Saturday, May 28, 2011

Interna

Lara and Gloria are now five months old. They have made a lot of progress in coordinating their movements. They can now grab and hold things, including other peoples' noses and glasses, and they try to hold their bottles and spoons. We've bought some first picture books and they look with big eyes at the images while Stefan and I practice Swedish vocabulary: En elefant, två körsbär, tre ballonger, fyra muffins... Yesterday, Gloria rolled over for the first time.

Stefan makes an admirable stay-at-home daddy, who has even taken on the pretty much futile task of folding my T-shirts and pairing my socks. I meanwhile am back sitting in seminars, talking physics over coffee, sorting though piles of papers. Unfortunately, I still seem to spend a lot of time on the phone with the social insurance who still hasn't paid a single cent of my parental benefits. It turned out that they mistakenly believed I had moved out of country. The good news of the week is that I received a letter confirming I am indeed still insured with them and hope now things will finally be sorted out. It's about time since my account balance has been monotonically decreasing since October and the pain at the pump is substantial.

If you're a parent it is almost unavoidable that friends send you all sorts of baby-related information. Here are some of the more interesting articles that I came across: If your baby sleeps more than usual, expect a growth spurt, Statistically, mothers of twins live longer than other moms (it's a correlation, not a causation), for women with jobs that require a high skill level, having children significantly reduces their average lifetime income, and Nature Jobs reports that the gender divide in physics spans the globe:

"Balancing motherhood and work continues to be the biggest career challenge for women. Carola Meyer, an investigator at the Peter Grünberg Institute in Jülich, Germany, and vice speaker of the German Physical Society's gender-equality working group, says that although institutes and funding bodies provide career breaks for people who wish to have children, such schemes don't necessarily ease the balancing act. Women hold 17% of the 42 positions at her institute — a relatively large proportion, says Meyer. Yet all are under 40 and have no children. Those who want to rise within the scientific community can't consider having children until they are established, she says."

That stinks like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me clean up the stink by a quotation from the (otherwise cute but unremarkable) movie "Little Miss Sunshine" (that I watched on a flight on the way to some conference):
"Do what you love, and fuck the rest."

21 comments:

Christine said...

Well, I would have said: "Do what you love, but only if you have a very, very, very good supporting husband". Think how your life as a mother would be now without Stefan...

Many mothers simply cannot count on their husbands that way. I'd even claim that most fathers, while helping a little here and there, continue their lives as nothing has happened. Their careers go unchanged. They are back to their works 1 week after their babies are born. And continue from there.

Best,

Christine

Christine said...

BTW, what is "the rest", anyway? I don't want to sound harsh, but "do what you love" should not only include profession, but also family. It is inevitable that priorities must be set, of course. Each of us has choices to make. Some mothers simply have limited options. Your perspective may not be the most representative of the common situation.

Best,

Christine

Bee said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to be offensive, I was just trying to say career and money are not things that interest me very much. I don't know what's the point of telling women having children isn't good for their career, esp. in a country with such a low reproduction rate as Germany. It's not like that statement "Those who want to rise within the scientific community can't consider having children until they are established" was more than vaguely based upon past data. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Hm, thanks for clarifying.

In terms of not caring much about money or career, we share the same view. Life is too short and there are much more important things to be worried about. Although one cannot live without some money these days. Specially with children. Except if one is willing to live in a tribe or something. In any case, I have always tried to direct my life towards "doing what I loved", but at some point it became clear that it was an illusion of my younger self.

BTW the babies look great!

Best,

Christine

Steven Colyer said...

Balancing work and family is the toughest things we do in life, and the toughest jobs we'll ever love.

Best to all parents everywhere. I don't know how we do it some days, but we do it.

Uncle Al said...

Beginning in 1965, the United States legislated to end procreation of intelligent people, the "Great Society." Schooling became interminable and its cost obscene, for some. Deserving others were fed for free, into obesity. University admissions and funding were rerouted to "diversity" (admission for reason of disqualification). Employment empowered diversity to the specific exclusion of objective ability.

What the worst gluttonously acquired by Federal fiat and subsidy the best were taxed into penury to provide. Rather than foster brilliance we allocated for its suppression. Few Federal programs in the past 200 years have succeeded - this one magnificently so.
Today's America has fallen under economic cloudy days. One cannot imagine why. Our most diverse people are in charge of eveything - and cannot be fired. We must redouble our efforts to elevate the deserving and suppress those who would steal from them by dint of personal productivity.

21 March 2011: Many expected "the Rapture," the ultimate diversity perquisite. Uncle Al was eager to shoot skeet. Immortality has no impetus to improve.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

1 + 1 = 4
... R. Buckminster Fuller

Meant figuratively, in the case of Bee and Stefan's family, it is literally true.

stefan said...

Dear Christine,


I don't know about the situation in Brazil, but in Germany, legislation is encouraging fathers to take time for their newborn kids.

You are, for example, entitled to have a reduction of your working hours, and there is a partial compensation by social security for the loss of earnings by working part-time or even pausing completely (this is for the salary of 14 months, which have to be shared by both parents).

What's even more important, the company I work for and my boss were very supportive, and readily agreed to the time schedule we had set up for this year. I highly appreciate that, and understand that it can not be taken for granted.

Best regards,

Stefan

Christine said...

Hi Stefan,

Interesting, thanks for the information. No, here in Brazil the situation is completely different. The father has the right to leave for 1 week after the child's birth. The mother, if nothing has changed since the last time I checked, for 4 months. By current legislation.

The incentive here is not to have manh children. Birth rate has been decreasing in Brazil. I do not have data here, but certainly is much higher than in Germany or EU in general.

I contract a lady to clean my house. She is 44 years old. She has 6 children. And she became a *grandmother* at age 31. Yes. She has 5 grandchildren. Her older "child" is actually 28 years old.

I used to contract another lady previously. She said that when she was younger, she had to leave her 5 year old son alone at home the whole day while she worked.

But things are getting better in Brazil! Yes, that's true, but it is still very difficult for many women.

Whrn my son was born. I was still a PhD student, and my husband, a job. I had to suspend my grant for about 5 months. I have learned that recently graduate students with newborns have now some privileges and do not need to suspend their grants anymore.

Let me take this opportunity to say again that the twins look great, congratulations!

Best,

Christine

Christine said...

Sorry for the typos and dry words in my previous post. I'm writing from a mobile phone.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Stefan,

So nice to find a few words written in comment by the other half of those whose worldlines are crossed. It has certainly been a rough number of months and yet the result is you and Bee now find yourselves at last together and for a reason which couldn’t be better. That is with looking at Gloria and Lara what better reason could there possibly be.

Moreover, you and Bee should be commended for caring to have children at this time, such as it being placed above your own career ambitions. My personal view being is for the vast majority of employers and the employed as having not yet realized how technology has made the world more of a non local place, as then not being as dependent upon as to where we are physically. This is one time I find that although the infrastructure is there to make things possible as never before, the imagination and the will needed to act respective of this potential has not yet materialized. I then consider you both as brave pioneers, venturing into uncharted new lands for which others after will owe you their gratitude.

So I would like to suggest that choosing quality over quantity can never be a bad decision and further no reason to believe that such can’t be so for other thing you find as being the same.

”Wer nimmt das Kind an der Hand nimmt die Mutter durch das Herz.”

-Danish Proverb

Best,

Phil

GMP said...

Bee and Stefan,

Would you mind commenting on the availability of early childhood childcare in Germany and Sweden? I heard it's very hard to find centers to take care of your kid before the age of 2 or 3 in Germany, but I may be mistaken.

As you may know, in the US a woman working for a company with 50 employees or more is allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Many people cannot afford to go that long unpaid and go back early and/or use disability or vacation time (which pays). There are however daycare centers taking kids as young as 6 weeks, although they can be extremely expensive and especially hard to find spots for infants. I am a faculty and my contract is 9 months, I have no vacation time and there is certainly no maternity leave per se, but so far I have been able to time two out of three kids (one is 4 and other to be born end of June) to be born in the summer. They both started/will started daycare at 3-4 months of age, in the fall; for an infant monthly daycare costs almost as much as my grad students make in a month (about $1,400). And I don't even live on either coast where I hear daycare is much more.

Bee said...

Hi GMP,

At present there isn't much I can say, except we should look into that... In Germany the situation is different from state to state and sometimes even from district to district. The places we asked, daycare is pricey, around EUR 400 per child (though you get a discount on the 2nd child) and they typically take the children 2 years and up. In Sweden we're being told daycare is subsidized and something like EUR 160 per month (including meals) and they take the children as soon as they can walk. I don't know how long the waiting lists are. I know from anecdotes that in Germany you preferably sign up for the waiting list as soon as you're pregnant. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

"Money is the root of all evil" is a misquote. From the Bible, from Timothy comes the correct quote:
"The LOVE OF money is the root of all evil." I second that motion.

On all this maternal/paternal leave stuff, it's getting better all over, I think. It had to with all the double-income families in The West. Twas a time that double-income meant a very nice lifestyle. Then the real estate market took notice and up shot the price of homes. Now two incomes are needed just to stay afloat.

Money <== it ain't everything, but it sure comes in handy when it's time to pay the bills. It's not a "thing" like say a "solid." More like a fluid. Here she comes and ... there she goes. Woosh!

@ Bee and Stefan - agreed with Christine the girls are adorable. Seeing pics of them transports me back in time when my own young-uns were that age. As we age our brains fill up with so memories we don't forget so much as repress the older ones in lieu of the newest ones.

And they said time travel was impossible. Alert Kip Thorne!:)

Ulla said...

I just want to say that Stefan is a good dad, that takes the trouble to get to learn the children. They need most of all TIME to attach, and fathers as well as mothers are obligued to this.

Although it seems troublesome now, the effort will be rewarded later :)

Plato said...

The income is always important for the family...and however that comes about....makes for the right decision as to who stays home and who works.

As to the nature of babies crying, you may have to become a baby whisperer.

Of course we are talking about the baby cries them self...what are they saying? I am hungry...I have soiled myself...I need a hug.....oh they're s a burp in there.....your feeding me to fast.:)

It's all in the crying.

Best,

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

Yes, for sure, things are different in Brazil than they are in Europe. But the greater income homogeneity and social security in Europe also means for example there's no way we'd be able to afford a cleaning lady or buy a house as you can. I'm not complaining, just saying, the grass is always greener on the other side. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

Yes, it would be impossible for us to contract someone or afford a house in EU or USA. Impossible!

In Brazil, OTOH, it very is common to contract someone for cleaning one's house, or a gardener, as we do here. You don't have to be a millionaire for that! On the contrary. I'd say it is even a cultural thing.

There are in fact many people available for the service, as there are many miserable people in need for a job, and I gladly contract them as I know I am helping them. If you contract someone here for at least 2 days per week, you must give them benefits according to the law, like minimum salary, vacation, etc.

So the lady that I contract (that one I mentioned before, with 6 children and 5 grandchildren already at 44 years old -- and she did not have that big family because she wanted, but for pure ignorance, which propagates to her next generation), at least she has a job. She has no educational level to get anything better. And I help her with many other things. Like all my son's toys (which he is no longer interested), or clothes (which do not fit him anymore), go to her family. Etc.

The very unequal wealth distribution is horrible here in Brazil. There are a few extremely millionaire people, and a horde of poor people, with a medium class that is nevertheless growing stronger. Things are getting better in Brazil for the medium a lower classes, as they are getting more job opportunities. The major problem in Brazil today is education.

The lady I contract has a good mobile phone, as strange as it seems. One can purchase anything for credit here. Everyone has some credit. I hope this is not a bubble, but as the economy grows, things may just go on fine.

BTW, my son went to a day care provider at about 6 months old. There are many such providers available. For a good one, you would pay the equivalent of about $400-500 per month per baby, from 8 am to 5 pm. It's heartbreaking for the parents, but the care providers are very good professionals. As Brazilian are typically very warm people, the babies do receive a lot of attention and cheerfulness.

Ah, the grass is always greener at the other side, how true. There is no perfection indeed. How good it would be to mix the best of EU with the best of Brazil! What a dream!

Best,

Christine

Christine said...

One more example of how things are getting better in Brazil: the gardener that I contract used to come to work by bike. It is an environmentally friend solution, but he lived too far away and had to carry heavy tools. But one year ago he purchased a used, but good car (ethanol-based, like most cars here). A gardener purchasing a car would be unimaginable a few years ago. Not only this, but he also sub-contracted *himself* another guy to help him with the work! To complete this story, he plays the violin (in a local orchestra), which is however by all Brazilian standards too uncommon. I hope more and more such examples start to appear.

Best

Christine