How do you handle the mental load of partnered life?

For those of you with partners, of course.  Unless you have a personal assistant!

In married life, especially when you have kids, there are often things that you have to do or get done.  Appointments to manage.  Places to be.  Things to sign up for.  If it were just you, you’d take care of all of those things (assuming you’re not in the “personal assistant” bracket).

Once you’re married you have to coordinate things and someone has to remember things.  But it doesn’t have to be you.  In “traditional” marriages, the wife takes care of these things.  She even takes care of the husband’s social engagements.  She keeps track of everything, makes all appointments, and is responsible if something is forgotten or missed.

That type of arrangement makes economic sense on the whole.  It makes sense to have one person taking care of everything so the other person is free to think about other stuff.  It’s a division of labor and one person specializes in appointments and filing paperwork and so on.  There’s no accidental double-booking unless the person in charge does that double-booking, and presumably that person will notice.  It doesn’t have to be the wife, but it makes sense to have one person in charge.  That person doesn’t have to be in charge of everything– it might make sense for one parent to take care of all the adult stuff and another all the kid’s stuff, or one person the house stuff and another the school stuff.  There’s lots of different ways to arrange it that are both egalitarian and efficient.

We don’t do that.  We are both in charge of almost everything.  We have little black books that we coordinate.  We have a list on the refrigerator for groceries.  I do take care of all the bills (even DH’s credit cards, though he is responsible for reviewing it each month for fraudulent charges) and DH is mostly in charge of the cars (even mine, though since I’m the one driving it I’m more likely to notice when the sticker says I should get another oil change), but for the most part, and especially for the kids part, we both take care of everything.

I noticed this lately when I emailed one of my colleagues about a play-date.  Our kids go to the same school and are friends and I know him but I don’t know his wife.  He forwarded to his wife and she emailed back.  Similarly, we got a birthday party invitation for another child who is DC2’s age from another colleague’s wife, not from him.  Usually the invitations for things go to me via email or to our joint junk mail account, but to DH by text because I never have my phone with me.  With DC1’s best friend whose mother is super-mom, and often on-call, we’re equally likely to get a text playdate from the dad or the mom (and occasionally the college-age uncle who babysits for them)!  Generally we email the dad, but just because that’s the email address that pops up first (alphabetical order).

There’s drawbacks to our non-method.  We have to consult each other.  We have to make sure our books are synched.  (Yes, we could have a calendar in the kitchen near the grocery list like my family did growing up, but that would be an additional thing to update!  Once DC1 is old enough do start doing hir own social calendar, we may switch to that.)  It’s extra effort, extra time, and extra mental load that only one person could have.

But there’s also benefits.  The biggest benefit is that when we forget to do something or forget to go somewhere, it’s both of our faults.  It’s hard to be mad at someone for forgetting when you forgot too!  Also with both of us needing to remember and both of us checking our planners and our shared junk email account, there’s a bit of overlap and perhaps a greater possibility that one of us will remember or notice even if the other doesn’t.  I’m not sure if that works, but we’re both so busy I bet either one of us would forget just as much if it was just on us all the time.

#2 doesn’t have kids, so this is much easier.  We delegate, and we talk.  For example, we just moved to another state.  This requires SO MUCH COMMUNICATION, folks.  I mostly coordinated that, since I have the time, but he has most of the money.  Every day we would say, what do you need me to do for this move?  Did you hear back from the movers?  Did you pay the security deposit or shall I?  We have a joint savings account, and we need to talk to each other about planned transactions because of Regulation D.  We share spreadsheets and lists in Google Docs (drive).  Sometimes we IM each other during the day, and then we each have a chatlog of what we talked about.  It can certainly get tedious having this conversation every day — there was a point during the moving process where I lost my shiz because he asked me about tasks one too many times — but mostly it’s been working for us.  We’ve also found in other areas (e.g., kitchen) that it’s helpful to put one person explicitly in charge– doesn’t matter who– and that person directs and delegates to the other.

 

For those of you with partners, how do you divvy up the mental load of planning and deciding and answering and filing?  For those of you without, what methods do you use to keep track of everything that needs to be done?

On family photo books and posterity

So I was browsing blogrolls the other day, and came across the question, “Have you ever wondered how to take your photo books from blah to great?”   Well, no, can’t say I have.

But hey, more power to her.  Some families are more into photo albums and photos more generally than others.  And hers definitely look great.  We’re so far in the other  direction that we didn’t even hire a wedding photographer.

We have an album from our wedding that my MIL made. NOBODY LOOKS AT IT. It will probably be looked at again if/when our children get married. Or have to do a school project that requires pictures of us. Maybe it will bring us solace in our old age, I dunno.  Does anybody ever look at wedding photo albums after the first year of marriage?  (Not counting the obligatory wedding day photo that all my male colleagues have next to their computer monitors.)

Every once and a while my MIL clears out her stuff and sends us a ton of old pictures that she took for posterity but no longer wants around her house, because photos are really best enjoyed in small quantities.  Maybe three years ago she sent us a huge amount of pictures from our wedding that didn’t make it into the album.  We’ve got those too.  I don’t think we’re ever going to organize them.

We take pictures, though not as many as a lot of families, and I like having them electronic.  We’ve occasionally crafted picture calendars as Christmas presents for the grandparents, though currently my SIL has declared that to be her thing.  I also like having pictures date-stamped because it makes it easier to tell who (DC1 and DC2 look remarkably alike) and when and so on.  That hurts their potential as works of art, but helps in the posterity realm.

I value the ancient photo album that some ancestor of mine put together, with my grandmother showing up only as a baby.  And it was neat to flip through old pictures of my parents a few times when I was a kid.  We’re also the keeper of DH’s grandma’s old family album, possibly because we would ask her about her genealogy work before she had to downsize.  My in-laws’ current decoration scheme is family pictures (and every time we visit, we get formal pictures done of the entire extended family), so I know very well what my DH and his family looked like as children.

But I don’t think we need a photo book or album for every year or every event or whatever.  As a side-note: I had an ex-boyfriend whose mom had decorated with every single one of his formal school pictures (framed) in order in a line around her living room.  That felt like overkill, even just showing pre-K through 12.

So, I dunno, I guess our immediate family is sparse with the pictures (unlike, say, DH’s family).  We have a few here and there and not all of them are presents made at school or framed gifts from the in-laws (though admittedly, most of them are).  And we’ve got electronic pictures on the internet that are backed up occasionally, and hard-copy photos from the in-laws and from various school pictures.  In theory it would be nice to have one picture album, say, documenting our marriage and our children’s entire childhood.  Maybe DC1 or DC2 can put one of those together in a decade or two.  Then we can show it to their potential significant others and their future children.  More than that might take up too much valuable shelf space.

Where are you on the photo album continuum?

Are my coffee orders dickish?

well, are they?

“Can I please get a 20-ounce decaf iced mocha, 2 decaf shots, no whipped cream, for here.” 

Usually the full-caf ones have only 1 shot, but usually not whipped cream on those either (but sometimes).  But they come with whipped cream unless you say don’t.

And for hot mocha, I’ll specify Dutch vs. Mexican.

 

I hate to be That Guy, but yet, I know what I want.  Verdict, readers?

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

Is who we are what we do?: A deliberately controversial post.

Usually these posts start out with someone complaining about being at a cocktail party and being asked what they do.  The person complaining generally does not have a job.  Ze is financially independent or a SAHP or HouseSpouse or unemployed etc.  Depending on who is writing, the post becomes an ode to not working for The Man (and how you can only discover who you really are through Early Retirement and going to exploitative conferences in Portland, OR), a discussion about how taking care of hearth and family is the Most Important Job, or how to turn awkward and unfair conversations into networking opportunities instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves.  And they all talk about how we’re so much more than our jobs and we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs.

This post is going to go a slightly different route.  I don’t know about #2, but I haven’t been at a cocktail party that wasn’t attached to a conference for *ages* (me either!) and when you’re at conference, you’ve got those helpful name-tags plus everyone knows that more likely than not you have a discipline-specific PhD.  Especially once you no longer look like a graduate student.

So this post is specifically going to focus on the question– is who you are what you do?

We say, Yes and  No.

We were both raised Catholic.  (We are recovering.)  And if you’re Catholic or Episcopalian, then belief is not as important as Good Works.  You’re not a nice person if you torture puppies even if you feel sad when you torture them.  If you ignore the impulse to torture puppies even though you desperately want to, you have as much of a shot at salvation as someone identical who would never dream of torturing puppies, maybe more, because you resisted a temptation that most people don’t have.

In economics terms, we tend to only believe preferences when they’re “realized,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “what you did”.  You’re showing what you preferred through your actions and your choices (very behaviorist!).  In that scenario, desire to torture or not torture puppies is meaningless– the lack of torture means that you preferred not to torture given the circumstances.  You are not a puppy-torturer unless you actually torture puppies (given your budget constraint).  We don’t know what’s in the black box or what the shape of your utility function is, but we can see exactly where your utility function hits your budget constraint.

In some sense, what we do defines us.  There may be some inner person trying to get out, but we can’t measure it unless it comes out.  We are what we do.

But also, no… Who are we if we’re not what what we do?   We are what we like and don’t like.  We are how we organize information. We’re a bundle of preferences and actions– we are what the outside world sees of us, though usually we are not how the world perceives us.  The patriarchy tends to twist our actions and our very existence to fit its own warped narrative.  We are bundles of energy and stardust masquerading as humans for now.

We are social scientists, through years of training.  Our disciplines shape how we see the world: how we make sense of the external world and our internal thoughts.  The narratives we tell ourselves, how we make decisions.  One of us used to be a mathematician, but that aspect has been dulled and replaced over time with graduate training and day-to-day work.  We are feminists of various flavors, and that shapes how we interact with people and information.  What we are directly affects what we do, and what we do shows who we are.

However, we are not our jobs.  They’re what we get money for, and they’re not all that we do.  We will still be social scientists without our current jobs.  We will still be teachers without our jobs, even if we never give another formal lecture.  We’ll still be cat-lovers and feminists and book-lovers and partners and friends and almost everything else that labels who we are.  We may no longer be “professor” without our jobs, but very little will change in terms of personal essence in the instant a job is left and a new job taken (or not taken).  Personal growth and change can (and will) come before a job change and after, but we don’t suddenly lose who we are or become a new person with a change in employment.  Maybe a happier (or temporarily sadder) person, but that kind of happiness seems to be more of an “estar” (in the moment temporary kind of being) thing than a “ser” (permanent kind of being) thing.

Who are you?  And how do you even define that?

The Shoe Drop’t

I quit my job.

(Wild applause, cheering)

This means I’m getting off the tenure track by default, because I don’t have another t-t job, and I’m not willing to live in terrible places (like this one) and teach high loads anymore.  I would consider maybe coming back to the t-t for the right position, but that’s not how the market works.  If my dream job appears I might apply, but the probability is low.  The dream job involves no teaching but not being on soft money.  Uh… and a pony?  I tried to bloom where I was planted, but it turns out you can’t bloom in poisoned soil.

Quitting my job is absolutely the right move.  There has been a lot of unbloggable toxicity that’s been damaging my sanity and health.  I very nearly quit in week 2 of the semester, and all the tenured colleagues I talked to said that I probably should, based on what had happened.  My partner said he would support me if I did.  Senior colleagues at other universities have told me, privately, to run-not-walk on outta here.

However, for a long time I was ambivalent about the end of my tenure-track career.  SO AMBIVALENT!  Because now I have tenure, and I’ve been working towards that since I was in high school.  I love so many aspects of academia (intellectual freedom, flexible hours, my own office, a variety of tasks, getting paid to do research, library access…) and I will really miss the job security.  The security of tenure let me sleep at night.  I have applied for numerous other t-t jobs while I’ve been here and gotten no hits, and finally had to jump.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without tenure.  I’ll figure something out.

But I will NOT miss teaching.  The more I thought about it, the less I even *want* another t-t job, because I am soooo burned out on teaching.  I just can’t, with the teaching, anymore.  Not even a leave of absence or sabbatical would fix it, because I would still have the residue of this university on me like slime that won’t wash off.  No more.  Not even grad students, not even small classes, not even my favorite topics.  Not online, not in a seminar.  I can’t handle students sucking my life force anymore.  Every semester for years on end: too many students, too little money, and twice a year two hundred 19-year-olds get to write inappropriate comments about my personal appearance on course evals, and then my boss reads them.  Who needs it?

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my next job and/or career.  Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure things out.  First-world problems.

Let’s tally the blog peeps right now: I technically have tenure this summer but after that I will be formerly tenured and (temporarily?) out of academia entirely… and unemployed for a while.  My partner has never been an academic, thank FSM.  #2 is currently tenured.  Her husband is a former academic who is much happier in industry.  (#2 is also much happier with her DH’s non-academic salary!)

I guess it’s true that people who have just quit their jobs are the happiest people in the world.

We are moving out of state and back to civilization as soon as we can (Current plan is end of August).  It was going to be sooner but this state is trying to kill us, and we haven’t been physically able to plan and implement those plans.  First my partner got the flu real bad for 2 weeks (which never happens), then we had 1 week of being ok, then I got pneumonia, which I’ve had for 3 and a half weeks(!) now and am still not well.  Also my partner needs frequent physical therapy for his genetically-misaligned knee and might need knee surgery.  The cat is not well and is now on a specialized diet which may or may not be working; I’ve been too sick to get back with the vet and I had to cancel my massage and dentist appointments due to pneumonia.  HALP.

I will miss the horse I ride, and a few of the people here, but that’s not enough to make me stay in such a toxic place.  (#2 notes: she also got paid next to nothing, even with the tenure bump.)  We are working on downsizing from our ridiculous-large house out here in the boonies to an amount of stuff we can maybe afford the housing for in a city.  We have plans about when and where we’re going apartment-hunting, when we’re moving, summer travel plans that were previously in place, work, insurance, legal stuff, we have a plan.

Wish us luck.

What makes a blog post popular? Drama or the hope of redneck jokes?

Laura Vanderkam had a post last week that inspired a lot of interesting comments.  One of the commenters noted that hir most popular blog posts were always the sad/drama-filled ones and more cheerful posts weren’t so popular.

So, I was curious to see if that held true for us.  (On that day last week, our own posting was a lengthy gripe about the lawn, which did not get so many comments as say, our more positive posts about things like getting tenure or having a baby…)

So here’s what our wordpress history has said:

These are the posts that got the most views in 2013.

These are the posts that got the most views in 2012.

From 2011:

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1.  How the used car market is like health insurance September 2010 25 comments
2.    About July 2010
3.  Mortgage Update and a worry December 2010 34 comments
4.  Why I’m in no hurry to become a millionaire September 2010 18 comments
5.  Searches that find our blog amuse us September 2010 5 comments

Many of our most popular pieces are pf posts about how we don’t need to go to extremes in money matters (or parenting or, you know, life).  We even have a post contemplating why they’re so popular!

In terms of most comments:
1.  Delurk for us today!
2.  Musings on why weight targets bother me
3.  Homeschooling: A deliberately controversial post
4.  Do the holidays stress you out?
5.  ******* creationists!

IIRC, the weight one and the creationist one resulted in some nutty commenter going crazy in the comments section.  But none of the above posts are about truly terrible things happening to us, except maybe me complaining about how hard it is to learn about evolution when you live in the Bible Belt.

So… I think we must have either pretty amazing readers who aren’t attracted to us for Schadenfreude reasons or we must be filling some kind of SEO niche that isn’t predicated on misery, but instead on redneck jokes, Mr. Money Moustache, and the love of a happy medium.  (Also, man, we must have been on fire back in 2011!)

If you have a blog, what are your most popular posts like?  Is your readership misery-seeking?  If you don’t have a blog, what are your favorite kinds of posts and what kinds of posts do you keep coming back to check on?

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