Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two bits of Eggmus

Categories. Epsilon is really struggling with categories.

"Hot dog means sausage?"
"No, a hot dog is a type of sausage, but there are other types of sausage."

Epsilon, in his continued love of all things scary, is trying to figure out the difference between Dragons, and Demons and Giants and Monsters.

"Dragon means monster?"
"Giant means monster?"
"What's a monster?"

My partner, brilliant man that he is, pulled out our Monster Manuals, and pointed out different monsters and what they are called.

Epsilon, my sweet little boy, of course, wanted him to read ALL of it. They compromised on reading the "nice dragon book" for bedtime.


Whatever his confusion with categories, 3 year olds are really good at pattern recognition.

"Why do all the babies go out with their Mommies and not their Daddies?" Epsilon asked my partner when a string of women pushing baby carriages got onto the bus.

When my partner told me this, it struck me that I think I've seen one man pushing an under 2 in a stroller while not in the company of a woman in His Town. It's rare in My City, but not as shockingly rare. Biased sample, but it's what I have.

"Um, because sometimes they think they Daddies don't know how to be Daddies, so they go out with the Mommies instead," my partner stammered out.

Before this offends anyone, I should point out that "being a Daddy" in this context means what Epsilon knows his Daddy to be: The same as a mommy, but the nipples are harder to tweak. Also, Daddies are hairier and bigger.

As in the world of three year olds, questions tend to repeat themselves. We're trying to come up with a better answer for him next time he asks. We are open to suggestions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nightmares of my father

My parents grew up in a high stakes testing system*. The entirety of their success in college was based on two sets of exams. No home works, what lab work there was didn't seem to count towards a final grade, though reports did need to be submitted. Growing up, the need to memorize every possibly  relevant fact in the text book was an important part of doing my homework.

I was brought up in the US educational system. In high school there were chapter tests and quizzes almost every week. In college, there were essays and homework sets and lab reports that usually constituted at least 30% of my semester grade, and at least one midterm and final occurred every semester. Not quite what one would call high stakes testing, though exams still caused a good deal of stress for me. I cannot imagine surviving in the world my parents grew up in, where I would get little practice at, and less feedback on the skills I am supposed to be learning in the course.

My partner is teaching a two semester course at University E. Most of the grade is based on an end of the year exam. Grading homework involves a long an convoluted electronic process that seems to involve a step of standing over a Xerox machine, scanning graded home works into electronic form that can be uploaded to the online homework system. He hurt his back last week, so standing over a photocopier was being unpleasant enough to encourage him to consult with colleagues about how they deal with graded home works. The answer? They don't. They grade some small number of essays, which the system is better set up to deal with. But they don't assign graded home works.

Being educated in the US system, both my partner and I balk at this idea. How is a student supposed to master technical skills without practice? How do they know how their skills are progressing if they are only given solution sets, and no feedback on the work they have done? How does one do anything other than learn what is taught in lecture? How does one get any depth of understanding of the subject matter?

I know this lack of understanding about a high stakes system of education versus a low stakes system runs both ways. Many of my partner's colleagues who either did part of their education in the US, or taught there for some time, admit to having doubts that a greater stress on home works and less on exams could possibly lead to a successful education. Most of them have come to see that it does work. Many of my colleagues who have to teach in the US and were trained abroad complain, at least initially, about how US students are lazy and complain a lot, while students in their home country just sucked up and worked.

I have yet to see the benefits of a high stakes testing system. Any one who believes in that method of education, I would love to hear your point of view.

*Okay, give what else my father had to face in childhood, exams were hardly his biggest nightmare, though they did feature prominently in his view of our education.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gender: M/F/T

An interesting headline attracted my attention. Apparently, this is not completely new news. In 2011, when Nepal conducted its census, it allowed for a third gender option for people who did not want to be identified as either male or female. The more recent headline is about the country issuing state IDs with a third gender option.

I've only been in Nepal as a tourist, and that over a decade ago. I don't know what it's previous record on violence against LGBT and its gender queer population is. However, this is a nice moment. And this is a wonderful picture, cycle rickshaw pulled dancers and all.

From CNN

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Four Years ago

The opening of Obama's speech last night had me going for a moment. Overall, it wasn't a great speech, in my completely unqualified opinion. But it had a great opening.
Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.
Something fluttered inside me. This has been the sea change of this administration for me. All of a sudden, some very official government officials are talking about darker shades of beige and people for whom the god of the New Testament is not fundamental to their belief system and the beliefs of their ancestors as part of America.

It got me thinking about this moment 4 years ago. Friends of mine had gone to DC for the first inauguration. My partner and I were at a conference near my in-laws, where an unfortunate sequence of events caused us to realized that trying to adopt was just not going to work for us, we needed to try to conceive.....

It's been an eventful 4 years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What I am looking forward to next year

When Epsilon's day care calls us to tell us that he has a fever, and he tosses and turns from 1 am to 3:30 am, and my partner can't sleep because he has a cough that is keeping him up, and I realize at 3 am that my trachea is also inflamed and raw, I look forward to being able to call in sick for the day, without it meaning that I am out for the week or out a couple hundred dollars for a new plane ticket.

When my partner calls me 10 mins after I step into my office to tell me that the doctors have found a growth on my father in laws pancreas, I want to be able to come home for dinner and hold him.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Job hunt vivisection

We went out to lunch on Saturday with two other couples with kids. There was big news to be shared all around. One family just found out they were expecting a girl. We'd just found out that we were closer to solving our 2 body problem. As we talked about the news in our lives, someone laughed at me for saying my new job (let me call it University C) is in the same metro area as University E. "How very American." Well, yes.

To be fair, there are many faculty at both Univeristy C and E live in Large City and commute out to work, though they would both be commuting close to an hour in different directions. Both my partner and I have thought about living in Large City, I have a general part of it that I've dreamed of living in ever since my partner got this position. We've gone back and forth on this matter some, and I think we've decided: not yet. My dream of stamping SOLVED on a page of this blog is yet to be realized.

My end date at University F has been determined. They've all been very nice about it. I didn't tell anyone at work about this job search while it was underway, and after I got this position, I was worried about hard feelings. I've always been advised to only leave a post doc for a clearly large step in academic progression, so from post doc to TT, or from SSE State to Harvard. This is much more of a lateral move in terms of my carreer, but everyone seemed to understand that it makes my family life much easier, and are happy for me.

Something I didn't want to talk about on this blog, or anywhere really, is that the faculty in my partner's department have been trying to engage in negotiations to get me hired at University E. There was an informal interview when I first moved here that was a bit bizarre. The department in my subject here is very weak, and does little of what I do. On the other hand, there were some technical reasons why they may want me anyway. Last week, I found out that the technical reasons have been dealt with in a way that doesn't involve my hiring, and I don't know how I feel about that. How does one weigh a post-doc at a very good department versus a TT position at a very weak school that doesn't require us to move for the forseeable future? Even without the 2 body problem, it is a tough decision.

My future PI is being very generous and has offered that I keep looking for permanent jobs. There is some tea leaf reading predicting that I will have a hard time on the market near by next year and possibly the year after that. So, the job hunt isn't over, and thus this post is a vivisection. I've found an exciting TT position at a university only slightly further away from our current home than University C, thought I'm having a hard time getting my hopes up. University E thinks it might have a general position open in June that I should apply for.

European universities tend to make hiring decisions much later in the academic year than American Universities do. Thus far, I have always applied on the US schedule, and thus missed my opportunities to a TT position anywhere. I'm risk averse enough about this decision that I haven't felt comfortable passing up good post doc opportunities in to hold out for a TT position that may or may not be advertised several months down the line. I had come to this realization while I was waiting to hear the results of this interview, I even had a blog post drafted on the issue .... I am very happy that I still have the chance to apply for the permanent positions that have not been advertised yet.

This has all left me feeling a bit unsettled. I could not stomach my partner looking at fun tourist attractions near University C. The job search continues, but in the best way possible, if such a thing exists. The badness of my two body problem has been significantly reduced, and there may still be a chance for that solved stamp to go up.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What a difference a year makes

Last year, on this date, I wrote that I had just accepted my current position. I am still trying to see if language like that referred to in that post is just a sign of how things are done here, with no unconscious sexist overtones. My efforts in cultural understanding are not being helped by the grad student down the hall who is also having a hard time adjusting culturally, and keeps telling me about the insults she has borne from the men she meets.

A year ago Friday, my partner left for University E. I was not a happy camper, though comparing it with the giddyness of today/last night the Gibran quote about joy and sorry being closely linked seems more apt now.

It helps that my partner and I are much better poised in terms of our research. It helps that Epsilon is older, and therefore easier to single parent. It helps that the commutes keep shrinking, and now it only involves several long train rides. It helps that we don't have to worry about money any more.

I have not accepted as yet. I am waiting for a response to one e-mail I sent last night. I think I know what the e-mail will say. And then I get to think about visas. I have never been so happy to worry about immigration issues.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


It's a post-doc. The PI's seems to be a guy I get along with. The project is exciting, new, and definitely diversifying my portfolio. I've been wanting to work on a project like this for 9 months now, long before I saw the ad for this position. It is located such that we could decide to keep having two households, but only a 3.5 hour commute each way (I could be home for dinner on Fridays!!!!!), or one household, and work heavily from home.

There are cons as well. I won't go into them now. I just spent the last couple hours digesting this news on the phone with my partner. But for now:

I have a job
A jobby jobby jo-o-ob.
I have a job
A jobby jobby job!

More digestion of my job hunting process, the pros and cons of this versus other positions, and 2 body problem musings to follow over the next few days.

But I have a job!
I get to live closer to my kid!
I can has family dinner on Mondays AND Fridays!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Thoughts on that nostalgic, slower pace of life.

Once upon a time, I was pleasantly surprised, made nostalgic, and generally pleased by they way some towns in certain parts of Europe work. The ratio of small/local shops to chains was much higher than in the States. There was something pleasant, even storybook-like, for me to go to the green grocer for my vegetables and then down the street to the bakery for my bread, and to a third store for my jam and loose leaf tea. What a wonderful, slower pace of life. The people at the bakery knew my name. This filled my transience with a sense of potential community. Needless to say, I was not a mother in a two-body problem yet.

Here's my current, probably equally biased and unrealistic take on the same situation in His Town:

This town is designed for house-spouses.

  • Dear Postal Services, Why do you not regularly leave packages that do not need to be signed for on the stoop? Why do you only leave me a note telling me to pick up my package,  which may or may not be at the central post office (I should look online before making the trip), which is only open regular business hours, and Saturday mornings? I appreciate the desire for postal workers to get home to their families and lives. I have a family and a job as well. Save us all the trouble and leave it by my door next time?
  • Dear Local Business Commission, Why is the main shopping district closed by 6 pm? By the time I pick up my kid from daycare and feed him dinner, the opportunity to transfer money from my bank account to yours has passed. Instead, I spend a lot more money on your on-line competitors, only to face the problem above.
  • Dear ... I'm actually not sure who... , Why are the washing machines in this country so small? In such a wet climate, why is it standard for private houses not to have driers? This means that we have to do small loads of laundry thrice a week instead of once. During winter, the heating units in our house are constantly covered with a layer of drying clothes. I recognize that this is similar to the setting my father-in-law probably had growing up, but I had hoped that the standards for households had improved over the last 60 years.
  • Dear Local Small Business Owners, Why do you not have hours on Sunday, or after 6 pm? Again, I understand that you have families you would like to get home to, but so do I, as well as a job. Whenever I am forced to choose between you and the outing we have planned with our family, the outing, and Amazon, win.
  • Dear Local Restaurants, Why do many of you close by 4:30 pm? If I want to have a healthy, interesting meal with my family on a day we have taken off to catch a matinee with my toddler, I would hope to catch an early dinner in town somewhere that is not a bar? p.s. If you care to share, I am really curious what your business model is, and who your target market is with hours from 10am -4 pm Monday through Saturday.


As always, advice and insight from those who have been living in this part of the world longer is welcome.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's the opposite of Eggmus?

Epsilon said something heart breaking the other day. He pointed to a black man and said that "he isn't pretty." My partner and I were floored. When we pushed him, he said that he wasn't pretty because he was black. To his credit, upon further pushing, he admitted that if he took off his jeans and put on a pink dress, he would be pretty.

We've had a lot of issues with Epsilon (who is big into princesses and dresses right now) and whether or not boys can be pretty. We've tried talking to the school about it, to no avail. I figure that our views on gender roles are far enough out of the societal norms that we shouldn't risk traumatizing the teachers at the school by insisting they make a point of it. But this new racial aspect is very different, and we both feel like we need to come down firmly to the school.

Beyond a general feeling of "AACK!", we'll talk to the teachers. I want them to incorporate messages about pretty girls (I'm going to give up on the gender issue here) of all colors, and read stories to the kids that unselfconciously incorporate characters of all races in them. Unfortunately, judging by the public library here, books like that are much harder to come by in His Town than they were in the last place we lived.

This shouldn't surprise me. But it does.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A tale of two New Year's Eves

One year, it feels like a lifetime ago, though this memory is less than a decade old, my partner and I got sick of not having plans for the the 31rst, and decided to go camping. It was a mild winter, so we met a lot of hikers on the trail, mostly heading out of the park to enjoy an evening on the town. We found our shelter, bedded down for the night, and went to sleep at the ridiculously early for an urban dweller, but reasonable camping bedtime of 8 pm. Four hours later, we awakened to the sound of fireworks in the nearby metropolis, wished each other happy new year, and went back to sleep. Six hours later, we awakened to a rain storm with winds strong enough to blow the rain into the shelter and wet the tent. We moved the tent to keep it dry. I put out pots to collect rainwater running off the roof of the shelter and start a fire. I reawakened my partner with a hot cup of tea. I think that was my best spent New Year's Eve in recent memory.

This year, after putting Epsilon to bed, my partner and I settled down to work like we do every night. I looked up from finishing my job talk to realize that it is 11:15 pm. My partner and I had recently had a discussion about whether we wanted to stay up to ring in the new year, and decided against it. My watch, set to the time zone of My City, admonished that I've already missed the moment, whether I wanted to mark it or not. My partner, in an attempt to distract me from my despair, opened up the book we are reading together, and we settled in to read ourselves to sleep. 

Oh the times, they are a changin'.

Happy New Year, folks. What did you do last night?