Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the first moment

I don't have words to describe it. But this week, the writing workshop and the Gallery have teamed up, so maybe I have a fighting chance of conveying to you the most emotional experience of my life.

You see I had started to fear that I was too old, that I had inadvertently made an accidental 'choice' not to have children.

You tried to join us a couple of times, but I couldn't hold onto you.

The third time, despite the big belly, clearly possessed with some kind of life form, despite my in depth reading and detailed preparation, I don't think I truly believed that it was going to happen, that I was going to become a mother.

Then you arrived.

Women become mothers every moment of every day. It is so profound but yet so ordinary. Then it happens to you. Every phrase used to describe it is a cliche. I feel comforted by that. A cliche lets you know that an experience that knocks you sideways, that scrambles and purifies your whole individual world has happened before, and has been happening over and over since time immemorial. The experience is not unique, it is shared.

a post for the writing workshop and the gallery

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I have spent the past few days in Orlando, at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association. The research I do at work is directed toward finding better treatments for this disease, and the first thing I was asked to do when I started my new job two weeks ago was to book myself a ticket.

It is an amazing scene, fourteen thousand scientists, nurses, doctors, educators and pharma reps all gathered in the miles of air conditioned, swirly carpeted corridors of an enormous convention center. This would be a bad weekend to have a diabetes related health problem, mind you since your Doctor is probably here! I have an affection for the meeting, since many years ago it afforded me my first trip to the US, to present a paper on my graduate research. after presenting the paper I slipped, almost fell of the state and shouted an obscenity into the microphone, but fortunately my career continued, untarnished by this quite amusing baptism into conference speaking!

I'm not so wide eyed these days, but I still find the meeting inspiring. It is the American Diabetes Association by name, but the whole of the international diabetes community attends, the diversity is amazing, they have a big map of the world with pins to stick in representing your home, and it is dotted all over. This year they had a world cup viewing room, so I watched the I'll fated match with a bunch of German and English attendees! It is an opportunity to reconnect with friends and research collaborators from the past, to make new connections and most importantly to learn new things.

I always come away amazed by the efforts of this community, progress feels slow sometimes, but there are so many improvements in treatment over the past fifteen years. As part of the diabetes research community I have watched them hatch from a brilliant idea, then with the might of government and Pharma funding become a fully fledged treatment advertised on the sides of buses.
I dream of the day my own contributions are part of such a breakthrough.

It has been tough on Geekydaddy, this is my second conference trip of the year, and this one was over the weekend. The kids are nonchalant now. "will you make our sticker chart for the days you are gone?" geekygirl asked. She also gave me some gift guidlines. I'm hoping the buzz lightyear shirts and the 'colour yourself' stuffed aligators meet muster! As I left on Thursday I hit a kiss and a "see you on Tuesday" from geekygirl and a "buh bye mummy" from geekyboy. Geekydaddy is holding up but a whole weekend wrangling two kids alone is tough. I can't wait to see their little faces again, and give him a break.

Childless for these past few days, I find myself smiling at strangers kids and striking up conversations with their parents. I did at least get to visit some old friends who live in the Orlando area, and was honored with cuddles from their 11 month old baby and the opportunity to read a bedtime story to their five year old daughter.

So though I have enjoyed my adult time I
ready to get back. I am in fact eating smoked salmon and sipping Chardonnay right now while waiting for my plane, rather than riding up and down the escalators and moving walkways to amuse the kids. My phone is in my own hands rather than being squabbled over by two kids triying to watch 'Diego saves baby river dolphin". It's important to appreciate these moments!

But I'm ready to go back to being "mummy" again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the fancy wine bar at the Philadelphia airport

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

when the lights go down in the city

It was the light that sold our house to us. We climbed up the stairs behind the realtor into the hallway and were met with a softly glowing room. The last of the evening sun filled the elegant space, bringing out the honey tones of the original hardwood floors, and throwing relief onto the delicate deco plaster molding. It was inviting. Beautiful.  A light to be basked in. It felt like home. The big square bay windows framed the sun setting into the hills, and as the daylight faded to deep blue, the pinpricks of light from the houses and streetlamps of the neighbourhoods below took over the illumination, the light source inverting, minute by minute, from sky to ground.

The odd thing about this story is that I looked at this house, the house became our home, on my third date with Geekydaddy. A bit of a strange thing to do on a date, but he was house hunting so I tagged along. I didn't dare to dream, back on that day when I first stood in this lovely room, that it would one day be my home, and that this very promising boyfriend would be my husband.

It was the light that marked the passage of time during my labor with Geekyboy. Rocking through contractions in a glider chair, positioned so that I had a perfect panoramic view of the bay and bridges from the fifteenth floor of UCSF hospital, time passed and the sky slipped from azure to velvet. The beacon of the Alcatraz lighthouse swept the bay, its rhythm providing me focus. In my own world, time had a different meaning. I was surprised when night fell and the only light outside came from the houses, skyscrapers and stars. At the peak of labor, between the onslaught of contractions, I remember feeling at one with the city, amazed by my body, and so fortunate to be giving birth to a baby in this place I love so much.  Holding him on my chest just after he was born, gazing out at the glittering skyline, I whispered to him "welcome to San Francisco".

The UCSF hospital birth center has some of the best views in the world. I'd put money on it being the best view of any labour and deliver suite anywhere. If you live here it's almost worth having a baby just for the view.

This week the evening light is testing my patience. The kids sleep in that beautiful west facing room. The shape of the window means that one panel is uncurtained, so every last photon of the waning light seeps in. Bedtime has crept from seven thirty, to eight, to eight thirty. The children refuse to settle. I open the door upon hearing non sleeping sounds and they scuttle back into their beds in the way that reminds me of cockroaches in a stairwell vanishing into crevices when the lights are flicked. They have been awake almost until ten some evenings, and then of course they wake up bright and early only to grow cranky during the day due to lack of sleep.

There is nothing I love more than the view when day is turning to night, when the natural light is still holding on, but the city lights are starting to take over in prominence. Much as I hate to wish time away, I'm looking forward to when the nights start to draw in and darkness falls a little earlier.

A post for the writing workshop at 'sleep is for the week'. I chose "light".

Sunday, June 20, 2010


A post for the gallery. This weeks theme is 'creatures'

Even when I was young and single, I always dreamed of taking my own children to museums. As a child myself I loved them, especially the Natural History museum in London. I went to university in South Kensington, so indulged my love of the place regularly back then, we even had a college ball in the great entrance hall, sitting to eat under the ancient gaze of the famous brontosaurus skeleton.

We are fortunate to have a brilliant Natural History museum here in San Francisco, The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Not quite on the scale of the London one, but still a lovely place, bright, interesting and with a fantastic aquarium as part of its offering.

Taking the children to visit is as much fun as I imagined it would be (though a little more haphazard and more fraught with anxiety than the rosy anticipation of children and museums I indulged in before having actual children. I lost Geekygirl in the aquarium once.)

I never get tired of watching the children encounter new things. I share in their wonder at the variety of life. It really is amazing. As you might imagine, as biologist I am drawn to the study of evolution. It is mind boggling to think that every life form on the planet had a single common ancestor. Life on earth arose just once, and every living thing, still living or long extinct, evolved from from that first elusive and poorly understood spark.

Take these creatures. They don't look much like us. But the basic genes that determine body plan, the gene that tell the growing embryo front from back and head from tail are found in these animals, looking recognizably similar in sequence to the same genes in humans. We shared a common ancestor, about 600 million years ago.

The children were mesmerized, which gave me a moment to grab my camera and snap a shot of the cnidarians or jellies. Aren't they amazing?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

dog in the manger

Geekyboy has developed an annoying habit. He instantly covets a previously uninteresting toy the very minute his sister starts to play with it. At first I assumed from his hysterical howls of "I want that ____ (dinosaur, xylophone, princess Ariel figure) that his sister had taken it from him, and I insisted she return the item. I have come to realize that this was perhaps not usually the case, and I have inadvertently created a monstrous child who now howls the house down to get what he wants.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to the best way to solve these incessant conflicts over resources. My favourite book on the topic (siblings without rivalry) gives the following advice:

1. start by acknowledging the childrens anger towards each other.
2. Listen to each child's side with respect
3. Show appreciaition for the difficulty of the problem
4. Express faith in their ability to work out a mutually agreeable solution
5. Leave the room.

Though this sounds wonderful (has anyone tried this with Israel and Palestine?), I fear that my two year old will get the rough end of any negotaited agreement, given Geekygirls increasingly sophisticated verbal skills, and that my kids are a bit young yet to manage this on their own. I don't want to simply take the offending toy away (though I often do), since that seems unfair on Geekygirl, who had it first. I try offering Geekyboy alternatives (like an indistinguishable, to adult eyes at least, plastic princess or dinosaur) but invariably get it hurled back at me. I end up asking Geekygirl to share, setting the timer for 5 minutes each with the toy. Then the kicker is that when Geekyboy gets the toy he so desperately wanted, he plays with it for sixty seconds then discards it. Until his sister picks it up again and then its rinse and repeat on the whole performance.

As I said to Geekydaddy, it is classic "Dog in the manger" behavior.  Geekydaddy, unfamilar with the term, asked what happened to the dog in the fable, in case it offered any ideas. I googled it and it wasn't very helpful:

A Dog looking out for its afternoon nap jumped into the Manger of an Ox and lay there cozily upon the straw. But soon the Ox, returning from its afternoon work, came up to the Manger and wanted to eat some of the straw. The Dog in a rage, being awakened from its slumber, stood up and barked at the Ox, and whenever it came near attempted to bite it. At last the Ox had to give up the hope of getting at the straw, and went away muttering:
"Ah, people often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves."

Indeed. But what I want to know is did the dog get a time out? A sticker chart? Did this teach him mend his ways and develop empathy for the hungry Ox?

A more modern take on the fable sprung to mind while we were driving home from school last week. I have taken to playing hits from the show Glee in the car, and Geekygirl particularly likes Finn's version of "Jessie's Girl". She broke off from her sing along to ask me "But Mummy, why does he want Jessie's girl?". I smiled to myself, and answered "You know how you brother always want the same toys that you have? Well the guy singing the song wants his friend's girlfriend".

I didn't add that it is human nature to want what we can't have, and to covet the belongings and even the girlfriends of others. She can wait for the harsher lessons of life and love. No doubt many more of them will be prompted by the fables of our age, pop song lyrics.

How do you deal with conflicts over resources in your house?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Language

I speak with a home counties slightly posh kind of British accent (I'm from Buckinghamshire, near Milton Keynes), with a few Americanisms thrown in. Despite my 14 years in the US I still sound completely English. My daughter, however has a full on American twang, which is hardly surprising given that her dad also sounds American, and that her teachers and classmates all speak with American accents too, despite the  diversity of ancestry in the class. What baffles me though, is my son's pronunciation. He has adopted the classic cockney English guttoral stop, most apparent in words like "buttons"," twenty" and "caterpillar", which come out as Buh' uns, twen'ey, and caa' er piller.  If he lived in Milton Keynes there is no doubt he would call it"Mil' uhn Keynes", as do many of its residents, now I come to think of it.

It is cute, he sounds very English wide boy,  rather like the little gecko who voices the Geico car insurance commercials over here, or like a toddler David Beckham. I just don't understand where he has picked up this linguistic tic. I can't imagine where he has ever heard anyone speaking with the accent. We don't watch East Enders, the only British TV the kids see is Charlie and Lola and Peppa Pig, neither of which, to my recollection, have characters who drop their 't's. I can only conclude that he has some how inherited an English accent, and that there must be a recessive "Cockney gene' lurking in our family DNA.

My little American girl, on the other hand, would never be suspected of having a drop of English blood based on her vowels. I was struck yet again by this when we were talking about spelling. She and I were sounding out some simple words the other day in the car, "PIG" Puh, i guh", CAT "Cuh aa tuh", and so on

"What about dog, mummy? I think I can do this one" she said and continued "Its 'Duh aaa guh. Daahg'."

I realized then that in American English "dog", pronounced "Daahg" does sound like it has an 'A' in the middle rather than an 'O'. So I'm confused. Do I now teach my daughter that O makes the "aa" sound?

Any help much appreciated, before I end up with a very confused preschooler!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Motherhood. A Gallery post

This weeks photo prompt is 'motherhood.'

As chance would have it Geekydaddy picked up the camera this weekend, and took some pictures that actually have me in them. 

It has been a broiling weekend. You might assume that it is always swimsuit weather in California, or that we all have swimming pools in our back gardens. If we lived in the burbs that might be true, but in fact really hot weather is quite rare in San Francisco itself, we are wrapped in fog for most of the summer, and the price of real estate means that we have have small houses, and consider ourselves lucky even to have a small backyard.

Who needs a swimming pool anyway? For me the definition of motherhood is donning my bikini and dunking my mummy tummy in the paddling pool along with the children.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

moving on out, moving on up?

Friday was my last day at the company I've worked at for the past eight years. I worked with wonderful people. I just got promoted. Maybe I'm crazy to leave, but an opportunity appeared that I realized I had to pursue. In a bit of a whirlwind I interviewed for and was offered a position at another company. A position at a bigger and more secure company, that gives me the opportunity to do new and very exciting research with a lot more resources at my disposal. A company located only ten minutes from my home and right next to the kids preschool. I try to volunteer at preschool regularly, but the distance from my work has made it hard.  I'm torn in two at the moment. I'm so sad to leave the people I have spent every weekday of my life with for so many years. People who have supported me in my journey from a childless individual contributor in the workplace to a multi-tasking parent and group leader.

When I emptied my desk drawers I found the photos I had displayed when I first arrived. Of the cats and of my then boyfriend and I. The picture of the boyfriend (now Geekydaddy) was taken in the corner of our living room that now houses the kids colouring table, but in the picture the corner has our bar in it, laden with Bombay Saphhire Gin, Kettle Vodka and Makers Mark. I'm wearing leather trousers and have a platinum streak in my long hair. I remembered that I had the streak dyed back to brown and had my hair cut before the interview that utimately became this wonderful job. I sorted through a succession of photos that had once been displayed in my various offices. Pictures of our wedding, of the dog, of  utrasounds, babies, toddlers and now a preschooler. Leafing through them, I realized that I grew up there.

Still, I'm excited to take a leap into something brand new. I think I have a lot more growing and learning to do, and this new gig might be just the place for it. I'm apprehensive though, about proving my worth and wondering where I will summon the energy to form new workplace relationships, and to impress and to do well in a new environment.

Making this move got me thinking about a statement I read recently: “among women earning $100,000 or more, 49 percent reached the age of 40 without having children, a number that is 15 percentage points higher than high-achieving men and possibly growing." It's from Lisa Belkin's recent article about Supreme court justice nomine Elena Kagan, and it is rolling around in my brain.  I was quite staggered and surprised when I read it. It speaks so starkly to the different realities of male and female career tracks after children. I found myself wondering about those 49%. Did they decide not to have children, or did time just pass them by? Are they happily married and childless, happily single and childless? Did they actively choose to be part of this statistical anomaly, or did it become a default, as their career ascended, as attempts to have children failed, or they were unable to find a man who wanted a highly driven woman? What about all those working women with kids, over forty and making less than the magic three figure salary? Are they being underpaid compared to their male counterparts (yes, to the tune of 79c to the dollar according to the reports) and how did this happen?

Of course forty years old is rather an arbitrary cut off, I personally know many women who started their families after forty. Maybe there are a lot of women with kids making $95,000 a year and just not quite hitting that $100,000 target. There are likely to be a lot of different circumstances and choices represented by the observation. Still, that simple statement gave me much food for thought.

The career move I'm making comes with a pay rise. Judicious switching of employers tends to lead to this, it is widely thought that is ideal to move jobs every five to ten years to remain competitive, at least in my industry. The effort it took for me, as a working mum, to make this move made me wonder if lack of career mobility is one reason why women's pay lags behind men's. It would be interesting to study how long women with kids stay in their jobs compared to men, It is harder to leave a comfortable job when you have an understanding with your boss that you leave at 4.30 every day to collect your kids. It is very hard to interview while pregnant, or while pumping milk. Its tough to leave a place where you feel supported as a parent and so completely on an equal footing with the men in the company that you don't even think about it. Most high earning women also have a high earning spouse, so relocating for that amazing opportunity is more difficult for a woman with kids than it is for most men with kids, who often have a more mobile family.

When I told my colleagues that I had news, some of them expected me to announce my third pregnancy. I laughed, because nothing was further from my mind (though in retrospect I'm a little insulted, perhaps i should cut down on the chocolate). My career is my third baby, and now that my actual babies can chew their own food, drink milk from cups and sleep through the night, it is time to nurture it a little. I'm hoping that since the new position is so close to home and to preschool that I can get two for one, climb the career ladder while spending more time with my children.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

booby trap

I've never been a still life type of photographer, in fact the banner of this blog is one of my very first attempts at the genre. I was thinking I might skip this week of the gallery, 'still life' being the theme.

I love looking at this type of image though, so I decided that I was up for the challenge. This evening I quickly scanned the room looking for inspiration. Then I stepped on it.

A rogue marble, escaped from the much played with marble maze puzzle that my parents bought for Geekyboy.

Proof that the kids are in fact trying to disable me.

I struggled getting my camera to focus on the shiny orb, catching the setting sun and the last moments of blue sky as it rested so innocently on our lovely muted Iranian rug.

I realized that I like this weeks prompt, it has challenged me to learn how to use my camera better!

And yes, that is hairdog dog hair bristling out of the carpet. I hadn't even noticed it until I downloaded the picture. I could have vacuumed and reshot, but decided that my sloppy housekeeping has a charm of its own.