Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Priorities or Neuroses?

So I'm back at work for the semester.

It's my first day back at Macalester College in St Paul where I feel like I've won the lottery with my career. I kept tenure at the Midwestern Public University where I now teach only in the fall semesters, and that leaves the spring semesters open to pursuing other adventures. This past semester was my first one back at my 'real' job and the one thing that I walked away with was the knowledge at how simply satisfied I was there and how much I generally enjoy the students there as well as my colleagues, even after my experience with this elite college and its incredibly smart and motivated students. Maybe it is just the ability to have both that is so amazing.


So this semester I am teaching one course, an applied statistics course that is cross-listed with Math and is more fun than hard for both me and the students. It is my first time teaching it, so a new prep but still.

In addition, I'm auditing a course on behavioral economics with an eye to teach it in the future and working on three separate lines of research.

So here I am, the time between classes, getting started on some of this work and another adjunct gal walked into our shared office and we spent some time catching up. She is a former Manhattan investment-banker type whose entrepreneur husband made it big so they decided to move back to the land of reasonable real estate and nice people to procreate. Two kids later (one now 3 and one now 1) and she's interested in balancing life a bit more by adjuncting at her alma mater.

We quickly deposed each other about our schedules, where our kids are, what kinds of preschools we're considering, etc. and here's what I walked away with:

She has care (either a nanny or preschool) for her kids 8 hours/day, 5 days/week and she is teaching one class with zero research requirements.

This will be, nearly literally, the fifth semester that I have juggled our now three year old (he goes to Mother-of-Four's two days per week this semester) as well as the demands of a sometimes full, but always heavy, load of teaching, research and service.

What is my problem? Or are her priorities off?

It gets back to my obsessive pre-grieving. I view this time with Big -- this January until next September as, really, the last time in his life and mine where his time is still, really all mine. And I don't want to miss a thing.

Obviously, even at the expense of my own sanity.

What are all of your thoughts on the work life balance in conjunction with both maintaining sanity and in being present as fully as possible in our children's childhoods?

Friday, January 23, 2009


So I achieved an unbelievable, rarely achieved feat.

Be prepared, you may find yourself envious.

I got both of our kids, kids at very distinct and different levels of swimming competency, into lessons on the same evening, at the same time, at the same place.

Holy s&$t.

Last night was the first lesson that they were both able to attend and where I was prepared enough to have actually located swimming suits that fit in time for the class (yes, Eight missed a night due to this sad fact).

Big is by far the youngest in his first on-his-own class and, although he is a thousand percent more composed than I expected him to be, I can tell that the teacher is slightly stressed by his, his, let's call it enthusiasm.

Last night while attending to one of the three other children in the course (how dare she!) he started demanding her attention by showing her a new "trick" which was to hold on to the ledge with his right hand, face outward, and quickly spin around in the water with the goal of then grabbing the ledge with his left hand before sinking like a stone in the shallow-end water in which he is still at least two inches too short to be able to inhale oxygen if standing on the bottom.

He achieved his goal in this trick only about eighty percent of the time, at which point the teacher had to quickly pull him up, leaving her current charge in the lurch for a moment or two and ultimately leading the teacher to tactfully lift him out of the water so that he had to sit on the ledge and watch the other kids do the task at hand.

He is literally fearless in the water.

When the time of the lesson came to an end, he turned to me and wailed, never wanting to leave the pool even to eat or drink.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Meditations on Mindful Parenting: Day 2

A Quote, to start:

And just as in life itself, when faced with a range of family, social and cultural pressures to conform to frequently unstated and unconscious norms, and with all the inherent stresses of caring for children, as parents we often find ourselves in spite of all our best intentions and our deep love for our children, running more or less on automatic pilot. To the extent that we are chronically preoccupied and invariably pressed for time, we may be out of touch with the richness, what Thoreau called the "bloom," of the present moment. This moment may seem far too ordinary, routine, and fleeting to single out for attention. Living like this, it is easy to fall into a dreamy kind of automaticity as far as our parenting is concerned, believing that whatever we do will be okay as long as the basic love for our children and desire for their well-being is there. We can rationalize such a view by telling ourselves that children are resilient creatures and that the little things that happen to them are just that, little things that may have no effect on them at all. Children can take a lot, we tell ourselves.

Before Big, BioMom and I rarely stopped. Well, certainly once Eight had become Four or so and started having her 'own life'. Once preschool started. Big forces you to be in the moment. His energy requires ours. And I am grateful.

The authors go on to talk about the 'rising stress on virtually all fronts in the society, and an accelerating sense of time urgency and insufficiency.' This could have perfectly described our lives six months ago, and to many, it probably still does. We have a tendency, I suppose not unlike most American families, to overschedule. To not want to miss out on social and educational opportunities for us and our kids. We live in a city with thousands of options for children to be enriched. Where does one stop? And without mindful parenting, how can one know when enough is enough for your child?

Reading this book makes me remember to look forward to the smallest moments. I can't wait for Eight to come home from school today so that I can show her the article I read about Sasha and Malia and how they met the Jonas brothers and stayed up with their friends on the night of the inauguration watching High School Musical III. These are things that I would have not noticed without her. It is a reminder to jump in with her and her life. To learn the things she loves and hang on tight for her life's ride because that train will go with or without me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Michelle Obama: Vigorously Stylish

If you haven't heard this discussion by Cathy Horyn of Michelle Obama's fashion during the Inaugural weekend, click here, NOW.

I could listen to her voice and watch Michelle over and over.

What I am most struck by, now that I've heard a few people put words to the feeling that they, the Obama's, give you is how aware they seem of who they are, what it means that they are the first family, and the significance of their moment in history.

Also, for your listening pleasure and leisurely perusal, a repeat of the poem "Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

Look Baba, it's Jonathan Livingston!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reader Poll: Games

When we were on our annual trip Up North this year (post Christmas) we hosted a couple that BioMom knows through work (she works with the husband). They happened to be on the North Shore of Lake Superior over the same weekend.

Being an introvert, I did not look forward to this, preferring instead to hoard all the time up there with only those with whom I am extremely close. In retrospect, however, as usual, I very much appreciate her efforts to broaden our world.

This evening was no exception.

The couple, and their two daughters, were lovely.

At one point we were talking about playing board games with the kids. Eight loves Monopoly and Big is really getting into games of all kinds, regardless of his level of understanding.

BioMom and I approach gaming with the kids in the same way that we approach parenting, I suppose. I'm the honest, reality-based adult in the house whereas she's the soft-landing parent.

As an example, once after Eight, then Six or something, had had a piano recital that she effed up entirely, mainly because of nerves rather than not practicing asked "how'd I do?" I responded, "do you want me to be nice or honest?"

So follows the games.

That night with the couple over, we got into a debate about letting kids win at games.

The wife was vehement about not letting them win.

I fell somewhere in the middle, whereas BioMom is a pure softy. The kids will grow up wondering if she CAN win games. In college, the'll look back and wonder if she even comprehends the rules to games like UNO and discuss the probability of never getting doubles in Monopoly to get herself out of jail.

So what do you do? Do you let them win? Do you instill a level of competition? What's your take on gaming with kids?

Bringing Home the Bacon

A small dose of economics for us this lovely Sunday morning.

Check out this Freakonomics blog that Taggert over at A Random Walk pointed me toward.

In 2006 26 percent of wives earned more than their husbands.

They also link us to the retro 'I can bring home the bacon' commercial.

Thanks Brigindo!

Check out the blog Dirt and Rocks where the author left me Proximity award. Very nice.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Meditation on Mindful Parenting: day one

I know that I have discussed this book before on this blog, but it has been a while. Cousin's sister (also cousin) sent the book Everyday Blessings: The Inner work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn to me a few years back.

It is one of those lovely books that is really more of an experience than a read, and like a beautiful hike, an experience that can seem different to you once you've grown and changed.

I have a pocket of open energy in my life now and thought I'd return to this again, and maybe try to meditate with it a bit more purposefully, using this blog.

Tonight I am just on the prologues and found the following passage to resonate with me at this moment:

Maybe each one of us, in our own unique ways, might honor Rilke's insight that there are always infinite distances between even the closest human beings. If we truly understand and accept that, terrifying as it sometimes feels, perhaps we can choose to live in such a way that we can experience in its fullness the "wonderful living side by sid" that can grow up if we use and love the distance that lets us see the other whole against the sky.

I see this as our work as parents. To do it, we need to nurture, protect, and guide our children and bring them along until they are ready to walk their own paths. We also have to be whole ourselves, each his or her own person, with a life of our own, so that when they look at us, they will be able to see our wholeness against the sky.

This is not always so easy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Playdate from Hell that Melted my Heart

I wish I had the emotional fortitude to be a social worker.

The community that is Eight's school is incredible. The academics? Well, she's probably not a genius, so we don't worry about that part too much. But the community? It simply can't be beat.

A family of a girl in Eight's class is in trouble.

The mom is in rehab and has been in and out of their two girls' (one younger) lives, and the dad is doing all he can to hold it together.

And by "it" I mean, I'm sure, not only the kids and their lives, but his own sanity.

Anyway, a group of moms at the school have joined together to help them out in any (and seemingly every) way possible from cleaning their house to a standing committee to organize play dates.

The best I could offer was to be on the play-date rotation, and today was my first time.

I had been warned about the youngest and put aside all aspirations of getting any work done once Big went down for a nap and prepared myself for the worst. And when the worst came, I wasn't surprised, and wasn't shocked. She is essentially a girl raised with few boundaries who is angry and disappointed with her current life situation.

And well, she acted just like Big, so I just maybe had been in better practice than other moms out there who just sent their youngests off to kindergarten.

During her only time-out, I hung out with her in our basement bathroom and listened to her angry growling and recognized myself, a few years later in my own life (nine years old, to be specific), after I woke up one October morning and my older brother informed me that my mom had died an hour or so earlier after only being sick a month, and that I was stuck with my less-than-responsive dad.


Me to her: You know, I kinda like that growling noise you're making. It's a cool way to show that you're mad and it makes me recognize how strong you are.

She didn't stop growling and hid behind a towel so I just kept talking. I told her that I was a little like her. That my mom had died when I was little, and that I heard that her mom wasn't around much. That I was angry. That I can still get angry. That I can yell and that I sometimes want to throw things. That maybe I'd learn to growl.

I told her how unfair it was for someone so little to have to deal with such a big thing.

She growled a little softer.

I know this sounds corny and textbook, but it happened.

I told her my name and that everyone at her school knew me, including the principal and that she could call me if she wanted to talk. I told her that a whole lot of people at that school cared about her, and her sister and her mom and dad.

Eventually, after a lot more growling and hiding behind the towel, she crawled onto my lap.

And now, I look at our kids and am so grateful and so worried for those two because I know what it means to want your mom so bad and have your dad whose trying his best but just not quite cutting it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The most negligent blogger ever

And not because there haven't been topics!

Let me just spew out a few thoughts here, get back to the business of prepping my ONE(!) class this semester and then, hopefully clear off a regular space on my plate for more consistent, fuller posts.

First, let me point you to a fantastic short animated video by Jeff Scher based on his son during the toddler stage. I love the topic of parenting generally, and particularly when people present it through their own talent-lense.

Second, a quick story that sums up our holiday season quite well. I took down our Christmas tree the other day. At first, Big was into it. Taking the ornaments off of the tree, throwing them into the box and enjoying the lights. Once he realized what was happening though, as the tree lay on its side in our living room, and I put on my gloves and coat, he wondered what was happening to our tree. Where was it going?

He began to cry inconsolably, heaving great and heavy tears into my shoulders.

I was sad too. Not for the tree though. But because Christmas with our three year old and eight year old was over. Next year they'll be four and nine and it'll be another ballgame. Not better or worse, but different.

I wondered, at some point last month if children are a little like Christmas trees. I find myself, often, pre-grieving that time when they'll head off to college. Parents with older kids never let you forget how fast the time goes with all their before-you-know-its and eighteen-short-years etc. And I am constantly in that space of wanting to hold on to that time when they're little. To expand it and take advantage of it to the fullest. I instantly regret it when they start saying words correctly as opposed to their pre-verbal utterances that charm you.

But I wonder if your eighteen-year-old children are like the January Christmas tree in your living room, no longer sucking up water by the pints, but instead depositing sharp needles onto your floor and now serving as a holding pattern for the second-tier presents. Will I simply be ready to strip them of their ornaments and drag them out to the front lawn? Or am I only okay with this in the context of the tree because I know that December is only 11 short months away?