Setting boundaries with Mother-in-Law?

I hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving weekend. (I hope the rest of you had a good weekend too!) I had a much more relaxing weekend than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up babysitting at all, and I had a good time at the houses I visited.

But there was one thing that really bothered me – my mother-in-law’s behavior. When I first saw her, she, as I expected, told me how pleased she was that I was wearing a skirt. Fine, I thought, I do like to wear dresses and skirts sometimes. She made another comment about how I was dressed like a girl and how much she loved it. Ok, still ok.

What bothered me most about her behavior was that one of the very first things she said to us – we had met up less than 10 minutes earlier, for the first time in a few months – was, as she sidled up to me, “So, Flicka Mawa, when are you and Husband going to go on a diet?” Excuse me?! I had always known she would come right out and say things about Husband’s weight, and that it bothered him. As such, it bothered me too, and I thought it was horribly rude and downright mean. In fact, I was apprehensive about seeing her this time precisely because I was worried she would say something about Husband’s weight. But this time, she really crossed the line – saying something about my weight too. How dare she think it’s ok to do that? I was so flabbergasted I was literally speechless. I just looked at Husband, who responded pleadingly and in annoyance, “Ma, let’s not do this today. It’s Thanksgiving.” This was a bad enough breach to leave me pretty annoyed, but I only got more concerned about my relationship with my mom-in-law as the day went on.

We got on the train and there was a decent buffer zone between us, so not much issue there. When we got off the train, she used my arm for support as we walked – her in pointy high heels, mind you, despite her serious back problems. When I had noticed this earlier, I had come right out and commented on it, letting her know that I didn’t think heels were important enough to risk physical pain especially for someone with her history of back trouble. Anyhow, we’re walking down by the side of the train tracks, and she decides to continue to gush to me about how I’m wearing a skirt, and how wonderful it is. As some of my readers know, I’m definitely a feminist, and so this really began to grate on me. You know what? It doesn’t matter if I wear a skirt or pants, I still look like a woman, thank you very much. I believe I started to tell her, in a playful tone, that if she said much more about it I wouldn’t want to wear skirts around her anymore. But then I got a phone call, so I excused myself and left her to walk on her own or grab someone else’s arm while I fished around in my purse. It was my brother, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Thanks, bro!

My husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s family picked us up, and they were all very friendly. Her mom drove Husband and I and my mom-in-law, and the others drove in a different car. Between driving to the first apartment and the second, I sure got to hear a lot from my mom-in-law that didn’t make me too happy. The mom driving us was telling us how she had recently become a grandma and her granddaughter was going to be at the first apartment, which made me very happy because I! LOVE! BABIES!!!!! Anyhow, my mother-in-law was telling her about how her first grandchild was a girl and it was so great after all those boys (she has 4 sons and no daughters), but that she didn’t know what to do with her, because she was a girl. As a baby?  The same things you do with a boy!  The implication that even as a baby you’d need to treat the two sexes differently really annoys me.  Aside from, of course, slightly different care of the privates, particularly if your son is circumcised, there is no difference.  My mom-in-law is, in my opinion, rather sexist, and it never bothers me more than when I am reminded of what kind of influence she could have on my children.

So of course, while I’m thinking about how I really want to minimize how much time she spends with our kids, one of the next things out of her mouth is “And by the time these two have a baby I’ll be retired and will be able to spend all my time with him,” referring to us and our first baby. Great. First of all, she doesn’t work. She’s on disability because of that back problem that I mentioned when I described her shoes. She’s been looking for a decent enough job that accommodates her back issues to risk going off disability (once you go off, you can never go back on for the same problem because you’ve shown that there are still jobs you can hold) since I’ve known Husband, which is about 3 and a half years. So I don’t know what this “by then I’ll be retired” crap is. Second of all, we’re sitting right here! She knows we can hear her. It never occurs to her that she might need to find out if we want her spending all her time taking care of our baby. Husband and I have discussed before how important it is to put up boundaries with her, because she’ll always try and push them until she can come visit us without calling first. I think Husband does an ok job of doing this, but it’s hard – she’s rather set in her ways. Often it results in her leaving for us angry or tearful phone messages because she thinks we don’t pay enough attention to her.

Honestly, once she confided in us that her dream was to move into a house with the two of us. Right, that would work. We do both love her, but we could never, ever, not in a million years live with her. It’s hard enough living in the same borough of NYC. Between all the things she unabashedly said to our courteous host about how much she’s looking forward to spending lots of time with our first child, how to raise babies her way, and how differently she thinks girls and boys need to be treated, I found myself spending most of the second car ride silently wishing I could move out of the area. All the way across the ocean wouldn’t be so bad. The Netherlands, here we come.

Question for my readers: How do you set up boundaries with your mom-in-law? Have they worked? Does she resent you for it? Did you start setting these up before you had your first child, and if so how long before?


::Yawn:: Flicka Mawa raises her furry cat head and looks around, stretching her paws out in front of her. A gentle voice-over cues you in to her thoughts.

Well, yesterday’s feeling of “man I’m such a ****head, what have I been doing all semester?!” have receded. Thanks to those of you who commented on yesterday’s post. After speaking with the professor, it seems that pulling the grade up into the C range is quite possible, and I think it sounds like it won’t be so much more work that it’s not worth it. Having dropped the other class, I can spend some more time on the remaining one, in addition to my promise to my advisor to finally analyze some of that data that’s been sitting idly in my computer folders since the semester started. (I have been working on research since then, just not on the projects that are at the data analysis stage.)

I had a good time with the kids this morning – I really love them. Like soft fuzzy heart-warming cuddle love. At this point it’s fair to say they’re both toddlers, as the baby is 14 months now and has been walking really well for a while. He doesn’t really talk yet, but I get the impression he understands a lot and he will repeat after me sometimes, he just hasn’t yet started consistently using the same word/sound to signify that he wants a specific something. Since he’s so mobile, he’s much more likely to just walk over and point or reach his arms up to indicate he wants you to hold him. He gives really cute baby kisses, and it was the sweetest thing yesterday when his older brother (2.75 yrs), dressed in a warm winter jacket and ready to go outside with his momma, said to him “Bye Bud. Kiss?” and stuck his lips out, and the little one toddled over and kissed him. I seriously melted.

So I’m feeling rather tired and I have agreed to do some data analysis this week even though it’s the holiday, and I’m still babysitting a full schedule because the momma needs a break just the same as a full work-week (kids don’t give holidays off!), plus her in-laws are coming for the holiday too. It looks like I myself will be spending the holiday with a bunch of people (perhaps the ~10 people range) only 5 of which I’ve ever met before. The rest aren’t even in-laws but more like in-laws of in-laws…good times. It will be great to see my momma-in-law and some of her family, but I’m not really looking forward to the holiday all that much. One thing I’m kind of missing is that this year none of the planned holidays will have my mom’s food. I think I may need to make some stuff for Husband and I to enjoy at home. I’m thinking maybe a good frozen chocolate mousse pie and some green bean casserole. Yummy.

That was a totally rambling paragraph. The gist of it is that I’m not that excited about the holiday weekend nor do I expect a tremendous amount of extra rest. I’m tired and I’d like to just sleep and play video games with Husband.

Flicka Mawa stretches her paws again. She looks around, walks a bit, and curls up in a ball, folding her soft cat tail up against her paws. With one last glance at you, hey eyelids close and you realize she’s napping.

(Ahhh, if only I were really a cat and just lay around napping all day.)


Well, I’ve had a chance to catch my breath. Last week after meeting with my advisor, the assistant dean of student affairs, the class professor, and my therapist, we all decided it was best for me to drop the class down to audit status. This puts me at less than full-time, but the dean checked and assured me that since it’s so late in the semester, I won’t lose my very important health insurance. This was somewhat finalized on Thursday evening, and I was able to relax a little bit after that. I went out with a good friend on Thursday night, and then slept in til 11 on Friday (not babysitting because I had a bad cold).

On Saturday I ran a lab for 6th to 8th grade girls in an event the women in science club on my campus held. The labs were short and it was challenging to make anything in my discipline very accessible to 6th graders, but I had a lot of fun and I think I got the basic idea across. I wasn’t really able to get feedback from the students, but I hope they had a good time. There were no major messes or accidents or misbehaving girls, so I think that went well enough.

I took the rest of the weekend to just relax and catch a breather, and now I can say my cold is nearly gone, and I feel a lot better. But then this evening I heard from my other professor, whom I had emailed to check in on about the class I am still in, and he wrote back that at this stage I am passing but probably in the D range. Great. So when all you wonderful readers reiterate that grades don’t matter, do you mean even D’s? Will no one see my transcript and ask me “how did that happen?” I think my semester GPA will be ok, because my other 6 credits are research and I should get two A’s for that. Should I really not be concerned about getting a D, or should I ask for extra work to bring my grade up to the C range? I don’t think I turned in all of the homeworks, so I could perhaps just do the one(s) I missed. What do you think, oh ye blogosphere science brains?

Sometimes all the calls for bill collection get a bit demeaning

A scene from my morning, 10:00 am. I’ve had a late morning (no babysitting) and am groggily getting ready to head down to campus for a special seminar. The phone rings. I answer it.

Automated voice: Please hold for an important message. I sigh, realizing this is probably another call about an unpaid bill that is past due. The automated message repeats.

Shortly, the message is interrupted and a real human comes on the line. Here goes, I think, which bill collector is it this time?

“Hi, I’m so-and-so from favorite-clothing-store credit card company.

Oh great, I think, I just had this conversation two days ago. The last person warned me that because I couldn’t give them a date, I’d keep getting calls. I have no new information about when Husband’s check will arrive than I did two days ago, so I am unable to say anything new, but it is of course a different person who did not hear my explanation from last time. I have enough crap to do and I have to get out to be on time for the seminar. I don’t have time for this.

“Oh, hi,” I say. “Listen, I know you’re calling about my bill payment, but I don’t have any way of paying it right now and I don’t know exactly when I will have the money to pay it because my husband works freelance and the checks don’t come on any regular schedule. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing new I can tell you guys,” I say, all rather quickly and breathlessly.

“Ok, so I’m going to have to make a note that you are refusing to pay,” she says back.

Excuse me? REFUSING? This is not a choice. “I don’t know why you call it refusing, I’m UNABLE to pay,” I tell her, irritated.

I don’t even remember what she said after that except that it wasn’t “Oh, I understand, I’ll just make a note not to call you back for another week and that you are aware of the situation.” What I do remember is that she said something short and terse, and I said “Ok, thanks, bye.”

So what? Was I supposed to have a patient conversation with the credit card company phone operator every time they call me every 2-3 days asking if they can set up a payment, telling me that I’ve missed some, and informing me that they will need to report this to the credit report agencies. They always say it like they think it’s some sort of threat, and I’m supposed to just go “Oh, well then. You know I was just hiding that extra money to buy candy and toys, but now I’ll give it to you guys instead.” Right.

Lately every call from every bill collector is a lovely story where they try to explain to me how bad it is that I haven’t paid and how it will hurt my credit and they’re going to close the account/cut off the electricity/shut off the phone service and all this stuff like I’ll just respond merrily with with “Oh, I was just testing you guys to see what you would do” and cheerfully hand over the money. I just want to scream at them “I’m aware! I know of the consequences! There’s nothing I can do, and I mean it! It’s hard enough to deal with all this as it is, I don’t need you to remind me every day with phone calls all the problems that are just growing!”

Why must they do this? When I say I can’t pay it right now, I mean it. I mean I can’t pay it, because we can barely buy groceries and eat balanced meals, and it was a challenge to keep them from cutting off the electricity, and now they’re gonna shut off the cell phones, and each time one of these goes unpaid too long we get so many fees and penalties that even when we get the money to pay what we would have we are buried in more things owed, and that precious, anxiously-waited-for paycheck for Husband stretches over even smaller amounts.

As husband said, it felt like we got a breath of fresh air, about two weeks ago when he got a check for $1000, but we had so many overdue bills and all that the brief comfort afforded by that was so very brief, just enough to gasp for air, and then the following monday it was like we were just pushed back under, someone holding our heads below water and we just get to come up for air every once in a while but mostly we’re just under the water, holding our breaths, sputtering and flailing and fighting to get back up but only to be pushed back down again when we’ve been afforded that brief moment of a breath of air.

It’s been over a month now of living like this, and things are really no better, but I’m maybe getting used to it. Except it’s not really used to it, it’s just used to that run-down feeling, used to being so tired and out of energy and not even being able to replenish with balanced meals with fruits and vegetables and protein and lots of healthy nutrients. I’m tired and hungry and now I’m sick too; I saw the doctor yesterday for an annual and she seemed to think my cold was pretty strong, and I have an infection too, the type that you get most when you’re stressed out and your immune system is weakened. I think my body is telling me that this isn’t working.

Internet tv

I recently discovered that Fox has launched it’s own internet tv called Fox on Demand, which includes current season episodes for free. The video player doesn’t get as big as can be done with cbs‘s tv shows, but other than that the streaming works smoothly and the definition is good. It keeps an ad button above the video the whole time, which can be especially annoying if the icon is a bright color. Still, I’m so excited to be able to watch Bones, House, and Family Guy on the internet for free!

My Husband and I don’t get cable tv. We did have it here for a little while, and I found it was easy to just sit around and watch tv. Also, at the time, iTunes was already selling episodes for download for most of my favorite shows. I actually preferred watching them on iTunes, not least because our monitors are better than our tv, so we calculated the comparison cost of downloading the episodes, and decided to cut the cable tv. I really don’t miss it except for when we want to watch sporting events.

Anyhow, last year most of the networks began video players on the web, where you could watch the show for free (with commercials). Many of them have already gone through many iterations, and at this point I think they are all good enough to enjoy watching it on my computer. More and more networks are offering this now, so if you have a favorite show but have never been the type to be home every week to watch it, you should also check these sites out: This video player is the clearest. There are many screen size options, the largest of which is full screen. My favorite feature is that it waits after commercials for you to click on a button, so that if you left to grab something it doesn’t go on without you. Shows I watch: Brothers & Sisters, Samantha Who?, Notes from the Underbelly This video player doesn’t go as big, and on my various computers I get a different amount of choppiness sometimes. Still, the quality is good enough for me to enjoy watching CSI and CSI:NY on it.

And if you have a favorite show on a different network, check out their website! They might have a video player set up as well.

Failing a class + mental craziness = breakdown

I wrote this immediately after my mental craziness post, but I broke it into two to make it easier. It’s a pretty long post, but for any of you that have time, I would greatly appreciate any comments you all might have to help me through this. I feel pretty crappy right now.

In a whole different story, I really need that which I ended the last post with, the help of Husband and our happy marriage, right now. Because you remember that post about how it’s not working, how I’m not managing to get to classes and I’m spiraling down again? Well, as kind as people’s comments were, I was brought back down to earth today.

Here, in this class that I am in, one of the ones that I missed last Thursday, the level I am working at is not ok. Coursework burnout is not ok, and depression is not an excuse…only enough for the professor to offer me some extra credit, perhaps, once he thinks about it. I literally am in danger of failing, I learned so this afternoon when the TA e-mailed me back, and again after class tonight when the prof asked to talk to me.

The thing is, I had realized in early October, right before all the crazy money issues began, that I needed to work harder, because I saw that others had much higher homework grades than I would have guessed the mean was and deduced that my poor scores were possibly too poor to get me through.

So I knew I had to work harder, and I managed to, for a bit. I managed to put my all into the homeworks that were due, and turn them in thinking I had really done my best. I managed to do that despite the fact that with that plus going to classes and babysitting and my other class and research I was only getting a few hours of sleep. I managed to do that despite the fact that during that week in which I did two homeworks instead of one, and did barely any research at all, Husband’s and my financial situation hit the fan in an unexpected manner and I actually was quite hungry throughout much of the days and arrived home at night weary and with hunger headaches just waiting to eat whatever cereal or pasta we had left in the cupboards. You might ask “Flicka Mawa, why didn’t you just ask someone for help? Surely someone could have lent you enough money to eat better than that.” And that’s a good question. I was just so busy trying to manage doing the homeworks for this class and so tired and hungry that I didn’t have the extra energy it takes to find a source of personal loans. On top of that, I don’t see an immediate end to the financial problems, and so I’m reluctant to borrow more money from anyone. I did get some help from my mom, and that was enough to refill the cupboards with cheap and somewhat tasteless food.

Anyhow, I digress. This is not meant to be a post about how horribly we have (not) managed our finances this year that Husband has been trying to start a company and work from home.

(Can we interrupt here to say that a group of people from my office just met up and talked about how they were going out together for dinner or a drink and mingled here for a bit and lamented the lack of another office mate and then left, without even thinking to say hi to me, let alone ask me if I would like to join them. There are multiple grad student offices in the department and so mine has only about 8 people that use it regularly, and these people are not only closest in proximity to me but among the friendliest to me of the whole department of grad students. Oh yes, I feel so welcome here.)

So anyhow, this is meant to be a post about schoolwork, and depression, and how I can manage to be failing a class.

So, after that week where I did manage to try really hard and attempt all the problems as best as I knew how, then there was a take home midterm, and I spaced out the work as best I could manage and tried very hard, spending many hours on each of the 5 problems. I got it back today, and you know what? I got a 51%. The mean was something like an 85. And those homeworks? Well one of them I neared a 75%. The other one, maybe a 55%. So apparently even that, that week where I thought I really gave it a lot, wasn’t quite enough, certainly not to make up for the poorly done homeworks I did before I realized that people were getting in the 90% range.

Granted, everyone sees this as a challenging class, but apparently everyone else is ready and willing to rise up to that challenge. I’m obviously extremely distraught over this, but I’m also completely amazed. Either my inadequate background from a different department has left me at a much worse starting point and thus it doesn’t take them as long as me, or they are all spending many, many more hours on their homework than I was ever planning to devote to mine. About twice as many, in fact, since I’m getting about half the credit for the work and they’re managing to get near perfect scores. Seriously, 85 and 90% on weekly homeworks (6-10 difficult, new problems each) in an extremely challenging graduate level course? Who would have thought that would be the norm. Don’t these people also have research to be doing, or at least more other classes than I have?

So where am I left? Not an impossible place, I realize. It could be worse. I could have no chance of getting my grade back up to passing status, and need to drop the course and then be less than full-time, or take an incomplete, or whatever it is they do with kids who fail courses here at my university. But there are a few weeks left, and there is still the chance of better – the opportunity to do what I need to do to get my grades up. So, I don’t really see any options but to do that. The thing is, this is clearly going to take a lot more time. I can’t give up the babysitting, because we are surviving on that influx of cash to buy groceries, meds, and subway fare each week. I suppose I could see how the other students are managing it if I replaced every hour I spend babysitting with an hour spent on the homework and reading for this class. Frankly, that sounds horrible to me though, so I don’t mind that we need the money and I need to work.

So what else am I doing? There’s my other class, but honestly I haven’t put much into that either, and had probably better e-mail that professor and TA as well. At least with that one I had already explained the depression issue briefly, so it’s not completely unknown to them. What else is there… Well there’s research – I could do less of that I suppose, but I really thought I was kind of just maintaining at an amount that barely passed for 6 credits worth.

And then there’s non-work time. That’s the only place I can see cutting down on, but I’m barely managing to not breakdown as it is. I guess if I am so busy with coursework and babysitting and research that I don’t have time to think, I won’t have time to stress myself out or breakdown. That worked for that one week I described earlier, but it’s not really that maintainable. I can probably handle it until the semester is over, since it’s really only 5 more weeks or so, but the other problem is that I will miss Husband. I already wish I had more time to spend with him, and what with my freak-out about our marriage and how much I depend on it, I don’t really want to put less time into that. I don’t see much of a choice though, so I think a combination of sleep and Hubby time are going to go out the window until late December rolls around. Wish me luck!

Good news: Just writing that whole post and thinking through it did help me to feel a bit better.  I can do this…I can do this…I can do this. 

Mental craziness

This is a long post but if anyone has time to read the whole thing and leave me some words of encouragement about the class failing part, I’d greatly appreciate it. I could really use it right now.

Yeah, so I’m still here. I had a crazy weekend, mentally, in which my mind thought all sorts of crazy things that I knew at heart were untrue but couldn’t help worrying might really be true. Like that Husband doesn’t really love me. How silly is that?

Well, actually, the culmination of things that I experienced and read on Friday and Saturday, combined with some major hormonal unbalance, made this episode of absurdness understandable. On Friday and Saturday I went to a conference on careers in science and technology. I haven’t felt too strongly that I’d like to go into industry, but I went to two panels on industry. While the work sounded interesting, I really got the impression that all of the people in the type of research jobs that I’d be interested in weren’t balancing their jobs with an outside life. The one panel that was most interesting had 5 people, 4 older males and a young Asian woman. The men all had wedding rings and the woman did not. The moderator was a married woman, so I talked to her after the panel. I also spoke to some of the panelists after as well, and I still left feeling like industry, in my field at least, wouldn’t be that different as far as flexibility goes. Still, it might be easier to get back in after part-time than in academia – I don’t know.

Saturday I got to meet Jenny F. Scientist. She was nice, and it was my very first time meeting a blogger friend in real life, so that was cool! Then I went to a panel on academia, and I did learn some interesting stuff there, mainly because they had a panelist from a small liberal arts college who had been in a major R1 university for her PhD, so I was quite interested in hearing her story.

Additionally, I read a book over the weekend: Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers, by Mary Ann Mason. It’s a recent book by the author of the Do Babies Matter? project, and this one looks at women combining parenting and careers in academia, journalism, law, and medicine. It was definitely a good read, and it certainly had stories of women who were happy with the choices they made, but still, it disappointed me to read that the odds are still against getting back on the full-time track you want to be on after having taken part-time or time off to raise your children. Also, those women who had kids and had been successful in their careers all emphasized how important their husband’s support and help had been, and how they couldn’t have done it without them. Although expected, as a feminist it disappointed me to read that as well, because historically so many capable women find themselves with less than supportive men.

Somehow the overwhelming amount of information that seemed to me to be saying I couldn’t really do what I wanted, that sacrifices made in career would be more permanent than I had hoped, was very disappointing. It’s been a stressful semester anyhow, and somehow on Saturday night I was getting to that completely stressed stage where I just had all these crazy thoughts that were completely untrue. I went to sleep and woke up on Sunday and felt a little better, a little more sure that those were untrue, but still very unsure as well. At this point, I really felt like a crazy person – like one part of me was able to tell myself “no, flicka mawa, that’s ridiculous and completely untrue” and the other part of me was just so effective at beating me down, making me believe in the crazy thoughts, that I felt sad and worried and scared all day. Since Sunday, the ratio of reasonable thoughts to crazy ones has steadily increased, until I felt back to normal again yesterday. And believe me, it was such a relief to have my normal thoughts back! To again feel confident that I am in an amazing marriage and that Husband loves me and that no matter what else, I’ll always have him and my marriage to help me through.

University and Depression part III, or: How my 3rd semester is (not) working out

So some of you may have seen my post, University and depression part I: the undergrad years. I have not yet written part II, which is going to be all about my first year of graduate school on the Masters/PhD track, up to and including failing the quals. Well, logically then, part III would include my 2nd year and beyond, and since I wrote a post about how things are (not) working out right now, I thought I may as well have it be part III of the series.

So yeah. Two words. “Not Working.” That’s about what I think about how my grad school life is going right now. Ok, maybe that’s drastic. But I’m just…not into…doing the classes. I mean like, really… not managing to even go to them all the time. Or put a full effort into the homework. At this point, I’m really just concerned with doing well enough in them to pass, but I’m not even that confident that I am. I’m feeling a bit like I did in some of my classes as an undergrad – sleeping through class begets not turning in homework on time begets being embarrassed to talk to the TA and professor which leads to more of the same.

It would be hard to imagine why I’d stay in school for another four years, but I see a very immediate end to this business with the classes. The rest of my work as a grad student is going fine – in fact, better than fine. I think I’m really in a great place to get where I want to go in my research and my (hopeful) career in academia. I’m a second year student, which at my school means the final semester of my master’s work before I go on to residence units and full-time research. This past summer was full-time research, and I got started and made progress on a lot of projects. My adviser was happy with the work we got done. The paper that we wrote together was published in print in September. All of these things have combined to make me really happy about doing my various research projects, so at this point I really think things will be better when I reach next semester, with my master’s in hand. But I have to actually get there somehow, and I am still completely unable to get into the classes. On top of that, I’m seeing now that I’ll be getting sick more because I’m working with the baby and toddler all the time, and I have a fairly weak immune system, so I’m even more tired and drowsy all the time. I’m sure I can make it through this, but right now, I’m barely getting up the motivation to go to class and do my homework, and it’s hard.

Deep sigh.