Catching Up, Part 5

October 31, 2017

Another occurrence during my hiatus is that our family had an au pair, for half a year. It was supposed to be a full year but it, uh, did not go well. Nope.

Major, unforeseen personality failings on her part were the problem, plus those failings were a dead-on conflict with Burrito’s personality quirks. It did not. go. well.

I’ve known people who are thrilled with having an au pair. When it’s good, it’s wonderful. But when it’s bad, it’s a nightmare. Even when you fire her, often for days, or weeks she’s still stuck in your house. While you and your children hide in your bedroom all day, too paralyzed by the possibility of seeing her that you can’t go to your own kitchen so you just wait a few hours to eat until she leaves the house. See? Nightmare.

All of that caused me to step back from work and double down on parenting. You wouldn’t have found me volunteering in the classroom before the au pair, because I had work to do. After she left, I was in the classroom every week all semester, twice a week actually, because, you know, twins.

I also became a fierce mama bear… at one point, I thought she had physically injured Burrito. She in fact hadn’t physically abused anyone (only verbal abuse), but when I thought she had, I snapped into a mode I’ve never shown before. Fierce. I didn’t like that any of us had to go through that, but I like what I became.

It also reminded me that, as longtime readers will recall, I have remarkably bad judgment when it comes to hiring nannies (at least this time I didn’t have to call the police). Thankfully, especially after this experience, we’re now past the stage where we need nannies. In fact, we’re not far from being past babysitters.

It also reminded me that 18 to 23 year olds often don’t have the best judgment themselves. Au pairs are by definition young, but even when we sought nannies years ago, I’ve never wanted an older person. Older people do things the way they already know how; younger people can be molded to my (admittedly opinionated) way of doing things.

You know who’s older/mature and does things exactly the way I like? Me.

So despite my philosophical feminist beliefs that women with young children should be able to work as much as they want and should be facilitated in pursuing their career ambitions, I scaled back so that I can leave the office by 3 every day. I put my career in holding pattern mode rather than advancement mode. And unless I have an imminent deadline, I don’t work on the weekends or after school while they’re awake.

If I only had a kid like Tamale, it might be fine to still have nannies or au pairs or after school programs, because she likes everyone and everything. But Burrito doesn’t mesh well with, frankly, most other people.

When they were in preschool, the children made little holiday ornaments with their wishes. Instead of wishing for a baby sister or a light saber or a puppy like other kids, the wish that Burrito had his teacher write on his little ornament was, “I wish to spend more time with my mom.” It took me a few years, but now he gets his wish.



Catching Up, Part 1

October 24, 2017

Before we get to the present, a couple of events have happened in the 3.5 years since I disappeared that you should know about.

Work went from bad to worse, to worse than that, to ok, to worse, to fine but weird, to sometimes good, to mostly good.

Because of that, I ran out of fucks to give. I practiced my old Zen non-attachment on my career, which disengaged me but also made it infinitely less painful. Disrespected in a way that has actual impact on me? What else is new, I’ve lost count. Cut out of projects despite being more qualified than anyone else? Just like last time. Huge pay cut? As long as I still have health insurance. Nice new boss fired in major scandal for things I’m pretty sure she didn’t do? Awful, but doesn’t really affect me. A further pay cut? I don’t care if I work here, really, I mean it.

But I do still work there. I love my actual work so much… when the bullshit doesn’t get in the way. The bullshit was getting in the way almost constantly for a couple of years, but now it almost never does (though I still watch my back with almost everyone). The proportion of lovable work to pay-the-bills work has decreased, but I am tremendous at both. I have gotten a little better at making time to work on things that benefit me long-term; I have a long way to go to prioritizing it the way that I should, but getting there.

tl;dr I hate my job, I love my work.

Thoughtful ThursdayClosing out the series of questions that I ask Burrito and Tamale about their preschool classmates…

So far, we’ve asked:
“Is she energetic or calm?”
“Is he loud or quiet?”
“Is she friendly or unfriendly?”

Finally, I like to ask, “Is he happy or sad?”

This question is even more relevant for preschoolers than it is for the rest of us.

There’s a girl in their class who, I’m not exaggerating, almost every time I’ve seen her — that is, daily for almost a year — has been crying. It’s not just that I see her at dropoff times, either: she’s cried whenever I’ve seen her randomly at other times of day, and she’s crying in almost all of the photos of the class activities. Best case scenario, she occasionally looks sad without crying. I have no idea what’s up with her.

There’s also a kid that we knew when Burrito and Tamale were babies to toddlers. She is the daughter of DH’s friend and is a few months older than B&T. I never saw her cry, but I also never saw her smile until she was 1 1/2. As an infant, she was what you’d charitably call “serious.” Her parents and brother are all extremely expressive people, so it was striking that this little girl expressed no positive emotion. She wasn’t actively sad, more just sort of perpetually disgruntled. About a month after Tamale started smiling, we spent time with the girl’s family. I genuinely felt bad when the mother remarked on Tamale’s constant, dazzling smile. It was as if things were okay as long as all babies were perpetually disgruntled, but when Tamale burst that illusion, the mother looked heartbroken.

Most kids, of course, are not as miserable as those two girls. Tamale is shockingly, startlingly happy. Huge, huge smile. Pure sunshine. Until she was 2 1/2, non-stop joy. Then, joy interspersed with age-appropriate dissatisfaction with her wishes being thwarted and, occasionally, tantrums. Even so, every kid in her preschool class would easily identify her as a very happy kid.

Happiness and sadness aren’t the only emotions, of course, as illustrated by Burrito. When he is happy, he is very very happy. When he is not happy, you might see anxiety or sadness or rage. He feels big feelings, in all directions.

I have a clear preference for happy children, but back in my days as a mopey teen, I expressed a preference for brooding, pseudo-depressive, black-wearing, poetry-writing, deep-thinker types. I got over that by 17, because seriously, it gets tiresome. Pollyannas get tiresome too. My real preference is for people who know the score but, despite the crappiness of the world, make a choice to be happy anyway.

Do you prefer to be around people who are happy or sad (or something else)?

Thoughtful ThursdayBack to the series of questions that I like to ask Burrito and Tamale about their preschool classmates…

“Is she friendly or unfriendly?”

Burrito and Tamale readily answer this question, but I don’t think their answers are always accurate. If a kid is usually friendly but has ever wronged one of them, the child gets declared unfriendly. Other kids that I have observed to be unfriendly get labeled friendly. The default label seems to be friendly.

This is clearly not the case for adults. Most people are fine, but not as many seem to be genuinely friendly. I am decidedly not friendly. I am extremely helpful, but I do not come across to strangers as friendly. I’m not unfriendly either, just neutral, at least I think so.

I think part of the problem is my smile. I have a small smile, and my natural “how are you” smile is really barely a smile. Burrito also has a small smile, but his exciting personality means that he’s often beaming rather than smiling. DH and Tamale have giant smiles, and not coincidentally they are both perceived as very friendly. It’s not only the smile that makes them seem friendly, but it definitely helps.

DH has a friend whose smile lights up the room. He is calm and quiet (to use the descriptors from earlier in this series), but his huge, warm smile makes you feel like he is truly happy to see you.

As much as I enjoy dazzling smiles, I am also drawn to people who are amusingly unfriendly. Sarcastic curmudgeons. They can be a lot of fun. They can also be annoying and draining. But at least they’re genuine.

DH’s closest-in-age sister (Murphy‘s mom) is extremely friendly, but in a totally fake way. She used to work at the front desk of a spa, and she’d totally pour it on with customers. “Oh you are going to have such a wonderful time today! Mitzi is the best, you will be sooo relaxed.” Ugh. My mother was always dubious of her: “Why is she so friendly? I don’t like it.” I think I care less about friendliness than genuineness.

Burrito and Tamale aren’t old enough to detect genuineness. I guess when they get older, though, I’ll have to change the question from “Is she friendly or unfriendly?” to “Is she genuine or fake?”

What kind of friendliness do you like? How friendly do you seem to others?

Thoughtful Thursday: Loud

April 25, 2013

Thoughtful ThursdayContinuing where we left off with the questions I ask Burrito and Tamale to gauge other kids’ personalities…

Another question that’s particularly relevant to 3-year-olds is whether the person is quiet or loud.

Burrito has sensitive hearing, so even though he himself is rather loud, he shies away from loud kids. “Exciting” is appealing to him, but loud is not.

Little kids can be very loud indeed, so my general preference for Burrito and Tamale’s playmates is for kids who are not-too-loud. But, oddly, I have chosen a husband and a best friend who are both tremendously loud. Conspicuously loud. Whole-restaurant-turning-to-stare loud.

Equally oddly, my husband and friend have chosen me. I speak at a normal volume, and I can get a little loud and animated when I’m really engaged in discussion, but my base state is to be extremely quiet. I walk into rooms so softly that I am effectively sneaking in, and I often startle people. It comes in handy when there are sleeping children and I need to pass by their rooms without waking anyone. It comes in less handy when every shopkeeper in the world doesn’t realize that I’ve entered the store, unless there is a little bell on the door. That only happens when I’m alone, though — if I’m with my husband or best friend or kids, you can hear us coming from a mile away.

Do you prefer people who are quiet or loud? Are you quiet or loud?

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the April Intelligentsia.

#42: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#36: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#35: Lost in Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#34: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#24: St. Elsewhere
#22: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#17: Sara from Aryanhwy
#16: Mel from Stirrup Queens
#16: Ana from Ana Begins
#6: Mina from Kmina’s Blog

Thoughtful ThursdayThere’s a game that I play with Burrito and Tamale in which I try to find out more about the personalities of their classmates. I go through a series of questions that give me a pretty good sense of each kid. We’ll work through the questions over the next few weeks. First:

Is he energetic or calm?

They actually prefer the word “exciting” (pronounced ex-kiting) to energetic, but they can readily answer the question either way. With preschoolers, it’s very clear who is energetic and calm. Most kids are calm (like my Tamale), except for a few Tasmanian devils (like my Burrito). If I’m thinking of inviting a kid for a playdate, my preference would be for a calm child. This is ironic because I am married to the most energetic person I’ve ever met.

Next week I’ll be seeing an old friend with whom I once had the following conversation:
Me: DH has soooo much energy. I’m really low energy.
Friend: If you’re low energy, that means I’m dead.

We were defining energy differently. I am a very calm person, but I have a lot of energy relative to most people — particularly energy for creating things, which is what my friend was thinking of. What I do not have is energy as I was defining it in that conversation: energy for running wildly around the room the way that a 3-year-old (or my husband) would. I am calibrated to be fast, but this manifests itself not in big motor movements but in talking fast, thinking fast, writing fast. When I was a kid, my piano teacher constantly tried to slow me down. She often told me that just because my brain moved fast didn’t mean that my fingers could, nor that the music warranted it. I was never the type to run around the room, though, even as a little kid. I never cared for the type of person who runs around the room.

Until I married one. And then gave birth to another one.

It makes life very exciting. And ex-kiting.

What is your energy level? What kind of energy level do you prefer in the people around you?

Time Warp Tuesday: Luck

March 13, 2013

For only the second time I’m participating in Time Warp Tuesday, run by Kathy at Four of a Kind. This week’s topic, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day: luck.

For someone who doesn’t believe in luck, I’ve written an awful lot of posts about luck. IN particular, I draw your attention to this one.

Done reading yet? I’ll wait…


Most of the post holds up, but the part at the end about my career situation has changed. After so many stomachaches and so many stints as a bridesmaid rather than a bride in job searches, I ended up at a job that’s perfect for me, where I plan to stay long-term, in a fantastic city, where I also plan to stay long-term. I wrote the Bridesmaid post the same week that I didn’t get a dream job and DH didn’t get his beyond-his-wildest-dreams job; instead, a few months later DH landed an even better job: more money, more prestige, better work. Both of us were very lucky not to get the earlier jobs, since it meant that we were available for, and open to, the jobs that we did end up getting. Bad luck became good luck.

Similarly, I might go so far as to say that we were lucky during those 7 years of infertility, since all of the heartache and waiting brought us to our children. Bad luck became good luck.

Will our more recent bad luck — such as my RA diagnosis and our unsold money pit house — end up working out for the best? Wish me luck.

Join the Time Warp!

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the MarchIntelligentsia.

#41: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#35: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#34: Lost in Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#33: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#23: St. Elsewhere
#21: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#16: Sara from Aryanhwy
#15: Ana from Ana Begins
#5: Mina from Kmina’s Blog

Thoughtful ThursdayLast week’s discussion of our wild nights had an undertone of alcohol in my post and in most of the comments, but for me booze is not a necessary ingredient. On most of my wild and wild-ish nights, I have not had a drop to drink. Usually most of the people around me have had plenty, but I’m almost always totally sober.

I don’t need alcohol to stand on a stage and sing in front of a packed room. I don’t need alcohol to stand on a table and shake my ass (though generally I choose to shake my ass standing firmly on the floor). I didn’t need alcohol that time only a few years ago when I took off my sweater and stood outside a nightclub in my camisole to encourage the bouncer to let in my party more quickly. Sometimes, I have no inhibitions at all.

Which is pretty shocking to some people who encounter me in daily life, because often I seem to be very inhibited. Here’s the thing. I’m not inhibited, but I am usually very controlled, which looks the same — I choose my words and actions judiciously.

In graduate school, back when cardio kickboxing was all the rage, I brought an uninitiated classmate with me to a workout. In many ways we come across as similar, but we turned out to be wired quite differently. After the class, she made the observation that she and I approached complicated kickboxing sequences in opposite ways. When I wasn’t sure what to do, I paused for a few seconds to watch the instructor, until I had the steps down, then I’d join in. When she wasn’t sure what to do, she flailed wildly. She’s also someone who is quiet but not inhibited, who chooses her words and actions carefully — but when things get tough, she revs up and I slow down.

I’ve gotten more uninhibited since having children. Before, I would gladly get up and sing on a stage but I was sheepish about singing to a friend’s toddler when my friend was in the room. Now, I sing all the time for my children and I no longer care who else hears. Before, I tended to act like a normal person — a highly controlled version of a normal person. Now, I often use animated expressions, big gestures, and funny voices; I have become some sort of cartoon character.

How inhibited are you? How inhibited do you seem to others?

Thoughtful ThursdayYou may have seen a news story this week about a lawsuit in Michigan in which a nurse is suing her hospital for allowing a NICU patient’s father to dictate that no Black nurses care for his baby. Strongblonde and I have been talking about this off-blog, since it’s her neck of the woods as well as her profession (nursing, not white supremacy).

Obviously we both object to the racial prohibition in this case, along with the rationale. However, we’ve both made choices of health care providers based on the providers’ characteristics. Depending on the situation, sometimes I have no preference and sometimes I have a strong preference.

Sometimes I’m put off by very young providers — not enough experience — and sometimes I’m not a fan of very old providers — unsteady hands, and perhaps not up to date on the latest science. As someone who recently moved to a new city, I have also purposely avoided old doctors because I don’t want to lose them to retirement almost immediately.

Sometimes I check where physicians went to medical school and residency, as a proxy (imperfect though it may be) for intelligence.

Sometimes personality also impacts my preferences. One of the dentists at my new practice is quite popular, but I will not be switching over to him based on what I can overhear across the hall: he is such a chatty Cathy. Friendly and personable, but he talks nonstop during people’s cleanings and procedures. For a different kind of doctor I might not mind, but at the dentist I am not interested in extended chit-chat with someone’s hands in my mouth.

I make choices when I’m choosing a doctor ahead of time. When assigned to someone, as I have been in the hospital or with other staff in a doctor’s office, I’ve never refused a provider. I’ve requested someone I liked better when making a return appointment, sure. But I’ve never refused, even when I actively disliked someone. Like the midwife whose cutesy schtick involved blaming pregnant women for premature labor. Ha ha. Hilarious. Even then, I accepted my fate. I was not friendly, but I didn’t demand a switch.

A friend of mine chose a hospital specifically because it was not a teaching hospital, and therefore she would not have to deal with medical students. However, the hospital did have nursing students. After the birth of her baby, a nursing student stuck herself then my friend with the same needle. After that, and the ensuing need to test for HIV etc., my friend banished all nursing students from her room for the rest of the hospitalization. Because of the incident, and because my friend had Dr. before her own name, the hospital respected her wishes, but I wonder if they would obey if a patient just walked in and said, “No students! I don’t like ’em!”

Bringing it back to the news story, a deceased relative who was a Holocaust survivor used to refuse doctors who came from Germany or had German lineage. No one ever seemed to have a problem with that. The two cases are similar in practice but very different in rationale. I wonder, though, where we draw the line: when is it okay to object on the basis of personal characteristics, and when it it wrong? I really have no idea.

Do you ever choose health care providers on the basis of personal characteristics? Have you ever refused to have a certain kind of provider?

Thoughtful Thursday: Romantic

February 14, 2013

Thoughtful ThursdayHow was your Valentine’s Day? Mine was exactly like any other day. Well, that’s not quite true. I attended a preschool Valentine’s party and helped Burrito and Tamale celebrate, but it was like any other day in terms of my interactions with my husband. We don’t really Valentine’s Day. We don’t really observe the official romantic occasions — no New Year’s Eve, usually we barely even acknowledge anniversaries. Definitely none of the overcrowded restaurants nor overpriced flowers nor not-quite-right jewelry nor trans-fatty drugstore chocolate nor disappointments that characterize Valentine’s Day.

Ignoring “romantic” holidays like today is one of the things about which DH and I heartily agree (get it? heartily?). We don’t like setting expectations that invariably fail to get met — that is, no female expectations nor male failure around here. We don’t like the calendar telling us when to express love or buy presents. We don’t like crowds nor paying more for things than they cost on every other day of the year.

How did I become a Valentine’s grinch? When I was in 9th grade, I happened to have an appointment at the beauty salon on Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t getting gussied up for a hot date or anything, just a routine visit. In retrospect I’m not sure why my mother scheduled the appointment on Valentine’s Day and not a normal day. Anyway, I was the last appointment of the day, and my beautician was the last one left in the salon — presumably everyone else had left early to celebrate the holiday. In the middle of working on me, she got a call from her boyfriend. She got more and more heated until she screamed, “Then you can just celebrate Valentine’s Day with some other bitch!” Then she slammed down the phone and burst out sobbing. Then she came back to finish working on me. Despite her emotional state, there were no mishaps with the scissors.

That day, I decided that I was on board with chocolate and wearing red and giving out valentines, but I did not want any of the drama. I never wanted to have a conversation like that.

Oh, and then there are the single people. Valentine’s Day totally rubs it in their faces. I always have plenty of friends who are single on any given Valentine’s Day, and many of them are really annoyed by it all. My husband has a friend whose divorce will be finalized next week; that guy has spent all day sending out angry tweets.

Anyway, the best part of Valentine’s Day happens tomorrow. All of the chocolate will be half price!

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day and other “romantic” occasions?