December 30, 2009

Kerstin's Birthday and that other Holiday in December

December 25th was just like any other day, except that we slept in late (as late as Alden would permit us, anyway) and cleaned the house all morning. We moseyed our way to Karen's house by mid-afternoon, once naps were taken and lunch was eaten and mashed into the newly cleaned rug. We got to her house around 2 and opened presents at 3 or 4, since Karen's oven was failing and I had to run back to our house to bake the bread. It was a really nice, low key day with no holiday pressure or expectations - exactly what we wanted and needed. Karen doesn't do Christmas trees, but prefers to decorate her ficus instead. I like this approach so much better. The idea of killing a tree just so you can gussy it up in your living room for a few weeks seems really dumb and wasteful. And anyway, decorating a live plant seems much more symbolic. Karen made a wonderful paella with local seafood and a fresh cranberry relish.

Alden liked the lights and liked his new toys and books. His favorite new book is Richard Scary's Best First Book Ever. An absolute classic, but a bitch for the bedtime story-reader, because it takes about a half an hour to get through the whole thing! It's still a great book and brings back all sorts of childhood memories. Lowly worm was an instant favorite with Alden.Kerstin had a birthday on the 29th. I got him this geeky T-shirt with an equalizer built into a panel on the front. It is wired to a small control that fits in the pocket of your jeans or your jacket. The lights bounce and flicker to the sounds in the room. It struck me as a project Kerstin would have had in graduate school, so I got it for him to bring him back to those happy years.

He lit up his current age in binary on the birthday candles left over from Hanukkah. The cat's out of the bag - at least for all you geeks out there who know how to read it. Karen graciously took Alden for the evening and Kerstin and I had a lovely adult dinner at his favorite local sushi restaurant.

December 29, 2009

Holidays Holidays

We spent 6 days in DC before Christmas to celebrate Geoff's birthday. Since it was also during Hanukkah, we celebrated the holiday with Ilana's Aunt Kay and Uncle Rob. Alden liked the beracha so much that he insisted we sing it a couple of times. We stayed with Kay and Rob and had a fantastic time.
We were hit with nearly two feet of snow towards the end of the trip -- a record snowfall for the area! It wreaked havoc with our travel plans, as well as those of Sarah, who was returning from vet school in Scotland. Because we were both delayed a day, we were able to see her at the very end of the trip, which was a really nice bonus.The snowstorm and Alden's tantrums meant that we didn't get out much and see Geoff, Joseph and Sandy as much as we would have liked. But we did eat some great meals. Kay and Rob are as gracious as two hosts can possibly be and we had a wonderful time with them.Alden sporting "Spencer and Skinner" (Joseph and Sandy's cats) in his own unique way.
After the storm we did a little sledding down a gentle hill by the elementary school.
In the prairie dog tube at the National Zoo. This was to avert a full blown meltdown, which worked for about 10 minutes.Chillin' at the airport. Even though our flight was canceled due to the massive storm, we managed not to get stranded in an airport this time, which made our travel experience much more enjoyable.

December 22, 2009

Reflections of a Working Mom

My boss submitted her letter of resignation to the Director of the lab last Monday. On Tuesday, she phoned the office to tell me the news. She had planned to return from her maternity leave in January -- a mere 2 weeks away, but had decided that it wouldn't work out for her. After our conversation, I realized that although I will miss her here, I felt oddly relieved for her.

We had long talks in the office when I was pregnant about what it was like to work and care for a child, and she gave me the very best advice of anyone. She never romanticized the situation. There is no way to know if you will want to return to your old life before you have the baby. Accepting your new reality is one of the hardest parts of parenthood. You will have to make many concessions and learn to compromise both at home and at work. There is no way to properly prepare yourself for the changes ahead, you just have to see how you feel afterward. I listened intently to her lessons, thinking that I'd absorbed all the wisdom in them at the time, but only truly comprehending after Alden became a formidable reality. My boss is truly the wisest person I know. Still, despite knowing these truths, she had convinced herself that the second child wouldn't be any harder than the first, that she would be able to return to work after a year, that her son would accept his new reality, sharing his mother with the laboratory. Life didn't work out as she'd planned.

My boss labored for 4 years on her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, then spent the following 5 years in two consecutive post doc positions, after which she was able to sandwich two Research Scientist positions between having a baby. Now that she's leaving science, I wonder if she feels disappointed with all that time spent training and developing her career. I wonder if it feels like wasted time. I probably would feel that way, but my boss seems to handle herself with such dignity and grace, I suspect she is focusing instead on her family and is relishing that wonderful feeling of relief that comes with letting go of a tremendous responsibility.

Viruses are harder to propagate than most people might think. The host cells have to
be healthy and in just the right physiological condition. Starving, over-crowded or stressed hosts repel viruses like water off a duck's back. Even in the correct physiological state, if the viral binding sites are blocked or deformed in any manner, the viruses will never take hold. If the cell manages to stave off the attack or somehow recognize and evict the intruder, then you'll fail to propagate them again. I can't tell you how many times I've spent weeks setting up cultures to propagate viruses, only to be stymied over and over. The cells are happily growing in their petri dish weeks later. Biology -- life -- lays waste to our best laid plans. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.

My decision to abandon a Ph.D. was one of the hardest of my life. I'd never given up on anything before. It was embarrassing and shameful. But I still think it was the best decision I've ever made. When I think about my boss and all that she is giving up to be a better mother, I am inspired by her dedication but also grateful that I won't need to confront a decision like hers. There are times when I think that I should have stayed the course, especially when I see my grad student cohort graduating, starting post docs and launching their careers. One of them is actually applying to be a scientist at the lab here, which still feels a little weird. If I had those impressive letters behind my name, I'd be a real scientist, not just a lab monkey. I'd be more respected in the scientific and broader communities. I'd have more influence over the questions I'm investigating. Maybe I'd even make more money and have a more secure job. But I also might find myself letting it all go to be a better mom. And that's much more bittersweet. Right now things feel as balanced as I can get them and maybe I can keep it that way, at least a little while longer. I've learned now that the only way I'll know for sure is to wait and see. And if I do end my career in science to stay at home and raise my child, at least I'll be in good company.

December 15, 2009


On the first night of Hanukkah, I came home from work and Karen was in the kitchen, frying up latkes! We lit candles, sang some songs and ate the delicious latkes she made. Alden liked them with ketchup. Sacrilege, I know, but we do what we must to get the kiddies to eat the good stuff.
I had a few boxes of candles leftover from years past when my Mom sent them as presents. However, once I actually pulled them out of storage and counted them, I realized that there were only enough for 3 days. On the fourth day, when no Hanukkah miracle materialized for us, I went to the the biggest supermarket in town and see if I could get any more. Hell, if the Maccabees could re-establish the oil trade route to their pile of rubble within 8 days, surely I could find a box or two of Hanukkah candles in this egalitarian era of the "Holiday Season". Augusta just built a schmancy new Hannaford Supermarket, with offerings like 4 varieties of organic quinoa in the bulk food section, and Beuschel (a ragout containing calf lungs and heart) behind the deli counter. If they could carry such delectables, why wouldn't they have Hanukkah candles? Why indeed. I perused the seasonal section first, which was comprised of an aisle and a half of snowmen and Santa-themed cards, candles, wreaths, lights, cocktail dingles, you name it. No luck here. Then I checked the "Jewish" section in the international aisle. It was fully stocked with Matzoh and Matzoh meal products. Do goyim really think that matzoh marks the start of all Jewish celebrations? Here I am, bombarded with Christmas themed music and merch (everything from Rudolph-shaped pretzels to limited-edition candy cane condoms), all in anticipation of a holiday that is still 2 weeks off and I can't even get a lowly pack of candles on day 4 of an actual holiday, for fucks sake. And people wonder why Jews are always so irritable at this time of the year! I decided to ask a clerk for help locating the Hanukkah candles. Perhaps I was simply looking in the wrong part of the store. He took me right back to the Jewish section and triumphantly thrust a box of shabbos candles in my direction. When informed of his error, he gave me the sort of pained look reserved especially for difficult customers. "Who do I look like, Mel Brooks?" he thought. "A candle is a goddamned candle. Maybe if I direct her attention to our fabulous selection of Jewish holiday crackers, she'll leave me in peace."

"How about birthday candles," I suggested, trying to be helpful and upbeat, despite my growing irritation. "Got any of those?" So there you have it folks -- Our menorah with birthday candles. They were a bit too small, but did the trick, at least for this year. Next year I really need to order online in advance. Lesson learned.

December 7, 2009

2nd snow of the year - Sledding

Alden is way more into snow than sand. Despite taking a header into three fluffy inches in our backyard, he shook it off and was rearin' to go mere seconds later. The pitch of our backyard is the perfect angle for toddler sledding, so we managed to get some rides in before dark yesterday.

Alden likes the going up part just as much as the going down part.

December 6, 2009

Artwalk December 4

I took Alden to the Gardiner Artwalk. We actually went early so I could help set up some tree lights in McKay Park. Of course, Alden was not into hanging lights and his lack of interest hindered my usefulness considerably. I found my niche being a gopher for an hour, finding supplies and whatnot. In the end the lights came out very nicely, thanks to some unexpected help from some folks from the city. There is still more to do, but we got 5 of out the 10 rings completed.

The art walk was successful. Lots of people. lots of good food, and even some artists sold some works. Alden was annoyingly shy around groups of people, so when the crowds started getting large we would move to quieter surroundings. This little chess game continued throughout the event.
We ended up at Sarah's apartment (she lives on the top floor of Artdogs) which was closed to the public. Alden spent a lot of time that night playing with a totem-cat on her stairs. It can be seen in the background of the video.

Alden says hi.

He LOVES looking through the back of the camera at the world around him.

December 2, 2009

Santa down!

I saw this on my way to work this morning and laughed out loud. Then I felt a little bad. Then I turned around to take the picture. I dislike inflatable holiday decoration, but this is almost art.

December 1, 2009

Take the child to work

Last week we took Aden to the Dentist because he had a little gray coloring on the edge of his gum-line.We were not sure if we should be worried, and the dentist didn't give us any direction. Just a 'watch it and call in three weeks'. I had to meet a contractor at the office before hand, so even though I was going to take the morning off, I found myself at the office.
I set him up with some YouTube classic Sesame Street and he did okay. He knows and likes Darrell, but didn't really want to hang out with anyone else.