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.