Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hello summer

Today was the last day of school for the boy. Which is crazy. I believe that school should end in June, and start in September, rather than mid-August to late May. I don't know why no one in the school district asked me my opinion on this.

We now start our crazy summer schedule, in which I wake up early and work mornings, pick up the boy at lunch and deposit him at his new afternoon Spanish class. My workday is over at 3:30. Tim's workday starts around lunchtime. We both work into the evenings.

Why, you ask, are we torturing ourselves with this schedule? And will it really work? We worked similar hours six years ago (that long?) when we had an infant and had just moved to Texas. We wanted to optimize family time -- we couldn't bear the idea of leaving the infant with someone else eight hours a day. So we hired a part time nanny, organized our schedules to take turns working from home every other day, in overlapping shifts. I taught on campus Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Tim went into his office Tuesdays and Thursdays. The time constraints and stress of new jobs made us both focus and use our time very carefully. And it worked for us, for that little while. I still look back upon it as one of the hardest things I have ever done.

But we're trying it again. Tim feels strongly that a kid should get to play at home all summer long. I feel strongly that a kid should take swimming lessons all summer long. And we both thought Spanish immersion would be more interesting and useful than generic day camp. I suggested hiring summer help, and I suppose that's still an option. But Tim wanted to try it on our own first. So here we go.

Hello, summer.

Goodbye, non-essential personal time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Wednesday I wandered around the campus where I was a graduate student. It has been six years since I graduated. I only spent five years of my life there. So I have been away longer than I was a student there. It was inevitable, but still seems strange. Am I really that old?

As I walked into the campus, I was remembering. I passed so many landmarks, and thought about how they were so important in my life. We used to drive up that road to go shopping. I went running along that path -- there is a garden hidden at the end. And there is the table where friends and I would eat lunch on a nice day. They've replanted the tree that had died. Tim and I used to laugh about that tree. -- Wasn't it nice when I used to belong? I missed that.

I met with a few people, said hello, talked a little shop, worked for a while in the library, and then left, walking back to catch the bus.

As I walked out of the campus, I was remembering. I remembered how I failed my first qualifying exam. How I hated having to find an advisor. Afraid I would never do dissertation-quality research. The pains of teaching assistantships and grading students with a high sense of entitlement. Never able to rest. Never being good enough or finished enough. The angst and insecurity, among myself and my peers. -- Wasn't it nice that I no longer belonged? Can't miss that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Five pictures

I have been hiding, trying to get some work done. Maybe I will write more on that later.

For now, I offer instead the following images. These are the most exciting things to happen to us this month so far. You may invent your own captions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's up with us

Jonathan participated in a 5K fun run at school on Friday. His time: 56 minutes and 50 seconds. Yup. He pretty much walked the whole way, and was near the very last to finish. I've been thinking since then that maybe we should put the boy in soccer. Perhaps then he could keep up with his friends. Of course, he didn't care that he didn't keep up. He just wanted the promised popsicle for completing the race. And his dad thinks running is boring and painful, so why push the boy? Why indeed? I just feel like he's missing something when he can't enjoy being out on a nice spring day feeling his legs move. Two against one. I won't win this one.

Tim got a beehive. He has been saying for a while that he wants a beehive in our backyard -- as long as they were someone else's bees and he didn't have to take care of them. Turns out that the uncle of a neighbor up the street is that kind of a beekeeper. On Friday, this man brought over our very own beehive to go in the back corner of the garden. Tim is giddy. He goes outside a few times a day to see how his bees are doing, and checks for them in all our different flowers. The owner will come check on the hive every couple of weeks. Meanwhile, they seem to be settling in nicely.

Me, my biggest recent development is a pinched nerve that makes my neck and shoulders ache. I've had it for a couple of weeks now. Some days are worse than others. I've scheduled an appointment with a doctor, and maybe I'll hear something that will help. I haven't been to see a doctor for a few years, and while I'm at it, I've been thinking that I ought to ask about all the other aches and pains and ills that I haven't asked about for a few years. But then I will come across as a hypochondriac. Can't wait.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Songs for my grandmother

Mother's day is coming up. In our house, it has never been a big holiday. I remember hearing when I was growing up that some women couldn't stand the day. They boycotted church to avoid it. I wondered what the big deal was? Show up, get a flower, watch the kids sing. Gotta be better than your typical Sunday.

One year a woman explained publicly why she hated the day. Apparently she had spent the morning yelling at her kids, trying to get them dressed nicely and out the door. They arrived at church frustrated and angry. Then the children promptly went up to the front of the room and sang:
Mother dear, I love you so
Your happy smiling face
Is such a joy to look at
It makes home a lovely place.
Said mother explained that this was not her reality. She felt ashamed to accept her flower, as she was obviously a failure.

Meh. I'm pretty confident that the words to the song are not anybody's reality. At least not all the time. In fact, all those songs -- about flowers reminding us of mothers, and mothers being tender and kind and true, and having beautiful shining eyes like glistening stars -- they weren't written for you or me, or even about you or me. I sang them when I was a kid, so clearly they were written for a completely different set of mothers than the set I now find myself in. Actually, I think they were written for a different set of mothers than the one my own mother was a part of.

They were written for my grandmother. And not both of my grandmothers, although Geneve was a wonderful lady. Those songs were written just for my Grandma Alberta (yup -- the one lucky enough to be named after her dad).

My Grandma Alberta married a soldier near the end of World War II. While he was on leave, she got pregnant. At the end of the war, my grandpa returned home to his wife and a baby boy he had never met before. They went on to have six children. Thus my grandma was a mother -- a new mother -- in those years following World War II. The more I learn about those years, the more I think they were very very strange years in the history of the U.S. I am not a historian, and so I do not completely understand. But I do know that expectations for women seem to have been turned on their heads and focused to a very narrow ideal. An ideal in which mother was a "joy to look at", and "tender and kind and true", and made one think of flowers.

I wasn't there, but somehow I envision my grandma as trying to live up to this ideal. She definitely put up with a lot more from my grandpa that I ever would have, especially in those early years of marriage. Grandpa wasn't abusive or anything; he was just a dreamer with very unconventional and uncomfortable dreams, many involving lack of indoor plumbing. He dragged his family along as he fulfilled those dreams. I assume that Grandma put up with so much because she was a woman of her times. Women of that time put up with their men, cheerfully. While singing of flowers and meadows and clover.

Thinking about mother's day, and songs about my Grandma Alberta sung in primaries world wide, and the strange post WWII world in which she lived, made me think of the following words which I read in one of my academic journals very recently. The quote is from a book review by Margaret A. M. Murray, of the book Pioneering Women in American Mathematics, by Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke.
"... over the years 1920-1939, approximately one out of every seven Ph.D.'s in mathematics in the United States was awarded to a woman.

"In the years following World War II, owing to complex sociopolitical forces, women's share of the Ph.D.'s dropped precipitously. An oft-cited statistic ... asserts that, among the mathematically talented, boys outnumber girls by approximately 13 to 1, corresponding to a presence of women of just over 7%. Perhaps one reason this statistic has gained so much traction is that it matches so well with the proportion of mathematics Ph.D.'s awarded to women during the first three decades after the war. Indeed, it was only in the early 1980s that women's share of the U.S. mathematics doctorates rebounded to their pre-World War II levels. To those who assume that American women are just now attaining critical mass in research mathematics, statistics on the pre-1940 women Ph.D.'s often come as a bit of a shock."
I think Grandma Alberta was affected by these "complex sociopolitical forces". Although I'm positive she never wanted a Ph.D. in mathematics, I do wonder how my world might have been different if she hadn't been quite as willing to follow my grandpa around the world on his wild adventures.

While I was growing up, my family lived quite close to these grandparents -- at least while they were in the U.S. I identified with the dreamer who was my grandpa. In fact, he may deserve the credit for many of my dreams. He ran off to graduate school at Columbia University on the GI bill -- the other end of the world as far as his parents and siblings were concerned. With that experience in his background, he always spoke to me as though graduate school would be part of my future.

But Grandma was quieter. I remember deciding once to make an effort to become better acquainted with the homemaker who was my grandma. We didn't seem to have as much in common as Grandpa and I. I vaguely remember working on sewing projects with her. She wasn't convinced that my grandpa's dreams for me were appropriate for a young woman. But she yielded to my grandpa.

Soon after I was married, now in graduate school and vaguely nervous about qualifying exams in my future, I visited my grandparents' home over a holiday. They both sat me down in their living room to talk. My grandpa gestured to the photo of his first great-grandbaby, a dark haired, dark eyed beauty of a child. He and Grandma both pointed out to me that while dreams and education were important, there were things that were more important.

Me, I just smiled at them, with my lovely shining eyes (just like the stars that twinkle way up in the deep blue skies).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beauty and me and high school

Earlier this week I was directed to this article, which talks about the huge advantage strikingly beautiful people enjoy in life. For example, two people apply for a job. Their experience is the same, their resumes are the same, a consultant even trains them both to have similar interview skills. After the interview, the average looking person is not called back. The highly attractive person gets the job offer.

I shared this with Tim, and his response, as a strikingly attractive (if somewhat hairy) male was, "Yeah, but what kind of job?"

Well, rereading the article, the men both had "corporate experience" and had "run their own companies." The women both had been "secretaries and saleswomen." So ok, maybe these jobs weren't about living in a cave and writing code, with all meetings conducted by phone, as is the job of the most highly attractive man I know. But Tim's quick question made me wonder, and then flip the question. Are there jobs out there where the more highly attractive person would actually be discriminated against? And that made me recall a story from my past.

When I was 16, I interviewed for a high school program that involved knowing a little bit about government and social science. Just before the interview, I had been taking one of Mr. Talbot's notorious AP Biology exams. You know, the kind of exam where you get one hour with the test, and you write as fast as you can as much as you can, dumping everything you've been memorizing for weeks onto the paper, hoping and praying you put in the right key words in there somewhere, and then your arm aches from writing when you're done. That class was brutal. Anyway, as I said, my interview was immediately after the exam, and my government and social science brain waves had been buried by the more pressing biology ones.

I was dressed up nicely in a neat shirt and skirt. I had put in the time to carefully type and prepare my application. I was interested in the program -- my older brother had enjoyed participating in the boy's program the year before -- and I was motivated to do my best.

But the interview was a flop. A total joke. The interviewers consisted of about five professionally dressed older women. They were representatives from government and the Larger Community, taking seriously their charge to find the best candidates for the summer program, believing that the future of our government and community was in their hands.

To ensure they made no mistakes, they asked basic questions like, "Who is the vice-president of the United States?" and "Who signed the Declaration of Independence first?" These were questions to which I knew the answer, even at age 16, but for which I could not recall the answer without first a long, embarrassing pause as I waded past the biology facts. And then the answer came out with a big question mark at the end...?

Even more damning, they asked "Aside from your mother, what woman do you admire the most and why?" I think they were looking for an impressive stateswoman, although perhaps they would have accepted a highly regarded businesswoman or artist. Someone with name recognition. But for me, since the question was started with a reference to my mother, the only woman who came into my brain was my dead grandmother. I had recently found her old yearbook, from the 1920s, in a chest in our basement, and I had been amazed to find that she was well liked, an athlete, and a writer, and very involved in her Duchesne, Utah, community back when she was 16 and in high school. So grandma's name came out. Very wrong answer.

Interestingly, the program was not able to attract many applicants in my school. I don't think there were enough applicants to fill the slots they were supposed to fill. But when the results came out, I was definitely not on the list, or even the alternate list. I had obviously shown these important older women of the community that I was pretty much a complete idiot.

Anyway, how does this relate to the original topic of the post? Because those older women from the community, after I had completely tanked it during the interview and was standing up to leave, all commented on how pretty my skirt was and how nice I looked. I remember being a little surprised at that, but thanking them politely.

But doesn't that strike you as odd? These women, these power women of the greater community, were secretly thinking, "This girl is a complete and total idiot," and publicly they were complimenting me on my looks.

Why? Was it because they hoped to soothe my disappointment and my ego by letting me know I was pretty? Did it help them feel better about themselves as they scraped my name off my list? "Not much going for this one in the way of brains." Or were they just trying to end something that was all around a very embarrassing experience on a positive note, and the fact that I was wearing a nice skirt (it was nice, by the way -- one of my favorites) was the only positive thing they could think of as I stood to leave? A consolation prize?

You know, all these years later, I think the reason their incongruous last comment about my looks bothers me is that it seems to imply that Pretty is a lesser species. They had interviewed me and found I was definitely not Smart like they were, but I could be Pretty. As they sent me away, they tried to point out to me that I was interviewing out of my league. This position was for a Smart, and as a Pretty, I didn't have enough brains to realize it, but I was not in their class.

Probably I am reading too much into that bizarre comment. But still. I wonder.

And for the record, my label was definitely not Pretty in high school. Pretty's got asked to dances and calls by boys. I was a Smart. And most of the time, prom season being an exception, I could live with the Smart label.

Anyway, I still laugh about the interview when I think about it. But reading the article about beauty, and wondering about its effect upon where we end up in life, made me wonder again about those women.

If the interview had gone well, would they still have complimented me on my looks?

Or, going with the theme of the first paragraph of this post, if I had been strikingly beautiful, would it have mattered that I couldn't remember the vice president?