Random potty win

So here’s a thing that happened tonight… S both pooped and peed in the potty!  Without any training whatsoever!

We’ve been talking up the potty, of course.  Mostly when he complains about diaper changes.  We tell him, “Oh, I know you don’t like diaper changes.  Did you know that once you learn to use the potty, we’ll never have to change your diaper again?”  But he’s shown almost zero interest, and usually refuses to sit on the potty when we ask.  Everything I’ve read has said to either train way before a new baby comes or way after, and since he was showing almost no signs of readiness a few months ago we have just been ignoring potty training as a thing altogether.  Still, sometimes he asks to sit on the potty, and of course we let him, but nothing has ever happened when he’s done it before.  Honestly, mostly it’s been after he poops, as a way of stalling before a poopy diaper change.  But hey, whatever, sitting on the potty is sitting on the potty, amirite?

Well, apparently something is starting to click in his brain, because tonight after his bath he was sitting on my lap wrapped in a towel when he said

“S almost peeing!”

“Do you want to go sit on the potty?” I asked him.

“Yeah!”

So daddy whisked him off to the potty, where he proceeded to both pee and poop like a champ!  And he even told us that he wasn’t done and needed to keep sitting on the potty, and then pooped some more.  We had a celebratory dance and lots of praise and talked about how cool it was that he pooped and we didn’t have to change his diaper!  (Though, wiping is a challenge — he wanted me to wipe him while he was sitting on the potty “like when mama and dada go potty!”  I tried, but I was like, “Um, sorry buddy, I’ve never done this before either…”  Any tips for toddler wiping???)  Then we had him say “Bye-bye poop!” and he got to flush, and he seemed very proud and excited about the whole thing.

We are reluctant to go full-on potty training mode a mere 4.5 weeks before my due date, but at the same time, this seems like it might just be a real opportunity to seize.  I think we’ll just go with the flow (I mean, hey, it’s worked so far!) and see if he continues to be interested, or if this is just a one-time fluke.  But if he shows any more interest, I think a trip to Target to let him pick out some big-boy undies might be in the cards for next weekend.  I have to say, I could never have imagined that I’d be this excited to watch someone else go to the bathroom! 🙂

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Breech Watch

35 weeks today!  Hard to believe our new little guy will make his appearance in about a month!

Everything is still looking good, with one exception: he still hasn’t flipped to head-down, so we are officially on breech watch from here on out.  Last week the ultrasonographer at MFM told me he was breech, and today the local OB did a quick scan showing that he is transverse.  She said that if he really moved from breech to transverse on his own in the last week, she’s “very optimistic” that he’s still on the move and will flip on his own.  But if he’s still not cephalic next week, they’ll schedule a version for the following week.  It’s a bit complicated by the fact that he’s on the large side, still measuring around 80th percentile, so it’s not clear how much longer he’ll have room to move on his own.

I’m mostly managing to not freak out about this news.  I know that both late flippers and successful versions are more common if you’ve given birth before, so I’m hopeful that either he’ll flip on his own or a version will be successful.  Worst-case scenario (currently at about 25% probability, according to my reading) would be a scheduled c-section if he won’t flip.  While I’d love to avoid a c-section if possible, my perspective since the loss of our daughter has always been that whatever gets baby out as safely as possible — for both baby and mom — is the way to go, and if that’s a c-section (which it sounds like it is, thanks to the Term Breech Trial), so be it.  The idea of a c-section freaks me out quite a bit, and I can’t help but think wistfully of my super-easy recovery from S’s birth, but at least a scheduled section sounds less scary than an emergency section.

Otherwise, it has so far been my favorite kind of pregnancy: boring and uneventful.  I finished my hat-knitting project (I wound up knitting three sizes of hats just to make sure there’ll be something to fit each of two kids), and I’m looking forward to giving them to my sons (plural!  can you imagine?!) after the birth.  The nursery is in reasonable shape, all of S’s old clothes are washed and organized, S is going nuts waiting for Halloween, as well as being obsessed with the two new babies in his daycare (he almost cried when baby Jack wasn’t there this morning), and we’re just generally trying to get the last few things on our to-do list done.  Except for some rain, we’re having beautiful fall weather, and I’m mostly just trying to enjoy these last few precious weeks as a family of three before our lives get upended, hopefully in the most joyful possible way.

Anniversaries

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day we found out my daughter had died.  It’s also four days after the first anniversary of my father’s death.  It’s been a somber week.

Both anniversaries feel a little bit lonely — nobody has remarked on either (though I did get a handwritten card from the funeral home about my dad).  I understand why.  I’ve had a couple of wonderful friends who remembered some of the important dates around my daughter’s death and have checked in with me on those days, which I so appreciate.  Four years later, while I still mark this day as a private day of grieving, I don’t feel as much need for the support, so it’s OK with me that my friends have stopped reaching out.  It feels natural and fine that they’ve played an important part in my healing process and the support has faded as I’ve needed it less — it’s not as though I’d expect them to remember and get in touch on this day for the rest of our lives.

As for my dad, well… I think that’s different because everyone close to me knows that I didn’t get along with him and was not close to him.  They know that his death raised complicated emotions for me.  So, probably they’ve either not thought about following up, or assumed it wasn’t important to me, or they have thought of it but have been too daunted by not knowing what to say.  And while it’s true to some extent that it’s not hugely important to me that anyone reach out, I admit that I would have welcomed some acknowledgment of the complicated feelings, or just someone to say that they were remembering him or thinking of me in some way.  I have been grieving, in my own way.  The death of a parent is always a little earth-shattering, even if you’re not close with your parent.  It’s not really something you can just emotionally skate over, even if I don’t have to deal with the deep feelings of loss and absence that I assume someone close to their parent would have to deal with.  I did a lot of my grieving for our relationship long before he died, but there’s still something so horrifyingly final about his absence from the planet.  No chance to revisit our relationship, no chance that he might be a better grandfather than he ever was a father.  And of course, a reminder of my own mortality, and the sadness that comes with seeing how easily his existence seems to have been forgotten.  He led a fairly sad and lonely life, and feeling like I’m the only one remembering the anniversary of his death just drives home the sadness of his empty life even more.

So, that’s where I am this week — not as melancholy as I sound, I promise!  But it’s a big week for memories and contemplation.

One hopeful project I started this week is that I’m knitting matching hats for my son, S, and his little brother.  When I was pregnant with S, I was too nervous to do any sort of nesting projects before he was born.  I thought several times about knitting something for him, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it, because it was too depressing to imagine having it lying around if S died too.  We reluctantly got some furniture in the room around this time in my pregnancy with S (or maybe even later?), and I remember sitting in the rocking chair in his room and crying every night for a long time (weeks?) before he was born, wondering if I’d ever be lucky enough to meet him.  This time around, I have been able to relax and hope a little bit more, which feels good.

This weekend we went to a craft store to pick out some fabric for the window seat bench we are making for the new baby’s room (it’s an Ikea hack that we’ve been happy with in S’s room — we’re basically redoing everything we did in S’s room, furniture-wise, just with different colors and patterns), and while we were there I wandered over to the yarn section with S, who helped me pick out some yarn to make a hat: “One for S and one for S’s baby,” as S insisted.  S’s favorite colors are “light green,” orange, and purple right now.  There was no orange yarn in the baby section, so S picked out one skein of a lovely lavender and one of a lurid yellow-green.  I eventually convinced him that the skein he picked out was closer to yellow than green, and was able to suggest a softer leaf-green color instead, but there was really no negotiating beyond that!  So I started making this hat, with lavender and leaf-green cotton yarn.  It is a cute gender-neutral baby combination, and I love that S is so excited about me making matching hats for him and his baby brother that I don’t really care if the colors are a little weird (and will totally clash with S’s maroon winter coat). 🙂 It felt so nice (and a little bit ridiculous) last night after S was in bed to just sink into the stereotype of the nesting pregnant lady, resting my knitting needles on my 7-months-pregnant belly between rows.  This project is, for me, an act of hope, and an act of love and connection between me and S and the new baby.  I know that whatever happens, I’ll treasure the memories that these hats will bring.

Tenure/Pregnancy update: End-of-summer edition

30 weeks pregnant and all was well at our monthly ultrasound this week.  Little guy is bopping around in there, currently lying sideways across my belly.  My husband and I have settled on a default name (unless we come up with something we like better by the time he is born) and are setting up the nursery.  I don’t remember at what point we did all this with S, but I think it was later.  I do remember that this was the point in my pregnancy with S at which our dear friends offered to throw us a shower, and I broke down in tears and just couldn’t handle the idea of planning for a living baby (the upshot was that we agreed on a “sip-and-see” a few months after S was born, which was a lovely compromise).  Some days I still can’t handle the idea of planning for another living baby (how lucky can we possibly hope to be???), and some days that’s all I can think about.  I still feel plenty of pregnancy impostor syndrome — like, this pregnancy isn’t actually going to last, there’s not actually going to be a new baby, it could all come crashing down at any moment.  But I’m at least able to act more normal this time around, mostly not responding weirdly to people’s innocent inquiries about whether this is our first (standard answer: “No.  We have a 2.5-year-old at home”) or jibes about how we’ll have our hands full with two boys (standard answer: “I sure hope so!”).

On the tenure side, I submitted my materials to my department today!  Hooray!  Now comes a long, long wait.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a final answer by May 2019, and if I’m not lucky, I’ll have a final answer by December 2019.  The big steps in the process are:

  • This fall the department solicits letters from experts in my field around the country/world who can comment on my research portfolio.  This process typically takes a couple of months, as I understand — it happens in two stages, the first of which involves sending letters asking people if they will agree to write letters, and the second of which involves sending letters asking them to actually write the letters and then waiting for the responses.
  • Hopefully by the end of fall, but possibly later if there are delays, my department will have collected all of the external letters and will meet to go over all of my materials and vote on my case.
  • After my department has made its recommendation, presumably sometime in the spring, my case will go to a university-wide faculty committee for evaluation.  This committee currently includes members from the departments of English, Music, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Economics, Sociology, Chemistry, and Biology — there’s also one from Earth and Environmental Sciences, but she can’t vote on my case (unfortunately, since she’s the most qualified to evaluate it) because she’s officially my faculty mentor.  I go to the end of the line for the university-wide committee this year, since most faculty start at the university in the fall, but I started in the spring, so I’m on a one-semester-late review schedule.  This is the main reason for uncertainty in when I’ll get an answer about my tenure case — they will review my case in the spring if they have time, but if they are overwhelmed with fall cases they aren’t obligated to review it until next fall semester.
  • After the university-wide committee votes on my case (if the vote is positive), it goes to the Board of Trustees, and then the university president.  If I’ve gotten positive reviews at each stage up until this point, it’s usually a rubber stamp at the upper levels, but there was a case in recent memory that was positive at the department and university level but was overturned by the president, so there’s always the possibility that something weird will happen.  Since the Board of Trustees meets only a few times per year, this is another potential source of delay, depending on when the university-wide committee reviews my case.

After all of this, I’ll get a yes or no answer: either yes, I can keep my job essentially forever (barring unlikely circumstances like a major failure to meet my duties or major reorganization of the academic structure like eliminating my department), or no, I’m fired and I have to go look for another job.

It’s a long time to be in limbo, and many faculty find the uncertainty torturous.  My goal is just to try to relax and let the process play itself out, and allow myself to be distracted by the hopeful new addition to our family in November.  It’s the sort of setup that could either be really great (because I’ll be so busy with a new baby that I won’t have time to fret about tenure) or really awful (because being home with a new baby is psychologically challenging and so is waiting for news about your tenure case).

But either way, both of these big projects are looking like they’re in good shape at the moment, so I have to focus on that.  And now that I’ve turned in my materials, they have something else in common too: there’s essentially nothing I can do to change the outcome of either at this point.  The work I’m submitting for tenure has been done and documented, and this baby is baking away and the only thing I can do is to take care of myself and wait to see what happens.  I should avoid doing stupid things, like starting a feud in my department or suddenly becoming a binge drinker, but otherwise I have to accept that I have little to no control over the outcomes of either my pregnancy or my tenure case at this point.  And that’s hard for someone who likes to plan and act!  But if nothing else, my experience with pregnancy loss and infertility have given me plenty of practice at waiting, accepting lack of control, and dealing with difficult outcomes.  So, I’m pretty sure that whatever happens, we’ll make it through.

Baby and Tenure Update

Baby and tenure packet are both cooking along, so I thought I’d post a brief update.

Today I’m 28w pregnant and therefore officially in the third trimester.  While I do feel much more relaxed with this pregnancy, I had my first significant baby freak-out earlier this week — I had just been feeling off, and woke up with a sort of painful burning in my lower abdomen and then had two bouts of super-intense sharp pain over about an hour in the morning that freaked me out and sent me running to my OB worried about a repeat abruption.  She very calmly told me she didn’t think I was having an abruption, and that it sounded more like something GI-related, but if it would reassure me they’d check on ultrasound, which they did (just a quick, unofficial ultrasound).  Everything looked fine with the placenta, and baby has been kicking up a storm ever since, so I’m just left feeling a little sheepish.  I’m still glad I went in instead of stewing in worry, though.  While I am significantly more relaxed in this pregnancy than in my pregnancy with S, that’s like saying that my wind speeds have dropped from hurricane level to tropical storm level — I am still very, very far from the carefree blissful assumption of a healthy baby that I experienced for the first 18w of my first pregnancy.  But objectively, everything is fine.  I’m starting to drag a little and feel the achy pelvis and lower back that I remember from my pregnancy with S, but it’s still not bad, and I’m still immensely grateful for every day that I’m pregnant with a healthy, squirmy baby.

On the tenure side, I’ve drafted my research and teaching statements, gotten some feedback on them from my PhD advisor and my faculty mentor outside my department (who has served three times on our university tenure committee), updated my annotated CV, and am now revising everything and preparing to submit at the end of the month.  While my materials aren’t technically due until early November, I’ve obviously got another big deadline looming at the same time (i.e., my baby’s due date!) so don’t want to leave it any later than I have to.  I had discussed with my chair turning everything early and he’s totally on board with it.  So, my goal is to get my packet submitted by the end of August, before the semester starts, and then just allow myself to be distracted by teaching and the new baby while the process goes forward over the course of the year.

I am facing one tricky decision that I need to make in the next few weeks, which is whether or not to ask my department to solicit letters from former students as part of my tenure packet.  There’s a little bit of explanation required here: it’s not a standard thing that my department does, but other departments around the university do include it as a standard component of the tenure packet.  The only universally standard metric of teaching effectiveness at my university is the end-of-semester evaluations filled out by students in my classes.  Mine are good — consistently above average numerically, with lots of positive comments and relatively minor gripes.  But I’m also philosophically opposed to having my teaching evaluated only on the basis of those student evaluations, since there’s a ton of research showing that they are biased and not good indicators of teaching effectiveness.

So I’ve wanted to include multiple metrics of teaching effectiveness in my tenure packet.  I already asked my department to send faculty to observe some of my classes (which they’ve sort of done… last semester my chair visited one of my classes and had a really great conversation with me afterwards about his observations, and then another faculty member visited the last 12 minutes of one of my classes and said he thought he got a pretty good sampling of my teaching, blargh).  While I’m glad that I’ll be including peer evaluations to some extent in my packet (another component that is standard in many other departments at my university), the dimension that I think is missing is any sort of measurement of the longitudinal impact of my teaching/mentoring, including the work I do with research students (which falls under the category of teaching at my university).  So, I had discussed with my chair the possibility of soliciting letters from former students.  Apparently my department had their first meeting about my tenure case last week and discussed that they’d be happy to do it, and it’s basically up to me (1) whether or not I want them to do it and (2) what sample of students I want them to ask.

For example, I could ask them to solicit letters from only my former research students, or I could ask them to solicit letters from every student I’ve ever had in class, or I could ask them to solicit letters from only former majors in our department.  Whatever I choose, they will all get the same prompt (which my chair already drafted and shared with me), which is basically a letter from the chair saying that I am being considered for promotion to associate professor with tenure and asking them for any reflections they have on the quality of my teaching and mentorship, and how their experiences with me may have impacted their subsequent career development.  So, a pretty generic prompt, with no carrot or stick to encourage them to reply.

Philosophically, it seems like a great thing to do to assess a dimension of my pedagogy that is not otherwise reflected in my materials.  I suspect I might get some really strong letters — I think I have had a pretty significant positive impact on a number of our students (and I don’t think I’m being delusional about it — certainly I’ve had students tell me that they have felt that way).  But… part of me wonders if I should just leave well enough alone and not introduce an extra dimension of randomness.  My teaching evaluations are good, and on that basis alone I’d probably get tenure, so why rock the boat?  It’s certainly possible that I could get negative letters (though I can’t think of any former students who are out to get me), but the thing I’m more worried about is getting weird letters from students who don’t understand the tenure process and therefore say things in a way that they might think is positive but that might raise questions for the tenure committee.  Basically, the more data the tenure committee has in its hands, the higher the probability that there will be something a little odd for them to fixate on.

So, anyway, I’m thinking about it this week, and planning to talk to my aforementioned outside-the-department faculty mentor to see what her experience has been reading student letters as part of the university tenure committee.  My inclination at the moment is to ask my department to go ahead and solicit the letters, and for the sample to be all of our former majors.  My reasoning is both the principle that I would like my tenure packet to reflect the long-term impact of my teaching/mentoring as a dimension of my teaching effectiveness, and also that I think it’s likely that it will be an overall strength of my packet rather than a weakness (I just don’t think I’ve made any of our students mad enough that they’d be motivated to write and complain about what a horrible professor I am, and I know that I’ve had a significant positive impact on a number of our former students that isn’t reflected in my end-of-semester evaluations and would likely be reflected by these letters).  So, that’s the last big decision I need to make before I turn in my packet.

Overall, this is an exciting and busy time as I prepare for so many new things: a new semester, a new baby, and a new stage of my job.  It’s always easy to love life in August as a university professor, but I’m really feeling the gratitude this year for all of the wonderful things I have in my life.  My anxiety about the tenure process has been kept at a minimum both because I’m actually able to do something about it at this stage (e.g., work on my tenure statements) and because I have had the perspective of expecting a new baby and watching my friend land on her feet after her tenure denial last year — both of those have grounded me and reminded me that whatever the outcome of this case, I’m going to be fine, and in fact, much better than fine.  I’ve also had the wonderful distraction of preparing for the new baby.  My husband and I took most of last week off from work and had a lovely staycation — we did fun stuff with S that we don’t usually have time to do (like taking him on longer trips to the zoo and the aquarium and the beach), and we also kept him in daycare a few days so that we could get stuff done around the house (newborn and 0-3mo clothes are out of storage, washed, and folded, expired infant carseat has been replaced, and my baby to-do list has gotten longer since I finally had time to sit down and think about all the things we need to do).  The big-kid bed transition is officially a success, and I loved having the opportunity to spend more quality time together last week as a family of three — we have a really great family right now, and so much to look forward to.

Update: End of the second trimester

Well, here we are, past that oh-so-arbitrary point of “viability” (not that I’m eager to test it!).  I’m about 25.5 weeks now, and the time remaining feels both short and long.  If all goes well, living child #2 will be here before we know it, although when I think about everything I need to do between now and then it seems like a lot.

It’s been an eventful few weeks for our family: my husband’s parents visited for two weeks, in the middle of which I went to two conferences for a week.  Then, we transitioned S out of his crib and into a big-kid bed (so that we wouldn’t have to buy another crib), and this week he has his first case of croup.  Poor little munchkin’s life is all topsy-turvy.  But he’s recovering this weekend, and hopefully will be back to normal soon.  I missed him like crazy while I was away at the conferences, and I’m glad I won’t have to go on any more long (>1-night) trips before the new baby arrives.

I think that it’s pretty common to feel this way, but my husband and I are both feeling the bittersweet nature of the coming transition: eager to meet the new baby, but also worrying about having less time for S and disrupting what has been a really, really fun stage of his young little life.  Despite what everyone says about the terrible twos (and despite the occasional tantrum), we are still finding every age more fun than the last, and it’s hard to imagine giving up our wonderful little family of three — especially thinking about going back to the difficulties of the newborn days.  Even though it’s clearly what my husband and I both want, quite strongly, and even though we want our son to have a sibling.  One thing that made me feel better about this ambivalence was reading this article about how your first child fills your whole heart, and your second child makes you grow a new heart.  Kind of corny, but there are lots of corny things that speak to me during pregnancy and parenting.

The good news is that this pregnancy has definitely been easier than my pregnancy with S, anxiety-wise.  When I think back to my emotional state during that pregnancy, I think I must have scarred S for life somehow (presumably cortisol-mediated) — I was in a constant state of panic and worry.  This time around, even though three of my previous four pregnancies have ended poorly, I have at least one normal, healthy pregnancy under my belt, which makes me more relaxed.  Unlike my pregnancy with S, I now have a much better sense of what’s normal and what’s not — when I was pregnant with S, I only had the one train wreck of a pregnancy with my daughter to compare with, so everything that happened during that pregnancy, normal or not, was suspect.  This time, if it happened during my pregnancy with S, I figure it’s probably fine.  I definitely have my moments of worrying that making it this far in the pregnancy will mean that it’ll be all the harder if it all comes crashing down the way my first pregnancy did, as well as moments of remembering my daughter and wondering why she had to die, but overall I’m just much more even-keeled this time around than I ever was during my pregnancy with S.

And oh, is S ever a great distraction!  I feel like I should be writing down more of the adorable things he does.  Some of them are already gone — for example, he used to call our dog “Bubba” (her real name is Goldie), which was one of his first jokes, but now he just calls her Goldie.  I love his babyish pronunciations, like “Naka-WEEN” instead of “nectarine.”  He has such a great sense of humor, and is really into knock-knock jokes (his favorite is: Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Boo.  Boo who?  Don’t cry, it’s only a joke!).  He has picked up some adorable expressions like “No way, Jose!” and “Oh dear!” and one of his favorite words is “cockeyed” (courtesy of his grandpa).  He’s also been really into song mashups, and will often launch into epic renditions of “Rain, rain, go away, Old McDonald had an itsy-bitsy spider E-I-E-I-O!” and then laugh himself silly.

Anyway, he is a riot, and he’s also a total mama’s boy right now.  I feel a bit bad for my husband, who handles it really well despite clearly having to hide his frustration once in a while, but it’s definitely a double-edged sword being the preferred parent.  I get more of the “Mama, mama, mama!” and more of the “I wuv you mama” endearments, but I am also required to carry him around all the time, can’t take a shower some days without wailing outside the bathroom door, can’t drop him off at daycare without a meltdown most days, and often have a toddler on top of me half the night if he’s had a bad dream or just needs snuggles (like he did when he had croup this week).  My body is his happy place, clearly.  I have no complaints, and I am generally happy to savor the snuggles while they last (it already makes me teary imagining when he’s a teenager and wants nothing to do with me), but I do worry that it’s only going to make things more difficult when he has to start sharing me with his little brother.  Yesterday, out of the blue, he said “Baby sleep in S’s crib?” which we thought was very generous of him since he just transitioned to a big-kid bed last week and still clearly has mixed feelings about the situation.  Those were also the first words out of his mouth this morning, so it’s already on his mind.  I hope he doesn’t have too much trouble adjusting to his new sibling — my mama guilt is already pretty strong.

And that’s the rambling update on where we are right now.  There’s a lot to do in the next three months, from replacing our expired infant car seat to moving my husband’s home office and converting the room into the new nursery — we’re planning to tackle some of it during our week of August vacation, since I’d like to get as much done as possible before classes start in the fall.  There’s still the part of me that fears assuming that everything is going to turn out OK, but the practical part of me says that it’s better to get it all done while I’m still relatively mobile and not drowning in teaching, and also that we’ve been through the worst once and will deal with it if it happens again (although I really, really hope that it doesn’t).  So, onwards!  Even if it doesn’t seem possible, I can feel this baby kicking away inside me, getting ready to meet his new family.  It’ll be a whole new ball game come November.

Academic post

I know most people who read my blog connect most to the pregnancy posts, but every once in a while I just need to write an unabashedly academic post — so feel free to skip, or just enjoy this insight into the wilds of life as a physical science professor.

This week, my first postdoc is leaving my university.  It is so very bittersweet.  He has been in my group for five years — I hired him on a two-year grant, and then when another 3-year NSF grant came through, I kept him on.  He had to switch fields to join my group, so had a steep learning curve, and at the time wasn’t really competitive for another job and wanted to stay, and since he was doing good work, I let him.  Let me say, for the record, I am SO glad I did.

The ways in which he has contributed to my research group and my department are countless.  There’s been the simple fact of having someone in my group thinking full-time about research and working on the tools and infrastructure that we’ve needed to push the whole group’s research forward into this decade.  He’s wonderful with the students, more approachable and less intimidating than I am, and yet still pushing them towards independence rather than coddling them.  And as a member of our department, he has been the sort of team player who is comfortable both leading and following — he has led some of our department’s most important equity and inclusion initiatives, including starting a journal club to discuss recent papers on STEM equity.  He has been an enthusiastic and reliable contributor to our department’s outreach program, including saving our bacon by filling in last-minute on more than one occasion.  He taught a class to gain experience and did a wonderful job.  He’s hosted an annual tamale-making party for the students (no faculty allowed).  When something needs to be done around the department, even if it’s not glamorous, he steps up — all while getting his work done and having a life outside of work.  He is exactly the sort of person I would hope for as a long-term colleague, and I am going to miss him so, so much.

His departure is bittersweet — as sad as I am that he is leaving, I am delighted for him because he got exactly the kind of job he wanted, and exactly the kind of job I think he’s going to kick butt at.  He will manage a facility and be a lab instructor at a tippy-top-ranked liberal arts college, which is just the sort of job he wanted.  He’ll be only 2.5 hours away from us by car, and I’ll see him at least ~twice a year since our department is part of a consortium with this department and a handful of others, so I won’t truly be losing him as a colleague.  It’s the best possible way his time with me could have ended.

His departure brings up so many thoughts and questions for me.  I know I might not get as lucky with every postdoc I ever hire, but having him has been so delightful and so symbiotically wonderful for his career and mine that it makes me want to do it again.  It also makes me think a bit wistfully about my choice to join a department with no PhD program.  I suspect that my experience with this postdoc is akin to the experience of a typical R1 faculty member with their best PhD students.  And it has been beautiful, and I suspect will form the basis of a very productive long-term collaboration between us (at any rate, he’ll be on all my group’s papers for the foreseeable future thanks to his work on our software capabilities).  I also have to recognize that he has made a significant contribution to my competitiveness for tenure.  I mean, I know some of that is thanks to my hard work — I wrote the grants that paid for him to be here, I wrote the proposals that got the initial data for his projects, I trained him to enter my field and I supervised and mentored his research and other work all the way along.  But man, has he paid me back, in spades.  He has been such a productive collaborator, generating papers, coming up with his own ideas, taking my group’s research in new directions, and bringing our code base back into cutting-edge territory, which I haven’t had time to work on with all the teaching and supervising I do. I mention a cool idea I thought of or heard about at a conference, and he makes it happen and improves it in ways I never would have thought of — and he also finds new tools and tries them out, which enriches all the research my group does.  It’s awesome.

I’m grateful to be in a department that welcomes and supports postdocs — not all liberal arts colleges have this culture.  But it does make me question, to some extent, whether the choice to take the liberal arts college route was really the right one for me.  On balance, I think so.  I am very, very happy with my balance of responsibilities here (especially teaching vs. research), and while I’d love to have more postdocs like this one, part of what has made having him here so special is that he is the only one I’ve had — I haven’t had to juggle mentoring five grad students and a postdoc, which means I’ve naturally been more involved with him, which I think has worked out well for both of us.

We just had our last research meeting EVER.  It was so sad, and so sweet.  We’d each gotten each other little gifts.  He got me a book about recent research on women in science and a cooperative board game for ages 2+ that I can play with my son and husband (um, he might have gotten to know me a little bit while he’s been here!).  I had commissioned a former art major / gen-ed student of mine to make an artsy sketch of the beautiful historic building that we work in, which I then framed — our building is a really special place to work (it’s featured on all of the publicity photos of our college, for example, but it’s also a functional part of the type of work that we do), and I figured that it might be nice for him to have a tangible reminder of the happy (I think) times he spent here, even as he moves on to new places and new adventures.  I didn’t want to give him something too personal, but did want to give him something that I thought might be meaningful to remind him of his time here — and help him decorate his new office.

So, with nothing but fondness and gratitude, I’m bidding him farewell this week.  His last day is Friday, and I’m taking the whole group out to lunch and then organizing an informal gathering for the whole department in the afternoon to send him off.  We will miss him, and I will always be very grateful for his many contributions and for the chance to know him and have him as a colleague.

Halfway

This week (Wednesday) I hit the halfway point of this pregnancy: 20 weeks.

Mid-pregnancy has been a nail-biter for me this time around thanks to the anterior placenta.  By this point in my pregnancy with S, I was feeling strong and consistent movements.  This time around, if he’s kicking in the right places (bottom, top, or right edge of my belly) I feel super-strong movement, and if he’s not, I don’t feel anything.  It can be so strong in the right places that my husband felt the baby move almost two weeks ago, and yet I can still go all day without feeling anything if he gets into the wrong position.  With my history of 2nd-trimester loss, this inconsistency is maddening, even though rationally I know that it’s normal.  I wish I could just chill out and assume that everything is fine until proven otherwise, but of course I can’t.

In the second half of pregnancy I now have monthly ultrasounds with MFM to monitor growth, and I love the glimpses they give me into his movements and body — they really drive home that there is a tiny proto-person in there getting ready to make his grand appearance this fall.  There’s definitely no hiding this pregnancy anymore, since at 20 weeks I’m probably as big as I was at 5 or 6 months last time around.

S is busy being 2, and is delighting us with his ability to communicate increasingly complex thoughts.  His sense of time and logical reasoning is also improving. When we went to put on sunscreen to take him to the playground yesterday, he told us that he didn’t need it because we had already put sunscreen on him yesterday.  He still got sunscreened, of course, but we had to give him credit for a nice try!  He also discovered that my husband keeps his golf clubs at the top of a staircase in our garage that leads to the spare bedroom over the garage, and played up there most of the afternoon yesterday.  When I was playing with him, it took me a while to suss out, but he accurately communicated to me that there was a bug on the ceiling and that daddy would remove it with the broom tomorrow while S was at daycare.  I mean, that is such a complex concept to both understand and communicate!  His actual words were something like “Bug ceiling tomorrow daddy broom [name of daycare],” but as I asked him about it he kept giving me more clues and we eventually figured it out.  He also asks a lot more questions these days.  His favorite is “Why?” (sometimes with zero context), but he also likes “Going?” (for “Where are you going?”) and “Doing?” (for “What are you doing?”).  I am constantly fascinated by watching his speech develop — it is so cool to get more insight into what is going on in his busy little mind, and to start to have conversations!  He also pretends that his toys are conversing with each other, in a super-adorable goofy voice, and I finally caught it on camera this weekend.  The twos can be terrible at times, of course, but at least a third of the way through the year, I am still loving this age.

And that’s about it!  Anterior placenta aside, things are proceeding as smoothly as possible so far, and I’m just hoping for an equally boring second half of pregnancy.  Here’s to November.

Second place is a good place to be

Two big pieces of news this week: (1) We had a normal anatomy scan, and (2) as of today, this pregnancy officially moves into second place of my five pregnancies in terms of how long it has lasted.

The anatomy scan on Tuesday morning was blessedly uneventful.  It was my husband’s first time seeing the baby on ultrasound, which was pretty special for him (he came to every single prenatal appointment for my first two pregnancies, but when you have a toddler somehow all our time disappears and “divide and conquer” becomes a survival strategy).  This baby moves around a lot (which was also commented on at the 13-week NT scan), but apparently is more cooperative than S, because they didn’t have to tilt me upside-down or make me walk around and they still got all the views they needed — unlike with S, who was so stubborn that we had to wait four more weeks to get a decent view of his aortic arch.  The ultrasonographer was quick and efficient, not chatty, but that was fine — she just kept snapping pictures, saying “looks perfect,” and moving on.

The doctor who came in afterwards was fine, but could really work on his bedside manner.  Basically his job was to tell us that the scan was normal, but that of course a normal anatomy scan doesn’t guarantee a problem-free pregnancy or birth.  Instead, he delivered the message in such a way that it sounded basically like he was saying, “There are SO MANY ways a pregnancy can go wrong!  I mean, you’ve already had a normal NIPT, but that’s only really good at detecting Down Syndrome, and of course the anatomy scan is normal, but it doesn’t pick up everything and you could still do an amniocentesis if you’re really worried about catching every uncommon chromosomal abnormality, but even that doesn’t rule out a whole host of other birth defects!”  Luckily, my husband and I weren’t too fazed by it, since we do already understand the limitations of the tests and the probabilities that go along with them, but this doctor must freak out a whole lot of families — and he’s in an MFM practice, so you’d think he’d know better!

Otherwise, 18w is feeling OK so far.  It is hugely reassuring to have the normal anatomy scan under our belts (a milestone I never had in my pregnancy with my daughter).  S’s sleep has been a little rocky lately which means I feel the pregnancy fatigue a little more acutely, but my anxiety level is MUCH lower in this pregnancy than it was with S.  I mean, I’m still far more anxious than I was in my first pregnancy, and I assume more anxious than someone who has never experienced loss and maybe particularly late loss, but I do not have the acute panic with every minor twinge that I had during my pregnancy with S, which is a huge relief.  I think the big difference is that when I was pregnant with S, I had no experience with what a normal pregnancy was like, since our daughter had died, so even stuff that I had experienced in my first pregnancy (because it was totally normal) freaked me out in my second pregnancy because I didn’t know if that was a sign that whatever happened to my daughter might be happening again.  Now I have one normal, full-term pregnancy under my belt, which gives me a much better sense of what’s normal vs. what I actually need to freak out about.

And this week is another big milestone in the sense that this pregnancy is now officially my second-longest-lasting of my five pregnancies so far.  I think second place is a great place to be, and in my ideal scenario (healthy live birth within days of my due date) it would stay there until the end, since I don’t really want to go a week past my due date again!  The milestone of a normal anatomy scan has also opened us up more to starting to think about logistics: names (boy names are hard!), rearranging our house (relocating my husband’s home office as we turn the current room into the new nursery), figuring out what furniture we need (e.g., are we going to try to do the transition to a big-kid bed, or buy another crib?  Do we need a second glider?), and all of the other things we’ve been studiously ignoring up until now.  There’s a lot to think about, but it’s fun to plan, and it feels good to be able to believe in this pregnancy enough to start actually making plans.

Another piece of ultimately good news is that our little campus daycare seems as though it should have a spot for our baby in March, which is when we really need it.  They’ve been horrible at communication (first they told us yes, then they told us no, then today the director emailed that we’re in again), but ultimately it looks like they’ve worked out a solution that should be reasonable.  The problem is that our daycare is so small that it only has four infant slots, but they rigidly age-group the kids by fiscal year so having an infant starting in March means that if they reserve an infant slot for our baby next year they are essentially only able to have three infants the first eight months of the fiscal year, which is a loss of about $10k in tuition for them.  The director was going to save us the spot anyway (which is why she originally told us yes), but then the “executive board” (two parents who are now on my blacklist) decided that the cost was going to be too high so they were just going to ignore the fact that we had top priority on the wait list and not offer us a spot until the new fiscal year in July 2019.  I mean, there are all kinds of dumb things going on there, including the fact that $10k is a miniscule fraction of what our family will be paying the daycare to send two kids all the way through from infant to preschool, and also compared to what they’d lose if we pulled our our older kid before he switched to preschool, since they have a lot of pressure on infant slots but usually have trouble filling all the preschool slots — and if we had to find another daycare for our second baby, the probability that we’d pull S out is actually quite high, since he’d be transitioning to preschool anyway and it’s better to make that transition a bigger one for him than to totally disrupt an infant’s routine four months into daycare to get them in the same place.

So anyway, the upshot is that the infant/toddler teachers were apparently just like, “Um, why can’t we just move S to preschool a few months before his age-mates to free up a spot for one of the older infants to officially become a toddler and then we’ll be able to open a new infant spot in March?”  So, it looks like S will move upstairs to the preschool about a month after his third birthday (which I think will be mostly a good thing — being the oldest in his age group means he’s occasionally seemed bored and frustrated at the end of the year when he’s ready for big-kid things and gets barred from them because of the arbitrary age grouping).  His age-group buddies will join him in July, but since he’s currently in the same classroom as the group who will be moving up to preschool this year and therefore he already knows them, I’m not too worried about the social aspect of moving rooms a few months before his age-mates.

So anyway, the point is that things are good, and we’re thinking about the future and starting to plan for a new family member, which is a nice place to be.  There’s always that part of me that fears making plans or telling people (like my students) about my pregnancy, because what if…?  But I’m mostly able to accept that those fears will always be there, that the possibility of another loss will always be there, but that it’s OK to be optimistic and hope and plan in the meantime.  In a way, having faced the worst in the past makes the worst seem at least hypothetically more manageable this time around.  I hope beyond hope that it won’t happen again, but I know that if it does, we’ll get through it, because we’ve done it before.

Mother’s Day Sandwich

The concept of the “sandwich generation” has really been resonating with me lately.

In the last year, I’ve experienced parenting a toddler, two miscarriages, one first trimester, the death of my father, and two major surgeries for my mother.  Since my parents were divorced for 25 years before my father died and I’m an only child, all their arrangements/care has fallen to me.  All while doing my full-time job, of course.  We spent this Mother’s Day visiting my mom in the hospital at the end of her week-long stay — she had a hip replacement last Monday (her second), then had a bad fall on Wednesday, needed surgery again on Thursday, and I just brought her home today.  We packed up the toddler into the car on Saturday and came to her house for the weekend to take care of her cat and her house and visit her while she was still in the hospital.  I’m writing this from her house, where I’ll be for the next couple of days taking care of her as she starts to recover, and then I’ll be driving back and forth (two hours each way) several times over the next couple of weeks, depending on what she needs.  We just did this in December/January with her first hip surgery, so at least we both know better what to expect this time.

I’m exhausted, no joke.  The timing isn’t awful, since it’s the end of my semester, but I’m still running around like a chicken with my head cut off this week begging random people to proctor exams for my extended time students while I’m with my mom, figuring out what to do about the student who badly burned his hand while fire-juggling this weekend, dealing with the student whose dean told me that she was almost hospitalized for mental illness this week and is trying to help her figure out whether she can finish the semester, and the stack of term papers that are sitting there giving me the hairy eyeball while the clock ticks down to the day that senior grades are due on Monday.  With all of my extended-time students and various other necessary accommodations, out of two classes with a total of 85 students I have had to make arrangements for a grand total of 26 hours of exam proctoring this week, not to mention all my regular grading work and, you know, writing, editing, and printing the exams, running review sessions, and dealing with the inevitable “I know it’s exam week but can you please please meet with me for two hours the day before the final because I’m freaking out about stuff I still haven’t learned and now I’m finally motivated to learn it.”

Anyway, yesterday it was all kind of crashing down on me.  But at some point after driving the two hours back from visiting my mom with my toddler only sort-of napping in the back and then dealing with his meltdown at the end of a weekend of disrupted routine and cooking dinner for the dear friends that we didn’t want to uninvite over since who knows when we’ll be free to see them again and having had no time whatsoever for a Mother’s Day celebration myself, I suddenly thought, “How lucky am I?”

I am so lucky.  I’m so lucky to have my amazing son, my wonderful husband, my dear mother, and our unborn son as part of my lives.  The sandwich generation is only a thing for people who are fortunate enough to have their kids and parents in their lives at the same time — I am so needed only because I am so deeply involved in the lives of all of these people.  The death of my father this year only drives home to me how fragile it all is, how short our time here on Earth is together, and how fortunate I am to have such rich relationships (which he never really had).  And at least my mother should recover from these surgeries (if all goes well) and have many more healthy years with me and her grandson(s) before we have to say goodbye to her.  After all our pregnancy losses, I never take for granted how incredibly fortunate I am to be mother to a living child, nor to be pregnant with his little brother, and it was so sweet to see my son giving his Nana a hug and kiss in the hospital and getting to bring her his school photo (which turned out completely adorable this year, unlike last year) along with the flowers to brighten up her hospital room.  This is life: messy, hard, but ultimately beautiful.  Being there when things are tough — for your tantruming toddler or your convalescing mother — is what it’s all about.

There will be lots of other Mothers Days that will hopefully be a little calmer, but I wouldn’t trade this one for anything.