home.

And when we decided to have a baby, we both knew that helping out with all the hard stuff would be something we both participated in. I've been home with TIC, but being able to diaper, feed, nurse, change, and learn to care for him was overwhelming in the beginning. I needed sleep just as much as Father in Chief. Fortunately he took on some of the overnight burden so that I could get slightly bigger chunks of sleep. We were both a mess for a while. But as with much of babyhood, it was short-lived. And helping out with the good and the bad--regardless of where you work--is part of parenthood.

Friday, January 20, 2006

80-hour BS: A retrospective

It's been a year since Harvard President Lawrence Summers stuck his foot in his mouth regarding women in the sciences. I was so new to blogging, but the venom, the anxst, and the passion on both sides of the debate was exhilerating. So I re-read those 500-word essays that Ben and Vera and others found time to write--even as they were very busy working their 80-hour work weeks. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 80-hour BS

  • MIC: He mentions biological differences and people get outraged and walk out of his lecture. They think the man is insane! He mentions that women and mothers do not want to work 80 hours a week because they have kids and people keep on reading, looking for the next outrage to be revealed. That reluctance to feel anything or to notice that comment for what it is--gender-bias bullshit--is another example of how much society accepts the status quo when it comes to women and work.

    Vera: Harvard and other similar research institutions employ only the creamiest of the cream of the top, which means you have to be extremely driven, extremely hard-working, and extremely smart. If work is your second priority, you're less liking to be in that category. And more women than men make children their first priority. That's why no one who isn't set on finding sexism in every possible statement finds that explanation offensive or controversial in the least.

    Ben: It' *empirical fact* that women are less inclined to work that hard. I don't think anybody, even hardline proponts of the position Summers alluded to, would say that this means women are somehow generally less worthy. But it does mean they are less apt at doing one of the big things that makes you a good academic. Is it sexist to state an empirical truth that empirically relates to success in a given field?

    Geeky Mom: As for working 80 hours a week, I'm offended that anyone would suggest that women cannot work those hours. I work 80 hours all the time, but I only get paid for 40 of them...To me, the whole issue surrounding Summers' comments is not whether women are biologically disposed to do one thing or another or unwilling to work 80 hours a week...but the fact that women's work, if it's not in a typically male field like the sciences, is valued less. Motherhood is not considered work.

  • Struck a nerve

  • MIC: I don't understand why so many people willing to jump to defend people who work 80 hours a week, but don't jump to the defense of women who want to raise their kids and work and still be successful. I doubt that the only way to be successful is to work 80 hours a week...Smart women--smart people--with excellent time-management skills can get things done and still have time to go to the park, to build towers with blocks, and read books with their kids.

    Vera: The point is that some people want to work 80 hour weeks doing scientific research...And there's absolutely nothing wrong with people wanting to devote their lives to that (although I'm glad not everyone in the world does - thank heavens for diversity of interests). I'm really surprised that someone would reduce this kind of passion to scientists slaving away in labs to get tenure, and call it unhealthy.

    Ben: [A]nyone who takes a complete or partial break during those years -- no matter how justifiable that break is -- will be passed by the ambitious racers who don't take the break...You can complain if you like, but it'll be like a marathoner complaining that her menstrual cramps forced her to stop at the 18th mile for half an hour...Perhaps someday feminists will succeed in pushing through public policy initiatives to restructure the academic world to accord more harmoniously with women's needs.

  • This is not a feminist issue

  • MIC: When working women have babies, they are often not given a way to scale back their responsibilities. So they quietly quit their unaccommodating jobs when they have kids. And as long as they leave without a fight and no one else sticks up for them, there will not be any change...Ben said that [women are] on their own when it comes to making change...How close-minded can you get? This is not just the work of feminists! Men and women (including many accomplished scholars and scientists) have kids. So this effort to find a balance between work and family is not just about women! Until we all demand change, change will not happen. Saying oh well, this is a women's issue is a complete cop out.

    Ben: The reason that there are so few outstanding female scientists is that most women want to be mothers, and hence would have to be part-time scientists. And the simple truth is: an outstanding part-time scientist is an animal that does not exist.

    Ancarett: It's rather like hazing, as long as we keep finding people who will go along with the horrors for the privilege and even defend these as "necessary" to the job, we'll never see a change for the better. It may have been necessary to do these things to get the job, but are they really a necessary part of the job? That's the better question.

    Hey Norton: I find it humorous that the "we're so damn busy in the lab" contingent seem to miraculously find time for 1,000 word essays about how demanding their jobs are. I'd probably need 80 hours in the office each week if I spent 30 of them boasting about how hard I was working.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Where's the enthusiasm?

    When family comes to visit, I love those little breaks from full-time parenting. And recently the breaks are even that much more appreciated because I'm totally exhausted and downright cranky from just being pregnant right now. My energy level is shot, my desire to play on the floor is nonexistent, and I really, really appreciate feeling like crap all alone, without toddler arms and legs jabbing me in the gut.

    However, I realize this as I sit back and watch my mother read countless stories to Toddler in Chief that I don't have that kind of energy, well, ever. I'm sure the pregnancy has exacerbated my inability to be totally present with TIC, but there's something about watching other family be so excited with him that I feel sort of inadequate. My vocal level never quite reaches that same exuberance that my mom's reaches when she watches him play or accomplish some task. My cheers don't seem quite as authentic as the other onlookers when TIC poops on the potty. Is this just because no one can have this level of enthusiasm every day? Is this just because my kid's a novelty to these out-of-state relatives that they manage so much authentic emotion?

    I don't know what it is, but it makes me feel like I'm not living up to the proper motherly standards, whatever those are.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Oh! Baby: Is homeschooling just for religious freaks?

    As the parent of an almost-three-year-old son, I am often exhausted at the end of the day. I am a mother, art director, grocery shopper, laundry doer, chef, song master, game expert, house-picker-upper, and activity coordinator, so it's hard to imagine putting on yet another hat and be a schoolteacher for Toddler in Chief as well. Especially because when TIC is five and ready for kindergarten, I'll have a two-year-old tearing through the house, causing a lot of distraction for his/her older brother during "school hours."

    I really have no desire to homeschool my kid. When he's five and old enough to go to kindergarten, I'm sure I'll be anxious to have him out of the house for a bunch of hours each day. I feel fortunate to have good schools nearby. But not every parent can say the same thing with confidence. It's really sad that our country's schools aren't the best in the world, and they are often sub-par. And if I was faced with sending my kid out into a lacking school or teach him at home, I just might try and figure out how to juggle schooling a big kid and entertaining a small kid all at once. It wouldn't be the most difficult feat for a parent...labor had to be worse, no? But at least that was just one day out of my life, not a school-year's worth. Yikes.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    What does it mean to be a father?

    There's more to being a dad than just being the provider of sperm, that is for sure. But what does it really mean to father a child?

    I got thinking about this after reading a post on crazedparent called, "WTF with co-parenting?..." It's about the term "co-parenting" being tossed around a lot lately and what that term has to do with parenting. It said:
    Am I to understand that the routine job of being mom and dad and raising your children together, otherwise know to the free world since, well, FOREVER, as PARENTING, is now referred to as "co-parenting"...[I]t's not just enough for me or my husband to be parents...we have to "co-parent." The idea of each of us having a role in this day-to-day world. But aren't we doing that already by virtue of being parents? Lame. Lame. Lame.
    Anyway, all this talk of parenting and co-parenting got me thinking about single parents. I won't pretend to know the difficulties of being a single parent--Father in Chief rarely even travels for work these days, and I often can't wait for him to get home at the end of the day to hand off some responsibilities. But I do have a handful of friends who are single parents. Sometimes this works out well and sometimes, well, it doesn't. And when it doesn't, it can be sucky for the kids. That said, I was encouraged by an email I got from a single-parent friend yesterday. She wrote:
    "[A]nd i think, perhaps, hopefully, i may be more accepting my single-momness. meaning, perhaps, hopefully i'm not as angry, blaming, etc [baby's dad]. and while he deserves it, i don't!!! and neither does [baby]. having such emotions and feelings like that seems so selfish, negative... really there's nothing good that can come out of it, at all.
    So true. I wish I could say that it will get easier or that it will all work out. But I don't know that. All that I do know is that your child is lucky to have a dad who wants to be involved. Because there are so many kids out there who don't even have that.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Go quietly, but carry a noisy cane, or walker

    When I'm old and have a cane, I can only hope that I'm out there stirring things up and getting arrested for just causes.

    From time-to-time, my activist mother-in-law is involved with a group called Raging Grannies (she's third from the right with a yellow bow on her hat), who promote global peace, justice, and equality through song and humor. There are branches nationwide, and she sent me a link to a New York Times article about 18 Manhattan grannies who were arrested for blocking the doorway of the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.

    It must have been quite a sight to see these women in court:
    The grandmothers - 16 of them, anyway, plus a doctor's note from a 17th asking that she be excused because of a hip replacement - appeared yesterday in State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan armed with symbolic silver handcuffs...Courtroom regulars marveled at the sight of 16 women, some carrying canes and pushing walkers, stretching across the room. Many wore photos of their grandchildren on chains around their necks. Some lawyers complained that the group had taken along about 50 supporters, making it hard to get a seat.
    My favorite part is that the judge offered to drop the charges against the women if they did not get arrested for at least six months. And they turned down the offer "because it would hobble their protesting." This group is called "Grandmothers Against the War," and every Wednesday they demonstrate outside Rockefeller Center, according to the article.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    How much can we protect our kids?

    As parents, we have such a small amount of time to mold our kids and to teach them about the world and (hopefully) instill good morals and positive behavior in them. And even if we do everything we can to raise good, positive kids, there is so much out there that we can't protect them from.

    I know this isn't new to our generation of parents, but I feel that it is exacerbated by Internet. I'm not down on the Internet (especially because I've built my career out of Net-related jobs), but the vast amount of information available to anyone is daunting. I started thinking about this after reading MojoMom's post called, "Reclaiming Your Mind Space...and your Family's." It's about the impact of all kinds of media on our lives and on our families', especially our kids. She wrote:
    Why is our culture obsessed with what we eat, and the drugs that we consumer to artificially stimulate our brains, while we pay relatively little attention to the actual sensory stimuli we take in?...[T]he largest group of Internet porn consumers is 12-17 year olds, and the average age of first exposure to porn is age 11. What is that doing to our children's sexual self-images, ideas about what is a normal relationship and behavior, framework about what it means to be a man or a woman, and sex as an abstract experience versus a real relationship?
    Right now Toddler in Chief has very limited access to media. During baseball season, he loves to watch the San Francisco Giants. After each play, he performs a one-man instant replay in our living room. The rest of the year, he thinks that television is just a bunch of previously-recorded shows that are available for viewing whenever we choose--which isn't very often. As for computer use, he likes to send email to distant grandparents and giggle at himself when the webcam is open for viewing.

    But that will all change when he is older--probably seven or eight years from now when he knows how to navigate the Web. With our DSL, access is easy. We'll definitely set up some parental controls and do our best to monitor him, but it won't be a perfect system. He'll likely have access at friends' houses too, looking at who knows what. I know every generation believes that their kids will be facing a much more challenging youth because of the media around us, but the generation coming of age (my niece and nephew, 11 and 14, respectively), along with our kids, the volume of information and images--good and bad--is plentiful and accessible, whether we like it or not.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    New baby tough on dads too

    Now that I'm pregnant and out of the pregnancy closet (at 15 weeks), I can't help but thinking about when the Baby in Chief arrives. And I'm not talking about what that means for my work. I've realized that will be the easy part. I'm talking about what that means for our family and for Father in Chief. I started thinking about this after reading Miriam's post called, "The New Year." It's about paternity leaves and the sad and short duration that they so often are. Her husband's short paternity leave recently ended. She wrote:
    We parents face terrible choices. It's the obvious thing to say, but it strikes me all the more. It's not just moms. My husband took off the first two weeks after Amelia Jane was born. He held her, cuddled her, stared long and meaningfully at her. Then, January 3d it was back to work.
    Her words about her spouse shot me five-and-a-half months into the future to see what our life will be like. Most of us at-home moms already know that we are devalued in society. But what I sometimes forget is that fathers are devalued even less. When we think of new babies, we think about the moms and short maternity leaves, "but we often forget that there are two parents who are likely struggling with the desire to be at home with the baby," I wrote on Miriam's blog. But when one parent isn't making very much money (as in our case), someone needs to be out there earning money to support the rest of us. And in our case--as in many cases--it's the dads.

    I know that Father in Chief had a really hard time going back after our son was born. But somehow his conflict isn't respected the same way it is with women. I'm going to generalize here, but I think that the work-world *expects* women to want to be with the new baby. But men are *expected* to be indifferent. Or at least not care outwardly.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Oh! Baby: Don't even think of cutting my boy

    I usually try to be open-minded and listen to different points of view. But I have a very hard time listening to people's rationalizations when it comes to circumcision.

    I used to think that what parents did to their kids genitals is there business, but the more I learn about circumcision, the more I know it's dead wrong. People have lots of excuses to justify it, but really, it's an unnecessary and brutal thing to do to your newborn. You might worry that your kid will look different from other kids, but who cares. If a generation of parents would be brave enough to say no (and they are in certain parts of the country), then the next generation of boys would never have this dilemma to think about.

    Last night when I was writing my post for Oh! Baby, I was so worked up about it. Father in Chief agrees with me on this issue, but there were some difficult core feelings in there as well because he (and pretty much everyone we know) is circumcised. I was going on about mutilation and how I don't understand why people do it--especially when they are nonchalant about it--and this hit some nerves. I don't mean to say that my husband is mutilated and I don't blame my parents' generation for doing this to their sons. At the time doctors thought it was a good thing to do.

    But. Now. We. Know. Better. See my full rant here.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    What's a contract got to do with it?

    The stereotypes and stigmas and fears about being pregnant at work or while gainfully employed run deep. Will my boss think the quality of my work will deteriorate because I'm pregnant? Will I be passed over for a much-deserved promotion because of a pending maternity leave? Will my job somehow be conveniently eliminated during some kind of department restructuring--just as I go on maternity leave? Or just as I'm supposed to come back?

    Sure all that stuff's illegal, but it happens all the time. And it's difficult, very time consuming, and expensive to prove.

    Still, I thought those pregnancy anxieties would just be felt by people with real jobs. Not people with fluffy, freelance jobs who aren't expected to show up in an office in clean clothing. Not people who have jobs with incredibly flexible schedules who only work a couple of hours a week. These anxieties--I thought--would not be felt by people who can manage to fulfill their very-part-time obligations and have a baby. People like me, for example.

    So how is it that I'm feeling this way? Not wanting to come out on my personal blog that I'm pregnant for fear that my employeer will read it and not want to renew my contract in March? It's so messed up.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Oh! Baby: Where is the best place to raise a kid?

    Deciding where to live is a personal choice. There are benefits and negatives to living in the city and the suburbs. For years, I was a city girl…from Boston, to London, to San Francisco. Those were good times, but somewhere in there I spent six months in Boulder, Co., and those months in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains made me realize how much I love nature and hiking. That said, I never have been a big fan of snakes or mosquitoes, and I have an unnatural fear that mountain lions are lingering in every tree waiting to attack.

    Anyway, after we got married we headed back into the Burbs, closer to nature and a deck for a hot tub. And now that we're raising our kid away from the city, I do sometimes romanticize about all the great stuff and never-ending excitement that we might be missing out on. But then I realize a hike in the hills is just a couple of minutes from our house and I don't mind that the city is a drive away.

    What about you? Why do you like or hate where you're raising your kid?