Tuesday, July 27, 2010

At least a bunch of Nazi's didn't just shoot my dad in the stomach

You'd think that after becoming a parent all other major steps in life would seem insignificant. I mean, parenthood changes your whole life and turns your point of view upside down - you've created a new life which you are solely responsible for, taken on a huge financial burden, been given the chance to experience the most incredible feelings of love and happiness possible, and have become officially old and uncool - all in one fell swoop.

Which is why I've been really taken aback about what an emotionally intense experience buying a house has been. Sure, I've watched HGTV and seen people cry and talk about how emotional it is to buy a house. But honestly, I just thought they were freaky weirdo losers. And while I still think that most of those people are freaky weirdo losers, I now realize that buying a house is more than cool bathrooms, backyards for BBQs (good patio furniture store name??) and back splashes. Its tied to all of the most basic things that make up people's emotional landscape - safety, security, family, finances, friends and identity. Also, because its a major time commitment to one place, especially in this financial environment, it means making a commitment to the place that will become the backdrop of your passage into middle age, and your decline into someone even more uncool than you're parental status has already rendered you. Its also the place that will shape your child and become the memories that will help to define "home" for the rest of their lives. And its the one place on the planet that you can claim for yourself and do with as you please (as long as it falls within the bylaws of your HOA). And of course, like most things in today's world, you have so many choices on where to live, so many forks in the road. Yet with all of the choice available today most of us are not much wiser about which path is the right one to choose.

All of this keeps making me think of that scene in Indiana Jones (I think it was The Last Crusade) where Indy has to take a leap of faith by stepping off of that cliff to get to the cave where the Grail is hidden. In the movie, the awesome 1989 special effects show you that there is actually a stone bridge connecting the two cliffs. Fingers crossed that that stone bridge is out there for us too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Super planners of the future, or just really annoying yuppies?

I really don't know what I think about this article. Part of me is really creeped out by this whole idea. I just don't like the idea of producing all of these embryos, with the foreknowledge that a bunch will be thrown away, or that ice crystals could destroy them. I'm also kind of creeped out by the whole idea of some third party in a lab coat being involved in the intimate process of making a family.

Another part of me, however, is amazed that human beings have been able to use science to control so many aspects of their lives, down to the details of human reproduction. And it is pretty impressive that this couple is so proactive, financially responsible and sure of themselves and what they want, to do this kind of planning. I mean, this is some serious cutting edge planning. And I have to applaud them for that, even if the author did use the term "out of the box".

But then another part of me (I know, its getting hard to keep track of all of these parts) thinks that these people are annoying. I don't know what it is exactly that annoys me about them. Something about the fact that they just seem so unwillingly to engage in the messiness of life, in which you sometimes have to make compromises and where you and your partner make a baby that doesn't always fit perfectly into your life but who you love anyway. Also, I'm kind of confused about why they can't currently afford kids if they can afford all of this IVF stuff, and can afford to live in Georgetown. And if being parents is something that they want to do with their lives, why are they going threw so much effort to put it off for so long? And in addition to all of that, don' t these people just look kind of annoying?

Also, what happens if these people get divorced? Or if one of them dies? Or what if they change their minds and decide not to have kids? Or what if one of them changes their minds? Does the woman have more of a right to the embryo because it takes her uterus to make the embryo into a baby? Or what if they go bankrupt and can't afford to make the payments to keep the embryos frozen or to implant them, but they still want to use them to have a baby someday?
What do you guys think about these people?
Super planners of the future? Really annoying yuppies? Upscale Jerry Springer guests?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mr. Moms and Chubby Chasers

Its been a while since I've the time to blog, oh loyal readers, and I apologize. There are many reasons why I haven't been blogging lately ranging from my new job to puke. With father's day around the corner, however, I wanted to use my soapbox to give a virtual hug to the father's out there who make motherhood, and especially working motherhood, possible.

I often hear guys at work, mostly older guys in there late 40s and early 50s, talking about how they have to leave work a little early to be "Mr. Mom" or to "babysit" the kids. Usually when I hear these idiots talking it takes all of my strength to keep myself from slapping the Mr. Mom and informing him of this crazy new thing I heard about called being a dad. (I know this post is not sounding particularly virtual hug like, yet, but the hug is coming, I swear...). An article I read this week in Slate magazine talks about how those Mr. Mom types are being replaced by dads who brag about loving their kids and actually even exaggerate their reports of the amount of time they spend with their kids.

On top of that good news, a NY Times article last week talks about some of the biological and behavioral changes that dads throughout the animal kingdom go through. These animals are great examples of the biological basis and necessity for good daddies. For example, when a female marmoset or tamarin gets pregnant the dendritic connections in the male's brain change, he puts on weight, and his hormones change. This is all in preparation to help with the childcare. Once the babies are born, the male carries the babies the majority of the time, just bringing them (they normally have twins) to the female for feedings. This allows the marmosets and tamarins to take care of other things, which in their case means getting pregnant again and looking for food.

One of my favorite animals in this article, though, was the gulf pipefish who appears to be a bit of a chubby chaser. The bigger the female, the better he will take care of their eggs. Man, it would be so awesome if I could sit around all day eating Brownie Bites with the excuse that I was trying to get fat to improve my husband's child care abilities.

Well, despite the fact that I don't have an excuse to sit around and eat Brownie Bites my husband is an incredible daddy. He changes diapers, dresses, feeds, bathes, entertains, cuddles, goes to pediatrician appointments and gets puked on without any question about whether or not that should be his role. I often look at our family and am amazed at the equality of our marriage and our roles as parents. So, thank you my love! And yay for daddies everywhere who are fathers and not Mr. Moms; who spend time with their kids instead of babysit; and who still love their wives even when they gain a few pounds.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For the Honor of Grayscull: I - HAVE - THE - POWER!!!

I guess all the estrogen that was released for Mother's Day is really getting people's mommy power juices flowing. I read an article this past week about how influential a mere touch from a woman can be on a person's willingness to take risks. Cool, huh? And we need that mommy power these days.

After my last post, which was kind of a downer, I promised myself that the next post would be fun and light and about something pretty mindless. But then Proctor and Gamble started being really big dickheads. In case you haven't heard, Pampers (made by Proctor and Gamble) have recently come out with a revolutionary new way for moms and dads to absorb pee and poo from our babies' butts. They call it "dry max technology", and its so advanced it will leave chemical burns on your baby's skin! That's right these fabulous new diapers are being investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission due to parent's complaints that their new dry max technology is giving babies chemical burns. But while burned baby bums is terrible, the thing that's really annoying is that P&G refuses to even humor parents by investigating the claims.

One thing that is great about this whole thing is that parents are fighting back, and we are pissing P&G off big time. For example, one mom started a Facebook site (complete with pictures) that now has over 9,000 members. Pampers responded to this and other parent actions by launching a "myths vs facts" site attacking cloth diapers and defending their products as being environmentally sustainable. They are obviously scared shitless that the reports of chemical burns are going to turn people on to cloth diapers, and that once people see how easy they are, and how much cheaper, they won't be going back to Pampers. The Real Diapers Association, a cloth diaper advocacy group, has organized the next round of retaliations by soliciting mom bloggers to write their own myths vs facts pages advocating cloth diapers. What's especially funny about the direction that this is going is that many of the moms that initially complained about the diapers wanted to continue to use the old Pampers products, not move to cloth diapers. So P&G has really brought these attacks on themselves.

If you haven't seen it already my myths vs facts page is attached to this blog.

Ok, next time, a fun, light interesting post about friendly, fuzzy happy things. I swear!!

UPDATE: As of 5-22-10 Pampers took down their myths and facts page!!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Low Quality Child Care Makes Kids and Teenagers Stupid and Mean

Its true. According to a study described in the Washington Post this week low quality childcare in the first 4.5 years of a person's life can make them perform worse academically and show more aggressive behaviors than classmate who received high quality childcare. This effect lasts throughout childhood and into the teenage years.

The article, or the experts mentioned in the article, call for more government and private employers to provide access to high quality child care. I agree wholeheartedly, and can see how certain programs could improve access to childcare, but part of me wonders how you ensure that caretakers show "warmth, sensitivity and emotional support" - some of the traits that the study assigned to high quality providers. These are not traits that you can train a person to have, and they are difficult to interview for. In fact, often you really need to get to know a person to see if they have those traits, and if they will show those traits to your kid.

That makes me think that a lot of the programs that the government should put into place should be for the parents. Maybe training the parents in interview techniques that would allow them to pick out low quality vs. high quality caretakers. Or even having social worker type people that parents could talk to about their childcare choices, or who could visit some of the providers with them.

I know that many states license child care facilities, and will have people visit the facilities regularly to check in on them, but from my experience this system doesn't work. For example, my daughter spent about two weeks in an in-home child care facility that charged $1800 freaking dollars a month. We thought we were paying for quality. The ladies seemed nice, they were licensed by the county, which has some of the most strict rules in the country, and were never cited for any violations. However, after two weeks of dropping my daughter off, and then coming to pick her up at random times, and occasionally staying there for an hour or so to chat and see how she was adjusting, I discovered that they regularly violated county rules and did not do what they were telling the parents they were doing.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, its up to parents to make sure that our kids are getting the love, attention and support they need. And yes, the government should play a role in this, because really, when we have a bunch of stupid mean teenagers running around this is not just a family problem, but a societal problem. But we need a new system. Something that helps overwhelmed, exhausted, clueless parents figure this all out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

20 Things

5 Ways I Could Become A Stay At Home Mom (or at least a work at home mom)
  1. I could start an online business walking people's virtual pets.
  2. I could start a website for weirdos who like to watch people fold laundry, and then make people pay to watch me fold laundry.
  3. I could cut down on expenses by eating nothing but peanut butter and day old bread and selling all of my clothes and dressing in newspapers held together by chewing gum.
  4. I could win the lottery.
  5. I could write a book that gets made into a movie.
5 Things I Would Do If I Were A Stay At Home Mom
  1. Get my daughter dressed in the morning.
  2. Take a Music Together Class.
  3. Make awesome lunch with grilled cheese sandwiches cut out into the shape of dinosaurs
  4. Teach my daughter the alphabet.
  5. Sometimes nap at nap time.
5 Reasons I Can't Be A Stay At Home Mom
  1. Money for housing.
  2. Money for food.
  3. Money for clothes.
  4. Money for toys and classes and vacations and occasionally eating out at a restaurant and even going to a movie twice a year when we can find a babysitter.
  5. Money for college and for when I'm old and gray and fat and sick and for when my daughter wants to go to summer camp.

5 Reasons Why I'm Lucky
  1. My job is not waiting tables or working the cash register at the Safeway. The time I'm spending away from my daughter is time spent making the world a better place and making a decent salary.
  2. I have an incredible husband who shares the burden of childcare, cooking and household chores.
  3. I have an awesome nanny who I trust and who enriches my daughter's life.
  4. I have an wonderful daughter who is thriving.
  5. I and my entire family are healthy.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Moment I Felt Like A Mom - It Was Something In the Milk

I wrote this blog post for a contest submission. The contest was looking for a post about "the moment when you really felt like you became a mother". I still haven't heard back yet about whether or not I won, but I figured I'd share it for Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day!!

It took a lot longer to feel like a mother than I expected it would. I certainly didn't feel like a mother when we came home from the hospital. My daughter was such a sleepy baby that no matter what I did I couldn't get her to nurse. The lactation consultant at the hospital told me to undress her and dab a wet washcloth on her feet to wake her up. While that made her mad enough to wake up and latch on, as soon as she started to nurse she would drift back into fetal sleep. In fact, the whole nursing experience (the pumps, the mastitis, the sleep deprivation), which I had expected to be the bridge that would bring me into motherhood, did just the opposite. Weaning after 8 weeks allowed me to finally beat the painful recurrent mastitis, find pleasure in being close to my baby, and start to get my mommy mojo.

Once I could hold my baby close to me without flinching in pain I became obsessed with baby wearing. Looking down and seeing my tiny daughter's round cheeks poking out of a Moby wrap made me feel like I was connected to the soul of the universe. I also became the master at "The Mommy Dance" - the crazy bouncy, swinging, waltz that was the only thing that would calm my hysterically screaming daughter during those "witching hour" evenings.

However, it wasn't until close to my daughter's first birthday that something clicked and I felt like my brain had really been rewired from 30 year old working professional to Mommy. What made me realize it was, of all things, whole milk. From the time my daughter was born no major decisions were made without our pediatrician's blessing. She told us what brand of formula to use, when to start solid foods, and even what kind of sunscreen to buy. But something about switching to whole milk made me realize that our daughter was not a mysterious little being with unknowable ways and incomprehensible needs. She was a little person. A little person who I knew and had known since before she was born. And I was her mom and knew what was best for her. And I even realized that I had known all along what was best for her, better than the lactation consultants during our failed breastfeeding days, and sometimes, better than the pediatrician. So, I switched her to whole milk and I didn't call the pediatrician about it. I knew how to do it, because I was, and always will be, her mom.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Do Our Maternity Leave Laws Suck?! A call to action.

This week I read that Save the Children rated the U.S. #28 on the best/worst countries in the world to be a mom. That's worse than countries like Estonia, Latvia and Greece. They took many factors into consideration, but one of the primary reasons why the U.S ranked so low was because of our crappy maternity leave laws. WTF?! How can our "family values" obsessed country think that its good policy to give moms a pathetically short 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, bond with our babies, make sure they are on a good eating/sleeping pattern, and figure out the ins and outs of motherhood before we are expected to hand them off to be raised by total strangers? And because its unpaid many of us can't even afford to stay home for the full 12 weeks. So we are forced to choose between having enough money to buy food and staying home long enough to stop bleeding from childbirth and to get to know our newborns. I mean seriously - that's like Brave New World negative utopia kind of shit.

You might be thinking, "C'mon, I've read your other blog posts. I know you're a drama queen. It can't be that bad." Well, take a looksie at this chart from Forbes that shows how pathetic we are compared to other countries. I mean UK women get 90% pay for a year of maternity leave and frickin' Chile assures their moms 18 weeks of leave at 100% pay. I thought the USA was supposed to be the best. What exactly are we the best in? Because it certainly doesn't seem to be in the things that matter for quality of life.

So now that I've been a total downer in this pre-mother's day post, I'd like to beg you to take some action. The National Partnership for Women and Families has one of those pre-written letter templates that go to your Congress person asking them to expand the current Family Medical Leave Act. It'll take two seconds.

Some other orgs that are trying to do something:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eat Your Heart Out

I watched the movie Food, Inc (you can stream it through Netflix) the other night and I have to admit, it made me glad that my toddler daughter has stopped eating. Well, she hasn't actually stopped eating, she's just stopped swallowing. She still chews the food really well, and seems to enjoy it, but then at the last minute she pushes it out of her mouth with her tongue and happily watches it roll down the front of her shirt and onto the carpet.

However, when she does eventually decide to once again start swallowing food besides hummus and triscuits, I will definitely make sure that its organic, or at least traditionally grown. I do not want to be a part of the seriously screwed up food production that Food, Inc discusses, and I don't want to put that nasty food into my daughter's body (who's that eatin' that nasty food?).

I started looking into some CSAs and Farmer's Markets that could provide some fresh, local, organic and/or traditionally grown food. While a Farmer's Market sounds like it could actually be kind of fun with a toddler, I'm pretty nervous about joining a CSA. My impression of them from past experiences is a blur of bok choy and carrot soup. However, I did stumble upon Washington's Green Grocer, which seems almost too good to be true. Its organic food combined with the door-to-door delivery that makes life as a working mom livable. And don't worry, the guilt you are assuaging by giving your family fresh, pesticide-free food can be replaced by the fact that some of it is shipped in from far away Florida and even South America. Plus, its pricey as hell. Still, much of it is local and, if you can afford it seems like the next best thing to a CSA or Farmer's Market.

Even better than Washington's Green Grocer is South Mountain Creamery. I have been fantasizing about ordering milk from this place since before I even had a kid. I mean, they have glass bottles! That they deliver to you from a milk truck! And then the milk man comes and picks up your empties and replaces them with new ones filled with fresh, traditionally produced milk! How freaking quaint is that?! And now I have both a cute, 16 month old excuse to order at least a gallon of milk a week AND a movie that tells me I'll be a better person if I spring for the delivery charge. I am one lucky working mommy.
Check out Local Harvest to find Farmer's Markets and CSAs all over the country.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Naming A Human Is Hard: Harness the Power of Technology

Since the beginning of time parents have had to figure out what to call their burping, wiggly little sons and daughters. Tradition has always been helpful. Some communities in Ghana honor close and respected members of the community with the task of naming their kid. Some families name kids after their parents, like for example, George Foreman. In Jewish tradition children are named after a relative who has passed away. Many traditional Chinese are given a "milk" name before they're born to trick evil spirits.

But what oh what is a modern parent of the new millennium to do to find that perfect name? Why, go to your friendly neighborhood internet of course. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few cool web sites that I will help you name your kid, or tell you about a name you've already chosen:

  • Baby Name Wizard Voyager - Type in a name to see its popularity over time. Very, very cool.
  • Baby Name Explorer - this thing makes my brain feel smeary in a way that reminds me of college. It shows you names based on other names. I just wish you could enter in a name to get started with.
  • Nymbler - This site also shows you names based on other names, but you get to type in a starting place. It also has a lot more info on the background of different names.
  • Baby Name Map - This site shows popular names by U.S. states, Australian states as well as a few random European and South American countries.
  • Baby Name Wizard Name Mapper - This is by the same people that did the voyager. It shows population densities with different names in different places in the U.S. throughout time.
Have fun!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Throw Away Society: As if there's not already enough angry blog posts on the internet

I saw three things this week that made me think I need to do a bit more to reduce my ecological footprint.

The fist was an advertisement in Parents magazine for a throw away hand towel. The ad had a picture of a grimy hand towel hanging on the towel rack in the bathroom, and next to it was a giant tissue box looking thing attached to the hand rack dispensing clean, virgin throw away hand towels for your home. Seriously, WTF, do we really need more disposable crap? That is just not cool. Its not cool that Kleenex developed that product, its not cool that Parents magazine agreed to run the add, and any Hummer driving douche that buys that product is definitely not cool.

The second was some crazy lady (i.e. the senior editor of Grist) going on about how "kids are killing the planet" (or whatever her exact words were). I completely disagree with the majority of what this lady has to say and think that she sounds kind of soulless and selfish. For example, she seems to care more about money (psst - lady, you can't take it with you, and you'll have no one to pass it on to) and losing spontaneous Saturday nights out on the town for a few years than about being surrounded by a loving family. She also seems to think that having kids somehow precludes her from having a career - what is this the 1950s? I know, I should be more accepting of the lifestyle choices she's made, but I just can't help but think this lady sounds like a bitch and is just using the whole "green" thing as a convenient excuse. There is however, one thing that I do agree with this crazy, dead inside lady about. Americans have a huge ecological footprint, and another kid means another person with that type of footprint. I believe, however, that there is hope for that, and things we can do to make that better. These things, however, do not include buying disposable hand towels from the Kleenex corporation.

The third thing that I saw this week that made me think I needed to come up with a few more ways to be more tree huggerish was at a mind numbingly boring conference I attended for my job. Trust me, you don't want me to get into the details. Suffice to say that a Native American Indian woman brought to my attention how much a process like making paper pollutes the environment (I know, that makes it sound like it was an interesting conference, trust me, it wasn't). It really made me think more about, not just the waste we produce, or the resources we use up, but the fact that the process to make all of this non-reusable crap is just terrible for our health the planet. Plus, this woman was passionate about helping to save the environment for her community, and that kind of passion is contagious.

So, here are my earth day resolutions.

  1. More sponge, less paper towel for cleaning.
  2. Reduce food packaging by buying in bulk.
  3. Remember to unplug those chargers when nothing is being charged (how oh how will I remember?!?!)
  4. Keep up with the cloth diapers, and the cloth wipes! :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bee Vision

Have you ever seen a picture of what the world looks like to a bee? The flowers are all totally different colors and even have patterns in ultra-violet wavelengths that humans don't even know exist. Becoming a parent is a lot like gaining bee vision. You suddenly become aware of a whole world of emotions and an entire pattern of life that you never fully understood before.

Some days I'm able to turn this new part of myself off when I go to work. Its weird. Its as if as I ride the train into work in the morning cards in my brain are shuffled and I become "Work Woman". Then as I ride the train home in the afternoon the cards are reshuffled and I become "Mommy Wife Lady". However, recently, I realized that I take the "mommy" side of me to the office more often than I realize, and that, when I'm not letting baby talk slip out in a meeting (I'm sure no one else remembers but I'm still so embarrassed!!) this emotional growth has actually made me a better worker. My communication skills and flexibility in the workplace have improved. I have more realistic expectations of fellow employees, and I have more understanding about the myriad of life experiences that motivate people and make up our day to day interactions. I'm also more in tune with non-verbal cues (for example I'm pretty sure that asshole in that meeting the other day was just constipated), and I think I now qualify as a multi-tasking black belt.

But in all seriousness, I think that the skills we gain as parents should be valued in the workplace, not disparaged. And when I read about the new breastfeeding law for hourly wage earners and the telework bill for feds that is in the works (notice that there are no laws to expand maternity/paternity leave in sight), I couldn't help but wonder why parents have to fight for the right to be good parents AND good employees. We aren't just distracted, slacking workers who take lots of extra sick days to take care of our kids. We have special skills and life experiences to offer as well.

Maybe employers would notice what we offer if we started putting parenthood as a skill on our resumes. Maybe list it along with "familiar with Microsoft Office" and "highly organized". Although, then our children would be called as references, which would mean that bath time would never come, we would have to read "The Foot Book" ten trillion times, and spend weeks and weeks in the sandbox. Hmm. Maybe legislation would be easier.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My iphone Told Me Not to Worry: Kid Care App Review

If someone offered to meld my iphone into my forearm I would totally do it. I freaking love the thing. And there aren't many techno gadgets that I can say that about.

Recently a friend of mine told me about an iphone app called Kid Care. Kid Care is the place where you can go for medical advice before you freak out and demand to be seen by your doctor, or worse yet, call 911 and end up with 10 very large paramedics standing in your living room looking at your smiling, cooing daughter (yes, that happened to me).

Kid Care was developed by a pediatrician, Dr. Barton D. Schmitt. It allows you to search for symptoms by alphabetical index, body area, recently viewed symptoms and a keyword search.

So lets say your kid has something nasty oozing out of her ear. You could look up ear, and then choose "ear discharge". You can then read about when to go to the ER, when to call your doctor, or when to hold off and see if you can treat your kid from home. It will also tell you how to treat from home and, for some of the medical problems, even give you some gory pictures!! (Check out the diaper rash picture. Is it just me or did someone let that diaper rash get a little out of control!? Maybe they should switch to cloth diapers...)

A couple of other things I REALLY like about this app:
  • It can use your Google Map app to help you find nearby emergency rooms and critical care departments. This could be extremely helpful if you're out of town, or even on a day trip.
  • They have a whole section about how to do basic things like take a baby's temperature.
  • They have a section about infections - which are contagious, for how long and more. (The hypochondriac in me especially loves this section!!)
  • There's also a whole section with dosage charts based on weight for stuff like Tylenol and Motrin.
Basically, this app is like having a tiny, shiny, square pediatric nurse in your pocket. And its totally free. I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It Turns Out She's a Robot

The other day I read an article about what makes people, like Andre Aggasi, high achievers. At the end of the article the author says:
...it’s too easy to let admiration of such skills overshadow less visible attributes — like kindness and generosity. While I may marvel at great achievers, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to live in a world full of them.
That got me thinking - what makes someone into a kind and generous person anyway? Do they need to be taught to be generous? Just feel empathy? Both? Its hard enough to teach your kid to share; how do you hone their sense of empathy?

Apparently empathy, or as them sciency folk call it "theory of mind", develops at age 4. So, does that mean my daughter can feel no empathy? There's just some little sociopath wandering around our living room, grabbing at everything in site and pooping in her pants? Honestly, that kind of freaks me out. It also reminds me of that Small Wonder TV show and/or Data from Star Trek - in diapers. Gross.

Anyway, those scientists' studies show that language skills and the ability to listen to, and understand, someone else's point of view are linked to the development of empathy. And more importantly, that its not genetic, but tied to people's learned ability to understand language. That seems to indicate that we can, in fact, teach our kids to be more empathetic people. But is it like language where, if you haven't learned it by a certain age it will be a very difficult skill for you to acquire? Maybe there should be programs aimed at teaching empathy to kids just like there are programs aimed at teaching language. Wouldn't that be good for society in general? Do they exist already? Can I sign half the people in the Washington D.C. area up for one of those classes?!

So many questions. What do you think? Can kids be taught empathy?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why Its Fiscally Irresponsible To Save For Your Kids' College

Not only do I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time when it comes to parenting I'm also pretty clueless about finances. Mostly I'm just trying to squeak by, saving when I can (which isn't often these days), looking for sales, and generally doing the best I can to be fiscally responsible. Usually I'm ok with that. And then there are the days when cold, hard panic runs down my spine and the dark spidery words "college fund" pass before my eyes. I decided to do a bit of research on this topic because the unknown is always scarier than the truth, right? Right!??!?!

  • So, first off, what should I be saving for first? 'Cause to be honest, I've got a ways to go: house savings, retirement savings, emergency funds...

According to this chick at U.S. News and World Report its ok that I'm putting my daughter's college fund on the back burner. I really liked this article because it made me feel smart instead of selfish and disorganized. The main point she makes is that you can get a loan for college, but you can't get one for retirement. And this lady even told me that I should buy a house before I put money in a college fund because I can always use a home equity loan to help with college expenses.

The friendly interweb also informed me that I should be putting at least 15% of my income into retirement before I consider starting a college fund for my kid. That's really good to know, because honestly, I'm not putting nearly that much away for retirement. My plan was that once we could cut down on our child care expenses I would start putting that into a college fund, but now I'm rethinking that. Sorry darling daughter. So, to sum up my priorities will be:
  1. Save for an emergency
  2. Save for a house, while putting enough in my retirement fund to get the employer match
  3. Retirement
  4. College savings
  • How much should I save for college?
Most of the articles I read seemed to say that I should save as much as possible as early as possible. However, I need something a little more solid than that. One calculator I used said that if I don't start saving until my kid is 5 years old that I will need to save about $400 a month per child if I want to be able to pay for 50% of their college. This assumes that we will take out loans and/or pay at the time for the other 50%. That actually seems pretty reasonable to me, especially given the fact that imagining my child as being 5 years old and that I have $400 a month to save seems like a totally abstract fantasy to me right now. In fact, since we're talking about something 4 years in the future, and for all we know the world will be destroyed in some massive earthquake (have you noticed how many large earthquakes there have been lately??) I'm going to say that I'll plan to save $600/month.
  • When do I need to start saving?
Well, again, most of the articles said as soon as possible and went on and on about how I won't have to save as much per month of I start right when the kid pops out. Well, too late for that.
  • What kinds of accounts should I use to save in?
It looks like the main choices are stocks and bonds or one of those tax differed 529 accounts. There are some other options like Coverdell Education Savings accounts (can't save more than $2000 a year), as well as UGMA and UTNA accounts which are custodial accounts. The custodial accounts make me nervous because 1) Once you put the money in you can never get it back if your kid decides to go join a cult or something, and 2) the money becomes your kid's to do with as he/she pleases at age 21, even if they want to give it to a cult or something.

From what I read you want to invest your stocks and bonds in a way that will allow you to start off with more risk, but higher earning options and then get less risky/lower earning as your kid gets closer to college.

Virginia has a number of different 529 options. I'm sure other states have similar options. The one I like the most is VEST.
  • It seems like the best of both worlds because you can get the tax benefits (tax deductions, tax free interest), and you can also invest in a stock portfolio that fits your kid's age.
  • Your kid can use it at pretty much any accredited college or university in the country.
  • You can put up to $350,00 in the account
  • If they decide not to go to college or get a full scholarship you can:
-Have up to 10 years to use the $$ for school(for grad school, etc)
-Transfer the money to someone else in the family
-Take the money out and cancel the account (but you'll be charged a 10% tax penalty)

The only thing that kind of sucks is that you can't pay for off campus room and board for your kid with that money.

So after doing the research here's my plan:
  1. Buy a house (leaving enough $ leftover for an emergency savings account)
  2. Increase my retirement savings as we decrease child care costs until we're saving 15% of our income.
  3. Start saving about $600/month in Virginia's VEST 529 fund for college. At some point possibly put some of the money in a separate account to help fund the off campus high life.
  4. Get really drunk and not think about money.
You know, that actually does seem a lot less scary now. There's nothing like a good list, and knowing that I don't have to deal with this for another 4 years, to make me feel better.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Working Mom Tip #2: Online Grocery Shopping

Yes, I feel like kind of a snob for outsourcing my grocery shopping. But seriously, when its 8 at night and I've been up since 6, having put in 9 hours at the office, and then almost 4 hours of supermom time, I'm really, really tired. So what am I supposed to do when there's nothing to eat? The first time this happened to me the choices seemed to be to either eat a ketchup sandwich for lunch tomorrow (and feed one to my daughter) or to get into the car, drive to the grocery store, walk around under those neon lights, load stuff into the basked (while humming along to Muzak and then feeling guilty and dorky about it), stand in line, load everything onto the conveyor belt, haul bags to the car, and schlep bags up to my apartment. But as I was thinking fondly about how much I like ketchup I realized that there's a 3rd way!

For about $4 plus a tip I can spend 30 minutes on the Internet picking out food and then get someone else to do my grocery shopping for me, and deliver it right to my door. Thank you Internet!!

In the greater Washington D.C. area there are 2 main choices:
I personally prefer Peapod because I think their selection and produce are better. They also have a great online system that allows you to type in your grocery list and it will then take you through your options. So for example, you type in bread and diapers into the list at the beginning. It will show you all of your bread options, then, once you've made your choice it will show you all of your diaper options, and so on until you've completed your list. It will also save your old shopping carts from previous purchases so that you can easily reorder things you buy regularly.

While it may get a little pricey to do this on a regular basis, I highly recommend it at least once a month. Being in a family with 2 working parents is a crazy life. Think of this as $4 (plus tip) therapy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

P is for Prioritize

Dog, cat, turtle, truck, dirty - those are all great words honey. I'm so proud of you for saying them. Honestly, my heart melts with joy when you point excitedly at a picture of a bunny and exclaim "Cat!". But seriously, what about saying something useful? Hungry would be a good word to learn. Thirsty, wet, hot and cold are all good ones too. And while throwing chunks of food off of your high chair does get your point across, the words "All done" would work as well.

Its a good thing you're so cute, and that you clap when I sing, laugh when I poke your belly and dance when a car drives by playing loud music. But you really need to work on your vocabulary, sweetie. Or at least prioritize a little bit.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Workplace Flexibility, Family Time, Happiness

I've recently begun to truly appreciate the flexible schedule that is the hallmark of today's working moms. With all of the whining I've been doing lately about how much I wish I could be a SAHM I've been neglecting to see how great I really have it. Of course, a big part of my change in attitude is that I've really started to take full advantage of the flexible schedule possibilities at my office. I changed my work hours from 9-6 to 7-4 and I can't emphasize enough how much that change has improved my quality of life. I'm also making a point of using my work from home days to, well, work from home, rather than going in to the office.

It isn't always easy, though. No matter how much a workplace may have official policies put in place that encourage employees to use flexible schedules and work locations, when it comes down to it those of us who use these perks are often seen as slackers. I often hear people in my office say that the people who work from home are "not the type that want to move ahead". And many people don't hide their annoyance at the fact that you can't make that 4:00 meeting because you're on your way out the door. Never mind that you've been there since 7 in the morning (well, maybe a few minutes after 7).

That's why I was excited to learn from the post in the NY Times Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown, that our society's work norms are actually changing. According to the post:
Before 1995 women spent an average of 12 hours a week attending to the needs of their children. By 2007, that number had risen to 21.2 hours a week for college educated women...
I have to admit I'm a little skeptical of the study. I mean, if moms before 1995 were only spending 12 hours a week with the their kids that leaves 42 hours a week when the kids weren't sleeping or in school, but weren't with their parents. That's a lot of hours. What in the world were they doing? But lets suspend our disbelief and assume that these stats are accurate. What has caused this change in society? Is it purely a result of the fact that more women are in the work place? Is it a reaction against the long hours this generation saw their parents working? Is technology, despite the 45 minutes I spent at work today waiting for my computer to boot up, actually improving our lives??

Another recent post from the NY Times, The Sandra Bullock Trade (stupid title, I agree) talks about research that shows that happiness is much more of a result of personal relationships rather than income. One aspect of this article that I found particularly interesting, is that commuting is mentioned as the daily activity that decreases happiness the most. While that seems obvious, the word apparently hasn't gotten to the people in offices across the country who disparage the "working at home types". Maybe if those people didn't have to commute as often they wouldn't be such assholes.

Is our society restructuring itself to reflect a better work life balance, or is this just a swing of the pendulum? How can we, as individuals in our society, promote family and leisure time as being more important than large salaries that allow us to buy Stuff. And how can we make our priorities better reflected within the framework of the 2 income families that seem to be predominating today? To me much of this is connected to our maternity and paternity leave (or lack thereof) culture as well. But that's another post for another evening...

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Baby Is Trying to Kill Me: A Sleep Journal

Sometimes I wonder if the sleep deprivation my daughter has put myself and my husband through is sufficient to warrant a United Nations trial for crimes against humanity. Although really, the sleep deprivation isn't the worst of it. After 6 or 7 months your body can get used to a few scattered hours of sleep a night. Its the fear that really gets to you. Never knowing when your quiet sleepy house will be turned into a horror movie scream fest. Or when the wonderful free time during Nap that you've been looking forward to all day will be snatched away from you. And then there's the uncertainty. Is there something wrong with her? Is she sick? Teething? Gassy? Hot? Cold? Hungry? Did she have a nightmare? Should we let her cry it out? Go check on her? Cuddle her? Feed her? Turn on the A/C? G-d I'm so tired. What time is it? What was it that Dr. Weissbluth said? Is she going to be permanently damaged from not getting enough sleep? Are we condemning her to a lifetime of bad sleep if we go into her room and give her a bottle?

All of these questions were going through our heads from 1:30 - 3:00 this morning, and then again at 1:30 this afternoon. For the second day in a row. Here are the conclusions I came to:
1) Dr. Weissbluth, Dr. Ferber and Dr. Sears have conspired to completely screw with the heads of parents in our generation.
2) My baby is trying to kill me.
3) If my daughter is hysterical I am going to cuddle and comfort her and Dr. Weissbluth can suck it.
Wish me luck tonight!!

Working Mom Tip - The Speaker Phone is Your Friend

Every once in a while I figure something out that makes my life as a working mom easier. Yes, my house is still a mess. No, I haven't figured out how to fit regular workouts into my week. But I have figured out how to attend my daughter's pediatrician appointments from the office. The answer, my friends, is the conference call!

I discovered the Supermom potential of this tedious part of office life last week. I had already taken a few days off of work to take care of my little puke queen. So, when we decided a trip to the ped was called for my husband took her in. I, however, still wanted to hear what the doc had to say first hand, and ask a few questions directly. The solution - my hubbie put me on speakerphone as soon as he got into the exam room. I was able to hear the whole check up, ask questions and thank the doctor, all on my coffee break. The 21st century has its perks.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What is my deodorant doing to my kidneys??!!

Ok. Quick rant that has nothing to do with cloth diapers, or being a mom at all for that matter. Its about Secret deodorant. This morning I happen to glance at the back of my deodorant and notice that it says not to use it if you have kidney disease. WTF??!! Seriously? My deodorant is effecting my kidneys?! As a long time environmentalist I am very aware of the damage that different products and chemicals in the environment can do to your health. But, as a lazy person who sweats a lot, and wants my hair and skin to look decent I have never been into natural cosmetics, etc. This kidney thing, however, calls for more research, and maybe a switch to one of those funky rock crystal deodorant things. I mean if the chemicals are making their way all the way down to my kidneys what other organ systems are they affecting? And what about effects in combination with other products. Didn't society learn anything from Batman (1989)?! I'll probably start by checking out some of the deodorants rated the lowest toxicity on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database and work my way up.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I have seen the light - fitted diapers are the way

I feel like I've entered a new stage in my cloth diaper/mommyhood journey. I have now formed an opinion. Ladies and possibly even a few gentleman, the fitted diaper has won my affection. I can't help but enjoy its easy to use snaps, its stretchy leg gussets (is that the right word?), its puffy absorbent area. No folding, no stuffing. And you can get the the Kissaluvs 2.0 for about $12.50. Yes, that's about 3x what the toddler sized Indian cotton prefolds cost. However, the more absorbent Babykicks are about $10, so the savings in minimal, and the convenience, absorbency and comfort of the Kissaluvs 2.0 definitely surpass either prefold.

Kissaluvs 2.0
Pros: Absorbent, easier to use than prefolds, less bulky than prefolds, about the same cost as the more absorbent prefolds, much less expensive than all in one and pocket diapers
Cons: Cost more than indian cotton prefolds

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Priorities - What Have I Done?!

I've accepted a new job, but I'm not excited about it. Since becoming a mom I've thought a lot about my priorities. And one thing I've come to realize is that my best intentions don't always translate into my life. My number one priority is my daughter. She is without a doubt on the top of my mind every hour of the day. Yet, I agreed to take a job, well, really a 4 month rotation, that will require me to give up my work from home time, which essentially will take me away from my daughter for more hours of the week. I've been trying to figure out why I did this and the best I can come up with is that I'm used to the idea of climbing the career ladder, and I haven't adjusted my work attitude to fit my internal beliefs and priorities.

I'm sure tons of working moms are constantly trying to walk the tightrope between their personal and professional priorities. I wonder what kinds of things influence people's decisions. Do they make a decision about what their priorities are and work towards that goal? Do they drift along and let whatever happens happen? How many working moms are working in flexible schedules, part time, etc? Hmmm. I should have been a sociologist. Preferably one that works from home.

Friday, March 19, 2010

OH SNAPI - Yes, I'm still on the diaper thing

Yes, I'm still on this diaper thing. I'm obsessed! So, to follow up from the last post - I did eventually get DD to stop screaming and grabbing at her crochal region every time I put the Bummi Bamboozled on. It was a matter of distracting her for the first couple of minutes that she was wearing it until she forgot that it felt different than the Bum Genius or Disposables. In her defence, though, those things are pretty thick and I imagine it feels pretty weird to have several inches of fuzzy stuffing surrounding your butt.

My next foray into the world of cloth diapering took me to the mysterious, mystical, magical world of The Prefold.

Anatomy of the Prefold

Prefold diapers have a thicker center strip for pee and poo absorbing power. From what I understand, they are called prefolds because people used to fold flat diapers so that they would have more layers in the middle, creating that thick area. Prefolds are diapers that have been "prefolded" and sewn that way for you already. I bought two kinds:

Babykicks which are a hemp/cotton mixture and unbleached Indian Cotton prefolds.

Babykicks Prefolds

Pros: Really absorbent. Doesn't look like anything's going to leak through there! The company claims that hemp has anti fungal/mold, blah, blah, blah properties.

Cons: A bit more expensive than other prefolds. Thick!! They look like they would be really hot in the summer. I also found their sizing to be kind of off. They seemed kind of huge on Alice! Although she didn't seem to mind too much.

And yes, I need practice with the folding.

Unbleached Indian Cotton Prefolds

Thinner than the Babykicks, which makes them easier to fold, and probably cooler in the summer. They are also really cheap!

Thinner - so the pee soaks through faster. They are also not quite wide enough, but a bit too long for my *ahem* robust baby.

Pros: Better than a diaper pin
Cons: Sharp enough to scrape you and/or the babe, not sharp enough to stay stuck into the diaper. Kind of redundant with a diaper cover.

I can't leave out the snappi. What a good idea gone horribly wrong! The idea was to replace the diaper pins. And yes, sharp pins near squirming, chubby legs and bellies sounds like a very bad idea. These rubber contraptions have a claw on the end of each of its three tentacles. The clawed beast is supposed to hook into the diaper, holding it in place, without the fear of piercing your baby (I'm sure she'll do that on her own when she's a teenager). Unfortunately, these little guys slip off pretty easily, and are actually fairly sharp. While a scrape isn't as bad a pierce, its still not something you want. And on top of that, they really aren't all that necessary. The diaper cover already holds everything in place pretty well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cloth Diaper Conundrum

Sometime around the 13th month mark I could think about it without cringing. Then, when my daughter turned 14th months I was ready. By the time she was 15 months old I had a full blown case of the fever - Baby Fever. I wanted another one. I needed another one. STAT. But we weren't financially ready. We needed to buy a house to save on taxes, get into a place with more space, and I needed to accrue days off at work for maternity leave. So, what was I to do with all of this pent up momma energy? Simple - get completely, and totally obsessed with the world of cloth diapering.

Pros: Super duper easy
Cons: A bit bulky, expensive
Problems: Diaper rash
Solutions: Change More Frequently than disposable, Use low residue laundry detergents with no enzymes, wash diaper load on a high water level and then do a second wash with no detergent.

Our cloth diapering days started before the Fever returned. I had been using Bum Genius diapers on my daughter since she was about 2 months old. They were the perfect started diaper for someone new to the CD world, and to parenthood in general. Plus, they were great for breaking Daddy in to the idea of cloth. I started out with just one, and after finding I liked them I bought 3 more. Unfortunately I found that if used more than 2 in a row, my little princess would get a bad rash. I continued to use them off and on, but not at all with the frequency I had planned.


Pros: Anti-bacterial, fungal, yeastal properties; Really soft, cute and comfy
Cons: Expensive, looks like they will be hot in the summer.

It was in February 2010 when the Fever set in and the obsession truly began. It was the Washington D.C. SNOWMAGGEDON's fault really. Days and days trapped inside the house, unable to travel more than a block or two from home. And with a 1 year old, what do you do? You can't watch TV, play board games, clean up the house, knit, read a book, bake cookies together, or even go sledding. So what did we do? We hung out in the lobby of our apartment building, read "Peak a Who?" a thousand billion times, stared out at the snow, and met another mom desperate to get out of her apartment for a few hours.

My new snowmageddon mom friend turned me on to Bamboozles. She said they were super absorbent and that the bamboo had properties that help to repel bacteria, fungus, yeast, and hopefully, diaper rash. Sounded good to me. I found them on line and the friendly interweb informed me that it was a type of fitted diaper. Who knew?


To go along with my new Bamboozle fitted diaper that I didn't know was a fitted diaper I got a Bummis Super Whisper Wrap Diaper Cover. I can't tell you how excited I was when I get the Bamboozle fitted and the diaper cover in the mail. I couldn't wait to try them on my sweet peanut. The bamboozle needs to be washed 2 or 3 times before they can be worn to remove natural resins (and it takes 10 washes to reach full absorbency). I could barely wait to do the laundry. Finally the day arrived when I could put the all natural, super absorbent, high end fitted diapers onto my little sweetheart. It took a few tries to figure out which way the snaps go, and where to attach the weird little insert piece. Putting the diaper cover on was a breeze. I gathered darling daughter from the changing table, put her down gently on her wobbly, chubby little toddler legs and - she turned into a screaming wreathing, mess, clawing desperately at her diaper area.

I'm a full time work at work mom and this is my blog

I'm the person you see on the metro with spit up on the lapel of her pantsuit, Parents Magazine and laptop bag both propped on her knees, racing home for some quality time before Book, Bath, Bottle, Bed. I work because I have to in order to maintain a decent quality of life for my family, not because I'm an overachiever or I have a big important dream job. My priority is my family, but I do the best I can at everything I do. This is my blog. I'll probably spend a lot of time rambling about things no one cares about, and hopefully a little bit of time giving out some information or telling a story that someone else out there can relate to. Hopefully I'll get some advice as well.