Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for post-maternity leave

Slightly Anonymous asks:

My department is writing a policy for what they do to support new parents post-parental leave.  I’m on the committee that is supposed to come up with this.  I think this is great:  if somebody misses a year or a semester with a new baby, then it makes sense that they might need some time or extra support to come back up to speed.  But what should our committee recommend?

I’m wondering if you or any of your readers have ideas?

I’m at a UK university, which means that academic staff at my university are either on short-term temporary contracts — think postdoc — or have permanent positions.  In most UK universities “lecturer” is the equivalent of “assistant professor with tenure.”  At my university there is a 1 year probationary period before your job is officially permanent, but passing probation is pretty much a formality.  There is still stress about being promoted, but much less than what comes with trying to get tenure in a US university.

Being in the US and not having been at coastal or ultra-prestigious schools, our own experience is pretty pathetic.  That whole “missing a year or a semester with a new baby” thing … not something we’re used to.  In my department we’re still trying to get something consistent in place that doesn’t involve begging other people in the department to cover your classes for a couple of weeks after the baby is born.

Off the top of my head, all I can think of is adding a year to the tenure clock for those without tenure, but that is mostly irrelevant in the UK context.  Surely someone out there has a better idea of what best practices are?  #2 has only seen terrible practices.  My poor poor colleagues.

Grumpy Nation, please weigh in with your suggestions!

A mother’s day rant

1.  If you’re a full-time daycare, don’t have “Muffins with Mom”.

2.  If you decide to have “Muffins with Mom” anyway, don’t put a sign-up sheet in the lobby where everyone can see which moms obviously don’t love their children enough to leave work to spent 30 min eating store-bought muffins with them at daycare.

3.  Also, the next day don’t ask the moms who weren’t there why they weren’t there and then tell them that they were the only mom who wasn’t there and little DC was so upset.  (Especially if the reason according to DC that ze was upset was because ze had to have grapes instead of muffins like all the other kids because ze’s allergic to wheat.  Or maybe especially if that’s not the reason.)

I wonder how many moms are going to show up in Dad’s place for Donuts with Dad, which I assume they’re also having.  Of course, little DC2 won’t have dad there either because he’s traveling for work that week.

I’m actually only slightly irritated, and mainly at the patriarchy.  And to be honest, I would have checked the no box even if I hadn’t had a P&T meeting scheduled a month and a half in advance at exactly that time.  I am willing to sacrifice DC a little bit so that other mothers can also feel free to check the “no” box if they need to or want to.  (And at the time I checked “No” there were two other “No”s, one with a written “I’m out of town” excuse.)  I suppose that makes me a terrible mother, but I don’t want hir to feel like this is a big deal, and based on conversations with hir the evening of the event, ze was indeed upset by the lack of muffin and not at all by the lack of mommy.  (And yes, a “better” set of parents would have brought gluten-free muffins, but DC2 has gf cookies provided specifically for these kinds of events, and I didn’t really realize that it was Thursday until I got to daycare and saw the ladies setting up for the party, because the end of the semester is busy.)

I have the solace that deep down I believe that these little upsets truly are character building and learning to weather having to eat grapes when the other kids have muffins so as to avoid getting a rash is just one of those things that makes a person stronger.  Obviously we shouldn’t try to create character building incidents because that’s sadistic, but it’s not such a big deal when they happen.  Especially when grapes are actually better than grocery store muffins.

or with music

School districts, housing, and having a grade-skipped kid

So, DC1 is grade-skipped by two grades.  Ze is in a private school.

That means that we have no idea what grade ze is going to be in next year when ze goes to public school in a new state.

Which means we’ve been calling around a lot.

And getting a bizarre range of answers about how schools would determine grade level for DC1 in our situation.  How big a range?

1.  DC1 starts in 3rd grade, period.  Then the teacher observes for 6 weeks.  Then a team including the principal discusses the situation and most likely keeps DC1 in 3rd grade, even though ze would be the oldest non-red-shirted kid in the grade.

2.  It’s up to the principal.

3.  The administration would assess DC1 to determine what would be appropriate.  If ze is ready for 5th grade, that is where ze would go.  In additional to educational components, they will assess emotional and social components.  Writing it out this way makes it sound a lot nicer than how they sounded over the phone, which hit both DH and me with a lot of bad memories about our childhood, with the emphasis on emotional/social.  (Because if you’re out of synch with your same-age peers, you’re failing at emotional/social which means they won’t let you skip… Catch-22.) (#2 is still mad about people not letting me skip a grade for social reasons… guess what, I didn’t have friends in school ANYWAY so at least I could have learned something… grumble.)  (#1 would have had friends if she’d been grade skipped.)

4.  Need to take educational documentation including letter from teacher/principal and report card.  The documentation will be reviewed by school administration.

5.  Based on age it would be 4th grade (different cut-off date?), but school records indicating completion of 4th grade would allow DC1 to be placed in 5th.

6.  Ze would be placed in 5th grade automatically.

7.  Ze would be placed in 5th grade and then given a placement test for homogeneous math grouping placement.  Bring materials to help teacher/administration work with DC1.  Would need special reasons to be placed in a grade below 5th.  (“Is it because you’re calling from the South [and worried that a blue state education would be too advanced]?” the confused administrator asked.)

8.  Skip approved with proof of why skipped for special reasons.

So we’re narrowing down our search to #4-8, mainly because #3 gave off such negative vibes.  #7 sounds great, but has very few, if any, houses, mostly apartments and the apartments are interspersed with undergraduate housing.  So we might look out there, but not until we get closer.  #6 is a substantial commute for me and very suburban… not unlike where we live now.  #5 has fifth grade in middle school, not elementary school like all the other districts in the area.  #4 is a pretty good bet in terms of houses, commute times, and walkability, but I’m a bit nervous about where they would really place DC1.  Still, they have some really nice (not cheap!) houses and the commute is great.

I guess the moral is that different places do things widely differently, sometimes even in a smallish geographic area?

In which we are not hired as writers of small talk

#1:  here is a note to the universe: don’t ask me how wedding planning is coming. I realize you’re trying to make small talk, but it’s boring to me and it’s even my own wedding. Also? Not a lot has happened since we last had this conversation 2-3 weeks ago. Meh.

#2:  oh, I forgot to ask
how is your wedding planning coming?

#1:  rrrr

#2:  (except I know– you have a venue and you have a date to look for dresses)

#1:  rrrrrright

#2:  If things were going poorly, I’m sure you could use the question as an excuse to vent. so the fact that you find such questions dull is a good thing!

Maybe you could respond that wedding planning is dull, but do you know how big a toddler’s poop can get? (as big as an adult’s, according to [redacted] and my own recent personal experience with toddler poop)

#1: hahahah
I can talk about horse poop….

#2:  I bet horse poop is more interesting than toddler poop
but not as interesting as owl poop
owl poop is the best
well, owl pellets are the best

#1:  yes, that is owl barf

#2:  which is sort of like poop
but you know, different

#1:  owl barf is fascinating

#2:  it serves a similar purpose to poop without actually being poop

#1:  “ugghhh, I ate too much bones.”

#2:  but the actual response is probably, “It’s going fine. Nothing exciting happening, which is a good thing. How’s that toddler of yours?”
“Any interesting poops lately?”
“I hear that toddler poo is just fascinating.”
“mmm hmm.”
“Is that so?”
“riveting”

#1:  have you ever compared toddler poop and horse poop? how do you feel about owls? we should be hired as small talk writers
Here’s my answer: the toddler grows up, and the horse needs its poop picked up for life

#2:  horse poop probably smells better

#1:  quite possibly. They’re all vegetarians.

#2:  do vegetarians have better smelling poop?

#1:  I’m not sure. But at least you can get used to the smell of horses — they eat only a few things, all horses all the time, eat the same few things.

What are your deep thoughts on poop?  (Also, I know I should have put a poo-related pun there instead of “deep”… any suggestions?  pressing thoughts?)

Ask the grumpies: Best school environments for gifted children?

Sarah asks:

What does the research say about the best school environment for gifted children?  We are looking at kindergarten options for the 2015-2016 school year for our child and I cannot find any conclusive research about what would be best for him – we feel paralyzed.

Back story: At 4.5 our child tested at a highly gifted level in math (~4th grade level) and simply above average in reading kindergarten-1st grade level).  He responds the best in the classroom setting when there is structure and order, but needs to be constantly challenged, otherwise there are some minor behavioral issues.   We have the ability and time to supplement at home, but our preference is to minimize that in order to allow him as much time to be a kid. The three options are all public schools and within the same district:

1. Skip kindergarten and send him directly into 1st grade at a solid school.  This school also has a system of individual differentiation that allows children to “walk” up grade levels for specific subjects; up to two grade levels ahead, I believe.  This is the only chance we have within the district to skip a grade, so it is now or never.

2. Attend the excellent “gifted” school.  This school doesn’t cater to gifted children specifically, but rather works at an advanced pace, ~ 1.5 years ahead.  The class moves together as a cohort, with some differentiation within that specific class, mostly in reading.  My impression is that  the school benefits bright children, but that outliers get left behind – my child being an outlier in both reading (low end) and math (high end).

3. Start kindergarten at a solid school that specializes in math and science. This school has one of the better math programs in the district and does a decent job allowing for differentiation within the classroom.

The district makes it incredibly difficult for children to change schools once they commit in kindergarten, so the pressure is on to make the right decision the first time

This one is easy… from a research perspective.  A Nation Deceived (soon to be updated with A Nation Empowered!) talks about the research base for the different options.  Also the Iowa Acceleration Scale that you can take discusses things that make acceleration a better or worse option (parents caring about sports being a big negative, for example).  (This post talks about my favorite books from the endless # I read when we were originally facing these problems: https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/reading-books-on-giftedness/ )

From a practical perspective, not as simple.

IIRC, research would say that a gifted school with like-ability peers is best for the average gifted kid, followed by acceleration and/or single-subject acceleration, followed by I think differentiation and then pull-out.  But that’s on average.  Individual situations are rarely average.

What we’ve been doing is we’ve been looking at all of our options and making decisions on things like teacher quality, how well the schools understand basic concepts of gifted education/are willing to work with people, etc.  Teacher quality and administration with a positive attitude can be far more important than school type.

If you haven’t visited these three schools, visit them.  Ask them what they would do for your son in his situation.  Ask them what they do when children have already mastered the material.  Ask them how they handle squiggly kids.  Ask them any and all of your concerns and listen to not just their specific answers, but how they deal with the questions.  Do you feel that these are people you could work with if you needed to?

Also, as you’ve done, think about ability to make changes if you decide your decision was the wrong one.  Even if you can’t change schools easily, you can undo acceleration if necessary.

Honestly, all your choices sound like promising choices on the surface.  One full skip plus individual subject skipping is great.  Gifted schools can be great (and a gifted public boarding school could be a really great choice a decade from now, or one of the fantastic magnets in your city).  Math and science schools can also be good targets for gifted kids both because of their focus and because they often attract like-minded kids.

But the devil is in the details– how good are the teachers, how accommodating is the administration?  For example, our local math and science charter has enormous K-3 classes… it does not give a good education for those years.  Some gifted schools really just function to be white oases in minority-majority cities and thus get heavily watered down and end up not serving gifted kids at all; others are. as you note, more inflexible with outliers than non-gifted options.  Being accelerated has benefits (academically and socially), but there’s something amazing about being able to be with other gifted kids your own age if your city has a large enough population to support that.

I will note that a lot of kids will not be reading at all in kindergarten and will not be at quite 1st grade level in first.  Unless you suspect a learning disability (which I wouldn’t at this point, but I’m not an expert), then I would guess that that reading ability is going to shoot up over the course of the next year.  I strongly recommending getting a pile of Cam Jansens (possibly a few Nate the Greats and similar books– the librarian can help you) and as many Magic Treehouse books as you can get your hands on soon after.  Non-fiction books are also really popular at this age (Magic School bus is a good series, but really anything by Scholastic at this reading level is fascinating depending on the kids’ interest.  Dinosaurs?  Planets?).  Reading for fun is still being a kid!  So I wouldn’t be too worried at this point about the difference between math and reading skills– the reading will really just skyrocket once your kid finds something worth reading.

With luck, all of these will be as wonderful choices in reality as they sound and it will be impossible to make a bad decision.  If it were my kid (or if your kid were my kid…), I wouldn’t be able to decide based on these descriptions and DH and I would visit and go with our gut instinct.

Good luck!

Grumpy Nation:  What are your thoughts?  For those of you with choices, how did you make schooling decisions for your kids?

Adventures in ending cosleeping: Part 2: The DC2ening

It is amazing how different our kids are sometimes.

We’ve ended cosleeping with DC2 a bit earlier than with DC1, mainly because DC2 is bigger so we’ve run out of room earlier.

Here’s what we did with DC2:  Several weeks before ending cosleeping (which we planned to try over winter break), we turned the nursery (adjoining our master bedroom) back into an office and turned the office (near DC1’s room) into DC2’s room, complete with bed (though right now we’re just using the mattress because we don’t have bedrails and DC2 tends to roll off).  We talked up about how this was DC2’s room and DC2 would get to sleep in it.  DC2 didn’t bite right away.  There was some giggly pretending to sleep in hir bed or in DC1’s bed, but never for long.

During this time, we also started enforcing a bedtime routine.  Snack, bath, teeth brushing, some play time, two books, lights out.  Walking or nursing to sleep if ze asked for it, but not encouraged.  A complete nix on hir attempts to stay up later by asking for 2nd or 3rd snack (which would be demanded, but uneaten, and followed by tearful 2nd and/or 3rd teeth brushing) after lights out.

Then we visited relatives over Christmas.  When we came back we decided it was time to try out the bed.

And DC2 was totally on board with it.  First night, after plugging the nightlight back in, we did the routine, put hir in hir bed, and ze fell asleep with DH beside hir.  Second night, ze snuggled right down while I read hir two books and wasn’t yet asleep when I turned out the lights and left, but then fell asleep.  No effort at all for this part, unlike the week of Super-Nanny technique we used with DC1.

HOWEVER, unlike DC1, DC2 doesn’t sleep the entire night.  Getting DC1 to bed in the first place was the hard part, but after that we were fine until morning.  DC2 has nightmares (DC1 had night terrors, but they were mostly over by age 2).  DC2 gets thirsty.  DC2 wakes up screaming regularly at 2am and at 5am.  When ze is cosleeping, this isn’t that big a deal because one of us will hand over the water bottle or explain that it’s all just a dream and mommy and daddy are here and 5 min later everyone is back asleep.  We can do the same thing without cosleeping, but it involves a long cold walk to the other side of the house.

The water thing is easily solvable– there’s no reason DC2 can’t get hir own water.  But we’re not so sure what to do about the nightmares.  Maybe the new daycare will decrease hir anxiety about people taking hir stuff…[Update:  ze has learned how to come back to our bed at 5am… this is infinitely preferable.  The 2am waking time has been jumping around… that part is not so good.]

Anyway, we still subscribe to the Grumpy Rumblings do whatever is easiest (so long as it isn’t actually harmful) philosophy of how to raise your kids.

I doubt this post will generate the 68 comments that our first post on ending co-sleeping did (Is baby sleeping still one of those topics that generates huge wars?), but feel free to chime in!  I can’t think of any good questions though…

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 36 Comments »

Updates

Because everybody cares about my life as much as I do.  (Not really!)

Daycare:

After one week at the new daycare, DC2 decided ze loved it.  Ze proudly proclaimed that ze had friends and named some.  Dropping off only took a little lingering.  After two weeks, ze stopped having nightmares.  Dropoffs became, “Yeah mom, bye, whatever” (though more in body language than words) and instead of clinging and crying ze complained about getting hugged if my coat was wet from rain.  Ze informed us that ze loves hir teachers.  Every day when we pick hir up ze says, “I had a good day.”  Since starting, hir eczema has also been entirely gone, which makes me suspect that they’re a lot better about making sure that ze doesn’t accidentally eat wheat.  Either that or there’s some topical allergen ze isn’t being exposed to in the new place (that just happened to not always be present at the old place).

High quality daycare is amazing and awesome.  What a difference!  I am a bit worried about next year though… I feel like we haven’t quite been fair with DC2 compared to DC1 who never had to experience a bad schooling experience.

Nice kitty who sometimes pees on cloth:

So far we’ve tried having 4 litterboxes for 2 kittens (6 litterboxes for 3 cats, but the other two are in the utility room instead of the master bathroom the kittens use as home base).  One covered litterbox (formerly 2 covered litterboxes), 3 uncovered.  3 with standard litter, 1 with special pine litter.  Different depths of litter.  Scooped every single night whether they need it or not.

They stay in the master bathroom (~100 sq feet, lots of windows, cupboards, scratching posts, a cat house, etc.) overnight until the late afternoon.  This keeps our older kitty from feeling overwhelmed and has allowed us to minimize pee damage.  They’re used to it and willingly go back to their home-base at night when it’s time to go.  If we let them out earlier they often just stay in the room.

We’ve tried not leaving cloth out, for example, putting our bedsheets away before letting the kittens out.

We’ve tried litter retraining (not letting the kittens out of the master bathroom while we’re out of town for a few days).

All of these have worked to decrease the amount of peeing on things, but none eliminated it.

The most recent thing that we still have our fingers crossed for was Prozac.  Nice kitty did not like being pilled at all, and while on Prozac she would hide from us and mostly stay under our bed or in the master bath during their family time.  The vet said to try it for two weeks.  During those two weeks she didn’t pee on anything (other than the litter, presumably), even though it seemed to make her more anxious rather than less anxious!

After the two weeks, we stopped the Prozac, because nice kitty really hated being pilled, and the vet said it was possible that even after stopping Prozac after the two weeks her peeing on cloth habit might also be gone.  So far so good.  But we keep waiting to find something peed on.

So those are my updates.  Fun times.

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