Tuesday, September 30, 2008

boys are gross

Geekybaby is quite the wriggler now, squirming across the floor using his arms like a seal out of water. His sister is possibly his most favourite person in the whole world, so he lollops after her, squealing for attention. Last night she dropped down to give him a big hug, and for the first time he reached around and hugged her back, then dropped one of his big open mouth kisses smack on her lips. She was enchanted. For a moment. I should explain that Geekybaby has a bit of a cold. Then I heard the shriek: "Yuck, booger kisses. Geekybaby gave me booger kisses. That's gross!"

Probably just the beginning of many, many yucky acts that this little brother will commit on his big sis, no doubt!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

cruelty to animals?

We refer to Geekydog as 'the dog of love'. She is a snuggler, a dog who craves human affection. She weighs 55lb but secretly wishes that she was a tiny lap dog. She has been with us since before the arrival of the children, and though we love her as much as ever, the amount of attention she gets from us has diminished quite dramatically over the years. It was an incident this weekend that brought home to me how neglected our poor dog must feel.

On Saturday I gave her a much overdue bath. Like most dogs, geekydog is not fond of being bathed, but she puts up with it, hops into the tub willingly, and tolerates the shampooing and rinsing with a hangdog expression.

On Sunday, Geekydog followed me into the bathroom and hopped into the tub again, wagging her tail hopefully. Yes, the poor beast had decided that if the only place she gets attention is in the tub, she would gladly take another bath!

I think this a reminder for us to slow down a little, smell the roses, and pet the dog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

little miss perfect

I have posted before about our efforts to get to 'music together' class once a week. Semester has started again and we made it through the first class unscathed last Wednesday. We actually had a really nice time, Geekygirl is one of the older kids now, so dances and sings along, and geekybaby is enthralled by the novelty. Though he hasn't yet grasped that each prop (egg shakers, scarves, tamborines) are brought out for one song, then taken away again. He is delighted with each new item, then appalled when it is taken from him so quickly!

Each semester there are some new babies and some familiar faces. I'm always on the look out for kindred spirits, whose children sport the 'dragged through a hedge backwards' hair and clothing look, but yet again, the class seems to be favored by the impossibly well turned out. 'Little Miss Perfect', of the beautifully ironed (ironed! Who irons kids clothes? I won't even buy things that need ironing!) floral frocks with matching bows and pristine clean white sandals, is still in attendence, accompanied by her mom, a woman who still manages to look gorgeous seven months pregnant with twins. I'm secretly hoping that the arrival of her twin boys this fall might throw a spanner into the air of fabulous ease that this family exudes (yes, dad is handsome and well dressed too). But I just know that it won't. She will be back in her size 4 Chanel suits three weeks after giving birth, the babies will be adorable moppets that never spit up on their Petit Bateaux sweaters, and Little Miss Perfect will have learned to french braid her own hair. I've decided to stop being envious and just to hang around with them (they are extremely nice despite their perfection) in the hope that some of their gilt rubs off on us.

This weekend we attended a birthday party for one of Geekygirl's classmates. With last week's contrast between my urchin and the perfect girl fresh in my mind, I really wanted Geekygirl to look adorable. I remembered to wash her hair the night before, I offered her three acceptable choices of dress (all no iron cotton jersey, but dresses nontheless), remembering that she will only wear a dress if she can have leggings on underneath, and even snuck a cute pink and blue fabric butterfly clip into her ponytail. The overall effect was pretty and practical.Just how I wanted her to look, the picture I had in my head when I thought about what she could wear to the occasion (as if I don't have enough to think about).

The party was great, a low key affair with fine beer and great cake at an amazing local playground. And watching Geekgirl run and shout and play, in her pretty frock, almost matching leggings and her favourite bright blue crocs, with the sun fanning her messy but clean golden curls into a halo around her face I felt a glow of pride that this gorgeous child was mine. My very own little miss perfect in every way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The right fork

I'm a big reader, a devourer of books. I'm a fiction junkie, and an avid reader of the scientific literature in my field. That is what scientists do. If we want to know more about a subject, we do a literature search, and read all the papers. When I got a dog, I read every dog training and dog psychology books I could get my hands on. So it is not surprising that as a parent I like to read books about child development. I prefer the books that try to give insight into how a child's mind develops, and teach the reader how to apply that knowledge to helping them grow into the world.

I have tried to put the strategies I have learned into practice; for example explaining why certain behaviours are off limits and offering alternatives that are acceptable. I felt my reading had given me helpful tools, but last night I had a small epiphany. It was an ordinary moment, but for a second I felt the world as my daughter feels it. And I realized what my daughter knows already, that it is really hard being two.

Geekygirl and I were eating dinner. Since Mondays is now my pilates class night, GG, GB and I eat together before GD gets home. She had a toddler knife and fork to eat her ravioli, and was doing a great job of forking the ravioli to her mouth, when she hesitated, lowered her fork, looked uncertainly at it, and asked me

"Does this go in my mouth?".
"Yes", I replied, "your fork is for putting your food in your mouth".
"And my knife does not go in my mouth?" she continued.
"That's right", I said.
She then recited a little mantra "Knives are not for eating with, Knives can be dangerous, forks are for eating with".

And having reassured herself that she was using the correct cutlery she carried on with dinner.

This little exchange illuminated to me just how hard it is to be a toddler, how much information they have to absorb, and how easy it is for us to forget that they are still so new in the world, and their worlds are full of arbitrary rules. She had simply forgotten whether it was the knife or the fork she was supposed to put in her mouth. And really, it isn't entirely obvious, given that her toddler fork is quite sharp, and her knife very blunt. One is not obviously more dangerous than the other.

I made a mental tally of all the things Geekygirl has learned in the past couple of months; how to dress herself, and even make sure the label goes at the back, how to pee on the potty, how to feed her brother without gagging him with the spoon and making him cry, how to put together puzzles with lots of pieces, how to count to ten, how to draw a face, and so many many more things. Compare that to how many new skills we adults could master in two months. I still don't know what half the buttons on my new camera do. And if I'm forced to 'upgrade' to new software for my various work applications it takes me at least two months to become competent, and I get quite frustrated in the process too.

Every moment of every day our toddlers are figuring out the world. It must be like the first week in a new job every single day. I'm going to hold onto this feeling through the tantrums and tears of frustration.

I always believed the experts who said that consistency is important, but I understand it better now that I try to see the world through my child's eyes. Many things in her world are uncertain, so Geekygirl clings on to the rules we provide; the fork is for eating, the knife isn't, the cat tree is not for climbing, but the climbing frame is. In little soundbites like this, she learns how to negotiate the world. She is amazing!

And hopefully, by the time she is awarded her Nobel prize (Peace, preferably, but we'll settle for Medicine, Chemistry or Literature), she will have mastered the vagaries of cutlery selection and will not eat her dessert with her salad fork at the acceptance dinner!

Monday, September 15, 2008

back to mom

This is a 'Monday writing prompt' from Absolutely Bananas. A nice reminder that we need to take some time for ourselves.

When you work full time, and have two small children, time to oneself feels like a selfish luxury. But I know that I am an all round happier and healthier person if I get a little bit of exercise. Over the years I have avidly embraced almost every fad in personal fitness, including every 'brand' of aerobics from step, to slide (remember that short lived phase?!) to water. There was a point in my life when I took 8 aerobics classes a week (I think that is called endorphin addiction), which gave me shin splints, not the perfectly honed body I longer for. Before babies I became an avid runner, which in San Francisco means an avid hill runner, though I never actually achieved my goal of running a marathon. I'd got my training runs up to about 17 miles, when I was hit by a car (not while running, but while crossing the road after leaving the pub!). After that the increasing inflexibility of my aging body drew me into Yoga, which, after I got accustomed to the chanting (so very un-British!), also became part of my life. Then after the birth of Geekygirl, eager to strengthen back those core muscles I took up pilates, private classes using the bizarre 'reformer' machine.

I've been longing to get back to it, the body of a mother of two takes a beating. Though my outward appearance is of someone in pretty good shape for having had a baby 6 months ago, I don't feel in good shape at all. I have noticed that every time I carry geekgirl on my hip, bend to lift Geekybaby out of his high chair, or lug the car seat up the stairs my back squeaks at me "Ouch, you are getting old, lady". Now that we finally have some semblance of an evening routine, I've decided to take up pilates again. If you only have an hour a week to get in shape, I really think this is the best bang for the buck. I started last week, and despite the fact that I spent the next 3 days feeling as if someone had punched me in the guts, I am really glad to be doing something proactive to take back my body.

our new floor sweeper

The youngest member of the household is on the move!

Now the title of this blog is inspired by the fact that our beloved Geekydog and the cats tend to leave quite a lot of hair around the place. There is nothing like a baby in a blanket sleeper sliding across the floors to reveal exactly how much hair there is in the house!

I'm tempted to send him on a crawling expedition under the beds to give those floors a good sweeping.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where was I?

My friend followthatdog asked 'where where you?'

I was just thinking about it.
I had sent my parents, who were visiting, off to SFO to catch a flight to Las Vegas when geekdaddy called me from the road to turn on the TV. I turned it on in time to watch the second plane hit.

My folks never got on their plane, but were bussed back into central San Francisco. They were unnerved at being dropped downtown surrounded by the tall buildings, but impressed with the calm way the airport staff handled the unprecendented event, and by the kindness of the people around them.

I decided to go to work, I was a postdoctoral researcher at UCSF at the time. I sat on the shuttle bus, unsure of my decision to leave the house. I was aware of every sound, sitting there with my heart in my mouth, expecting any moment to hear that the transamerica building or one of the bridges had been attacked

Like the world trade center, our lab was a true multiculteral melting pot. Being there with so many citizens of other nations joined in shock and horror at this terrible attack on our adopted country felt right.

Though the events of September 11th 2001 made me feel more American in my identity, what stuck me the most was how many nations lost citizens in that strike on an American building.

It was a strike not just against Americans, but again the fabulous diversity, multiculturalism, idealism and openness that America represents. I am saddened that 7 years on, the reputation of this country has been tarnished by the repercussions of that day. Maybe the way to fight back against terrorism is not to close borders but to open them, because by keeping our borders open we can continue to open minds.

possibly the most pointless exercise in the world

We all know that the US has a huge budget deficit, and thus is invested in preventing people from cheating on their taxes. Fair enough, but I think that when there are corporate loopholes big enough to drive an oil tanker full of money through, there is a point where documentation and auditing of us puny individual taxpayers can be taken too far . For example:

We donate unwanted clothing to charity, and this can be deducted from our taxes, just like charitable donations of money can be. It used to be that we would simply keep a tally of items donated, then refer to our accountants list of the values that could be deducted. Now, our accountant has decided that we need to document each item, which means take a photograph of it! I don't know about you, but actually going through my closet, sorting out unwanted clothes, and writing down what I have put in my big plastic bag is a gargantuan effort. The thought of taking a picture of everything too made the task insurmountable.

My last few rounds of closet purging, most recently inspired by too much watching of 'what not to wear' while on maternity leave, I just threw into bags, so downstairs in our basement I had several large bags of undocumented clothing. And since geekybaby turned out to be a little boy, I had bags and bags of tiny girly outfits (geekybaby wears his sister's old pink pyjamas, but when he goes out of the house I prefer him to be attired in a more masculine fashion, even though this is San Francisco, where boys in flowery pink are an integral part of the landscape).

But the day of reckoning arrived, we are upgrading our 'half finished because we ran out of cash' basement guest suite into a more luxurious dwelling, with heating and a bathroom. And we are on a tight timeline because I have promised my parents that their guest bathroom will be ready for their much anticipated visit in November! Since the room that will be the bathroom has been used for the past few years as storage, it was time to finally get everything donated. So I spent my Saturday going through the bags and photographing the clothing. It felt like the stupidest task in the world. I can only imagine that we will one day be audited, and some poor soul will have to leaf through piles of photographs of tiny shoes, pants and onesies. I can't wait for the phone call that tells us "Oh, Mr. Geeky, I see you claimed for 45 onesies, but I only count 42 in these pictures, off to tax evasion prison with you"!

Some of my old clothing had been in bags for so long that I had almost forgotten I ever owned it, so I was tempted to pull things back out again! I resisted, these clothes had been rejected for good reason, but much as it is a good idea to rotate the kids toys so they don't get bored, maybe I should hide and rotate my clothing, to revitalize old outfits and prevent shopping binges!

It was a bittersweet day, giving away the baby clothes. I fingered the newborn clothes, the tininess of those babies compared to the sturdy toddler and 7 month old they have become is now held only in memory. I hoarded several of the most precious outfits from both kids, the ones they came home from hospital in, the first gifts from grandparents, the dress geekygirl wore to my brother's wedding and quite a few others I was too sentimental about to give away. I can't believe that my babies have grown fast. I feel my baby snuggling days slipping away into a toddler herding and preschooler guiding future.

Monday, September 8, 2008

taking a duvet day

On Friday I decided to work from home. What I really wanted to do was take what is known back home in the UK as a 'duvet day'. This is taking a sick day when you are not technically sick, formerly known as 'skiving off work', but now given legitimacy by many UK employers. The concept even has its own Wikipedia entry, which states:

"An employee receives an allocation of days where if he or she gets up in the morning and doesn't want to go to work for any reason, he or she can use a "Duvet day".

Obviously employers don't give out too many of these treasures, or people would fail to show up every Monday! But what a great idea. Given the paucity of any kind of paid time off in the US employment world I don't see this catching on here though, more's the pity.

The guiltiest pleasure of the working mum is the ability to take a "day off" from both work and children. Oh, the appalling, selfish luxury! I sent the kids to daycare, then stayed at home alone. I was expecting the garden construction people to be working, and had wanted to be home to supervise a couple of things, but I think the amazing weather (high 80's in San Francisco, that jewel of a week we always get sometime in September) had prompted them to also take a 'duvet day' or maybe a 'lying on the beach day', and I can't say I really blame them.

I had such a relaxing day. I kept poking myself to test for guilty feelings, but non surfaced. I did do quite a bit of actual work, but I also took a lunchtime nap, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I awoke naturally, feeling languid and refreshed, rather than being pulled from sleep by a crying baby or a two year old saying 'is it wake up time yet?'

I did a little image software work on a nice picture I took of the kids, and got an 8x10 print of it developed for a couple of bucks. I'm really pleased at how it turned out.

I took the time prepare something a bit special for our dinner (mahi mahi with pasta and and spicy peanut sauce), it felt so nice to cook unhurried, instead of chopping and mixing so hastily that I risked my fingers. When I picked up the kids (nice and early, a few hours of alone time was plenty, the quiet tidy house started to cry out for some mess and noise), I had a surfeit of time and energy for them. We sat in the almost finished backyard, enjoying our new lawn. Geekybaby was fascinated by the grass between his toes, Geekygirl and Geekydog ran in circles and fell down on it. I basked in the glow of the evening sun and felt more relaxed than I have in a long time.

Maybe I can get 'Duvet days' introduced into our company policy, and from there start a quiet 'work life balance' revolution in California.

Friday, September 5, 2008

miss bossy boots

So it has started already, Geekygirl is bossing her little brother around. No doubt this will continue for the rest of their lives. I'm sure I still boss my (not so) little brother around when I get the chance.

At the dinner table, Geekybaby was flapping in his highchair and giggling his insanely gleeful baby cackle. He was quite loud:

Geekygirl: "Use your inside voice, geekybaby. You are too loud"

Geekybaby: More insane cackling. Throws spoon on floor

Geekygirl: (with world weary sigh) "Oh geekybaby, your spoon is on the floor, its all dirty, don't do that"

Geekbaby: Continues with the giggling, grabs for geekygirl's fork

Geekygirl: "No grabbing. Use your words. You are too small for forks."

It is so lovely to see the two of them developing a relationship. So far the relationship is pure adoration from Geekybaby's side, and overenthusiastic affection or amused tolerance from Geekygirl's. I sense that before long they will be in cahoots, the small people will take over the house (and I know the dog will side with them), and we will be in big trouble. I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breastpump Maria Barcelona

Now there is a movie Woody Allen should make.

After all, on a good day, in a low light, if I smile and arch, I am about 2% as hot as Scarlett Johansson on a bad day!

As the title infers, my breastpump and I are off to Barcelona. Had you told me three years ago that I would be anything less than thrilled that the company was sending me to Barcelona to present our latest and greatest data at a conference I would not have believed you. Going to exotic locations to hear the latest breakthroughs and socialize with fellow scientists who share my narrow scientific interests has always been one of the things I enjoy most about my career. And when it was just the three of us, Geekydaddy took vacation and we took geekygirl along to conventions, I nursed her between sessions and daddy and daughter explored the sights of Washington DC and Aspen.

But now with a toddler and a baby bringing everyone along is just not possible. I find myself underwhelmed by the thought of 4 days away from my children, 16 hours in transit (no direct flights from San Francisco to Barcelona), trying to pump in airline, convention center and hotel bathrooms. The trip is scheduled for halloween weekend, too. Now Geekygirl is not yet three, so hasn't built up a great anticipation for the holiday yet, but I love halloween, and I fear this could be the slippery slope of many family occasions sacrificed to work. I don't want to be the mum who misses trick or treating becuase of a business trip. Neither do I want to be the scientist who can't present her team's work at an important meeting because she has small children.

A fellow scientist/mum pointed out one bright side to the trip; at least I will get some unbroken nights of sleep!

So, I am going to Barcelona to get some sleep, that is what my life has come to!