Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy New Year

You may wonder what kind of weirdo calendar I'm following. Or, indeed, what I did with myself for several months.
The answer to the first question is that I always feel September first as the beginning of a new year. A vaste expanse of months, and weeks, and days, and minutes, in which I can try and experiment with something new, something better. This year I'm particularly energetic due to extremely long vacations (I will not tell you how long, lest you commit the sin of Envy).
The answer to the second is that I had very long vacations, and got to spend a lot of time with my children. This has led me to seriously reconsider my work strategy. I am now planning to reorganize so as to become more efficient and have more time for my kids. And for my husband. And for my students.
And, first and foremost, for myself. Happy New Year, everybody!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interesting days

I spent the best part of the weekend with five children (mine plus two 7-year-old classmates of the twins) and no grownup, since my husband is away for work reasons.
I managed to keep my sanity when at 8.30 am on Sunday morning I noticed that the heating wasn't working, and I had no clue how to fix it and no way to contact my husband (who regularly does so, it's a recurrent and trivial issue).
Luckily it started snowing (it never, ever snows!) so all the kids went out to play and I could search for the instructions: when they came back the heating was working.

It was actually wonderful: the boys played, sometimes together and sometimes separatedly, and I had time for a series of long chats with my daughter. She even admitted something I had suspected for a long time, namely that a "friend" of hers tells her she's fat. Now that this is out in the open, I can at least fight back.

Starting to work again and dealing with minor healthcare issues was also not very pleasant. I spent most of the last two days gulping painkillers, and most of today at a meeting - sorry, at two back-to-back meetings. I seem to be much better than I used to at being smiling and polite to people I consider royal a****les.

I even managed to sneak away for ten minutes for a glass of milk - and a discussion with my most brilliant student about how to prove a certain theorem she needs. She gave me the best clue (i.e., reference to a theorem by another genius student of mine) but then it was my turn to put the pieces together. My most brilliant student and I have had tons of communication problems, the main reason being that she's vastly smarter and faster than I (and of most others as well) and originaly didn't understand the purpose of slowing down and other social nicities like using different letters for different objects in a proof. Now we have adapted to each other and it's actually a joy talking to her. Unfortunately, our time together is almost over.

But most of all, I liked this. Sigh. I wish I could have voted for Obama, too. Especially compared with what we have to put up with in my country.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January madness

I spent most of the Christmas vacation visiting family members (actually my husband's family). It was pleasant and relaxing, and would have been perfect hadn't I gotten a really nasty sore throat on Christmas day. After some attempts to find a doctor who would be willing to make house calls, I found some antibiotics at home and just took them for a week. I'm happy to say that I'm feeling well and the rest of the family enjoyed perfect health.
Now the situation is as follows:
1) a long boring job I had planned to do during the vacation is still to do;
2) I'm teaching 8 hours/week, on two advanced courses that require a lot of preparation;
3) there are a number of funding deadlines in the very near future;
4) there are overdue papers to write;
5) there are submitted papers to rewrite;
6) there are a million of recommendation letters to write;
7) my daughter is getting dental braces soon;
8) my husband has communication issues with a student and needs (and gets) help;
9) I still have to plan a scientific trip which involves getting a visa.

On top of this, we are having the most appallingly bad (cold/windy) winter in 10+years..

I just want to curl up somewhere and sleep until spring comes.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mothers' choices

A lot has been said about the decision by Rachida Dati (french minister for justice) to go back to work five days after giving birth to her newborn. Most of what has been said was negative: concern over mother's and baby's wellbeing and bonding, lack (or reduction) of breastfeeding, and fear of backlash on all mothers who choose a more usual timetable.

Let me start by saying that my country has a compulsory maternity leave of several months - i.e., you can't go back to work, even if you want to, and you get full (or next to full) pay. I think this is a sound policy, but this is not what I want to discuss now.

A minister is not just "a woman doing a job". She is a person who has chosen a very special, very demanding career; like all such people, she chose it with her eyes open, and took into account that this might lead to some disruption in her family life - if she ever had a family. Nobody beats an eyelash if a politician moves to a different town and sees their children only occasionally, even for years.
Rachida Dati has chosen to go back to work, knowing that she is missing something; at the same time, she knows that her baby will be well taken care of (France has a solid culture of nannies, and I imagine that a minister can choose the best). If she chose not to breastfeed, or to supplement with formula, again it's her choice; it has some drawbacks, but most kids thrive just as well on formula.

And I don't understand the anger about her looking well; some women stay overweight after pregnancy, but not all do. I expect she chose to wear some kind of corset; it's not unhealthy, at most uncomfortable (and some women having had a c-section tell me it can actually help). Her shoes look indeed very uncomfortable, and possibly unhealthy, but in our culture nobody criticizes women for their stiletto heels.

Summing up, she's a woman whose choices are very different from mine, but they are imho reasonable and consistent choices, worthy of mine and everybody else's respect. I would like to live in a world were such either/or choices wouldn't be necessary, but pending a revolution, I'd rather blame the patriarchy than the women who have to deal with it. And Dati has shown ample ability to beat the odds against her.