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Married to my work April 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, personal, societal commentary.
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In the past two weeks, I have been introduced as Mike’s spouse twice in professional settings.

I usually view this as something akin to the Kiss of Death: the person receiving this news is likely to consider me an appendage to my spouse and therefore rather useless.  It’s not that I mind people know I am married to Mike.  He’s very competent and he’s a nice person, so I’m certainly not ashamed of it.  It’s often the reaction I get that bothers me.  We have both noticed that some people will make a point of talking to him and ignoring me entirely, even when the project is mine and has nothing to do with him.  (Of course, people do this even when they don’t know we’re married…)

In the first case, I found this rather interesting because it had a couple oddities relative to other introductions of this nature.  First, the person I was being introduced to had no idea who Mike was, and in fact, never did meet him.  I’m not sure why my marital arrangement was the first thing that came up, but I just sort of sigh and roll with it.  Second, I think one of the people we were with was more annoyed about the way I was introduced than I was.  While I just sort of shrugged and carried on as though nothing happened, shaking hands with the visitor, one of the other people who knew me repeated my name to the person two or three times.  As much as I’m resigned to this sort of thing, apparently other people are not, and my inner voice yelled, “Huzzah!”

The second situation was very unnerving.  Mike and I coauthored a paper which was accepted at a fairly selective conference.  The introduction to our presentation explained that we were a husband and wife team, and I inwardly cringed.  I was expecting the fallout to be very awkward for me.  What was odd is that, for the most part, this didn’t seem to make a difference to anyone.  Or maybe they already knew so it didn’t matter.  Mike has had a paper accepted there before, and I was invited to give a presentation last year, so we’re not complete strangers to this group of people.  With perhaps one exception, there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the way anyone treated him versus me.

While the “being married to my coworker” thing has it’s problems, it seems like some people aren’t letting it be as big an issue as it used to be.  It’s kind of nice to be considered a colleague and not an appendage.

It’ll make my day when people regularly introduce him as my spouse, though.  (It has happened once or twice, but not nearly as often as the reverse.)

A filtered education March 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, physics, science, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The older son is a lot of fun.  Despite his statements that he has no desire to go into science, he seems to get and make a lot of science jokes.  I know he’s not a scientist, but I feel comfortable that he’s scientifically literate.  As he was homeschooled, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m more anxious about the younger son, though.  This weekend, he brought home his science homework, which focused on optics.  The kids were studying filters, and one of the questions asked about what kind of light would you see if you shined a flashlight through a blue filter and then a red one.  I asked him what he saw, and he said nothing.  Unfortunately, he was told that he saw nothing because the flashlights just weren’t bright enough, but that what he should have seen was purple.

I’m pretty sure that if I had ever been bombarded with gamma rays in the past, I would’ve turned into She-Hulk at that very moment and started smashing things.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, if being She-Hulk happens to be a goal of yours), that didn’t happen.

I find it infuriating that, throughout my years of homeschooling older son and teaching younger son math, I have constantly been questioned about my ability to teach them.  The implication has always been that I may have a degree, but they are experts on teaching.  In fact, this particular teacher attempted to take me to task earlier this year about the younger son’s math curriculum…the same teacher who apparently doesn’t understand that light and pigments work completely differently.

After I managed to calm down, I explained that light filters are like sieves, except that they only let one size of particle pass through: nothing bigger can pass through the holes, but nothing smaller can, either.  After this explanation, the younger son was able to correctly explain that the reason he saw no light from his flashlight is that the two filters together had blocked all the light.

I’m going to be watching very carefully to see what kinds of scores he’s getting on his answers and whether the teacher realizes she made a mistake.  This was very disappointing.  There was a new science curriculum introduced this year, one which I was very excited about.  The focus was supposed to be on hands-on, problem-based learning, which is great for science.  Despite that, it seems that younger son’s science education may be lacking.  What good does it do to have a top of the line science education curriculum (or math…or anything else) when our teachers don’t understand what they’re teaching?  And how is it that these same teachers can justify questioning the ability to teach material that some of us understand far better than they do?

How to be condescending when you’re trying not to be February 9, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, societal commentary.
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There are few topics more fraught with angst than the mommy wars. A friend recently posted a link to a defensive volley from the stay-at-home mom court.  Supposedly, this response was amazing.

I thought it undermined its own point.

Let’s start with the first paragraph:

It’s happened twice in a week, and they were both women. Anyone ought to have more class than this, but women — especially women — should damn well know better.

The opener disgusted me immediately, and I almost quit reading.  Let’s start with the fact that I agree with his main point: that women who choose one path over another (in this case, motherhood or career) are not necessarily superior to one other.  However, the whole tone of the post was condescending toward women (and men!) and did ultimately end up being judgemental of working women.

But the opener set the tone, and the tone was that women are held to a higher standard than men.  It’s okay for men to say stupid things about stay-at-home mothers (but not parents?), but women somehow have this innate, caring response that ought to be the first thing out of their mouths.

Sorry.  It doesn’t work that way.  I’ve been a SAHM and a working mom.  People’s response to this is always one that comes from their perspective and takes no account of whether you’re doing what you want to or why.  When I wanted to be a SAHM mom, people told me I needed to be supporting my family.  When I didn’t want to be but was, people told me they were so jealous that I got to be at home.  When I was working, people told me I was selfish and needed to pay more attention to my kids.

At all of these points, I was also told by other people that I had made the right choice.  It’s funny how few people ever asked me what I wanted to do or if I was doing it.  The reality is that, in each of these situations, I was doing what needed to be done for the good of my family, and each response had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the perspective of the person speaking those words.

When I find out someone is staying home or working, my response is, “How do you feel about that?”  If they’re enjoying their current situation, a good response is, “Glad it’s working out for you.”  If they’re not, I wish them luck in getting things sorted out so they can be more comfortable.  It’s really not my place to say what’s best for them.

The post that started all this, however, didn’t.  It came down firmly on the side of women needing to be stay at home moms.

Of course not all women can be at home full time. It’s one thing to acknowledge that; it’s quite another to paint it as the ideal. To call it the ideal, is to claim that children IDEALLY would spend LESS time around their mothers. This is madness. Pure madness. It isn’t ideal, and it isn’t neutral. The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.

No.  It’s not as cut and dried as that.  Some moms really don’t want to be home.  Some moms are better being around other adults: being the sole caretaker for children with no adult interaction makes them depressed or anxious.  (I believe this was covered in the 60s in Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.)  I wouldn’t doubt that having mom home all the time may be advantageous for some kids, but I don’t know that it’s always the best choice for the whole family.

If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

If mom is going nuts staying home with the kids, I seriously doubt that’s the best situation for the kids, either.  Having a depressed or anxious mom who views you as a toddling, diapered impediment to her happiness isn’t good for anything.  What do we tell people to do if they’re unhappy with their job?  Quit and find another because it’s not good to be in a stressful situation.  Obviously, quitting being a parent isn’t an option, but finding time away from parenting certainly is.

The other thing that irritated me about this post was this:

Yes, my wife is JUST a mother. JUST. She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives. She JUST manages, directs and maintains the workings of the household, while caring for children who JUST rely on her for everything. She JUST teaches our twins how to be human beings, and, as they grow, she will JUST train them in all things, from morals, to manners, to the ABC’s, to hygiene, etc. She is JUST my spiritual foundation and the rock on which our family is built. She is JUST everything to everyone. And society would JUST fall apart at the seams if she, and her fellow moms, failed in any of the tasks I outlined.

Moms don’t need to be SAHMs to do this.  In fact, what’s most irritating about this that you don’t need to be a mom at all: dads do this, too.  This paragraph basically went back on the whole “I respect the choices that other parents make comment” and went ahead and tried to put those SAHMs up on a pedestal…doing exactly the thing to working moms (and ALL dads) that the writer was originally complaining about.  In fact, he even says so.

The people who completely immerse themselves in the tiring, thankless, profoundly important job of raising children ought to be put on a pedestal.

No, I disagree.  Parenting is a tiring, thankless, profoundly important job.  And a lot of people have tiring, thankless, and profoundly important careers, too, although they at least usually get monetary compensation.  Also, many people have jobs where they are greatly appreciated and are not easily replaceable.  Okay, maybe someone who is only looking at your payroll may think so, but chances are that many of your coworkers don’t think that…even if you do get on their nerves.

We get a lot of things wrong in our culture. But, when all is said and done, and our civilization crumbles into ashes, we are going to most regret the way we treated mothers and children.

No, I don’t think that mothers and children will be the only victims.  I think the problem is simply how we treat other people in general.  In general, we tend to be caught up in the “grass is always greener” syndrome without a realistic view of what other people are dealing with.  Most people are really just trying to get through their day and don’t realize that they may be simultaneously in worse and better situations than the next person.

I once was very jealous of a friend because of all the academic honors he had achieved.  He was so accomplished, and I felt like a failure next to him.  One day he told me he felt the same because I had a happy marriage and a wonderful family.  That was the day I realized that we all picked our own paths and had our own priorities.  We always have to give up something to get what we want because no one has infinite time and resources.  We almost always find the path of our lives takes unexpected twists and turns.  And if people could respect and understand that, we’d all be in a better place.  We’re not going to get there, though, by saying we respect all those paths and then telling someone they chose the wrong one.

plan_thinkingip1

To borrow or not to borrow… February 6, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
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Some of you may remember that, about a year ago, I took the boys on a big tour of colleges.  I wanted the older boy to see what his options were and make an informed decision when it came to college.  (I have to admit that this was a result of the fact that I only was able to visit one college before choosing, and I felt like I would have made a better choice if I’d been able to see others.)  The older boy surprised me when, late last year, he informed me of his decision to live at home and go to college locally.

To be rather blunt, I was disappointed.  I felt like he could go to a much better college if he chose.  However, he said that he was nervous about starting college and moving out and basically jumping from being a high schooler to an adult all at once.  I was surprised at this, but it really did make sense.  Obviously, I wasn’t going to try to force him to go someplace else for school.

(I was also amused because, when I was his age, I deliberately chose to apply to colleges that were as far away from home as physically possible.  This is how one goes from North Dakota to Los Angeles.)

I’m now even more convinced that this is a good decision.  The older boy started a part-time job.  We sat down and ran the numbers and determined that his income from the job would pay about half of his tuition and give him some spending money.  Because of the hours, he can also work another job over the summer and probably make up the difference in tuition costs.

Finally, he will likely start as a sophomore because of all of the college credit he has earned or will earn through CLEP exams.

Based on this, he can likely get through school in three years and come out potentially debt-free because he will be able to pay his tuition himself.  When I look at how much he would have had to go into debt to earn his degree at the other schools we looked at, I have to admit that this is a pretty intelligent way to go.

The one reservation I had about this is that I felt like he needed to get out of the house.  I don’t want to stifle him by living at home all through college.  As I was pondering this toward the end of the semester, I had a speaker come to my class and discuss the study abroad program at the school.  I was surprised at how affordable the program is.  I brought a brochure home for older son, and we discussed it.  Rather than transferring to another school later, like he initially thought, he’s going to try to go abroad once or twice.  That way he can get the experience of not only visiting another school but another country.  Even with this, he can still probably get through school without any debt.

I’m surprised how much the financial aspect of this has changed my perspective.  Maybe because I and other people I know are still paying off student loans.  I’m curious what my readers would say to their kids if they were facing the same choice.

My child is… January 30, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, younger son.
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My second patent application went in a couple weeks ago.  My first was filed about a year and a half ago, and I still haven’t heard on that one.

Anyway, a couple days after the second application went in, this sticker showed up in the mail for the younger son:

patent

 

Is it horrible for me to admit that I seriously considered cutting off the “My child is a” part and sticking it to my car?

I hope I’m not being overly optimistic.

How Newfs are like toddlers January 25, 2014

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A friend recently was asking about some of the behavioral characteristics of Newfoundlands.  My description was basically that they’re big, fuzzy toddlers.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it was.  I figured I’d elaborate on many of the similarities.

1 – They need naps.  (If they’re not moving, they’re probably napping!)

2 – They drool a lot.  If you’re smart, you have bibs on hand.

3 – The best way to understand something is to stick it in your mouth.

4 – Even though they’re potty trained, you still have to clean up messes regularly.

5 – They’re happy to see you when you get home.  They can come running up to you and cause you to lose your balance in their excitement.

6 – They are very sad when you leave, and there is no way to assuage the guilt.

7 – They make messes.  Lots of them.  Carpets and upholstered furniture aren’t safe.

8 – You need to be concerned when they’re too quiet (sneaking food and taking it behind the couch, anyone?).  Conversely, they’re terrifying when they’re really loud.

9 – Some of them really hate it when you brush their hair.

10 – They have ways of letting you know that no one could ever love you more than they do.

Anyone else have some they can share?

Welcome to 2014 January 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, personal, younger son.
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Despite all of my good intentions, it’s taken a bit more to get back into my routine.  The youngster went back to school on Monday.  I was relieved not to be teaching this week (or this semester), but I had a paper deadline this week along with a lot of other anomalous stuff.

In particular, a friend of mine passed away at the beginning of the week.  It’s made this week seem a bit surreal.

That’s given me an opportunity to think about my priorities, which was something I had started reflecting on over the break.  I’m not one to make resolutions, but it’s good to reflect on goals.  And nothing will make you think about your goals more than realizing they can be cut short.

My thesis has been weighing heavily on my mind.  I definitely reaffirmed that I want to finish my PhD, but it’s been hard and frustrating this past year, particularly the past three to four months.  I really anticipated being farther because I didn’t anticipate how rough the fall semester would end up being.  So I’m working on getting my schedule set up to have more time to devote to that.

Realistically, that’s the one thing I’m really not happy about.  It’s a big thing, so it’s not something as simple as, “I can put in 15 minutes a day on it.”  But I’m making an effort to rearrange a few things, particularly with kid schedules, to facilitate getting more time on things.

I also want to be blogging regularly again.  The holidays and grading threw an awful crimp in that one.  One day isn’t a data point, but you need that data point to start a trend.

I’m happy to report that our housekeeping effort is going well.  That is, the kids are doing a great job.  I gave up on trying to have them get things done before the weekend.  We just schedule a time for them to work on it and, when we tell them it’s time to, they do.  (We’ve found that it seems like we can’t get to it every week, but we’re holding steady with every other week at least.)  We pay them according to which jobs they do, and we match everything they earn with a deposit into their savings account.  The house is staying cleaner than when we had a housekeeper, and I think we’re actually spending less.

This is actually much more about the kids than it is about the house, though.  I’m really happy that they are both at a point where they are taking responsibility for their chores.  I hate breathing down their neck about anything. I also really am happy about the fact that doing chores is one thing they do cooperatively.  They have a system worked out – older boy does the tall stuff, younger boy does the floor stuff that older boy hates, etc.  They worked it out themselves and, even better, they seem to have fun doing it.

At the same time, the older son is getting ready to go to college this fall.  I anticipate that there will be a lot of changes despite his plans to live at home.  I’m impressed that he’s trying to move forward cautiously and not bite off more than he can chew.  I also have no idea how the big changes over the next couple years will affect the younger son, who quite adores his older brother.

I anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road this year, but I’m hoping that it will be uphill from here.  I guess I’d rather start the year on a sad note so that I can look forward to how much better it will get.

The Dynamic Duo December 6, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, papers, research.
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When I was doing my MS, I ended up getting a research assistantship working in the same place as Mike (which is, of course, where I now am working).  There was one person higher up in the ranks who would occasionally see us having lunch together and would exclaim, “There’s the Dynamic Duo!”  This person was rather tickled that Mike and were interested in the same field of engineering.

At the time, it kind of peeved me.  I was already getting a bit of a feeling that people viewed me as his shadow, and this comment didn’t help to alleviate that concern.  Now I think about it, however, and it actually was much better than I thought because there was no implication that either one of us was better than the other: we were peers.

We both take this view when we’re doing research, and we really enjoy collaborating on things.  We’ve found that our strengths are complimentary, so it’s very easy to talk to each other about a topic and get good feedback.  We also have several projects that we’re doing separately, but we almost always (especially on our drives home) talk about what we’re doing and asking for feedback.  (Well, admittedly, it’s volunteered whether we want it or not.)

Those conversations have, more often than not, been incredibly helpful in moving projects forward.  However, this leaves us in a bit of a bind because, as I said, some of these projects really aren’t involving the other person.  When this happens, especially if the project results in publication, we always have to make a decision: do we add the other person as co-author or mention them in the acknowledgements.  When it’s been nothing more than conversational input, particularly when we proofread each other’s papers, we choose the latter.  This does lead to some interesting possibilities for entertaining acknowledgements.

I would like to thank my spouse for suggesting such a nifty title.

or

I would like to thank my spouse for catching that diagram that was completely bass ackwards when proofreading the paper for me.

and maybe even

I would like to thank my spouse for the helpful input in developing the concept of this project, despite the fact that they laughed at my hokey acronym.

I know.  It’s totally unprofessional.  But it’s a lot of fun to imagine doing such a thing.

Guest post by Gigadog: “Help me, please!” December 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, pets.
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Mom took a picture of dad and me while he was scratching my neck:

gigadog_elfDad was just placating me.  You know why?  Mom is making me wear this ARFul costume next weekend.  Mom says that I’ll love it because we’re going for a long walk.  Yeah…a long walk, where people won’t see beautiful me, they’ll see beautiful me all covered up and looking like an elf.  

Also, it’s supposed to be -5ºF that morning.  That’s cold, even for a fluffy pup like me.  I have no idea what mom is going to do without a beautiful fur coat like mine.

She says it’s for a good cause, though.  Something about ARFritis.  If you can please donate, it might almost make it worth it to go out in public, especially in the cold, and both mom and I would be very happy.  (Although, let’s face it.  I’m a dog, so I’m pretty much happy all the time.)  It certainly would make it worthwhile to look so silly and undignified.

You can help by donating here.

Thank you!

 

She loves me more… November 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, pets.
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Tonight, the older son jumped over Gigadog.  I asked him to please step over her carefully.  If he jumps over her, he could slip and miss her, and he’d fall on her.  Having someone fall on her would likely freak her out, and she would bite him.  This would leave me in a dilemma: I have an injured dog and an injured child.  Who do I bring for medical care first?

I told the older son that I would likely bring Gigadog because she loves me more.  He looked stunned.

“It’s not that I love her more, but she loves me more.  She sits and pants and wags her tail when I get home.  You do none of those things,” I told him.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I just express it differently,” he responded.

“I don’t recognize the way you express it.  It would be much better if you panted.”

I’m not sure *anyone* recognizes the way teenagers express affection toward their parents.  Dogs are so much easier to read.

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