Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Positive Thinking vs Reality vs Pessimism... What's Worse?

I come from a family where admitting that you are happy or hopeful about something meant you were inviting a disaster. The way to prevent this possible disaster from striking you down was to immediately downplay the good and point out the not-so-good.

If I said: "Mom, I am really good at math!"
The response was: "Tfu, tfu, tfu over the left shoulder! Knock on wood! Now if only you could be more organized!"

If I said "Mom, I think I am going to win this competition"
The response was: "Well, okay... just don't be upset if you don't. If only you would keep your room clean..."

If I say "Mom, my daughter is doing great in school!"
The response is "Good for her! Now if only she would start eating meals like a normal person..."

My mom is a wonderful person and a very good mother. She has, however, developed a talent for seeing the worst in everything (what's the opposite of silver lining?). This eternal forced pessimism drives me mad. No matter how wonderful, how beautiful, how amazing things are - she'll find something negative. The scary thing is - I think she is actually an optimist by nature... but she trained herself to be a pessimist, she practically cocoons herself in it. She is getting worse, too. I certainly don't remember her being such a negativity-seeker when she was in her 30's and 40's.

I understand it - this magical thinking. We have so little control over the most important things in life (health, getting pregnant, life/death, to name a few) that engaging in magical thinking make one feel just a tiny bit more in control. As long as you think about bad things and point them out to everyone else, they will not happen. E is sneezing... Oh no!!!! He will surely end up with yet another ear infection! Bragging and/or feeling proud of good things means they will never happen again. Unless you somehow downplay/twist them. H is playing very nicely with C, but surely it will not last more than a couple of minutes.

I assumed that I would be so different than my mother, so much better. 

Ha.  Ha-ha.

I am just like her. I always think about the worst-case scenario (well... sometimes, it makes me feel better when I know what's the worst I can expect). I look at my husband and see faults and problems. I look at our kids and I worry about drug addiction, anorexia, and trouble of every kind (this, in turn, drives my husband nuts). 


I used to be a part-time optimist (hope for the best, prepare for the worst). Now I am not sure anymore...  All I see ahead of me is aging, piling up health problems, loss of loved ones, and death (not necessary in that order). I think this is the mid-life crisis...  


There is this truism: everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Will pessimism prepare me for failure? Because sometimes, failure is inevitable. Does pessimism make it easier to bear failure? If you expect to fail, then is your failure actually a success because you have fulfilled the expectation? You can give yourself a pat on the back and say "Yup, I knew this was going to happen! Oh well, time to move on." Sometimes, failure precedes being good at something - so unless you (pessimistically) are prepared to fail and expect to fail, you can never succeed. Twisted logic, isn't it - doesn't it make sense, though?


 I want to be too involved in my life to worry about the general outlook. I want to enjoy what I am doing and the people I am spending time with. I don't want to be pessimistic, optimistic, or realistic. I just want to be alive.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Perfect Mom I'll Never Be

Here comes the Perfect Mom...

  • She is always patient. Always. She speaks in a quiet voice and never, ever yells. She patiently explains to and reasons with her child(ren). She is calm and does not loose her temper. She never gets MAD at her kids. 

  • She does not order her kids around, but asks/explains/reasons to get them to do the right thing. She is always loving and has unlimited stores or cuddles/hug/kisses to give out. 

  • She plays with her child(ren) frequently. She reads and discusses books with them. 

  • Her kids always have their clothing perfectly pressed (and stain-free, of course). 

  • She allows her children to grow up and gives them space, as needed. She is always happy to support them but lets them make their own choices (and mistakes). 

  • She always stands up for her children and defends them, when needed (and she can easily determine when the situation requires her intervention and when children should be left alone to figure things out by themselves).

  • Children are very, very important to this perfect mom, but she also has a life/hobbies of her own, so that she doesn't need to live through her kids. She is an interesting person and children (of any age) spend time with her because they want to, not because they have to.

If I can just get through that first bullet point, just for ONE day.... 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Kids and Career: the Good Stuff

  • Having kids made me braver and more willing to take on something new (after all - I have to set a good example). 
  • Having kids provides a much-needed relieve from stress at work (I can't worry about work-related stuff and play 4-in-a-row at the same time), as well as perspective (things that used to be all-consuming are just a fraction of my life). 
  • Kids also made me realize the importance of a good salary and of getting fairly compensated for the amount of work put in. 

I am a scientist by training, and back in the undergrad days, my hopes included having my own lab - preferably in a big-name research institution. I didn't really think about getting married, kids, or any such nonsense.The tenure-track jobs lost their appeal 3/4 into graduate school. But that was okay - I loved working in a lab, I loved science, I was perfectly happy and content doing research in academia as a postdoc and then as a research associate. I cut down my hours from whatever crazy schedule I kept in graduate school to relatively set work days with only occasional work on the weekend. I wanted to spend time with friends, read science-unrelated books, and enjoy science-free evenings and weekends.

Then kids happened... The one thing that became progressively more important with the birth of each child was money. I was not making all that much money. Pre-kids, I could care less - I didn't have expensive tastes/hobbies. I was living happily within my means and demanding a raise felt petty and ridiculous (I did what I loved! Money was boring!).

With 3 kids - well, it is a little different. When I go to work, I feel that my time is precious - I need to use it well and then I want to be well-paid for the hard work! Especially because I want to be able to afford good-quality childcare while I am at work (higher price tag doesn't always come with best quality, but usually there is some correlation between what you pay and what you get). Then there are all these things that are not necessary, but still nice to be able to afford - travel, theater, museums, a house cleaning service, going to the shore, a house with a big yard in a quiet neighborhood with good schools.... 

I ended up doing what we call in Russia "fint ushami" (the closest English analog I can think of: an unexpected turnaround in midair). After more than 15 years of hard-core academic research, I got out of my comfort zone and got a job as a medical writer.

So here I am... I do miss lab research and academia, but... The pay is significantly better and there is the flexibility of working from home if I need to. The job is challenging, there is constantly new stuff to learn, and I like the people I work with.

If you are in a line of work that you like well enough but that is not the best fit at present - what would be the last straw? What would make you do "fint ushami?" 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Here is a list of our favorite (baby) things

Our kids are 8, 6, and almost 3. Here are some things* that we grew to love and that made our lives more pleasant:

1. Babybjorn plastic bib. Three kids, same bib (and still in use daily). It is amazing. It catches all the crumbs and it is very easy to clean. I love it....  I just rinse it after each meal and that's it!!!

2. Baby monitor (Sony). We just had a simple audio one - it worked great. It gave me a little bit of freedom while the baby was napping. I could be out in the backyard and still within an earshot of any noise my baby made. The older kids even used it as a one-way walkie-talkie. Now that i think about it, maybe instead of donating it, I should find some clever use for it (eavesdropping on the kids?).

3. Kangaroo Korner sling. Used daily with all 3 kids when they were infants (until about 5-6 months).

4. Kritter toddler bed ( IKEA). We got an inexpensive toddler bed for IKEA after my second child was born. It held up really well. Because my kids are pretty close in age, they all got to transition from the crib into the toddler bed one after another... it's been in near-continuous use for the last 5.5 years. My third child is now sleeping in it and will probably use it for another year or so. 

5. BOB Revolution stroller. We've used it non-stop since our first child was 5 months old. Currently, it is in use by child 3 (and, occasionally, child 2+3 together). It has held up very well. The kids love riding in it and my husband and I love pushing it (easy to push, easy to control with one hand). The two drawbacks - the storage area under the stroller is very small and the stroller itself takes up a lot of space even when folded up.

6. Ergo Carrier - only had it for the 3rd child. Wish I had it for the first two. It distributed weight evenly over my shoulder and was super comfortable both for me and the baby (she napped happily). I used it daily after my third child was about 5 months (great for hikes, exploring historic towns, exploring caves, etc)! I stopped using it when # 3 got too heavy for me to carry comfortably (about 19 months).

7. Comfortable rocking chair in the nursery. I did not have one at first, so i know how bad it can feel when you are stuck nursing/rocking your child in a tiny wooden rocking chair. It hurt my tailbone every time i tried to lean back. There were no armrests. Just thinking about it makes me grumpy! Having a comfortable place to sit and hold your baby in the same room as the crib/bassinet makes a big difference. Trust me.

8. Breast pump (Medela). That was money well spent. Pumped 3-4 times/day for my oldest son after going back to work. I also used it with the younger kids, but not as much (I stayed home with them when they were babies). I am so glad I had it.

9. Fisher Price Booster sit. Easy to clean, folds for easy transport, can be used at a table or with its own tray. Cheap.

Things that did not make this list but were still used with all 3 kids:

1. Crib from Babies R Us. It was ok. It worked fine and we used it extensively with all 3 kids. I don't love it but I don't hate it, either. The rails got chewed , but otherwise it held up well. It has a drop side that we only used on occasion with our first child. When we were looking for a crib, a drop side seemed like a "must-have." Nah, it wasn't all that convenient and I think they are illegal now. 

2. Graco foldable high chair. We got a (relatively) cheap version at Babies R Us. It was horrible. We used it with all 3 kids, but we hated it. There were lots of crevices where food got stuck. It was really difficult to clean. The height adjustment mechanism was easy to confuse with the buttons for folding it (and we hardly ever folded it... even though we didn't have a whole lot of space in our first house when the first 1 kids were little). 

3. Swings... we used them, a bit. The kids liked them, but they took up a ton of space and the kids always tended to have their heads at some awkward angle if they fell asleep.   

Things that I would do/buy differently:

1. Get a high chair that is easy to clean!!!

2. For any infant furniture (ie, swings) - make sure it reclines far enough and has the head positioning thingy. Even if they can hold their heads. All our kids loved to swing, but the head was always at some awful angle to the rest of the body!

3. Use Boudreaux's butt paste for diaper rashes. Other brands worked ok (used aquaphore with #3, mostly), but I just love the butt paste.

4. Get a beautiful baby mobile. Our son had an amazing one, with cardboard spinning on thin wires... unfortunately, it got accidentally destroyed when he was a toddler. We never got a replacement.

5. Skip the "my breast friend" pillow. We got one when our second child was born. I used it, at most, for a couple of weeks. 

*I am not paid to write any of this.