Friday, July 28, 2006

In which I ruminate on DT and what he'll be like as an old geezer

This morning, on the way to school, I had an NPR "driveway moment," or rather, a parking deck moment. I was listening to a Story Corps piece, in which pediatrician John Bancroft was being interviewed by his daughter, Carolyn. He related a story that was simple but profoundly touching, about a little girl who died while waiting for a transplant and her family's decision to give her organs to others.

It wasn't a surprising story - there was no twist ending, no sophisticated interpretation by Dr. Bancroft, just a spare story about a girl and her family and how, often, the best of humanity can be found in the saddest of circumstances. Both of the Bancrofts were crying by the end, as was I. It turns out that DT was also listening in his car and crying.

As I listened to Dr. Bancroft and his daughter, I was filled with a sense of listening to a potential conversation between DT and WonderGirl in 20 years. DT uses much of the same language as Dr. Bancroft - if I had a nickel for every time I've heard him marvel at how "resilient" children are once, I would have, um, lots of nickels.

It also struck me how much I take DT's pediatrician life for granted on a daily basis. As his wife, I easily see the downside of being a doctor. I've spent too much time calling and leaving multiple, fruitless, voice mails on his cell phone, trying to find out when he'll be home so I can plan dinner. I've spent too long sitting in the car in some parking lot with two tired, hungry children because he got stuck in clinic and couldn't meet us when he was supposed to or call to let us know. I've spent too many nights alone, both before we had kids and through the first two years of WonderGirl's life, when he was in the hospital all night twice a week. I've missed plenty of work time myself, since I'm the flexible one who gets called every time a child is sick at school. I've felt taken for granted, with the assumption that I'll take care of the practical things that need to be done on a daily basis, since we never know what will come up and prevent DT from being where he thought he'd be.

It's so easy to see those things, since they impact my practical life every day. I don't make myself stop often enough and think about why those things happen. Here's what I would say to DT if I could, if I thought there was any chance he'd answer his phone right now, during rounds:

I'm proud of you for wanting to work with patients who don't have lots of options for providers. I'm proud that you talk about sex with inner-city 12-year-olds, I'm proud that you write letters to grandparents to try to convince them to stop smoking around their asthmatic grandkids, I'm proud that you sneak around the nurses to give immunizations to kids who need them, even if they didn't make the proper kind of appointment to get shots. Although I still think it's ridiculous rationalization, there's a part of me that admires the fact that you resisted taking a sick day when I needed you to, because you were truly afraid they'd cancel your appointments and a two-year-old would miss an immunization, be unable to make a new appointment and die from a preventable disease. I'm proud to be with you when we run into your patients on the weekends, and they're surprised and pleased to see their pediatrician taking public transportation. I know you'd like to be working internationally and I hope you do someday, but I'm also proud of you for knowing that while our own kids are small, they need you here. I was struck by Dr. Bancroft's empathy for the family he was remembering, and I know that years from now, when you're reminiscing, you'll have similar families that you've carried in your heart. I'm proud that the man with whom I fell in love is still inside you, even though you've been bruised at times by malignant colleagues, idiotic departmental politics and parents who won't hang up their cell phones during appointments. I love you.

We've come virtually no way, baby.

Back to the breastfeeding wars... Jess has a pointed post up that's worth checking out. Apparently BabyTalk magazine's August cover, which shows a baby actually - wait for it - nursing! has caused a bit of uproar. Jess links this article, which has some truly sad quotes from women who are right there on the front lines, fighting for the breast to become solely sexual, and points out the lovely contrast between a reaction to a woman showing her breast while feeding her child and a woman showing her breast, oh, just for fun. Great, thanks, on behalf of those of us who are hoping our daughters will grow up in a more enlightened age.

Time for some more coffee.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Roaches. The Texas kind.

I just read Karen's post (different Karen than yesterday, but I'm definitely sensing a theme) about Texas cockroaches. It brought back Bad Memories.

I moved to Texas after college for a few years. The experience didn't start well, as within a month three things happened:

  1. DT, who was supposed to move down with me, and whose car was already packed to move (with both of his possessions) was offered a place at a med school in another state. Starting the next day.
  2. My mother's breast cancer recurred.
  3. My grandfather had a heart attack. While driving his Winnebago. Yes, I'm from the South. (Incidentally, he survived and took the opportunity to kick his 60-year smoking habit, then lived until he was 93.)
All of this left me feeling incredibly alone and wondering whether I'd made a huge mistake to move, whether I should pack up and head home right away. My best friend came to visit and help me through, which I appreciated. My only real memory of her time with me, though, was one night when I saw my first Texas roach. When it started flying, I thought I'd die. She didn't hesitate, just grabbed her shoe and chased that thing around my tiny kitchen. She won. Truly, I don't know when I've been so grateful to another human - that roach was just the thing to push me over the edge, and my friend saved me.

Ironically, for years I've remembered that story as an example of Friendship Between Women and What You'll Do For a Friend in Need, but I found out recently that my friend doesn't remember it happening. Not sure what to make of that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Babies everywhere!

A belated congratulations to Allison, Greg and their family on the arrival of their fourth child last Thursday! Anyone who survives pregnancy in Texas during this latest heat wave deserves a medal. In this case, Allison was fortunate to get a medal who probably sleeps in short spurts and poops a lot. The best kind.

I've been watching (only kind of obsessively - is that possible?) the final few weeks of Karen's journey to motherhood. After years of infertility treatment and all of the attendant fun and games that go along with having your RE on speed-dial, she and her husband are adopting from China. Their referral will be in the next batch that go out - which could be any day, I gather. I've followed her story with a bit of self-centered interest, because before I got pregnant with Rocco, DT and I had decided if we didn't get lucky fairly quickly, we were going to pursue adopting from China. Since I really didn't think we would get lucky, I had already started immersing myself into that world - I joined the relevant Yahoo group, started reading adopting-from-China blogs, looked into groups for adoptive families in our area and DT and I researched and chose an agency. I was full into the easy part of adopting, like fantasizing about how it would be when we traveled - would WonderGirl go? DT's mom? But she doesn't speak Chinese and DT's dad does... would we take him? The whole darn family? Just us? How old would our baby be? Counting backwards from likely dates, was she be born yet? In any case, we ended up going down another road, which brought Rocco into our lives, but I can never help remembering that if he wasn't in our family, we would be about as far along in the process as Karen is. She has had delays out the wazoo and pain and anxiety that I can't even imagine. She is still waiting to see her daughter's face for the first time, and we've had nearly a year with Rocco already. There's not much I can say about that, but here's what I can say: there will be a pair of teary eyes looking at this computer screen when she posts that she's gotten her referral. That's one family that has waited too damn long to be together.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The shape of a mother

A friend sent me the link to a wonderful site called The Shape of a Mother.

From the blogger's informational page:

It occurred to me that a post-pregnancy body is one of this society's greatest secrets; all we see of the female body is that which is airbrushed and perfect, and if we look any different, we hide it from the light of day in fear of being seen. That makes me want to cry. Sure we all talk about the sagging boobs and other parts, but no one ever sees them. Or if they do, it's in comical form, mocking the beauty that created and nourished our children.

It is my dream, then, to create this website where women of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities can share images of their bodies so it will no longer be secret.
There are some beautiful stories and pictures. Good for these women - it's about damn time women started celebrating their post-pregnancy bodies.

This topic is feeling quite timely to me, as Rocco is starting to wean and my humongous nursing almost-A cup breasts are dwindling back down to where-exactly-is-the-bra-supposed-to-go breasts. Evem though I'm back down to my normal weight, my belly sticks out further than my boobs do. I won't pretend that it's not sometimes a struggle to remember that while I may not look like (published pictures of) Angelina Jolie, my body is an amazing thing. My body has grown and nurtured two healthy children. I owe it more than being embarrassed at its inconvenient parts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Primary day

It's primary day at the polls here. I was planning on going to vote first thing. (Hah! Just a little joke - "first thing" is generally 5:45 now, when Rocco wakes up aggressively, DT goes to cuddle with him for a little while, I lie in bed feeling guilty for 20 minutes, then go get Rocco and DT goes for a run before the temperature gets above 100. I meant "first thing after all that," of course.)

In the past, I've always had WonderGirl with me when I voted. We would usually stop on our way to or from school; I like going with her because it makes me feel like I'm teaching her how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity to vote, she likes going because the poll workers always give her my "I voted" sticker. (To be fair, she was pretty disappointed with our first voting foray during the 2004 election season - she thought we were going "boating" and, let's be honest, no middle school gym can compete with that for a 2-year-old.)

This morning, I couldn't bear to mess with tradition, so I waited to go until she got up and we went together again. On the way to our polling place, we talked about one of the UU principles WonderGirl has been learning about in RE - if you believe in something, you should act on it. I told her that not everyone in the world is allowed to vote, and we shouldn't take it for granted. We even sang a song to that effect, and I kid you not, I got choked up. On the way out, we talked to an older woman who was also pretty emotional about voting, and who had also taken her daughter with her to vote for years.

WonderGirl will have plenty of time for cynicism later, and for questioning whether the Diebold machine I used today is really going to count my vote. Later, she can wonder if it even matters if it counts my vote. For today, though, that little girl has a taste of why voting is important, and she thinks that it's normal for adults in her community to feel emotional about having the right or ability to vote. As corny as it sounds, I wish more of us could hold on to that feeling. Kudos to all of the local people who have gone the extra step and are running for local offices in an attempt to make their towns better. If you believe in something, you should act on it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rocco's week, in haiku (warning: gross)

Green, brown, carrot chunks
Diapers cannot contain it
Apoopalypse now

Friday, July 14, 2006

Not quite geeky enough. For once.

My basic stumbling block in grad school can be summed up as: I am too geeky and yet not geeky enough at the same time. My field is a bit of a merger between one hard-but-not-that-hard science and one quite technical field. I originally came from the less-technical side, where I felt a bit too analytical and out of place; now I am definitely having to pick up some arcane things on my own, and I feel like a bobblehead doll in a convention of Serious Math People.

If I could just learn to leave well enough alone, it would be okay. I could probably get on with life by continuing to do things in some patched-together good-enough kind of way, but then I get these whiffs of possibility. So, instead of running all of my simulations for my dissertation on my laptop or commandeering machines in our student computer lab, I spend two days trying to set up my computer and change all my code so I can use the department's Unix server instead. Or, when I need to put together a CV, I can't just do it in Microsoft Word and not worry if it looks a little strange. No, I have to spend a day searching for a LaTeX style file that does CVs and should theoretically make things easier. Only, all the examples I can find reference makefiles and Cygwin and putting files in search paths that as far as I know, lead to the witch's house in the forest where Hansel and Gretel ended up. I would say it's all Greek to me, but frankly, Greek is easier.

Do I ever learn and let go of the dream? No. But now I do have a pretty CV in LaTeX, which took multiple days to put together, and if you'd like the template, I'll give it to you. No translations required.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I have nothing to say and I am saying it. And that is poetry.

Julie has a sweet post up about her son's recent language explosion. (No, no one was hurt. Just some bruised dipthongs.) Before becoming a parent, I remember learning about theories of language acquisition in college, but I didn't really get the magic of it all. (Look, the value of a liberal arts education! A science geek learns about language! Now, of course, all I remember is "Chomsky." No, not his theories, just his name.)

Man, am I glad they don't charge by the parenthesis here at Blogger.

Anyway, soon after having WonderGirl, I became fairly obsessed with the idea of her picking up language. It seemed beyond possible that she would find a way to organize and interpret the random sounds we made for her and figure out which were meaningful in a directive sort of way, and which were meaningful in a Mommy-used-too-much-tequila-in-the-margaritas-again sort of way. She was a bit late with first words; this was partly because I think we refused to believe she was using words unless they were exceptionally clear and partly to teach me a lesson. When she did start talking, though, it was amazing. One of my professors described the process of a child learning to talk as: "One day, your kid says, 'Gah," and the next day he says, 'Dad, I was thinking just now about dinosaurs...'" and that is almost exactly how it happened with WonderGirl. I'm still not sure how she managed it, and her vocabulary and syntax still suprise me.

(Side note: We have assiduously avoided baby talk with WonderGirl, both the adding of "-ie" to the end of all nouns and the gratuitous doubling of words, as in "wipe-wipe" or "Boutros Boutros." She still calls dogs "doggies" and we don't worry about things like that, but I do tend to encourage her not to similarly modify every word. Yesterday, she made a comment about her "poopy" to me, at which point I reflexively said, "Not 'poopy,' WonderGirl, 'poop.'" I have officially lost all perspective.)

Rocco is getting to the Age of Words now also, and he seems to be moving a bit faster than WonderGirl did, which is good, because he still does that weird scoot thing instead of crawling, and he needs something to keep the other infants from making fun of him at daycare. He definitely says, "Ma mamamamamamama," to mean me. Or food. Or water. Or daylight. This week he started with, "Uh oh" although we're not quite sure where that came from. We never make mistakes or drop things, hence no "Uh oh"s in the QoD house.

This morning, I nursed Rocco in bed while DT dozed a bit more. After he was done eating, he rolled over to see DT, which is his usual drill - he blinks his enormous eyes and grins, trusting that we'll forget he was just screaming bloody murder in his crib, then dives at DT. Today, before commencing the ritual, he looked at DT and said, "Dada." Swoon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hard to comprehend

I have been somewhat obsessively watching the internet for news about the trains bombed in India this morning. I'm having two main reactions:

  1. I am incredibly grateful that my dad, who was traveling in India, returned last week. He wasn't in Mumbai, but still, I am beyond happy to know that he is safe and sound in a very boring town in New York. My family tends toward the worrying end of the spectrum, and it was already hard for me to act happy and supportive when he told me he was going to India. I knew I would be uncomfortable the whole time because my God, what if??? So now, I know that my dad is okay, but there are plenty of children in India right now who do not know that about their dads. Which leads to my second reaction...
  2. I'm disturbed at how relatively unemotional I feel reading the articles. It is almost impossible for me to understand what happened, or really feel the panic that affected families must be feeling now. Intellectually, we're all on this planet together and I do believe that we are all connected. Truthfully, though, while I am horrified and saddened by the attacks, but I know that I would feel more strongly if they happened closer to home. I wish that wasn't true.

I blame the metric system

As I may have mentioned previously, I share an office with seven other students. I shouldn't complain, because sharing an office implies that we have office space, which is not true for all PhD students in my school. Although many students in my department work from home, most of my work is done in the office, since the kids' daycare is just a couple of blocks away. All of my books, my notes, my articles, my old inspiring fortune cookie fortunes (cookie fortunes? just fortunes?) are in my office space. Working elsewhere is very difficult from a practical point of view.

While I do have an alarming number of officemates for a small space, they are all quite nice. They are also all international students. Most are Chinese, so our office is filled with conversation that is unintelligble to me. (As an aside, DT, who is American-born Chinese, says that Chinese is meant to be shouted across a restaurant. I now believe it is also meant to be shouted across grad student offices.) A typical eavesdropping endeavor for me produces gems such as: "(something something something) regression (something something) left-censoring (something something) bossy MDs don't know what a p-value is." (Not an exact quote.)

Besides being quite nice and quite loud, though, one of my officemates is also possessed of absolutely no body fat, and I have a hypothesis that this leads to temperature regulation issues. She won't say anything out loud about it, but whenever she's alone in the office, the thermostat magically goes up to 95 degrees. (I'm assuming that Farhenheit degrees are so unfamiliar that she just pushes the thermostat all the way and figures no matter how high it gets, it still won't meet whatever Celsius temperature she'd choose.)

We live in a very warm place, and still, the heater has been on in the office nearly all summer. Every morning when I come in, the office is 86 degrees, because the heater just can't get it any hotter than that. All of my other officemates are too nice to say anything or change the thermostat, although they look relieved and agree readily when I propose turning it down to an icy 80 degrees. I feel like the ugly American for not being able just to let her keep the office hot, since everyone else is dealing with it somehow, but I get so hot that I truly can't work. I have struggled to find a solution (turning the thermostat down a degree at a time to try to find a happy medium, subtly leaving a polar bear costume on her chair, stripping naked to work) but no dice.

Yesterday, I made a decision. I'm cutting and running. One of my friends just defended her dissertation, and I've requested a move to her office space. It's smaller, but with fewer people, and I'm hoping there's leftover good mojo since my friend was able to finish her degree while working there.

Most importantly, there's no thermostat.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Potential activities for Rocco's 1st birthday party, suggested by WonderGirl, rejected by Ruth, to date:

  1. Making fairy wands
  2. Tongue painting (analogous to finger painting, not face painting)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A moral victory

For fear of jinxing myself, I haven't been updating here with my academic progress. But oh!, there is (some) progress. Ever since I wrote about my lack of motivation, I have been - how do I say it? - motivated. Very strange, but very welcome.

Of course, working will lead to nothing but problems in the long run, and those surfaced recently.

In the course of doing some work in response to the reviews of my paper, I sent what should have been an innocuous email to Dr. Nice and Dr. Brilliant. I wrote that, when one of the assumptions we make was relaxed a bit, our results still held up very well, except in situation X. I continued on to say (my mistake! my mistake!) that this was very similar to the original results from situation X which we described in the paper.

This unleashed a flurry of communications, not all of which I was privy to, I'm sure, about how to present the results from situation X. Our results were neither surprising, nor terrible. When certain conditions are changed a bit, the results turn quite promising. However, situation X is a bitch, and there are few methods in our field which deal with situation X well. Suggestions were made about how to mitigate the less-promising results. These suggestions included re-running all of the work in the paper, using more favorable conditions. This prompted suggestions from me, which included everyone reading the entire freaking paper before we send it out next time, then signing in blood that no one would be allowed to suggest changes that the reviewers didn't even ask for. Oops, no, that's what I wanted to suggest.

Instead, I had a lovely conversation with Dr. Nice, during which I presented my view that we really shouldn't change the conditions, because that seemed of dubious ethical merit (for various reasons). I avoided using the word "ethics" but he got my point. I suggested finding some way to present the situation X results so that they wouldn't be mistaken for more general results. He suggested that Dr. Brilliant felt quite strongly about not presenting the results as they were currently shown. I suggested, jokingly, that next time I would perhaps not write so many updates to everyone, since had I not written the email, we wouldn't be having this conversation. He only laughed a bit. I left, thinking three things: I was glad that Dr. Nice would be talking to Dr. Brilliant instead of me, I wasn't sure what I would do if pushed to change the work, and finally, perhaps this was the encounter that we all needed for someone, anyone!, to realize that having three advisors for one student is simply not all it's cracked up to be.

Last night, I got an email from Dr. Nice. He had convinced Dr. Brilliant to go along with presenting the current results, but we would move the situation X results to a separate table. I get to keep my probably overly rigorous ethics intact, I don't have to redo lots of work and I am reassured that both Dr. Nice and Dr. Brilliant will do the right thing.

It's a good day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Axiomatic principles I have discovered:

  1. An email from an advisor which says, "Call me when you get this," is never a good thing. Something which is too confusing to explain in email will serve only to complicate your life.
  2. Fireworks cause rain.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The learned senator from Alaska

I love me some Sen. Ted Stevens. You might think he's a blowhard idiot who likes nothing more than the sound of his own voice, and you'd be correct. However, ever since I saw Jon Stewart's hilarious juxtaposition of Stevens' eruptions about the negative publicity over his bridge with Robert Byrd inexplicably saying "War" and shaking his finger, well, I'll just say that I look forward to hearing more from Stevens. I'm rarely against a good laugh.

So I was happy this morning to check out Begging to Differ and see that Greg had a post up about Stevens. Turns out he has one of those internets that Bush likes to talk about... read about it, get scared, and make sure to check out the forensic analysis link at the end.

Ah, that's the way to start a Monday morning when everyone else is on vacation.