Monday, April 28, 2008

On going back to work, part 8 of infinity...

... Or, Making it "Worth it"

The past year has been a real journey for me, not just in the obvious ways (becoming a mother), but also in examining what I want for myself and my career.

As I have discussed countless times on this blog, I'm not really cut out to be a bench scientist. I think I've known this since my second year of grad school. I love learning, I love thinking about science, I just don't love the day-to-day slog of bench work. But dropping out of grad school is a pretty terrifying thing to do, and I just... couldn't. My own sense of pride and self-worth would have suffered a fatal blow if I had. Which is a terrible reason to spend 5 years doing anything, but there it is.

At the end of my PhD, I was stuck with the classic two body problem. Husband had 2-3 years left till he would be done with his post-doc here in Dissertation City. So I took a post-doc position here. "It's just temporary," I thought "and I'll find a new career once Husband lands his tenure track job."

Then we had the Bean.

I don't think there's any way to anticipate the raw unfettered emotion of giving birth to your first child, or the way that it will change you. I spent three glorious months on maternity leave with the Bean, and then returned to my post-doc.

When I first went back to work, I was... well, I was angry. I mean really darn angry. Don't ask me at what or who or exactly why, but I was angry. It just didn't feel right going back to work, to a job I was barely happy with, and paying someone else to be with my beautiful child. Difficult doesn't even begin to describe how hard this was.

Over the past year, I have gone from being angry about returning to work to being grateful. Motherhood can be all-consuming, and it's easy to lose yourself entirely to the needs of your child. Even though some days I'd much rather take Bean to the zoo than go to work, I'm generally really grateful to have time each week where I am an independent human being again.

That being said, it still doesn't feel right that I'm leaving the Bean each day to slog away at a job that most days makes me pretty unhappy.

Before I think it would have been too much for me to actually contemplate leaving the bench for good. After all, it's been 6 years since I realized that bench work wasn't right for me, and yet here I am. But having the Bean has really made me re-evaluate my priorities. And I'm just not going to settle for a job that makes me unhappy. If I'm going to be away from the Bean, I have to make that time count. I want a career that makes the time away from her "worth it".

I don't know when, but someday very soon, I'm going to take the leap. I'm going to do the work, and find the courage, to change my career for the better.*

*"Better" according to my standards!

Science does not run on a parents schedule...

A few weeks ago I was setting up a restriction digest and found, to my shock and horror, that we did not have the enzyme I needed. Undeterred, I set out to roam the building in an attempt to find someone who could spare just a microliter of enzyme.

But, it was 8:00 in the morning. I found the labs on every floor empty. At 8:00 in the morning I could only find 4 people at the bench, myself included. Who were those 4 people? All of them were parents of young children.

In my experience, the flexible schedule that academic science so proudly boasts tends to mean that the workday starts around 10:00 a.m. I don't think this is the norm in other professions, but in the lab I have always been the "early" person when getting into lab at 8:30. Now that my hours are set according to the hours of Bean's daycare, I am a very early person indeed, hitting the bench around 7:30 (traffic permitting).

In general, I like this. I like having a couple of hours to myself in the morning (though I'm not entirely alone, as our technician is mother to a 2-year-old). I can get things started without distraction, I get first dibs on the PCR machine, and I don't have to talk to much of anyone before my second cup of coffee. But there's a down side to working the early schedule.

Again, since my hours are set by Bean's daycare, I leave lab around 4:00. The departmental seminars and the departments research reports are all scheduled for 3:30. So I can never attend. This SUCKS. In addition, since my bosses adhere to the "real scientists don't work before 10:00" schedule, I often end up feeling like a slacker when I walk out of lab at 4:00.

I also work with an undergraduate student, and as you might imagine, my early schedule isn't exactly her cup of tea. So we end up pressed for time as I try to work with her in the limited hours that our schedules overlap.

Though in theory we'll have a little more freedom with our schedules once Bean moves up to the toddler room next week (the toddler room is open for longer hours), I'm not sure I'm really willing to change. The early schedule also means less time wasted sitting in traffic, and I like having daylight to enjoy some outdoor time with Bean after work.

Maybe everyone else should start getting up at 5:00 like me. Yes, that seems like a better solution.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Best. Pancakes. Ever.

Carrot Pancakes

1/4 cup dried currants
1 Tbsp butter
2 carrots, peeled and grated to make about 2/3 cup lightly packed
1/3 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened if you can find it)
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 1/2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Take the dried currants and soak them in a bit of hot water to moisten them. Drain the currants and then toss together with the carrot and coconut.

Melt the butter; reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the carrot mixture, and then mix in the melted butter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Birthday Bean, Part 2

The day the Bean was born, it was unseasonably warm and sunny, and as we sat in the recovery room admiring our little girl, sunlight streamed in through the windows.

This year, for Bean's first birthday, it was unseasonably cold. In fact, we saw the latest snowfall on record for our area. The night before Bean's birthday, Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to drop two inches of snow at our house. Our plan to spend Bean's birthday at the zoo was shot, but we had a nice day anyway.

We woke up on Bean's schedule, around 6:00 a.m. Bean had a leisurely nurse, and then Husband Bean and I cuddled in bed for a few minutes before Bean decided it was time to find Pup. Bean, Grandma B (a.k.a. my mom) and I played "Put The Lovey On Your Head" while Husband whipped up a batch of carrot pancakes. (See recipe below. I don't care who you are, you will love these pancakes as they are the greatest thing ever invented. Ever.) Cubes of pancake, tiny bits of cut up banana, and slices of orange. We ate like kings!

Breakfast was followed by playtime and then a glorious 2 hour nap (for Bean... we took showers and cleaned the house). Bean woke up in a fantastic mood, and we were off to meet some friends from our birthing class for lunch. I brought delicious fruits and veggies for Bean's lunch, which she ate, but Grandma B also slipped Bean pizza crust and pear gelato. Birthday treats, I guess. Bean could not get enough of the gelato.

We spent the afternoon at the local children's museum which was fantastic. Bean was a little gecko, climbing up and down every conceivable surface. Her interest was held in particular by several sets of steps. Climbing stairs is a great challenge and she approaches them without hesitation. She also enjoyed the slide immensely.

After the museum, Bean fell asleep on the ride home and after her nap was done, Grandma B set about feeding her dinner. Husband and I celebrated Bean's birthday on our own that night with a date... sushi, a movie, and a cocktail.

It was a really lovely day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Birthday Bean

Tomorrow is Bean's 1st birthday. To say that it has been a year since Bean was born seems impossible for me to comprehend. At once it feels like no time has passed and like Bean has always been a part of our lives. Perhaps because she consumes us so completely, I can no longer imagine a life without her.

It's impossible for me to describe what it is to love my child. I love my husband and I love my family... dearly, completely. But there is nothing so all-consuming as the love I feel for my Bean. She can knock the wind out of me, leave me breathless and awestruck. At night, when I lay my hand on her tiny perfect back to feel her chest rise and fall, I am at once overjoyed and humbled.

She's independent and curious, affectionate and gentle. She's a clown and a flirt, a little extrovert who smiles and coos for your entertainment. She is a constant observer, always watching the people and activity around her. She loves her dog. When she finds Pup resting on the floor, she will crawl over to her and lay her head on Pup's side for as long as Pup will let her. She gives "kisses" now, opening her mouth and pressing her lips to your cheek. Hugs are abundant, and when she wants up, she raises her arms and pleads with her eyes. She is active, always looking for some new bit of trouble to get into (it's often hidden in drawers).

She's changing each day, and I feel blessed to be a part of her life. It's hard for an agnostic to truly explain what it is to be blessed like this, but she is a gift. A gift.

I've changed a lot too in the past year. And while some people find that having a child drives a distance between them and their spouse, becoming parents has taught Husband and I just how much we can rely on each other. The past year has not been easy. But I thank whatever circumstances brought Husband and I together, because I know exactly what it is to have a partner in this life. I hope that the strong marriage we have built together shows Bean exactly what to look for one day.

Little Bean, I love you so much. May your life be as blessed as mine has been.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Running, etc

The running is going... okay. I'm frustrated because I don't feel as comfortable with my mileage as I would like. My standard run now is 6 miles, which is good. Except that 6 miles used to be kind of my base run. It was a mindless effort, it was standard. Right now, I'm still having to push to get 6 miles out of myself, coaxing myself to the end. So it's frustrating that I'm still feeling so out of shape.

But I am working at it, getting out to run consistently, improving my times little by little. This morning I did my longest run since I started training again, completing a 7 mile run in a decent time.

As I neared the end of my run this morning, a little past mile 6, I passed two guys on the trail eating little fast food sandwiches. One of the guys called out as I passed "You go, girl" in a mocking tone and they broke out into laughter.

In my head I shouted "How far did you run this morning, a-hole?", and "Way to chow on that hoagie, guy", and "Shut your cake-hole, jerk." But really I just put my head down and tried not to cry.

It's amazing how, even as a 28-year-old, some dude with something rude to say can still make me feel like I'm in middle school. Can still make me feel like a fat clumsy oaf. Can make me feel ashamed.

That's why it makes me so angry when guys honk or yell at me when I run. Not because I'm angry as an objectified woman. But because it makes me self-conscious and sad.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ears, etc

So, the Bean has had a lot of ear infections. She had 7 ear infections in a 5 month period, and has never had a period, since last October, where she did not have fluid in her ears. We were finally sent to see a specialist last month, and he presented ear tubes as an option.

We were initially pretty resistant to the idea of surgery. Little Bean is less than a year old, and the idea of surgery on someone so little is pretty scary. But Bean's ear infections have been chronic, and the fact that the fluid was just never draining from her ears was affecting her hearing.

We hoped that by keeping Bean on preventative antibiotics for a bit, we might give her ears a chance to finally drain, and that maybe that would help her. But even after 7 weeks straight of antibiotics, Bean still carried fluid in her ears.

When we asked my mother-in-law, Grandma K, whether Husband (or any of her children) had many ear infections, she said she didn't think so. But Husband had really delayed language development (he didn't speak at all until he was 2), and when he did start speaking it was garbled and unintelligible. He saw a speech therapist as a child to help with his early language. In retrospect, we now think that Husband probably had similar problems with his ears, which affected his hearing, which affected his language acquisition. While obviously Husband turned out fine, we wanted to help Bean avoid the problems Husband had suffered as a child.

So finally, after a lot of thought and consideration, Husband and I decided that tubes was the best way to help Bean's ears stay healthy, and to protect her hearing.

Yesterday was Bean's surgery to get her ear tubes. Bean came through surgery well and is doing fine today, though yesterday was decidedly the worst day of my life, Husband's life, and Bean's life.

We were scheduled to check in for surgery at 6:30 a.m. They put Bean first because they aren't supposed to have anything to eat after midnight the night before, and it's hard to explain to little ones why they have to fast. We got there and checked in, and about 6 different people came in and talked to us about what was going to happen. The anesthesiologist was really nice, and she was going to be holding Bean while the anesthesia took effect.

At 8:00 they took Bean back for the surgery. About 10 minutes later, I heard her crying as she came out of the anesthesia. The anesthesiologist brought her out to me about a minute later and the nurses helped me get settled in to nurse Bean as she woke up from the drugs. She cried a little and then nursed like her life depended on it. By the time she was done, she was happy and smiling and cuddling Husband and I. The surgeon came out and told us that when he made the incisions to place the tubes, the fluid that came out was viscous and nasty. He said that he usually sees fluid like that in children who either are just about to get an ear infection or who are just getting over one. He gave us antibiotic ear drops for her ears. When they gave us the okay, we took her home, arriving home around 9:00.

Bean fell asleep in the car, and slept for about the first hour after we got home. When she woke up, I thought she felt a little hot, so we took her temperature. 99.5 deg. But she was playing and happy. She started to rub her eyes, so Husband brought her to bed with him and they took a nap together for about 45 minutes. When she woke up, Husband brought her out. As soon as I touched her, I knew something was wrong. We took her temperature. 103.2 degrees. She was fussing and lethargic. We gave her tylenol and rushed to the urgent care clinic. By the time we got her into a room there, her fever had risen to 105 degrees. They gave her Motrin and we undressed her down to her diaper. Bean was crying and crying and crying. We rocked her and hugged her, but every time she would calm down, they'd come in to start another test.

Catheter to get a urine sample to rule out bladder infection. Blood draw to rule out sepsis. Chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. Exam to listen to her lungs, check her throat, look at her ears.

About 3 hours later, her temperature was down to 100 degrees, and all the tests had come back negative so they sent us home. Bean was happier and playful. Her ears had stopped oozing.

They can't really say what happened. It wouldn't have been an infection from the surgery because it happened too quickly. No bacteria grows that fast. You expect an infection to happen a day or two later, not 3 hours later. All I can say is that she has a third tooth about to pop through, she's had a cold all weekend, and it's possible that after the anesthesia and surgery her body just called shenanigans and went into crisis mode. Alternatively she may have been just about to get an ear infection (despite the antibiotics) and the surgery just triggered the fever. Who knows.

Bean's temperature was still at 100 when we put her to bed last night, but her fever broke during the night and this morning her temperature was perfect, her ears were nice and clear, and she was in a great mood. So hopefully the worst is behind us.

Anyway, thanks all of you for thinking of us. It was a terrible day, but I'm pretty convinced we did the right thing. Once her fever was gone, Bean was really "talking" a lot, and to me it felt like she was listening to how different her voice sounded with fluid-free ears. I mean, she's had fluid in her ears for literally 6 straight months. So it's probably pretty different. There was also something just qualitative different about the sounds she was making, and so it may be that this will be a really positive thing for her in the end. I sure hope so.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The error of our ways (?)

Since the Bean was born, Husband and I have avoided buying elaborate toys. The toys which flash and sing. The extra large UFOs in which baby can sit and be literally surrounded by plastic paraphernalia. The moving parts, the lead paint. We figured those toys usually only entertained for a few minutes before becoming overwhelming, and were only age-appropriate for short periods of time before the babes were "over it", as it were. Toys like this were expensive. They could be annoying (esp those that flash and make noise). They take over your house pretty quickly. And moreover, we thought they were unnecessary. Bean was perfectly happy with her blocks and beads and balls.

Well last week I met up with a bunch of other moms with similar aged kids to do a toy swap. I brought a ball, a couple of stuffed animals, a rolling duck-thing... The other moms brought far more elaborate toys. Toys that sing and flash. I decided to take a few home to see how the Bean liked them.

Um, the Bean LOVES them. One toy is some kind of "piano" whose keys respond to touch with both sound and lights. And she can stand up to play with it. LOVES it. Another is a "drum" that makes animal sounds. In the 5 days since I brought it home, Bean has started to imitate the lion sounds...

So yeah. Of course she doesn't need such toys, but she certainly is enjoying them. We are probably going to have to think a little more carefully about what toys should and should not be part of Bean's life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oddly adorable

Last night was Baby Tune-up night. A bath, lotion on her legs, and then trimming the fingernails. Cutting the Bean's fingernails is always an ordeal. She wriggles and complains about being held down and restrained. It's stressful for me to try to get her nails clipped before she wrests her little hand out of Husbands grip... No accidents so far, thank goodness.

Anyway, so last night Husband has Bean in his lap while I was trimming her nails and she was screaming. She had wriggled into a prone position, and so the tears were welling up in her eyes.

When I finally finished her nails, Bean sat up and a giant crocodile tear came running down one cheek. She could feel the tear running down her face and she tried to pick it up. She came away with wet fingers, which she examined with great curiosity.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Haves and Have Nots

I'm a Have. I know I am. I have a safe place to live, I have a stable job and income, we don't ever have to eat pancakes for dinner. We can buy things new or used... we have the luxury of choosing. I am blessed to have hot water and electricity whenever I want it. Heck, I even have money in a savings account. That is a blessing.

But sometimes it's hard to remember how lucky I am. Sometimes, when I see other people buying new cars or getting fancy new computers or spending way too much money on clothing or going on amazing vacations, it's hard not to be jealous... not to be mad that I'm still making a crappy wage, and so is Husband. My sister makes more than Husband and I put together.

I don't think I ask for too much in general. I don't need/want designer clothes or a fancy car. All I want is a home. A real home. I'm almost 30, Husband turns 40 this May. And we live in a crappy run-down condo in a crappy suburb. We have no yard for the Bean and Pup. No privacy from noisy neighbors (who smoke and stink up the building).

It's hard sometimes not to be jealous. And I feel bad about myself when I get all pissy about things like the size of my paycheck because I am lucky. Despite my griping, we are able to pay our bills each month, we have manageable debt (in the form of school loans and a mortgage, not credit card debt), and we're even saving for Bean's college fund. We have food in our fridge and clothes on our backs, the Bean gets to go to a safe clean school each day.

Anyway, sometimes I just gotta remind myself how lucky I am. I'm lucky to be a Have, and I need to stop comparing myself to the Have Mores.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A message from my rack

My cans say that this whole "not pumping at work" thing... really sucks. In fact, it's a veritable cornucopia of suck.

That is all.