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Friday, February 23, 2007

A big, unpleasant distraction

Right about now, I'm wishing that the biggest frustration in my life was when to work, how to work, where to put my kids while I stumbled with my career. But sadly, I have been distracted over here. Please keep your fingers crossed. I am feeling sick just thinking about where we might be headed. Can't even imagine having to go there again...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We take it for granted

It is one of those organs that we give little thought to. We probably think about it less than our stomachs and intestines--we get constant reminders from those organs when food goes and remains come out. But we probably think about it more than, say, our livers or our pancreas. And probably the main reason we think about it--when we do think about it--is because we hear that we are supposed to exercise to keep it healthy and we are supposed to eat a healthy diet so that its connectors don't get clogged. But other than that, our heart is one of those things that we take for granted. I always did, anyway.

That is until my son was born.

In addition to being Valentine's Day, February 14 is also Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day. And it was just one year ago that we were just a few weeks from my son's third open-heart surgery. He was born with a complex heart defect--a single ventricle heart with dextrocardia, heterotaxy, TAPVR, and asplenia. In common terms, that means that instead of having four chambers, his heart has only one. It is also on the wrong side of his chest, and many of his organs are in the wrong place. As part of "complex" condition, he was also born without a spleen, which is very important organ for fighting infections (who knew?). There is no fix for his heart. Rather, a series of surgeries have created a way for his blood to move oxygen around his body.

Three open-heart operations, several hospitalizations, and a couple of scares later, we are not done dealing with heart-related issues. Instead, we are nervously awaiting more bad news. We need to figure out why (WHY??!!) there is more fluid under his lungs. This is likely a complication from his last surgery that was never resolved. In the next several weeks, he'll have a cardiac MRI, several blood tests, and probably another heart catheterization to try (once and for all) to identify this fluid's source and to fix the problem.

Really, for kids with heart defects as complicated as my son's there is no fix. There are ways to stabilize him. There are ways to help him life a normal life for a while. But his life, and our lives will never be normal. Our lives are a series of wait-and-sees with ups and downs. For now, we keep our fingers crossed that the tests do not reveal anything significant that send us back to the OR. We wait and hope that all he needs is more time and medication.

What can you do? Father in Chief lists a variety of ways you can help.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Women leaving technology jobs

Women are leaving the IT field, according to a Computing magazine article. The number of women IT workers dropped to 16 percent, down from 19 to 21 percent in 2000. The article did not say whether this was just women in the UK or if this was all women within the information technology field. We need to assume that they are talking about women in the UK only because it states that women represent 46 percent of the overall UK workforce.

"Some 61 per cent of database assistants and 42 per cent of assemblers of electrical products are female, compared with only 20 per cent of ICT managers, and 12 per cent of IT strategy or planning professionals," according to the article. "A woman needs to be demonstrably better than her male colleagues to succeed in the industry," said Catherine Doran of chief information officer at Network Rail, in the article.

The article, published late last year, did not provide many details of its "investigation." Therefore, we don't know how many people were surveyed. The article also did not mention how many of the women had children or how long these women had worked in IT before deciding to leave the field. A lack of flexible job options and longer hours were cited as the main culprits deterring women from the more senior jobs with greater responsibilities.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Don't laugh, even if it's funny

I enjoyed the Sarcastic Journalist's post about her older child covering the baby in Vaseline when they were supposed to be playing nicely in their bedroom. Someone had commented that, "It’s hard to scold and run for your camera at the same time."

It got me thinking about funny things my own kid has said. And one nugget in particular comes to mind. We were out to dinner. It was not a fancy restaurant, but it was not filled with screaming children either. That meant that lots of people could hear if your child is loud. So we were sitting there, the food showed up, and Preschooler in Chief--then much younger--started shouting, "I want a fuck. I wanna fuck."

It was horrifying. Who did he hear that from??!! It was totally inappropriate!!?? People were staring. The more I asked him what he was talking about, the louder he shouted. And then it dawned on me what he wanted. And so I said very loudly so that everyone could hear me, "Okay honey. I'll give you a F O R K."

Hilarious and horrifying simultaneously. I did not want to laugh. But come on people, pretty effing funny. I bit my tongue at the time and got a good belly-laugh out of it when I retold it to all my friends.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My new part-time job

The best way ensure success with my book project is to treat it as an actual job. Not some extra-curricular activity. Not time when I'm doing other important stuff, like building "roads" out of Play-Doh so that the Matchbox cars can get "stuck" in the "mud." I need to set myself up for success. This means carving out hours that I need to work. Every. Single. Day. Or at least three days a week. If I want to accomplish this, I need to treat it with the respect and attention it deserves. I love Sarah's idea of hiring a nanny, but there's something about that that seems decadent. But, again, this isn't a treat so that I can lounge around. This is so that I can work!

Yes, part of my hesitation is that feeling that hiring help is a decadence. Another part is that I have a hard time relinquishing control of my kids' lives. What they learn. Who they are learning from. This is partially why it took me so long to enroll Preschooler in Chief in preschool. When it's just me, I get to be the primary source of the things that fills my kids' heads. What songs they sing. What toys stimulate their brains. How they talk with other people. I guess I'm a bit of a control freak.

You see, since PIC started school, he has definitely picked up some new behaviors. His favorite new expression is, "No Fair!" He must either working through some frustrations of being in a new environment or just totally exhausted at the end of the day. The result is not fun. My mother in law, who is a preschool teacher in New York, emailed some thoughts:
My first inclination is to think he is seeing other behavior and he is modeling it...Either that, or the whole preschool experience is overwhelming or exciting him too much and he does not know how to come down after all the excitement...[S]ometimes kids start being obnoxious at home with parents after the first few weeks of school. They act like they are in charge.

That is most certainly happening here. And I wonder if hiring help for some of the other time would exacerbate the problem. Still, something's gotta give if my grand plan is going to come together. I just don't want it to happen at the expense of my kid's sanity. Although not pursuing my goals will definitely impact my sanity. And subsequently, my kids.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where to stash the puny humans

Most of my writing happens when the kiddos are tucked under their comfy blankets dreaming about fuzzy puppies, sprinkle-covered ice cream cones, and dump trucks. Actually, those are Preschooler in Chief’s dreams. I imagine that Baby in Chief’s dreams are more simplistic: his favorite boob, his favorite position for nursing on his favorite boob, and how much fun it is to chomp on his favorite boob with his new tooth.

But it has come to my attention that there is more to creating a book than just the writing part. It seems that there is quite a bit of other stuff. Father in Chief stopped by the local library yesterday and picked up a few tattered how-to manuals on getting a book published. The take-away is this: there is a lot of work to do. I feel confident in my abilities to get the actual writing part of the book done. But writing a book is just one tiny part. It may very well be the easy part, as far as I’m concerned.

All that other stuff… the market research, the queries, the proposals, agents, the back and forth, well, it’s a bit daunting. Especially since much of it involves doing stuff during the day when I’m busy with my full-time job—parenting. Some of that other stuff will require that I go out during daylight hours. It means that I need to do something with those kids. This isn’t 1975, and so it is no longer acceptable to leave the kids locked in the car for extended periods of time, even if the windows are cracked open for fresh air. It is not acceptable to leave them at home alone while they are napping. And it is not acceptable to put duct tape over their question-filled mouths while I sip a frothy latte at the bookstore. Ahem, I mean while I conduct serious research. While I thumb through the titles at the bookstore—titles that have nothing to do with fuzzy puppies, sprinkle-covered ice cream cones, and dump trucks.

I’m sure Baby in Chief would tolerate my research for about 15 minutes while he amuzed himself with his hands, but then he’d want me to actually interact with him. And that would never do. I need to be able to do this work unencumbered by the puny humans in my life. So a small mental setback while I figure out where to stash them for a couple hours a week. I want to work on all the pieces needed to successfully publish my book, not just the easy part. Sure I can and will do some of the research online, but the bookstore is a good place to be when you aspire to have some of your work there someday, as I do.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Book recommendations?

Last night, Father in Chief and I were wandering around some bookstores and I spent a lot of time in the writing/publishing section. I was reading about finding an agent, writing a book proposal, and the publishing industry in general. There were so many choices. It was a bit overwhelming for someone who has no knowledge in this area. I feel confident in my writing skills, but I've never had to think about this other stuff before. Before I committed to buying anything, I figured I'd go peruse my local library's offerings. Then once I find the ones I really like, I'll get my own copies to smudge up and fill with book darts. Getting Your Book Published for Dummies probably would have been a good place to start.

Any recommendations?

In the meantime I'm going to write. FIC is out of the house. And he took Preschooler in Chief with him, leaving the house filled with a lovely sound: silence. I realize that rare sound will be filled with whimpers and giggles as soon as Baby in Chief wakes up from his nap. But for the time being, I'm going to relish the moment and get down to work. I'm feeling so energized with this project and my hope is that I can hang onto that feeling even when writing becomes difficult, as it does at times. It's a craft of ebbs and flows, so I will do some writing instead of napping, which would be another fine--although less productive way--to enjoy the silence.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Simmons study author responds to MIC

Earlier this week, I criticized a recent study conducted by the Simmons School of Management about whether or not women are "opting out" of the workforce. The study reported that most women are not opting out. Rather, women are negotiating "flexible work arrangements" so that they can stay employed. I argued that their study--which included mostly white, high-income women--could possibly be perpetrating its own myth about working women.

Simmons Professor and Lead Study Author Mary Shapiro responded to my criticism and addressed some of my concerns. Here is her response:
Hello Suzanne,
Thank you for reading our research and posting some very interesting questions about it. I’d like to address some of your concerns.

As a blogger, you may have been also “shaking your head in bewilderment” starting back in 2003 when mainstream media started reporting how women were “opting out” of the workforce. I was, too. And talk about a “small slice of reality!” Time Magazine, Fast Company and others ran stories based on anecdotal stories from a few women. One story which claimed that maternal instinct was on the rise, and that accounted for the number of women leaving the workplace, was written after the editor talked to a few of her girl friends.

My colleagues and I at Simmons were incensed: how could a reputable magazine extrapolate from a sample of 6-8 girlfriends what the total working female population was doing? Clearly those women were highly educated, most likely white, and definitely privileged. What was more: they could afford to not work.

We set out to explore a larger “slice of reality,” the reality of the working professional woman. You are absolutely correct that this still is a narrow subset of the US working female population---it doesn’t capture union jobs, hourly workers, women in minimum wage jobs. But that is exactly why we included all the demographics about our sample, both in the text of our study and in our endnotes. We wanted to be very clear that we weren’t speaking about all women (and in fact, we even state that we didn’t capture enough women of color to be able to speak about their work experiences, but plan to in future studies). You are correct: it is too easy for the press to grab one statistic about one group of women and use it to explain all women.

We do feel we were able to understand what working professional women (of a higher income, as we stated) were doing. Their income and demographics did allow us to push back against what the mainstream media had been saying for the past 3 years and what the rest of us know for the wider reality: women work to pay the bills. Over 85% of our women had to work (in that they contributed at least 50% to the household income, and over 35% of them contributed 100%). But what surprised us was that this group of women, contrary to the media, said they weren’t opting out when they used flexible work arrangements (FWAs), such as flexhours or telecommuting. Instead, they were using FWAs to make work “work” for them, to juggle crazy lives and to primarily stay full time employed, and were using FWAs without hurting their incomes.

Can this be extrapolated to a larger population of women? Maybe. As you said, this “particular group of women is getting more flexibility from their employers”….but we didn’t say employers in general were becoming more accommodating, or that negotiating for FWAs is easy, or that leading a life juggling work (no matter how flexible) and family/outside worklife is easy. Ask any woman who has negotiated to leave work by 3PM to be home when the kids get off the bus, only to get back online and do email once the kids go to bed, that life is not easy. But it’s the best she can do, given that she has kids to care for and bills to pay. In that regard, it may be a story that resonates with many women who don’t earn $116,000 a year.

Finally, one message that we hope does resonate with women of all incomes and job types: you aren’t wrong or deficient in asking for FWAs. You are proactively managing your career to make it work for you. The reason employers look at you with raised eyebrows, or think that you aren’t committed to work, or think “there goes maternal instinct,” is that they are judging your career choice against an outdated career model---a model that is no longer supported by stay at home moms, and lifelong stable employment; an outdated career model that equates “face time” with commitment and measures billable hours instead of productivity.

Mary Shapiro,
Simmons School of Management
Study Author
I want to thank Ms. Shapiro for taking the time to respond to me. It is necessary that we continue the dialog about all working women--working parents. I hope that the more we talk about these issues, 1) more parents will try to negotiate some flexibility into their jobs to create an equilibrium between work and home, and 2) more employers will foster a work environment that values employees based on the job performed, not on gender or parental status.