Friday, February 27, 2009

Stop Trying To Get "X" and Start Trying To Enjoy Yourself

I was lucky enough to attend a large university for graduate school which had enormous numbers of science graduate students. At some point a group of students set up a series of events about academic careers for scientists. This series brought Rick Reis in to talk - and as a result we all got signed up for his "Tomorrow's Professor" mailing list. Now I get emails from this list about once a week. Sometimes they're interesting, sometimes I delete them. Every once in a while I find one that's very useful and really strikes a cord. That happened this week with the posting on Stop Trying to Get Tenure and Start Trying To Enjoy Yourself. Not that I'm in a position to worry about tenure since I'm still just a postdoc - but I think the principle applies to me - in that I should "Stop Trying to Get a "Permanent Job" and Start Trying to Enjoy Myself". I'll see how that goes. "Trying to Get a Permanent Job" clearly isn't working out that well (another chance bites the dust...).

Related to this, I think I have just recently realised what a nice job being a postdoc is. (Apart from the uncertain future and the stress associated with that - especially in an era of job cuts and lowering funding). I can mess around doing research and for the most part not worry about faculty meetings, teaching when I don't want to, being nice to the university administration (or even meeting them), reading job candidate letters, calling prospective graduate students and all the hundreds of other non-research related items I see the staff doing. In a permanent position I know I won't be expected to do any less research, I'll just have all that stuff added on top of my already hectic life. I actually can't see where I would fit it all in.

So I think "Stop Trying to Get "X" and Start Trying to Enjoy Yourself" is probably good advice for us all in our jobs and throughout life.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Counting days

Like everybody else in this business, Boyfriend and I have to travel a lot; conferences, workshops, seminars, observing runs... Within a reasonable limit, we have tried not to let the fact that we have a child change that too much. Of course I didn't travel in the first few months, and there's the occasional heartache of missing some important milestones that goes with this. But overall it's been going well. I think part of the key to that was to get Chatton used from the start that maman and papa were going to be away from home sometimes. He's never made a fuss about it, and actually behaves extra-nicely with the one parent that stays behind to take care of him!

But now that he's older, he started missing us more and more when we are gone. I'm surprised by this, I thought if there would have been problems, they would have come up when he was smaller. It's not really a problem, he's still mostly as happy as usual when one of us is gone, but he mentions often (especially at night) that he misses us.

So we have come up with a trick to help him with that. Whenever one of us travels for more than a couple of days, we take a large piece of paper and make a calendar for Chatton, with one blank box for every day that Boyfriend or I are gone from home. Then each morning he gets to draw a picture in that day's box. This way he sees clearly how much time has gone and how soon the missing parent is coming home. Since time is a vague concept for young children, we find that this helps him a lot to keep track of what is going on. He can see that there are still X days left, so he's not asking us and himself all the time "when is mummy/daddy coming back?". Being aware of what is going on seems to make him feel more secure about the whole thing. Of course there's also iChat or Skype to keep in touch, much better than just the phone for small kids.

I was just away for almost three weeks on a work trip (the longest either one of us has been away from home since Chatton was born), and though he obviously missed me, everything went very well. He even found an idea for an Astronomy-related thing to draw each day on his calendar, so I now have this really cool set of drawings for my office wall!

If anybody has other tricks or ideas of things to do to make being away from home easier on the little ones, please share!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Designed to tempt me?

I haven't met a mother who's totally happy with her body image. I'm definitely not - although mostly I do nothing about it, even objectively I know I could use to lose 10 lbs or so. If found this Chocolate Blog today. which seems totally designed to tempt me. What is it about chocolate - why do I feel such a physical drag towards it....?

Friday, February 20, 2009

My 10 random things about being a mother

So I finally got around to tackle Astronomum's challenge of coming up with my list of 10 random things about being a mother. Here it goes:

1. I love reading stories to my son, and getting new books for him. I can spend a lot of time in the child section of a bookstore, and I probably spend more money than I should on that...

2. I both like and dislike always being the youngest mom out of all the parents of my son's friends. It makes me feel young and cool, but it's annoying because I often don't have that much in common with these people which are 10-15 years older than me.

3. One of the things I like the best is to watch my son and his dad play together. I'm amazed by how Boyfriend can get totally into these games, and give them his undivided attention. I wish I could do that too!

4. If I could magically change one thing about my life as a mother/scientist, it would be to get to live closer to family. With two careers and a child, I often wish we could get help from family once in a while, it would make things much easier I think.

5. I'm currently expecting a second child, a baby girl. I was so relieved when we found out, there was something about the idea of having two boys that was giving me nightmares.

6. Boyfriend and I have a tendency to spoil our son, not with sweets, toys or other things like that, but with our time and attention. I thought there was nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I'm afraid he will come to expect that kind of attention all the time and from everyone. Hopefully this won't be a problem when his little sister shows up.

7. I'm not much of a baby person. I'll gladly go through the first year with baby, but mostly because I know how fun it will be after that when she grows up a little.

8. Sometimes I get bored at the playground, which makes me feel guilty: shouldn't I be enjoying every single moment I spend with my child?

9. Like most women, the deadly sin I'm most guilty of is pride: I think my son is the most incredible person I have ever met, I can't even begin to explain how proud of him I am.

10. I'm glad I had my first child while in grad school since it gave me the chance to prove some people wrong (think older male faculty): it's possible to be a good mother and a successful young researcher at the same time! Actually, that's another thing I'm very proud of :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Warming to my new Town...

Moving to northern Europe in winter was never going to be easy. OK, coming from the North East US it's not that cold here, but it's really dark and grey most of the time.

When you move (and as postdocs we get some experience of this of course) I think you go through 3 phases. To start with everything is exciting about your new town. Then everything sucks - you want your old favourite restaurants, and your old friends - and you can't have them. Finally you get used to the place, and it becomes home. The dark damp winter moved us quickly onto stage two... I think we might go back to stage one once the spring comes and we can actually do stuff, but for now we're right in stage two.

However, I did manage some exploration last week, and in walking for the first time through one of the city parks I discovered an aviary of parrots, budges, and bunny rabbits. This is just in the middle of a city park. This city can't be all that bad if it looks after bunny rabbits. :) I'm looking forward to find a chance to take little one to see them.

Sorry - did I just break your mental image?

Last night I gave a talk to a local Astronomical Society. I haven't done this too much before, preferring to spend my outreach time talking to school kids in general. However the Astronomical Society asked (well they asked my boss, and he passed it off to me) so I said yes.

In general it was actually an OK evening. I'm a fairly comfortable speaker, especially when I'm sure I know the subject better than my audience (it's only those department colloquia which make me nervous now), and they all seemed to enjoy it. I got a lot of very relevant questions which I enjoyed answering. However the audience was depressingly homogeneous (in the old white guy sense)... I'm pretty sure I broke most of those people's mental images of an Astronomer. I think that's a good thing.... but it surprises me. This is an Astronomy Society which invites professional Astronomers to come and give talks once a month. Can they really have never invited a young female astronomer before?

Still, dealing with their frank disbelief that I was the speaker (and even more disbelief that I will be the speaker at a large national amateur astronomy meeting in April - a fact I couldn't persuade them to believe!) gives me a amusing anecdote to write about here!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

10 Random Things about Me as a Mother

Well I have mixed feelings about the "25 Random Things About Me" fad which is flying around Facebook, but I quite liked the idea of the shortened version for mothers suggested by "Mama", and which I also found on Two Women Blogging" done by Jay, so here goes....

1. Unlike Mama and Jay I love playing with little one on the floor. I especially like "colouring" with her.

2. I think I should want to keep everything which little one makes at nursery and is sent home, but I don't. I recycle quite a lot of it.

3. I'm absolutely the soft touch, and I think my husband is going to be a bit too strict. This worries me a lot as I think kids of parents who are too strict don't turn out well.

4. I love watching "Kung Fu Panda" and "Totoro" with little one, especially when she asks for "Kung Fu Panda" by collecting all her panda toys first. "Ni Hao Kai Lan" I want to toss out the window sometimes. "Elmo's Potty Time" is also starting to get a bit old, but I wish she'd get the idea so we keep watching it...

5. Sometimes I wish I had kept breast feeding past 15 months. I stopped because little one was no longer interested, but I think I might have enjoyed being a "militant breast feeder" of a toddler.

6. I still haven't let little one have any candy/sweets, except a tiny bit of chocolate when my husband wasn't looking.

7. I wonder sometimes if we should have waited a bit longer to have kids. I wouldn't change little one for the world, but I think I would have enjoyed a couple more years of pre-child married life and I still would have been having my first child in my early 30s (instead of late 20s).

8. When I see pregnant women part of me wants to warn them what they're in for, and then I remember how fun it was to be pregnant and play with newborn baby clothes and enjoy the anticipation. They'll figure out how hard it is for themselves, so I'll just leave them to it.

9. I wish little one would grow some hair so I could put it into pigtails etc. I tried for the first time this weekend, and it looked pretty ridiculous still!

10. I love watching little one "put her Dad to bed". "Lie down Daddy" she says with a surprisingly authoritative tone... if he doesn't obey she pushes him over, then she covers him with a blanket and jumps on him.

I hereby tag any mothers reading this post (that includes you AstroMaman), and if you are an "Astronomom" I would again encourage you to get in touch and join us - you can make it your first post here. :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Do I Still Have a Baby?

Little one is fast approaching her second birthday... and I'm starting to wonder how long I can call her a baby... She walks, talks in 2-3 word sentences and recently started sleeping in a bed instead of a crib. However, she still has "baby hair" (ie. not much - little enough that she's often mistaken for a boy) and likes to be carried around. The Oxford English Dictionary defines baby,n as: "An infant, a young child of either sex. (Formerly synonymous with child; now usually restricted to an infant ‘in arms.’)" So by their definition I seem pretty safe with my "baby".