09 November 2011

And it begins...

It was a tough day at work today. It's often that way with research. Best laid plans and still no "positive" result to build on. Oh well, it'll either get better or I'll get to retire early...like REALLY early.

To help de-stress this evening, I carted Paige to her tap/ballet/gym class. It gives me 55 minutes to screw around on the interweb and/or just sort of be still. So I jumped at the chance, while the wife usually does the honor.

In the car on the way over Paige and I were talking about her transition to her new school. She lamented that she misses her old friends and that she really wanted to play with Calliana and Ella today but they weren't at her new school. It made me a little sad, but she very quickly started talking about her new friends that she was making, with quite a bit of vigor, so I stopped feeling as bad.

That's when it happened. She started naming all of the kids in her class, because I told her I don't really know anyone very well yet. Camden, Isabella, Kaitlyn...MAXWELL.

Maxwell, and I quote "him always tries to hug me and kiss me, for real, everyday. Him really likes me and told me he wants to marry me (said through a series of squeaky giggles)."

Me: "did you kiss him Paige?"

Paige: "well, I didn't have on pretty clothes, and him didn't have on handsome pants, so we didn't get married...Daddy? Do I have a white dress in my closet?"

WTF??? She's 4!!!

Thank god I've got the iPad so that I can blog and shop for a Desert Eagle at the same time.

I'd like to go back to work now...

07 October 2011

Daycare

It's a word that strikes a certain level of fear and apprehension in parents who require it.  It's a foreign concept to parents who don't.  To kids old enough to speak fairly well, it's school.  Our kids have been put through a bit of a ringer in this arena.  I have only our family experience to draw upon, so I preface this with the notion that this might not be out of the ordinary...but it feels like it might be.

When Paige was on the way, I was a graduate student at Georgetown and making very little money (based on the nation average I was doing OK...but in the DC area I may as well have been paid in rubber bouncing balls).  We had a house to pay for, and other incidentals, when we started researching and interviewing day care providers as my wife would need to continue to work to make the household affordable (not to mention that she WANTED to continue to work...though she had and still has pangs about not being a stay at home Mom).  We hit the usual suspects, the big national centers (KinderCare, La Petite) and a few local centers figuring that they were accredited and would provide a solid "care" base and a progressive scholastic environment for our kid when the time came.

We were BLOWN AWAY at the astronomical cost of these facilities, but figured that we could afford it and so we booked Paige a slot at La Petite to start when she was ~8 weeks old.  We settled on it and let it be for a couple of days/weeks.  Then, just to be sure we were doing the "right" thing for our kid, we decided to look into some home daycare providers in the area (no way in hell we had the space or $$ to do the in-house Nanny thing).  We interviewed 2 or 3 providers and found one we liked more than we thought we would.  Young-ish couple with two young boys (elementary school age).  Father was a K-9 police officer for the county and the space was pretty good sized and our kid would be the only infant in her care.

The cost was dramatically different.  Like lifestyle-altering different.  Still a whopping sum of $ for the year, but about 60% of what the center cost was.  We thought long and hard about it, deciding that when Paige reached a certain age (in our minds ~3 years) we'd move her to a pre-school type environment then and allow her to progress academically and socially at that point.  So we cancelled our slot at the center, and placed Paige in the home.  It was a tough transition for my wife, as I'm sure it is with all mothers.

(Side note: why is it that we fathers are sort of "programmed" to just be able to go immediately back to our full-time jobs after the arrival of a child?  I don't think I love my kids any less than my wife does.  Why is it expected, and almost biologically hardwired for us to leave our kids and forage?)

Things went pretty well with the situation.  We even coaxed friends into placing their newborn at the same home.  There were problems, sure (I am not going to point them out here, that is another post, down the road, when I'm sure that K9 Dad no longer has a service weapon - or dog) but we chalked them up to "every place has its issues...this is the best situation for our child".

When Taryn was on her way we were faced with a seemingly exponential increase in daycare cost (really, it only slightly more than doubled, but that's a whole lot of coin) and really didn't even consider a move from the home.  She took her place there with her sister (and a growing list of clients and issues) at ~8 weeks and we were off and running (I was making a tiny bit more $ at this point as a post-doctoral fellow, but really only enough to cover the rise in care costs).

Then, when Taryn was 6 months old (Paige was just before her 3rd birthday), in the dead of winter (in the midst of the worst stream of snow storms the DC area has had in my 11+ years here now) we were summarily dismissed from the home care.  The reasons given were spurious at best, and the method was utter cowardice.  We were led to believe that our oldest daughter was Satan's own spawn.  We were heartbroken and angry and cast our doubts on our collective abilities as parents.  It was a very difficult set of emotions and logistical issues to deal with.  Maybe the single most trying time of my personal life (and I've been through gradschool/postdoc hell AND had an engagement fall apart) to date.  I will never personally forgive the woman and her deadbeat (we found this out along the way...) husband.  I hope she rots in hell.

My sister came down from NY to help us out.  Like I said, we were in the middle of awful snow which basically shut down the DC area for a week.  We were able to be home with the kids the first week out of care (we elected to pull them immediately, though they were given a "two week" notice of sorts) and then my sister stayed with us for 3 weeks while we tried to sort things out.  It was a mutually beneficial situation I think.  We paid her a little, and provided all her meals...she watched her two favorite nieces during the day and got to change her scenery up a bit from the confines of upstate NY.

Since Paige was approaching the age of 3, we decided that we were going to eschew the search for home providers and put the girls into a center.  We did some more interviews.  Holy shizzoly.  The expense was going to murder us.  We figured out how to do it, realizing that in very short order we were either going to be moving to North Carolina to chase my career, or stay put with the prospect of my salary increasing a very healthy amount as a fellow for the National Cancer Institute.  We decided to enroll the kids at a center in our town.

Free advertising plug: Little People Dayschool is a magnificent facility for care and nurturing of kids.  Our kids both flourished, almost immediately.  Paige potty trained just before starting, and this reduced our cost too!  (If I told you what we spend on daycare, you'd jab a fork into your ear...let's just say that we haven't replaced our 11 year old Pathfinder...but we could have, every year, with a brand new one and had no payments...)

Paige learned her letters, numbers and all sorts of stuff.  Taryn was the jewel of the the infant/toddler scene (OK, I'm biased...Tiffini and Ed, if you're reading this, Ty is pretty cool too...).  Speaking of Tiffini and Ed...we made a new set of friends after being at the school for a bit.  Super couple with two kids that our girls really like.  We've done a few play dates, cook outs, birthday parties with them.  Spent July 4th at their place.  Would like to do more when we can find the weekend to do it too!  Our kind of folks...(even though she's a Steelers fan).

So, this brings us to today.  Paige and Taryn are spending their last day at Little People.  We moved recently, remember?  My wife has been trucking the kids down the interstate every day and dropping them at school, going to work, and picking them up in the afternoons.  It's too much.  It adds 20 minutes to her commute, each way, and it just isn't fair to her.  Or the kids, really, to have them in the car so early and for so long each day.

We knew this was going to happen, but we wanted to let them adjust to a new house and surroundings before placing them in a new school (an opportunity they'd not have had if we moved to Carolina).  But it's time.  We toured a few facilities in our new spot, and found one we think (we hope) is going to be comparable to Little People.  It's a crap shoot.  We're sad that we have to pull the kids out of such a great place, where we've made friends and have a good relationship with other parents and the teachers.  The kids were loved there, beside being cared for and taught.

Paige is excited to start at her new school.  It'll be a short transition for her I think.  I'd be surprised if she's not fully entrenched within 2 weeks.

Taryn, on the other hand, is a different story.  She's a bit younger than Paige was when she moved situations, but is a completely different child.  She's stubborn and does not deal with frustration well (it manifests as hitting and grumpy non-compliance...she's 2).  I'm guessing it'll take a bit longer for her, but her big sister will be there so...

Here's hoping that we improve our batting average with this choice.  We're at .500, looking to go to .667 and not drop down to .333

We'll miss you, Little People.  Truly, you were the perfect place for our daughters.

18 September 2011

Rocky Mountain High

I'm sitting here in Denver Inertnational Airport, at a gigantic bay window looking out at the Rockies. I know the Andes and Himalayas are taller, but these mountains are simply majestic. I'm looking at, I don't know, maybe 15-20 miles of flat open plain lands and then BOOM, 14,000 foot snow covered peaks. Incredible.

This trip to Denver is the latest weekend jaunt my Dad and I started (unbeknownst to the two of us at the time) back in 1986 in Minneapolis, Minnesota when we saw our first professional baseball game together (Red Sox vs. Twins, Wade Boggs hit a game winning home run and we saw it from the nosebleeds with a bunch of family).

Over the next few years, we made it to Shea Stadium to see my Mets, Yankee Stadium to see Dad's Yanks, and to Fenway to catch a Yanks/Sox matinee. After I went off to college in 1995, I decided I wanted to see at least one game in every major league teams' home ballpark. No double visits for new stadiums were required to fulfill this goal. I broached the subject with my Dad a bit after that and we decided to do it as a father/son tandem. Along the way, we've included a few family members (Baltimore with my Mom and sisters, DC with Mom the wife and my oldest daughter, San Diego/Anaheim with Tommy, and St.Louis/Kansas City with Uncle Steve and Jeff and Chris).

We just saw the Rockies lose to the Giants by a run in a really good game at Coors Field. We're at 13 parks now, including those mentioned and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. It's a really nice way to get away from everyday life, talk a little shop, shoot a little shit, experience a new city and watch some baseball (my favorite sport, even in this NFL-dominated world). It's great to be with my Dad in a capacity other than preacher and congregation. I think we've become honest friends, with mutual respect and admiration for each other and a genuine desire to do these trips together for more than the fantastic food a beer we take in over the nutty 48 hour jaunts. Though, to be sure, we had our fill this weekend too...

Next year, we're going to try to do Toronto and Cleveland, two birds with one stone, as it has been two years since we've been able to make this work (grad school, job hunt and new kids will do that to a guy).

I don't know if it will ever happen...but I'd love to have something like this with my daughters in the future...even if it involved theater or whatever they're into. Maybe a new winery every summer? Or a really great restaurant in a new city when they've come out of their Mac and cheese / chicken nugget phase.

I love my Dad, and these only partly debaucherous weekends of ours...

Giants 6, Rockies 5 in 9 innings at 5280 feet...

13 September 2011

Life is a Sea of Pink and Purple

That's what it appears when you've got two young daughters at least.  Pink socks, purple flip-flops, hot-pink t-shirts, bold purple corduroy pants.  With the recent move into a bigger house, and the presentation of bedrooms for  each, we're painting again...

Parents: "P, what color do you want us to paint your new bedroom?"
P: "Pink and Purple"

We're doing P's room (well, the lower 1/3rd of it) a pink that matches the pink in her new bed linens.  Of course.  T's room you ask?  Well, that whole thing will be a purple that matches her new bed linens.  Pink and purple curtains, pillows, bean bag chairs and sheets.

Jesus, even their soccer ball is pink.

When I had P at a home improvement store (what a joke, these places should be called "Oh shit, that broke?  Again?  I'll go get it's replacement/quick fix" stores) before the move, looking for packing supplies, she BEGGED me to buy a roll of duct-tape...you guessed it...bright effing pink duct-tape.

I swear I'm going to paint my bathroom jet-black just to have a little masculinity in the house (of course, our tub is a nice rose color...FML).

I'd say I'd like to have a son, to get a little blue or dirt in the house - but that would never happen.  We'd wind up with twin girls...I am 101% positive of this.  Then we'd need a 6 bedroom house (probably somewhere in Omaha - you know, middle America?), which would be even pink and purple-er.  I'll just bide my time until they have families...hopefully two boys each...

07 September 2011

Finally

Finally: I'm on here writing again.

Finally: We've rid ourselves of the small town house in a poor school district and a bad (not terrible, but bad) neighborhood.

Finally: We've taken possession and moved into a beautiful, spacious, clean, neat, well-appointed single family home in a quiet neighborhood with an excellent elementary school.

Finally: I can begin to re-focus on my science and start making true headway as I'm not being pulled in 16 different directions outside of work (only the usual 6).

Finally: I have a commute less than 35 minutes each direction (actually, it's like 7 minutes, but who's counting?)

Finally: It feels like we are where we are supposed to be.  It's a bit more rural (still nothing like where I grew up...we won't be butchering our own pigs in our front yard here...) and picturesque but has a solid suburban atmosphere at the same time.  An hour from DC.  5 minutes from my local homebrew supply store!  HELLO BEERSVILLE!

Finally: I believe I'm (we're...) providing my daughters with what they've deserved all along...

Finally: I'll be a bit more active in the blogosphere...promise.

16 July 2011

Well, things seem to be tracking right for our little clan these days. The kids are a mix of absolute joy and a healthy dose of derrière discomfort. They're kids, I guess.

We put our house on the market 11 days ago, at a very uncomfortable (low) price. It worked. Received two offers after just six days and actually got higher than the asking price ($100 is $100...). We close on Aug 30th...as long as the inspection/appraisal and financing go well. So, we're nervous but hopeful.

Then, 2 days ago, the wife and I found our kingdom a real castle. Made a strong offer and got the contract (it should be being signed as I type). We're going from a two bedroom poorly laid out 1400 square feet with curbside parking and no yard to speak of to an open floor plan with four bedrooms, 3000 square feet, a deck, 2-car garage and .27 acres of yard. And the kitchen? Holy moly what I'm going to be able to get done in that space...

Great elementary school and a really nice, put together neighborhood. We close on the 31st of Aug, and move that same day. Crazy. Then, two days later, we head to the Outer Banks of N. Carolina for a week with our great friends C & J and their two rug rats. Going to be a GREAT time. Beers, pools, beaches, and awesome company. And, we'll get to come "home" to our new castle. For the first time in quite a while, things feel really really positive in our little world.

The idiot (me) manifested this morning. As part of the sale of our townhome, we agreed to recarpet the staircase on the main level. $500 job, not a big deal. The guys showed up to bang it out this morning (Empire Carpet is worth EVERY penny...highly recommend them) and did a fantastic and FAST job. In and out in 35 minutes. I, however, did not have a single shekel in the house to give them as a tip. It was really awkward. I felt awful. Still do. I DID overpay for the job (a $375 job but a $500 minimum installation floor) but still...I wish I'd have had $20 to give each of them.

Well, next time I'll make sure I've got cash on me when having work done. Maybe I'll feel less douche-baggy.

15 July 2011

It's killing me

Short post.  Because I need to get it out and I think about 4 people, including myself, actually pay attention to this gas station bathroom of a blog on the interweb superhighway.

Contract on the current house, waiting for appraisal.  Nervous.

Offer on what would be a spectacular place to spend the next 4-7 years (or more)...should hear back today.  REALLY nervous.

I just want it to be September 1st...I trade my summer for this to be behind us.

If it all works, I'm going to suggest you, dear reader, to invest in Pottery Barn stock...the wife is going to heat up the plastic furnishing our kids' rooms....

FINGERS CROSSED (men it"s hard to tyep liek thaat)

28 June 2011

F me

Just a random observation for today. I've been at my current place of employ for 11 months now, and it has it's share of curiosities, as most places do. It's government, so there is this secondary layer of BS that many who haven't worked for the Feds can't truly appreciate. Whatever...that isn't the point.

Lately I've been taking notice of the duds that the folks who work for facilities/maintenance wear...grey tshirts with block letters that go like this : FME

Facilities, Maintenance and Engineering...so the acronym fits, sure, but what toadstool eating no-nothing decided to write F Me all over janitorial gear? The world needs fixers and maintainers...they are truly valuable people...but to put a dude in Dickies, workboots and a F Me tshirt just adds insult to injury.

Why not make them walk around the campus wearing a sandwich board that says: "Uncle Sam wants ME! (to plunge the stopped up toilet)"

Weird.

25 June 2011

Worms don't eat sidewalks

Strange title today, no? It arose from a conversation I was having with Paige this afternoon. talking about teeth and how many of them different kinds of animals have. Sharks, it turns out, have 22. And worms? Well, they apparently don't have teeth because they don't need teeth because they don't eat sidewalks - they're too hard. Brilliance and insanity all in the space of a single sentence.

We, as a family, actually had a rather enjoyable day together today. The first without a major incident clouding our happiness, or a mad scramble to get somewhere important, or feverishly flit about the house getting it ready for sale (a log entry I'm trying patiently to avoid writing because it is a rather disappointing and maddening experience). The kids had gym class this morning and were fairly well behaved all day. They ate well, slept (Taryn) and rested (Paige) decently and didn't do much fighting. They were rewarded with a trip to the playground (a mother playground with all the trappings across town).

The wife was rewarded with two helpings of Mike's fabulous Sangria. Mike is hoping for his reward in a little bit, after the Sangria kicks in...

21 June 2011

More to come

It's been a few days since I've said much here.  It was a difficult and sobering past weekend.  I'll get into it tonight, perhaps.  It's going to be a tough summer 2011 methinks.

15 June 2011

A picture speaks 1000 words

If that is true.  Then what does this 55 second video do?  I have watched it (it is a clip from something about 3 minutes long, too long to post here) more times than I can count the last few days and EVERY time it makes me smile.  Paige, in her flower girl dress, 13 seconds after the party moved from the cocktail lounge to the reception/dance hall.  She got the party started, and dragged Taryn out there too.  Kid Rock providing the beats...Sorry about the graininess, but please enjoy.

video

10 June 2011

Damnable Church Pews

Add them to the litany of reasons I don't go to church (never mind my stance on organized religion): a pew almost took out my daughter tonight.

We're out of town on a family matter - the wedding of one of my cousins - and Paige is going to be the flower girl.  It's cute.  She's got herself a really fancy white dress and great silver strappy shoes.  She went with Mommy the other day to the spa and got herself a manicure/pedicure (she came home with pink nails covered in white polka-dots), and she's got a really cool new headband with blue and white flowers on it to wear in her hair.  She's even been "practicing" at home with some of Mommy's silk flower petals.  She's excited and so by extension, Mommy and I are too.

My family (my Mom's side) is huge, sprawling really.  I'm the oldest of 19 cousins and every summer growing up the family would descend on my family's place (a string of 3 houses occupied by my folks, one of my aunt/uncle set and my Mom's parents).  At times there would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people all milling about, looking for fun.  Not to sound too West Virginian, but many of my cousins are like pseudo-siblings to me.  Tomorrow's bride, Katie, is perhaps second only to one other (Jenny...) who I'd consider a fraction shy of my actual sister.

There is symmetry here too.  Being the oldest of the 19, I was around, and can remember, when three of my aunts were married.  In fact, I was the ring-bearer in Katie's Mom's wedding when I was about Paige's age.  Story goes that I walked about halfway down the aisle and then ran for it in my little brown tuxedo.  The only thing I really remember from that day was getting to ride in antique cars to the reception hall...cool.  Anyway, on my Mom's side of the family, I'm the only cousin with kids of my own (so far...) and Katie thought it would be neat to have Paige in her wedding.  Certainly for the cute factor, but also as an homage to her Mom and Dad's wedding.  Symmetry.

Well, this afternoon (after a full day of driving - we're in NY now) was the rehearsal.  We got to the tiny church on time and got to know the names of those we didn't recognize.  Paige was playing around with another of my cousins, Trish (also in the wedding...I told you we're like a pack of 19 siblings...well, 18 siblings, but that's a sad story for another day) having a good time.  She was being a really good kid, just having fun but really staying under control.

BAM!

I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  She was running up the left side of the church looking over her shoulder for Trish and as she turned to face front her face met the upright section of a solid oak pew.  I was out of my seat and FLYING before she even hit the ground.  I've heard this sickening thud before.  Just before I defended my thesis, her forehead met the reinforced corner of a wall and, well, the wall won.  11 stitches and permanent scar right in the middle of her beautiful face.

I prepared for the worst.  She was screaming.  I scooped her up and ran outside with her to have a look.  I sat her on the steps of the church and pulled her away from my shoulder.  RED.  On her chest.  Oh crap, here we go again.  Oh, phew, it's a big fat sticker she'd swiped from a choir book.  Ok, no blood apparent.

Still screaming.  Can't see a cut or a bruise.  She's holding her mouth.  Oh Christ, she's broken teeth - right?  Paigey, let me see.  Nothing.  Every tooth accounted for, and intact at that.  I check to see if they are loose.  They're really not, though this procedure is deceiving because her whole head moves when I check.  She seems fine, physically.  She's scared and in shock, but otherwise seems to be OK.

We'll check her out again in the morning, but she ate a big fat slice of pizza for dinner (ohhhh, gooooood NY pizza) and played her rear-end off until 9PM....2 hours past her bedtime.  I think she's fine.

There is something about your child being in trouble that causes a unique physiologic change.  I was sitting in the church, talking to my grandmother (81+ and still grinding it out baby!) and a few others, then, after registering Paige's distress, I sprang.  I'm not joking, I had tunnel vision.  I don't know if I knocked people over.  My wife said I was running over the pews...not through them, but OVER them.  Thinking two things: I have to get to my daughter first, it HAS to be me that gets her and helps - and - I need her to be OK because if she isn't then I'm not and I have to keep it together.

Kids are stress.  Almost all of the time.  But, Daddy reacts well to stress, and will ALWAYS get there first...

06 June 2011

What is success?

I have a philosophical doctorate so let's do some philosophizing.

In my currently chosen profession - academic medical research - there is a generally accepted progression from peon-know-nothing to fat-cat-tenured-professor.  It basically works like this: enter a PhD program and work your ass off for 5-7 years for less pay than you'd make working a cash register at Best Buy (I know first hand...).  Write a ~200 page document detailing your efforts and spend a day justifying said document to a panel of people (some supportive and truly nice, some not so much...) who hold the degree you're trying to earn.  Pass and you're a doctor.  Great!  On to that professorship, right?

NO.

Now you have to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship, somewhere else, and work your ass off for a subsequent 4-5 years for a little more coin - but far less than all of your collegiate friends with Bachelor's degrees are making at *insert tech giant company name here*.  And forget 401Ks and other perks of real employment.  There, NOW we're ready for that professor position at U of Wherever, right?

Well, maybe.  Let's see here.  I see that you worked for 6 years at Whassamatta U under Dr. X.  Hmmm, one first author paper...tsk tsk tsk.  Then you went on to do a 5 year traineeship with Dr. Z studying the mating apparatus of the banana slug...one first author paper and a few contributing manuscripts.  How many hours a week did you work during these appointments?  Please don't tell me you actually took off on Christmas Day?

There is the rub.  I would like to know when it became acceptable for the establishment (and I know it isn't just my profession where this occurs...) to expect the ridiculous as the standard.  40 hours a week is essentially part-time for scientists in academia.  At least for scientists trying to attain tenure.  60-70 hours a week is probably closer to "average" for students/postdocs and new faculty appointees.  Do the math.  If you're not working weekends, 60 hours is 12 hours per work day.  Tack on an hour a day for an average commute (13), one to get ready in the morning (14) and 7 for sleep (21) and that leaves 3 hours during the day to do EVERYTHING else.  Make dinner, clean up dinner, feed cats, play with kids, get kids in bath/bed, do laundry, vacuum, run errands, and maybe have a fleeting few minutes for leisure (all this, of course, if you can function the next day on 7 hours of sleep with anything close to 95% effectiveness).  And, try as we might, sometimes science DOES run into the weekends despite our desire to have these free.

I don't get it.  I know there is an entrenched dogma of "I did it this way and you have to also" but I think it's stupid.  The root of all of it is the availability of funding (really low) becoming more difficult to procure and therefore requiring larger volumes of impactful data.  Professors write the grants - postdocs do most of the "impactful" bench work and students do a measure of the impactful work but are essentially learning how to be overworked postdocs.

I understand in science, like in all professions, that there are a select group for whom their work defines them and IS their life.  That's fine.  But it's not me.  I do science because I like it, it is endlessly interesting, and I am moderately "good" at it.  But I do not want my headstone to read "Cancer Curer and Driver of Knowledge".  I'd much rather it not even make mention of me being "Doctor Hall" (a moniker, 2 years later, that I still have a hard time identifying with).  Rather, I'd hope whoever is having it cut decides on something more like "Devoted Husband, Doting Father and Drinker of Life".

My personal success, I believe, should be measured by how I provide for my wife and my daughters; not financially (again, if it were about $$ I'd never have gone back to school in '03), but temporally.  If I'm at work 60+ hours/week and sleeping minimally 49 hours/week, that leaves me less than 60 hours/week potentially in their presence.  Actually, subtract 5 hours for commute and we're down to <54 hours.  Oh, and since the girls are so young and go to bed at 7, it's actually more like 34 hours/week.  34 out of 168. That's 20% of my week devoted to potential parenting and spousal duties.  I am supposed to be OK with sleeping more often that playing with my kids.  And this is all at a "reasonable" working pace.  If I want to be scientifically successful (in the eyes of academic types) I need to ratchet it up to 70-80 hours/week...leaving my family with a paltry ~15 hours of my time out of every 7 days.  2.2 hours a day for my family.  What kind of model are we building here?

Now, if I don't work at that frenetic pace, I'm much less likely to produce a large enough volume of data to generate either a single remarkable journal article (Cell, Science, Nature etc...) or two-three solid if not spectacular articles (PLoS One, JBC, Developmental Dynamics etc....).  This means I will not be competitive as a faculty recruit (regardless of my actual intelligence or ability to do science), and will either have to settle for a tenure-track position at a VERY small liberal arts college somewhere in the foothills of the Ozarks or accept a non-tenrue track research faculty (read: super postdoc...yes, 4 more years of ass-busting for no title) at a major medical school and hope I can convert to tenure track with progress and making a few friends at the institution.  Neither of these choices are optimal.

And, if I opt to bail on purely academic science and jump back into biotech/biopharmaceutical research? Then I become a bit of a pariah in the academic world.  A "he couldn't hack it" type, or a "he's too interested in his paycheck...we do it for the love of science" type.  It is NOT about the $.  It IS about the more structured career environment and ability to have defined steps and logical advancements.  It IS about having the ability to work 45-50 hours a week more regularly and to get back 15 hours with my family.

I think there needs to be a major overhauling of the academic career path.  Tenure, while great for your job security if you earn it, is actually a demotivating carrot once earned (I've seen this in abundance).  It should be done away with.  There should be free-flow of scientists between academia and industry.  Why create an artificial barrier and block the advancement of knowledge?  Biopharma does science with a goal of making money, sure, but academic scientists are not devoid of non-scientific motivation either.  How many have I seen give a talk where they believe they are walking on water?  How many are striving to be named "Director" or "Chief" or patent their "findings" as well?  The cache of name recognition and counting the number of times your recent paper has been cited in new ones...it's all ego.  And, by the way, tenured professors at decent schools make a pretty pile of wallet-stuffing too...so let's not mince words.

I just don't get it and can't figure out what my best course is.  The thought process has been consuming me more and more lately.  I'm almost 1 year into my potential 5 year fellowship.  I'm a husband and father.  I'm an adult in physical form if not mentally.  There is a fork in the road ahead, just out of sight, but I know it's there...left or right?

What do I want to be when I grow up?  And what am I willing to sacrifice to fill out that uniform?

-Mike

PS. Tomorrow I'll fill you in on our camping trip from this past weekend.  This other topic was on my mind tonight, so I went with it.

02 June 2011

Costanza's Wallet

I used to think that I was not a terribly picky person.  Turns out that is dead wrong.  I'm picky about my beer, my brand of mayonnaise, the music I listen to and a whole host of other things.  Now, I prefer to consider myself picky, but not a snob (though if we're talking beer here, then, well, I AM a snob and have been for ~16 years (once the novelty of the fake ID wore off and I had more than 3$ to spend on 6 beers)).  My pickiness was driven home recently over something I never really considered a terribly important item: my wallet.  Oh sure, it is important in it's function as my link to dolla-dolla bills y'all, but beyond that and a few trinkets from over the years (two worn Pearl Jam tickets - 2008 w/my sister and 2010 FRONT ROW DEAD CENTER with my wife - a "lucky" two-dollar bill creased perfectly in fourths, my Tapps "wall-of-foam" discount card for when I'm back in Melbourne and a Tinkerbell valentine's day card from Paige from before she could write her name, 2009?) the wallet is just a thing that sucks to sit on in the car.

Mine, however, has been in steady decline for a while now.  I pulled a version of a long-standing family tradition (usually done with duct tape by my Mom's side) and stapled the thing into a semblance of a functional catch-all.  It lasted about two weeks and today finally waved the white flag.  Now, normally I'm not much of a penny pincher.  When I want something, I usually do some research and purchase the best one I can possibly afford (note: AFFORD...be smart and realize what your limits are...if you can't you can't and SHOULD NOT...I learned that the hard way in college).  I do not, however, enjoy spending money on things that I "need".  Like the cool $850 we just dropped to fix the A/C for someone else to enjoy when we finally sell this shoebox of a house.  Sucko.

Wallets, generally speaking and if your last name isn't "Hilton" or "Kennedy", are not terribly expensive things.  I am not really a label hound either.  My last wallet was a "Nautica" leather thing, purchased at Macy's because my father-in-law had gifted me with an over-sized shirt at X-mas which I couldn't replace and had to use the store $ on something.  I think it was ~$20.  So, I go to Kohl's (last week, prior to the stapling) to have a peek at their selection and after 25 minutes (seriously, I picked out my CAR faster than this...)  I find one I sort-of like: $26 (it's a "Relic", whatever that is) and they're running a buy one, get one 50% off sale.  Great if I wanted TWO wallets, but I only wanted one.  And, I felt that $26 was too much for a wallet that I wasn't so sure about- even though I know damn well my wife owns wallets more expensive than that, and that we bought my youngest sister a "Coach" wallet (CHA-CHING) for her collegiate graduation last summer.  So I stapled the Nautica and started looking around on-line at wallets.  I didn't realize there were so many options.  Again, though, all too expensive for my liking.  But, like I said, Nautica died today.  So, I went back to Kohl's, thinking they might be running a different sale, as they are prone to do.  Money, 30% off wallets!  Got one for ~$20 out the door.

So, I paid the right price, but now I've got this completely new chunk of leather and acetate.  Unworn.  Totally different layout.  I start putting cards and stuff in to it (and I can't believe how many store cards I have, not credit cards, you know, the "customer membership" type cards so they can track your purchases and what not and offer you "deals" in return) and even though it looks bigger, it's board stiff and nothing fits.  My license and insurance cards are in a weird location.  The bank card is covering up the credit card.  Can't find room for my Sams Club card...never mind my Dave & Busters Power Card (with like $1.75 on it).  And the kicker?  Well, no cash besides my lucky two-dollar bill so I don't know if the bill-fold "works".  I'm sure it does.  But the problem is that the thing won't close all the way now.  I actually removed several cards for places I do not frequent.  How do dudes get away with using those two-slotted money clips?  Straight cash homey?

I just re-read this post and it makes very little sense.  I'm sure there was a point to be made in there somewhere.

Didn't get to see much of my kids today.  I spent my usual morning interaction time prepping the pot-roast for the crock pot (beef at 6AM) and after dinner I had to go out shopping (to get a damn wallet and food) for the upcoming camping trip and they were sound asleep when I got home.  The wife said they were extra good for her tonight...well done Peanut and Tare-bear.  I did give you both a kiss while you were sleeping around 9:30PM.  I love you and I miss you.

01 June 2011

Taryn does Ocean City

We took a trip out to Ocean City, MD last weekend to visit with Grammie (wife's mom) and Grandpapa (wife's step-father).  They live out there on a canal off of the bay-side...but just a 3 minute walk to the Atlantic.  It's pretty far north of the touristy boardwalk area...really relaxing.  This is a little bit about our trip.

Where to begin?  Oh yes: POOP.  We woke up on Saturday, had some breakfast and kicked around what we should do for the day.  Of course, the beach.  Got the kids changed, lathered in SPF 9x10^6 (that's 9 million for those who are lacking in their scientific enumeration skills) and hoofed it to the beach.  Light load, two buckets, two towels, a couple bottles of water and a few snacks.  Not planning on being there too long (cold water).  We walked around a bit, played in the sand, dipped toes in the surf (Paige...not Taryn, as it turns out she's a bit of a wuss at this point) and had a snack while watching a good-sized pod of dolphin lollygag up the coast.  Really great way to start a weekend.  We walk back to the house after 1.5 hours and head around back.  Grammie and Grandpapa have a strict "no sand" policy in the house, and have installed an outdoor shower to facilitate the cleansing.

*Side note: I love this shower*

We proceed to bathe Taryn and wrap her in a towel to dry off.  Hand her off to Grammie to get Paige cleaned up, and Taryn falls asleep.  Long morning, lots of sun and fun...she's tired, and it's nap time anyway.  We put her in a diaper and drop her in the pack'n'play and let her sleep.  About 90 minutes later, we are alerted to her Taryn-ness having completed her nap, and we go to get her.  Hmmm, she had a diaper on when we put her down.  Hmmm, it smells funky in here.  Oh, there's her diaper - it's clean.  Did she have chocolate before going down for a nap?  What IS that smell?  OHYOULITTLESONOFABITCH you pooped in the crib!  And...you played in it too!  Awesome!  Poop face, poop chest, poop pillow, poop blanket and sheet.  Back to the shower you imp...what a mess.

So, you'd think the bathroom-related story would end there for the weekend...but noooo...

The next day, after pestering Paige to go use the potty as she was clearly in the last movement of her interpretive pee-pee dance, we had a follow-up.  Taryn follows her into the bathroom.  It gets really quiet.  I get up from the table (and an aromatic cup of coffee) to see what's what.  As I approach the bathroom, I hear jostling, laughing, and a hasty attempt to close the door and flush.  TP everywhere.  Enough in the bowl to wipe a rhino's arse - twice.  And Taryn, completely mummified around the head and neck.  I hadn't laughed that hard since, well actually I laughed that hard just the day before - at Taryn.  But I made her walk out into the living room to show Mommy and Grammie/Grandpapa.  My youngest IS the "Miss" in mischief.  Not evil, not even close, but completely devilishly mischievous.

Something tells me we're in for it this coming weekend as we head up to the Catoctin Mountains for a little camping.  At least there's a lake to dip her into if she gets a creative impulse...

*PSA* Go buy Eddie Vedder's "Ukelele Songs" album.  Good originals and some interesting covers.

26 May 2011

Bipolar Opposites Attract

If you look at photographs of my two girls when they were both very, very young it is often difficult to determine which one is which.  Same general size, very little hair (and what there was was BLOND), blue eyes and flawless skin.  After a few weeks of age, this similarity evaporated and only photographic evidence remains of the time my girls were "the same".  Oh sure, they're both on the small side still.  They both have flat rear-ends and all the requisite female parts, but other than that they are diametric opposites.  Let me briefly introduce my kinder:  Paige Elara, 4 years old, whose middle name ("El" from Elizabeth, my mother and "ara" from Sara, my wife's mother) it turns out is shared by the concubine of Zeus.  Great start Mommy and Daddy.  Taryn Aoibh (pronounced sort of like "Eve" but with a drawn out and softened v sound...it's Gaelic), 22 months old, whose middle name is Irish as it is where the wife and I honeymooned some 6 years before her birth.

Paige was born at just over 7 lbs after 41+ weeks gestation by "non-emergency-but-let's-stop-fucking-around-in-there" C-section, and was needy as could be, seemingly from the womb.  She would not stop screaming if she was put down.  This was largely dealt with by, well, picking her up.  She got the hang of nursing in about 6-seconds flat and it was largely a breeze for my saint of a wife (said in all truth and reverence as her distaste for 3AM pumping and desire to supply all of Paige's nutritional needs allowed me to sleep a bit more than the average new Dad).  Paige did not crawl, really, ever.  There was a period of about 3 weeks around her 13th month where she did a little, but then decided that she'd just walk instead and hasn't slowed down since.  She developed reasonably good sleeping habits at night, at first with the aid of the binky/paci/nubby thingy, and then around her first birthday, we were simply done with that device, so long as she had a sippy cup/bottle of water at her side.

Taryn was born at just under 6 lbs after 39 weeks in the womb (scheduled C-section) and was far less needy initially.  Often more content to hang out on the play mat or in the bouncy seat/swing.  Not that she didn't have her moments, but a far more "hands off" infant than was her sister.  Nursing for her, and my now cannonized wife, was far more challenging.  The wife bled, and chapped, and was sore at a level I can not fathom.  But she was determined, and after 2-3 months of constant pain and worries about consumption (and lactation consults and extra doctors visits - begun with a worrisome departure from the hospital as Taryn was not urinating properly), things worked out.  She decided that Summer 2010 was to be bookended by her major physical milestones - no joke - and started crawling on Memorial Day Weekend and walking on Labor Day Weekend.  A little late on both milestones, but what are you going to do?  Her sleeping situation was a bit different as she spent longer in Mommy and Daddy's room, owing to the small number of bedrooms in our overpriced and undersized townhouse.  We were afraid to disturb Paige who had transitioned to a toddler bed and upset the apple cart.  She too developed reasonable night-time habits, with a binky...though she had a different level of attachment to the little chunk of rubber.  We tried at 1 year to take it away, and that was a nightmare.  Finally, around 18 months, and two-three tough nights, the Binky was banished from the house.  Taryn, though we've offered it, does not require a water bottle at night (though Paige still does...).

These are a few ways in which the girls are different.  It is, of course, much deeper and myriad than these few spurious remembrances, but I use them to illustrate the building individuality of my daughters. The clearest sign yet (besides the physical dissimilarities - Taryn is Aryan and Paige would be on the next train to Dachau...) is the potty training.  Paige learned over a long stretch of attempts (at first she wouldn't even sit on the potty) and tactics.  One supremely snowy day (~20" on the ground...which is a TON for DC) around 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday, we were at our good friends' home and we'd put Paige in big girl underwear...she held and held and held.  For ~10 hours, through car rides and dinner and sledding.  Then, she lost it in their basement (finished and carpeted...all right!).  That was it for her.  She's been using the potty, with only a minor accident here or there, ever since.  This was awesome because we'd just started the kids in a daycare/preschool setting (they'd been in a private home prior...a lamentable fact looking back) and her being potty trained saved us big $ each week in tuition.

Now, you'll recall that Taryn is ~2 months shy of her second birthday.  Well, she will sit on the potty and grin so big you think her face is going to freeze.  She's already peed on it several times and has dropped the kids off at the pool at least once now too.  I'm flabbergasted.  Is this for real?  Am I nearing the end of pumping cash into Pamper's coffers?  Sell your stock now people.  T-money is an all-world, championship caliber potty user.  Of course, I suppose it helps that the teachers at school are working with her and encouraging her participation in potty time (this never happened for Paige at the "other" place...).  But I think more than that, is the mounting evidence that Taryn simply wants to BE her big sister.  Anything Paige does, Taryn mimics.  Dancing, laughing, looking out the window at the baby birds, having a drink, washing her hands.  Taryn wants to read Paige's books, and play with Paige's dolls and sleep in Paige's bed.  She throws nightly fits when we tell her she can't.  Paige could ask Taryn to crawl over broken glass, roll around in lemon juice and cluck like a chicken and Taryn wouldn't even cry when doing it.  So different, in so many ways, and yearning to be the same...

I hope Paige understands, at least a little bit, her near infallibility in Taryn's eyes and decides to use her powers for good.  It is amazing to witness.

I'd like to thank the late Kurt Cobain for lending his way with words for use as my title today...

Addendum:

It has been brought to my attention by a reputable source that at an age I am not able to remember, and in Downingtown, PA - a location I associate with completing my one and only Topps full set of baseball cards in 1989 (I tried every year...pack by pack) - that I had occasion to patronize an ice cream truck.  My mind has been blown.

25 May 2011

Community Ice Cream Trucks

I grew up in a pretty rural town in Upstate New York.  So small is this place that only ONE stop-light exists within ~10 miles of the town center.  There was no "middle" school when I was attending the public system...grades K-6 in one building and grades 7-12 in the other.  Amazing we didn't take notes on slate.  Don't get me wrong now; looking back, it was a great place to be a kid/adolescent.  I'm sure I'll delve into some of my younger life on here at some point (some of you will not escape mention...so be prepared), but I bring up the small size of my hometown to make a point: there were no ice cream trucks.  Oh, we had a bad-ass hot dog truck (which, one fine summer day, I "worked" in for a few hours for a crisp 10$ bill and 47 hotdogs with kraut and mustard...thanks TJ, wherever you are) but no traveling, frozen treat-toting kid magnet.  I only knew they existed because of the movie "Friday" and random "Simpson's" episodes.

Now, being firmly ensconced in Suburbia - a fact that I sometimes lament - I have come to realize that yes, Virginia, there really is an ice cream truck.  And it is possibly the single most annoying part of spring/summer on my street.  It isn't the eye-sore of a micro-van plastered in an obscenely colored laminate that would make a circus clown blush.  Nor is it the slapping of hurried flip-flops worn by kids of all ages (this IS real) scurrying home to beg for $2.50 for a bomb-pop.  No, it is actually a one-two punch of amplifier and DJ.  One can actually hear this truck coming as it rounds the corner in Bethesda (I'm 18 miles north of Bethesda).  And the kicker is that they must have a drunk, one-eyed, retarded Bonobo chimpanzee working the ipod and loudspeakers.  Today, this damnable vehicle played a 5 minute stream of Christmas carols as a montage mashup.  Really?  Good King Wenceslas at jet-engine decibel on an 85 degree day in late May?  What, you couldn't find some crap-tastic Lady Gaga or Katy Perry tripe to blare?  Nope, Oh Tannenbaum it is.

My kids haven't yet discovered the secret mysteries of the ice cream truck.  They hear it come in, but, since Mommy and Daddy both work full-time, we're usually sitting down to dinner about the time the neighborhood kids are climbing trees and craving waffle cones.  I guess it's a sort-of rite of childhood in the 'burbs to grab the occasional frosty treat from some creepy dude (why is it always a middle-aged dude with three teeth missing?) driving around a freezer.  I'm sure we'll let them indulge at some point...but these trucks are the embodiment of Pavlov's dogs.  Patronize them once, and they show up at the same time every day hoping to bilk the homeowners out of a few more dollars by way of screaming kids.

It sort of makes me wonder if all that other stuff Craig, Smokey and Big Worm dealt with exists in as accurate a fashion...

23 May 2011

Introducing Doctor Daddy

Therapy.  That is why I have decided to start writing about the often mundane details of my life.  Therapy for me; a non-destructive means to vent the steam from underneath my shirt collar after a normal day in the life of a Cell/Developmental Biologist and full-time Dad and Husband.  I don't cheat any aspect of my life, and in doing so, I actually cheat them all.  Therapy for my wife, whom I will not publicly out at this point.  By getting these things out, maybe our relationship won't feel so strained at times.  Actually, she is as solid a human being as I have ever known, which makes my occasional transgressions all-the-more troubling and difficult to move beyond (for me).  Therapy for my kids, simultaneously my greatest joys and most insurmountable obstacles in life.  Extolling their virtues (which are plentiful) and lamenting their foibles here might just smooth our relationships - now and in the future when they can look back on this collection of thoughts and learn a little bit about what things looked like through my eyes.

If I have discovered anything through the first 4 years as "Daddy", it is that one can not totally appreciate all that a parent has truly done for them until parenthood is thrust upon them.  I have developed a profound respect for my folks - a stay at home Mom (though toting a Masters degree in Theology and re-entered into the work force for more than a decade now) and a Catholic Deacon/US Army Colonel/Jungian Analyst Dad (Colonel Deacon Daddy Sir).  They dealt with me, and my two sisters (both quite successful in their own rights...even if they don't view it that way) and all of the trappings and pitfalls of parenthood in the pre-ipod/cell phone/Nintendo environment of Upstate NY in the 80's and 90's.

I'm about to be 34 in a few weeks.  I'm a bit overweight, but not obese by any stretch.  I was athletic at one point in my life, and I'm working towards getting some of that back.  I am greying, and more importantly balding.  Married to a true sweetheart for almost 8 years.  Father to a newly minted 4 year old and her nearly 2 year old little sister.  Both girls are healthy (knock knock knock) and on the small side of the national average.  They have been beautiful from the moment I first saw them...each the same way...with Mommy laid out on the operating table and Daddy holding them for her to see as she was sewn up.  I got to hold my girls (selfishly) for the first 45 minutes of their breathing lives.  They were both alert and taking in the bright light and funny OB/GYN who delivered them.  Everyone in the OR commented on how alert they were.  The second's birth was almost a carbon copy replay of the first's.  It was comforting...an "I can do this" kind of moment.

I hold a PhD in Tumor Biology from Georgetown University, and harbor a not-so-closeted passion for great beer and better food.  I used to post quite often on the FaceBook deal, but sort of tired of it a while ago and finally decided to stop paying it much attention.  A portion of my life was returned to me, though I should admit that the e-addiction was more difficult to kick than I figured it would be.  This stuff actually is a small dose of iocane-like poison I think.  Thankfully, I've spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.  So I have decided to branch out and do a blog in the hopes of achieving the stress-reducing sensation of tossing out word salad every so often without all of the immediate reaction and unsolicited advice associated with the book of face.

If you have found this blog in error, you are welcome to stay.  If you were invited to have a peek, you know you are welcome.  Maybe tomorrow I'll post something about my life to give you an idea as to what you can expect to see in the coming days/weeks/months...or however long I feel that this is necessary or helpful.

Cheers,
Mike