A scene from my marriage

I’m in the kitchen, mixing up some buttercream frosting (I have to admit, I was adding it to the gingerbread cookies Jenny sent, because I have such a sweet-tooth I thought “mmmmm more sugar!”). I’m trying to open the bottle of vanilla extract, which is stuck. I grasp the cap hard, and try to turn it, applying torque through my hands. What I end up doing is grating my hand against the ridges in the cap, which hurts. Finally, I give up, and go find Husband. Where is he?

“Husband, I need your help!” I call. I find him in the bathroom, struggling to get the plastic seal off of a new bottle of contact lens fluid. We look at each other, exchange an amused expression, and trade bottles.

Seconds later, we both have what we needed and couldn’t do ourselves.

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Random bullets

  • I am having a very negative day inside my head.  It is one of those days where the tasks of being an adult and taking care of oneself and a small household of two adults seem overwhelming.  One of those days in which I think, godD*MN, there are just too many things to be done!
  • It goes something like this.  Flicka Mawa lists off stressors in her head, and then feels tense and irritated.  Flicka Mawa thinks of Husband, and how he would tell her not to give in to those feelings, and wills her brain to busy itself with other topics, mostly through meditation.  Thoughts turn to stuff like: “It will get better. It will not always be like this.  Focus on your breathing. Let the calm flow through you…” you get the idea, right?
  • Shortly, Flicka Mawa’s brain distracts itself with thoughts of impending doom and lists of things to do or things to be upset about.  Flicka Mawa either 1)gives in and sheds a few tears while she cuddles in a blanket and tries not to disturb Husband who is very busy prepping for his first business pitch to his older brother tonight, or 2)manages to be strong for some period of time, meditating and willing self not to dwell on the negative thoughts.  Switching between 1 and 2 ensues for the remainder of the day.
  • Primary reason for today’s stressing? The sudden realization that in the past 2 days our bank account went from low to -$500, and all of a sudden that $1k check that Husband FINALLY got his freelance boss to send is going to be cut in half before we even see it.  This is the bank accounts first dip into negativity since, oh, February of this year.  It has probably spent more than 30 days in the past 6 months in such a state.
  • I am getting kind of sick of it.  But I know it’s almost over, Husband and I have agreed and things really ARE going stellar for him right now, but it’s just, well…I just DON’T want to deal with this right now.  I have $5 in my purse, he might have up to $10 in his, and among things like having to pack something for lunch and dinner tomorrow from the limited food we have here, this also means that I can’t even afford to buy your basic over the counter medication for the d*mn yeast infection I seem to have gotten…
  • The yeast infection is probably from all that sex I’ve been having.  At least this is a positive point in my list of random bullets.
  • This morning’s realization led to another one – tax day is less than a week away, and now we don’t even have enough funds to pay someone to help us file, let alone to pay anything that we might owe.  And they’re going to be uber-complicated this year, because neither of us got W-2’s, I got paid via outside stipend for part of the year and internal university stipend for part of the year, and of course cash for my babysitting, but then husband, his is more complicated, as he had no full-time job all year – just a few of those MISC forms for some freelance work, and some cash investments in the company that went towards paying for Husband’s time as he worked on it.  Then there were some company expenses paid for out of our own accounts, and he works at home so we have can factor in home office costs.  All this leads to the taxes being much more complicated than last year and likely taking 10 times more time to do than either of us has to give in the next 3 weeks.
  • And my Dad is about to drive past our corner of the world as he moves from my childhood homestate of MA to Myrtle Beach, SC.  He wishes to visit and take us to dinner and see us before he moves further away (SC) than he is now (MA).  But the best part is he’s planning to pass by in 2 weeks and my quals are in 2.5 weeks which means he should be planning to move a few days before the quals.  Now, if visits with my dad were all fun and no stress, I’d definitely say I’d make a way for it to work, but it’s not like that.
  • I think that’s enough random bullets of consciousness (Is that what RBOC stands for when I see it on blogs?). I’m going to go watch some CSI:NY.
  • Speaking of CSI:NY, at times like these, I find myself thinking of all the myriad of things I could go and do with the training I have up to this point at time.  One of the things I think about sometimes is forensic science.  I love solving mysteries, and chemistry, and if it weren’t for the danger and the crime involved, this would be an ideal endeavor for me, I think.
  • Other things I think about doing instead of or after finishing grad school: science writing, like trying to go get a job at a science magazine or working as a freelance science writer.  Working in a paid position in a lab somewhere.  Being a professor who specializes in the interaction of science and the public, and maybe writes popular science books.  Finding some way to be a full-time mentor to aspiring women in science (mentoring the undergrads is my FAVORITE part of my current job).
  • Or I could just wait for Husband’s company to sell for 10 million (not a completely unreasonable amount for an innovative website company such as the one he’s creating) and then play computer games all the time. And have a second home in Amsterdam.
  • And have kids.
  • Really cute kids.
  • Like the ones I watch part-time, who love me so much it totally warms my heart.  The mama told me the other day that older toddler asks her if I’m coming over on days that I’m not, and that he’s even said “Mommy, I love you…and I love Flicka Mawa” when I wasn’t even there.  Kid, I love you too.
  • Seriously, I’m off now.  Hope you all are having a better day than I am!

On self-doubt

On Wednesday, which happens to be when I wrote that post about lack of motivation, I had class. I’m only in one class – this one – so you would think I’d be able to handle it, but still it’s not going that smoothly for me. This class is, I would say, very advanced. I am taking it at a different institution in NYC, and so the experience feels more “different” and “other” than usual. On top of that, it uses a fair amount of linear algebra, which I never took but have needed for at least 3 courses now, so it’s got an odd history as a sticking point with me and I always struggle with it. I am convinced that I should have taken it as an undergrad, and I think that it should either be required for my major (it is at some universities) or that at least someone should have advised me that if I wanted to study advanced theories in my discipline, I should take it. Neither happened, and I did not take it, because I did not know that it would be needed, or even that it would be any more useful than any other math course that was not recommended in the department’s advising materials or bulletins.

Enough about linear algebra…

And furthermore, this one class I’m in now marks the first time I have ever been in a class where I am the only female. Now, I recognize I am lucky that I haven’t encountered that yet – I know that things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago, and even some of my peers currently tell me that in their undergrad departments they were in classes that had no women at all. But somehow I find that it is on my mind sometimes, when I’m there. The class has 12 other students, at least half of which are foreign students, and the professor is about 70 years old, and (of course) a white male. He is a big name in the field, and as such it is an excellent course to have the opportunity to experience, to learn this subject from him. But it somehow feels very surreal to me. It’s hard to place; it’s not really outright upsetting, but it just feels…odd. Strange.

When I was leaving class this week, a student said hi to me, and went on to note how I had been absent from class the week before. Aside from wondering where he was going with that, I also thought about how I wouldn’t have noticed if he was missing, but that I’d be hard to miss as the only woman in a room full of men. And that made me wonder, if these sorts of thoughts come up often for members of minority groups.

I’m not saying that this is a big deal, and certainly in this class I have never witnessed any discrimination, but it does make one think about the subtler aspects of …bias. The part where a person’s mental conversation is occupied with thoughts of how they are different. It makes me think of what it might be like to be part of a smaller minority, and thus feel more…alone.

With regards to the class, though, it’s mostly the material that intimidates me. I realized that part of my lack of motivation was a fear that I would encounter too much difficulty and find myself unable to overcome it. But I did manage to get some work done, and then I went to class, walking in embarrassed to both be late and to have missed the last TWO classes (heck, I’m even embarrassed to admit that here). I must look like a horrible student, I think to myself, as I shuffle towards a seat in the back of the small room, as if there were really anywhere to hide.

Distinguished Professor (here I imagine you read his name with a deep, authoritative voice) looks over at me and nods hello, even though he’s already started the lecture. I realize it’s a fairly friendly smile and that maybe I’m not that horrible of a student (I did email him and we talked about what I had missed), and settle into copying the notes and figuring out what’s going on. And do you know what? I understood it very comfortably. As the lecture progressed, some students in the class asked questions, and I realized that I knew the basics of the answers even before they were explained. As he lectured on, I realized that I could handle this class, that even here in week 7 I still knew what he was talking about, at least most of the time.

After class, I called Husband and told him this. It was a good thing I did, too, because the next night when I was a bawling basketcase over how overwhelming the quals are and how I couldn’t really handle a PhD program in my discipline, he was able to remind me that I was just telling him how I had not needed to be so intimidated by the class because I do understand what’s going on. I do usually tell him these things anyhow, but now I have the added incentive that I know if I tell him when I’m feeling confident, that next week or the week after when I am paralyzed with self-doubt about my abilities again, he can remind me, as he did last night, that I was just telling him how I am proceeding alright, getting my work and studying done, and that I can understand the class material and I do understand the core material of my discipline better than I did last year. And it will take me a while, but eventually, I’ll remember that I can do this.

Numbers tell a story

5 – minutes that I just kneaded pretzel dough for
45 – minutes that I must let it rise for
2.5 – hours I spend in class each week
11 – hours I spend on the subway in an average week
18 – approximate hours I spend while listening to my iPod in an average week
14 – hours straight I slept last Friday night
17 – approximate hours I babysit during the average week
2 – children I watch during aforementioned time
55 – total months old they are, combined
19 – months separating their ages
11 – months I’ve been working with this family
30 – number of times I wiped the wee one’s nose today.  Poor thing, he’s sick!
1 – month since I was awarded my MS degree! Yay!
45 – days until my qualifying exams (gulp)
3.5 – theoretical number of years until I get my PhD (my program sets a five year limit on funding for grad students)
1 – number of years until I think we might be around ready-ish to maybe start trying to conceive (with the huge variable of Husband’s start-up company…)
3.75 – years since I met Husband
17 – months I’ve been married
14 – months since Husband quit his salaried job to build a really awesome (and well-developed) website
3.5 – years since the first time I encouraged Husband to quit a salaried job in order to pursue his dream career path (which he was not on when I met him)
20,000 – dollars our angel investor promised us to start the company with
12,000 – dollars we actually received
5,000 – dollars we need to raise in the very near future
150,000 – estimated dollars we hope to find investors for in the not so far off future
3 – number of cofounders with my Husband
38 – days until Comic Con 2008, at which Husband and I hope we will have a booth, which will be a big step for us as we prepare to launch his website.  Check out the huge list of exhibitors already! It would be an awesome venue in which to start getting people excited about our website (which I won’t describe here but is relevant to the comic industry), which we then hope to pitch to investors (friends and family first, then angel investors).  I have a ton of confidence in Husband’s business plan and the applicable skill set of him and his co-founders (although Husband is the one who came up with the idea and the only one who works on it full-time, at least for now), as well as the amount that the market it’s targeted to is thriving right now, so I really believe this could happen.

The Love Song of Flicka Mawa

or…a brief story about my experience with bulimia and how much healthier I am now

The very first Cat Wisdom I featured on the sidebar of my page was this quotation from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot:

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep … tired … or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

So I just went back and reread the poem, and it had such a calming effect on me. I was thinking about how I’ve loved this poem since I was 18, when I read it in English class in high school. My freshman year of college, I actually posted it (in it’s entirety in 12 pt font – around 4 feet long) to one of my walls. It’s interesting to think back on this, because it is also a reminder of how far I’ve come as far as mental health goes since those days. To continue the poem excerpt will give you an example of the urgency and indecision of my thoughts at 18:

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all” —
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
At 18, I was bulimic and depressed (which I channeled into the bulimia). Every decision I made felt fraught with tension – to eat the food, or not to eat the food? Or perhaps to go buy lots of good food, only to later find the nearest public one-stall bathroom in order to purge it back out. I was often far from home, taking myself to school or figure skating training or my boyfriend’s house, all of which were over a half hour from my home. When people ask me where I grew up, I hesitate to name the town my house was in, because I feel more connected to some other towns, the towns where I skated or the town, 40 minutes from home, where I went to public high school through the state’s school choice program just so that school would fit better with my training. It was definitely pretty intense, and I often felt kind of locked inside my own head. I was also completely overworked. In addition to this intense sports regimen I worked a part-time job at the local mall or coffee shop or beginner programs for the sport, and I was in many AP classes. I was an exceptional student and stayed up late at night finishing my homework. Most of my friends were also figure skaters. People at school whom I was friendly with had stopped asking me to hang out long ago, having learned that I was always busy. I, of course, had made friends at the rinks where I trained, but by my junior year many of them had quit. I was soon training in a new location, where nearly everyone was younger than me (and much richer and, for lack of a better word, cattier than me). So I was also pretty lonely. Or perhaps you’d say insanely lonely, at least compared to now…compared to living here with Husband, in this loving happy marriage.

I met Husband immediately after my sophomore year of college, which makes it nearly 4 years ago. I think I have made a lot of progress in that time. Although I had seen a counselor as soon as I got to college, I had still been struggling with the bulimia on and off up until the day I met Husband. I remember it very well, because I had been having a really bad day as far as the bulimia was concerned. But then I got a call from the exciting man I had met on match.com, and we made plans to meet up. And when I met him, I was so overjoyed at having found this wonderful, amazing, funny, intelligent, creative and adorable human being with whom to share my time, my thoughts. In whom I found understanding, which gave me the ability to be completely frank about the crazy thoughts inside my head. And he was as crazy for me as I was for him! This amazing catch thought I was amazing too, and genuinely found me to be sexy, which helped allow me to be sexy without being ashamed or overly concerned about whether I looked ok. He awakened in me the confidence I had been building but struggling with, and I didn’t need the clutch of the bulimia anymore. I moved on, and over time the thoughts faded, and now I no longer remember with accuracy the calorie content of most of the foods I encounter, nor the location of the nearest prime locations for a bulimic episode.

So as far as mental distress over eating, I have improved vastly. Physically, however, some manifestations remain. While I did successfully rid myself of the purging aspect of bulimia, I still occasionally binge eat. I don’t think I do it as often as I used to, but Husband and I both will sometimes spend time chilling out and eat so many sweets that our tummies ache after. We haven’t done this in a while though – we have both been succeeding at eating a bit healthier and losing some weight. For me, it’s been very slow and gradual, but there is a significant downward trend over the last few months, and that’s good. I get a fair amount of activity running, crawling, jumping, and playing with the kids a few days a week and now I can play DDR at home too, but I need to get to the gym more.

Additionally, I still suffer mental distress over other things. After giving up the bulimia (I say “giving up” because it was an addiction and a crutch), I plunged into a depression, which I have written about more extensively and still deal with. For that too, though, I can report improvement. I think 2008 has been relatively depression-free so far. Sure, there have been some sad and stressful times, and a minor quals freakout, but for the most part I’ve been functioning well – getting good work done, spending time with friends and of course with Husband, and spending time at my part-time nanny job. (Where two small children love me so much that last night, the older one kept something small from my bag that I had let him play with and brought it everywhere, even to bed with him. I feel loved, and warmed to think that the thought of me is so comforting to him.)

So, that’s where I am now, and a bit about how I got here.

Splitting up home chores

A friend of mine was recently talking about how she splits up various household chores with her husband, and so I’ve been thinking about it myself. I thought I’d share it here because it’s interesting to me how different things work for different people. To give you an idea of how long we’ve been working on our own balance of chores: Husband and I have been living together for 3.5 years but have only had our own apartment and the chores that go with that for 2 and a half years. And we’ve been married for a year and change :-D.

For Husband and I, it’s always a bit hard to tell if we’re splitting work equally, because we both tend to consider not only effort but pleasure or nuisance level as well, and our individual perceptions of that are not straightforward. So instead of just saying “You spend x hours and I spend y hours and they’re even (or not)” we look at how much we like or dislike those hours.

With cleaning, this has led to an imbalance in hours spent because Husband has a much lower cleanliness threshold than I do. It’s hard to make him clean a room constantly and in a timely manner when I can tell the disorderliness doesn’t disturb him at all. So I settle for asking him to help clean up sometimes, when it reaches a level that I dislike, and he doesn’t mind, although sometimes he’ll ask to do it later in the day. It’s like that for lots of chores – I can get him to split cleaning the dishes (no dishwasher) with me, but it requires that I not mind them sitting there for up to a day. Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t mind it as much – I don’t always see it as a nuisance (sometimes I even find it a bit relaxing), so why should I make him do it when it’s clear he really dislikes it? So I guess we maybe split the dishes like 10% him 90% me in the long run, unless I’m going through a stressful time and ask him to help with it more.

However, he does help out with things that he doesn’t enjoy doing. We don’t have laundry in our building so we drop it off a few blocks away and pick it up the next day or two. We agree for him to do it because neither of us likes it but it requires lugging a heavy cart up two flights of stairs on the way back.  He always makes the phone calls (deliveries, bill pay issues, troubleshooting, etc) and takes the trash out (down the stairs and around the building into the alley…fun).

He never cooks dinner for us both (maybe once a year he’ll make a tortilla pizza that he gets into), but I don’t cook when I don’t want to. He either makes himself something simple (his menu options are usually: ravioli; beans, cheese, tortillas; cereal and milk) or orders food. He’s a creature of habit so this is good enough for him. He never asks me what’s for dinner, and genuinely treats it as a special thing when I do make dinner, even when I do it as often as 2 or 3 times a week. But the rest of the time we just take care of ourselves for food. Sometimes if he wants something and I only sort of want it, I’ll agree to make it if he keeps me company in the kitchen, but he doesn’t help cook. We just talk while I do the work.

So our cake-cutting algorithm has led us to this, for most household chores: It likely won’t get done if I don’t ask for it to be done. Sometimes it’s done better and faster if I do it myself (cleaning bathroom, floors, dishes; cooking). But, he always acknowledges the work that I do, and would never, ever ask me to do any of it because he wanted it done. He says thanks when I do different things around the house, and I make sure to do the same for him, even when they’re small things. (i.e. Thanks sweetie for remembering to refill the ice cube trays!) This definitely helps us to avoid feeling unappreciated.

My point is, if you just look at what he does and what I do with regards to cooking and cleaning, it would seem uneven. But, we talk about it often enough, and he takes on some chores I don’t enjoy and runs various errands for us both. We’ve tried out arrangements where he did higher amounts of housework, but I was constantly being the household manager and it just didn’t feel right to me because it was adding stress. He always appreciates when I do do things and never minds or asks about them when I don’t do them, so up to now, this has worked for me.

A big thing is we don’t have kids yet, so who knows what will happen then?!

What is your household chore split up like, or if you live alone, what would you think is acceptable?

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?