Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happiness is frequency not magnitude

My sisters have read Option B in the past few months, and I currently have the family copy of it. I’ve gotten a third of the way in, but, while I objectively find it very interesting and useful, I have struggled to pick it up and finish it. It is a hard read if you have recently been through loss or trauma. It is a good read. I am very tired most nights, and don’t have the gumption for it.

One thing that struck me when reading was an assertion from a researcher that net happiness is a product of frequency of events/instances/interactions rather than magnitude. That one magical day is less happiness-inducing than several mostly happy days over a longer interval. That a big gesture carries as much weight as a small one, and the small ones win if there are more of them. This hit home, thudded into my chest with impact. I’ve tried over the past few months to keep it in mind. For me, for Pea, for my father, for my family. I send pictures more frequently, to everyone even though it means taking three pictures and sending three emails to accomplish it (two photos through apps, one real one, the real one disseminated). I try to reply to every email my father sends. Every time I’m in the hospital watching him dictate, I remember how tricky it really is, how long his update missives take him to compose, what the words “dictation isn’t going smoothly so I’ll sign off” really mean – an hour of barking at a microphone that is willfully ignoring him, mis-clicking, mis-deleting. I’m trying to make sure I make Pea smile every day, and not always with a story about Spud. I’m mostly failing to carve out happy things for me, but I’m eating more candy because I like candy a lot, so that’s working for now.

I spent the past few days in Capital City with Pea and Spud. We spent one day in the hospital visiting my dad with Spud corralled in our large playpen, two days in my dad and step-mother’s backyard hanging out and BBQing meals and playing games and pulling leaves out of Spud’s mouth*, and one day in the tiny French Canada town where my grandmother lives. The trip was notably easier with Pea in tow, not least because his relationship with my step-mother is largely unstrained, where I am struggling. Also, upping the ratio of adults:babies always makes for an easier trip.

Having Spud meet his great-grandmother was something I’ve wanted to happen for some time, and she was very delighted (and he seemed to be too!). I am sure that neither of them would remember the day if we asked them about it today – Spud’s not really into the long-term memory aspect of life yet, and my grandmother is sadly past it. It was important to me, but hard to justify when squeezing trips into my schedule, or when traveling alone. I’m so glad I made the time though, and it made me very happy indeed.


* the hospital has waived their concerns about liability and now allows my dad out of the ICU with only his wife as “staff”, which is a massive improvement for both his day to day life and the ease of visits with babies.

#MicroblogMondays: Reimbursements

microblog_mondays I’m going to try adding Microblog Mondays to my blog, as I’m a bit sporadic at the moment with updates, and I like the idea!

I haven’t figured out the best way to handle science reimbursements. I always find it awkward to ask to be paid back for things that I would have had to spend money on anyway, like meals. I also hate getting receipts and all the various proof in place to submit claims, so inevitably miss several items for each claim.

I was fondly mocked by my brother-in-law for treating myself to room service when interviewing at Innovation U, both mornings, and then only claiming one breakfast for fear of looking extravagant. “You’re not doing it right!” he laughed. “Claim it all! This is the only perk in academia!”

My new conundrum: how to claim travel expenses when Pea and Spud came too. My airfare, but not theirs. Baggage charges? A car rental when the bus would have been cheaper, but wouldn’t work with Spud? The Airbnb, which was the same price as a hotel room (but if it was more, then what?).

I’ve settled on claiming what I think I’d have spent without them in tow, which often ends up meaning I’m under-claiming, as there isn’t a way to partition out the expenses, or I don’t have the right receipts. This feels more honest to me, but leaves me out of pocket.

Do you have to request reimbursement for your work? What is your philosophy when doing so?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

On this day

Today I was the keynote speaker at a symposium at a university in Canuckian New York*. It was a one-day affair, with students giving talks, presenting posters, and with one headliner that the students had voted on. They voted to invite me, which is absurdly flattering. I hate when invited speakers only attend a very small slice of an event, so I made plans to be present for the full symposium.

Logistically, this was a bit complex, as the commute between New City and Canuckian New York is dire. Unforgivably dire. Google maps was predicting a driving time between 2:15 and 4:10 for the morning drive, and 3:45-5:10 for the evening drive. It is 1:15 without traffic. No, thank you, that sounds unremittingly awful. I elected to take the train, which reliably takes a slow 2 hours, but on which I can work and think and accidentally run the battery down on my phone before a long day away (oops).

To be at a symposium from 9:30 am until 4:45 pm, I left the house at 6:35 am. I will be home, if this train makes up some of our delayed start, by 7:30 pm. A seven hour day at work becomes a thirteen hour day with the commute. I will be home just in time to nurse Spud before he goes to bed, having nursed him when he woke up briefly at 5 am. He was asleep when I left the house. I will see him, awake, for less than half an hour today. There are people in New City who do this every day. There are more and more people in New City signing up to do this every day, as houses can be had in New City, and they are out of reach in Canuckian New York.

The symposium itself was fun. It was hosted by one of the broadest departments I’ve ever encountered, so there was significant variety in the expertise and jargon each student was comfortable with. I judged posters, met some potential collaborators, had a catch-up lunch with someone I knew in my Ph.D. but did not like much (verdict: still don’t, amusingly arrogant, but small doses needed), and gave my talk. When handing in my poster scoring sheet, my host offhandedly mentioned arranging reimbursement for my travel, and that he would lump it in with my honorarium. I did not know I was getting an honorarium. This talk was the first talk that contained only research from my own lab group, and I was ridiculously excited to give it. I was flattered (and it will reflect well for tenure) to be invited as a keynote. I had no expectation of also being paid for my trouble. I plan to pre-spend some of that honorarium on candy on the train home because I’m an adult like that.

I pumped twice sitting on the floor of the accessible/genderless bathroom. My host had offered his office, two buildings over and requiring him to cede me his key card and key on a day when he was running a symposium, so I demurred and used the bathroom. It had outlets, but the outlets didn’t work, so I was glad I’d tossed the battery pack into my pump bag at the last minute. It wasn’t nice, but it worked. I think it is a rite of passage for expressing moms to pump in a public bathroom, so I’ve dubiously checked that box off my list.

The undercurrent for the day was darker. I am part of a mom group online, and one of our members lost her husband suddenly and shockingly last night. She is away from their home, traveling to see family, and so has been having to handle a missing person and then identification of the body from afar, with her seven month old in tow. It is a complicated situation, but it is also simply tragic and deeply sad. We are trying to be good internet supports for her. My recent experiences with tragedy have not equipped me to be any more eloquent or helpful, it turns out. My heart aches for her.

I am vaguely aware that the outside world may have gone to absolute shit today, in a doomsday-clock kind of way. I walked to the train station from the symposium past some outright terrifying scrolling news headlines: “How to survive a nuclear attack”, “Fire and fury scorned, consequences likely”, “Canada to open border camp to house U.S. refugees”. I am ostriching for now. I want to have time to find reliable sources and reasoned opinion to discern how bad this is. I want to have seen Spud today before I spend time envisioning how to keep him safe in this unstable world.

I am trying to daily reflect on a handful of things I am grateful for. It is a proven anti-anxiety technique, and I find it relaxes a quiet constant tension I otherwise carry. Today it is not hard to think of things I am grateful for. A commute that is 20 min door to door, on reliable and swift public transit. The opportunity to share my lab’s research with colleagues, and to introduce the ideas that drive me to a new audience. Pea, hale and whole and a partner in all ways. This life we are building, in a country whose values I identify with. I am worried for the future, but I choose to spend this train ride eating candy and reflecting on the good.

* it is nothing like New York, but it likes to think it is, and other established nicknames are not flattering. I have quite a big soft spot for this city. It currently houses both of my sisters, and was where I met and fell in love with Pea.

If you’re happy and you know it

Give a soft “haung” sound with mouth half open and smiling eyes.

If you’re happy and you know it give a soft “haung” sound with mouth half open and smiling eyes.

IFFFF you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it, if you’re happy and you know it
Well, you get the drift.

Today Pea called Spud’s little pleased sound his “honk of approval” and now both of us are dying with laughter every time he does it. Which makes him laugh, which makes us laugh, and it’s been a cheerful day all round.

Events, in brief:

  • We are in Lobster County in Small Highly Scientific Town, where I am doing science and the boys are having a seaside holiday
  • Spud ate a hard boiled egg yesterday. At the time, it was very hard to tell how much he ate and how much he mashed into my shorts. It was unfortunately easy to tell how much he’d eaten once he aggressively vomitted the contents of his stomach six times, an hour after being put to bed (about a third of it). No egg for that kid for a few weeks, despite this being the ninth or so time he’s had egg. He has had a few other spit-uppier days on weekends that we now think might have correlated with egg. Nothing like this, but maybe a preamble of a reaction? We’ll see, and we’ll take it much slower in future than just handing him an egg and making sure he doesn’t choke.
  • Spud had his first picnic today, being largely restored to normal (hungry) health. He has mastered sucking purées out of the little pouches they come in*. He has not mastered swallowing quite yet, so while this could be mess-free in theory, instead he may have ruined his pants. C’est la vie.
  • I present at a workshop tomorrow, and I’m excited for it. Today at the workshop there was an hour of a presentation that I’d already seen, and I used it to get my inbox down to 4 messages. Granted, that makes me the person who is emailing others on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, but I’m feeling pretty smug about it.
  • I’m reading a book, the second book I’ve read since we moved Spud to his own room. I have missed reading at night so very much. It is integral to my overall health.

* we are, it turns out, parents of few convictions. We are not militant anything, it’s not our style. Spud eats steamed veggie spears, toast strips, bits and pieces of our food. Fruit in peeled wedges or puréed. Homemade purées and store-bought purées. Three French fries while in Lobster County and all of the avocado from an order of avocado and cucumber maki rolls (off of chopsticks!) in a sushi restaurant. Ill-advisedly, a whole boiled egg. Once. He holds spoons, or we feed him with spoons. He gnaws on strips of steak or we poke small shreds into his mouth. He has one bad habit, which is to squirrel food in his cheeks, with chokable hunks of broccoli appearing long after we’ve cleaned him up. We’re getting better at sweeping his mouth for strays, but that’s the only time he gags, so it is a work in progress.

Maybe don’t listen to Pea

I love Pea. I love him without reservation. He does have his foibles, and for the most part, I love him because of those foibles.

Pea isn’t great at doing things he doesn’t want to do. He’s a fully functioning adult, much more so than I am in many ways, but he is powerfully able to ignore things he worries about, where I stress and problem solve. Pea relies heavily on the “throw money at problems” solution option, which has not usually been in my reach and thus not in my repertoire. Pea is also pretty bad at administrative details.

Case study 1: Pea allowed his passport to expire when we were moving back to Canuckia, discovering this only once we were at the airport. Luckily, his green card sufficed as ID and he got a rush renewal over the Christmas holidays to be able to get back to Hilly Quirky.

Case study #2: Pea got his drivers license one day before his 40th birthday, when I was eight months pregnant. I think he sensed that I was about to lose my mind about it. It meant he did his drivers education course while Spud was a newborn, including evenings out of the house driving and all of his practicing with me with Spud in tow. It meant the earliest he’d be able to drive independently was early August, halfway through his pat leave at home. Pea waited until last week to book his driving exam, and so his appointment is in September. It would have been really nice if he was able to drive while on leave. We’re not quite close enough to libraries and early years centres to walk and not disrupt Spud’s naps. I do groceries at night or while Spud naps on weekends, which is moderately annoying or tiring. If I am being honest though, I sincerely doubt he would have ever driven Spud anywhere independently, because, despite being a reasonably good driver, he still really hates it.

So it is reasonable for me to not credit Pea’s gut feelings about reasonable timelines. Except recently I did, for something pretty enormous, and it may have shot us in the foot.

See, we didn’t get into our daycare for September. I knew this was possible as of April, and we found out it was definite in mid-July. I only registered us for the one: I had priority as a Innovation U. faculty member, and I got on the list before we’d even told Pea’s family we were expecting. At the time it felt presumptuous and rash to assume we’d even have an eight month old child, so I only signed up for the one.

In April, I was told to check in again in late June/early July, but that we were still pretty high on the wait list. I emailed July 3rd, my first day back at work. I got no response in that hectic first week, and emailed again, to three different email addresses, the second week of July. I heard back a definitive “not for September, possibly not til January” on the 18th.

I could have been hedging our bets from April, signing up for various centres or the very good home care system in our region. Pea insisted we could wait and see, and decide later. I agreed, but what was really driving both of our decisions was that we don’t actually WANT to put Spud in someone else’s care. Not a valid reason to avoid finding the best possible option, given we do actually have to do this.

As it stands, we’re a weird, last-minute, very young child to place and I’m getting a lot of (deserved) gentle chastising from various care coordinators.

It is likely to work out. Certainly we will be able to find care for Spud. There is a delightful home care option, but outside of our neighbourhood, so a driving pick-up/drop-off.  There are several very promising sounding nannies who have applied to our ad (the old “throw $$ at the problem solution, but also because Spud is still on three naps and that is never going to fly at home care with other kids). We’ll be ok, and Spud will be ok, and we’re not cutting any corners to make it happen, but it feels rushed and very stressful. An interview with the home care spot next week and hopefully with our top three or four nannies, and we’ll have a solution.

But I lost some sleep over this in the past ten days, and I didn’t really need to.

One perfect day

6:50 am – Spud wakes up, having slept through from 8 pm the night before, despite being overtired and fractious and difficult to get down. It is Pea’s weekend morning to sleep in, so I get up, nurse a smiley Spud, and change him. We look at a photobook of people who love him (made last week and an instant hit), read a story, and Spud practices crawling. I make tea, and a piece of toast.

8 am – Spud yawns and rubs his face. Off to the nursery we go, where I nurse him and change him and pop him in his sleep sack. I leave, and he’s asleep in ten minutes.

8:20 am – I drink my still-warm tea, and finish a report for my main sampling site, who are overdue for an update. I dig through site maps and concentration-of-chemicals data to come up with a reasonable plan for field work in September. My brain functions, as it has gotten 6-8 hours in one piece nine nights of the past ten. It is glorious.

10 am – Spud stirs and coos. An epic nap after yesterday’s 40 min stints! We have a nurse-tussle*, which I lose. I wash both our faces and change Spud into a onesie. We play, and roughhouse, and then Skype my father and step-mother. They are in good spirits, and Spud very obligingly crawls for them, smiles, and tries very hard to eat the camera on my phone, to their delight. Spud nurses properly while we have an adult conversation, which is unheard of in these distract-a-boy nursing days. We hang up and Pea emerges from the bedroom.

11:40 – Spud starts looking sleepy, so I nurse him and Pea puts him down for a nap. I make French toast, with berries leftover from dessert the night before. After brunch, Pea and I take each other to bed, in our own bed, which hasn’t happened in months – we’ve had to be a bit creative about locations when the crib was in our room. We snuggle and chat, and then get dressed for the day.

1:50 pm – Spud wakes up after another 1hr 45 min nap. Just in time for a nurse and change, and our friends arrive at 2 pm for desserts and croquet, in that order. My friend has made banana-fig cookies that are dairy and soy free. They are awful. I am delighted by them. We play one game of croquet with my childhood rules (which is apparently called “golf croquet”) and two games using the official rules. As adults, the real rules are much more interesting. Spud charms our friends, rolls the length of the living room, plays in his outdoor playpen, and then goes down for a nap at 4 on the nose.

4:40 pm – Spud wakes up, our friends entertain him (and themselves) with the exersaucer for a bit, and then head home. We cook spears of chicken for Spud and corn on the cob for all three of us. Spud repeatedly puts gigantic amounts of chicken in his mouth, gums them aggressively, and then spits them out. He makes better progress with the corn, and seems to really enjoy it. We eat our corn to be sociable and so I don’t get hangry.

7:20 pm – I bathe and nurse Spud, sing lullabies, and put him down (I do bedtime because I’m not home during the day. We switched when we swapped who was home). Pea makes our dinner, a lentil hummus that is one of our favorites. Spud falls asleep for the fourth time with no protests, capping a banner day for sleep. We eat dinner while watching the first two episodes of Call the Midwife. We both like it but are worried we can’t handle sad baby stories at the moment. We’ll see.

10 pm – we clean up the kitchen from dinner, I sterilize my pump parts for the week.

10:45 pm – I blog instead of going to bed. Good night, all. I hope you had a lovely day filled with friends and fun and food and accomplishments and that this coming week is a fulfilling one**.

* Spud ate waaaaaay less than normal today, so I ended up using my hand pump three times to take the edge off (and protect my supply). One boob or the other was over-full for most of the day, which was not super comfortable. 

** I am a significantly better person for having gotten a modicum of sleep. Like whoa. 

On babies, at multiple stages

I have a coherent post I want to write, but my brain is all scattered so it’s not in the cards today. So here are some things that have happened with an absence of detailed commentary.

  • My infertility buddy from Hilly Quirky has found herself pregnant with #2. I say “found” because they were not trying, and were preventing, and they do want a second but this is the very worst possible timing both career-wise and financially. She is feeling all the feelings. I weighed in on some pregnancy test pics (“Hubby says there is no line, but I think I see one?” attached to a picture with the clearest possible positive. Absolutely no question. Denial is a force, my friends.). I offered her support, regardless of what she chooses. It is a matter of months, this pregnancy versus when they would have chosen to try, but they are critical months. It took them 1.5 years to conceive their daughter. This fertility business is a fickle one.
  • Another good friend from Hilly Quirky has ventured into IVF, and has used me as a resource while navigating the process. She transferred one genetically normal embryo. Her hcg at 9 dpt was 39, next test on Monday because she was going out of town for a few days. I told her not to google, and to try to stay in the waiting space. It is not really borderline, that is low. Reminiscently low. It brought up a lot of pretty awful spans of time in my life. Hard to know what to hope, aside from “not ectopic”, so I’ve settled on that as my plea to the universe. This fertility business is a fickle one.
  • We moved Spud to his own room on Saturday. He slept through the night Saturday night. Sunday, he nursed at 4:50 am and went back to sleep until 8 am. He did essentially the same thing Monday night. Last night, he went back to his usual 12 am, 3 am, 5 am wake ups, but he resettled himself at 5 am, so only had two feeds (and went to bed massively over tired after either skipping his third nap entirely or taking a 10 minute nap – we’re not sure. Plus no solids dinner because carrots were not a hit). So I don’t know if we are really out of the woods on sleep, but that is massively improved, and I feel like a new person.
  • I checked in with our daycare, and we are 25th on the wait list and the infant spots are full for September. So we will be looking at home care in our neighbourhood or a nanny, neither of which we really know how to navigate. Suggestions welcome for what to look for. Both of us are really sad about Spud going into care. I’m tempted to schedule out what it would look like if we time-shared care, get Pea to look into part-time work, which Golden Company allows and prefers to leave. It is nonsense to think we provide better care than a care-giver, but it is hard to think of him in someone else’s hands, even if they are more experienced. I am having a much much harder time with this than I expected, probably unsurprisingly. I was reading some daycare guidelines which encouraged sending a picture book of parents and family, and a lovey for comfort, and my heart cracked open.
  • Spud is trying really really hard to crawl and is making progress. Now he can get up on all fours, scootch his legs forward, and then flop forward face first. It’s not elegant, but it is forward motion of a sort. He can also lift each hand while on all fours, so it’s only a matter of (not much) time before he puts that all together. We need more baby gates, and soon.
  • Perhaps related to trying to crawl/learning to roll, or perhaps worrying, Spud’s also arching his back much much more often when held. It is new, and coincides with the crawling practice, so we’re currently chalking it up to demanding to be mobile. He still is happy to cuddle and nurse and snuggle with books, so he’s not against personal contact, he just wants to see the world from upside down when we’re walking? It may be a tired cue, we’re still figuring it out.
  • I ordered printed photos to put in Spud’s baby book and went a little mad and got lots to send to family, and now I have a photo of Pea and Spud on my wall at work, and another of just Spud. I hesitated before putting them up. I’m still navigating parenting and academia and how best to be a #scimom from a public perspective – that’s the post for another day.