Saturday Open Thread

It’s the weekend, y’all!

We kicked ours off yesterday by doing something we’ve never done: go to Disneyland without DD.

Maya’s 2nd birthday coincided with her very first visit to Disneyland, and since then it is our tradition to take her on her birthday. Add that to the scores of other visits she has enjoyed, and she’s quite the theme park veteran.

We decided that since Alex celebrated his 2nd birthday last week, it was time for his first “big boy” visit to Disneyland (we brought him along a couple of times when he was an infant). I have such fond memories of Maya’s first visit, the wonder in her eyes and glee in her giggles, and wanted to enjoy that with Alex, too. We decided to visit on a less crowded weekday, while Maya was in school.

I arranged for our close friend to pick her up from school and take her to her buddy’s home for a play date. I considered not telling Maya where we would be, fearing a major freakout, or some pouting at the every least (“You’re going to Disneyland WITHOUT ME?!“)

Then I decided it’s probably healthy for her to realize she isn’t always the center of our universe. As an only child for five years, she got plenty of quality time with Mami and Papi. But Alex? Not so much. I sometimes feel guilty that he will never have our undivided attention the way Maya did. So I figure carving out some special time with us is only fair.

I sat Maya down and reminded her of her first visit to Disneyland, and each subsequent birthday visit. “Today, we are taking Alex to Disneyland while you are in school. This will be his first birthday visit.”

Her little face lit up.

“OK,” she said cheerfully. “Do you think he will like Big Thunder Mountain?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Maya can be as self-centered and entitled as any 7-year-old, but deep down, she has a generous heart. I was touched by her kindness and enthusiasm.

And we had a blast. Watching Alex’s little face as he hugged Winnie the Pooh, took in “It’s A Small World” and spun around in a teacup for the first time was beyond joyous. In fact, I will say that is the aspect of parenting I find the most joy in: seeing things through a child’s eyes. A beach, a flower, a puppy, or a theme park ride becomes truly wondrous again when you see your baby’s rapturous response to it.

When we picked Maya up at the end of the day, her first question was, “Did Alex have fun?” Sigh. My cup is very full today.

Do you make an effort to spend one-on-one time with your kids? If so, how? If not, why not? Alex is only 2, so I’m still feeling my way through this. Any insight would be appreciated!

What are you up to this weekend? Chat away!


Mommy PhD – angry, hurt and confused – Updated

** I started this diary soon after I defended my dissertation but things were still too raw.  Perhaps they still are.  But I need to write out my thoughts as a mechanism for clarifying them and I’m hoping that walking through some of this with you will help me figure some things out. Thanks as always. **

So as you know I defended my dissertation a month and a half ago.  The outcome was what I expected and the norm for my department – pass with rewrites.  My official graduation date will be Dec. 2010 (which was what I expected) and I need to get the final version submitted by early November.  The process for the whole thing was a mess.  And I’m finding that I’m really struggling with coming to terms with everything that happened.  It’s also been bringing back any concerns, frustrations, and uncertainty that I have about academia.

I would bet money, lots of it, that my chair did not read my dissertation.  And then threw me under the bus.  I got apologies from everyone on my committee for how things were handled.  Although the “apology” from my chair was still putting blame on me – I got a lot done but “not as much” as he thought such an excellent researcher like me could have and they were giving me a “pass” because I already had a job.  Later the other faculty on the committee told me that this wasn’t true.  But of course, that’s the part that sticks and is hard to get past.  

I pushed back quite a bit during the defense on what I felt were incorrect statements by my chair.  At one point I even told him I was pissed that this was going on.  I strongly believe that everything worked out because I pushed back.  But, it brings fears for tenure-track, reviews, etc. that are all done anonymously behind closed doors – if my CHAIR, the person who’s supposed to have my back, can so easily throw me under the bus, then what’s to say the next time something like this comes up and I’m not there to fight it, that I won’t get screwed then.  And that would be after another 6-7 year commitment to this…

I was/am really proud of what I accomplished – my dissertation, especially one chapter, is good.  I did it on time, or potentially even early.  And with 2 kids, limited support network.  It was hard.  And I worked really hard for it.  So I was really looking to the defense as a celebration of that.  And in my department that is the norm and expectation. And so when the process was really an exact opposite of that, I was really hurt.  Still am.  

One positive – I had struggled with not wanting to work further with my chair.  And now I will have no problem saying no :-)  We have one paper that we’re revising.  But that will be the end of my work with him.

Prior to my defense I was in a pretty gung-ho academia frame of mind.  This process also brought forth all my concerns about an academic career.  DH is currently applying for jobs and it’s been very stressful and he’s been working a ton.  He has additional travel because we moved for my post-doc.  Which has made it challenging to talk about the struggles I’m having – because we moved “for me”…

I’m tired of being the single parent.  And it would at least be expected if his travel was the 2-4 days every 2 weeks that we initially expected.  But he’s been gone for more than that (and a decent chunk that’s travel he would have been doing even if we’d been in IL still).  The other struggle I have is that he’s been working non-stop when he’s home.  So yesterday, I think he took maybe 1.5 hours of the day to hang out with the rest of us.  I took the kids in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  And I took them out for huge chunks of that time because Isaac especially just wants to play with DH and it all falls apart when DH can’t play.  The job market and huge competition is sucking DH dry.  And I don’t know if/when it will get better.  He keeps saying, “We’ll talk about this in a week – things are going to calm down.” But they don’t.  And we keep on this path of dual academics because we never get that “lull” that would be good for talking about this less emotionally/exhaustedly.

And of course this means I’m not getting my work done.  Last week rather than having time to get a paper out for review, I got to spend one night in the ER, one day observing Isaac for his mild concussion, one afternoon taking the dog in for an emergency vet visit, and two days giving the dog medicine every 4 hours so that we can hopefully save his eye (at least I could do some work and go to a meeting in between those…).  This week-end I wanted to clean and work-out.  Neither happened.  I’m tired and frustrated.

And I don’t see it getting better if/when we get the coveted faculty jobs.  Faculty in both our fields travel quite a bit.  And work like crazy.  My field has a lot of part-time students so there are a number of night classes to teach.  I know that I’m focusing on the negatives right now.  The positives – interacting with passionate students, teaching cool classes, developing interesting research programs, intellectual stimulation, flexibility with time (you work a lot but unless you’re teaching, time is quite flexible), good pay.  I’m just not sure how to figure out whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives.  And I don’t know what I’d do if I don’t do this… And then get down the path of “the past 5 years were such a waste and I was being stupid to think that we could actually do this.”  Which of course is not helpful.  DH is much more passionate about his work than I am so it fits that if one of us makes a change it would be me, but I don’t know how to think through this well. And I’m terrified that I’ll just keep “going along” and then 5-10 years from now look back and feel like I prioritized everything backwards…  But on the other hand, perhaps 5-10 years from now I’d have tenure and live would be roses :-)

Sorry for the long, disconnected thoughts…  I should probably go over this a few more times, but I keep saving drafts and I actually think I need some interaction around these thoughts rather than cogitating myself.  So I apologize for the length and poor structure but am posting anyways :-)

What strategies have been helpful for you as you think about career, family, and balance?  How have you discussed this with DH?  How have you balanced your dual needs and pressures?  

*** Update ***

Thanks everyone for your comments – I really appreciate them.  And I’m sorry to have posted and run.  After a couple meetings/vet appointment I decided to pick the kids up early.  Motivated by Minnmom’s great pic in the morning thread I took the kids and dog to the local arboretum and we walked around and had a really nice time.  Then grabbed dinner and ice cream.  Nice day all around.  One of the benefits of academia is that I could do that – decided to actually take advantage of it.  I’ll make some comments below, but there are a few themes that came up a few times that I thought I’d just write about up here.

My Chair.
I have come to terms with the fact that he’s just an asshole.  And I don’t trust him.  I’m hoping that I’ll be positioned such that I don’t need a letter from him as I don’t trust it to be strong.  One huge lesson – I should have followed my gut a couple years ago and dropped him as chair.  He thought the environmental stuff was a mistake and didn’t engage with my research.  But he’s tenured and powerful and I was worried he’d take out things on me and/or another committee member (who I would have asked to be chair) who wasn’t tenured at the time.  Given how he was at the defense, I think he truly could have done that so I’m happier with him taking it out on me rather than hurting someone’s tenure chances.  The apologies I got – in writing – from the other committee members are quite shocking.  Multiple ones saying it was the worst defense on the Committee’s part that they’ve ever witnessed and they were really sorry as it didn’t reflect my work.  My Chair meanwhile is in denial of this and I think has rewritten it in his mind. Our discussion after the defense in which he “apologized” was evidence of this re-writing history and just pissed me off more. So I just need to get this paper accepted somewhere and never work with him again.  Apparently he has a bit of a bad reputation so many people would be understanding… Things I wish I’d known earlier!  But the fact that he could still be such an ass and that the power differential is so critical… it was an eye opening experience and brought up frustrations with other aspects of academia.  I am doing a much better job of letting it go.  But it still burns.

He’s not stepped up recently and needs to.  I need to figure out how to effectively discuss this with him. He had a talk today at “the mecca” for physics and it went really well.  So hopefully he’ll come back a bit calmer and we can sit down and talk about it.  When he’s stressed he just shuts down if he thinks he’s being criticized and that’s something I still haven’t figured out how to get around.  It’s also hard because he’s in a field that is much more competitive than mine.  Many people each year do not make it to academia.  My concerns are “where” and “what level” I would get a job.  His is “whether” and so he has much more pressure to work.  We both know that it will be easier for me to get a job.  And that I’ll likely get paid significantly more.  (One benefit of the “evil empire” of business schools!)  But, you’re all right – that doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice all the time or can continue to automatically be the one to step up. Me sacrificing will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if I don’t set my mind around it correctly. We need to better figure out how to balance that.

Good ideas.  I think I need to think through how to do this more.  We’re getting a cleaning company for every other week – but that doesn’t start for another week.  Someone to help with dinners, especially when DH is out of town, is a really good idea that I will follow up on. Perhaps some college student could come 1-2 times a week and do some laundry, make some meals, clean… I also need to explicitly ask my parents to help.  They’re an hour away and we see them lots on week-ends.  But I bet my Mom would be able to help for a day a week and I should see if that might work.  Not sure why I hadn’t thought about that :-)  Thanks.


A Quiet Revolution Among Our Men

The other day, DH apologized profusely for being unable to take the kids to swim class. “I can do it twice next week,” he offered. I assured him it wasn’t necessary, that it all evens out at the end…wait a minute.

As you all know, driving the kids around to various activities is, in itself, a part-time job. Ari is taking piano once a week, while Eli goes twice a week to dance class. The kids swim twice a week. Generally, I take the kids to the Y on Tuesdays, while DH takes them on Thursdays.

Likewise, with dance class, he takes Eli on Fridays, while I pick up the Monday shift. We have been good since the 2008 election, about splitting childcare duties 50-50. I may do slightly more and must be flexible when things arise at work for DH, but for the most part, I get them up in the morning while he puts them to bed at night. And he is forever apologizing when work gets in the way of that. I thought of all this when I read Julia Baird’s column in Newsweek, “Beyond the Bad Boys: A quiet revolution in male behavior.”

A couple of studies have come out showing that not only are men more involved with child-rearing, but they are actually feeling guilty for spending too much time at work — a drastic change from their father’s and grandfather’s generations. And it is actually the manly so-called blue collar men who are reporting a 100 percent increase in household and childcare duties than their own fathers. Here are the studies that Baird cited:

But a survey of recent family research, called Unconventional Wisdom, prepared by the Council on Contemporary Families for its annual conference in Illinois, contains fascinating new data that show how subtly and surprisingly male behavior has shifted. First, men are spending more time with their kids. Millennial fathers—those under 29—spend an average of 4.3 hours per workday with their kids, which is almost double that of their counterparts in 1977. A Families and Work Institute report found that these young dads are actually now spending more time each day with children under 13 than mothers between the ages of 29 and 42 are with their own. Which is staggering. Second, while women still do most of the housework, men are becoming far more familiar with the sponge and vacuum cleaner, particularly less educated men. Between 1965 and 2003, college-educated men did 33 percent more housework than they did before, and men who never completed high school did 100 percent more, according to research from Oxford University. Brilliant news. Maybe this is why divorce rates have been falling for 25 years. Sociologists tell us that the best way for a married man to have more sex is to do more housework—and it’s scandal-free.

Unfortunately, sharing the load can mean sharing the misery, too. Astonishingly, married men are now feeling more torn over balancing work and family than their wives are. Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, found that in 2008, 59 percent of employed fathers in dual-earner families said they suffered work-family conflict, up from 35 percent in 1977. The number of women in two-income families who reported feeling conflicted increased by 5 percent over the same period, to 45 percent. (Williams says women who feel conflicted change their schedules, despite damage to their careers; men try to avoid this, and hence feel worse.) Men who stay home are in the minority, but overall, Williams says, “norms have shifted. Taking care of a child is now part of what it means to be a father.”

I will echo Baird and say Hallelujah! Are you finding these studies to be true in your own lives?


That thing there?  That would be the end of my rope.

Warning:  Insane rant ahead.

I almost didnt’ write this diary because, well, it’s a cliche.  It’s a cliche wrapped in a stereotype.  It’s a cliche, wrapped in a stereotype, bound up in outdated cultural mores.

But it’s going to be the absolutely freaking end of me and not a jury in the world will convict me when I finally snap because my husband views all things kid-and-house related to be my problem, responsibility and issue.  Unless they deal with money or repair or pointing out the things I do that are putting the kids and I in danger (like feeding DS a hotdog every couple of weeks).  That he can do.

I just don’t see how his tasks of “paying the bills, working, and managing the house repairs” really equals “being 95% responsible for all things munckin including, but not limited to: (I know that we all have this same list, but please let me engage in the self-indulgence of listing them here) morning routine, drop off at school or morning activities, enrollment in all activities, responsibility for during-the-day errands while I’m at work, kid pick up, after school routine (snacks, upack backpacks, do homework, deal with the UNBELIEVABLE amount of whining, etc) make a “well-balanced and yet consumable to my picky eaters” dinner containing neither hot dogs, chicken nuggets nor cheese more than 1 day a week, eat dinner (alone) with kids and try to teach some semblance of table manners, clean up the disaster that was the aforementioned table manner tutorial, ensure lunches are made, kitchen and living room are picked up, baths are given, teeth are brushed, two books per kid are read followed by supervised prayers, two songs, 15 minutes of SSR (that would be Sustained Silent Reading for those of you not married to a 2nd grade teacher) followed by another tuck in, kiss, and answering of 150000 questions like “Can I have a puppy tomorrow?  Why not?” (I guess I should also add that most of these things are specified by DH as Very Important so I should add “Supervisor of primary caregiver” to his list of tasks.) Then go downstairs, fix dinner for DH and I, try to be social and calm and interesting and interested.

This morning as I was wrangling the kids into their church clothes, DH wanders into the living room (after sleeping until 9:45, as he does every Saturday and Sunday no matter how much I beg him to help) and sighs this deep say, takes me in his arms and has the nerve to say “I’m worried about you.  You’re so stressed out and short with the kids.”

The hell?  Seriously?

After we got home from church, within moments, he puts on  his shoes and heads out to the gym and to run a few errands.  No warning, no “Is it okay with you if I run out for 3 hours, leaving you on full kid duty for yet another afternoon?”  Just a mention that it’s a beautiful day and I should take the kids out to play.

Great.  Thanks for that.

I’m up to my ass in laundry, the kids’ rooms are beyond disaster area status, and I am wiped out at the thought of doing one more thing.

So how do other people deal with this?  I’ve tried calm conversation, requests for help (of varying levels of specificity), and screaming my head off.  What do other people do?



Out late on a school night?

Good topic, Madwoman! What say you, MotherTalkers? -Elisa

My dear stepdaughter (DSD) is 14. There are four of us adults (both divorced parents have new long term partners) spoiling her. We do talk amongst ourselves and have a united front, but we’re usually united in indulging her.

This afternoon DSD wanted to go to the mall after school, and the group of four friends decided to see a movie, and what with one thing and another she didn’t get home until 8:30 (bedtime is 9) and her homework was very rushed and she didn’t get to bed until 9:30 – and this is a girl who very much needs her sleep. We HAD a “no movies on weeknights” rule (from the last time I took her to a movie on a weeknight and it went badly) but we forgot.

We have also let her go to concerts on school nights – if it’s a band she really likes and that’s the only night they are in town. The next one is next Monday. My partner has heard from other families (at parent teacher night) that they don’t approve and our rules look slack compared to theirs. Do other parents of teenagers, or those of you who used to be teenagers yourselves :), have any advice?

I know one reason why I am being a wimp. Social things are rough for DSD* and I don’t want to make it harder for her – I mean it’s a win for her that other nice girls (they are nice, I have known most of them for several years) want to go with her to the mall. And her rock fandom (totally over the top – she spends way more energy on it than on schoolwork) gives her some social cachet since she isn’t good at sports.

But I still think we need to have a firmer “homework first” rule.

I would be very grateful for any advice about how/where to draw the line. Thank you!


*She is starting to have more social challenges because she has gained lots of weight recently, plus we are poor compared to the average family at her private school (dad pays the school fees), plus due to a birth defect she has to stay out of some of the sports (although thankfully not all). One more social challenge: at DSD’s request her mom and I keep our relationship low key, which is why I was not at parent teacher night even though I do my fair share of the hands on parenting. (Actual quote when I moved in four years ago: “One of the girls in year ten’s mum is a lesbian and she has NO FRIENDS.” – meaning the girl I think, not the mum.)

+++ And now for a TOTAL digression (cultural note) about why DSD was at the mall on Thursday specifically…

In my Australian city, most shops and malls close at 5.30 every weeknight other than Thursday, and even earlier on Sat/Sun. Thursday is a special night of “late night shopping” in which people crowd the malls and wander around until shops close at 9pm, just because they can. (Grocery stores, bars, and cinemas are open later, and a few pharmacies, which are called chemists, but if you want a KMart at 6pm on Weds, sorry!) In a way it feels good though, that there are some hours of the week that are not yet totally devoted to consumption. Apparently until fairly recently shops closed on Sat at lunchtime (so people could play sports with their families in the afternoon?) and didn’t open on Sunday at all, so Sunday shopping still feels newfangled (just like in Boston right after the blue laws were repealed – oops, now you can tell I am OLD :) ).


Balance on the campaign trail

What a fascinating article in today’s NYTimes (free registration required):

On the Trail With Daddy

The juggling acts portrayed in this article certainly make mine seem tame in comparison.  Interestingly, I find myself torn about which approach is the “best” approach.  The Edwardses are taking their kids all over the country but they see them every day, whereas the Obamas and the Dodds are leaving their kids behind and keeping them in the safe world of their routine.

There are some great nuggets in the article:

No fewer than five presidential contenders — Mr. Edwards, Senators Christopher J. Dodd, Sam Brownback and Barack Obama, and the almost-candidate Fred D. Thompson — have children under 10, a circumstance historians say has no recent precedent.

It is a case of campaign demographics colliding with larger ones: some contenders are running for president at relatively young ages, while others — like many voters — are having children later in life.

Sounds like life, doesn’t it?  I bet we can find similar demographics in our own lives.

Then there is this great image that I just LOVE:

Mr. Dodd’s daughter Christina, 2, tends to wake up for the day between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. and sometimes undoes her diaper in public. (Last month in Iowa, Jackie Clegg Dodd, her mother, replaced it as she was giving a speech to voters.) Grace Dodd, 5, has life-threatening allergies, meaning her parents must either bring or shop for special meals — and keep her away from the foods that have sent her into anaphylactic shock several times.

My first reaction was, Chris Dodd has a 2yo and a 5yo?  My second reaction was, you go girl! in reaction to the image of Mrs. Dodd rediapering a child and never missing a beat in her speech.  Yeah! As a working mom, I just love that image.  Then, my last reaction is embarrassment.  I couldn’t even get my DD to the pool today without forgetting her diaper bag with the wipes and suntan lotion in the car, but the Dodds are dealing with severe food allergies on the road.  I shall comfort myself with the thought that they have oodles of help.

The Edwardses CAN’T be happy that this little exchange got into the paper:

And they treated an interviewer the way politicians surely wish they could at times, refusing at first to remove their iPod earphones for a discussion of life on the trail.

“I don’t want to do this,“ Jack protested to his father, John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate and former North Carolina senator.

“I don’t care whether you want to do this,“ Mr. Edwards replied.

A moment later, Jack hid his face in his hands.

“Mr. Jack, do we need to go in the back and have a conversation?“ asked Mr. Edwards, lifting his son’s head.

The boy sat for a few more minutes, fidgety but obedient, before being freed and happily bounding with his sister to the fort they were building in the back of the bus.

Even I winced a little at the thought of little Jack participating in the interview when he didn’t want to.

I won’t quote anymore of the article because I’m probably breaking some blog etiquette at this point.  But its a really good article.  I think, right now, I would have to emulate the Edwards model if I were on the campaign trail (hah!).  There have been studies recently (that we were just discussing in another post, actually) that state in the early years kids just want time with their parents.  I certainly hope that Emma Claire gets to go home every now again to see her dog, but that’s better than only getting to see her parents every now and again.  I think.  I’m certainly not judging any of the other presidential parents.  You do what works for your family.

So, what do you think, MTs?  Are these kids damaged for life, or will they get over it?  Where would your balance fall?


Losing my balance

For the first two years of my daughter’s life, I was amazingly confident that I had that “balance thing” figured out.  I was working full time, but didn’t seem to be plagued by the guilt and amazing stress my other working mom friends had.  When I thought about it, I could identify four factors that enabled me to pull this off: 1) I had a job that I had been in for a while, one that was flexible enough and low stress; 2) I had a husband who did 50%, if not more, of baby care duties; 3) we had a day care that we loved and trusted, and my daughter was very happy there; and finally 4) we have a daughter with a superhuman immune system that got her through her first winter in day care with only one serious illness and her second with none.  (I’m not lying.  I wouldn’t have believed it either.)

All these factors not only allowed me to work full time, but to continue volunteering with my local theatre troupe and my local political party.  And then it all fell apart, like a table losing its four legs one by one.
The first to go was the job.  This was deliberate.  I had been there for 5 years, and it was MIND-NUMBINGLY boring.  There was no career there, there was a paycheck.  So, in a fit of exasperation, I quit.  I had another job offer on the table that I was thought was pretty safe.  But I was wrong, so I spent a significant chunk of time unemployed.  I managed to find another, much better job with actual career prospects, finally.  I started four weeks ago.  I’m the new person in the office, nobody knows who am I or what my work ethic is like, and I have no sick leave or vacation time saved up.  (Its like a bad movie, you can see where this is going a mile away…)

Second to go, in a sense, was my husband.  Oh, he’s healthy and alive and we’re still married.  But between all of my job transitioning and his taking a week off to go down south to help his mother during her hip replacement surgery, he, too, has no leave anymore.  Financially, we’re not in a particularly great place for unpaid leave (see the unemployment issue above!), and he is starting to get concerned about his reputation at work.  I feel like my safety net has been ripped away.

Third to go, most dramatically and stressfully, was the day care.  Two weeks before I left the old job, the state inspected the day care and cited them for being THIRTY kids over their zoning!  THIRTY.  I was appalled.  They had lied to us about this problem in the past, and now the state was citing them for misdemeanor violations of the zoning code.    We pulled our daughter out immediately.  (The details of this story are actually insanely dramatic and painful.  Its much more convoluted.  But this diary is already long enough.)  I was in throes of preparing for a big meeting at work (the last hurrah, as it were) so my husband stayed home with DD, yes, burning his leave, until we miraculously found new daycare that could take her right away.  But my faith in my judgment has been devastated.  I loved our first day care.  Truly.  So even though this new day care seems perfectly nice, I cannot relax.  Every stupid little thing that never would have bothered me before is now a red flag.  Faith in my day care was such a critical piece in staving off working mommy guilt, and now its gone.  I am spinning.

Lastly, finally, everyone’s health has taken a nose dive, simultaneously.  First was the MIL’s hip surgery.  Then, the week before I started the new job, DD came down with bronchitis, which we thought was allergies until Friday.  And yes, my DH had to take her to the doctor, because I had to go for my very first mammogram to check out a lump.  The following Friday, after my first week at the new job, my father was hospitalized for a fever that he had had for 9 days without end.  His heart rate was up to 125, and the hospital would not let him go until he was fever free for 24 hours.  He ended up staying there for 11 more days, the whole time with a fever of 102 or 103.  They tested him for everything, from infectious diseases to viral to every cancer imagineable.  So, at the start of my second week at work, I had to tell my boss that I might have to go home at a moment’s notice.  Once they ruled out infectious causes, we went up for a weekend visit, and on Sunday morning my brother also woke up with a really high fever.  Luckily, it went away in 24 hours.  So, when DD came home from day care on Monday with a fever of 102, we thought nothing of it.  DH and I split staying home for two days, and Wednesday night, her fever broke.  So we sent her to day care on Thursday.  I, however, could not get out of bed, with a fever of 102 and amazing aches and pains.  So, third week of the new job, two sick days and counting.  DH came home at noon with a high fever and aches and pains of his own.  We had to call our beloved and wonderful friend with 2 daughters of her own to go pick DD up from day care, and we begged my mom to come down from Jersey to help.  We both had horrible sore throats Friday morning, and went immediately to the doctor.  We had strep throat (actually, he had strep and incredibly bad tonsilitis, and I had scarlet fever! Yikes!).  Mom immediately whisked the child to the pediatrician, and sure enough, she had strep.  And we sent her to daycare!!!  OMG.

So that brings me to where I am today.  A frazzled wreck, whose sense of balance has been totally shredded.  I feel like I’m one disaster away from getting fired.  And I’ve come to the amazingly humbling realization that my sense of balance is precariously based on things completely out of my control.  The first two years were an illusion.  I was lucky.  I feel ashamed of how I questioned what my WOHM friends were doing wrong.  I feel scared that I’ll never get my balance back.  And I’m frustrated that the only thing that can fix this is time.  Time to get leave balances back up.  Time to build my reputation at the new job, so I feel like I have a bank of good will.  Time for my DD’s immune system to adjust to all the new germs at the new day care.  The worst part is that its making me scared to move ahead with our plans for the second child, because I dread the thought of going into the office any time soon to say I need three months off!  This crazy desire for a second kid is making me brutally aware of time going by.  So, having to wait to regain my balance is making me nuts.

So, MotherTalkers, what do I do?  Yoga?  Zen meditation?  Valium?  How do I get through this time?  Advice definitely appreciated!


Motherhood/Life Balancing Act: Dutch Women May Have It!

Ellen de Bruin, a psychologoist and journalist has interviewed with historians, psychologists, fashion designers, image-profilers, personal shoppers, magazine editors and ordinary Dutch women to write a new book Why Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed. The book is stirring up controversy in Europe. Some of her analysis and the results of her interviews and other survey data is interesting:

Dutch, both men and women, may be happier overall: The world happiness rankings established by Ruut Veenhoven, professor of social conditions for human happiness at Erasmus University in Rotterdam show that

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 signals greatest life satisfaction, the Dutch score 7.5 – beating 6.5 for the French and 6.2 for the Japanese. They also defeat Americans with 6.4, the British with 7.1, and the Italians and Spanish who each total 6.9.

Part of the reason lies in the social organization of the Netherlands, which offers women greater control over their lives than that of France or Japan.

One clue to happiness for Dutch women is balance – Their lifestyles support the flexibility that being a primary child caregiver demands. Plus, they don’t worry about dressing up and they are bossy.

“We are seen as very tough,” de Bruin said in a recent conversation in Amsterdam, before cycling off to a class in runway walking to learn how to balance in high heels. “We don’t know how to dress and we are not very hospitable – if you come round to our house at dinnertime you get sent away.” Clothing is geared more to the weather than seduction. “We do everything by bike, which is why we don’t dress very elegantly,” de Bruin said. And, with a highly developed sense of equality between the sexes, “we are bossy to our men.”

Seriously, though, there are some practical facts of Dutch life that make balance easier, a reality.

Living in a wealthy, industrialized society plays a huge part in the Dutch woman’s sense of contentment, she said, given the benefits of a social net that allows for balance between work and family life. She backs that claim with statistics: 68 percent of Dutch women work part time, roughly 25 hours a week, and most probably do not want a full-time job.

It’s not just the social net and part time work alone. Economic freedom buys independence. The freedom to work outside marriage (part time, full time, before/after marriage) is a necessity. And absent in some cultures today.

Long used to a measure of economic freedom, Dutch women worked before marriage from as early as the 14th century, when the decimations of the plague made female labor a necessity and conferred a habit of independence that some historians have called the first feminist revolution.

Along with that economic freedom is the nuclear family — which frees women from the binds of traditional families, early arranged marriages, and dowries. In fact, the nuclear family is a source of happiness!

A large component of the Dutch woman’s happiness today derives from the importance attributed to the nuclear family – an institution invented by the low countries and whose hold there today is so strong that even gay couples want it.

Do you think the Religious Right knows the nuclear family is good for feminism?


What Is That Ticking I Hear?

What is the ideal age to have children? actually asked people and put out this alarming article about women who wait — sometimes into their forties — to bear children.

Normally, I would roll my eyes at such an article since it tells women what to do. But I do think it is important to let young women know that, as this story pointed out, their fertility starts declining in their 20s and not their 40s as what has become conventional wisdom:

An international survey of 17,500 women released last year by the AFA found that most respondents mistakenly thought their fertility began to decline at age 40. The countries surveyed included the United States, England, Sweden, Uganda, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Argentina and Turkey.

While it’s true that fertility takes a nosedive at 40, the decline actually begins in a woman’s late 20s and accelerates throughout her 30s at a rate of 3 percent to 5 percent per year. By age 40, a woman has just a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant naturally in any given month.

Even women who should know better, sometimes don’t — or maybe they’re in denial, thinking they’ll be the one to beat the odds. Dr. Richard Scott, director of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, says he recently saw a 45-year-old woman with a graduate degree in biology who said she wanted to get pregnant with her own eggs. But chances of that happening are slim.

Of course, living in this country where we have no safety net, it is difficult to reconcile the need for a career with the yearning for children. I still believe that women should wait until they are financially and emotionally ready for kids.

But I do think that if women know they will want children someday — as I did — they should keep the above statistics in mind. I am not sure what this means in practice though.

Women have long been wrestling with how to balance work and family planning, and delaying having babies to build their careers or even those of their husbands. Statistics show that as more women have entered the workforce since the mid-1970s, the percentage of first births to women ages 30 and up have increased fourfold, according to the American Fertility Association (AFA), a patient and advocacy group

Madsen says she’s hopeful that more couples — and companies — are learning about the biological limits on fertility. “I think there is more awareness today of the need for women to take the pregnant pause in their careers and have their kids,“ she says.

But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to break away from a successful career and jump into pregnancy and parenthood — and then try to juggle it all with an employer who may or may not be family-friendly. “A lot of women feel trapped,“ Madsen says.

Besides careers, the article blamed complacency on the wait. Nowadays we are most likely to know someone who has undergone fertility treatments to become pregnant, or at least read about it in the paper. I have friends in their 20s who have taken years, drugs and had surgeries to become pregnant.

Still, no matter how much planning you do, there is no guarantee of pregnancy and family life without complications. This last anecdote was sad to me, and only reinforced how much we desperately need a safety net in this country as well as workplace protections for women who want families:

Heather Duvall, 37, of Burnsville, Minn., waited to have kids not just because of her career, but because her husband was finishing business school. So when the couple felt the time was right, they started trying and Duvall conceived. But the happy news wasn’t met so warmly by one of her managers. She recalls him saying: “Heather, why did you have to go and get pregnant on us?“

He knew she most likely wouldn’t be maintaining her current hours — from early in the morning until late in the evening — as a financial analyst. One woman at the company did keep up the pace and her 3-year-old developed an imaginary mommy as a result.

“I thought, gosh, I don’t want my kids to have an imaginary mommy,“ Duvall says. So after her son was born eight years ago, she went back to work part-time, working from home. But she always felt pulled in two directions, especially since her son developed cerebral palsy — likely from complications during her difficult childbirth — and needed medical attention. So she quit working altogether and volunteers on the board of her hospital and takes care of her family, which now includes two kids.

She doesn’t think women today — who are often raised to get advanced degrees and pursue high-powered careers, and are then confronted with the pressure to have children in a relatively narrow span of time — have an easy time of things.

“I think my generation has been sold a bill of goods,“ Duvall says. “We’ve been told that we can have a career and children and we can take our time doing it. Everyone who lives on my street, in a metropolitan suburb, has used some type of fertility assistance.“

Like Duvall, I have often heard that we can’t “have it all” at once. This statement has always depressed me as it comes from a position of surrender. I know this is a complicated issue, but how do we pursue our careers without letting the ticking of our biological clocks distract us? What policies and workplace changes would you like to see?


The Uncertainty of Living in the U.S.A.

Personal Note: I think this issue is so timely. Just see Phree’s excellent post below. -Elisa

Just in the last week, I have read a lot of media coverage about Leslie Bennetts’s book The Feminine Mistake. NJmom did a great job of covering the book on our end. I was also intrigued by this Today Show video clip on the MojoMom blog, which included guest appearances by Bennetts, MojoMom’s Amy Tiemann, Lisa Belkin — the original author of the “Opting Out Revolution“ article in the New York Times — and some psychologist who added nothing to the debate.

In case you have forgotten, Bennetts’s book dealt with the touchy subject about how women who opt out of the workforce to stay home with their children jeopardize their own financial security and happiness. It definitely struck a nerve even among stay at home dads in the blogosphere.

And she is right that the death of a spouse or divorce can lead to a vulnerable place for a stay-at-home parent. Our capitalist society is set up so that if you don’t have your own money and an emergency arises, you will find yourself in a bind like a recent Newsweek letter writer who said that while she did not regret her 15 years as a SAHM, her divorce and the gap in her resume left her in a compromised position. (I am sorry, but I cannot find the link to this letter. The woman wrote in response to Newsweek’s review of the Feminine Mistake.)

I am irked by Bennetts, but not because she did not write what sounds to be an important book. But in calling it the “feminine“ mistake, it sounds like she doesn’t address the larger needs of the American public and simply blames women for this “mistake,“ which I view as resulting from a problem in our system. Most galling was how she gave such an off-putting title on her book and then acted like some victim when people reacted to it. Her attitude on the Today Show was this annoying, passive-aggressive (paraphrased), “I’m not sure why people were offended. I was just reporting the facts.“

Well, the fact that you called their decision off the bat a “mistake“ probably ruffled their feathers and kept them from reading your book. That’s just my guess.

Look, it’s true that mothers — especially single mothers — are more likely than any other group to live in poverty. But the reality is that in this country no one is safe. Just because you have a job doesn’t mean that you are not vulnerable to downsizing, injury or illness, or burning out.

At my old job, I saw all these scenarios play out, although I want to add that I was reluctant to leave my former post for the health benefits. Still, I felt disposable and vulnerable almost the entire time I was there and my position as well as all the reporters’ jobs were eliminated shortly after I left. (Yes, I am so very fortunate and grateful that I did not have to look for a new job with a newborn!)

I survived three rounds of layoffs and I remember seeing people who had spent years — sometimes their entire careers — with the company to only be escorted by security. (There was actually a security guard present during the layoffs in case anyone went “postal.“ I know, sad.)

I saw at least two employees — a reporter and a copy editor — drop out due to RSI. Both went on to less paying jobs once the disability checks ran out. I also saw a burnt out reporter leave the company to write a book — with no book contract — and an editor go on a back-packing trip to Asia only to take a lesser-paying job with no benefits teaching English in China.

None of these people, by the way, were parents. As you can see, mothers are not the only people in this country pressed for time and needing job security. Men and women, single and married people, all want lives outside of work. They do not want to continue working 60-hour workweeks and do not like feeling hostages to jobs they do not like simply “for the benefits.“

Imagine if we had universal health care? I bet this benefit alone would lead many people to scale back their work hours and spend time with their families and hobbies. But understandably, such a book on the downside of being part of the American workforce, would not garner the attention brought on by the catfights of the mommy wars.