Category Archives: 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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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Microblog Mondays, Soapbox

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

Weather Patterns

Yesterday I spent most of the morning in the park with P., who had a wonderful time despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I had both forgotten to bring a towel to wipe down the equipment and neglected to put her in her rain suit. She ended up completely soaked, but it wasn’t a total #momfail as I had packed spare clothes in her diaper bag and I still had the cozy sleeping bag on the stroller even though it was probably too warm outside for it. So she had fun getting soaking wet and dirty and then I was able to wrestle her into new clothes to keep her warm and dry long enough to get home.

What was interesting about the outing (other than the fact that I learned to keep spare mittens in the diaper bag because P. will always opt to play with puddles) was that during the whole time we were at the park we saw a total of twelve other people.

Every single one of them was an adult walking a dog.

When I think about the winter that E. was this age, some of my clearest memories are of the two of us at the various neighbourhood parks, without another soul around. (I can remember taking multiple photos to illustrate this point because I just couldn’t get my head around it.)

I don’t understand why it seems to be accepted practice here that once the temperature drops below about 8 degrees Celsius, or it’s a bit wet, the dogs have to go outside but the children don’t.

I get that if you don’t take dogs outside for walks they will pee on the floor and eat your furniture, but if I don’t take my kids outside they may not pee on the floor (ok, P. would if given the chance) but they will certainly destroy the house (or make it feel like that’s what they’re doing) and drive me absolutely up the wall.

We had an extremely wet Sunday a couple of weeks ago and after P had woken up from her nap I stuffed her and E. into their rain gear (under mighty protests from E.) and took them outside to jump in puddles. We ended up finding a massive puddle in a nearby laneway and they spent a happy forty minutes playing in it (E. jumped in it and ran through it; P. did everything short of lying down in it face first). When they were both soaked (despite the rain gear) and starting to look cold, I brought them back inside for a bath.

They were SO MUCH happier for the rest of the afternoon and the evening, which meant that I was happier too.

There was no whining.

No meltdowns.

No tears.

No shouting.

Admittedly I will keep them inside in extreme weather conditions (massive thunderstorms or temperatures below -30 degrees Celsius), and there are days when we don’t go out for long, but even fifteen or twenty minutes mucking around in the yard does wonders.

E’s school has just started a pilot project where the children go outside for recess no matter what the weather is (unless it is dangerous). It won’t be fully in place for another year or two, but I was so pleased to hear about the initiative. I can’t imagine what it is like for the teachers on the days where the kids don’t go out.

As for my two, P. loves to go outside, so it’s never a hard sell with her. E. is very much a homebody and thinks he would be happy to stay inside all day long, except that by the late afternoon he’s crabby and combative and bouncing off the furniture (literally- he will run around the main floor telling a story while ricocheting off of the couches).

I sympathize, because I’m a homebody too at heart, but I’ve learned that I need to get out of the house as much as they do. I’ve had to take a hard look at my wardrobe to make sure that I’m not making it easier to keep them inside because I don’t have the right clothes to be outside with them.

Most of the time, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.

Do the kids vanish from your neighbourhood as soon as the weather shifts?

 

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Filed under E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, Soapbox

Microblog Mondays: 21st century parenting

On Friday, I had a stranger turn up, not unexpectedly, on my doorstep.

Why was he there?

Because he was one half of a gay couple who had just had a baby via surrogate, and I had 150 oz of breast milk in my chest freezer that P would never be able to drink as I pumped it before I realized she had MSPI and cut dairy and soy out of my diet.

The other father had posted a message looking for potential milk donations on a Fakebook page dedicated to facilitating the sharing of breast milk. I’d seen the message and responded and, about eighteen hours later, there we were.

I sent him off with the milk and a box of 0-3 and 3-6 month clothes that P had long outgrown but were too seasonally inappropriate for my nephew, Spud.

We were both thrilled. I didn’t have to pour that milk (the product of pumping sessions at 3 or 4 a.m. back when P. was sleeping so well as a newborn I had to protect my supply) down the drain, and he had a few days of free food for his baby plus clothes for the warmer weather (when it comes).

We’ll probably never meet again.

But that brief encounter reminded me, amidst all the doom and gloom, that many of us, most of us (I hope), just want to do what we can to help each other out.

Do you have a good news story for the week? I want to hear it!

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

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Filed under Microblog Mondays, Nursing, Soapbox