Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hawaii four O

Last weekend I turned forty. I'm sure I'm not the first to observe that time compresses as we get older, but I'm certainly feeling that way on this milestone birthday. Where on earth did the last ten years go? The years from earliest memories through my teens and into my twenties seemed to stretch, long days, slow years. My memories of them still rich and vivid. Perhaps that is why those years are so formative. Maybe time is actually percieved differently through the different ages of our lives.The last ten of mine, though equally as event packed as the rest, seem to have flashed by.

When I was twenty, in the 1990's, the 1970's seemed eons ago, truly a different era. Now in the 2010's, the 1990's seem like just yesterday. I still think of music and movies from that time as 'current'. Children are often completely oblivious to times that they did not experience, kids asking their parents if they had cars or televisions in 'the olden days when you grew up'. My 1980's childhood, with its VCR's, boom boxes, walkmans and BBC basic computers is as much a museum piece now as my fathers childhood during the second world war. Everything folds into the past. Maybe that is why we are driven to have children, to pull us through time.

Forty feels good though. Those short ten years ago, I spent my thirtieth birthday in Hawaii with Geekydaddy, half hoping that he would propose. (He ultimately proposed on my 32nd birthday). We couldn't afford a trip to Hawaii this time, so we brought it to our house instead, with a Hawaiian themed party for our friends and their kids. I rented a bounce house, hoping it could act as a de facto babysitter while the adults chatted.  It arrived nice and early so our kids bounced while we prepped for the event, I strategy I may employ for future parties.

When we planned a Hawaiian party we didn't expect Hawaiian style rain. Our back garden was in full bloom (the joy of California in October), and we had planned for an outdoor party, but the heavens opened and the party moved inside. Only a few brave children braved the bouncer. Thanks to a lovely bouquet from my dear friend FollowthatDog, and some whimsical hibiscus flower party lights, the interior was blooming too, and we didn't let the rain dim the mood. Combined with the halloween decor of green gilded spiders, the flowers gave an interesting 'tropical but terrifying' theme. My friends Stan and Fachon bought real flower lei's., too There is something special about a lei. It brought me just a bit of that relaxed island feeling, even on a wet San Francisco afternoon.

I had such a lovely day surround by friends and children. The Mai Tai's Geekydaddy created were deliciously authentic (did you know that Mai Tai was invented in Trader Vics in Oakland, just across the bay, in 1944, and is an almond syrup based drink? Neither did I until we did our research!) and  the catered food was both beautiful and delicious (Geekydog agreed, she snaffled a plate of pork sandwiches left a little to close to the edge of the table!).

I even got to sleep off the Mai Tai's the next day while Geekydaddy cleared up the debris.

I'll leave you with this photo. On Facebook I captioned it " Necklace; birthday gift from my parents, Lei; gift from Stan and Fachon, T shirt; $7.00 from Marshalls, Forty year old cleavage; priceless". Here's to another forty plus years!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Drawing horses

It is amazing that I managed to get my O and A levels, really. I spent a good portion of my schooldays sketching ponies. They galloped, trotted and cantered across my essays, my homework diary. All my compositions had an equine theme. I even recall working a horse into an essay about bridges, and carefully putting a couple in the garden of the buildings I had to plan in architectural drawing class.

I was lucky enough to have access to ponies of my own. My sister and I befriended an old gentlemen in our village. His own living grandchildren were in Australia, and the daughter who had remained close by lost her only child to Cystic fibrosis when he was just five Pictures of this smiling golden curled child graced every surface in Harold's bungalow.

My sister and I were his surrogate grandchildren. Our own grandfathers died before we were born, too, so this was a mutually benificial relationship. We fetched his groceries, picked his apples and turned them into pies (well my mum helped with that). Rather on sufferance every night on the way home from school we sat and looked through his old photo albums and listened to his stories,watching the clock so that we'd be home in time for neighbours, and in return he gave us his ponies to ride. We probably should have spent more time listening to him. Born in 1901 and of the generation too young to fight the first world war but too old for the second, he lived through so much change in his lifetime, embracing it all.

i haven't ridden for years now, but amazingly the horse bug seems to have arisen in my daughter. She gallops and whinnies around the house on her imaginary pony, "princess rainbow." She gravitates toward horsey toys. We took her for her first a pony ride, and she didn't want to dismount.

Then I found this. Her first horse drawing.

In quiet moments I imagine a different kind of life. Maybe we should move to the country so we can get her a pony. And perhaps, just maybe, i would brush off my johdpurs and find a nice gentle old horse for myself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone because my daughter has commandeered my laptop

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the in flight movie

I was reading the New York Times this morning over my pancakes, and came across an article that piqued my interest. Toddlers are becoming addicted to iphones.  I was actually reading the article on my iphone, and was struck by the irony. Though not as profoundly as the time I was walking along the street reading an article about the dangers of walking and reading one's iphone at the same time, and walked into a lamp post.

This question seems to be coming up over and over again. How much technology is too much for our children? We are entering uncharted territory with every fascinating new device, each so user friendly and intuitive that even a two year old embraces them.

I confess to amusing my own kids with my marvelous little phone. I am quite proud of my "in flight movie" set up for our long car rides up to Tahoe, involving the phone, episodes of 'the back yardigans', a bluetooth set up to beam the sound through the stereo, and a length of ribbon secured behind the phone case then tied to the headrest. I ration the movie time only because I want the phone back to catch up on my blog reading.

I'm a big believer in 'moderation in all things', my dad's motto for life, and feel that as long as the parent is controlling access to the devices they can be a good distraction tool, for sure, and may possibly even be valuable for learning. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

life, squared

This is a post for the working mum blog carnival hosted by Holly at "its a mummy's life".

I had this post all thought out. I wanted to convey how I feel that being a working mum, a mother who also has a rewarding career, should be the aspiration of all women. But every evening I have been just too bloody knackered to actually write it. I'm not sure what that says about my ideal world for women. With Holly's deadline looming, I'm tapping this out while simultaneously watching 'Law and Order SVU'. That I find myself multitasking even in my extremely limited leisure time speaks for itself, I suppose.

People often say "My life became complete after I had my children". I have never felt that way. No offense to my amazing kids, but you see my life was quite complete before I had my children. The children brought a completely different dimension to it. One that I didn't even know existed before. Now I have a whole extra complete life, on top of the one I already had. I think of it as life, squared.

I'm a scientist. Science is a vocational type of career; a mindset and a way of being. It is how I have always defined myself, the first thing that comes to mind, before 'woman', 'Brit' 'liberal' or 'wife'. Now I define myself as a mother, too, of course, but I am ever grateful that I did not have to choose between these two identities. I can be both mother and scientist and straddle these two worlds. It may not be elegant but it works.

We working mums are lucky, I think, in that we never had to feel the disorientation that comes with leaving one life, that of the workplace, and moving over to the world of child raising and home making. Becoming a mother never left me wondering who I was. It has always been quite clear that I am the same person as I was before, living in the same world, just with so very much more to do. Since becoming a mother my brain has been challenged in more ways than I though possible. I'm not a rocket scientist kind of scientist, but I do have a job that stretches my neurons on a regular basis, and still I was not prepared for the mental gymnastics required of a working mum.

spare school clothes to wash, new papers about high cholesterol to read, preschool beach day to remember, holiday fundraisers, backordered reagents to track down, performance reviews to write, parent committee to attend, elementary school tours, conferences to book, brilliant scientific leaps of understanding to make, dentists appointments to book, forget and rebook, music classes to research, groceries to buy, sticker charts and prizes to create, assays to run, data to analyze, experimental strategies to plan, birthday parties to go to and to organize, nails to clip before they scratch another classmate and draw blood, nits to treat, powerpoint presentations to make, contract research oganizations to manage, field trips to attend, parent teacher meetings......

My mind is a maelstrom of information. I have a reasonable system of lists and files that ensures that I succeed in staying on top of about 80% of it, but I am always looking for that perfect system that will bring me to professional and personal perfection. I just hope that when I'm with the kids I'm giving them 100%. We do have a lot of fun together in our mornings, evenings and weekends, and we are lucky to have a wonderful preschool that I swear provides them more consistency, security and emotional and intellectual growth than I would be able to provide if I was with them full time. I've also been fortunate enough to participate in some pretty amazing scientific research in the five years since I became a mum, work that may end up really helping people. The last five years, my years of working motherhood, have stretched me further than I thought possible, but have also been incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

I worry though, that I bring the stresses of work home. Geekyboy brought home a project from preschool, a 'feelings book' where they had scribbled on a picture of different feelings and the teachers had written a quote from them about each emotion. It had a page that said "Mummy feels happy for closing her eyes".

The life of a working mum is wonderful, varied and challenging. It is very busy. For me it can best be summed up best in words that are not my own. I paraphrase Jessica Piers (mother and lawyer) in the excellent "Mothers on the fast track"  "To be successful at family and career you have to come to grips with the fact that you are not going be perfect at doing anything. I am not the best mother and I am not the best lawyer at my firm either, but my life is my whole life".

Despite the challenges, I would still counsel anyone unsure about whether working motherhood is the life for them to go for it. I can't imagine any other kind of life.

My life is my whole life.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Girls

A post for the gallery

Better late than never, I have been pondering all week on what it means to be a girl

My post for the boys showed geekydaddy and his little son, so I found a picture of me and my little girl for this week.

I had always wanted a little girl. My first two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, but for those weeks beforehand, I fantasized about a baby girl called Geekygirl. Well obviously not actually called Geekygirl, but with her real name, a name I chose for my daughter before I even chose a husband.

My sister and my best friend back in the UK both had girls first (and second and third), and I longed for a little girl of my own. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because growing up as a girl is something I know how to do. I longed for a fierce and feisty girl, determined and opinionated and passionate. That is exactly what we got, and I soon learned that these qualities, so wonderful in an adult woman, make for a rather challenging little girl!

I'm excited about her future. What a world it is now for girls. Many people worry about the pinky princessification permeating the world of our female children.  Peggy Orenstein, an author who writes thought provoking books and articles about issues affecting women addresses this in her upcoming new book, "Cinderella ate my daughter". I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm not too worried though. The choices facing our girls are so dazzling,  and I don't just mean the variety of sequined hello kitty shirts in Target, that I think the explosions of freedoms for women are worth the downsides. 

I reserve the right to change my mind if geekygirl chooses to be a pole dancer rather than an an astronaut though.

We recently watched the movie "an education". In it a bright young girl struggles between a future at Oxford university, or being the plaything of a dodgy but glamorous older man. In one scene she challenges her headteacher, the wonderful Emma Thompson, to tell her what the world can offer an educated woman, since all she sees around her are spinster teachers. The movie was set in the mid 1970's, very recently to my mind. The girl in the movie would have been about ten years older than I am, but in terms of opportunity for women it seems so very long ago,

My new workplace, a biotech company, has more than fifty percent women on the scientific staff. I sit in meetings where there are twelve women to two men. Amazing, smart, driven, brilliant women (and men too). It is humbling and thrilling to be around them. Many of them love shoes and clothes as much as they love genes and proteins, so I'm cautiously confident that despite dressing up as princesses and loving pink, our daughters will be able to decipher the mixed messages in our society, and forge their own career paths in ever greater numbers.

On balance I think that right now is a great time to be a girl.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Spot the real squirrel. I'll give you a clue, it is not the one, and I quote geekyboy here, 'holding his own tiny nuts"

In the post Genome world they probably don't teach "classification" in biology classes. The process of defining which class, genus and species a living organism belongs to, classical classification involved a complex key, a long branching list of 'yes or no' questions that narrowed down the identify of the fish or fowl in question.

Does it have a backbone? If yes, then does it have fur? If no, then does it have scales? And on and on, down to the most minute anatomical details. It wasn't one of the most interesting exercises in biology class, I have to say, and now that we have rapid DNA sequencing and algorithms to tell us exactly how related everything is to everything else it is redundant.

It is a powerful part of our human brain, though. Even very young children can tell us that chihuahuas, mastiffs and huskies are dogs, despite their disparate appearances. There is something fundamentally 'dog' that the brain subconciously perceives and classifies.

I was reminded of the concept this morning. My children have developed a new obsession with the odd but distinctive looking "littlest pet shop" animals and their stupidly minuscule accessories. As I stirred from sleep this is what I overheard.

"Geekyboy, that is not a littlest pet shop animal. Does it have a ginormous wobbly head? No? Then it isn't a littlest petshop animal."

Maybe we can develop a key for classification of toys as guide for parents. If so, it should start with the question "does it come with a ridiculous number of tiny plastic parts, keeping track of which defeats even the most fastidious housekeeper? (well I assume. I am not known for fastidiousness).

What is the latest toy obsession in your house?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone because my daughter has commandeered my laptop