How can I tell if my problem is really a problem?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the patriarchy likes to force problems on people where none actually exist.  (By people, of course, I mean women and minorities mainly.  That’s kind of patriarchy’s thing.  White guys get fewer “damned if you do/don’t” manufactured problems.)

The internet is full of this kind of thing.  So we thought we’d give a tutorial with some examples.

“How can I tell if my parenting problem is really a problem?”

An excellent question.  Because sometimes your problem is a real problem that needs a solution, and sometimes your problem only seems like a problem because that’s what the patriarchy wants you to think, because if you’re busy worrying about something that’s not actually important, you’ll have less time to say, fight the patriarchy.  Bonus points if you get other people worried too. Answering that question is really simple in theory, though perhaps not as simple in practice– try it out and say what you think.

Step 1:  Notice that you think there might be a problem but (important!) realize that there may not actually be a problem… it’s possible that that’s just what they *want* you to think.  (“They” being the patriarchy, of course.)  This is probably the hardest step, and it might be one that you want to go through each time you’re irritated or worried, just in case it’s just the patriarchy messing with you and you can then attack the patriarchy rather than the perceived problem.

Step 2.  Ask yourself,  Is this really a problem? What makes it a problem? Why do I think it’s a problem? Here’s where you go… what are the consequences, is this actually hurting anything, do I just think it’s a problem because of culture or because someone told me it’s a problem even though nothing is actually being hurt?  Or are there real consequences?

Step 3.  Ask again, if this is actually a problem, is there a different underlying root problem.  (Crucial Conversations suggests something similar.)  Sometimes the problem you see is really just a symptom of an underlying deeper problem, and fixing the symptom is just a band-aid solution to a larger issue that needs addressing.
Here are some examples:

Biting at daycare is a problem because 1. If a kid does it too much they get kicked out and 2. Biting hurts people and we have an underlying belief that we shouldn’t hurt people that we would like to impart to our kids.  3.  Why is DC2 biting?  Is the actual problem that the kids are not being taught conflict resolution and ze’s constantly getting stuff grabbed from hir?

Sleep “issues” are a problem if A. the kid is grumpy from not getting enough sleep or  B. Mom and dad would like more quiet time (or more sleep). They are not a problem because C. Everybody else’s kid seems to sleep more or go to bed earlier so I must be doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with my kid. But many people complain about C without A being an issue at all and while simultaneously complaining that dad never gets to see the kid because the kid goes to sleep too early. If C is the only reason, then it is a non-issue. But it’s a non-issue that a lot of parents have (because most kids aren’t exactly average), so they commiserate in the comments and it builds as something that seems like it should be an issue. Complaining about sleep problems that aren’t real problems becomes the normal. Being anxious is the normal.  It doesn’t have to be.

So that’s our quick guide.  Do you have any examples you’d like to share?  What kinds of problems have you discovered were actually not problems at all?  When have you found that the superficial problem is actually masking a deeper issue?

I don’t think I’d find reading about my life to be very interesting

But I do find reading about my thoughts to be interesting.  (I waste a lot of time rereading old posts of ours.  There’s some good stuff in there!)  And sometimes I crack myself up.  (What does that mean about my sense of humor?  Hm…)

On a day to day thing though, meh.  I work.  I spend time with my family.  I do laundry and groceries and occasionally shop at whole foods.  I’m not bored living my life, but reading about it would be pretty far down in list of things to do (somewhere above “things that are really painful” but below “things I don’t enjoy doing but have to get done anyway”).

This lack of interesting stuff going on in my life seems to have increased (widened?) with DH getting a new job and making money.  I just wouldn’t want to read about someone like me.  I was more interesting when we had to scrimp and save for stuff.

But interesting isn’t really what I’ve ever been aiming for.  One doesn’t really want to live in interesting times.  (Though one does.  Which is depressing.)

And I admit, the daycare saga may be interesting to some, but it’s just depressing to me!  My poor little DC2.  Similarly having an incontinent kitten.  I’m sure I will look back on nice kitty’s preference for piles of cloth and laugh some day.

Obviously the solution is to ask #2 to write more about her life.  Because what she’s been doing is tres interesting!  At least, I think it is.

Would you find your life interesting to read about, and is that a good or a bad thing in your opinion?  Do you prefer reading about people like you or people who are different or both or neither?

Conferences for the unemployed academic

Now that I’m no longer a professor, I have to pay for my own conference travel out of pocket.  Of course, before they didn’t really pay for enough to cover even one conference, so this isn’t much different from when I was an employed academic.

In fact, dealing with conferences on my own is expensive and it sucks but it’s easier than dealing with our less-than-competent secretary!  (Insert rant here on:  it was enough for them to say they supported professional development and research, but not enough that they actually did. End Rant.)

Why am I conferencing, even though I’m not employed and I am not bringing in money? I thought it might help get a job, to network, because conferences are cool and fun, to learn about research, to see old friends.  Why does anyone ever go?

But I’m not paying 100% out of pocket.  I’m doing some things to save money on the trip.

To pay for the conference I’m using a mishmash of frequent flier miles, savings, and aggravation.  I’m also sharing hotel rooms with colleagues/friends (SCORE!)

Now, I think the trips themselves are tax deductible since I’m using them for job seeking/networking purposes, but according to my partner’s accountant given that we’re renting etc. we won’t be over the standard deduction this year even with my travel and stuff.  I’m saving the receipts anyway, just in case.

So that’s my story.

Do you pay for work-related conferences out of pocket?  How do you save on travel?  Is a conference your idea of a vacation?

Link love

We might both be gone right now.  Please don’t rob our houses/apartments.

what…?

but why?  (#2 doesn’t get this one)

Museum selfies are awesome

racism in voting

bad advisor continues to give good advice

Let me fix that for you, NYTimes

disappointed in donna ginther

How one couple budgets when no longer broke.

Baby’s first Halloween, is there something I missed?

Picking up a project management mid-stream

useful scripts for teh menz

Gosh Google

Q:  how much should a family of four give for a wedding present?

A:  Is your baby chipping in towards this gift?  The cat?  No?  In that case, give anywhere from ‘handmade card/free’ to thousands of dollars, depending on your situation.  The happy couple takes checks, cash, and money orders.

Q:  is it sanitary to rinse dishes in a sink rather than under running water

A:  use a dishwasher, it’s more water-efficient.  (P.S.  No.)

Q:  what is the purpose of medical insurance?

A:  You must be 19 years old, amirite?

Q:  do engineers make good boyfriends

A:  Mine did, but he would be a terrible boyfriend now because he’s married.

Q:  do engineering faculty teach during the summer

A:  It depends.  Some do, some don’t.

Q:  reasons why i should stay grumpy

A:  Kyriarchy.

Q:  why did i choose mna for grad school

A:  I don’t know, why did you?

Q:  how do people make a living in the midwest

A:  Usually by going to work…

Q:  what could you use a spoon for stranded on am islanf

A:  So many things!  Knife.  Reflector to flash Morse code SOS at passing vessels.  Eating utensil.  Shovel.  Cooking up your crack.  Splint.  Back-scratcher.  Shiv.  Come up with your own if this is a homework assignment.

Q:  what are the gifts can be present to friends marriage

A:  Check their registry.  If no registry, then write a check.  Or you can try to be thoughtful, but that means you have to get something them-specific.

 

Little things that just work

Sometimes I like giving Christmas presents that are practical but luxurious.  My grandmother-in-law was kind of weirded out at first when we got her a bath mat for Christmas one year early in our marriage, but it was a really nice really expensive bath mat that just felt like stepping on a little slice of Heaven’s carpet after getting out of the shower or bath.  She remembered that purchase and was appreciative years later, even if it seemed an odd choice at first.  Sure she already had bath-mats, but she didn’t have luxury bath mats.

And it’s amazing how these little luxuries can change one’s quality of life.  Sometimes in ways that you don’t even realize are possible until you’ve experienced them.  I think that makes for the best kind of Christmas present for the person who has everything– something they didn’t know they wanted.

The following things are expensive for what they are, but cheap given the happiness they bring.

Maped metal pencil sharpeners.  Sharpening a pencil has never been so pleasurable.  Pencils perfectly pointed.  After dozens of crappy plastic sharpeners that just gave out after a few sharpens, this little hand-held product is a dream.  Amazon no longer carries the two-pack we got that had the huge number of 5-star ratings, but it carries a two holed version and a one-pack.

furminator– accept no substitutions!  Big Kitty and Garage Cat were both long-hairs.  We’d tried various brushes with Big Kitty and they mostly ended up with all parties being upset.  Then a friend with a long-hair recommended the furminator.  It was expensive so I put it on my Christmas list and got it as a present.  This just works.  It combs through hair without catching.  The cat in question generally enjoys it, and you end up with enough extra fur to build another cat.

tweezerman tweezers — These just work.  You find the hair (or splinter, or what have you), pull, and it’s out.  No wasting tens of minutes trying to get purchase.  You get purchase.  There is a small learning curve where you learn not to take off skin too, but once you realize how good the tweezers are, you figure out you don’t need to grasp at skin like you would with normal tweezers.

We have differing opinions on pens and there are a lot of good pens out there.  One of us is addicted to Pilot G2, especially for grading.

Leifheit jar opener– If you don’t live with the incredible hulk, sometimes you need to open a jar by yourself, and sometimes you’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t damage the lid of the jar.  This expensive jar opener imported from Germany is a wonder.  I feel like I can open anything!  It is true that there are other highly rated jar openers on the market, also expensive and also from Europe, but we haven’t tried them.  This one definitely works.  We love it.

We have a perfect metal spatula, but unfortunately it is unbranded and we’ve been unable to find a second exactly like it.  Maybe you have a metal spatula to recommend?  Good rubber spatulas are also a great thing to have, but they are legion.

This Logitech ipad keyboard is amazing.  Sure, it’s not so little, but it is so nice.  One of my RAs had one and after she showed me all its features I had to have it.  It’s made responding to emails while traveling SO MUCH EASIER.  Note that the different colors have different prices– you can get a discount if you’re willing to go with say, red.

What little things have made your life better?  When has spending extra for quality on some everyday item been worth it?

On preschools and biting: Part 1– the story

DC2 is a biter again.

To catch new readers up, DC2′s wonderful daycare went out of business because of financial difficulties stemming from a theft.  Ze learned to bite at a second temporary daycare at DC1′s school that had too high of student/teacher ratios.

Then we moved to another daycare that was great.  DC2 stopped biting.  Ze started saying “STAHP!”  There was re-direction, conflict management.  It was great.

Then DC2 aged into the next room.  The room where the two main teachers had been fired a few months previously because one of them claimed the other one disciplined a child with hitting, but waited to make the complaint longer than required by law (which would be immediately).  The replacement teachers… aren’t as good.

DC2 started crying at drop-off.

And eventually, ze started biting again.  And being bitten, though not quite as much as ze bites.

Every incident report was the same.  Other kid tried to take the toy DC2 was playing with, so DC2 bit hir.

They tried pacifiers.  They tried tylenol.  The assistant director, who is a huge bully, called me back to the front desk one day before picking up DC2 to sign the latest incident report and loudly quizzed me about the problem in front of a bunch of other parents.  She actually did that twice.  The third time I yelled at her… but more on that in a few paragraphs.

Eventually we decided it wasn’t teething that was the problem.  We noticed that ze had stopped saying “Stop” at home and had stopped putting hir arm out to indicate to stay away to DC1.

We also noticed my colleague’s kid was no longer attending the daycare, and asked why.  Turns out their kid was kicked out for biting.  At the new place, my colleague said, hir kid bit once and then hasn’t since.

When DC2 got an incident for biting another kid because ze wanted the other kid’s toy… that’s when we put two and two together.  All of the previous incidents involved someone trying to take what DC2 was playing with.  Why weren’t they addressing this extremely common children’s problem.  Why didn’t they have property rights or sharing or trading or some system of management so kids knew what the rules were about playing with toys?  What happened between the first room and the second room?  Why didn’t they address the root of the problem?  Why were they just focusing on bandaid solutions after the incident and then yelling at me (note, always at me, never at DH, despite the fact that DH does 80% of the pick-ups and something like 98% of drop-offs, because the assistant director is a sexist bully) about it?

DH started observing carefully in the morning and afternoon and would report to me that the main teacher in the mornings didn’t notice kids unless they were crying.  The other teacher was a little bit better, but neither of them were any good with incidents.  They moved from disciplining one kid to another, always disciplining the kid first and ignoring the kid who was crying.

So I mentioned to the daycare director (while signing another bite report) that my husband had been observing the room and he’d noticed that the teachers didn’t seem to be as experienced as the ones in the 18 mo room.  I mentioned that DC2 didn’t bite in the 18 mo room.  I asked what their culture was with regards to property rights– did they do sharing or let the kid who was playing with the toy keep playing… she said they did taking turns so the teacher would let the kid who had it keep playing and then come back later and give it to the other kid if she remembered.  I requested that she observe the teachers and see what she thought.  She asked which teachers, and of course I didn’t know (since DH does the majority of drop-off and pick-up), so she went on and on about how two of the teachers were extremely experienced and on and on and I said, well, maybe it’s the college kids, and she got relieved and thought I’d been talking about the morning teachers.  Of course, it turns out that the college kids are the afternoon teachers who are doing fine and the “experienced” morning teachers who are terrible.

The last straw for me came when the assistant director accosted me again while I was signing an incident report and started going on and on about how at least this time, for the first time, DC2 had shown some compassion for the kid ze bit.  As if DC2 was some kind of sociopath.  UGH.  (Note:  this was NOT the first time DC2 said sorry and hugged or kissed the kid after, no matter what the assistant director thinks– in fact, ze has been doing that a lot because ze thinks that makes it ok to bite!).  So I repeated to her the things that I had told the director, only far more directly and far less diplomatically.  Readers, I may have spoken with her quite strongly. (As with many bullies, she backed down once I politely and firmly showed some spine.)

When I repeated many of the things DH had said specifically about the morning teachers, she got upset and went on and on about how one of them has 8 years experience in special ed.  As if special ed and 2 year old management have anything to do with each other.  Which I told her.  She also told me that the school’s version of conflict resolution is not taking turns, but sharing, which is something completely different!  She and the director don’t even agree on what the school’s policy is.  In any case, the teachers in that room aren’t doing EITHER.  I repeated that all I wanted was for them to observe and train.  She said since I was getting my information from my husband, would it be possible for me to observe?  I said I trusted my husband and have to work.  She ended as I was walking out the door saying that she *does* regularly observe the classes.  I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue, remembering how much the teachers in the 18 month room think she’s clueless (not that they said that in so many words, but they apologized profusely and left things unsaid because she “doesn’t really understand that accidents happen when you switch to underwear for the first time at school, bless her soul” when she was a bitch about DC2′s first day of potty training and sent us an email as if we hadn’t worked things out with the teachers ).

On the plus side, she hasn’t harassed me since, which is nice.

In fact, when DH went out of town this past week, for the first time the assistant director didn’t come up with some ridiculous excuse to keep DC2 out of school. (I don’t know if I complained here about how last time DH was out of town, she essentially accused me of faking a doctor’s note that DC2′s eczema wasn’t contagious and then called the doctor’s office and wouldn’t let DC2 in school even when they told her over the phone that it was ok so I had to spend a huge amount of money on last second childcare so I could teach and had to cancel a class and not get any work done for three days.  Even though my kid wasn’t sick!  It was awful.),  So I was able to view the classroom in the morning myself, briefly in a heart-breaking way on Tues and Wed before taking DC1 to school, and at length on that Monday because DC1 had an in-service day.

It was like lord of the flies.  Seriously.  Kids grabbing things from each other, screaming, hitting, pushing, the teacher trying to do a dozen things and giving up.  Punishing kids but not, again, getting at the root of the problem.  Each new kid crying woefully once getting there.  No wonder DC2 didn’t want to be dropped off.  It wasn’t a safe environment.  Now, DC2 loves the afternoon teachers and loves the second half of the day.  But it is easy to see why ze complains about the mornings.  Even DC1 commented on what a horrible job the teachers were doing once we hit the parking lot.

I talked to the third person who is occasionally in charge at the front desk– the director’s grown daughter.  She was sympathetic, but then said she didn’t know what their policy was on sharing/trading/kids grabbing toys.  She didn’t think they had one.  And she didn’t think that kids could learn conflict resolution at that age because they weren’t verbal enough.  I mentally face-palmed and told her she was wrong– after all, they communicated just fine in the 18 month room(!)

In the mean time, they haven’t done anything about the morning teachers.  They haven’t observed (unless the incompetent and unobservant assistant director has, but she’s an idiot with no childcare knowledge or background).  The director gave DH a print-out of the WebMD webpage about biting, which A. is woefully incomplete and B. they aren’t following anyway(!).  Drop-off continues to be painful and we wish I didn’t have morning classes and DH didn’t have a morning conference call he has to make.  Ze’s always playing happily in the afternoon though and claims to love daycare and her teachers… in the afternoon.  It’s not bad enough to pull hir out without a back-up plan yet.

DC2 doesn’t bite because ze’s a biter.  Ze bites because it’s the only way ze can protect hirself and the only way ze can get what ze wants in a badly run situation.  Biting is a symptom.  Biting is not the problem.

So we’re visiting other day cares (it took a while to get appointment times to work out).  Hopefully we’ll have a new one very soon.  If we do, we will probably pay two daycares in November while ze transitions, but it will be well worth it.  We’d been planning on doing a meeting with the director armed with knowledge, and the suggestion that they have their 18 mo teachers observe and train their 2 year teachers, but at this point it doesn’t seem worth it.  Especially since they’re not receptive to being told how to run their business, and it isn’t our job to tell them what to do.  Even though what they’re doing isn’t what they say they’re doing and what they’re doing isn’t working.  They must have just gotten lucky with that 18 month room.

Part 2 [which will post weeks from now] will detail some suggestions for what preschools should do to prevent biters from happening, emphasizing environmental factors, based on extensive reading and experiences with well run daycares and less well run ones.

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