Helping

From August to October this year my family was in a bad way. Our baby started at childcare, and he brought home very nasty short-term illnesses week after week after week. (Even people familiar with this phenomenon thought we had an unusually unlucky run of it, it was something like seven respiratory illness and three rounds of gastro.) There were weeks that none of us were out of bed for long. There were weeks we didn’t sleep. There were many times when we were all sick simultaneously and had trouble feeding ourselves.

Various people have said they wished they could help, or is there anything that could help next time, so I thought I’d toss some ideas out there.

Important note: I am not asking for these things now. We’ve been well for a couple of months and are doing OK! I’m providing them for reference in case you need to help another friend who is caught in a mess of family illness or severe stress or similar. I realise that almost all of these require money: if you don’t have money or time to help someone a card or note is appreciated, I think!

I think the main problems were decisions and planning, frankly. If in order to accept an offer of help, I needed to look at a calendar and cross-match with someone else’s calendar, plan a menu, write up the baby’s feeding and care needs, it was too much work. At times I was literally cognitively incapable of that kind of reasoning due to utter exhaustion.

Finally, you do have to ask if your help would be appreciated, but I think the thing to do is to present a pretty concrete plan. Eg, “I want to help by ordering you some ready-made meals from the supermarket for delivery tomorrow. Any allergies, diets or food preferences I should keep in mind? Also let me know if it’s a totally bad idea, or if there’s another way to help.”

Stuff that might have been helpful, given that:

  1. ordering groceries to be home-delivered to us, especially if we didn’t have to plan the menu! Just simple meal staples that could be boiled or stuck in an oven or toasted. Since we don’t have many geographically local friends, this was probably more practical than cooking food and dropping it off. You can order groceries online around here, good stuff.
  2. likewise ordering takeaway meals, except harder if anything to order online.
  3. perhaps paying for extra childcare for a day or two (although almost all of them don’t take sick kids, so it would have had to be during an interlude). For a child in existing daycare like Vincent, their existing centre can often take them for extra days if paid for. For reference this would have cost about $70 a day I think (we get some government benefits towards it) and we can’t afford it ourselves.
  4. paying for a two-hour house clean.
  5. simple treats, like wine or chocolates.

Stuff we didn’t find very useful, with reasons. Not to make anyone feel guilty, but to perhaps help decide whether to offer these things:

  • “We’ll look after him!” For various reasons we were often unable to take advantage of this. We generally didn’t want to give someone else what we had. Or it involved a lot of careful calendar planning and comparison in return for half an hour of babysitting. If I need to spend an hour planning the babysitting for an hour of babysitting, it isn’t as helpful. This might work better if you have long periods of time available. And, sadly, if you are not an experienced child carer, a sick baby with sick parents is probably not the place to start.
  • “Come and stay with us! We’ll do all the work while you relax!” Firstly, we were too sick to drive for other than a very short period of time, and the people making this offer were some hours away. Secondly, when we did take it up, Vincent got very sick away from good medical care and was distraught at the destruction of his routine. He also wanted me to do most of his care. Obviously that was partly bad luck. But travelling with a sick baby is a pain in the neck, so this could be hard to arrange unless you live conveniently to each other.
  • General offers of visits: we were worried about getting people sick, or having to cancel because we were, our house was a mess, we didn’t have any food to offer them, and all the hours I had free from sickness and sick-baby-ness I was spending catching up on work commitments that people were screaming for. I suspect this varies a lot, many people are badly in need of contact with the outside world in this situation.

On that last, maybe keep an eye out for a drop in Chicken Little-ness from your friends, and visit, or invite them to a low-key local outing when the immediate pressure is off. One can emerge from these things with distinctly fewer social contacts, if they’ve gone on for long enough.

Reverb 10: Wonder, Let Go, Make

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Largely by attempting to understand the perspective of my baby son. Again with the baby!

But really, this was brought home by a visiting midwife in my postnatal checks who said that a newborn is experiencing hunger, thirst, temperature, touch, many sounds and many positions all at once in the same few days. So I began by talking to him, and agreeing that it was a strange strange world he’d found himself in. And later, it became a game of trying to understand what it’s like to never be bored because everything is new. And later again, to have to infer rules from first principles. Why can you chew on food, and on many brightly coloured plastic things (toys), but not most other things? How can you explain the “what you can’t chew on” rules succinctly.

Plus, for example, babies doesn’t know about nudity and clothing, they don’t know that your nose is shaped just like food but is not meant to be bitten, they don’t know not to touch faeces, they don’t recognise a difference between food and dirt.

So, it’s been rather easy to keep in mind that the world is a strange place, this year.

Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

I was anticipating these things, but I can’t do any of the following now:

  • propose a spontaneous late night wander with my husband, and execute it a minute later
  • have a conversation with my husband in a normal tone of voice while we’re both occupying the same room
  • sleep all night (I’ve slept through about ten nights since V was born)
  • leave the house within two minutes of the idea occurring

It’s got to the point where it’s going to be strange to have some of that return.

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Sticking to physical things, what I tend to make is food. The last food I made for pleasure rather than necessity was, I think, burnt butter biscuits for the picnic in memory of my grandmother. And I’m failing to execute a plan to make rum balls right now.

That said, “clear time for it”? This set of prompts seems to be rather in the “empower yourself” mold. I’m not making rum balls right now because I need downtime after deaths and illnesses in the last week, not because I’m failing to organise my life sufficiently well. This year, my life has organised itself around disasters and stressors. Making time for things was a recipe for disappointment in 2010.

Reverb 10: One Word, Writing, Moment

One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

“Vincent”, of course.

Vincent’s birth was interestingly timed in terms of the way I divide my life; slightly more than ten years after my relationship with Andrew started. So, 2000–2009 were relationship years, and very early in 2010 I had Vincent.

I thought about “mother” as well, but it seems too general to say that. Perhaps the word of 2010–2019 might be “mother”, but this year has been specifically about Vincent. 2009 was generalities about parenting and babies: what was it like, were we ready, would we make it? And this year has been more about answers. The answers are Vincent.

Next year’s word, I hope, will be “Doctorate”.

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

You know, I think right now, each day, I do exactly as much writing as I want to be doing.

What I need to be doing is more sitting around in the evenings in pyjamas snarking at the television with Andrew. What’s stopping me doing that? Earning money. Can I eliminate earning money? No. I need to finish my PhD though and move earning money to daylight hours.

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

The hospital where I had Vincent discouraged fathers from staying all night, unless the baby had been born very late. Vincent was born at about 4pm, and after I had been stabilised and finally transferred to the ward with Vincent, Andrew went home at 11pm or midnight.

Vincent had had several good breastfeeds in the delivery room, but newborn babies sometimes do not feed much for the first 12 hours or so after birth. And indeed, in the ward he initially didn’t feed much. I lay half-dozing in my hospital bed, bathed in the light of a green LED attached to my otherwise dark television set. Vincent slept, wrapped up tight, in a plastic cot to my left within arm’s reach. I smelled sweat, mostly, and looked at him.

Every few hours he would call softly, like a peep or a mew and I would pick him up and put him to the breast, which he would sort of explore for a moment and then go peacefully back to sleep. At some points, I left him to sleep on my tummy.

Your women's networking event; mothers need to plan

This post is inspired by a specific event, but I have contacted the organisers privately with a specific complaint/suggestion, so I’m not posting this publicly to slam them, or naming them here. But I think the ideas are more generally useful.

If you run career networking events for women (or anyone! but it’s more obvious if they’re targeted at women) you need to make it possible for mothers to attend them. Not all women are mothers, but a substantial fraction are.

How can you do this? Well, childcare for children from 0 to 12 or so would be awesome, but I realise it’s expensive and logistically difficult (certified safe space, insurance, qualified carers in the right ratios…). Here’s something that isn’t: specific advance publicity. That is, publicity that announces date, time (start and finish, or at least finish of the formal bit, eg “6pm to 8pm with socialising until whenever!”) and location. Because here’s what a mother will have to do:

  • there’s good odds a mother needs to be sure someone else will care for her child during your event. That someone else might be a co-parent who has a life of their own to plan, or it might be a non-household member (same) or a paid carer who needs to be booked (and budgeted for!) in advance
  • if your event is on a day when she does care, she will probably need to dress especially for your event
  • if your event is on a day when she does care, she will probably have to travel especially for your event

The appropriate minimum notice period is at least a week.

As a bonus, this is also helpful to part-time workers, unemployed people and students, all of whom all have to dress especially and travel in order to attend most networking events, and busy people, for that matter, and people who work in casual-dress jobs.

A slight tangent, but something else I wish networking events did: be more specific about the catering. So many go from, say, 6pm to 9pm and specify something about a “light meal”, which in the extreme can constitute a couple of spring rolls per person. I’m a long-term breastfeeder, at the height of production I’ve had to eat something like five substantial meals in a day. Even before I was pregnant, I ate good sized dinners. I understand that your event likely won’t have a full sit-down meal, but I’d much rather get info like “light snacks will be provided, there’s a food court at $address if you want to eat beforehand” than “our sponsors are catering a meal! awesome $sponsor!” when it turns out I will need to leave early (in tears, because noise and hunger overwhelm me) and buy a whole second meal at 9pm.

Ask Auntie Hoyden: get your dog outlines here, and other search engine queries

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

an on-set photo of Katharine Hepburn, with overlaid text reading "Ask A Hoyden?"auntie hoyden

Why, I enjoyed those posts (1, 2, 3) in which Lauredhel tried to answer search queries as questions too! So much so that I show up in this site’s logs looking for them. So today, I too become Auntie Hoyden.

Frankly, it appears to me that most people stop here on their way to I Can Haz Cheezburger (funny cat pictures, captioned cat pictures, supernatural macros funny, funny pics), but they also appear looking for soylent green simpsons, any medicine for truth speak and, in considerable numbers, anal sex diagram. (Which is a bit odd, Google finds plenty of considerably more helpful sites for me on that term.)

But let’s see what I can do for you all today, although my specialities are more in the computer line than the sexual health and breastfeeding line that is traditional for this.

pluralising names

Lauredhel observed in 2008 that there’s a construction in Australian English (among others) that allows you to use things like “the Marys of the world” to mean “people like one particular Mary” rather than necessary literally multiple people named Mary.

But if you’re simply interested in how to add a suffix to a proper noun in order to indicate multiple things with that name, here’s a style guide’s answer.

dog outline png

I like openclipart.org for this sort of thing: it’s public domain clipart, take it, use it and modify it without credit. (Not that I don’t also love various Creative Commons licences that do require credit, but dropping that requirement makes using many pieces a lot easier. I’ve seen people who use CC images from Flickr need to put a credits roll at the end of slide presentations.)

Plus! openclipart.org provides SVG as well as PNG. SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is a free image format which allows pictures to be scaled up in size without loss of quality, as well as down in size. This is accomplished by describing an image in terms of lines or curves (hence, vectors) rather than in terms of individual coloured dots. It’s not very useful for photos, but it’s great for clipart (and fonts, which are generally described in vectors and thus can be scaled up).

openclipart.org has hundreds of drawings of dogs. I’m not sure if this person was looking for a silhouette of a dog, which I couldn’t find on a very brief look, or simply a line drawing of a dog, of which there are many. Here’s a cute one.

snuggle otter

Don’t. We love ’em but that doesn’t make them domesticated pets.

mother sprays milk

Does she ever. I breastfeed a ten month old baby. When he was little I had a supply suitable for twins, or perhaps sextuplets, and milk was everywhere. Then things balanced out and we had a nice interlude of not spraying. Then he got a bit more distractible, which resulted on the weekend in him getting a letdown, pulling off and slipping so that he headbutted me in the breast and milk shot out for the best part of a metre.

If anyone else wants to grace the Internet with a milk spray story, feel free.

australia’s prime minister 2010 smiling

On the 25th June 2010, one day after becoming leader of the government and being sworn in as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard smiled in the presence of the US ambassor to Australia, Jeff Bleich. This is important, because it was photographed by embassy staff, and as a work of the US Federal Government, it is thus in the public domain and you can get it from Wikimedia Commons.

anti filter

That’s us!

Can you help out with these?
squirrel give thanks
the worst shoe eveeeer
placenta accreta deathrate
crivens!

Books I haven't finished lately

A sort of an inverse book review, books I have closed, or returned to the library, without finishing them.

Treason’s Harbour by Patrick O’Brien. I probably will finish the Aubrey-Maturin novels at some point, but I don’t think it’s going to be this year, and perhaps not next. I’m not sure exactly why I suddenly went off them, but I think it’s because I don’t like Jack as a character very much. He’d probably be a lovely person to complete your table for dinner (better than Stephen for many dinners), but I don’t want to read twenty novels about him in a short period of time.

Generation text: raising well-adjusted kids in an age of instant everything by Michael Osit. I am in theory deeply interested in problems relating to cyberbullying and so on. In practice I have no patience for the write-ups. As an example, Osit early on compares hypothetical Bobby, fresh-faced teen of the 1960s with surly hypothetical Jake of the late 2000s. Bobby loves his mother’s eggs for breakfast! Jake never leaves his room, because his six speaker sound system is replacing parental affection! Remember your childhood, Osit seems to be asking. Before there was all this stuff?

Well, no, not really, not as you mean it. Bobby is my mother’s age! There are very few people who were teenagers in the 1960s and who are parents of teenagers now. Bobby may well be a grandfather, or at the very least wondering why his 30 year old son won’t leave home despite having so much money to spend on a soundsystem.

I was born in the early 80s. I had an email address before I left high school. I am one of the very last groups of middle-class Australians who did not go through their teens with their own mobile phone. (I got one at nineteen, and my fourteen year old sister had one before the end of that year.) Once at a sleepover my fifteen year old friends and I collectively had terrible cybersex with a random guy (or perhaps another group of teen girls?) on a Yahoo! (or something) chat room. It’s going to be a while before authors of books on parenting teens are aimed at me, I can see that.

My ideal bedroom

From comments elsewhere, I was asked to describe my ideal bedroom:

The west wall would consist mostly of glass, and would look over a generous balcony with a little tea table onto my expansive private beach, and from there into the setting sun.

The bed would be low to the ground, firm, king sized at least and also about two feet longer than is usual so my feet don’t hang over the end. In the ample room between the bed and the window-wall there would be two yoga mats (also about two feet longer than normal).

Behind a discreet sliding panel there is a small but well stocked kitchenette (benches about one foot higher than usual) with tea making facilites and a wee espresso machine. And since this is my ideal bedroom, a SILENT grinder. And a few choices of cereal and many many many fresh fruits.

In a sidecar bed attached to the main bed there is a peacefully sleeping baby, doing nothing but smiling reflexive sleep smiles, and definitely not screaming suddenly in hir sleep, snuffling, suffering from bronchiolitis, rolling around and gasping, or bouncing up and down in order to hear the squeaking it makes.

Behind another discreet sliding panel is an ensuite containing a bath that in some building codes would qualify as an indoor pool. And a double-headed shower. Ideally this bathroom also has a view of the beach.

Some ineffable process would ensure that mints appeared on the pillows every evening, and there would definitely be a cache of sweets somewhere.

Note: this is a very kind ideal bedroom. The whole coffee set up is actually for Andrew’s sake.

Baby and startup? Big deal! Or, perhaps, a big deal?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Years back I read Paul Graham’s How to Start a Startup essay, which includes this footnote:

One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon.

Which, well, OK, I’m not in the business of forcing Paul Graham to start businesses with people he doesn’t want to start businesses with. But it bugged me for the obvious reasons, not least because, well, you know, men have small children too sometimes. Thank goodness they don’t have to put any work into them. Phew. Lucky escape there, men. Better make sure we keep that labour division in place.

Anyway, in the last few days, Tara Brown wrote this, in response to a few posts by men about having kids and doing a startup.

I am 35 years old, I have an 8 month old child that I breastfeed full-time and I am doing a startup. Big deal. Who isn’t?

Many women start businesses after having a kid, usually because they want to stay home and have an income. This was what I wanted to do after I had Ripley. I decided I wanted to look after him exclusively for his first year and then get a job as a consultant or something where I could continue staying at home with him. My husband and I took off with Ripley to Singapore and France and during that time somehow I ended up a co-founder of Noot.

I have a 9 month old baby (breastfed a fair bit as it happens, although you should have seen him get stuck into ciabatta bread today), and… I’m not doing a startup. I wouldn’t have been a great business partner or core employee for a while after birth, because it made me sick. I wouldn’t be a great partner or employee right now either, in fact, because he brings home illnesses from daycare and so we’re sick and exhausted constantly. (Not that I’m keen to encourage Paul Graham to add to the people he won’t start businesses with, but my husband gets these too, funnily enough.) I did recover our main fileserver when he was 12 days old. Pro tip: if you have any suspicion your hard drive is failing, replace it prior to the birth of your baby. (But then, I had to do the same thing the other week. Pro tip: mobile 9 month olds get in the way of hard drive replacements more than 2 week olds. Wait, that wasn’t a tip. Sorry. Pro tip: don’t have hard drives that fail.) I work various part-time and casual things now to afford the daycare to finish my PhD.

But Tara Brown isn’t telling everyone’s story: she’s telling hers, and she acknowledges that she has some advantages:

Honestly, I never expected to write this blog post because I just figured this is what every other woman that is working and has a baby must do, not something to make a big deal out of. But when I saw that email from Jason Calacanis and Jason Roberts, I just had to speak up so that more women can tell these guys that what they are doing is not extraordinary by any means. I mean come on, Jason Calacanis is rich, his wife stays at home and they have a night nanny. Not exactly a tough situation. What’s tough is single mothers and fathers trying to raise their kids by themselves. Me and the “Jasons” have supportive spouses who are at home for big chunks of time.

So moms dads out there that are doing a startup, tell the world YOUR story. Please! I need to meet more of you for the support and inspiration.

Starting, running and managing businesses, especially small ones, has been women’s work for a long long time, and that means mothers have done it. Mothers have done it a lot. But at the same time, I’m not keen to uncritically contribute to a superwoman culture: get back behind the desk woman! Sickness, disability, parenting and family and education and money demands and life preferences, these all vary a lot more than I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children allows for. Sometimes women need to work with small children. Sometimes they need to not. Often it’s in between.

What’s your experience, if you’ve worked as a mother young children? If you’ve been an entrepreneur or business owner, do you think that that was uniformly harder than being an employee, or in some ways easier, or generally easier?

Babies, boobs and rooms full of geek men

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

My six week old son has just rolled up his first D&D character, charisma stat 20:

Thrilled
Image by Andrew Bennetts, all rights reserved

Just kidding. I’m actually pretty wary of identifying children of geeks as geeks themselves. They’ll tell us what they are when they’re ready, right?

Now that I have my cute kid pic out of the way, what I did want to discuss though is mothering and geeking. Fathering and geeking seems pretty routine in my circles: lots of the Free Software Planets (blog sites) are full of announcements of newborns, pictures of kids shot by photo geeks, and so on. Parenting is not secretive in my geekdom, at least.

Of the mothers here, though, do you feel the same way? Do you feel able to talk about your kids to the same extent that your male geek buddies do? Do you feel comfortable caring for kids in geeky spaces? How about breastfeeding in public among geeks, if you do (did) it? Do you wish there were more kids+carers friendly geek events? (I sure wish there were more daytime events now!) If you have a geeky co-parent (or more than one) do you switch your geek time back and forth, or does the whole family geek together, or are you doing a lot of kid-time while the other adults geek out? Do you feel like you’re a closet geek mother or are you loud and proud? Alternatively, is geekdom your respite from mothering or simply an adult time for you?

Note: since I shared a cute kid pic, I can only say that you’re welcome to do the same in comments… fair’s fair!

Many roads, one surname

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In yesterday’s SMH Catherine Deveny asked Why do (don’t go there) most children(don’t go there) still end up with (don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there!) their father’s surname?

She’s fairly clearly talking about a certain, already small and reportedly shrinking, milieu, that of heterosexual couples forming a nuclear family where the male and female partners have different surnames. She’s particularly talking about legally married couples, because in that case there is a socially visible ‘choice’ available to the female partner to use her birth surname or adopt her husband’s surname, or, I think even more rarely, some combination thereof. (Deveny has discussed women’s own decision here and it made it to Hoyden in 2007.)

Of course, we’re already in problematic territory here, in our last surname discussion WildlyParenthetical had a great comment in which she wrote:

[A structural analysis of surname choice as a feminist decision] assumes to know, in advance, the entire significance of a choice. In fact, it says that the entire (feminist) significance is given by its capitulation or resistance to a particular dimension of patriarchy…

… it can erase the heteronormativity of the issue to begin with… it can erase a colonialist, imperialist and racist history… it can erase the moments in which one has been disowned, or a survivor of violence, the moments where the very nuclear family structure enforced by surnames has been the cause of great damage…

Here I am under the microscope though. I had a son last month, my own first child and the first child of my long term heterosexual relationship. Moreover, his father and I are legally married. I’m white and of largely British Isles descent: this surname tradition is my cultural heritage. And I use my birth surname both socially and professionally, as does he: of course, my choice to do so is marked, and his isn’t.

My son? His surname is the same as mine, rather than his father’s.

While I was pregnant, we worked over this problem a lot, because I was very struck by the comment of zuzu’s that tigtog brought to our attention: You may feel you have great reasons for choosing the option which just happens to be what the patriarchy has greased the rails for you to do rather than taking the harder path of going against tradition. But having good reasons doesn’t mean that you’re not adding your own grease to those rails… Deveny observes much the same, that there are many many many reasons, but very much one likely outcome.

I come with a great big helping of privilege, and I’ve greased plenty of rails already and figured that the punishment I’d take for thinking about adding a teeny smidge of friction here was small, but it still took a great deal of energy to reach this decision. It took a great deal more for me than for my husband of course. I considered a lot of options: the children using the surname of the same-sex parent, inventing a new family name entirely, and so on.

I’ve ended up liking using my surname because it’s a distorted mirror of the usual decision. There’s very few objections to it that don’t also apply to the most common decision. Input from others vastly tended to focus more on what he and his family would lose than what mine would gain. Neither of us has brothers: sisters are so unreliable when it comes transmitting surnames! Several people took it out to cousins: I have more male cousins with my surname than he has with his. Trouble he might have dealing with travel or school documentation were raised more often than trouble I might have.

I am not kidding myself that this was Big Activism for me, it was low risk to my safety, my relationships, my right to parent my son. And I’m much more pleased to share a surname with him than my husband is sorry not to. (Of course, if he becomes very sorry, he can always change his name…) In some ways though, that makes me extra glad with the decision to do the, or at least an, unusual thing.