Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oops, I did it again

I went to Kroger on Wednesday, aka Senior Citizen Discount Day. We better make that orange juice last, because I may not have the nerve to venture back into the parking lot for a long, long time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ibuprofen: it's what's for dinner

...and thank God for it. Tylenol can kiss my grits -- why do I even bother? After a couple of wonderful months, during which Rocco was apparently too busy to get sick, he's succumbed to Virus The Eighty-sixth.

What he would say, if he could talk*:
"Mom! Come here! No, don't come here. Pick me up! Hey, if you pick me up, I'll claw your face. Who told you to pick me up? Hey, is the stove on? NOW I'm happy. If you move me away from the stove again, I'll claw your face. Hey! Why am I suddenly not near the stove? How dare you try to feed me applesauce. What is this crap? Wait, I like that -- is that applesauce? Why aren't you giving me more? WAITER!"

But now, finally, the ibuprofen has kicked in, he's sleeping (albeit fitfully) and I can go fix myself a nice, stiff drink. Cherry-flavored, from a dropper. Ah, that's the stuff.

*Completely unrelated: Rocco spontaneously played peek-a-boo last night with WonderGirl, using his bath towel. His first two-syllable word is, apparently, "pee-boh." I'm trying not to take it personally that he doesn't yet distinguish "Mama" from "milk" or "more" or "maitre d'."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More free advice

A tip, especially for others with hypochondriac tendencies, if you notice a lump in your breast during a self-exam:

As your heart begins to race, your stomach drops out and your cheeks burn, go ahead and move near the sink. That way, when you palpate the lump more thoroughly to examine the borders, the milk that squirts out of the one gland that apparently hasn't gotten the post-weaning message swon't require extra cleanup.

Next step: sit down, take a deep breath and say a thank-you that your life didn't just change.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'd like to give the world a hug

We live in a heavily international place. (Tangent alert: I couldn't decide what noun to use instead of "place." "Community" implies interaction between people, which I don't often see. "Town" is misleading, since towns are small, while "city" is misleading, since cities are much larger than the area I'd like to describe. "Region" sounds larger than a city, and therefore is wrong, ditto for "area"... I think I may have hit upon something. People are disconnected from each other because we don't know where the f*** we live. Moving on.) Anyway, there are refugees from all over the world, along with academics from many of the same places. We like this on several levels: WonderGirl and Rocco are exposed to kids from all over on a constant basis, and our local grocery store carries seven different kinds of eggplant. Everyone wins.

The best part, though? Hearing a 21-month-old at the playground, standing in the familiar Superman pose at the top of the ladder, prouding proclaiming himself to be "Super JoJo!" in French. We can avoid having to pay for extracurricular language instruction for the kids - Super JoJo is going to save them if they fall on the slide and hopefully conjugate a few verbs at the same time.


Shit. I had just typed that post when a fellow grad student came into my office to talk. She just lost a baby at 15 weeks. No idea why -- pathology was normal, chromosomes normal, no obvious sign of infection. She's from another country, has no family here other than her husband, but like so many women who go through this, talking to her family on the phone only made it worse anyway. It sucks, but there truly is a line between people who know how this feels, and people who don't. I'm glad she felt like she could talk to me, and I hope she's serious when she said that it helped. This is a tangible benefit of being at least a bit open about my own history.

But argh, my heart is racing now. It's been a year and four months since I lost Celeste, and conversations like this just bring it all back. She should have been turning 2 in a few weeks.

Here's the irony: when I was pregnant with Rocco, I mentioned to this same student that I'd had two miscarriages. She was dismissive, to say the least, and clearly had the attitude that if you were healthy and took care of yourself, your baby would be born without any problem. It's a little unsettling to see her now dealing with those same attitudes. I have a bit of "I wasn't really wishing this on her" guilt.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On a much less-reverent note

Okay, I know I just linked to Bitch PhD on Friday, but I have to do it again. Guest blogger John Patrick has a wonderful primer on these points:

  1. Ethnicity is not pedigree. No more fractions!
  2. Ethnicity is as central to identity as gender. No more "zero-culture fallacy." No more "I don't you as "ethnic;" I don't care if you're black, or white, or green!"
  3. Relative vaginophobia.
Read it, but the language is NSFW.


What I remember:

It was the second week of classes, my first semester of graduate school. My probability theory class, which met from 9-11 am, was on break. I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with WonderGirl, so I'd made my typical break-time trip to the bathroom. As we reconvened, an epidemiology student named Clark returned, wide-eyed, from the coffee stand, which had a TV. His information was muddled, something about planes, the WTC, the White House. The Washington mall was on fire. Planes were coming down all over. No one knew what was happening.

The rest of class sat there, unable to digest what he was talking about. My instructor waited a moment, then started teaching again. I wanted to get up and leave, but who leaves in the middle of a required class two weeks into the semester? (If you don't know how to react, I guess you keep reading My Pet Goat.) I wondered if my instructor pushed on because she was Chinese and didn't get the significance. I wondered if I did get the significance. I wondered if this was one of those times where everything changes, and if so, how much.

After class ended, I left school. I needed to see DT, who was working in the nursery of a hospital a few miles away that morning. When I got to the front desk, asking for the nursery, hugely pregnant, the receptionist tried to point me to labor and delivery instead. I couldn't explain myself, but finally found DT in the NICU, hugged him, then went home to watch the news and try to process it all. I listened to NPR on the way, as they reported the towers had fallen. It took several days for me to realize their fall was a surprise to most people -- in my experience of the day, it all happened simultaneously. I didn't know about the sick period between, where no one knew what was going to happen. I didn't know that a plane could enter a building and leave the building upright. I just didn't know.

I remember the next several hours, watching TV, with everyone in the country seemingly assuming that their location was the next obvious target. My school is near a large federal institution, so it was evacuated as a precaution. How many small towns are near nuclear sites, how many large cities have high-profile buildings, how many medium cities are symbolic targets of another kind? Everyone thought they were next.

Like so many Americans, I spent time on the phone, connecting with my family. We all needed to hear each others' voices, even though none of us, in fact, were next. I remember my brother's anger, remember thinking that I hadn't made it to anger yet, I was just afraid.

My most enduring memory of the day was a strange relief that WonderGirl hadn't been born yet. Whatever else was scary and uncontrollable, I knew she was okay. I remember having my first true understanding that there were situations in which I wasn't going to be able to protect her. That day, though, she was still cozy and unaware, kicking my internal organs, reassuring me that whatever else I couldn't do, I could nurture her a little while longer. My body was a buffer between her and whatever madness was going on. It was the one thing I could do while I waited to see what it all meant.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Guilt with a capital G and that rhymes with T and that stands for trouble

Last night, DT and I went to our very first PTA meeting at WonderGirl's new school. After the meeting (hilarious because it's a Quaker school, and people kept forgetting they were supposed to sense consensus instead of calling for votes, leading to cries of, "Aye. I mean, WAIT! We don't do that!"), every classroom had a back-to-school night, during which the teachers revealed the mysteries of our children's school day. It was Wonderful, Glorious, Inspiring. WonderGirl's teachers are apparently angelic geniuses, or genuis angels, I don't know which. There are good ideas oozing out of the walls in that classroom, and I truly wish I could have hired the teachers as parenting consultants around the time WonderGirl started, oh, interacting with other humans. In stark contrast to WonderGirl's previous preschool, the faculty and staff frame all of their requests in such a positive way that you just can't wait to comply: "The kids are doing a great job recognizing which snacks are healthy, so thank you for continuing to send healthy snacks so they can practice," or "We're having a wonderful time combining gross motor skills with math lessons, so we're looking for exciting, large maninpulatives for the children. We've had several parents graciously donate body parts and we're so grateful." To which I say, "Here! Do you need more? Please take my arm - it would be an honor to spend my life one-armed so that the children (oh! the children!) will enjoy math!"

The school is clearly the right environment for WonderGirl. We enrolled her because of its diversity (it's a mini-UN), its focus on social justice and on values which we cherish (conflict resolution, respect for all beings, smoothies), and its combination of academic flexibility and challenge. There have turned out to be more advantages than we had even considered, and WonderGirl is flourishing there, to put it mildly. But, here's the rub. We had planned for this to be a stopgap solution. When I graduate (WHEN, not if, dammit!), we planned either to move to a different city (and presumably to a decent school district) or move within our current location to a decent public school district. We never considered that this might be a permanent school, but now both DT and I are having a difficult time imagining moving her out. It just feels that right. The problem with the scene is that we have chosen to send our child to a private school, and for that, I feel capital-g guilty. Before we had kids, I earnestly argued that I would join a local coalition of folks working to make our local schools acceptable and would send our kids there; I didn't want to take advantage of our standing to opt out of the local schools, when so many other kids just don't have that option. Now? Apparently not. I am well aware of the fact that she won't shrivel up and die at our subpar local elementary school (which is, ironically, further from our house than her current school - so much for "local"). But. I guess my voracious appetite for depending public schools is sated when it comes time to send my daughter to one that is, frankly, not inspiring. My liberalism apparently has bounds that have surprised me.

In a coincidence that you might call spooky (or might pragmatically note is inspired by the start of school), Bitch PhD has a post today on the same subject, different side of the equation. To be fair, the situation Bitch describes is a bit different. Our local school is much less diverse, allocates its resources in dramatically different ways, and doesn't focus on building community and pursuing a life of simplicity, integrity and equality. WonderGirl's school has an aggressive financial aid policy and uses tuition from well-off families to subsidize other students with the goal, and result, of economic diversity. We chose her school for philosophical reasons, not just as a refuge from our public school. We didn't apply to other private schools, and I assume would have sent WonderGirl to the public school if she hadn't been admitted to this one.

I do think Bitch is right that parents today place too much importance on every decision they make, assuming it will determine the course of their child's life. (The care and feeding of that neurosis is another post...) In that vein, maybe we could have given our local school a year or two, then reassessed the situation and made a change if necessary. Maybe WonderGirl would have decided she hated school in those two years, maybe she would have made life-changing friends, maybe she wouldn't have felt physically safe, maybe she would have loved her teachers, maybe she would have been bored, maybe she would have been challenged. I have no idea, because now we've started down a path that is going to be harder to leave than I'd originally thought. I don't really know where it goes, and I suppose none of us, on any of our paths, do. For now, though, it's winding through some beautiful scenery and I'm going to enjoy it. I might as well, we've already paid tuition.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The human body is mad cool, yo

Big biology news today: three teams of scientists (from UNC, Michigan and Hahvahd) jointly published work that hints at the incredibly complex balance of cell proliferation, aging and cancer. The groups each worked with a particular tumor suppressor, p16INK4a, in different tissues. The gene's expression gradually increases with age, and its increased expression seems not only to prevent age-related out-of-control cell growth (cancer=bad), but also prevents stem-cell proliferation (stem cells=good). It's a fascinating and tricky balance. Tumor suppression is increasingly important as we age, but the flip side of that is a loss of the stem cells that are so important for renewing our tissues. I supposed the debate turns to whether we'd rather get cancer or have garden-variety age-related degeneration. From the linked NYT article, one of the lead scientists summed it up optimistically:

“There is no free lunch,’’ Dr. Sharpless said. “We are all doomed.”
From a science standpoint, almost as interesting as the research itself is the fact that three separate groups worked together on something so high-profile. The group from Carolina shared its knockout mice with the other groups, since they were all looking at different tissues. Cool, cooperation in science, putting the common good ahead of egos and careers, yadda yadda, right? Uh... then there's this gem at the bottom of the article:
Press releases by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Michigan attributed the advance to all three teams equally. But the press release issued by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where Dr. Scadden has an appointment, described him as the leader of the multi-institutional team, with the other two teams confirming his work. Dr. Scadden made no such claim in an interview, and acknowledged Dr. Sharpless’s generosity in lending his mice.
Smacks of the portrayal of Robert Gallo in And the Band Played On. Dude, if you didn't at least make the mice, you better get your institute's PR department under control.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's back to school we go

I have become what I have beheld and am content that I have done right.

Yes, I am now that scary advanced graduate student that no one wants to talk to. Last week, I began my sixth year of school here. Sixth. Our department's recruiting materials gaily indicate that most students take between four and five years to finish, depending on a student's previous coursework, wink wink, nudge nudge. In fact, during my now-considerable tenure, I have seen exactly three students finish in less than five years; one student that was a seventh-year when I came is still officially in the program.

Clearly, our department doesn't put a premium on efficiently graduating students, but it's a bit of a dirty little secret. Typically, when students get far enough along that they've lost their funding, they get jobs and only work on their dissertations part-time. They're not around the department much; they lose their office space; people forget that they're still in the program. They may not have degrees, but at least they're not flaunting that by being visible. I'm a little different. Rocco's daycare is right by school, so I spend all of my working time in the department, and I'm not easy to ignore. (Perhaps it's because of the red boa I wear whenever I'm feeling particularly brilliant and productive.)

Last week, our new students began orientation and it quickly became clear that I was like some sort of first-year-eating virus. It was a similar feeling to when I'd walk around the undergraduate section of campus pregnant: everyone avoids eye contact, just in case your "condition" rubs off on them. I'm okay with that, though. The new students will spend the next few weeks dancing around each other, figuring out who will study together, who will drink together, who will spend more time with her dog or fiance than with her fellow-student cohort. These negotiations will feel weighty and consequential. I won't miss that. I'll be the old one, eating lunch with the assistant professors and staring at WonderGirl's artwork at my desk when I'm thinking or in need of inspiration.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

On notice

You've been warned.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pumping as a class issue

There's nothing in this article from the NY Times that is surprising, but that doesn't mean it's not depressing: there is a clear separation between new moms returning to work who are able to pump, and those who aren't. The article draws a nice line between managers at Starbucks who are able to pump privately and conveniently in their offices and counter employees who must save up break time to pump in the customer bathroom. Is it any wonder breastfeeding rates are so low among women with less education and lower-paying jobs?

Where, exactly, is our commitment to families and children? Why on God's green earth are we expressing that commitment by obsessing over whether embryos should be flushed down the sink instead of used in research, instead of putting our collective energy toward creating policies that would encourage breastfeeding for all families, regardless of class? Why do we spend so much effort castigating women who can't/don't/won't breastfeed instead of actually giving them the tools they need to increase their likelihood of successfully breastfeeding?