Monday, November 30, 2009

A thought on copyright protection

You all know I'm interested in copyright and its limitations.

Every semester I end up asking students if I can use their papers, essays, or assignments as an example for my future classes. Almost every time, they agree wholeheartedly but choose to be anonymous.

I think it's interesting that they are more interested in contributing to the common good (and in the affirmation of their work that it entails) than they are in getting credit for it. This also means that no one has to feel singled out or embarrassed. Ideally, at least.

The primary motivation for creative work is to find readers for that creative work.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Picture interlude

Some great new pictures of the kids.

They went as Boowa and Kwala (kinda) for Halloween. Boowa and Kwala are from Thomas's favorite website. Julie pulled off her Kwala ears almost immediately, so she's really just a duck, but Thomas still thought she was Kwala.

Leaves are, apparently, amazing.

Full length of Julie's cute new dress.


After all that, this is no wonder.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Immunology for three year olds

Friday I had to take Thomas to a doctor in the twin cities. The ped specialty clinic there (where he goes for cardiology) was offering H1N1 vaccine for very high risk patients, so we were fortuitously able to get it. Unfortunately, Matt had reassured Thomas that this doctor visit would not include shots, so I had to explain to him why exactly we were getting one after all. I suppose I could have resorted to bribery, trickery, or because-I-said-so, but instead I decided to try science.

Not just science, of course. Science and storytelling.

"Well, did you know you have these munchy-munch cells in your body that like to eat germs?"

With seasonal monster impressions, I acted out the mission of these cells -- a term we conveniently left undefined, as I'm not sure Thomas is ready for cell theory -- to find all the cells in the body that are Not Thomas. When they find a cell that's Not Thomas, they know it's a germ, so they gobble it right up -- nom nom nom nom. But sometimes these cells need a little help knowing what kind of cells they're looking for, so we have medicine that gives them a heads-up about new germs that they might need to eat.

He was so enchanted by this cool fairy tale going on inside his body that he first declared that his shot "didn't hurt at all anymore," then clarified by stating that it was still working. We ended up play-acting germ-eating cells at Pizza Hut with a puppet I improvised out of a treat bag and his candy that he got that evening. (Puppet asks: "is this a germ?" Thomas says, squeaking with half-joking, half-real indignation, "No! That's my candy!" "Are you sure -- nom nom nom..." Squealing giggles.) I think half the kids in the restaurant were either covertly or overtly watching this. So now I know how to explain the rest of his vaccines. Too bad it won't work on Julie yet.

Unfortunately, Thomas woke up today with a fever. I hope we didn't get that flu shot just a bit too late!

When I explain to Thomas these days, I'm astounded by how much he already knows. I already feel like we're just "filling in the gaps" -- we're grouting, not tiling, in his surface of world-knowledge. He can pull out relevant detail to fill in absolutely everything we try to tell him about, either from his real-life experience or from books. Amazing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy birthday?

My birthday is such an ambivalent experience. Every year it's full of fragmented, terrible, involuntary memories of that day that I almost lost my son. Moments when I almost made the wrong decision -- the things that could have happened. The light I accidentally ran on the way to the hospital (did this make the difference?) -- guilt over the moments before I realized there was something wrong (how could I have taken him out to breakfast?) -- the conversation with Matt about the hospital -- the deep embarrassment that I was surely overreacting -- the terror of the trauma room -- the dimly remembered days of uncertainty -- my hands, strangely empty without him, on the back of the cold pews in the church down the street from the hospital. The taste of fear.

I can't quite escape it even now. I felt guilty about leaving Julie at day care today. Even though I know she is fine, I am irrationally worried about her. She wore the same coat to school that Thomas wore to the hospital three years ago. We have unseasonable cold weather just like that day. I shouldn't have let her out of my sight.

That way lies madness, and I know tomorrow will be fine.

Turning 30 doesn't make me feel any older. It's that 27th birthday that is still aging me.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Baby days

Julie's growing up so fast that sometimes it feels like her babyhood is slipping away -- or falling off, maybe, shed like skin. Just in the past couple weeks she's started creeping, getting on her hands and knees, and rocking. She's fascinated by everything and can play happily with almost anything for 20, 30 minutes. Tonight she sat in her high chair while I sang her nursery rhymes and cleaned the kitchen. I put coins and tiny toys in 3 of her hospital 2.5 oz bottles and let her shake them and throw them on the floor. I was putting the dishes away, singing,

"Thomas put the kettle on,
Thomas put the kettle on,
Thomas put the kettle on,
We'll all have tea.

"Julie take it off again,
Julie take it off again,
Julie take it off again,
They've all gone away."

Every time I got to her name, she'd look up and grin at me. Thomas, meanwhile, (who by the way is in love with this version of Mother Goose, and has some surprising favorites, including the above rhyme, undoctored (and further by the way the Old Mother Hubbard rhyme in that book has some chokingly funny art)) is taking a bath. He's practicing for upcoming swim lessons, trying to put his whole face underwater even though he's always been terrified of water on his face. He's missing the song, but he makes it out to play Julie's game with her, picking up the impromptu rattles every time she drops them.

Julie has a favorite bedtime book now too -- it's Bear Snores On, one of Thomas's all-time toddler favorites (good gift, godparents!). Sometimes all three of us sit in the rocking chair together and read it; sometimes it's just me and Julie while Thomas is in his own room having his own nighttime ritual. The poetry of Bear Snores On has always made it one of my favorites, and there are a couple of points that already make Julie giggle out loud, as she's patting the book, hard, with two hands, in that "doesn't know quite how to make the individual digits move separately" way she'll lose so soon.

After this book and a song, she'll often go right to sleep on her own -- a feat Thomas still has only replicated a few times. They're so different!

In food, too, Julie's "infant days" seem to be ending. She eats lots of foods now. She's funny in that a few times she's eaten a whole bowl of food, while making a weird "ehh" face at every bite. So far she's had apples (yes, delicate pink!), sweet potatoes, pears, and a little bit of peaches, as well as cereal. I also have some local beets and green beans frozen, even though she probably won't be ready for those foods for another month.

One thing we never thought to do with Thomas was to give him Cheerios to play with while we ate long before he was able to actually pick them up. We've been doing this with Julie and she's hilarious -- through incredible, diligent, and constant effort, she usually manages to grasp one between her finger and thumb over the course of our meal. Then she brings it up in front of her face and stares at it, puzzled. She will furrow her brows a bit, as if she's wondering why she's done this, and then painstakingly move her hand off the high chair tray, and drop the Cheerio on the floor, where Paci has been patiently waiting. Julie seems to think that this is her task and the purpose of all these Cheerios, like isn't it nice of mom to let me give Paci all this dog food. She has not once tried to put a Cheerio in her mouth.

Speaking of which, the other thing fun about this stage is that we have finally achieved fully mutual dog-baby adoration and fascination. Julie watches Paci constantly, and intermittently tries to follow her (unsuccessfully, but not for long). She's also learned the trick -- and if you're a microbe-phobe, you may want to skip this sentence -- of smearing her hand in her food and holding it down for Paci to lick.

Today while I was sorting things in Julie's room she was playing on the floor and managed to rock, roll, and creep her way to an adamantly not-baby-friendly box of stuff. Catch-all box, one of those ones full of things I don't need but haven't made time to sort and throw out. I was right next to her, so waited to see what she'd do with the stuff. First, pencils. I've never seen so much excitement about pencils. Did you know you can hold them at this end? And that end! And you can wave them. And roll them on the floor. And scrape with them. And turn them around and around. And -- hey, this box makes a nice noise when I shake it. What are all those shiny things in there? I'm going to get one out. Got -- no, it's -- well, this is good enough; what is this thing?

She took things out of the box and put them back, never tiring of the rattling sound it all made, until I was sick of cleaning the room and took her with me to find out what was happening downstairs.

And all this happened today.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New school

Thomas is at his last day of orientation at Montessori school. He's been so excited that he doesn't remember to say goodbye to us (so much for separation anxiety!). This morning he got out of the car and grabbed his teacher's hand, who noticed he was chewing the last bite of his breakfast -- which he had to eat in the car due to a temper tantrum over my only making him half as much as he wanted.

"Bye, Thomas, have fun today!" I told him.

He turned to face me and hesitated a moment. He thought about running back over to give me a kiss and a hug, but he was on his way to Class, in a bit of a hurry here give him a break. Then he thought about telling me some variation on "you too, mama," but he's been in what I think of as a "sophisticated speaking phase," meaning that he won't say anything unless he can say it like a grownup would. So this would mean he would have had to say, "Bye, mama, you have fun today too!" and possibly, that would not have satisfied his stringent requirements for sentence complexity. In any case, his mouth was still full of peanut butter and jelly on toast. So he altered his design.


Then he turned and ran up the steps.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thomas's birthday pictures

I am way, and I mean WAY, overdue for some picture updates. People want to see the new place, but I can't take the pictures they want to see because all the cameras are full.

(Which is really a relief because it gives me a chance to try to make the place presentable before I take them. So far we've bought some furniture, and today we eliminated one pile of boxes. But in any case.)

I'm starting with the pictures from Thomas's birthday party: they're up on Flickr now.

We started out at an Italian restaurant on Navy Pier, where Thomas got to make his own pizza (his toppings: red peppers, his new favorite vegetable, mushrooms, and sausage). He did a great job topping the pizza, but was too excited to eat much. The rest of us got cavatappi with mushrooms in gorgonzola cheese sauce. Yummy.

We then went to the Children's Museum, where Thomas got to build a house with Matt. I had to come along and add a strut so it didn't fall down. He also got to draw with sidewalk chalk and play in a huge water playground, and a bunch of other things. It was a cool museum and an ideal place for a birthday party, because it was easy for all the kids of different ages to spread out and enjoy themselves.

By the time that was over, Thomas was falling asleep on my shoulder, but he desperately wanted to ride the Ferris wheel -- it was really the selling point for the whole birthday plan. We let him sleep while we stood in line, and then I talked and talked and talked at him as soon as we got close. Astoundingly, I managed to wake him up for the seven minutes of magic in the Chicago sky.

A birthday to remember.

I suspect these are less than half the pics. More coming in the future; keep an eye on the flickr set if you're curious.

Edit to add: Also, this. At lunch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A happy halfer

Happy half-birthday Julie!

Julie turned 6 months old yesterday (had her first visit at her new doctor's office, which I like). Her present didn't come in until today: a Svan high chair. She loves it! She started banging on the tray with both hands as soon as we put her up where she could sturdily sit and see everything! And I love it because it's incredibly well-designed and well-made.

We're planning a little celebration this weekend: Thomas is going to help us make her first baby food, and we're all going to have cake. More pictures when I get my cameras' memory cards free again...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The secret is...

Thomas and I made raspberry shortcakes for dessert tonight. He was a bit ambivalent about the raspberries; "those are spicy," he announced when he saw them on his plate. He never really ate them (I think he doesn't like the texture), so I was trying to negotiate getting them myself after he was done gobbling up the sweet biscuits.

"Could I have one of your berries?" I asked.

He looks them over, apparently trying to decide. "You can have..." his finger drifts. "Actually, you can't have all of these."

"Can I have one of them?"

"No, you can't have any of my berries, but you can have some other berries."

This is the point at which Matt, holding the baby and trying to fend her busy fingers off his ceramic bowl, blatantly reaches over and drinks about half the orange juice out of Thomas's cup. Thomas apparently doesn't notice, involved in negotiations with me.

"I guess the secret is not to ask first," I say significantly, looking at Matt, but Thomas pipes up.

"No, the secret is, if you want orange juice, you can drink it out of my cup," he says with a wicked grin.

Matt and I both break out laughing. "Boy, he doesn't miss anything." He laughs gleefully at our appreciation. But I can't resist looking for more abuse. "Oh, is that the secret?"

"Yeah." Begins his sing-song: "Whoooo waaantts orrrange juuuice?"

"I do."


"Can I drink it out of your cup?"

"No, but you can drink it out of the orange juice bag!!!" Cackles with pleasure.

So I waited till he went to bed to nick the last five berries off his plate. Mom always wins.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Julie is in that squirming on the floor mode. I put her down on a blanket while I was grading. She wiggled and squirmed until she had turned herself 90, then 180, then 270, then 300 degrees, made an adorable little coo (pleased with herself, I guess?), and then instantly fell asleep.

She's asleep on the floor now. Guess I should put her to bed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Excerpts on infant baptism, 1

Some excerpts from my dissertation reflections, in honor of Juliana's upcoming birth in Christ.

On the litany of saints (this one's for Andrew):

The next appearance of the infant's name is (possibly) in the Litany of the Saints, where it may appear as the name of the child's patron saint. Once again, this acknowledges the particularity of this infant, the concreteness of his or her personal identity, while relativizing it with respect to the Christian community -- no longer limited to the assembly but recognized as "all holy men and women." The name which designates the child in his or her uniqueness is not unique -- it belongs to the child alone only by being given in the context of this community in which it has previously belonged to another. Christian names are second-hand.

I requested that they include Bl. Julian of Norwich and St. Benedict in the litany on Saturday. I hope they do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ready for stand-up

Thomas, Kylie, Julie, and I went to dinner on Friday. Thomas was, even for him, in rare form. On the way home we had this humorous conversation, begun when someone cut me off by driving in the wrong lane:

"What are you DOING?"

Thomas: "What you talking about, mama?"

"Oh, somebody's being stupid driving."

"Who is it?"

"It's nobody we know. I hope."

"Why you hope?"

"Well, I don't like to think people I know are stupid. I like to think that the people I know are pretty smart."

(Pause, doubtfully)

"You know Eric, mama?"

I can't make this stuff up.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seed starter

This time of year I long for a garden -- anything from micro to macro. I always start with seeds.

The first time, it was because Matt and I were getting through the summer on the tail end of one graduate stipend. We needed a vegetable garden to eat the way I like to eat. Seeds were cheaper!

Now, I go and pull out the seed packets and the tiny expanding peat pots by choice. I love seeds because they want to live so bad. When you sprinkle those dry grains onto the squishy soil pods and see tiny white shoots flying out the next morning -- even from those hopeless seeds that fell into the bottom of the tray where there's no soil -- you realize the power of the gospel metaphor.

"Unless a grain of wheat should fall to the ground and die, it will remain a single grain..."

The only thing they need to live is water. I get to provide that -- a privilege indeed.

Friday, May 01, 2009


Thomas was hyper at bedtime tonight.

"I want to pway, mama."

"If you're not tired, you can play with your animals in your bed, but I'm not going to stay in here, because it's time for you to sleep."

He just looks at me like I'm insane.

"I want to pway."

"Thomas, it's not time to play, it's time to sleep."

Stares at me again.

Holds up his bear, the two hands pressed together.

"I just want to pway!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, kiddo, I'll pray with you. I didn't understand you."

I'm a terrible mom!

"You want to pray the Our Father, since we already did a 'Dear Jesus' prayer?"


Mom: "Our Father, who art in heaven..."
Meanwhile, Thomas: "Rrr Fader, ... heaven. Baby sister nananaygoggoo --" (breaks off suddenly)

"Jesus is holding baby sister."

"He is?"

"Yeah. In his arms. That's why her heart is getting better."

I so don't deserve this kid.

Gee, thanks

Matt and I got a retirement account balance today.

"Expect to be working a long time," he says.

"I'm an academic. I'll never retire!" I respond. "We don't really retire, we just become emeritus."

"Yeah, that's true. You just stop teaching -- or stop teaching well."


"Just telling you my experience."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chemist's cookery

Why don't I put recipes on here more often?

When my mom was here I was throwing everything into the pot. "This is measuring, see. If I do it slowly and pay attention while I pour stuff, it's 'measuring,' even if I don't know exactly how much there is, right?"

Matt, behind me, shakes his head. "I thought you were a chemist!"

Kylie says, "That is how chemists cook!"

Yes, listen to Dr. Barker. I am vindicated!

Luckily, my mom wanted a recipe I made, so I wrote down something rather similar to what I made before I forgot it all:

Favorite Vegetable Soup:

3 onions
2 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 Tbsp minced garlic (I used the stuff from the jar)
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 c red lentils, washed
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp dill
1/4 tsp rosemary
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
salt (1-2 Tbsp?) and pepper (to taste)
1/2-1 c light cream
feta crumbles (optional; can substitute plain yogurt)

Chop onions, carrots, celery into medium-sized pieces. Saute onions in garlic and olive oil until translucent. Add lentils and stir into hot oil for about 1 minute; add carrots and celery and stir. Pour in tomatoes and 7 cups water. Bring to a boil while adding spices. Boil for about 45 minutes. Blend to desired smoothness and still in cream. Garnish with feta crumbles. Makes a very hearty meal soup.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The scholastic doctrine of the revival of sacraments has me picturing the Holy Spirit as crouched outside, ready to spring into our hearts as soon as we leave the door ajar.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anecdotes of parenting

I asked Thomas the other day what he wanted to do when he grew up.

"Cook! I'm-a cook soup like mama."

Seems pretty safe. I wonder if he wants to do laundry too?


I had to take Juliana to Thomas's daycare for the first time on Monday when I picked him up. His face lit up. "Baby sister is here!"

All the little kids lined up on their knees in nice neat rows to peer into her carseat. "Don't touch the baby," his teachers warned.

"I get to touch her," Thomas objected, looking at me.

"Yes, you do," I agreed, "because she's your sister. But your friends are just going to look."

Julie loved looking at all the kids faces, one by one.

"She looks just like Thomas!" one of the older girls said.

"She looks like me," one of the boys said. (This is the same boy that calls me "mom" and Matt "dad". We have no idea whether he does this with everyone's parents.)


On the way home from school today, "Message in a Bottle" came on the radio.

"This sounds like Rock Band!" Thomas yelled.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


One of the things I love about the great liturgical feasts is that they are the one time, as western Catholics, that we allow ourselves to screw it up.

I don't mean, of course, that the liturgies aren't beautiful -- nor that we should stop trying to make them beautiful. But the Triduum is one time that we are all doing things we're not accustomed to doing, and so we tend to do them like we would do them at home. We bump the chairs. We spill things. The altar servers aren't sure who's supposed to go get the candle or where it should be. By the end of the Vigil homily, even the priests are tired.

Thomas came with us to the Holy Thursday mass, and wanted to see the footwashing. We told him we could go home anytime, since it started at bedtime, but he'd been asking for the "When Jesus walked on earth and we could see him" (my "New Testament story" opener) stories all week and the foot washing was his favorite. He cruised through the bilingual liturgy of the word (not so good at the Vigil, but who can blame him there?) and, as soon as the guys started bringing the chairs, was riveted, too fascinated to even answer my "Do you like it?"

They bumped the chairs out onto the dais and had to mess around a little to get them all lined up properly. Then the people came out and fiddled their shoes and socks off. Our priest came out with his basin and the server brought the ewer. The deacon handed each person a towel. The water ran out about half way through the line and the server went to bring a new basin and ewer, then staggered under the full one until the seminarian hurried over to take it out of his hands. Father Paul continued to progress down the line and Thomas continued to hang his chin just over the edge of the frontmost pew on his tiptoes. People began to pull their shoes and socks on, and eventually Father Paul stood up and the parishioners went back to their pews. The ushers came forward to take the chairs away, and suddenly Thomas began to protest.

"Lots of people left! He needs to do ALL the people!"

Whispering wasn't correcting this misapprehension, and Thomas was exhausted, so I offered to take him home and explain what was going on. I had a burst of inspiration.

"Thomas, all the people need their feet washed, but Father Paul is done. Now it's your turn." Gee, aren't I cute, I think. A two-year-old's homily. But I had more effect than I expected.

When we got home, "Daddy! Daddy! I wanna wash your feet!" Matt, who was home with Juliana, blinked at us. "I wanna wash your feet!"

Thomas runs out of the room with a water bottle, filling it at the sink before running back to the kitchen. He reemerged dragging a dining chair -- boy, he really was paying attention! -- and had to be persuaded that the chair Matt was already sitting in would work fine.

He came in with his water bottle and his little dishpan and started to wash Matt's feet. Too bad he only put cold water in the bottle. Very cold water.

Sometimes the rituals are better if we allow ourselves to do them a little bit wrong. After all, this is the season when God broke into the world, through a great gash of wrong, to save it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I didn't get one!

Yesterday a day came that I've been dreading for at least three years.

It started out so well: we went to Palm Sunday mass, and Thomas was paying very good attention (for a two-year-old, that is). We talked about the entry to Jerusalem ahead of time, and although he was disappointed to hear that there wouldn't be any donkeys at church, he was interested in the palm leaves. He paid good attention through the procession and even followed along with a good bit of the Passion reading. (I was pointing the pictures out in his picture Bible and whispering the important words.) Despite the length of the Palm Sunday mass, and the fact that it started right before naptime, by the communion rite he was still gamely hanging in there, sitting in the aisle so he could see what the priest was doing and murmuring to himself.

When it was time for communion I showed him how to hold his arms across his chest, and we went forward. By the time we got back to the pew, he was in tears.

"Why didn't he give me one? Why didn't he give me one? I didn't get one!"

This is the one question about the liturgy my time at Notre Dame hasn't prepared me to answer. I'm just left here in my own pain, saying, "Why doesn't he get one?" And I fear that by the time five more years have passed, he'll be left with an indelible impression of his exclusion from the Lord's meal.

The eucharistic celebration shouldn't leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace day

This post is dedicated to my daughter, who is named after Ada Lovelace. May she do whatever she chooses with all the power and grace of the many women I know in technology.

Last week I was driving Juliana to the hospital when suddenly I thought to myself, "I miss dancing the mergesort."

Now, this may not make a whole lot of sense to some of you. Merge sort is a computer algorithm that efficiently sorts items. Matt could tell you how efficiently it works, but he's never danced it. I have.

My friend Tanya, as well as having her Ph.D. in CS, is one of the most creative people I know and really devoted to teaching. (It's a good combination for a computer science prof, don't you think?) One day, deciding she could "make algorithms fun" for elementary school students, she choreographed a dance to illustrate how mergesort works. But she didn't stop there (like I would have, if I'd been lucky enough to have such a cool idea myself): her passion was such that she managed to inspire eight normal, introverted, busy grad students to get together once a week to learn and practice this dance and then to perform it!

Occasionally, when I'm struggling to put a class together in a way that doesn't bore even me, I'll think about this experience. So far, I've never had the creativity or the guts to dance my theology course, but it's definitely made me think about how teaching methods are only as limited as my passion and my imagination. So thanks Tanya, and happy Ada Lovelace Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Hard to add anything to that.

She's beautiful and doing well!
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 05, 2009

25 things about me

I've been tagged on facebook twice, and this seems like the kind of post I might actually be able to complete right now.

1. I start things and never finish them. I started with this in the hope that admitting it outright might mean I actually post it even if I can't think of all 25. I am trying to work on this personality ... quirk.

2. I am a "messy house person," and most of my closest friendships have been with other messy house people. I sometimes wonder if this is significant.

3. I got certified to scuba dive when I was 12. The weekend I certified it was in the 40s. Back then, I thought that was cold.

4. At one point in high school I wanted to be a journalist. One of my friends from school newspaper now writes for the Chicago Trib's Red Eye. Later I decided I'd do chemistry instead. One of my friends from that class is now finishing her Ph.D. in chemistry at Northwestern.

5. I didn't decide to go into theology until I was 4 credits short of my chemistry degree. I had no idea what I would do if I didn't get into the ND theology program.

6. I'm lucky enough to live with my two best friends. One of them is about to turn 30, the other's not yet 3, but they're both thoughtful and fantastic companions.

7. My dog's pretty great too. Her full name, according to Dave, is "Nuestra Senora de Paciencia Jose Maria Conception Immaculata." Or something like that. I always forget the details.

8. My son wants to name his sister Paci, after the dog. This too is Dave's fault.

9. My dissertation director knows the day and month I got married (which was before I met him). Once he was introducing me to some well-known theology prof friend of his and he mentioned the day.

10. Contrary to my expectations, having a child with a serious and chronic health condition has made me less, not more, of a worrywart. I don't understand this.

11. When I'm bored, especially when I'm walking somewhere and I wish I was already there, I count. Sometimes I count in eights. Sometimes I just see how high I get. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a useful parenting technique. Thomas could be mesmerized by my counting to him on the changing table by the time he was eight months old.

12. My mother-in-law taught me a little about decorating cakes when I was engaged. I now know just enough to be dangerous.

13. This is pretty typical of my approach to hobbies.

14. I know almost every line of every Jane Austen book ever published (except Northanger Abbey, which I like least and therefore have never owned).

15. Not only do I read the books, I also read literary criticism about Jane Austen and a few other favorite authors for fun.

16. I dislike most TV and am slightly hostile to movies. I've always been ashamed of this, but have never overcome it.

17. I told one of my dissertation committee members that Julian of Norwich was my favorite theologian. He was a lot less shocked than I expected.

18. I wish I got to make more jokes about theology, but I'm rarely around people who would find them funny.

19. When I got pregnant the first time I was terrified that I would have a girl and very relieved to find out it was a boy. This time I was thrilled to find out the baby was a girl. This shows how much better I've gotten over the past three years.

20. I really admire my dad. He never gives advice, but there are a few observations he's dropped about life (literally only a handful... about 5) that I think about all the time and that have made a huge impact on how I think and make decisions.

21. When I was little I used to look down from the high diving board and tell myself, "It'll be fun when I hit the bottom." I'm surprised how many times since then life has made me think of that.

22. When I was in high school I worked as a telemarketer for eight days. I hated it, wrote an essay about the experience, and won a $500 scholarship. This means that overall I got paid over $20 an hour for that job and developed a lasting phobia about making phone calls to people I don't see often. I'm not sure it was worth it. Matt is tired of ordering the pizza.

23. The one thing I've always dreamed of doing with my life is writing novels -- not just novels that sell (in fact I don't care about that) but ones that change how people think about life. Books have always been shaping how I think about life, and I want to participate in that.

24. This is the one dream I've never tried to convert into a career. I was too afraid to do it -- and now I've found another love.

25. My middle name is Hope.

Prayers please

I don't like being every doctor's most interesting medical case.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Note to hiring committees...

..."we do whatever the law requires" is not a selling point.

Due to a shocking combination of grace, coincidence, the good word of my mentors, and hard work (always the most shocking component), I ended the job search season with two offers. I was surprised and (very) pleased and was able to take a job I'm extremely enthusiastic about.

There was one part of the job search process that amused, annoyed, and, eventually, infuriated me, however. That was exploring the maternity, family, and emergency leave policies where I interviewed. This was interesting to me for a lot of reasons. A couple of my friends have done research on family-friendly institutional policies and their effect on women's academic careers. I went to both my on-campus interviews visibly and unmistakeably pregnant, and I was upfront with everyone about having a 2 year old. Most importantly, however, I'm a parent of a kid with a potentially serious chronic health condition, who was hospitalized and endangered as an infant. I know exactly how much a family medical emergency can impede academic work -- I estimate I was set back at least 9 months by mine.

At the first place I interviewed, I explained this experience and asked about their family leave policies. The chair responded, "We do everything the law requires." His tone implied that this was something to be proud of and that I should be fully reassured by his response. Not terribly impressed, I asked about tenure freezes. "That's covered under the law." No, it's not, I said. "Oh, it definitely is." Eventually I was told that the university was "very family-friendly" and then breezily assured, "Anyway, you don't seem like the type that would need to take time off for maternity leave!"

With the implication being, I suppose, that if I did seem like that type they wouldn't be interested? In the context of my having explained taking time off to care for my sick newborn, this hit me with frustration and unease. To make matters worse, the assistant provost didn't know any more than the chair about the university's policies. No one seems to care.

The next institution was very different. One of the people on the hiring committee met me at the airport and visibly noticed my condition. I volunteered my due date, etc. and she cheerfully told me a lot about their policies in the car on the way to the university. The provost and one of the other women in the department repeated and elaborated the next day. There was no feeling of stigma -- in fact their paid leave for maternity is exactly equivalent to the partial research grant they offer periodically, which makes it seem more sanctioned. The policies were adequate (not European but much better than most American jobs), but the sensation was much better.

This didn't make the decision for me -- far from it -- but I have to say, "we fulfill the law" isn't much of a selling point.