Category Archives: Soapbox

Pandemic Travelling

My family took the plunge last month and travelled overseas. I suppose it was technically ‘optional’ travel, but it didn’t feel very optional since we hadn’t seen Q.’s family since 2019 (the kids had not one, but two cousins who hadn’t been born the last time we were there). We wouldn’t have flown just for a vacation. I was very stressed about the decision, but we survived and came home Covid-free. I thought it might be useful to post about a few things that helped us travel without catching Covid.

There are many reports in the news about the chaos in Canada with renewing passports and the chaos at airports, and our personal experience attests that none of these reports is exaggerated. Getting the kids their Canadian passports was very stressful even though we started the application process long before our trip date (I’d like to acknowledge how amazing the Australians were at processing the applications, while also recognizing that we probably got better treatment because we were lodging the applications overseas as I’ve heard reports things are bad there too). When I finally picked up the kids’ passports (24 hours before our flight), I thought the worst was over. I was wrong.

We also fell afoul of the delays at the airports. Every flight we took to get to Australia was late. In two cases, we were late (at least partly) because the plane was waiting for late passengers. On both occasions, that lateness caused us to then miss our connecting flight (which did not wait for us). One of these missed connections led to an unexpected three-day layover in a city where we had not planned to spend more than 90 minutes. I do not think the airline is going to compensate us for any of this.

The total travel time (door-to-door) ended up being 113 hours, for a trip that is normally 24.

Like I said, I wouldn’t have chosen to fly this summer just for a vacation.

But we went, and (eventually) we got there, and we did have a good time. So here’s how we stayed Covid-free:

Luck

Let’s face it, in an era of ‘personal responsibility’ and lack of any government mandates or precautionary measures, you can’t actually be sure that you can protect yourself from catching Covid if you go out into the world. I’m very aware that we engaged in a number of high-risk activities, and the odds could have gone against us. We spent hours upon hours in airplanes or airports. We had to eat indoors on some occasions (including in airports and on airplanes). We didn’t do a lot of things we would have done in a pre-pandemic world, but we were also out in the world a LOT more than we had been at home. The house where we stayed the whole time we were overseas had people in it who didn’t mask and who participated in activities we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing (eating in restaurants, exercising in group settings indoors, etc.), and they continued with these behaviours while we were there. People were invited maskless into that house without rapid tests beforehand. There was an unmasked toddler sitting directly across the aisle from me on our long return flight who spent the entire trip coughing. We were lucky. We could create safer travel, not safe.

Privilege

Everything we did to make our travel safer cost money, or time, or both. We could afford an unexpected three-day layover that the airline will not be compensating us for. Travelling generally requires privilege. Travelling as we did requires even more. I had the time and the knowledge to navigate the system to fix the problem with the passports (including lining up outside one of the offices at 4.30 am to make sure I would be able to speak to an actual person).

The tools we used to keep ourselves safer cost money.

Public health shouldn’t depend on privilege.

Government Measures

Ok, there are almost no government measures left, but Canada still requires masks on airlines and in airports and THANK GOODNESS IT DOES.

Yes the air on the airplanes is heavily filtered, blah blah blah, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting (more on that below). I saw a study (linked to on Twitter, can’t find it at the moment) which suggests that the filtering on airplanes makes the 18 inch space between your face and the person sitting next to you equivalent to a 2 meter distance. So the filtering does help, a lot, but without masks it’s not going to be enough.

Australia was also in a BA 5 wave while we were there and there was lots of hand-wringing and suggestions that it was strongly recommended to wear masks in indoor spaces, but no mandates, so guess what? Not many other people were wearing masks.

(Effective) Masks

We wore KN-95-equivalent masks everywhere, except in the house where we stayed and in two other relatives’ houses, who were part of our visit bubble (and who also aggressively rapid tested whenever anyone felt even the slightest bit off). Every public transit vehicle. Every shop. Every indoor space, and some outdoor spaces when they were crowded. I was really proud of my kids, who were almost always the only kids wearing a mask (and often no one else around us was masking). They masked up without complaint every time. They slept in their masks on the plane. They asked me whether I had masks whenever we left the house. When one of our relatives had a big family party four days before we left to come home, my kids put their masks on every single time they went into the house, even though they were surrounded by unmasked children.

We get our masks here (no affiliation, I just love them and want them to get all the recognition they deserve). I brought packs of their kid-sized masks for my SIL, who struggles to find good KN-95s for children in Australia.

When we took 113 hours to get there, we went through a crazy amount of masks. I packed way more than I thought we would need, and I’m so glad I did. I’m also glad we didn’t lose our luggage because I underestimated on the way there how many masks we would need to have in our carry on. Lesson learned.

The masks we buy cost $15.90 (plus tax) for 10. They’re good for eight hours continuous wearing (but in theory you can then air them out and reuse them if they’re not dirty/damaged – the kids’ masks have never made it past a full day of wear). We have spent hundreds on them in the past year.

Rapid (and Molecular) Tests

I brought 20 rapid tests on our trip. We used almost all of them. Some of them were free; some of them we bought online.

We used them to confirm none of us caught Covid on our (extended) journey there.

We used them to gather safely with family.

We used them whenever one of us appeared symptomatic. Some relatives we spent a lot of time with nearly always had cold/allergy symptoms (which inevitably transferred to us). So we all spent heaps of time doing rapid tests to be certain that’s all it was.

We also had a couple of the Lucira Check It molecular tests, which are an at-home PCR-level test. These are really expensive – $75 USD per test. One of my relatives has access to a steady supply of them as a work benefit, and they’re able to flick a few extras on to us. Without easy access to PCR testing, these help us determine whether we need to be masking the entire household during those days when a rapid test might produce a false negative.

We used one when E. had a weird rapid test result (a shadow, not a line, and not quite in the right spot for the second line) and one when Q. was sick with the other family’s cold and we had a big family event to attend. Both times the tests were negative. Both times the result was a huge relief.

Again, see privilege above.

CO2 Monitor

I made a somewhat impulse decision to buy a CO2 monitor right before we left on our trip. I’d borrowed one from a friend for a few days earlier in the spring, so I knew how useful they could be, but I’d been hesitating over the cost.

In the end, I took the plunge (because, privilege), and I am SO GLAD I did. I bought an Aranet4 from here (no affiliation but they were fabulous to deal with and so fast!), which was the one my friend (who is a ventilation engineer by profession) told me was the best one to get. Quick summary: the monitor provides readings every five minutes of the level of CO2 in the air. Outside air has around 420 ppm. 1200 ppm means about 2% of the air you’re breathing has already been in someone else’s lungs. Cleaner air = less chance of catching Covid. (The monitors don’t take into account the impact of HEPA filters.)

That monitor paid for itself when our outbound trip took 113 hours instead of 24. It told me how good the air was in the airports (in three of the four, exceptional; in the fourth, very good). It told me how good the air was in the airplanes (disappointingly high, although I know the air is heavily filtered). It told me how good the air was in the hotel we ended up staying in (very very good, including in the restaurant).

When you are flying/travelling continuously for as long as we were, you can’t refuse to eat or drink and just keep your mask on. It’s not possible or safe. The CO2 monitor let us make better choices about when/where to unmask. It’s a lot less stressful to eat indoors for the first time since the pandemic started when you can see that the air is reading 480 ppm.

The kids had a particular public transit route they desperately, desperately wanted to take – it was on their list of things they most wanted to do down under. We rode it, and learned the air quality wasn’t good enough. So on the return trip, we took a different option with better air.

Now that we’re back home, I’m going to use the CO2 monitor to help me figure out which things we can add back into our lives. Indoor spaces can be safe with masks (even without mandates) if the ventilation is good enough. Covid isn’t going away, and our governments don’t seem interested in doing the work to control it. I would like to be able to do more things with my kids, but I would also like to know that we’re choosing safer environments.

I’m also really excited about the potential of the Raven CleanAir Map, which hadn’t launched yet while we were away. This is an attempt to crowdsource CO2 readings of public spaces, to help everyone make better choices. Someone posted a reading for a packed movie theatre in my city. No mask mandate. The air was excellent! We haven’t been to the movies the entire pandemic, and I’m not sure I could cope with a full house, but maybe seeing a movie that’s been out for a while is a possibility for us now.

Governments should be requiring businesses and public spaces to post their CO2 readings, and should have incentive programs to improve the ventilation in buildings that are found to have inadequate airflow.

But they won’t, and they don’t, so citizen activism will have to fill in the gaps.

I hope this was helpful! Does anyone else have good travel tips?

1 Comment

Filed under COVID-19, Down Under, Soapbox, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

I don’t wanna fight Cerberus

Getting out of bed right now is hard.

Doing the bare minimum of what is required to keep work/house/kids functioning is hard.

I am really struggling.

I ran into a school parent who’s also an academic (not quite a solid friend but better than an acquaintance) while picking up take-home PCR tests before the winter break. She told me she was on stress leave for depression.

I am not proud of this but my first, gut, reaction was jealousy.

I wished I could be depressed and go on leave too.

I have another good friend who’s a high-school teacher who is on leave for burnout. The mother of E’s best friend is trying to find a locum to cover her practice so she can take a few months off (she’s a palliative care doctor).

The number of people falling apart around me – strong, focused, driven people with good support networks and masses of privilege – is staggering.

We’re all hitting our breaking points.

I went so far as to look up my collective agreement and I could get six weeks of medical leave with the right documentation but it would be incredibly challenging to find someone to cover my four classes (and the responsibility for finding said replacement would land on Q’s shoulders and he is also hanging on by a thread) and I feel a sense of obligation to my students, so I think I am just going to try to push through until April and then sleep for all of May.

I last posted in late November, right before my kids got their first vaccine. I thought that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was pre-Omicron, of course.

E. had one week out of self-isolation before another case in his class sent him home again. P. followed very shortly afterwards as an outbreak at the school emerged (caused by, according to the parental grapevine, an ill-advised birthday party). Neither of them caught COVID.

They were home doing online learning (with varying degrees of success) until the winter break. Then they were home for two weeks because of the break. Then they were home for another two weeks of online learning (with even less success) because Omicron had exploded and our hospitals were overloaded. And then they were home for another two weeks even though the schools resumed because we didn’t want them to go back into the school until they were two weeks past their second vaccine. They’ve been home now for almost two full months.

The NACI has recommended an eight-week spacing for 5-11s for their vaccine based on research showing this interval produces a longer lasting immune response. But parents can opt for an earlier interval if they provide informed consent. We moved their second appointment four times trying to keep up with what the province was doing. In the end, we gambled that there was no way they would send the kids back into the schools two weeks ago since the hospitals were still overloaded and they’d done basically nothing to make the schools safer.

Instead, our provincial government sent the kids back at the same time as they:

  • removed schools and daycares from their list of high-risk settings
  • restricted access to PCR testing to high-risk settings (making all kids and educators and their families ineligible for PCR testing)
  • stopped tracking and reporting cases of COVID in the schools
  • stopped dismissing cohorts if a case was reported in a class

They made the schools LESS SAFE and said they were empowering parents. (Counting the days until the provincial election in June.)

E. called the premier’s office to explain to them that stopping testing was ‘just like if you told everyone not to call the fire department. It wouldn’t keep any houses from being on fire, it would just mean that no one would know which ones were burning’. The (long-suffering) woman who took our call said he had made a very good point and that he had a been a bright spot in her day. (Many people are very angry.)

The thing that E. couldn’t get over was that we all made fun of Trump when he said he wanted to cut back on testing and now here we were doing the exact same stupid thing. (Yes my kid is more qualified to be premier than our premier.)

In the end the kids got to seven weeks from their first dose, so almost the full recommended spacing. They are now a full two weeks past their second appointment. We are sending them back tomorrow because we can’t keep them home any longer and continue to do our jobs. They have CA-N95 masks (not an affiliate link, I just love them – they are always sold out but you can sign up for email notifications when they’re back in stock and then drop everything when you get the email and rush to the site to order them). We are taking them home for lunch for at least the entire month of February. We are keeping P. out of her aftercare program.

The logistics surrounding FOUR separate trips to the school per day are horrific but as I said to Q., it can’t be worse than having them at home (especially P. who desperately needs the socialization and the French exposure. E. would be fine to keep home for longer).

In the fall, I felt they were safe.

I don’t feel like they’re safe anymore.

Our board has decided to continue to inform parents if there is a confirmed case in the class, but this requires:

  • The parents to have access to RATs to know that their kid is positive (since no PCR eligibility)
  • The parents to notify the school (since they are not required to do so; even if they, by some miracle, get a PCR test public health will not automatically tell the school)
  • And even then the class won’t be dismissed so we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we pull our kid for the rest of the week
  • Oh, and did I mention that we’ve decided positive cases only need to isolate for five days and then can merrily rejoin society without needing to use a RAT to confirm that they’re no longer contagious? Fun times.

The public health guidelines are a joke. The only way they make sense is if you take the view that the government’s plan is for everyone to get Omicron so the wave can be over by the spring and it can look like they beat the pandemic in time for the election. And while I 100% believe this is their plan (and I do think it’s a plan and not just extreme incompetence), I’m still not sure how it’s all meant to work out if we’re crashing the hospitals. Or if a whole bunch more kids end up in hospital (because our vaccination rates for 5-11s are ridiculously low and 0-4s have no vaccine coverage at all).

The cognitive load of trying to decide what to do with the kids, of trying to manage my work with the kids at home, of trying to rationalize sending them back knowing that the government has made them less safe, has been really hard. I know that they are now extremely unlikely to need to be hospitalized. I also know that recent studies are suggesting that they are now very unlikely to get long COVID. But I refuse to take the view that ‘we’re all going to get it’ and we should just accept the inevitable. I don’t want them to get COVID. We have no idea what the long-term effects of infection are going to be.

So they are going back and I hope I can sleep at night and I hope the next time I post on here it isn’t to tell you that my kids caught COVID at school.

(Post title from Surface Pressure which I like to watch on days when I feel I haven’t done enough crying already.)

6 Comments

Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Soapbox

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I’m addicted to US news.

It felt like a survival tactic for years: know what was going on south of the border so that if the orange fascist-in-chief started a war, you’d at least be aware it was happening.

It was an anxiety control mechanism: if I understood everything that was happening, everything that mattered, I could feel better about my total inability to change what was happening.

Gradually, over the past couple of months, I have begun to realize how these patterns of anxiety played out. I have begun to recognize (again) that the US is a separate country, and I do not need to know how the Senate confirmation hearings for President Biden’s cabinet picks are going. I feel like I need to know, in the same way that I once needed to know the names of (far too many) counties in Arizona or Georgia, but the truth is, I don’t.

Nor do I need to obsessively follow the people on Twitter who used to tell me how terrible everything was. They’re still there. They’re still tweeting. But the adults are back in charge, and things are finally, blessedly calm.

You can log on to Twitter at any given point in the day and the hashtags are just normal, boring hashtags.

You can no longer immediately tell what the president has recently said or done from what’s trending.

I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m realizing how often I was in the habit of checking particular websites to see what was being said or done, how often my go-to ‘break’ was a quick troll through the international news, how much of my time and mental energy was sucked up every day by these habits, this need to know.

I am not for a minute suggesting that all the problems in the US have been magically solved with the arrival of the new administration, just that it is time I stopped paying as much attention to them.

I should know more about what is going on in my own country than I do about the state of the US.

That hasn’t been true for years.

I can easily name more governors than premiers. I can’t name a single Canadian supreme court justice, but I can rattle off the names of those who sit on SCOTUS.

I need to reset my priorities.

But addictions are hard to break.

7 Comments

Filed under Anxiety Overload, Soapbox

Sleepless

I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for the last few days.

It’s the time change. We had a big weather system come through on Sunday night which resulted in me getting a migraine and going to bed at 8 p.m., which definitely didn’t help reset my body clock.

But it’s also the US election.

Q. reminds me every now and then, when he’s heard too much about Senate races in Kansas and Alaska and South Carolina (oh please, oh please, let Jaime Harrison win), or about the fate of the 127,000 votes cast by drive-through voting in Harris County, that “it is a different country”.

And yes, it is a different country. E. asked me worriedly the other day what would happen to us if Trump won again and I was able to reassure him truthfully that our day-to-day existence would not change.

But at the same time, this election in particular feels more consequential for those of us stuck watching from the outside.

If the wrong person wins, it will be that much harder for Canada to get COVID under control.

If the wrong person wins, and the US is the first to develop a vaccine, it’s already clear that Canadian health authorities won’t be sure whether they can trust it.

If the wrong person wins, the planet is basically fucked, because we don’t have four more years to get our act in order.

Plus there’s that whole “living next to a country sliding into authoritarianism” thing, which hasn’t worked out so well for other countries in the past.

My closest friends in the US are all mixed-citizenship couples. Without exception, they’ve said to me that if Trump wins again, they’re leaving. They say this with the guilty conscience of those who know that they have an escape route when millions of others don’t, but it doesn’t change their view that if he gets in again, the only viable option is to flee. One friend (who lives near Boston) told me via email that they’ve bought paper maps of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in case they have to make a run for Canada and the internet had gone down. She wasn’t joking.

There’s a lot of positive energy on Twitter, but also a lot of fear that it will be 2016 all over again. When I get stressed, I scroll through #turntexasblue and read the voices of the thousands of people who are working so very hard to flip that state and end the entire thing tonight. I’ve basically lived on that hashtag for the past week (@HarrisVotes is the best government social media account out there, as an aside).

Four years ago Q. and I went to bed worried but hopeful things might turn around. We woke up to something that felt unreal. We knew it would be bad, but we had no idea it could possibly be THIS bad.

I hope he loses bigly.

I hope his enablers in the Senate are dragged down with him.

I hope the result is so clear and so decisive that no one can question the result.

I hope there’s a peaceful transfer of power (I can’t believe I even feel I have to write that about the US, but there you go).

I hope that, come January, I can sleep again at night because I won’t have to worry about what the president of the United States, the once-was ‘leader’ of the free world, has been Tweeting.

I can’t vote. But it’s not true that I don’t have a stake in this election.

I hope everyone who can vote, does.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Soapbox

Raising an Ally

E. has questions about what is happening in the US right now (and the supporting protests around the world).

He has MANY questions.

I am doing my best to answer them.

It is a fine balance between reassuring him that the situation here in Canada is not identical to that south of the border, while at the same time making sure he understands that we, as Canadians, cannot be smug or complacent (or think, as our tone-deaf premier apparently does, that we have no problems with systemic racism. He did backtrack almost immediately, but come on!).

Our work is nowhere near done.

I have been having conversations with E. about privilege. I have been teaching him that his white, cisgender*, male body has traditionally been the body in power in our society, that it is still often viewed as normative, that it is a body that can expect to be welcomed into every space, that it is a body that is given authority just for existing.

I hope he can be an ally, that he can use his voice, with all the power and privilege that will be attached to it by the accident of birth, to lift up others, to challenge authority, to effect change.

I take him with me when I vote (P. too). I teach him that voting always matters, even especially when you think it won’t make a difference. I tell him how young people disproportionately don’t vote, and how older people disproportionately do, and how older people tend to be more conservative.  “Yes!” he said. “It’s like with the election, how if all the young people who could have voted did vote, then the Greens would have won!”

He believes that Love is Love.

That Black Lives Matter.

That Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

That Climate Change is Real.

That saying sorry for the residential schools is a start, but not an ending.

There is so much dark in the world. I struggle seeing the way forward for him, for P., for their entire generation and the broken planet they will inherit.

But in his worldview, in his wholehearted acceptance of everyone’s humanity, there is light.

These kids are going to change the world.

*E. himself identifies as cisgender. His best friend identifies as transgender and switched to using she/her pronouns last spring. E. never, ever uses the wrong pronouns when describing his friend and was honestly shocked when he learned that transgender people encounter prejudice. Kids are amazing.

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Filed under E.- the tenth year, Soapbox

The Unintended Age Gap

One of the unexpected bonuses of moving back to Canada was ending up in the same city as friends from our graduate school days. They are, like Q. and I, a couple who met while pursuing graduate degrees. They are, like Q. and I, a mixed-nationality couple (she’s Canadian, he’s Irish). Their children, like E. and P., have dual citizenship and think nothing of travelling overseas; it’s just what you do to go visit one half of your family.

We really like them.

We almost never see them, even though they live relatively close by (if anyone can be said to be “close by” in this city if you have to drive to see them).

Partly this is because of their schedules- both parents work full-time in high pressure jobs. Someone is often away on a business trip. They’re not great at returning emails.

Partly this is because they are more Q.’s friends than mine and he’s not great at organizing social engagements. I usually take care of that side of the calendar but I’ve been dropping the ball when it comes to seeing our friends for, let’s face it, close to two years now. All I tried to do in 2016 was survive and then 2017 has been equally busy (if less stressful and filled with less sorrow) with kids and work and life.

We used to do better at getting together three or four times a year but in the last few years it’s really dropped off (case in point: we’ve seen them once since P. was born, and when we sent out an email announcing her arrival they were extra surprised and excited because they hadn’t known I was pregnant).

When we do get together, we always have a great time. We value their friendship. It’s a rare thing to have that length of history with someone when you’ve moved around as much as we have.

The sticking point is our kids.

Their two boys are ten and eight.

They have extracurricular activities, interests, friends of their own.

It was easy to make the time to get together when they were little and we didn’t have any children of our own yet.

It was still relatively easy to get together when E. was a baby because their boys weren’t yet in full-time school.

It’s much harder now.

I think intentions are good on both sides, but their kids have their own lives, and our kids are too young to be interesting on their own merit.

It’s one of the hidden costs of infertility nobody like to talk about because you look ungrateful if you voice any kind of regret after you’ve been able to build your family: you end up out of sync with your friends.

I don’t want to trade my family (I hope that goes without saying).

But there is no denying that if E. had been our second child (as he could have been if we’d been able to get and stay pregnant when we first started trying), our kids would fit more easily in with theirs. The same would be true of another set of good friends (who are relatively close by but not in the same city). Their kids are ten, nine, and six, and I know they spend a lot of time with another family with three kids similar in age to theirs. That family lives in the same city we do, so it’s not a question of geographic proximity.

It makes sense that this happens, but it’s still hard.

I have lots of women I talk to when I’m dropping E. off at school, who all obviously have children the same age as E. since they’re in his grade, but, despite my best efforts, I still haven’t managed to turn any of them into actual friends. We’re stuck at friendly.

My actual friends had their children before I did.

The oldest of those children will graduate from elementary school the same year P. starts.

It’s hard to catch up.

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Filed under 21st Century Parenting Politics, Blink and you'll miss it, Friends

The Financial Cost of Infertility

My mother is going to be buying a new house in the near(ish) future, and for a number of reasons both labmonkey and I are going to be helping her buy it.

Working out our maximum budget has been a painful exercise. It’s been very hard to look at the properties online and see what would become affordable if we only had an extra $50k. The various “nice-to-haves” that my mother has mentioned would immediately become “easy-to-haves”.

It is hard not to dwell on what might have been. IF the septic system of the old house hadn’t been about to fail (a most unwelcome discovery from the house inspection). IF my stepfather had carried enough life insurance. IF financial mismanagement hadn’t proved to be the underlying theme of their retirement.

IF we only had a little bit more available to invest.

The inevitable effect of this has been a reassessment of our own financial situation.

Q. and I are debt-averse. We spend a lot of money on groceries because eating good food is important to us, and we spend a lot of money every couple of years visiting Q.’s family, but we live within our means and I wouldn’t describe us as careless.

By my best reckoning, we spent upwards of $30,000 of our own money at our fertility clinic. A little bit more than half trying to bring home E. and the rest on our failed efforts to give him a sibling (P. being our joyful and free surprise).

I want to preface what I’m going to write next with an acknowledgment of our privilege.

Q. and I were very lucky.

Q.’s benefits covered all of our medications (which cost easily the same again).

We didn’t have to go into debt to pay for treatments.

We didn’t have to remortgage our house.

We had to make sacrifices, yes, and choices, certainly, but we were able to afford what we needed to do.

On the surface, we navigated our way through those stormy years without any real sign of financial strain, and we certainly weren’t cast into financial hardship because of IVF.

Still.

I read a lot of financial blogs (I often think I should have been a financial planner if I hadn’t been an academic) and one of the things financial blogs, especially ones who champion frugality, spend a lot of time writing about is the power of compound interest.

It’s the latte factor argument: If you spend $ a day on lattes (or shoes or lunches out), five days a week, forty weeks a year, that equals $$$$ per year. If you cut out that expense and instead invested that money every year in a low-fee index fund then thirty years later you would have $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The argument is always about priorities. Does the chicken burrito bowl (my personal weakness) bring you enough joy to be worth its price tag? What are you giving up in return?

A part of me can’t help crunching our own numbers.

$30,000 is a not insignificant amount of money. It left our bank account in various amounts over a number of years, but the end result is the same as if we’d been spending it every day on coffee.

The power of compound interest reminds me that it wasn’t just $30,000 either.

It was $30,000 plus all the gains it made on the stock exchange.

Or it was $30,000 plus all the interest it saved us on our mortgage.

The financial argument breaks down, of course, when you look at the result of what that money was spent on.

My children are not a latte factor.

They’re worth it.

Of course they are worth it.

But we had to spend money where most couples don’t in order to be able to build our family.

And we will never recover the lost opportunity costs of the money we spent to bring them home.

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Filed under Money Matters, Soapbox

Microblog Mondays: My Field’s Harvey Weinstein?

TW: Sexual assault and child abuse mentioned.

Last week I was wasting time on a jobs wiki  when I stumbled across a couple of links to articles about a sexual harassment lawsuit that had been filed by a graduate student against an EXTREMELY PROMINENT academic in my field. The lawsuit alleged not only that said famous professor had harassed her repeatedly for years, but also that the university had turned a blind eye to his behaviour, even when she had complained.

Quite recently, about a month after the original articles were published, another one came out indicating that the famous professor has stood done from all teaching, advising, and other student-related activities. The anonymous comments on the job wiki have made it clear that this professor’s reputation for sexually harassing women was well known, even outside his own university.

Assuming the allegations prove to be true, and if it was also true that “everyone knew and nobody said anything”, it sparks a number of interesting moral issues. Were you complicit if you sent high-flying female graduate students to work with this individual, knowing his history? Were you complicit if you sent high-flying male graduate students to work with this individual but warned off your female students, knowing that your male students would then reap the benefits of being associated with such an academic superstar (including very high placement rates in tenure-track positions)? Were you complicit if you knew his history and still invited this individual to your campus to give a lecture, or asked him to write a chapter for an edited volume, or to review a manuscript, or any of the myriad duties that fall on established academics when it’s “business as usual”?

Are we complicit if, going forward, the allegations are proven and we still cite this individual’s articles and books in our own research?

While reading up on this I also discovered that last year another professor in our field pleaded guilty to trading child pornography over the internet. Q. has a very famous and influential article by this individual on the syllabus for one of his courses. It seems a no-brainer to strike that off, but (as my rabbit hole of Googling quickly proved) this is a thorny issue and one that a lot of academics are now wrestling with.

Can you separate the scholarship from the scholar?

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

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Not Just Mittens

A couple of weeks ago we were in Walmart to print photos for E’s assignment at school. I ended up trolling the aisles with E. and P. in tow because we needed various things, including waterproof mittens for both kids. E. has for years worn the same style of mitten from MEC but he needed the next size up and when I looked on the website I saw that MEC has changed the style and the new version is not getting good reviews. I also live in fear of E. losing expensive mittens at school, so I figured there wasn’t any harm in trying out a cheaper pair.

We poked around for a while and found one pair that E. liked. I was worried they were a touch too small.

Then I spied another section across the aisle.

“E., come and look at these. Tell me if you see anything you like.”

E. came over, took one look and stopped short.

“Mummy, I can’t wear these. These are for girls.”

Inwardly, my reaction went something like this: OH FUCKITY FUCK FUCK. WE’VE WORKED SO HARD ON THIS!

Outwardly, I said to E. that even though the store wanted people to think that there were girl clothes and boy clothes, because that meant they could sell more clothes, the truth was it didn’t matter.

“No one is allowed to say that only girls can wear purple and pink and only boys can wear blue and red,” I finished, pulling a pair of black mittens off the rack. “I bet they had the same mittens on the other rack and they’ve just sold out.”

E. picked the black mittens and a purple pair of waterproof gloves.

Before we left we gathered up a bunch of purple and pink mittens and gloves and put them on the empty racks in the “boy” section.

That would be the end of the story except that it quickly became apparent that these mittens and gloves were still a little too big for E., so on Monday I took him to the dollar store.

E. very quickly picked out two pairs of waterproof mittens (red and purple), one pair of purple and black wooly mittens and one pair of lightweight turquoise gloves with snowflakes on them.

“Look, Mummy,” he said happily about halfway through the process. “I can pick whatever I want because there’s not a girl or a boy section.”

I stopped dead. I’d been in that store earlier that morning (buying mittens for P. because there had been nothing appropriate for her at Walmart). I’d observed there were loads of mittens in E’s size but had completely failed to notice that they hadn’t been in any way segregated.

The dollar store has fairly minimal outdoor gear (and I might still come to regret buying mittens from it, but we’ll see) and even less by way of clothing, so it makes sense that everything would be confined to one big aisle.

I hadn’t noticed when I’d been collecting purple mittens and a purple baby balaclava for P. (because she kept picking the purple options when I put several in front of her) that the purple and the pink and the red and the black and the blue and the green mittens were all on the same hooks.

E. had.

He is a boy who has always loved pink, a boy who happily wears leggings from the “girl” section to school, a boy who can sit and flip through the pages of a cake decorating book from the 1980s and criticize its gender assumptions (“Mummy, look- there is a rocket cake but they say it is for boys! That is inappropriate because everyone likes rockets. What do they think girls like?” *turns pages in ever-increasing horror. “A princess castle? Well I like pink and I like princesses and I like castles. A sewing machine?! Well if a boy doesn’t know how to make his own clothes he would have to go to the store. An oven?! That’s ridiculous! Everyone needs to know how to cook!”).

But even he, at age six, knows that he is somehow not supposed to shop in the section for girls.

There’s starting (finally!) to be a serious movement to stop the practice of segregating toys in stores and making assumptions about which kids should want (or be allowed) to play with them.

Toys aren’t going to be enough.

We need to do clothes too.

And if the dollar stores mittens actually turn out to be waterproof, we will be buying more of them in future.

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Filed under 21st Century Parenting Politics, E.- the seventh year, Soapbox

Helicopter Parents

One of the books I’ve read this month was How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford.

It wasn’t one of my favourite books for the year. In general I felt there were too many quotes from authors of other parenting books (or anecdotes from the author’s own experience), too little hard data, and (above all) an extremely restricted demographic for the expected audience (even with her disclaimer that what she’s discussing largely applies to children growing up in upper/upper middle class households).

I am curious about how to raise independent children, who will be ready and able to go out into the world, to have adventures and make mistakes.

I want P. and E. to be resilient.

I want them to have growth mindsets, rather than a fixed mindset like their mother.

I want them to be able to explore, even though I’m not sure how to give them the same freedoms I had when I was a child. It’s a lot harder to send your children outside to play “until the streetlights come on” when no one else’s kids are out unsupervised. One of the things I love about our area is that I do see kids walking to school without a parent. They’re older than E. is, of course, and they’re usually walking with a friend, but they’re still doing it free of adult supervision.

There were useful nuggets of information in the book I tucked away, and I will freely admit that the common parental problem of equating your child’s success or failure with your own is one that I still struggle with at times (especially when it comes to school since I was an extreme overachiever and rule follower). A large section of the book is devoted to the problems with the current college admissions process and the overscheduling of children that results, and I don’t think the system is nearly as cut-throat in Canada (although E. is only six- maybe I’ll feel differently about this in ten years’ time). That section was an interesting read, especially since I’m in academia, but I didn’t feel it was particularly relevant to my parenting (although it did align with what my instincts have always been- it’s more important to find a good fit for your undergraduate degree than to attend the most prestigious school, and there can be advantages to being a big fish in a little pond if you later apply for a very competitive graduate program).

Honestly, I thought she was laying it on a bit thick. Students who get to college and don’t know how to ask someone to help them move their boxes into their dorm room? Young adults who get momentarily disoriented in a new city and have to call their parents (who are in business meetings in a DIFFERENT city) to get directions? Parents who stick around to watch or, worse, join in the welcoming rituals of frosh week? Kids who text or call their parents multiple times a day and ask them what they should do for any situation, and parents who tell them what they should do rather than asking the kids how they plan on handling it?

When I was almost finished the book, I was reading it during one of my office hours. A couple of my students happened to come by, and one of them asked me what I was reading. This sparked a long, intense discussion for the rest of the office hour. My three students are all in their first year at university. Two of them are living in residence and the third lives with a cousin “near my Mom, but I’m not actually living with my Mom.” (his phone rang as soon as he finished that sentence- he looked at it and said sheepishly, “Actually, that’s my Mom now” and disappeared to talk to her for a few minutes).

The two who live in residence both had childhoods that very much resembled my own, with plenty of freedom to roam and explore, and high expectations about developing independence and the necessary life skills to function in society as an adult. This is exactly the kind of childhood that Lythcott-Haims says has been eroded for the Millennials (according to her the rot set in during the 1980s, which is when I was a child, which I found quite puzzling since I’ve always felt like I had one of those “good ol’ days” childhoods that people these days are always bemoaning the loss of). Even if I can’t classify myself (or my childhood) as a Millennial (I’m apparently right on the border between Gen X and the Millennials), my students, who are now a full twenty (!) years younger than I am, certainly are.

I gave them some examples of the over-parenting and the failure to grow up that Lythcott-Haims argues results from it and asked them whether they thought this was a fair assessment of their generation.

And the floodgates opened.

They have friends who don’t know how to make a phone call to book a doctor’s appointment; friends who don’t feel comfortable ordering for themselves in a restaurant; friends who don’t know how to organize or manage their time because their parents always told them where they had to go and when they had to be there.

They were unanimous in their assessment that most of the students they lived with in residence were lacking some of the basic skills they needed to be able to function as adults. And what’s more, both of my students said that their friends repeatedly came to them and asked them to help them do these things, because their friends had recognized that these two did come to university prepared to be independent from their parents.

They had lots of advice for me: Make sure my kids order for themselves at restaurants. Let my kids make mistakes with money. Teach them how to cook. Encourage them to work a service job, like a cashier at a grocery store or a barista at a coffee shop, so that they have to make small talk, engage with other people, and learn to let other people’s bad moods not affect their own.

I’m still not convinced we’re in a full-scale parenting crisis, but it was an eye-opening conversation, that’s for sure.

 

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Filed under Books, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Soapbox