Ask the grumpies: How do I ignore a terrible pediatrician?

Rented life asks:

What to tell pedi who says LO needs more sleep and shouldn’t wake got 10 hrs. Zie wakes after 6, nurses, sleeps again. Some nights 8-9 hr total sometimes 10 but never in one shot

“Can I get my kid’s records transferred to my new pedi?”

I wish. Sadly there aren’t many options where we live. The other place our friend’s brother has a huge lawsuit on bc they put rods in his back that had known bacteria problems…I generally don’t go to the dr because of these stupid things. But with the kid, I want the immunizations, etc.

In that case, we recommend the say nothing and continue doing as you damn well please method.  The human race wouldn’t have survived if kids couldn’t figure out how to get the right amount of sleep. Seriously.  (Exception for actual sleep disorders.  A baby sleeping for 6 hours and waking up when hungry is not a sleep disorder.)

In which we teach DC1 how to bend the truth…. er I mean estimate

DC1 has a lot of homework at hir new school.  One of the homework things is that ze must read for at least 30 min/day at least 4 days a week.  Ze has a log that ze has to fill out that says how many pages and how many minutes and what the title of the book is and then we have to sign it.

Research on intrinsic motivation has found that with good readers, intrinsic motivation decreases when kids are paid to read.  With poor readers, their intrinsic motivation actually increases as they become better readers.

This regular homework assignment is not for people like DC1 who already read a lot and are already excellent readers.  This regular homework assignment, is, in fact, really irritating for everyone involved at home.  DC1 began by bringing a timer every time ze started to read and would try to remember to turn it off and the add the minutes etc.  Ze would get very frustrated when ze forgot.  Or when ze didn’t remember the page number count.  We kept not being able to find the timer when we needed it for say, cooking.

The final straw was at 3am when DH was gone on business and DC1 somehow rolled over the timer after falling asleep with it in bed and set it off.  This happened two nights in a row before I figured out where that @#$32ing beeping was coming from.

At that point I decided it was time for DC1 to learn that not all assignments have to be followed to the letter.  Sometimes you need to just get the spirit right and/or to show the minimal when you’ve checked off a box even when you’ve actually done more.

So we’re estimating.  Every time ze reads, ze puts down at least 30 min, that have been estimated.  Ze guesses (based on past reading) how many pages were read.  Ze puts down one of the book titles that ze read that day.  No need to be exact.  No need to record everything.  No need to put down a session less than 30 min.

I’m not sure if this is a good life lesson for DC1 or not, but it does fit in with our grand theme of lazy parenting and fixing things when they make our lives more difficult.  In an ideal world we would have checked with the teacher to make sure it’s ok, but we know this assignment really isn’t for DC1, so it’s just easiest to you know, bend the truth estimate than it is to explain why our kid is a special snowflake.

Middle school leaves scars

We’ve had this post title for a really long time in the draft.  And we know exactly what we mean.  But… we really don’t want to talk about it.

Middle school leaves scars that can hurt well into middle-age, possibly longer.  They’re revisited less frequently with age, but occasionally we will be reminded to feel completely socially inadequate, even though we’re adults and we know it wasn’t us it was them and once we were allowed to control who we spent time with we were no longer friendless or bullied or ostracized.  But the scars are still there.  Scars that one of us is trying her best to keep her children from ever acquiring.

John Green says it well.


Ask the grumpies: How to stay friends with a new parent when childfree

Childfree Friend asks:

My best friend just had a baby.  I’m thrilled for her and (oddly, since I tend to avoid infants as much as humanly possibly) can’t wait to meet the kid.  It’s actually surprised me how much I actually want to hold and cuddle the kid (and would if I weren’t 1,000 miles away at the moment), since I have NEVER felt any inclination to do the same for any other infants ever in my life.  I guess that’s the biggest sign to me that I really truly am genuinely happy for her and love both her and the kid a ton.

The easy question (I think):
DH and I are childless, as are all of our siblings.  None of that is likely to change, ever.  So this tiny person is the closest thing we have to a niece/nephew and I’d like to treat the kid as such, but I don’t really know what that means, especially since we are long-distance.  Ideas?

The harder question (which I’m asking both of you since one of you has kids and the other doesn’t):
A part of me is also nervous about what the kid is going to mean in terms of our friendship, since it’s the first time in almost fifteen years of friendship that our paths are really starting to diverge.  The pregnancy has also marked the first times I’ve really had to take a backseat to family in her life and that didn’t feel great (but I’ve tried not to take it personally).

How did (or didn’t) your friendship change before/after the first kid entered the scene?  What do you think you did (or didn’t do) to maintain or even deepen the friendship given the obvious giant shift in priorities after the birth of a kid to one of you.


#1 (sans kids):

Re Question 1:  Send books.  talk to your friend about what she wants.  Send useful things — the relatives will send a thousand adorable outfits, but maybe you’re the only one sending them diapers or savings bonds or stuff like that. [#2 notes:  this definitely depends]  See what support your friend would like.

Re Question 2:  I bet #2 felt this more than I did. But I didn’t perceive a huge change in our relationship, as it’s always been conducted mainly by IM. Perhaps it was harder for #2 to type while holding a baby (sling FTW!) [#2:  I’m pretty good at typing one-handed, and slings were awesome with DC1 but not so much with DC2], but in general we kept talking. The topics of our conversation changed, as it does whenever one or both of us has stuff going on in our lives. We talk about what’s taking up a lot of brain space lately, whether that’s trying to get pregnant or grading papers. It also helps that I love babies and was excited when #2 had them, because BABIES! I would definitely listen to people talk about babies, and I will cuddle them, even though I don’t ever want to have my own.

It helps that IM is asynchronous and text-only; that means we didn’t have to ‘perform’ as much for each other. We didn’t have to put on pants to get together, we could do it at any time of day or night or tiredness level. There’s much less pressure on tone of voice. It’s perfect for blurting little thoughts, which the other person can respond to later if they want. We don’t necessarily have expectations that the other person will respond right away, although we often do respond pretty quickly. If we’re going to be out of email contact for a while (traveling, etc.) we usually let the other one know.

It’s my understanding that having a baby puts you in a brain state where hitting refresh on the internet and blurting random thoughts is much more appealing than getting up the energy to have an actual visit — therefore, IM was great for us. Sometimes we have deep meaningful conversations about feelings and decisions and problems on IM… but often we just send each other links to cat videos.

I think what I’m saying here is that our friendship kept chugging along through all our various life changes, including babies, because of how it has been structured throughout. #2, do you think this is true? The secret is low expectations, maybe? Also, we are both introverts who like to stay home with our families and enjoy interacting without seeing people in person, so we’re a good friendship fit that way.

[#2 notes:  we wrote our answer paragraphs separately and it looks like we hit pretty much the same main points, see below… Though whenever we do see each other I think it is awesome, like when one of us has conference in a nearby city and the other drives in.  I guess it is that and weddings.]

Also on IM it’s easier to take a second and think of a polite or helpful response. When you’re really tired and brain-dead and at risk of blurting out some crankiness, IM allows you to re-word it before you send it. This probably has helped our friendship many times.  [#2 does not do this and wonders how much #1 has been biting her tongue.  Whoops!] [Nah, don’t worry.  I’m not editing out ‘you’re such a jerk’, I’m editing out that sounded ruder than I meant.]

#2 (with kids):

I actually spent more time rather than less time online after having babies.  This was especially true during nursing and pumping times.

It is difficult to say how the friendship changed with the arrival of DC1 because so many other things were happening at the same time– DH and I got new jobs, bought a house, moved, started on the tenure track, while #1 was graduating, moving, job seeking, working as a visiting professor, and applying for tenure track jobs.  We had a lot of different stuff going on!

I dunno, I’m a bit odd in that most of my close friends aren’t in the same parenting part of life that I am.  Either they’re single, or childfree, or have much older children or are just having their first child now.  Or maybe that’s normal.

Ways to keep the friendship alive:  I think the important thing is to be ok with ebbs and flows of personal contact.  Time moves differently when you’re sleep deprived or sick or crazy busy or faced with repetitive days at home.  Don’t take things personally if you stop hearing from someone for a while.  Be happy to see them when they re-emerge.  New parents often don’t have time for demanding friends, but they do tend to have “time confetti” for internet conversations with long pauses between sentences.

Our friendship kept connected via ICQ early on (during college and grad school) and now GChat.  It’s just so easy to say things a sentence at a time whenever you have a moment at the computer.  Sort of like tweeting without the audience.

Also (re Question 1), ask to be on the baby picture mailing list.  Normally I would just send pics to relatives, but #2 loves baby pics so she’s on the list too [#2 says: and I always write back and say how cute they are, and how #1 has clearly produced superior babies, which she has].  Your friend may just post pics on facebook, but many new parents have more adorable pictures than they feel people want to see on facebook, so they may send emails or have separate groups or keep baby pictures in a different place (like a baby-specific blog).  There are a lot of people out there who complain about seeing too many pics of kids, but family don’t, so if you want to be like family, let it be known you would prefer more rather than fewer baby pics.  Similarly, aunts and uncles request child artwork that only a relative could want for posting.  [#2 says, I love when I get artwork from friends’ kids!  It hangs in my office or on the refrigerator.]

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Childfree Friend?

What free things have we been doing for fun in Paradise?

Paradise has the benefit of not being 80-gazillion degrees with 100% humidity.  WOOOOO.

Paradise has a lot of things to spend money on, but it also has a lot of fun activities that are completely free.  And we’ve been enjoying them!

1.  We have been going to all sorts of different parks and playgrounds.  The kids love this.  And, unlike the playgrounds in our hometown, they still have swing-sets.  Enjoy those swings while you still can, kids.  We’d do playgrounds in our hometown as well, and many of them are shaded, but even shaded it was really an early morning or late evening activity.  In Paradise we can take the kids whenever they’re feeling squiggly.  Drawback:  Their endurance is going way up.

2.  The library!  The last time we lived in a city this was a 20 min walk and we’d go once a week.  Now it is a 7 min walk and we go LOTS.  There are puzzles and so many books.  Their romance section isn’t great, but their other branches have more books and they deliver to this branch, so that’s been fun.  In our hometown the library isn’t as good and we have a lot more books at home so it was more of a once a month activity.  Related:  We’ve been reading more books.  DC1 has technically done two summer reading programs this summer, one in our hometown and ze is signed up for the one here.

3.  Free movies in the park.  Every Friday evening in the summer there are free movies in one of the city parks.  We do not do this in our hometown because it’s hot and there are too many mosquitos.  I don’t go to these, but the kids have been enjoying them (DH has been tolerating them).

4.  First Fridays.  Every first Friday of the month there’s music and dancing and booths and so on in the townsquare closest to us.  DC2 has been talking about the first one ever since it happened and cannot wait for the next.  At home the town next to ours has first Fridays, but it’s a drive and there’s less free stuff.  Related:  there have been a couple of community street fairs that have a few food stands for local restaurants but are mostly things like the firepeople letting people climb all over the firetruck, ditto police people and a police car, the library staff playing banjo music etc.

5.  Driving to state/local parks.  (This does cost gas.)  Some of the state parks in the area cost $ (though not much money) for either entrance fees or for parking, but many of the smaller ones do not.  They spent two hours throwing pebbles and sticks into a pond and did not want to leave.

6.  Grocery shopping/farmers markets/specialty markets.  While not technically free, we have to get food for the week *anyway* and it’s been fun seeing all the different kinds of food there are.  The kids love Trader Joe’s!  Our friends out here with kids the same age say they never take their kids grocery shopping because they don’t behave, so YMMV on taking kids to do chores.

7.  Biking.  I haven’t gotten a bike yet [update:  I ordered one], but DC1, DC2, and DH all have bikes, and DH has a seat for DC2 for longer distances.  They have been having enormous fun just biking around.  They’ve been doing a lot of seeing if they can get to daycare and DC1’s school, checking the cheap neighborhood bike guy to see if he has any adult bikes in yet, trying out playgrounds that are farther afield, and so on.

8.  Walking.  Just checking out the neighborhood and places we can walk to from where we live.

9.  Playing with friends.  We have some friends out here with kids exactly the same age as our kids and they’ve been having a great time.  It’s been really odd socializing mid-week instead of just on weekends.

10.  Going to short plays put on by a summer camp every other Friday just outside the library.

That’s it for so far, but we haven’t been here long!  I suspect there will be activities attached to public school.

What have we been doing less of?  Less ipad.  Less Netflix.  Less swimming (DC1 is taking lessons, but the HOA pool was free and we don’t have passes for the nearby pool).  Fewer video games.

What have we been doing that costs money?  Street fairs with yummy food.  DH and the kids went to a museum (there are plans to do more, but spread out and when relatives visit).  DC1 did a daycamp that had a field trip to an amusement park.  As mentioned before, we signed DC1 up for a few daycamps in addition to swimming lessons.  DC2 has daycare.  DH has used up most of his saved up allowance on exploring coffee shops and sandwich places.

What free fun things do you do?

Ponderings on mindsets and intelligence

One of the things that the mindset literature is pretty clear on is that you’re not supposed to praise kids for innate characteristics, but for effort.  They have studies where they measure effort after a kid has been told, “You’re so smart” vs. “I can really see the effort you put in” or something like that.  Outcomes in the next experiment decline for the former but not for the latter.  Later studies suggest cheating goes up when innate intelligence is praised.

And so I’ve been keeping these ideas in mind when raising my kids.  With our first child we even went so far as to (frequently) request daycare and school teachers not to praise hir intelligence, but instead hir work ethic and interest.

And I thought that was the right thing to do until recently.  For the past couple of years, I’ve had an extremely successful student, a young woman, for two classes who has low confidence.  She’s easily one of the best students our program has had and lots of professors agree.  But she has low confidence.  She wanted to go to graduate school.  It took a lot of pushing to get her to apply to top programs that she should have gotten into based on her testscores, perfect GPA, and research experience.

She didn’t get in to any of them.  I’m guessing her essay wasn’t any good (she was too embarrassed to show it to professors before sending!) and most likely they wanted more work experience.  Plus she was on the low end for pure math courses– a few more probably would have helped.  I also wonder if she made the right choices of letter writers.  Maybe her research supervisor wasn’t as effusive about her as the professors in my department are.

Contrast that with one of her friends who is similarly situated except has an extremely high self-confidence (even if she has far less intellectual curiosity).  This friend didn’t apply to graduate school but did get into one of the most prestigious RA positions you can get as a feeder to top graduate schools.

I met the parents of both women at graduation and got an insight into the difference in confidence.  The parents of the second girl thanked me for being a great professor and for giving their daughter opportunities and said they were really excited about her job for next year.  They had normal proud parent reactions as we went back and forth praising their daughter (and me) and discussing her future.

The second set of parents (divorced, so I got this conversation twice) was also effusive in their praise for me, but not so much in their praise for their own daughter.  “She works hard,” “she’s always worked hard,” was a constant refrain from parents, step-parents, and siblings.  But there was something about the way they said it, as if they were excusing the praise rather than accepting it.  This was fixed in my mind when her mom’s response to my praise of her daughter was, “that’s sweet of you to say.”  “No, no it wasn’t,” I said. “I’m from the midwest.  We don’t just say things unless they’re true.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about the world telling my kids that they’re smart.  They are smart.  That’s just a fact.  (And, to be honest, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being told I’m smart… I mean, yes, I’m smart, but so what.  Praise my accomplishments and things I’ve done, not my innate nature.)

Growing up my family took being smart for a given.  Of course I was smart.  I’m smart but so what.  Being smart isn’t enough (wasn’t enough), it’s what I do with it.  I wasn’t allowed to let my brain atrophy.  I had to keep exercising it.  My mom always told me I needed to keep pushing myself so that I could grow more dendrites.  Working hard would make me smarter.

Early on I really did believe that I just worked harder and had more opportunities than the other kids.  And that’s definitely true– my parents sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities and focused on our academic growth.  My mom picked up a lot of good child rearing techniques while working for Head Start back in the 70s.

But in the past few years since having children, I’ve come to suspect that there’s actually a bit of nature in the equation as well.   Maybe it’s not just in utero health and stimulation as an infant and so on (though these things are obviously important).  I sometimes wonder if gifted kids were just born with a bit more curiosity than non-gifted– and it’s the energy and curiosity that causes us to explore and grow dendrites… or maybe the lower sleep need is what allows more connections to be built, who knows.  Other kids can get as smart, but it’s more of an uphill climb.

Nature cannot be everything.  At university, I see my students get smarter, quicker, and more curious over the 2-4 years that I know them.  That blossoming is amazing.  Taking kids with cruddy high school experiences and fewer family advantages and teaching them to think and aspire and question is one of the most rewarding things that I do.  People really can get smarter.

I don’t want my DCs to feel limited.  I don’t want them to think they’re not capable of great things.  Maybe it is ok to say, Yes of course you’re smart, but what matters is what you do with it.  What matters is what you love, how hard you work, what interests you, what you care about, how much you focus, how many times you try.  And luck, of course, but we can control that about as much as we can our intelligence, which is to say, we can help create our own luck with measured risks just as we can increase our intelligence by focused study*.

I don’t think those short-term lab experiments by Carol Dweck et al. exclude this idea, the idea that you can combine praise for intelligence with emphasis on hard work.  So maybe I’ll go back to doing what seems right to me and not worry so much about how people praise my kids, so long as my kids know that intelligence isn’t everything.  Maybe praising solely effort isn’t the only way to create perseverance.  Maybe a little self-knowledge won’t hurt and will allow them to reach farther so they don’t keep themselves from taking opportunities.

Where do you fall on the praise spectrum?  We know all our readers are intelligent– do you think how you were praised as kids affects your perseverance and self-confidence as adults?  (And in what way?)

*standard disclaimer about extreme situations and not blaming people in poverty or with mental disabilities

Programming for kids

I think there’s a part one to kids programming from a couple of years ago, but I cannot find it anywhere in the archives, so maybe it was a discussion in the comments section of another blog.

Computer programming is fun and extremely important.  Even as a social scientist, having a modicum of programming knowledge makes life a ton easier.  Doing statistics requires data cleaning and statistical programming knowledge.  Just knowing what is possible — being able to think in a way that allows programming to make life easier– means big efficiency improvements.  And that’s just social scientists.  Engineers and scientists often have to deal with much more complex coding structures.

Added to that, having a good background in programming also means that your code is much easier to read, understand, and to pick up later and figure out what the heck it was you were doing.  I can usually tell when someone has programming background because they do useful things like comment their code or put carriage returns between sections or indent their code properly when doing loops.  I *wish* more of the people I work with had programming backgrounds!  (She says, after spending a day putting in comments, carriage returns, and tabs so as to be able to read a program before adapting it for this year’s dataset.)

Anyhow, our first foray into programming a couple of summers ago was to try out Scratch.  Scratch was a lot of fun, but it’s more of a toy that teaches some programming structures (ex. loops) than actually teaching programming technique.  I know there’s a lot of thought that playing is the right way to go with programming, and I’m not against playing at all, but there’s a *lot* to be said for getting good technique in while you play.

So now that DC1 is 8 and has spent a couple of summers playing with Scratch, we decided to try something more systematic in.  After some amazon searching, we settled on Python For Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming. We didn’t want to make this a chore like DC1’s homework books (which sometimes cause angst) and we didn’t want a time limit like piano practicing, so we just said ze has to do some each day, but as much or as little as ze wants.

So far it seems to be working out.  It takes the best parts of Logo (remember the turtle who made boxes?) and combines them with Python.  DC1 is pretty excited about it, and occasionally asks DH for help.  If you don’t have a professional programmer in your house, the same publisher also makes a Python book for parents, Teach Your Kids to Code.

Do you use programming or programming techniques for your work or hobbies?  Any suggestions for introducing people to coding?


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