Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It Gets Different

I've made myself so busy with school, a research project, kids (and their homework and extra-curricular activities), and otherwise avoiding my blog... but I just couldn't let this story pass without mention.

The girls were all with their Daddy and Papa and I had some important parenting topics to discuss (namely, screen time restrictions and allowance/chores) so we decided to go out to eat. Papa really wanted southwest egg rolls, which is a pretty surprising craving. We haven't been to Chili's in... 

Anyway, we had a waiter-in-training whose name was David. He was unusually nice and attentive for a waiter, probably because he was new and hadn't figure out what a time-sink a four-year-old can be if you let him talk to you about your tattoos. It was pleasant, though. 

At one point, while Papa was trying to make sure the steak knives weren't going to end up in Cub's hands, David commiserated, saying he has a little dude of his own. He said he's seen a video game in which the objective is just to keep your kid out of peril, and it seems pretty true to reality. He asked, "does it get easier?"

Papa and I shared a knowing glance and I said, "It gets... different."

Fast forward...

We get home and pretty much immediately start cleaning the kitchen. I'm on spring break and we're leaving for a week-long vacation on Thursday, so we want to get the house relatively in order while we have the chance. We're already partly packed. Since the girls are sharing one big suitcase (but they don't share a room) their luggage is open in the middle of the common area of the house. 

Cub is playing with the dogs, just on the other side of the bar. I can see his face, but not the rest of his body from where I stand in the kitchen. Then, suddenly, I see him fall and he screams as he picks himself up... off of the open luggage. 

I get around the bar in time to see his devastated face, quickly reddening with upset flush and blood, just before he escapes to his room. 

He always goes to his room when he's hurt. 

In no hurry, I walk to his room. Let's not overreact. Let's not feed his panic. But when I get there, he's much bloodier than I expected, and this is an exceptional amount of fuss he's making. This little dude has cut himself, bit his lip, bloodied his nose and variously injured himself many times in his very adventurous and hyperactive life. I'm pretty desensitized and I've become quite good in a crisis. Still, this was more blood than I was expecting, and he never screams this much.

I calmly picked him up and his screaming paused long enough for him to say, "I want to look in the mirror." I took him to the bathroom... but seeing himself in the mirror definitely did not slow the screams. So, wailing like a fire engine, he was ferried to the couch in the common area... where he discovered that there was blood on my arm and the shoulder of my shirt. 

He said, "this is definitely not cool." To which I agreed. 

So, long story short... he got an ice pack and a wet rag and some cuddles. Once the bleeding stopped and we could see the wound, we realized that the wound itself looked more ragged and angry than we've seen before. Papa took him to the hospital to make sure he doesn't need stitches. 

Now, they're checked in and waiting to be seen, and Cub is telling everyone all about his lip, asking them about their various injuries and illnesses, and convincing other kids to chase him around the waiting room. Never a dull moment.

It really does just get... different.

Monday, November 7, 2016

This is Political

John says, "Man, I got to go out in my Halloween costume with no coat last weekend!"
Sally sarcastically cheers, "Thanks Global Warming!"

Today, my genetics class talked about sickle cell anemia. I asked my professor if he thought that the area affected by sickle cell anemia might expand in the same way we're seeing with the malarial belt, as the global climate changes. Individuals who are heterozygous for sickle cell anemia (meaning they have one copy of a normal red blood cell gene and one copy of a sickle cell gene) are at a reproductive advantage in areas also affected by malaria because the odd-shaped red blood cells are more easily damaged, which encourages the body to dispose of old cells more quickly, thus interrupting the life cycle of the malaria parasite.

We came to the conclusion that, in a world without modern medicine, that would probably be the case, eventually. If sickle cell anemia improves your chances of surviving malaria, it follows that selective pressure would push the two forward in the same places. But that wasn't the only value in our conversation.

I came face to face with my scientific privilege today. In a room scattered with college students, I threw up my hands and said, "okay, let's talk about global warming!" and I got an entertained smirk from my professor, but it was clear that no one in the room was a denier... at least not vocally. This is the crowd I'm used to. I ask questions about how disease, migration, habitats, and human activity are affected by climate change. All this time I figured we were all on the same page.

But this election has me turn on my head. I keep hearing about candidates who don't believe in climate change. How is that even possible?! It's HAPPENING! It is measurable! And it's not just that we got to go trick-or-treating without our coats on this year. You can see it in the Northward spread of malaria and the change in migration of the birds and the melting ice caps and the vanishing ski resorts and yearly restrictions on watering your lawn. If you want to do the math, all the charts will show you an unprecedented and horrifying climb. Even if you're still on the fence about it, you could at least err on the side of caution in case all those scientists actually know what they're talking about, because the predictions for the consequences are truly apocalyptic.

I can't vote for a person who thinks all of those highly educated, hard-working, award-winning scientists are just wasting their time by trying to warn us about our own undoing. But that's only one of the backwards things I'm hearing about.

I won't let a man tell my daughters that the things Donald said are, "just locker room talk." It disgusted me to see him say it at the debate. We watch those with our kids! No matter what he wants you to believe, a good man doesn't talk that way about women, even in private. He judges women on their appearance and bad mouths them for not having big enough breasts. Then he says no one has more respect for women than he does... Well, I DO!

It seems like everywhere I turn, I read an admonition against voting for this man, and not a single one of them lists all of the reasons I could come up with. I think it's because there are too many. But people are still voting for him... which scares me.

My fear is not that the orange man will become president. My fear is that this country is a hot damn mess if these are the people we have put forth as our options for POTUS. Plus, I'm realizing that, as close as this elections has been, I clearly don't understand a surprising number of people in my own country.

I have so much more to say. I've been stewing in this anxiety/depression/rage/disappointment bubble for far too long. This election cycle is painful and probably ruinous, especially to my outlook on my fellow Americans. But I voted. I just want this to be over.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Who Are These Modern Moms?

I got up this morning and did my morning routine... well, most of it. I showered, brushed my teeth, applied lotion, got dressed. I didn't do my hair or makeup because my Vascular Plant Taxonomy class was cancelled today. So, instead, I'm going to stay home and study for the mid-term exam we'll have next Thursday.

Normally, I'd have class in the morning, four days a week. Then, I'd be working on my research project on the fifth day. On my current agenda: I'm making a giant paper mache shark for M's birthday this weekend, for which I'm still waiting on wrapping paper I ordered, and I'm not even making her cake this year, because I don't have an entire day to devote to it. The holidays are quickly approaching and I still have to figure out who is house-sitting for the week of Thanksgiving, one of my kids doesn't have a Halloween costume yet and we haven't done our pumpkin shopping. When we went shooting a couple of weekends ago, I discovered that ear plugs are completely impractical for children's ears, so I did some hunting for better solutions on Amazon. But I'm not comfortable buying something like this without seeing it, so shopping for over-the-ear ear protection is on the schedule for this weekend. I need to get back up the green roof tomorrow to get working on percent coverage estimates, now that I've managed (just last night) to throw together a reasonably useful map of the quadrats we finally finished marking out (about a week ago).  I have Plant Tax homework to do, and I've got a Genetics exam on Monday...

Oh, yeah! And it's Fall Break?! My two public school kids have a week off in October for no apparent reason. This week. That means all four kids are just home... all... the... time.

Who are these moms who are drinking wine, shopping a all the weird grocery stores, and taking their kids to Toys R Us and having play dates? My house is a mess. I do all of my shopping at two stores: Costco and Target. Because if I can get it at Costco, I don't have to buy it again for a month, and Target has everything else all in one place, so I don't have to waste my time shopping around. My time is valuable because I don't have much of a discretionary time budget right now. In fact, even as I sit here typing this, I'm thinking about all of the other things I could/should be working on: the shark, the homework, the studying. There's always something.

Ultimately, I don't think I would be happy if I didn't challenge myself. It's difficult, and I complain, and I'm sure it's pretty annoying to be Papa, sometimes as a result. Still, in the end, I get the satisfaction of having overcome an obstacle... having accomplished something difficult. As my friend and research partner (a girl of equal or greater levels of motivation) recently said, "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there."

Monday, September 12, 2016

School is Cool?

It has been almost a month since we decided to put M and S in public school. Shortly after they started their classes, I started mine: I am on campus five days a week this semester and I have field work to do. I knew it was going to be a difficult schedule and an uncomfortable transition, but assumed we just needed some time to adjust. Now, I'm not sure.

Laundry isn't getting done or folded. The playroom is rarely getting cleaned. Every time papa mentions some as yet unscheduled activity, I want to shoot it down because I immediately assume anything new is going to be the thing that makes my google calendar explode. On top of that stress, I'm having very mixed feelings about this public school business.

M is in first grade. She's doing fine. She's a little behind with her reading, but we knew that. I think sending her to school has renewed her motivation to pick up sight words and work through short books. Something about having her teacher backing us up, and sending home packets of stuff to work on has made her more serious. She's got someone new to impress, I guess.

Her teacher, a young man so tall and muscular that he would be intimidating if he weren't so darn friendly, is optimistic. He also uses a program called "class dojo" to keep in contact with parents, which I really appreciate. I have had to use the app to ask him for advice on getting the dry erase markers out of her clothes, and he is able to inform me if she is having a moody day.

S, on the other hand, is in fourth grade. She is struggling with more than just the academic part of public school. Her teacher says she's struggling with math and handwriting. The handwriting doesn't surprise me, but she's doing the math homework just fine, with almost no help... and choking on the quizzes in class. She made friends, but her friends are the target of playground bullying. She shares her classroom table with two boys who argue with each other constantly and have no interest in her, and a girl who doesn't speak much English. She doesn't want to go. She mopes every weekday morning, and her teacher describes her (on the phone with me) as "sad".

I have talked to S's teacher only once. I have never seen her. I knew about the playground bullying several days before I was able to tell her teacher... who apparently didn't know. I could have guessed that S was sad in class, but I didn't know until the end of last week, when she finally called.

S says she feels like her teacher cares about her. So, now that she knows about the playground situation, and I know about the all-day sadness, it's time to see if things improve. The teacher wants to try moving S to a different table and says the school takes bullying "very seriously". But I'm skeptical about bullying policies. I'm not sure that any amount of "seriously" is going to fix the problem. Still, we intend to give this a few more weeks to work itself out before we deploy the parachute... and we're not quite sure what that is going to be just yet.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Tough Decision

Some of you might have caught wind of the rumor that some of my kids are about to start school. I'm sure that's confusing, or disappointing, or exciting, or something, for you to hear. Most of the people who know me these days seem to think of me as a homeschooling, full-time student mom with some kind of mystical unicorn abilities that keep me from exploding. Let me address that rumor: I will still be homeschooling, just fewer of my kids for now. Also, I'm pretty sure I do have some kind of mystical unicorn powers and if I exploded, there'd be glitter everywhere.

Today, I'm going to the local elementary school to finish the paperwork that will allow two of my daughters to attend school. This has been an incredibly difficult decision. I'm not sure if it's the right decision, so I won't bother trying to defend it. But let me explain it.

I've been pretty overwhelmed lately. C still has persistent potty problems, and my multi-tasking is not strong enough to give her enough attention while also trying to teach S math, and M reading, and chase a three-year-old who constantly wants me to play "ring the gack" with him (thanks, Dr. Seuss). In part it is my college education getting in the way. But, also, I'm hoping that a formal school environment will help encourage M to read and S to learn math because they are falling behind in those areas at home.

So, S and M are about to be off to public school. I cried about it. I've lost a lot of sleep. I've wanted to give up and just keep them home because of how frustrating the enrollment process has been... because, let's be honest, no one is excited to go through a long, difficult negotiation just to achieve something they're not even sure they want. It's nearly impossible to stay motivated.

Reminding myself why I started homeschooling seems to help.

When I was first faced with the decision of schooling, all of the girls were clearly struggling to cope with our shared past. We were getting settled in to a new life and I wasn't comfortable sending them straight off to school. They were fragile and, to varying degrees, broken. I lost my job and I was going through a nasty divorce, being verbally torn down as I tried to rebuild out daughters. But now they're vibrant, confident, and difficult... just as little ladies should be.

The other reason I kept them home was that C had potty problems. I didn't think it would be fair to send a girl who was still having frequent accidents to public school. Stigma aside, I needed her home so we could attend a variety of medical appointments and procedures, and so we could work together on the problem. And this is an on-going problem, which we seem to have to find new solutions for all the time. I think she needs more of my time and attention and less of her siblings' distractions.

I didn't follow this path because I thought I could do a better job, or because I thought it was my calling, or anything like that. I chose this life for what I still believe to be good reasons. And, for those same reasons, I think it's time to make a change.

We will certainly still supplement their education at home. And we're already looking at wait-listing them at better schools. I just think it's time to start letting go.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Out On a Limb Together

Saturday is a good day to celebrate. When one of the kids has a birthday on a weekday, we usually celebrate on the following Saturday. We also chose to celebrate our anniversary on the first Saturday in August, instead of tying it to a numerical date. It was the first Saturday in August when we decided to make our relationship official, and Saturdays are great for celebrating.

This Saturday will be our fifth anniversary. I have now been enjoying Papa's company for longer than I spent married to my ex, including the two years I spent divorcing him. He has been around for about half of the twins' lives and 5/6 of M's.

For me, the last five years have been a long road of recovery. It seems that every time I think I have overcome the damage imparted by my life before I met Papa, I stumble upon another dusty corner that needs repair... another lingering weakness I'm only beginning to see the origins of.

Papa recently asked me if he should apply for this job he heard about in Denmark. The thought of such a huge change and unique opportunity made me smile, but I immediately began considering the consequences: Would I be able to continue my studies? Would homeschooling still be a reasonable option, and how would it work? What is the cost of living compared to here?

It wasn't until later that I realized there were a lot of questions I didn't even begin to consider, because I knew Papa was already thinking about them. And some of the questions that did run through my mind were things I knew he would have considered as well. In fact, once I was able to take a step back from my initial reaction, I realized that I felt no pressure at all, because I knew he would think responsibly about things instead of leaving that burden entirely on me.

When I met Papa, he was working for the public school system, doing tech support stuff. He had job security, decent pay, insurance, and a great retirement plan. He just wasn't happy. More than a year ago, he decided he wanted to find a new job, so he started applying for software developing positions. When he started really talking about accepting a position and quitting his secure job, I panicked. Would he get paid enough to make up for the benefits he would be losing? What if he got fired, or the company collapsed? What if he just hated working there and wanted to quit within months of leaving the job that had everything... except job satisfaction?

Talking with him about it helped me realize that I was projecting my working-poor, small-town, plains-state up-bringing on him. *Where I come from* you don't quit the job you hate at the manufacturing plant just because you hate it. You have insurance and a retirement plan and they're never going to fire you, so you suck it up. Because there aren't a lot of other options in a small town anyway and you've got people to feed.

I also *come from* a marriage to someone who didn't seem to be at all concerned about the consequences of his actions most of the time. We had no savings or emergency fund and he made decisions about his career and our lives seemingly on a whim without thinking about the future.

But I am not *where I come from* for a reason.

Papa took the new job after he reassured me with the safety net of making sure he could go back to this job with the school district if it didn't work out. But it did. And, since then, he has negotiated a raise and continued considering other jobs where he might be even more excited about his work, and I'm learning to be okay with that.

Papa and I have spent five years going out on a limb together. He is not dragging me along behind him while he takes unreasonable risks. We are walking, hand-in-hand into new frontiers, having packed our bags and planned for the unknown together. He is not going to blame me if things fall apart, and I won't blame him, because we are in this together and if things do fall apart, we'll be too busy picking up the pieces and building something new.

  • Five years of healing
  • Five years of ever improving happiness
  • Five years of crazy adventures
  • Five years of balancing caution with excitement
  • Five years of working together
  • And no sign of slowing down

Friday, July 29, 2016

Unrealistic Expectations

I just finished that three-week intensive course on field methods which involved poison ivy exposure and several days of sweating without showers. The girls all went to their great-grandparents' house in Colorado Springs for a week while I camped at the field site. Cub stayed home with Papa, who worked from home for the first time so I could go be a sweaty (but kick-ass) mess. I couldn't do what I do without help from all of the incredible people in my life.

Even so, I have a very hard time getting things done. In fact, lots of things don't get done. I gave my final presentation yesterday. I was home at about noon. Since then, I have been trying to catch up on laundry, vacuuming, yard maintenance, general tidying and cleaning, and sleep. But there's a fallen limb in our back yard which has been sitting in the same place for months because Papa and I can't seem to find the simultaneous time and energy to hack it up with a hatchet.

During a regular semester, I fill my "off" days with laundry, cleaning, and appointments. Homeschooling get sprinkled in between switching loads or while we sit in the waiting room or while I'm technically doing my own homework, or as we share a meal. I need to get the kids to the dentist, but I keep forgetting to call the office, and when I do think about it, the thought of trying to wedge one more thing into the calendar is a little upsetting.

Saturdays are our leisure days. We go to the park or the zoo or the museum. Sometimes we stay home and play video games together. Sundays are filled with grocery shopping. We spend so much time grocery shopping.

And, next semester, it looks like I might be taking a 9am class on Tuesday and Thursday and an 8am class on Monday and Wednesday. Plus, I have an online class and I'm trying to get involved with an undergraduate research project.

People are always telling me they don't know how I do it. The truth is, I don't know either. It seems like I'm constantly having to cut corners and make sacrifices. And, once a season or so, I have a minor melt-down and cry a little bit about how much pressure I deal with and the sisyphean struggles of being a mom and a woman.

Despite the fact that we, as a society, are beginning to accept that not every man marries a woman and that not every woman becomes a mother or a homemaker, we are still judging ourselves and other women based on ridiculous "happy homemaker" metrics from the 50's like:

  • The relative order or chaos of her home
  • The deliciousness, creativity, and from-scratchness of her food
  • The stylishness of her hair
  • Her makeup skills and commitment to doing her makeup every day
  • Her fashion sense
  • Her kids (by any standard you can imagine)
I know because I do it, even though I know better. I know because I see other people doing it even though, if I asked them about it, I'm sure most would say it's wrong. And I know because I judge myself by these standards, in part because I assume others will. 

But you know what?

I can maintain my makeup and my fashion sense and cook from-scratch meals every day if I'm also on a tight schedule teaching my kids to be little angels and maintaining my cutting edge hair style and cleaning and organizing my house... AND going to school. Someday I'll have a career and I definitely won't be able to do it all then. We can't ask women (or anyone for that matter) to juggle this many obligations. 

If I were the president, or the first lady for that matter, I doubt I'd have to cook all my own meals and clean my house and somehow also be the main source of child care and the leader of the free world all while looking amazing. But the peanut gallery is always going to be there to judge me for not spending enough time with my kids, not keeping my house clean enough or my yard pretty enough if I have a career... and then judge me for being lazy and complacent and perpetuating gender stereotypes if I choose to be a stay-at-home mom.

So I think I need to take a step back and realize that I'm asking too much of myself. Maybe that's because society seems to ask too much of all women, but regardless, I can refuse to get caught up in it. The trouble is, I'm not sure I'm ever going to be okay with lowering my standards, even if I stop caring what other people think. But it's a start. 

In conclusion: Screw you, societal standards. My standards are already an impossible challenge for me to meet and I can't be bothered to care about yours too.