Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Most Annoying Grammar Mistakes

1. "Between you and I." 

It's ME, dammit -- ME ME ME. Would you say, "Between she and they"? Of course not. So do you realize you sound like an IDIOT when you follow "between" with the subject "I" instead of the object "me"? 

2. "Companies who . . . " 

It's "companies THAT." "W ho" refers to people, not things. So don't come to me with tales of companies "who" care/make money/give back/etc. Not until you correct your grammar, anyway. 

3. "Feel free to contact myself or So-and-So." 

This is a standard closing sentence to company memos. For the record, "myself" is reflexive -- as in, "I asked myself why I was working for a company that, between you and me, accepts less than operational excellence." 

Here is an example of the correct way to use "myself."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Damn, I'm a WAHM

For those of you who don't know, that stands for Work-At-Home Mom. That's what I was today --normally I go into the office every day, but today we had a client meeting not far from my house, so I spent the morning in conference calls (and let me tell you, there's no more fabulous way to spend the morning!), then we drove out to a client's to take her to lunch. 

The experience brought back memories, good and bad, of the first seven months of Snookums' life, when I worked exclusively from home. At first I tried to make do without professional full-time help, filling in with relatives and the occasional babysitter. 

Big mistake. 

I quickly learned I couldn't possibly focus on my job without being able to hand Snookums off to someone so I wasn't endlessly distracted by the sound of her fussing from another room. 

But on those days when it was just the two of us, I'd often put her on the breast just to keep her quiet during a client call. Other times she'd be sleeping on my chest in the Bjorn while I edited documents and answered emails. 

She did that tonight, for auld lang syne, and after I knocked off work I decided to do some phone banking for the Obama campaign. In the midst of one of my calls she woke up and started babbling -- "goo ba di ba hee." 

It got me thinking: What if the next time I'm in a conference call I just let her talk? After all, what she's saying is about as meaningful as the stuff I hear all day in those calls -- "integrated solutions," "human capital," "customer-centric," "relentlessly focused on operational excellence." Goo ba di ba hee, indeed! 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mommy, Where Did I Come From?

My husband had surgery for prostate cancer last year. I don't know if you know this (I didn't), but prostate surgery renders you sterile. As in, you can't have kids. Up until then, he'd never wanted kids, but faced with the knowledge he'd never be able to have them, he changed his mind. 

So we started trying. And lo and behold, I got pregnant just a few weeks before his surgery was scheduled. 

That was then. Now that we have Snookums, we've decided she should have a sister or brother. And we wanted to do it right away -- before we thought about it too much, as Snookums' dad put it -- so the other day I found myself in the doctor's office awaiting IUI. 

IUI is the new name for artificial insemination. (Sort of like ADHD is the new hyperactive, Latino is the new Hispanic, etc.) Here's how it works: I injected myself with Repronex for six days, then gave myself a shot of hCG, the hormone that causes ovulation, the night before I went in for IUI. (Note: You don't have to take fertility drugs to have IUI, but given my age and the fact that we only have a limited number of sperm samples banked, my doctor thought it was best.) 

On the morning of my IUI appointment, I arose, cursing, at 5:30 a.m., in time for my 7:30 appointment. Out on the street, I marveled at how many people were on their way to work -- already there were hardly any seats on the bus. On the way, I listened to a subliminal recording on my iPod. 

At the doctor's office, I waited in a tiny room while he defrosted my husband's sperm samples (which had arrived in some sort of liquid nitrogen tank). The procedure itself was clinical and totally painless. It's basically like getting a Pap smear -- he opened me up with a speculum and squirted the sperm inside me with a syringe. 

Couldn't he at least have played some Barry White?  

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Survive the Coming Depression

As much as I'm required to use the word "leverage" in my day job, I don't believe in it. That is, I don't believe in holding debt. I always pay my credit card (yes, I only have one) bill in full. My mortgage is less than $1,200 a month. (I was lucky to have bought my house in 1999, before the market went crazy, but I also bought it in a neighborhood I could afford. ) 

I drive a 14-year-old car.  I don't have cable TV. Until a few months ago, I had a dial-up Internet connection that cost only $10 per month. (Now that I have high-speed wireless, it's about twice that.) With freelance income, I make close to six figures. Yet I recently started bringing lunch from home because I decided I could no longer afford the $30-plus per week I was shelling out. 

Why do I live so frugally? Partly, it's just my nature. (As a kid, I spent a lot of time tagging along on my parents' visits to thrift shops and flea markets.) But the reality is, my salary goes to pay for health insurance (which my employer barely covers) and my nanny (who works about 55 hours a week). 

And that's what pisses me off about the economic mess we're in. From Wall Street fat cats to deadbeat homeowners, it seems everyone is going to get bailed out but me -- when it's people like me who should be rewarded, because we had the sense to actually live within our means. 

For instance, in my working-class to lower-middle-class neighborhood, a suspicious number of people drive new cars, often leased. Can they really afford them? In at least one case, I know they can't -- one of my neighbors confessed recently that her husband declared bankruptcy last year. Yet the last time I saw her, she was driving a brand-new SUV. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Am Winston Smith

The new performance management tool is doubleplusgood! Head and shoulders above the 3.0 version! 

The new performance management tool is a definite improvement over the 3.0 version, but it still needs work. We have received excellent feedback from employees and are addressing their concerns! 

Given that the new performance management tool was rolled out two months ago, there is no particular reason to publicize it right now. Let's cancel publication of the intended article! 

This is how I spent my day as an editor, sorting through these points of view, changing copy to reflect the orthodoxy of the moment and tossing the old copy down the memory hole. In this world, "high level" means "low level" -- as in the following editor's note: "I don't understand what XXX means. At the very least we need a high-level definition." 

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who Wants to See Me Naked?

The people at my office evidently do. Yesterday, I was in the supply closet, strapped to my Medela Pump in Style, when someone gave a single knock on the door. 

Thinking I might be hearing things, I hollered, "Hello!" over the Medela's incredibly loud motor. The next thing I knew some guy was barging his way in. (The door doesn't lock.) 


Note: I have a sign on the door. It says, "If the door is closed, please knock. Do NOT enter without knocking first." 

Now, I admit I didn't shout, "GO AWAY!!" when he knocked. This is, after all, a workplace, and I was trying to be polite. But I didn't exactly say, "Come right in! I'm not doing anything -- I'm just sitting here, with little vacuum cleaners attached to my nipples!" 

Maybe my sign should have been more explicit. Maybe it should have said, "Do NOT enter without knocking first, unless you have an uncontrollable desire to see your co-worker's breasts smashed into small funnels and squeezed like pastry bags." 

Monday, October 20, 2008

If Babies Could Talk

Like a lot of mothers, I often think, "If only Snookums could talk! I can't wait till she talks!" But today I realized what life would be like if she actually could talk: 

Me: Snookums, I'm home!


Me: OK, just a minute. Let me wash my hands and take off my coat. 

Snookums: NO!!!! Want milk NOW!! NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!!!! (Crawls over to me and starts tearing my blouse open.) 

Me: OK, OK, OK. Just a sec. (Opens bra, removes breast.) 

Snookums: YAY!!! MILK WHITE THIRSTY GOOD WHITE WHITE WHITE... (Puts nipple in mouth. Stops talking.) 

(Five minutes pass.) 

Snookums: (Pushes away breast, stares at nipple.) Need MORE MILK!!!! MORE MORE MORE MORE!!!! (Pulls my hair, pinches me.) MORE MILK NOW!!!!! 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Methi Lab

Last night I finally tried fenugreek -- or, as the Indians call it, methi. I had bought some frozen at an Indian store and heated it in the microwave and served it with olive oil and a little lemon juice. It tasted pretty good -- a bitter green, not unlike mustard greens or watercress. 

And, as promised, it does promote lactation. About six hours after nursing Snookums, I was able to pump a full bottle of breast milk.  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Voices Carry

Snookums has been hearing a lot of different voices lately. Last night she heard the voice (and piano) of Tris McCall (shown at left), the self-styled "emo-politico" singer-songwriter whose music celebrates, or excoriates -- it's sometimes hard to tell which -- the faces and places of New Jersey, from Bret Schundler to the Echo Queen. And a couple of nights ago I took her to another debate party, where the voices of Obama, McCain, Bob Schieffer and about 20 of my neighbors kept her up well past her bedtime. 

She appeared to enjoy the Tris McCall concert; she was asleep when we got there but woke up during the applause. Instead of crying, she sat in her stroller and listened quietly. Maybe this could be a new version of Mommy and Me classes. 

I just read a Vanity Fair interview with Amy Adams (I'm still not sure who she is, but she's on the cover, made up to look like Rita Hayworth) where she mentioned that growing up, she and her siblings went everywhere with their parents, who couldn't afford childcare. Her father was a nightclub singer and the whole family would go see him perform -- often in bars. Amy's take:  "It was actually very helpful for kids to have to adapt to the adult surroundings, rather than making the whole world about the children." 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Plane Truth

I went to a talk the other night given by Barbara S. Peterson, an investigative journalist who went undercover as an airport screener with the TSA. It was fascinating to hear her insider's view of the convoluted bureaucracy and still-primitive security methods. (You can read her article about it here.) 

Because I'm writing an article about the challenges breastfeeding women face when traveling, I asked her if she'd had any experiences screening breast milk. She said she hadn't personally, but did know that a woman passing through security was once made to taste her own breast milk. It turns out the officer who made the woman do this was privately employed; the TSA spokesman I interviewed said this had never been TSA policy. 

I forgot to ask him, however, why the TSA made Snookums remove her shoes... 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's All Fenugreek to Me

My milk production hasn't been as efficient lately. I used to be able to produce two bottles (at least 10 ounces) of milk in three pumpings a day -- twice at work and once more around 11 p.m. before retiring. 

Then again, Snookums is 10 months old now, so maybe she doesn't need as much milk. Or maybe I'm stressed out, or maybe it's the fertility drug I started taking yesterday. Anyway, I'd still like to breastfeed Snookums for at least two more months, so I started drinking Mother's Milk herbal tea. One of its ingredients is fenugreek (pictured at left), which is supposed to increase lactation. 

A friend and I went shopping in Jersey City's Little India last weekend and she bought some fresh fenugreek, which Indians call methi. I was fascinated because I'd never seen the plant before. I bought some frozen methi, which I'll use tomorrow to make a vegetarian curry with tofu and coconut milk.  And maybe the milk will rain down. . . 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Snookums, the Sequel

Last night I had a dream that started out a nightmare but ended up being the best dream ever. I was pregnant, in the very early stages of pregnancy, riding in the back seat of a car being driven by a sort of hippie dude who appeared to be a family friend. He started singing some cowboy song -- I think it was "Git along, little dogies" -- and at that same moment, the car radio started playing the same song. As he was exclaiming on the cosmicness of the coincidence, I suddenly felt a slight pain and something fall out of me. I realized I'd miscarried, and my sister rummaged around on the floor of the car and pulled out a dead fetus, a boy, only a few inches long. At first I was so sad, but as my sister and I were holding him he came back to life, so I took him and opened my shirt so he could press against my bare chest. I thought how lucky I was to have a brother for Snookums, with no labor pains and without having to take drugs

Monday, October 13, 2008

Modern Motherhood

At the office today, I came out of the little back room/storage closet where I pump breastmilk to find a woman I'd never seen before sitting in the office kitchen, breastfeeding her son. She acted very embarrassed when I walked by and apologized. I said, "You don't have to apologize to me," and explained how I pump milk every day in the storage closet. I picked up her son and started playing with him when her cell phone rang, so I ended up babysitting for about 10 minutes while she discussed business with a client.

When she hung up, Renata introduced herself and told me her story. She's a single mother who recently moved from New York City to Las Vegas and has her own PR/events company. She takes her baby everywhere she goes and frequently comes back East for business -- she's in New York now helping plan a fashion show. Her client here had "freaked out" when she started breastfeeding her son in the client's office, so Renata moved out to the kitchen where I had met her. 

I told her I was amazed she could work full time and raise a baby, with no help. She said she'd recently hired an elderly lady from Poland to help her out and that most of her job involved phone work -- not writing, like mine (which is completely incompatible with having a baby around, and the reason I have a full-time nanny). "I want it all, you know?" she went on. "A career, a baby . . . It makes you tolerate less bullshit. You just don't work for the clients who don't pay." 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tykes on a Plane, Part II

Snookums and I flew back to Newark today from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. With each trip, I'm getting more adept at traveling with a baby. So here are some more helpful tips: 
  • Wear a sling/baby carrier. This comes in handy at security, so you can pass through the metal detector hands free. It's also useful at the gate -- once you've gate-checked your infant car seat and stroller, put baby in the carrier so you can get on the plane hands free. 
  • Put your car seat face down on the conveyor belt. When you go through security, you'll have to put both the stroller and the car seat on the conveyor belt, along with everything else you're carrying (except the baby!). Car seat goes face down. 
  • Breastmilk, formula, juice and baby food are all permitted in your carry-on luggage. The TSA allows "reasonable quantities" of these items. They don't say what that means (I asked a TSA spokesman and the answer is it's up to the discretion of the officer, depending on how long you're traveling), but nobody questioned anything I had with me. 
  • Use an overnight diaper. There may not be a changing table in the plane's bathroom on your plane; there wasn't on mine, so I ended up having to change the baby on the floor on top of some airplane blankets. Next time, I'll put an overnight diaper on her so I don't have to change her at all for several hours. Heck, I might even wear one myself. 
  • During takeoff and landing, baby must be seated in your lap, not in the sling/carrier. I personally don't think this rule makes much sense -- I find it much harder and less safe to try to hold a squirming baby on my lap with no assistance from the Gods of Bjorn. Luckily, my flight attendant said Snookums could stay in the Bjorn, provided I wrapped both my arms around her tight during takeoff and landing. But this evidently isn't the official FAA rule; I plan to ask the FAA about this and will report back once I learn more. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

About the Title...

I originally called this blog "Do You Hear Voices?" because I first thought it up in the pre-Snookums days, when I was singing at open mics in Manhattan and also going out to hear a lot of music. It was supposed to be about all these different "voices" I was hearing -- sort of a combination of a diary and music criticism. Then I got pregnant, and it became about how your baby can supposedly hear your voice before she's born.

It was also influenced by my job at the time, writing for a magazine where we could never say anything honest because we were beholden to advertisers and suppliers. So I could never write, for example, about what happened the time I flew Tarom, the Romanian national airline, to Bucharest for a business trip:

As we were seated in the plane waiting to take off, the music system was playing Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb." Then, as soon as we were in flight, all the Romanians on board (which was everyone but our little group of five American journalists) commenced smoking. So one of us called the flight attendant over and pointed out that all international Tarom flights were supposed to be non-smoking. Cryptically, she replied, "Yes, but . . . not yet."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tykes on a Plane

I just traveled today with Snookums from Newark Airport to Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati Airport. Here are some tips for traveling with babies:

  1. Bring a giant garbage bag. Not for the baby, for the infant car seat, to protect it when you check it. Unfortunately, I forgot mine. Fortunately, they let me gate-check my car seat (which I wheeled through the airport on one of those universal-fit stroller thingies). Even more fortunately, when I got to the gate the plane was empty so they let me sit next to an empty seat and strap Snookums' car seat into it.

  2. No shoes. Not even for baby. Yep, those wise souls at the TSA made Snookums remove her little rabbit slippers, just in case the terrorist tot decided to try to blow them up while we were in flight. Not only that, but they made her take them off herself, with no assistance from Mommy! (OK, that last part was a joke. But the rest of it wasn't.)

  3. Pack plenty of food. While we were on the plane waiting to take off, Snookums consumed an entire banana, half a container of stewed pears and a bottle of juice. She started fussing the minute she finished each item, so when I ran out of food I gave her a copy of the SkyMall magazine, causing her to squeal with delight for several minutes before finally passing out.
  4. If you buy travel insurance, do it before leaving home. OK, this isn't a tip for traveling with babies, but it's good to know. Right before leaving I realized I was going to have to pack my laptop in my checked bag, so I decided to call Travelguard for a "pack and go" policy in case the laptop got broken or stolen. I've bought these policies many times before, usually calling from the airport while waiting for my flight. But this time the agent asked where I was calling from. When I told her I was en route, she said the policy wouldn't be valid because I'd left home already. Go figure.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pump Up the Jam

I recently read an article about how Sarah Palin used to take her baby Trig to her job at the governor's office and breastfeed him during conference calls.

I thought this was cool because a couple of months ago I was doing the same thing. I worked from home for about the first six months of Snookums' life, while she was really tiny and needed to nurse all the time. I'd often have her propped on pillows in front of me while I was conference-calling with some corporate client like Accenture or Bayer. They never knew.

Now I'm going into the office and since I'm not the governor, I can't bring Snookums with me. So twice a day, I go and sit in a storage room for about 15 minutes while I pump breastmilk. (It's not as bad as it sounds -- in our old office, I had to pump in the bathroom.) I've done entire interviews while doing this -- the other day, I interviewed a guy from Colonial Williamsburg and a spokesperson for the TSA, my cell phone in one hand and my Medela Pump in Style in the other.

A lot of mothers have told me their brain didn't seem to work as fast once they had a baby. I never understood this -- the only thing slowing me down was lack of sleep and even with that, I was still able to function pretty well. Was it because these mothers didn't have to work? I wondered.

Sarah Palin agrees. "To any critics who say a woman can't think and work and carry a baby at the same time," she says in the article, "I'd just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave."

But when I repeated this quote to my husband, he thought for a minute and then asked, "But shouldn't she be escorting them out of the cave?"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Boo Who?

Took Snookums to a debate-watching party last night. She had fallen sound asleep on my chest in the Bjorn, but of course the minute I transferred her to the stroller she woke up. When we got to the party I put her back in the Bjorn, but every time she dozed off the crowd would boo at something stupid McCain said -- like when he called Obama "that one" -- and she'd wake up.

I felt a little guilty because she ended up going to sleep much later than she normally would. Then again, she's been keeping me up for, oh, the past 10 months or so. Now maybe she'll understand what it's like!