Thursday, March 21, 2013

Late 30s, Late Periods

I've taken three pregnancy tests in the last week. All have been negative, which is good because 1) I don't wish to give birth to any more babies, and 2) I use three forms of contraception.

The reason I have been helping to keep EPT in business lately is that my normally like-clockwork 29-day cycle is inexplicably off. My period is late, as in it's now Day 35 of my cycle. But I don't feel any sort of my usual premenstrual symptoms at all.

What gives?

I turn 37 soon - could I be starting peri-menipause already?

At what point do I consult a professional? HELP!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Raising "Digital Natives" with The Family iPad

Finally, a parenting piece in The Atlantic has validated my parenting choices, whoo hoo! There's a great article in the April issue by Hanna Rosin (having typed that, I'm pretty sure hell might have just frozen over) that just arrived in the mail but I can't seem to find a link to anywhere online, called "The Touch-Screen Generation." Reads like a very well-intentioned parenting blog post, like a more in-depth, reporty version of something straight out of Ask Moxie. But, of course, the cover photo is creepy - and, um, it happens to looks just like my kid, complete with the iPad covering up her face (I mean, it's The Atlantic, what else did I expect?)

In it, I learned some new-to-me terms: Digital Natives - they are the first generations of children growing up fluent in the language of computers, video games, and other technologies. Everybody else are Digital Immigrants, just struggling to understand. Of course, we all know exceptions, but from where I set these monikers generally fit.

The Hush family is the proud owner of one sole, cherished, iPad. It gets a lot of use by all of us, preschoolers and adults alike. For now, we have just the one in our house. Kind of like there was just "The Phone" singular, or "The TV" singular when I was growing up in the 1980s. My parents and I often had to wait our turn to use it. (I'm thinking of that Louis C.K. bit about having only one of something in the house growing up, and how awesome things are now by comparison.)

We let the kids play educational apps on the iPad at home pretty much whenever the mood strikes them (except bedtime, when we all take a tech time out - on the presumption it might inhibit sleep, but I wonder about that). More on those specific apps after the jump. We each happen to use the family iPad somewhat differently.

I use it only to watch The Walking Dead on Netflix while I run on the treadmill (and let me tell you, there's nothing like zombies to encourage you to pick up your pace.) DH uses it for sales pitches at work, and to do his online shopping. Funny, we also have a desktop iMac in my office, but I'm pretty much the only one who ever uses it. We rarely allow the kids to touch our phones - DH has an iPhone, and I have a Droid but I now wish I could travel back in time to 2011 and pick an iPhone instead. Oh well, my decision made sense at the time. Compared to my peers, I hardly ever upgrade my cell phones, and I have only had a lifetime total of 3 cell phones since I was forced (as in, personally called in to the boss' office and told to pick one up ASAP) to get my first, for work, in 2004 - and by then I was super late to that party.

Anyway, our youngest was born in the fall of 2009. The iPad came out in April 2010. We got ours sometime in 2011, and it is hard to remember life as a parent without it.

These days, you'll pry our family iPad out of our cold, dead hands!! I know, I know. But isn't this just another iteration of that dreaded "screen time" the APA urges us to limit because it rewires children's brains? My luddite friend who is training to be a Waldorf teacher thinks we're doing our children irreparable harm. I think she means well, but she's drinking the Kool-Aid and does not have children of her own yet. I, too, was an awesome parent before I had kids.

I absolutely love the ("educational"? yes, yes, absolutely) apps our kids use. Our three-year-old loves the Starfall ABCs app, Memory Train, and Montessori Crosswords.  Our five-year-old is currently fond of Stack the States, (and Stack the Countries), Star Walk, and Slice It!.  Let's just say I'm utterly convinced my kids are benefitting from having these apps occupy some space in their childhoods. I might not feel that way if they were on the iPad each and everyday, but they're not. They use it with about the same frequency as they use any other "toy" or activity at our house. Sometimes they go way more than a week without asking for it.  Should we as parents be treating the iPad any differently than we treat, say, books, art supplies, Montessori works, TV, or sports equipment? What role does screen time generally have in your family life?

And I'm always on the lookout for more app recommendations, so if you've got them, please leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Which No Nannies Were Abused and Enslaved In My House

Oh, you funny anti-nanny opinion-havers on the internets, how you entertain me so!

You leave blog comments on otherwise thoughtful and nuanced blogs expressing your concern for all the poor helpless nannies who you just know are ALL being "abused" and "enslaved" in millions of American households. You have loads of research to prove it, too.

If our most recent nanny were still employed with us, and if I were foolish enough to believe you, I guess I'd have to fire her right now. But alas, she's already decided to move on to new opportunities: we were grateful she waited until our youngest entered preschool, and our foster kid returned to the birth parents. The truth is, we think the world of her and her family. We helped her find a new part-time job (that she admits she does not financially need because her husband's job has always covered their bills, and otherwise she'd be a SAHM with 3 kids in all-day school) and enroll in private advanced English conversations classes.  She speaks good enough English and even passed the citizenship test in English, but dreams of improving, for which we are paying her full tuition even though she no longer works for us.

Yes, obviously, our system is certainly rigged against the working poor and I'm with Barbara Ehrenreich to the extent I wonder how anyone can support a family on, say, $7 an hour. However, the appropriate target for your ire should not be household employers like me, or @Laura Vanderkam, or @scantee over here, or even the mega rich like Sheryl Sandberg, or several of my grad school friends who live in large cities, who so very very clearly do not at all engage in unfair labor practices or tax dodging. Rather you should perhaps focus your ire on employers like Wal-Mart, who screw over the working poor en masse, reducing their workers' hours to avoid paying benefits, causing them and their families to become public charges. Or better yet, get mad at states that have low minimum wage laws.
In the last several years, I've employed 2 part-time US citizen nannies (not at the same time, though I don't necessarily see anything at all wrong/overly luxurious about having 2 concurrent nannies where a family has, say, a special needs kid, and/or 3 or more kids and/or multiples, etc). I went about employing each nanny the legal way: paying Social Security and Medicare taxes (against the first nanny's own objections I might add), reimbursing their transportation costs, giving paid vacations plus unlimited sick/personal days, providing them excellent job references after they each left us on their own terms, and supporting them to find future employment before they stopped working for us; and also letting their preschool-aged daughter be cared for along with my own kids in our home, and helping to pay for their daughter's Quincenera, and so on. 
All of the nannies I interviewed were making well above minimum wage (which was just over $9/hr in my state): I was told that the going rate in the Big City where I used to live was $500 a week, with a guarantee of 40 to 45 hours whether you actually needed that many hours or not, which works out to $10 to $12 an hour. Big City seemed to be cheaper than a lot of other cities. In one large southern US city, the going rate was closer to $15. What's more, nearly every nanny I interviewed stated, flat out, that they didn't do housework apart from cleaning up whatever messes they themselves actually make while performing their duties, and the ones with kids needed certain afternoons off for kids' appointments, they'd be gone 3 weeks at Christmas, and suddenly needed two months off to help their youngest transition into Kindergarten... and I gladly said "yes" and worked around their schedules because when I finally found someone truly awesome, I wanted her to stay. Our most recent nanny has great negotiation skills, and I love that about her even when she totally out-negotiates me.
So, I ask: Is what I've just described really "abuse" and "slavery"? Is this honestly so bad? Nannies work in a safe, clean environment for an employer who has the best possible incentive for treating them well: they're taking care of the boss's precious kids. I don't believe that a job caring for young children is inherently demeaning. If I believed that, I never would have been a SAHM like I was, and my DH never would have been a SAHD like he was. 
Yes, $10 or even $15 an hour, no benefits, is probably the bare minimum necessary to survive. But it's not a sweatshop, either, and it is definitely not "abuse," and dear sweet lord in heaven it is certainly not "slavery." And really, how offensive and inaccurate of you to say so.
I guess the real question is: is there a way for a progressive family in the professional classes to hire a nanny and *allow the wife to work* without automatically joining the ranks of so-called "exploitive" employers? (Because let's be honest, we're not talking about *husbands* not being able to work because they don't have access to available and adequate childcare!) And what else besides paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, and state unemployment taxes, should household employers be doing for their nannies?
No really, do tell.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So Long, Cherished Public Schooling Ideals

I'm mourning the loss of the cherished ideals I once held so close - that it was a good and honorable thing to send one's kids to public schools. "I mean, of course I'll send my kids to public school someday," said my naive 21-year-old self, who would not actually become a parent for at least another decade. When my DH and I were dating, I even asked him (no, TOLD him) "Hey, my future kids are going to public schools, got a problem with that?" (not on the first date of course - I'm not that much of a level-jumper).

I used to judge the last couple of US presidents for sending their kids to places like Sidwell Friends instead of to the local public school nearest to the White House - imagine how that school would have benefitted with the First Daughter(s) there, in theory... I used to judge my old bosses who volunteered on public school-reform boards and projects, while sending their own kids to the best private schools in town, because "I think their peer group really matters most."

Back in the day, I took a lot of ed policy classes, back when the small schools movement was all the rage. I was so optimistic - because there was so much innovation going on, such an array of choices, I thought it meant our schools would have to get better. Wrong. I used to think homeschoolers were cray cray - now I completely and totally get it.

These days, I'm often reminded of what a former prof of mine used to say "If education were such an easy problem to fix, don't you think we would have fixed it by now?" Now I know that context matters - are we talking about big cities, suburbs, or rural areas (like where I live)? Three vastly different scenarios with totally different resources, and different needs.

Like the mother I met the other day who moved here recently from suburban California, where the academically-rigorous public schools were "a total pressure cooker" for her 9-year-old son, who could not keep up with some of his more gifted peers. He's loving it here in No-Academic-Expectations-Having-Land, in fact he's thrilled to be the smartest kid in class (yes, his teacher actually called him "smart," presumably thinking that a beneficial label). But I can't help wonder if they'll feel differently about it when he never quite grasps algebra. Will they even see the lost opportunities in terms of entire career fields that will be pretty much forever closed off to him if he can't grasp algebra? (Forever? Yes, I'm saying forever.)

So, here we are. We've registered our 5-year-old for first grade in a mixed age classroom at the new private Montessori elementary school. This means he's skipping Kindergarten, and will be the youngest student in the school by at least 7 weeks. We had him tested through the school district, and re-tested through a private firm (best $40 we ever spent.) Both tests concurred: he definitely belongs in first grade this fall. We read "A Nation Deceived" which help put our fears to rest about grade-skipping. Off the record, one tester said "I did a double take on his birthdate - looking at him and talking to him I thought he was born in 2005." and "No way should you enroll him in public school around here." Case closed.

Great news, yes. I finally feel really good about DS's educational future.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Innovation and Yahoo's Telework Ban

As the old saying goes "Give the people what they want" (aw, shucks)... here's my defense of the Yahoo CEO's decision to enact a blanket ban on all telework.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (I've previously blogged about her here) was a fantastic recent hire. But it seems folks just can't resist tripping the proverbial prom queen. Unlike pretty much the majority out there who get off on second guessing every move she makes**, I, for one, am convinced she knows what the hell she is doing.

If anyone can right the sad, sinking ship that is Yahoo today, it's her. Informal poll time: show of hands, who uses Yahoo on a daily basis? Yeah, I thought not. I still use a Yahoo mail account and people actually make fun of me for it.

So when Mayer (the well-compensated tech genius expert) tells us (the technically-inept masses) she has mined Yahoo's employee VPN data and it has told her in no uncertain terms ALERT - the folks you have been paying to do the work aren't doing the work!, then she had the responsibility to do something about it. And she did - her move was a decisive, drastic one that has made her very unpopular in the press: she decided nobody at Yahoo is allowed to telework anymore.

For starters, nobody in her peer group is more data-driven and evidence-based in their processes than she is. Mayer made the decision by checking the data showing how much teleworkers were actually logging in to Yahoo’s network – and well, case closed. From the SF Chronicle:
“Likewise, we’re hearing from people close to Yahoo executives and employees that she made the right decision banning work from home.
“The employees at Yahoo are thrilled,” says one source close to the company.
“There isn’t massive uprising. The truth is, they’ve all been pissed off that people haven’t been working.”

There you have it: folks were not doing the work. Why her middle managers couldn't have effectively managed their own employees in the first place is of course, another story, and one that probably speaks to Yahoo's lackadaisical cultural problems that Mayer is trying desperately to correct. I prefer to call it strong, unflinching leadership on her part, but her critics are calling it some other unflattering things.

Her critics, such as Lisa Belkin in Huffington, are saying, "I had hope that as a new mother, she would use her platform and her power to make Yahoo an example of a modern family-friendly workplace"... it's a warning for everyone "that their lives don't matter." Seriously, Ms. Belkin? That sounds awfully hyperbolic. @Cloud, Wandering Scientist has a great analysis of why we aren't holding male CEOs to these same feminist standards.

Mayer's role is to lead a lagging company within the context of unforgiving American tech company capitalism - where it's survival of the fittest out there. Which, like most of corporate American life, is onerous hell to folks who need to take some time out of it for various reasons, but hey that's our system, and while I can't think of a better one either, I know we can do a few things better (uncoupling insurance from employment, universal child care, guaranteed paid maternity leave etc etc). But, as Mayer is not an elected official I would submit these concerns are not her primary problem. Instead, her focus is right where it should be: on building a collaborative workplace that will create and deliver inspired, innovative products. Buy into her vision, Yahoos, or get out. I can respect that, but I may not like it. And if I'm a recent Yahoo hire whose employment decision was predicated on my ability to telework, then yes, I have a legitimate grievance - but I'd wager that's a small subset of Yahoos. Certainly, there are also Yahoos out there who are grateful to have a leader with a snowball's chance in hell of saving their jobs.

As I've commented elsewhere, "productivity" alone is no longer the name of the game. There seems to be a dichotomy between productivity and innovation. Everyone's gut intuition about it and the current research seem to agree that telework improves productivity. But surprise, surprise telework is actually bad for innovation:
"Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm. "If you want innovation, then you need interaction," he said.  "If you want productivity, then you want people to work from home."
Mayer was hired last year with a direct mandate to alter Yahoo's stagnating culture. A decade ago, Yahoo was a place where the best and brightest Internet hires came together to innovate. For too long, Yahoo has been coasting along on auto-pilot, losing market share while maintaining existing business lines rather than growing new ones (i.e. being "productive" rather than "innovative"? hmm....). Yahoo has obviously been outpaced by Google and Facebook - two companies which, by the way also frown upon telework, albeit in a less extreme way than Yahoo's anti-telework policy. Which ought to tell us something.

If this anti-telework trend catches on outside of the tech-specific domain, that will be a crying shame. Because we know for a fact telework is great for productivity at fixed jobs. At Yahoo, and at this specific historical moment for the company, I can totally see how Mayer made the correct call. So, please, let's all stop questioning Mayer's intelligence in these matters.

** By the way, they call this "Tripping the Prom Queen" (great book, BTW) wherein the strongest females are attacked by the weakest females - the exact opposite of the treatment of strong males in our society. I happen to think this explains most of the anti-Mayer and Sandberg rhetoric out there.