Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Where Have I Been?..You Might Ask?

Okay, so I'm sure nobody's really asking, but there are real reasons for my blogging absence of late. There are, as always, long and short versions, but because one of those reasons involves the likelihood of physical pain, I'll keep things short for now. Without further ado, the top reasons AcadeMama Hasn't Been Posting:

1 - A nasty neck injury/problem that arose out of nowhere a week from this past Saturday (7/21). This problem has since involved - among other things - 1 trip to the urgent care clinic, 1 bottle of Valium, 1 bottle of Vicodin, 2 visits to the chiropractor, 1 visit to the family physician to get referral to an orthopedic specialist, and 1 giant steroid pack. In short, sitting in front of the computer for a long time hurts. A lot. As does rocking my baby to sleep, bending down to hug H, trying to cook dinner, standing at the sink to *try* to wash bottles, etc.

2 - Lots of pain pills = very sleepy AcadeMama = more sleeping and less energy than usual.

3 - Prep work for meeting with Advisor last Friday, despite being in much pain and on much druggage. The end result, however, was fantastic. She told me that not only am I right on track, she'd call me "ahead of the game!" Seriously?! I couldn't believe it! After hearing that, I gave myself permission to not try to be at the office hovering over my books and taking notes for 7 hours straight, three days a week while recuperating from severe compression of three top vertebrae.

4 - H is back = me wanting to spend some quality time with her before she goes back to Home State to make the Grand Tour again. I rested up a few hours last week while she was at daycamp, then picked her up early and she and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie. We loved it! We shared the butteriest popcorn ever! The largest Coke they had! And even a box of Milk Duds! (None of this is the norm for our movie going practices...it was a special time for us).

5 - E is sick. She had a viral thing over a week ago that was really just a nasty cough. The pediatrician gave her some medicine, we rode it out, she got better, and we thought we were done. Not so much. She woke up yesterday morning with a fever of 102.9. It turns out the viral thing turned into a bacterial sinus infection, so the doctor put her on antibiotics, and it was a rough night last night. I was up until almost midnight, but the Greatest Daddy Ever took over after that. He literally slept on the couch with her all night, propped up at an angle so that it would be easier on her sinus drainage and breathing. He was up clearing her nose with the booger sucker about every hour and a half until 4:00 a.m., at which time her fever had come back, so he gave her more Tylenol and she was able to get a solid three and half hours of sleep. Did I mention he's the Greatest Daddy Ever? I just really heart my hubby these days! He's stepped up to the plate and taking care of everything he can, including both girls' swim lessons when they haven't been cancelled by rain :(

So, yes. Those are the top 5 reasons I haven't been posting. I'm hoping this steroid pack will do the trick on my neck, though, because a) there are lots of things on which I'd like to post, b) I miss reading all my usual blogs, and c) I really, really don't want to have to go see an orthopedic specialist....it just sounds scary...and expensive....and like something I just don't have the freaking time to do right now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Speaking of the Birthday...

I almost forgot this gem of a post.

So, after seeing my whole birthday weekend - and the days before and after - pass without a single phone call or card from anyone in his family, my husband has decided to "write a letter." You see, he has often been accused by his sister and mother of not being very good about remembering to send a birthday card or call for the special day. Never mind the fact that his sister NEVER sends a card for ANY reason, nor does she call him on his birthday. And never mind the fact that he always does send a card, even though it may be a bit late.

Anyway, he decided that he will send a card to his parents (with whom his sister is living because she just graduated college and isn't yet employed). In said letter, he is explaining to them
a)that they make it very difficult for him to want to remember their birthdays when they fail to acknowledge the birthday (hell, the existence) of his wife
b)that he wants to develop a Policy for Birthdays, which includes everyone getting a phone call on the day of and a card as close to that day as possible.

A noble cause indeed, but likely a lost one. You see, his mother is lounging on a beach in the northeast, where she spends her ENTIRE summer (she works for the school district, so she's got the summer off). She reads, shops, goes out for "water ice" (whatever the hell that is), and gabs with all her friends. Despite the fact that the woman can afford things like Coach purses, Pashmina shawls, and routine facials, she evidently has no money leftover to, I don't know, come see her grandchild, whom she's only seen once?? She could get a round-trip ticket down here for about $225, but the idea seems to have never crossed her mind.

In the spirit of fairness, his father gets some blame too. He, however, gets a bit of reprieve b/c the line of work he's in doesn't give him the summer off or near as much flexibility in terms of when he can take vacation days. They live close to my husband's brother and his fiance and child, and they're very much a part of that grandchild's life.

The point of this post - and there really is one - is that it seems to finally be dawning on my husband that his family seems to be content with not being part of our lives. The most hurtful part of it for him, I imagine, is how this will impact E. H is older, so she knows that technically these people are step-relatives. And she's got such fantastic freaking grandparents back in Home State, that she could care less what the Yankee snobs are doing. But E is a different story. She'll have my parents, who are just as great with her as they've been with H, but that's it. No "other side" of family to get all excited about visiting because she won't even know them. The situation is hurtful to me as well, but even more so for my husband because it's his relatives that are totally dropping the ball. He feels guilty and disappointed, and I can't say that I blame him. I just don't think a Birthday Card Policy is going to help anything. Honestly, I don't think anything will help. His mother is just really selfish, and that's not going to change. His dad will go along with anything, but he generally follows her lead.

I'm confident that E will be no worse for their lack of involvement. Between us, H, and the rest of my family, she's still going to be loved and spoiled rotten. I just hope my husband can make some peace with how things turn out and realizes that he isn't responsible for his family's behavior. And thinking of the bright side, we'll never have to do the "family shuffle" on holidays!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back to Normal...Normal Craziness That Is

My birthday weekend was quite laid back and generally enjoyable. The good: I got to have lunch with my friend and her family; my hubby and I went to see Knocked Up (the funniest movie I've seen in years!); and I got a free birthday drink at a little spot where Hubby and I stopped for a drink on the way back from the movie. If I'd remembered that most places give free b-day drinks, we soooo would have skipped the movie! (Just kidding...the few drinks I did have were just enough to put me in dreamland once I hit the pillow.) The bad: not a single person called me on my birthday :( I had just talked to my mom the day before, so I'm guessing she thought that was good enough. But, yeah, that still leaves my step-dad, my read dad, and the in-laws. C'est la vie.

On the kiddo front, H will be making her Grand Return on Saturday! I'm taking her to see the new Harry Potter movies, as she and I made a pact before she left that neither of us would go see it without the other. I can't wait to have her back home, and I'm interested to see how E reacts to seeing her sister again.

On the dissertation front, things seriously couldn't be better. I had a breakthrough moment this week, in which I realized what will likely be the Main Thread of Argument my dissertation will be making. Prior to this, I'd simply taken my advisor's (and committee's) advice: "I'd find what I find." That is, you can't really "know" ahead of time what you're project will be arguing until you're well into it and the pieces of the puzzle start coming together. Things fall into place, and the argument reveals itself. Well, that happened on Monday, so I e-mailed my advisor with my New Major Idea to see what she thought. She gave me the much-desired pat on the head, saying that this was a critical decision for my project, one that couldn't have been foreseen, and that it will result in a "convincing and very original dissertation." As usual, I'm just really happy when one of my Big Ideas turns out to be good, so it's just icing on the cake when my advisor gives me the big ole' "Congratulations on the great idea!" response. She really has no idea how much I look up to her. She's actually from my Home State, which contributes to my esteem for her because...well, let's just say that I never heard or knew about women like her when I was growing up. Growing up in the country in Home State, I never knew that being a college professor was something I could do in life.

Now back to the craziness that is life with two kids and two dissertations. Both H and E start swimming lessons next week. Those last for two weeks, and then H will go make to Home Start for another visit (just 2 weeks this time). She'll come back with one week left before school, during which time I'm hoping I can schedule some one-on-one math tutoring with one of her former teachers. She lost a lot of her basic math facts skills over 2nd grade as a result of having a teacher who emphasized reading and prepping for the 3rd grade's standardized test. Before she moves on to multiplication tables, etc., she's GOT to get a strong hold on those basic math facts. I'm counting on the chemistry she had with the previous teacher to help her regain some of those skills before school starts.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Was Your Day?: Or, Non-Conversations Between Dissertating Spouses

Is it just me, or is it suddenly rare to have an extended conversation with ones spouse if both people are writing a dissertation? I find myself having the same conversation with my husband, day after day. It goes like this:

Me: How was your day?
Hubby: Good. I read. How was yours?
Me: Good. I read. What are you working on for tomorrow?
Hubby: I'm gonna finish some more reading, then do some writing. What are you gonna do?
Me: I'm gonna write.

Then a long silence ensues as we both realize there is very little in our days of mutual isolation and office hermitage that affords us the opportunity to have an interesting conversation. I'm a talker (I know, big shocker), so this is a particularly irksome new feature of my marriage, but I'm beginning to wonder if this is just something that comes with the territory of being married to someone who is also at the dissertation stage. It's one thing to be holed up in my office, reading and/or writing for hours, no longer part of the usual chats that take place before and after class when one is in coursework. But it's quite another cruel and unusual punishment that, at the end of said work day, I go home to someone who has also been holed up in the office, reading and/or writing all day, and by no fault of our own we have nothing to offer each other in terms of witty, interesting, or salacious banter.

At some point, though, I have to at least wonder if it's just the fact that we're both doing the diss at the same time? Or, if it's us, and other academic couples have no problem finding hours of fascination in each others' tales of research adventure and dissertation drama?

Tomorrow's my birthday damn it, and I want to have a decent conversation!...With someone *other* than my mother!

I think I may be more sensitive to this because H is out of town, visiting family in Home State. She's been gone for two weeks now, and isn't set to come back until a week from tomorrow. The pleasant peace and quiet has given way to the eerie peace and quiet, which is quickly turning into the it's-too-damn-quiet-in-this-house and I-want-my-little-girl-back-now peace and quiet. She spent the first week with Nana (my mom), she's with her (natural) father this week, and she'll spend next week with her other grandma (ex-husband's mom, who is fabulous by the way). Her dad took this week as vacation - a rare event for him as a ranch manager - and took her and the rest of his immediate family to a nearby water park, and she had a great time. I know she's having lots of fun and all of the family lives back in Home State, so they only have the summer to get these kinds of visits, but I miss her so much. She missed getting to see her baby sister crawl for the first time this week. And she won't be here to help me eat a birthday dessert tomorrow. Our home - our little family bubble - just isn't the same without her noise and laughter and whining and talking back, so I really hope these next few days go by fast.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reading and Note-Taking: A Question for the Dissertators

Since the last thing I want to do is look like a dumb ass to my advisor, I pose this question here to other dissertators. I seem to have a problem. I'm a nerdy sponge reader. What the hell is that, you ask? Let me define.

Nerdy sponge reader: a person who enjoys the dissertation subject being researched so much and is so concerned with making sure she doesn't leave a research stone unturned, that she reads most items cover to cover, soaking up everything and taking lots of notes.

While I can usually tell fairly quickly if an article or book really isn't going to be useful to my project, I have an extremely difficult time "skimming" the items that are related to my area of study. I find myself reading cover to cover, thinking that you just never know what else may come up that might be of help in my project. Now, reading an article start to finish isn't too much of a waste of time. But a book? Sometimes I have the advantage of a great table of contents, and I'm able to determine that only one or two chapters will be of use. And I'm somewhat lucky in the sense that there are only a handful of book-length studies done on the writers I'm studying. However, many of the books are only indirectly linked to my project. My project works to link them directly, of course, but in their own right, they're doing something else. I want to avoid the problem I had when I started reading for prelims: I read cover to cover, outlining entire books and taking pages of notes, rather than simply reading enough to get the main argument of a book.

So, my question to all the other dissertators is: Is it general practice to cherry-pick from your sources? Only read/use what seems obvious and directly related to your project? Don't you need to read most of a book to determine what's connected and what's not? Isn't there the danger of taking something out of context if one doesn't read the "whole" argument? I'm still trying to figure out the ropes here, and I want to make sure I'm "casting my net widely enough" as one of my committee members put it, but I also don't want to waste precious research and writing time reading something simply because I'm really interested in an indirectly-related source. I realize that some sources will turn out to be dead ends. But it seems more difficult to distinguish between sources that will be "a bit useful" and "maybe useful" and the "interesting, maybe I can use this" source. I'm guessing I'll get better as I go.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Just What I Was Thinking...

Apparently, the idea of having a child while in grad school or on the market is a hot topic these days. For an excellent post with revealing (sometimes offensive) comments, see Dean Dad tackle the issue here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Bad Kids" and "Bad Parents:" Or, Why Each is Everyone's Problem

Anastasia’s post on the nature and consequences of anti-child rhetoric got me all fired up! The post really didn’t do it, but rather some of the uninformed comments led me to respond here.

I'd go further than what most people seem to be saying in the comments, which is that "it's not the kids’ fault, it's the parents’." What everyone seems to be forgetting is that parenting is a learned behavior. It is *not* 100% "instinctual" or "natural." One learns how to parent in a variety of ways, including learning from ones own parents, media images, popular culture, "expert" literature, etc.

After working at an outpatient mental health clinic, which catered to youth and family services, I learned firsthand that some people never learned how to parent. They never had loving, nurturing parents, and thsu they continue a cycle in which they parent according to what they've seen or experienced in their own childhood. Only *after* things had gone wrong (juvenile crime, substance abuse, child abuse, for example), and their children were taken from the home or in detention, were these parents actually ordered by the court to complete Parenting Classes. Unfortunately, in some cases it was too late. But in others, I saw parents who literally learned - for the first time - how to be affectionate with their children, or how to effectively discipline their children (without yelling or hitting), or how to provide proper guidance and boundaries for their children. These are learned skills, and the parents should not be blamed. Why not? Because of their lack of exposure to any form of positive parenting, they had no idea they were even doing anything wrong. They were simply repeating a cycle, unaware of the consequences.

In addition to this, the fact that our culture doesn’t value the services offered at youth and family clinics like the one I mention points to a larger problem: this is not how most people want their tax money spent. These clinics are non-profit, and they have to beg, borrow, and go through extensive hoop-jumping to get every dollar they can out of the state and federal governments. (Example: The Child Abuse Prevention funding in my home state offered a mere $2,000 a year to the clinic where I worked. Know any social worker willing to work for that?] People in this country are very quick to either a) blame a child for bad behavior or b) blame and judge the parent for not teaching him/her how to behave appropriately, but our culture doesn’t want to take any initiative to help parents learn how to parent. And I’m not talking about all parents. I’m not talking about parents who’ve been raised by responsible parents or family, or parents who are conscious of their role and responsibility in raising a child. I’m talking about parents who – as children – never had the chance to learn how to be a loving, responsible adult, much less a caring and conscientious parent. The cycle has to be broken at some point in order to affect positive change, but it rarely happens from inside the cycle. There are occasional exceptions (i.e. the abused child who eventually learns that abuse isn’t normal and later breaks the cycle), but such exceptions are almost always made possible with the help of others: teachers, loving foster families, and mentors.

So people can sit around and bitch about rude kids all day long (never mind the fact that there are just as many rude adults who have no damn excuse!). Or, they can do something to help with the larger cultural problem: the undervaluing of social services designed to improve the lives of families. As part of this country – this culture – you can be part of the problem or part of the solution, but one has to live with the consequences either way.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Don't ask me why, but I'm uncontrollably procrastinating via the blogosphere right now. Maybe it's because I'll have a bit more work time this week while H is gone. Or maybe it's because I'm tired of my blog ideas disappearing in my brain because I don't post them in a timely manner. Anyway, here are a few more things I wanted to mention:

1 - Notes on a Scandal. I know this has been out for quite a while, but just watched it this weekend, and I loved it! It's based on a novel, but I've heard several people say that this is one of the rare instances in which the movie is better than the book - gasp! It's very Single White Female without the cheese factor. Judi Dench plays a character that we rarely get to see on film: a woman with a real body and a marginalized sexuality, living in fantasy world because it's the only one afforded to her by society. I didn't realize there was a queer factor to movie's plot, but she and Kate Blanchett work brilliantly together to illustrate some quite complicated issues that women find themselves faced with everyday: how to forge friendships with other women; how to be a mother and a sexual being while in a marriage that has long since lost its newlywed factor; how to maintain an authentic identity of ones own while caught in the trap of society's expectations of women. Dench has a bathtub scene in which her body is shown in all the glory of its age and size. The sagginess of her arms, the bits of cellulite on her thigh, the uncertain shape of what may or may not be her breast in the water. No make-up. Just the smoke of her constant cigarette and a glass of wine to keep her company. As much as I hate to categorize movies in terms of gender, this is a movie for women, and it's done brilliantly (pedophilia aside).

2 - Ratatouille. I actually don't like most kids movies. I don't know what went wrong with me, but I never was really into cartoons, animation, kid's stuff in general when I was a child. I stopped watching cartoons before I was 8, and I only watched a select few prior to that. Accompanying the child to the newest kid's flick is the one part of parenting I could really do without. I make an exception for Ratatouille. Unlike Shrek or Cars, both of which seemed to work very hard at including some humor for the appeal of adults, Ratatouille does not. It keeps things simple and focused on the kids. The reason I loved it: food! I've got lots of food issues. Love to cook it. Love to eat it. Love to look at it in the grocery store. This movie is an animated culinary delight that leaves you looking for the nearest bistro. H loved it too, and was equally moved to ask, as we walked out of the theater, if we could go to Paris! It's honestly funny, and not in the potty way, but in the witty way that cartoons often aren't, so I just had to give it my heartiest recommendation to other parents.

Okay, enough procrastination. Though I'm sure something else will come to me, I simply must get some work done.

Edited to Add: Okay, so not too bad. I still managed to get 3 pages written, and I didn't even have a full work day.

Crushed...Like a Bug

Well, my hubby single-handedly kaboshed my third-baby-sooner -rather-than-later dreams. I still had it on my mind when I got home Friday evening. The "in tune with me" man that he is, he could tell something was rattling around up there in that head of mine, but I kept it to myself. After taking H to meet Nana on Saturday (which begins her 3 week stay in Home State) and driving back, hubby and I had a quiet evening home with E. Once we all went to bed, I broke out with the goods. I could tell he wasn't terribly interested in having the conversation, but he was willing to hear my list of Pros and Cons. I explained that I certainly wasn't wanting to "try" try getting pregnant like we did with E. You know, the whole ovulation testing, temping, charting, crazy sex on peak fertility days process. That's a roller coaster that I'm quite happy not to get on again. I was thinking the "let it roll" method this time and not starting that until August or so. Then, Hubby had the kabosh point:

"We'd absolutely have to get a minivan" he said in the dark.

Oh yeah. Duh. Family of five - with two car seats - won't exactly fit in the 4-door sedan, and damn sure won't fit in the 2-door, 4-passenger other vehicle we have. Shit. Big obstacle. Completely practical obstacle. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this (thus showing how crazy I must be). I can just picture Hurricane H trying to squeeze past one of the car seats to sit in between them...like a friggin bull in a china cabinet!

On the bright side, Hubby is super excited about the idea of a minivan - he's officially old! I despise them. I think they look like giant Hoover Dustbusters sucking the dirt from the roads. I swore I'd never own one. They're for church moms, young grandmas who garden, and soccer moms....Wait, H played soccer this Spring, so that makes me...aww shit.
There's no way out of this one. We certainly aren't in the position to spring for an SUV over the minivan. Hell, who am I kidding, we aren't in the position to spring for a minivan.

So there you have it. No sort of baby-making can be happening until the money has been saved for trading in on a minivan, or until we're making enough to cover the monthly payments on one. This one is obvious, so it's like my third baby wishes have scampered away into the darkness, knowing they've been defeated and that there's no point in putting up a fight.

I also respect something Hubby said while we were talking about this. He said he would have serious doubt about his ability to finish his dissertation if we were to have a third child before he was finished. Granted, he's a worryer and a pessimist in general, but I wouldn't want him to feel that much pressure or resentment or anything negative when it comes to a decision like this, so I accept his concerns. But I did try to explain the fact that he's not the one who has to worry about timing pregnancy weight (the showing factor) with the job market interviews, or maternity leave with a new job, each of which are also factors that I have to consider.

Thus we begin the Savings Campaign, and nothing but good can come from that, right?