We’re having bad weeks

this was supposed to be a kitten post with adorable kitten pictures of #2’s adorable kittens… but…

work is hard and we’ve both been getting bad (work-related) news… so we’re gonna punt today

Friday we’ll post an ask the grumpies about college savings.

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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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Feral kitties

So, as chill and amazing as we seem and under control etc.  Something is stressing one of us out.

Four somethings, in fact.  (And the occasional opossum.)

About 3 weeks ago, a tiny black kitten got stuck in our garage.  It was cold and awful that first night so we didn’t let it out until the next day, and we thought we’d gotten it out the next day but the extra food etc. ended up having been eaten so it took another day with the door open for it to actually escape.

We put food on our back porch with the hope of the kitten and the mom reuniting.  And after seeing a baby tiger kitty, a mama tiger, and a scared black kitten we thought they had.  Over the course of a week or two, mamacat went from dull and scrawny to a beautiful glossy kitty.  She’d been taking good care of her kittens, but definitely needed more food for herself.

Regular feeding left them hanging out on our porch during the sunny weather.  The kittens remained elusive and skittish, but mama cat would almost get into touching distance when I fed them.  They disappeared during cold and rainy weather.  And I worried.

I am a firm believer that it is wrong to feed feral kitties without getting them spayed and neutered.  So I did web searches and I called our vet and DH called animal control and our local humane society and some other vets.  After talking to enough people we got instructions and rented traps and made a vet appointment and set out the traps.

We caught a little tiger kitten right off.  We transferred him to a carrier and set the trap out again.  Around midnight DH transferred two(!) little black kittens out of the trap into a carrier and reset the trap.  In the morning we found we’d caught an opossum but not mamacat.  Opossums are freaky and I do not like them.  Fortunately they only seem to come out at night.

The kittens spent that day at the vet, we found out the tiger was a boy and the black kittens both girls.  No fleas or FIV or anything that could harm our resident cats.  They’re small but 14 weeks old.  The internet suggests they’re too old to domesticate.  But the vet said she thought we had a chance.  In any case, they needed to stay inside to heal for a day or two.  Two weeks to heal fully, if wanted to do that.

And then the weather turned absolutely awful.  Sleety-awful.  So we kept the kittens inside in the guest bedroom suite.

Mamacat was heart broken.  She wailed for her babies.  While they were still healing up in their carriers we brought them out to the patio and they cried at each other.  But we failed at catching mamacat in the patio or in a trap.  Then we let the kittens into the guest bedroom so we can’t use them as bait anymore.  She’s since stopped wailing for her babies.

We caught another opossum two nights later.  And another two nights after that.  But still no mamacat.

And she’s stopped coming by every night, more like every other night.  She no longer lets me near while she eats.  She’s gotten good at eating food out of the first third of the trap, but no more.  (We can tell when we have an opossum, because they leave no scraps.)  The vet and the humane society say to keep trying.  Maybe she’ll be back when the weather gets better.  I suspect we’re just going to keep catching possums.

So I worry.  I don’t want mama to have more babies.  I don’t want the kittens to be out there defenseless not knowing how to hunt.  I don’t really know what to do.  If we let the kittens out we will probably catch them in the trap again instead of mama.  We don’t ever see the kittens– they eat and poop in the litter box and make amazing messes, but only when nobody is in the room.  When someone is in the room, they hang out in the guest bed box springs.

Most of the advice for taming feral kittens seems a bit cruel, separating them and caging them and forcing them to be petted against their will.  And all those sites say these kittens are too old anyway.  This one is a bit more gentle and hopeful, but I think we’re not doing it right either, what with the box springs instead of a cave, and not actually being there for them to watch while they eat.

So I’ve destroyed a family bond.  Mamacat can still have more babies.  And we have three defenseless feral kittens in our guest bed boxsprings who are unlikely to be tamed.  Also our HOA says we’re only allowed 2 cats, and we already have those.  (The city has our back on the feral cat colony thing although the woman at animal control had no idea what we were talking about when we mentioned it.  Still, their webpage is really clear.)  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing.  I don’t know what the right thing to do going forward is.

And that’s the kind of thing that stresses me out.  Maybe not human lives at stake, but real lives nonetheless.

Overstimulated October

I can handle two children (or maybe it’s just DC2– DC1 is pretty chill) or I can handle students being around, but not both.

I’m not used to this.

I’m not used to needing the door closed.  To need silence without background noise.

Every day is exhausting.  I come home, play a bit with the children, help DC1 with hir chores, and then I feel like crawling under a desk.  Please everybody just leave me alone.

When DC1 was this age, I could still get work done if I wasn’t actively doing chores or taking care of the toddler.  When DC2 was younger and napped once in the evenings I didn’t feel so incredibly overwhelmed.  When school was out of session for the summer I was mostly ok.

It’s not that there’s too much work to do.  It’s not even that my brain has gotten too much work (although that happens sometimes).  Heck, I’m not even as sleep deprived or as frequently sick as I was when DC1 was a toddler.  I’m just completely overstimulated.

Some of it is introversion, and I seem to have become more introverted.  But it’s not just introversion.  I need silence.  I even asked DH to turn off Netflix the other night because I couldn’t handle the noise.  Because he’s a darling he’s taken to listening with headphones.

I wonder if this is going to go away or if I’m going to need to make a big change to my life.  It’s limiting not wanting to see so many people, to avoid talking to people.  I dread most social engagements and have been saying no to a lot of work activities just because I don’t want to be around people.  I want to be alone.  Someplace quiet.

I do love my family very much… but these days I love them most in small doses or when they’re sweetly sleeping.

(#2 says: I call that “October”.  It is officially Exploding Head Syndrome Month and begins Sept 17th.  I relate to Milburn.  Why do you think I put that ear-protection headgear on my wishlist?  It’s so I don’t have to hear things.)

An emotional update on the relatives: Also, a love note to having money

So, long-time followers of the blog may remember that one of the things we’ve committed to doing is paying college costs for DH’s relatives (5 kids, though technically we’ve only committed to the two oldest) in the hopes that they’ll be able to break out of the cycle of poverty that happens when you have several generations of rural teen pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the matriarch of this family branch is about to be a great-grandmother at the age of 56.  Our connecting relative is to be a grandfather at the age of 38.  The great-grandmother is, in fact, expecting three bouncing baby grandchildren this fall and the grandfather two.  His second oldest is having twins.  (An 18 year old step-cousin is having a singleton.)

This is a real shame, because the second is smart and has a solid GPA and solid ACTs.  She could easily have started a regional state school in the fall with money and would have gotten into the flagship had she applied (though probably not much financial aid there based on her scores).  She’d decided instead to commute with her sister to the community college for a year and then transfer– at that point, with college credit from high school she’d be a junior psychology major.

Instead, she recently found out that she’s heavily pregnant with twins and due in October.  We don’t know if she suspected earlier but was in denial or if she’s been lying– she had a surgery 3 weeks ago on her face that she should not have had if pregnant.

It’s too late for even considering an abortion and she doesn’t want to give the babies up for adoption (she did not think of it as an option).

They’re high risk in many ways– she is 17, she hasn’t been getting prenatal care (wasn’t even on vitamins), lives in a house with a smoker, she and her sister were both premature, twins… twins are an expensive proposition even when the circumstances are perfect.  Chances are these kids could have special needs, though we will hope they don’t.

One thing she has going for her that her parents didn’t was that even though she’s not marrying a boyfriend (hopefully they will work out paternity, hopefully the guy will pay support), her parents aren’t kicking her out of the house.  Her biological parents had to set up shop on their own when they were 16.  Unfortunately the previous matriarch who provided free child care passed away last year, and the current matriarch is still working.

There’s a supportive environment, possibly the more-so because the situation is so common.  The relative tells us that his other three kids and the extended family (on the step-mom who raised them’s side) have baby fever in anticipation.  They’ve been hitting up garage sales for baby things.

The oldest is still doing fine.  Her first year at community college went well and she’s proud she passed (with a B) her super-difficult science class even though most of the class dropped.  She’s still working her part-time nursing home job and the proceeds from that go towards her car so she can commute to school.  At 19, she’s broken the family not-getting-pregnant record.

The grandfather-to-be has no money.  The (step-)grandmother-to-be is finally working again, but as a waitress, so no time but not a huge income either.  The bio-grandmother-to-be has no money and owes years of back child-support.  The great-grandparents-to-be are also in huge amounts of debt– the husband is on disability, they own a farm (that they bought on credit from a scam artist… long story there) that costs them tons of money each year, the kids they decided to have in their mid-30s (instead of say, not kicking their 16 year old kid and his pregnant wife out of the house) are still living at home and not contributing to the family household.  There’s really nothing.  Nothing but family with no money and perpetual hands sticking out.  It’s terrifying.

If we didn’t have our own babies to consider, we’d do more.  As it is, we reminded the grandfather-to-be that we’d still be paying those college costs, so he doesn’t have to come up with $650 in tuition for the oldest or $200 in books.  Or $1000 for the second if they can make her going to school work.  (I think he’s not used to family members keeping promises, so he’s never thought of our offers as more than one-time deals.)

What this really makes us think about is how glad we are that we didn’t have children in our teens.  That we waited until we were out of school and had jobs that paid a good salary and a house and precautionary savings and an emergency fund.  We can handle emergencies.  We can send our kids to private school.  If, God forbid, one of our children becomes a parent in high school, we’ll be able to help without sacrificing our other child(ren).  We’d even be able to pay for daycare for twins if we needed to.  It will never be a question of who gets to go to school, or do we get to keep Netflix, etc.  Our children have a lot more second chances.

I love being upper-middle-class.  I wish everybody had the opportunities that we can give our children.  I wish it were easier to break out of cycles of poverty.  I wish we could do more, but we never know what to do, and there are things we could do that might make things worse.  And sacrifices we don’t want to make, not with us living on one salary and having a baby of our own.

Any suggestions for a 17 year old about to have twins?  Or a 38 year old dad who doesn’t understand why his kids are making the same mistakes he made, even though he’s tried his best to keep them from repeating the cycle?

Pre-tenure book route contemplation

Now that I’m an old tenured woman…

My department is the kind where you can either write a book and a few articles before tenure or you can write a bunch of high quality articles.  I chose the article route.  I never really considered the book route because my sub-field’s conversations mainly occur in journals.  (It is true that my dissertation director does have a book, but only one!  My senior book route colleagues here all have multiple books.)

So far during my time here, all of my colleagues doing the article route have made tenure.  Only one choosing the book route has made tenure, and he had two books, went up early, and eventually got hired away at triple my salary.

This whole process was mysterious to me until I got tenure and got to sit in on my first 40 minutes of a committee meeting about when a book should count, and how my senior colleagues are worried about our assistant professors choosing the book route given their current progress.

I recently overheard one of our first years talking about how ze hadn’t gotten much research done, and one of our second years said, yeah, ze thinks that’s normal.  But at the committee meeting, they were worried about the second year’s lack of productivity.

Anyway, the next time I saw the first year, I did that horrible thing and asked hir how the book was coming.  Ze said ze’d taken the semester off from it.  There was so much other research that ze wants to work on besides the dissertation and the book.  Ze was thoroughly sick of the book.  And I can totally relate to that.  I wrote two articles that were completely different from my job market paper when I got out.  Nothing at all to do with my dissertation.  But… I also got my dissertation articles out to journals, as much as I hated them.  I wanted them done and gone more than I wanted to not work on them.  Since then, I’ve rediscovered what made me like my dissertation topic in the first place.

My senior colleagues tell me that leaving the book alone is dangerous.  That dissertation must be turned around quickly.  The book makes a scholar’s name in the field just as articles do for those of us who do the article route.

So I told my junior colleague, I think they expect you to have a book draft by the end of your second year.  You need to work on that.

I felt bad for being so out like that, when my colleague had stopped by to discuss baked goods. Ze had kind of settled into my office before I asked about the book, and left a bit abruptly.  I hope because ze felt like ze had work to do and not because I’m a buzz-kill.

I wanted to lend hir my copy of Boice, but I loaned that to my junior colleague in my own sub-field (another article route person) who I’ve felt more competent to mentor, and ze still has it.

So, lots of questions for academics.

Do you think it’s a good idea to take a break from the dissertation topic before you’ve gotten your main publications from it (the thought being you attack it with renewed interest when you return)?  Do you think you can get research done your first year on the job?  When does a book “count” (contract?  proofs?  reviews?)?  When should a book be done by in order for it to count for tenure?  What advice do you have for junior faculty expected to write a book?

things I’m letting go (with the newest addition)

  • My ability to remember words.
  • Regularly commenting on posts … comments happen in bunches when nursing.
  • Having a big blog backlog
  • Getting dressed unless I’m going into work.
  • Did I mention sleep?
  • Because I can’t remember.  My short-term memory doesn’t encode so well.
  • Faculty meetings, at least until I am out of sick leave.
  • Long, deep and thoughtful blog posts.  (Thankfully there’s still #2!)
  • The ability to think about anything other than work, kids, and dairy products.
  • Socializing.  Which is probably just as well, given the above.

What do/have you let go when something new takes a lot of your time?