Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"This is what I think of your new job, Mommy!"

Baby Legume got hold of the paystub for my first paycheck last week.
. . . She put the paystub in her sister's old potty chair. . .
. . . then dragged it out into the center of the living room for
me to see.
Nothing like children to keep you humble.

Gratuitous photo of Legume, who will be 16 months old
next week!

Elegy for the season

Last week I took the girls to studio craft time at our favorite toy store. Bean-girl picked up a leaf in the parking lot and brought it inside with her. After painting two pictures in the craft room, she traced the leaf on a piece of paper, and drew a big circle around the leaf-trace to represent a tree. She drew a bird in the tree. And in the corner of the picture, she drew a red flower.

Bean-girl said the picture was a story, and the woman supervising craft-time kindly wrote Bean's story on the back of her paper.
The last flower of the season. There is a tree and it is raining and it is the last flower of the season.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The first week at work

Should I and Baby Legume go to the store with you, Bean-girl? Husband asked today after dinner. Or would you like alone time with mommy at the store?

I want you and Baby Legume to come, Bean-girl said.

Oh, how sweet, I commented. You really do love your sister.

Bean-girl nodded. Even though I sometimes do mean things to Legume, I still love her.

Do you do mean things to her? I asked.

Yes, I know that I sometimes do mean things, but I love her anyway.

Note: I haven’t really seen Bean-girl do any mean things to her sister. Um, not that I’ve noticed, anyway.

The past week has been exhausting, stressful, discombobulating. I started a new job and got thrown right into an RO1-deadline frenzy. I got repeatedly lost—lost on the downtown streets busy with construction, lost finding the parking garage, lost finding my way through the maze of the parking structure and Institute. The Baby Legume got sick. Fever-sick, stay-home-from-daycare sick, cry-all-night-and-keep-everyone-else-awake type sickness. I got sick. Husband got sick. Bean-girl, so far, is not too sick. We had random school/social/family functions, and I spent all weekend writing and editing, and desperately trying to read up on and digest a new field of research (thankfully, not too new from what I’ve done before!)

The past week has also been exhilarating. I get to sit in a corner of sunlight, at a quiet study carrel, in a gorgeous, glass enclosed building looking over the heart of downtown. I get to sit and think and read quietly for long, unbroken stretches of time. I find that I can actually concentrate. My attention is not blown to bits every few seconds by a toddler tugging on my leg, sticking her hands in the toilet, trying to fall down the stairs, dumping out the kitchen cabinets, and getting into any of an infinite variety of mischiefs. Nor is my attention shattered by a preschooler whining for candy, milk, a cartoon, a comic book; whining that her little sister is looking at her the wrong way; crying because I’ve looked at her the wrong way, or any of an infinite number of things that can disturb and distress a sensitive three-year old. I actually had lunch downtown with my husband last week. Just the two of us. While we were on our official lunch breaks. Imagine.

I get to walk through this dazzling Research Institute with my ID badge swinging from my neck, feeling like I am once more part of the Real World, the Outer World, the Working World. I’m not doing experiments, but I’m reading and learning about cutting-edge research. I get to go to seminars, journal clubs, and research-in-progress reports. I interact with scientists. I’m learning about grants and the administrative details behind grants—the administrative support that goes into actually running a research institute. The people in the lab seem genial, although quiet and reserved. I’ve only really talked to one or two people in the group, although I’ve chatted with people from other labs in the breakroom. Friendships will come over time, I trust.

Today I had a meeting with the PI and a postdoc about the grant that we are submitting. The postdoc has some very cool data, and the PI is rushing to shape an RO1 for the October deadline. So this meeting was actually a brainstorming session—what kind of specific aims should we have? What specific avenues should we explore? How can we specifically address these questions, and in a form that is appropriate for an RO1? I’ve never been involved in something like that before. Until last year, I had never even read an RO1 in its entirety. No PI that I’d worked for had ever bothered to give me, a lowly grad student and then postdoc, a sample RO1 to read, much less discussed one with me. My previous PIs closeted themselves in their offices and wrote silently for weeks when it was grant time, not discussing their ideas with anyone in the lab (except to emerge every so often to ask a student for a copy of this figure or that figure. Without discussing how the figure, or data, was actually being used). So this is all very new for me.

I am going to try my darndest to hold up my end of the project. I am officially working only part-time, but I’ve had to put in some extra hours at home. My best friend warned me that this could happen—full-time work for part-time pay. But it’s only temporary, only for this month. And I suppose I’ve never had a clock-punching job, anyway.

Both children seemed happy and healthy today (knock on wood).

I thought that I would miss the bench. In fact, my “desk”, or rather, work station (it’s not a real desk) is smack dab in the center of a lab bench. I have a pH meter to the left of me, pipettes to the right, an unidentifiable piece of electronics in “my” area. And my papers jostle for space with a colleague’s ice bucket. I thought that, watching my colleagues work all around me, I would feel a twinge for experimental work. I thought that I might pine for it. But the past week, watching my colleagues trot about with their insulated ice buckets—I found that I did not miss it at all.

Not yet, at least. We’ll see how this falls out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Quick post on new job

The bean children were awful the night before my first day on the job. They took turns waking up every few hours, and both ended up in bed with Husband and I. Where they both flailed and flopped about. Baby Legume kicked Bean-girl in the face, making her cry. They settled down. . . then Bean-girl started loudly crying for her stuffed penguin (which was right next to her), making the baby cry. Fun times.

But I got to work on time, found the visitor parking lot, spent the obligatory time with human resources. . . I'll have to spend another post comparing my initial impressions of work at a traditional academic research center with work here at this private, nonprofit research center. I will say here that this institute is physically absolutely gorgeous. And the core facilities, and IT support and infrastructure, are incredible.
And. . . I am supposed to be helping with an RO1 due Oct 5! None of which is yet written! Is the PI kidding me?!!
(off to bed now. . .)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Change of seasons

I start my new job this Monday.

I’ve delayed writing about this, for fear of somehow jinxing it. Because, you know, the final background check could turn up the evil doppelganger bean-mom who shares my name and has been convicted of several felonies. And then the offer would be rescinded, and I’d have proof of my umemployability and would have to cry into my pillow at night. There were so many false starts and stops in the whole application process. Hiring for a staff position at this institute certainly involves more buearacracy than hiring a postdoc at my former institution (they even do a credit check!) . But it looks like I really do have the job, and I start this Monday.

I have been hired as a science editor/writer for a large laboratory at a nonprofit research institute. The principal investigator of the laboratory has a joint appointment with an overseas institute, where he runs an even larger lab. The majority of his scientists (both in the States and abroad) are not native English speakers (no surprise, of course). And so I have been hired to help his students and postdocs prepare and polish their manuscripts for publication. I will also help out with the preparation of grant proposals, although that is expected to be secondary to the task of manuscript editing.

I’m excited, of course, and also a bit nervous about how this change will affect my family. Due to childcare issues, I will work only part-time this month, and then switch to full-time in October (when a full-time daycare slot opens up for Baby Legume). I’m thankful that my family and I will be able to ease into this change. Both Bean-girl and Legume have been going part-time to their daycare center for some time now. They are both doing well at the center, and this week the only change will be lengthened hours and an additional day.

There are other changes coming up, though. The entire daycare center is relocating to a new building this month. Baby Legume will soon be transitioning from the older infant room to the young toddler room (I can’t believe it!) Bean-girl is starting her first ballet class next Saturday (not my idea, but her best friend is going and Bean-girl wants to go as well. She keeps standing on one leg and calling herself a ballerina.) AND my husband and I will be leaving at the end of September for a brief couples’ getaway—the first time we have ever been away overnight from both our daughters. The first time we’ve gotten away together, since Baby Legume was born.

Big changes.

That’s life, I suppose. Last week I saw the first red maples, and this week I saw yellow leaves blowing across the road. The temperature abruptly dipped, and it’s already sweater weather; the bean girls are sleeping in long pajamas tonight. The seasons have shifted; we are sliding into fall. Those long, unstructured days of summer sun and warmth are gone.

But I’m excited about the change of seasons. Nervous, yes, and with recurring flutters of trepidation and doubt. But I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this will all play out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bean-girl growing up--some snippets

About a year ago, my sister-in-law gave the Bean-girl a story book that I intensely dislike. It’s sappy, New Age twaddle. In the book, a little girl suffers slights from peers and scoldings from authority figures, feels misunderstood and down-hearted. Her guardian angel then appears and gives the little girl words of affirmation and completely incoherent New Age-y slanted babble. The angel wears a crown, and is surrounded by tiny winged fairies.

Bean-girl, naturally, loved the book and had to hear it over and over. Thankfully she then forgot all about it. Until tonight, when she found it on her bookshelf and asked for it to be read for night storytime.

The angel has wings, Bean-girl observed when we reached that page.

Yup, I said.

Angels have wings so they can fly, Bean-girl said.

Uh-huh, I agreed.

Angels are part bird and part woman, Bean-girl decided.


There are so many cute stories of the Bean-girl I could tell. The things she says, the “jokes” and “riddles” she now makes up (she claims that her best friend, at least, finds her jokes funny). All the discoveries she is making at age three and a half, the way she is trying to grasp the complicated rules of the adult world. The pleasure of seeing her develop real friendships with her peers, and of seeing her and “Lisa” bond and try to figure out this world together. And, of course, the pleasure of seeing her care for and protect and play with her baby sister.

It’s not all sisterly fun and games, of course. As Baby Legume has gained mobility, she has gained the ability to knock down Bean-girl’s “art installations” (complicated structures of random toys heaped up on one another), tear her books, grab toys and cookies from her hands, and follow her everywhere. Bean-girl does not always take kindly to this, and has occasionally pushed the baby. But a stern reprimand pretty much put an end to the pushing, at least from Bean-girls’s end. Baby Legume herself feels no compunctions, and will readily grab the Bean-girl about the waist and pull her down to the floor. Sometimes they wrestle like tiny Greek wrestlers, or baby bears. They roll on the floor; Legume pulls at Bean-girl’s hair and clothes in delight, and Bean-girl laughs.

Don’t poke your sister’s eyes! I cry, as baby fingers jab.

Don’t worry, mommy, Bean-girl says, squishing her eyes closed. I’m squeezing my eyes shut.

Bean-girl’s friend Lisa has less patience for baby-toddlers, and has twice pushed my darling Legume down at playdates. “Go away, baby!” she yells as Legume toddles toward her and Bean-girl’s play. “This place is not for babies!” Poor Legume just wants to see what the big kids are doing! And she’s relentless; I may remove her from the big kid area, but she keeps going back, undeterred. I understand her. But I also understand the older kids’ point. They don’t want a toddler stomping on their intricate (if unfathomable) preschooler designs, knocking down and trying to eat their toys. Bean-girl wants to spend time with her own friend, and shouldn’t always be forced to play with the little one. Lisa has a little sibling of her own, still an immobile infant, relatively unthreatening. I predict that sparks will be flying in her household when her little brother learns to walk.
One of Bean-girl's riddles:

Q :How do you make a kite float in the air if there is no wind?
A :You tie a balloon to it.

I thought that was pretty good, myself.

"Self-portrait" by Bean-girl, Summer 2008.
This is actually a pretty good likeness.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In which I interrupt regular bean stories for a political aside

I have been mesmerized these past few days by the unfolding story of Sarah Palin’s nomination for the Republican vice presidential ticket. It’s like a car wreck in progress, a building on fire—I can’t look away from the spectacle, even as I feel sorry for the people trapped inside.

I was reading the first media responses to her nomination. (“Sarah who?” was my initial thought). Then, yes, I happened on the first Internet rumors that she had actually faked her last pregnancy to cover for the pregnancy of her teenage daughter. “Wackaloonery!” thought I (Physioprof’s language has been infecting my thoughts), but the conspiracy theorists did bring up some points that gave me pause. Then, of course, the bombshell that her seventeen year old daughter is indeed pregnant—not months ago, but right now.

The New York Times, our nations’s most esteemed newspaper, had, of course, to give a “mommy war” spin on the story. From the opening paragraphs of "In Palin, a New Twist in the Debate on Mothers":

“With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try.”

And my first, instinctive response to this article was to inwardly exclaim “New York Times, give us all a break!” I was in initial disbelief that this major newspaper would even bring up this concern and give it play in a full-length article. Aren’t we all supposed to be past this, after all? Employers aren’t even allowed to ask job candidates questions about their marital or parental status in job interviews. It’s not supposed to be a consideration. No one ever asks a father how he is going to balance a high-powered job with his family life. Barack Obama has two young children—does anyone question how he will balance the presidency with his family responsibilities? If Sara Palin were male, with five children including a special-needs infant and a pregnant teenage daughter, would anyone in the media publish this story?

But she’s not male, of course. (The cynical among us wonder if she was chosen primarily because she’s not male). She’s a mother, not a father; and so yes, people do wonder, they do judge. According to the NY Times piece, at least, (which appears to have been pieced together by eavesdropping in the mom blogosphere) mothers, in particular, wonder and judge.

And it’s not true that the private, family lives of male politicians are not also considered. When John Edwards was running for the presidential nomination, he was roundly criticized in some corners for hitting the campaign trail with a wife who had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Some people said out loud that Edwards should be focused on his family rather than political office, and plenty of commentators wondered if Edwards would have the focus to act competently as commander-in-chief, should his wife’s condition worsen while he were in office.

Our politicians’ personal lives have always been the subject of gossip and debate. How do those private and public lives intersect? When is it appropriate for the media (and voters) to analyze that intersection?

I suppose that for me, the real questions are: will a candidate’s personal life negatively impact in any way her or his ability to perform the elected job? And do issues in the personal life raise serious questions about his or her judgement and conduct in the public realm?

Frankly, I don’t care a flying fig if the president of the U.S. is screwing about with the White House interns—as long as he leads the nation well, that’s all fine with me. I wouldn’t want to be such a president’s wife, but then again, I’m not; I’m just a constituent. And I would guess that past U.S. presidents have not had time to tuck their children into bed every night, make the school recital, or have every needed heart-to-heart talk with a troubled teen. Barack Obama and Sara Palin are probably both having only limited time with their young children right now. And while that may be kinda sad. . . it’s not really my problem now, is it? Any more than it was my problem when Bill cheated on Hillary. Each family makes its own choices; in the case of Governor Palin, she has a stable marriage with the father of her children, and financial resources and support that are unavailable to most Americans. The only questions should be if she is competent to serve as vice-president and, potentially, as president.

(For me, the answer is NO! but that is a whole other post).

But look, I’m a mother and a human, and so even after this righteous rant, I am also still going to wonder about Palin’s family dynamics and personal life. It’s getting to be a sordid hillbilly soap opera affair now, splayed out over the Internet and mass media. When I opened up my Web browser yesterday, I saw that Salon had already dredged up the Myspace page for Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, and was dumping the contents onscreen for the world to see. Every time I see that now famous photo of Bristol holding her infant brother in her arms, I wince. And that part of me that is a mom, that sits in judgement of other moms (we all have that censorious self, don’t we?)—that part of me thinks: Sara Palin, as a mother, how could you subject your daughter to this? Because you had to know that by accepting the nomination, this would all come out. You had to know that your daughter’s privacy would be invaded, that she’d be pinned in the media glare, that she would become, in the words of columnist Maureen Dowd this week, “tabloid roadkill.”

I try not to judge. It’s irrelevant. And I sure as heck was not planning to vote Republican anyway. But I do wonder.