Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Giving back

* Disclaimer time. This post is about breast pump recycling. This post is NOT about choices regarding how one feeds one's child(ren). Everyone who is parenting or caring for a child or children will be faced with determining how best to feed them. This may be breastfeeding, formula feeding or pumping to express breastmilk. This may involve using baby-led weaning or using purees. This may involve using only organic foods, locally grown or not. Etc., etc., etc. The point is not how you choose to feed, but the fact that you are feeding your child, making sure they have access to nutrients required for health and growth. 

On August 15, 2014, I pumped breastmilk for the Beats for the very last time. A month earlier, due to HMFD, they had both weaned themselves and I was left pumping to fulfill their need for milk. Following their first birthday and on the heels of their transition to the toddler room, if was clear it was time to start transitioning them to cow's milk. And with that transition can the clear signal that it was time to hung up the pump.

Since August, my breast pump has lived in a box with me wondering what to do with it. Some suggested selling it, but seeing as the portable pumps are meant to for a single user it didn't seem like a good option. That and they only place I had seen pumps listed was Craig's list, which seemed a bit sketchie. The other option was simply tossing it into the garbage, but it seemed like such a waste.

Finally today, it dawned on me that I'm unlikely to be the only person facing this dilemma, I contacted the company that manufactured my pump to enlist their help.

Rather recently, breast pump recycling has become an option. Companies like Hygea pioneered the idea of recycling with their "No pumps in dumps" campaign. More recently, Medela has also started a pump recycling program, collaborating with the Ronald McDonald House Charities to support the donation of breast pumps to mothers staying with them while their babies are in NICU. Granted, they only want the pump unit, leaving the owner with trying to figure out how to recycle tubing and other parts. But the idea of supporting a charity that is helping new mothers with babies in NICU is very appealing.

Tonight I printed off a label to return my pump to Medela. Tomorrow I will be dropping off a box at my local post office so that this pump can return to Illinois. The tote that housed this pump will be donated to the local LLL, for someone who is in need of a travel case.

As I unpackaged the pump unit from the tote and prepared it for shipping, I had flashbacks to those 2 am pump sessions when I would drift in and out of sleep while extracting milk. Of having to tote the pump with me to work daily, sneaking away every 3 hours to drain. All of it was exhausting, but I also knew my efforts were feeding the Beats and those 30 min sessions did provide me with some cherished alone time.

Farewell my dearest breast pump. Your tubes and wires will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Snapshots and snippets

There are moments when time drags. Seconds creep slowly by at a rate that could drive one crazy. Then there are moments where you dare not to blink because of what is happening. For me, the last two weeks have fallen into this category. And though I could write many micro-posts about each, I figured an update in snippet form would be more appropriate.

6 am, Thursday December 4th:
Grey and I wake to do the usual morning routine. Once the Beats are settled in with their morning bottles, I open my email. The first message that hits me is from the director of our daycare. Subject line "we will be closed, due to an accident at the building."


Email sparks internet search, which results in both Grey and I looking at one another in disbelief. Disbelief because we learn that a stolen car has been crashed into our daycare, smashing the very rooms the Beats and their classmates occupy. Thankfully all this happened at 2:15 am and no one was hurt, including the auto-thieves who escape on foot.

Mass text messaging ensues. Grey and I decide to split the day. We hold the Beats close, reflecting on how bad this could have been.

12:40 pm,  Thursday December 4th:
Last lecture for my course completed. Students have been given a take-home exam. Where previously there was excitement is now concern that I have written something that is impossible to complete. I assure them that it is very doable, but want them to work in groups to complete the exam. This clearly isn't what they have in mind.

10 am, Tuesday December 9th:
Meeting with one of the top STEM educators in the Seattle area who Grey now refers to as DRB. I've been bouncing off the walls for the past 48 hrs and clearly am driving Grey nuts (though he is amused too). Somehow I manage to calm myself to prepare.

DRB is amazing. Funny, smart, thoughtful and clearly 2-3 steps ahead of me. As we prepare tea, it is clear she is already trying to get an assessment of my goals and interests. She makes note of resources and people who I should get into contact with. She tells me that though she doesn't have anything at the moment with her team, she is thinking about the future and what is coming down the pipe. We talk about her work, how she got into STEM education research, her path and the importance of knowing when to transition and grow.

I spend the rest of the day buzzing from the meeting. I'm filled with hope. Grey teases me about my new crush.

3:15 pm, Thursday December 11th:
Finishing grading final exams and working on my final grade sheet. Get an email from E, my potential postdoc adviser in Boston, about the results of a recent grant application. "I can't even" she says before the forwarded message.

Find out that the review panel has decided this a worthy proposal that should be funded. But it will not be funded as there is currently no money. Options are to either accept rejection and resubmit (which take another 6 months for review) or to hang on and hope additional funds come through.

Email Grey asking how this is even possible? He points me to articles that talk about how decline in funding is causing a decline in US educational system. "People care more about apps than biomedical research."

E makes decision to wait to see if funding will come through. We chat about career choices and the future. Both of us are clearly discouraged.

8 pm, Monday December 15th:
Grey and I are exploring other childcare options. Though we adore the staff at our daycare, a combination of lack-of-space due to my schedule switching and the realities of how unsafe the location is is prompting us to look into hiring a nanny. Our meeting goes well with this potential nanny, who seems very qualified.

We're both nervous, though. It took us awhile to become comfortable with our current situation and we are concern about how changing childcare will impact the Beats. Is this really the best decision? Will this work out? Many questions to answer and research to pursue. I'm learning that there are situations where I really hate change.

8:30 am, Tuesday December 16th:
It's been a hard weekend. Grading finished and final grades have been submitted. I feel very beaten up after receiving a number of panicked emails from students about final grades. Many are upset and are now trying to figure out where they lost points. Some are pleading for a grade changes. These same students have evaded intervention all quarter.

I feel sick with having to respond and tell them that grades are final. Seeing the emails reminds me of grief and all that I experienced. I feel responsible for causing this panic and pain. Even though I can easily outline how points were earned and distributed. Though I was clear from the beginning about expectations. I'm left sympathizing and apologizing, wondering if I should have chased more of them down and warning them of the pending consequences.

All while I'm preparing for next quarter....

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The guilt of grades

There's a scene from the Simpson's I've been playing through my head the last couple of days. It's an episode where the teacher's are on strike, causing the elementary school to postpone classes. Bart is obviously thrilled, but Lisa is struggling despite her emergency preparedness kit. In this scene, Lisa is bouncing off the walls, demanding that someone grade her. Marge, looking around while clearly concerned, picks up a piece of paper, draws an "A" and hands it to her daughter. Only then is she appeased. Only then is there calm.

With the end of the quarter comes finalizing grades and submission. For as long as I can remember, these periods of transition have always been hotbeds of anxiety. As an undergrad, I remember the trauma that came with unexpectedly lower grades. The anxiety; the guilt; the confusion. Explanations always revealed the expected, but for some reason I consistently managed to get it into my head that I was performing better than expected in my courses. In graduate school, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the equation. I remember working with students who insisted up to the very end that they were fine and had a firm grasp of the material. All the while with me knowing that the excel sheet I had been generating wasn't reflecting this.

Grades are a hard thing. We use them as a metric for quality, assessing performance and potential. In the ALI community, someone declaring that they have grade "A" embryos brings on cheers and hope, while grade "B" gives anyone supporting pause, trying instead to figure out how to prepare for the potential failure that seems to be looming. We grade our food, our clothing, our schools and even our physicians. Grading is a norm within our society.

But what we don't consider is the negativity that comes with attaching a grade to a person. When we give someone an "A," we assume that they are smart. What isn't taken into consideration is that their performance may be due to their ability to grasp the material or other external factors. For example, I've had students who thrive in lecture-exam based courses. Their ability to absorb the material presented to them and spit it back out is impressive. But take these same students and put them into the lab, and it usually isn't long before meltdowns happen. On the flip, I've had students who do well with presentations and group work. They thrive in these social settings. Isolate them, though, for individual projects, and the work tends not to be as good.

One of the things I love about teaching is tapping into these learning styles. Within my field, there's been a lot of work to overhaul how we present information. The focus in more on learning goals and incorporating activities so that students learn how to apply the knowledge vs. stuffing their heads full of every little bit of information. With this overhaul has come more "ah-ha" moments; the moment where students put the information together in a manner that they understand it. Granted, there's a lot of upfront work, both for myself and the students (which tends to frustrate them), but the end result is often gratifying.

Despite this and the fact that I want every one of my students to succeed, I know that at the end of the day I have to assign grades. And even though I'm meticulous with my spreadsheets, clearly laying out where points are earned and distributed, I still have that way of anxiety and guilt when I'm in this process and days after I hit the submit button. Because I know that I will have students who are shocked by the outcome of the quarter. Disappointed that they didn't do better. And even though I will not have heard from them all quarter, I know in the next 48 hours I will suddenly have questions and requests for an explanation.

I'm struggling because I'm internalizing all of this. That I should have prevented this shock some of my students are experiencing. That I should have held more meetings, required weekly meetings to check in, been more clear about expectations and even had clearer rubrics (this one I will be working on during the break). What I'm trying to remember, though, is that sometimes failure is the best teacher. That we need to fail in order to reassess and relearn. Without failure, people become comfortable and are unwilling to expand. Failure can push us to make changes or try new things we otherwise wouldn't. Failure is usually what gives rise to success.

Obviously, none of that is sinking in at the moment. Instead I'm stuck with the guilt. How I hate grading.

Monday, December 8, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Quiver

There this moment each morning, just after I wake up but before I truly have my wits about me, where it feels like you can tune into the world. That half-dream, half-awake state where the weight of life hasn't clicked and one can simply take in their surroundings. I haven't had this moment in over a year as I've been waking to the cries of a hungry baby (or two), but with the Beats sleeping in longer it's been happening again.

In those moments of silence, there usually a peace that comes. Intoxicating, particularly on cold, clear mornings where there's temptation is simply crawl back under the covers in order to sneak in a few more moments of sleep. But there are other mornings where the air is filled with an electricity; an quivering signaling that change is on the horizon.

Today, I felt this quivering. This promise of change. All reflected in the light of the cold, clear moon. Hopefully a good omen for my interview tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


big world little feet
small hands will move to meet
your toys and sugar sweets
when you start to crawl

you'll use your hands and knees
go wherever you please
you cannot wait to be
big enough to crawl

 and everything will be right
 when you can walk upright
 down the stairs and the hall
but first you’ve gotta

flowers are purpley
big birds up in a tree
you’ll go outside and see
and try your best to crawl

the grass is tall and green
the grass is soft and clean
it's such a silly scene
as you learn to crawl

and everything will be nice
when your steps are precise
you won't lean on the wall
but first you’ve gotta

~Crawl by Caspar Babypants

Apparently She-Beat missed the memo on this. That crawling comes before cruising, pulling up and finally walking (or sprinting, which is her brother's favorite form of transportation at the moment). No, little girl has her own ideas.

This past week we've known something was coming. She-Beat has been in PT for about a month now, working on pulling up, cruising, standing and even walking. The thought is that because of tummy issues she's been resistant to get on all fours simply because if doesn't feel good (and may even hurt), hence why she hasn't been crawling. So the idea was to work backwards; starting first with cruising, walking and then working down to crawling.

The first few PT sessions were really good. We could see that she was working hard and was making some progress. But that all came to a halt when she got sick. Instead of working, the sessions were spent consoling her.

I've been feeling a lot of guilt with She-Beat not moving. Wondering if I had just forced more tummy time or worked with her more if all of this would have been circumvented. It hasn't helped that others have suggested that she's not moving because I've been working and sending her to daycare instead. With the fear and guilt has come isolation and anger.

Last week, though, she turned a corner. Suddenly she INSISTED on standing and moving her feet, whining while watching her brother climb the stairs or race through the room. Whereas before she was completely happy to be carried, now she pushes and turns herself so that she can get in a few steps to the car in the morning. And finally, she's starting to cruise. Granted, she doesn't get terribly far and it takes her awhile, but little girl is moving her feet. None of this has been perfect and there are moments where she meltdowns in frustration. Still, she's been trying.

This morning she had a surprise for me. Two weeks ago, we purchased a good walking toy for her (the type of brakes . . . can't emphasize how important those are). We've been having her stand with it, playing with all the buttons and levers. Today I noticed she was pushing it like she was trying to propel it forward. Unlike before, where unlocking it made her mad, I found her trying to disable the break. Taking a moment to steal myself, I positioned myself in front so that I could control the toy and then reached down to click the button to make the walker mobile.

In the past, She-Beat would have screamed if the toy moved. She would have leaned way forward and cried in protest. Today, she lifted one foot and moved it forward. And then did the same thing with her other foot. She repeated this process again and again and again until we were on the other side of the room.

We still have a long way to go. There's still working on her balance, getting her to move without support. She also needs to learn about supporting herself on her knees, which will allow her to master stairs and pulling up more easily. But today that doesn't matter. Today, my little girl is mobile. And I am so proud.

Monday, December 1, 2014

#MicroblogMondays - Peace

It's nap time here at Chateau Beat. One toddler is cutting new teeth, so unhappiness and need for cuddles is high. But nap time brings a quiet, that combined with the cold, reminds me of the Christmas carol Silent Night. As I watch these two angels sleep softly, breathing peacefully, the last two lines roll through my head.

Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.

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