Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bean rules

This stage, 13 months and change, it kinda rules. Except for the teeth. Other than the teeth, this stage rules. It seems every day Bean is amazing us with new tricks, new feats of comprehension.

Last week we realized that Bean understands the word "tummy". In fact, if you say the word tummy or ask her where her tummy is, she immediately starts patting her tummy. (And then she claps for herself.) We suspect Bean learned this from "circle time" at school where they do some action songs like "If you're happy and you know it". She will also pat her head, clap her hands, and stomp her feet on command. Seriously. Awesome.

On Saturday she started using the word "duckie" around the house. Later, she said "duckie" at a store. We followed her gaze and indeed saw that there was a duck on a very high shelf in the store. So she not only used the word, but knew that it applied to an entirely different duck than the one she had seen at home.

This morning, for the first time, she used her banana sign in reference to a wooden banana toy, recognizing that it was a representation of a real banana.

As I write this, it may sound like these are trivial accomplishments. But her brain is starting to make connections between the real and the imaginary, she is able to categorize objects that look different but are really the same, and she is recognizing words like "in", "open", and "closed"... She's starting to learn and develop so rapidly, and it's an amazing thing to watch.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life after tubes

Okay, so it seems my posts lately have been whining terrible messes. So I'm promising that at least the next two posts will be positive.

The first positive: ear tubes.

I was really really nervous about getting tubes for Bean's ears. We almost didn't do it. But Bean had something on the order of 8 ear infections in 5 months. It was terrible. Every ear infection was accompanied by a high fever, pain, and discomfort (for everyone involved). To top it all off, Bean never was able to clear the fluid from her ears, so her hearing was diminished. But surgery on an infant is not something to be taken lightly.

Ultimately, we decided to get the tubes because after 6 weeks of preventative antibiotics, the fluid still wasn't draining from Bean's ears. And obviously long term antibiotic use is something we wanted to avoid. In addition, we realized that some hearing and speech problems that Husband experienced as a child might have been due to a similar problem, and we wanted to avoid that for the Bean. And finally, there didn't seem to be any downside to getting the surgery... complications are extremely rare (in contrast, we were facing some very real negatives by not getting the surgery: hearing impairment and discomfort). So we decided to go ahead with the surgery.

The surgery day itself was a terrible ordeal because Bean ended up spiking a really high fever. But in retrospect, that seems to be par for the course for Bean. Any little thing (teeth, a virus, ear infections, etc) and Bean spikes a fever. So I don't think it was a complication per se, but rather just the way little Bean responded to the stress of the surgery. Which of course is no small thing, but it was a small price to pay for the results we've had.

Ultimately, it seems to have been the right decision. Though Bean experienced one ear infection immediately following the surgery (the surgeon actually predicted this because her ears were full of viscous fluid), she has since been ear infection free. It's only been 7 weeks, but still, that's a HUGE improvement. In addition, we saw an immediate qualitative change in Bean's response to sound and to her own vocalizations as well.

I couldn't be happier. It's been a big quality of life improvement for the Bean, and we're so relieved that her hearing seems to be improved as well. If you're a parent considering tubes, do your research so that you feel comfortable with your decision, but I have to say that getting tubes was the right decision for the Bean.

And thank god for that.

Teeth are mean

Whoever decided that babies should be born without teeth, and that the teeth should one by one come ripping through their tiny gums? What a terrible terrible idea. I submit this as proof that intelligent design is a crock. Clearly the designer's an idiot.

It has been a really difficult week (I seem to say that a lot lately. Hmm..). Bean has had one front tooth pop through and is simultaneously working on some molars. Or so we suspect. She won't let us have a look in her mouth to see. But the rivers of drool and snot pouring out of her face are a hint, as she sticks her tiny hand all the way to the back of her mouth and chews and chews. She tries to eat but it hurts her mouth and she spits the food back out. We've resorted to yogurt, banana and cheese.

Last night Bean woke up about 20 minutes after we put her to bed. She screamed and cried for literally 2.5 straight hours. And not just regular crying. Crying until she was hoarse, wet with drool and tears, sweaty from the exertion of crying so hard. She'd fall asleep for less than a minute only to wake up screaming again. Husband and I swapped off, 20 minutes at a time, hugging little Bean and rocking her. Singing and stroking. Finally, when she calmed down enough to try, I nursed her again. She didn't even really try to nurse, just lay there with her little chest shuddering and hiccuping, quietly petting me. After a little while, she fell asleep.

At 9:30, Husband and I sat down to a cold dinner and watched some History channel show about the Black Sea.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In tens

Hypoglycemiagirl, Sciencewoman and Janus Professor are all thinking in tens. And I am nothing if not a follower.

In 10 minutes: I will be sitting down to cuddle my amazing husband. Possibly with a bowl of frozen yogurt and sliced strawberries.

In 10 hours: I will be running 7 miles. Uphill. Both ways.

In 10 days: I will be making my first* poster for an academic conference.

In 10 weeks: I will be done with my half marathon, and perhaps prepping for a full(?).

In 10 months: I will know whether or not Husband has landed a faculty position, and where.

In 10 years: I will be settled into an "alternative" science career (whatever it may be), living in a real house, with my tenured husband and 2.5 kids... oh, and running whenever I can.

*Why I am presenting at an academic conference for the first time as a second year postdoc? My graduate advisor would only attend one conference a year and never sent his students or postdocs to conferences (though I hear he is starting to change this). My first conference season as a postdoc was spent on maternity leave. So there you go.

Knowing is not the same as Knowing

When Bean is fussy, like right now at this very second, it is hard to not feel like a terrible mother. She is teething right now, a front tooth and some molars, and she is having a terrible time of it. Eating is interspersed with tears. She stops playing and starts to cry. And nighttime is terrible. Bedtime is the worst. She screams and cries until she is out of breath. She chews on her little fingers. She writhes in our laps and claws at us in desperation.

It's so hard when you've done everything in your power to help (lots of hugs and cold teethers, clove oil and frozen washcloths...) but she's still so sad. We don't believe in letting her cry it out, but sometimes that's exactly what she has to do. In our arms, of course, not alone in her crib. But lately it seems that in order to fall asleep she has to release some of this pent up tension with tears and screaming.

It's hard. Comforting her as best I can and still she screams into my shoulder the most terrible screams I have ever heard. On nights like tonight, after she has screamed it out and falls asleep, Husband and I hold each other for a minute or two. A silent sign of support. We know we are good parents. But knowing is not the same as knowing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Apparently having a kid is a scientific achievement

Recently I attended a seminar given by a female professor. When the hosting faculty member introduced the speaker, it was noted that the professor was both "productive and reproductive" (ha ha), having had three kids before she was tenured.

Introductions for speakers normally include a description of where they did their graduate and post-doctoral work and who with, what honors and awards they've received, and perhaps their connection to the department (if any). Maybe a note about the publication of their most recent work. I don't think I've ever heard an introduction for a male speaker in which it was noted how many children he has. But it certainly isn't the first time I've heard a female speaker be introduced that way.

I find it kind of troubling that a woman's status as a parent (or not) is considered relevant to her level of scientific achievement, but a man's parental status is not. Is it because we take for granted that child rearing is the woman's responsibility?

Husband and I share virtually equal responsibility for raising the Bean (with the exception of breastfeeding duty... but that's because I've got a monopoly on the equipment). Yet no one is going to introduce Husband for a seminar by noting his accomplishments and the number of children he is raising.

I don't know if I'm angry on behalf of the dedicated dads for getting short shrift in terms of recognizing their role as parents or if I'm pissed that women are getting the same old patronizing crap they've always gotten ("She's developed a test to detect the signature of positive selection in recent evolutionary history and she keeps a clean house!"). Either way, it just doesn't sit well with me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Late nights in the nursery

Late Friday night, I sat rocking my sad teething little baby in the dark. She was feverish, naked and whimpering, her little body curled up tight against my skin. Her hand stroked my shoulder repetitively as I rocked and sang to her. Her smell was sticky sweet and her face in the moonlight looked (for once) like mine.

It's a strange thing indeed to see your own face reflected in your child. I often note family resemblances in others and think nothing of it. Of course children should look like their parents. But it is strange indeed to see your own face, softer and rounder perhaps, in the features of this little being who you love beyond all telling.

There is a disconnect. I haven't yet learned quite how to love and accept myself, yet here is this child who I love and accept unconditionally. I am fallible and imperfect, I know all of my faults, all of my defects. And yet, once, my mother must have sat and rocked me, kissed my feverish brow, and loved me beyond all telling.

Bean update

Oh and the Bean update: she now says "bye-bye" when she waves. Break my heart much?


Thanks to everyone for the concern, supportive comments, and welcome advice.

My brother, as you might expect, is still in the hospital, but things seem to be going well for his health overall. I think the healing is slow, and that's frustrating for him, but in a lot of ways he was really lucky. He'll have several more surgeries before he's through, and the therapy will be arduous, but they expect that he'll be able to walk again which is a blessing.

As for me.. they did in fact offer me the position. For slightly more money than I'm making now (which isn't saying much). I spent 5 days crying and wrestling with my options. In the end, the decision came down to a choice between what I wanted to do (take the low-stress student service job) and what I felt I should do (stay at my postdoc and keep my options open for the future).

So I turned down the job.

But... I don't intend for the next year to be business as usual. I've got my feelers out and I've already lined up a few side projects to help beef up my CV and to get some exposure to "alternative" science careers. One editing project, a writing project, and an opportunity to do some work for a tech transfer consulting firm. All of this will of course be done in my abundant spare time (note: italics indicate extreme sarcasm). It'll be hectic for awhile... i.e. I'm actually increasing my stress load instead of decreasing my stress load... but I think it's important for me to really explore my options instead of just giving up on finding a place for myself in science.

Of the many important lessons that came out my most recent semi-annual career crisis (or SACC, if you will): I have a freaking amazing husband. Husband was so supportive, let me talk through all of my worries and stress and never once tried to tell me what to do or to quit whining... He took my concerns seriously. He let me cry it out. He let me scream it out. And with his usual pacific demeanor talked me rationally through all the pros and cons of the 30 different career options I threw at him over the last 10 days. And when the dust settled and I was in (virtually) the exact same position I was before all of this chaos ensued, he brought me flowers and made me dinner.

My husband rules.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bad week, part 2

I'm also going through some kind of mid-life crisis about my career. I seem to do this to myself every couple of years, always to no productive end.

I applied for a job here at the University. It's a job as a coordinator for the graduate program for a totally non-science department here at the U. I'd be handling applications to the program, coordinating recruitment, fielding phone calls and questions from prospective applicants, managing the current grad students, and doing lots of odds and ends for the grad program. It's an administrative position, one I think I'd be rather good at. But it's not at all science-related, and that scares me.

Anyway, I had an interview earlier this week and they liked me enough to request my references and invite me back for a second interview. And since they wanted my references, I had to tell my bosses.

My bosses weren't entirely unsupportive, but they used lots of ominous phrases like "terminate your postdoc" and "closing a door firmly on your future" and "a decision you'll regret later". I can understand their point of view, but to some extent it's just the same kinds of threats that I've been hearing since I entered grad school. "If you leave, you can never come back."

It's so frustrating to feel like I don't have any freedom to explore my options for my career. I mean, this is my f%#!ing life we're talking about, and I'm so frustrated to feel like I can't even have a frank conversation with someone about my career.

The head of my lab, Dr. DNA, really felt like leaving the bench would be a huge mistake. "You're so early in your career" she said, "you're so young. You don't know what you want yet." She felt like it was motherhood that was simply distracting me from my work and making me feel like it wasn't any fun. "You just have to find a way to make it work," she said. "You and Husband can alternate responsibility for the Bean. Some nights he'll have her and you can stay till 7:00. Or you can plan your long experiments for a Saturday."

But what Dr. DNA didn't seem to understand is that I don't want to have to spend my Saturdays in the lab. I don't want to never see my husband because we're alternating late nights at lab. I just don't want that. I like science, but I don't like it more than my family. Why is that so hard to understand? And if that kind of schedule is what it takes to be at the bench, then I just don't want any part of it. Not at all.

I told Dr. DNA that I didn't want to spend 60 hours a week in the lab, that I wanted my job to be just that: my job. "Well is there any job you can think of where you'd want to work 60 hours a week?" she asked. "Not really," I said. She didn't seem pleased with that.

So I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know that I want to take this grad coordinator job, knowing that Husband will probably be starting a TT position in another city in 15 months. I should probably just stick it out at the bench till then and look like I at least gave my post doc the ol' college try and figure out what I want to be when I grow up when I know where we'll be. But in the meantime, bench work is feeling pretty miserable, and I am sick of hearing the same old garbage about people who want to leave the bench.

In my lowest moments, I think about what the Bean would think of her mommy. What will she think about mama's career? Will she know that her mommy is a failure?

I'm conflicted, as usual, and I don't know where I'm going or what I'm doing. I hate my job, I'm scared to leave it. I don't like what I'm doing, but it's the only thing I've ever done, the only thing I'm trained to do. I don't know what I want to do with my career or my degree because I haven't had the opportunity to try anything else. How does one even choose a career? And why does everyone seem to think that it's better to be miserable in academia than to even think about doing something else?

ARGH!!! I hate the cult of academia.

Bad week, part 1

It's been kind of a hard week.

On Sunday night I got a phone call from my sister. "Guess which one of your siblings is in the hospital," she said.

My brother rides motorcross, and on Sunday afternoon, while riding his motorcycle in a somewhat remote area, he had a terrible accident. I don't know all the details, since I haven't been able to talk to my brother yet, but basically the bulleted highlights are:

-thrown from the bike
-landed in a deep ditch feet first, jamming his legs and blowing out both knees
-lay alone screaming for some time till he was found by a father and son on their bikes
-airlifted to a nearby hospital
-no pulse below the knees, 7 hours of surgery to save his legs
-he's thankfully doing well now and they won't need to amputate, but he'll require some additional surgery and a lot of physical therapy before he'll be able to walk again

It's been a really scary week for our family, and I am just so thankful to the doctors and nurses who have been there for my brother and who worked hard to save his legs. Being so far away from my family is tearing me apart, and I wish so much I could be there to visit my brother in person. However, we're really lucky that all the rest of my siblings, as well as my parents, live very close to my brother, so he's getting lots of support from them.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I almost forgot!

Last night Bean signed "banana". It was the first definitive sign where I could be sure that she understood that the sign meant banana and wasn't just mimicking our hand motions. She signed unprompted to ask for some banana.

It was freaking incredible, I tell you. She's so awesome.

(Oh, I should note that her sign is a very crude approximation of the sign we've been doing with her, but nonetheless, it was clear that she was trying to sign to us, and that's the important part.)

The Big Girl Room

Today is little Bean's first full day in the Toddler room. She's been visiting the Toddler room on the daily for about 2 weeks now for progressively longer visits. It's a really big transition.

1. No more bottles. The breast milk freezer stock last precisely as long as we needed it to, but today will be Bean's first day at school without a bottle.

2. One nap. Everyone in the Toddler room naps at the same time, once a day, from 12:00-2:00ish. Over the past week since Bean has started napping there, she progressed from a 30 minute nap to a 2.5 hour nap. Pretty incredible. I guess the quiet of everyone napping together agrees with little Bean.

3. Bigger kids. Um, the kids in the Toddler room are HUGE. There are 2 year olds in her immediate class, but she will regularly play with kids up to 3 years old. They are gigantic. But we had an opportunity yesterday to see Bean interacting with the older kids and she holds her own pretty well. In fact, she's quite interested in keeping up with them.

4. More stimulation. This is actually a positive thing. In the toddler room, Bean gets regular outdoor play (instead of only when the weather is good). She gets communal story times, music class twice a week, and focused language development work with her teachers. She apparently LOVES the music time, sitting in the circle and clapping or standing to dance.

I dropped Bean off this morning, and though she cried for about 30 seconds, her teacher Ms. Paz immediately re-directed her attention to playing blocks with her friend Kylee and Bean calmed right down.

It's a strange thing, how sad and excited I am for Bean to make the move from infant to toddler. I am just so incredibly grateful to have a place where Bean gets so much loving and thoughtful attention.

We'll see what her report card says this afternoon, but I'm betting she actually had a really great day.