Final Thoughts on my PhD Experience

Last month I got a survey in my email called the AEA Climate survey. I only bothered to open it because I thought it would be something related to environmental economics. (While I don’t consider myself part of the economics community anymore, my current job is marginally related to environmental economics, plus it is just a topic that I still find interesting.)

Turns out it was about the other kind of climate, i.e. discrimination and harassment within economics, but I decided to take the survey anyway. I was never sexually harassed during grad school (probably some combination of everyone being super respectful and my un-sexy motherhood), but I thought I would share with you all what I wrote in response to an open-ended question about whether we ever felt discriminated against. (I don’t remember the exact wording of the question but it was something along those lines.)

“My main issues came from the fact that I was raising children while I was in grad school.  I originally wanted to do time series research, but our time series professor had a reputation as someone who expected his grad students to work super long hours, and I obviously couldn’t do that since I had a toddler and a baby.  I had heard stories of professors (including this one) dropping grad students after years if they were not successful enough.  I didn’t want to take my chances and end up getting dropped, so I went with someone else, which meant changing my field. I would not describe this situation as active discrimination, per se, since I never made a strong effort to work with this professor.  However, one could make an argument that non-support is a form of passive discrimination at some level. If you want to make the decision that mothers are not welcome in graduate school, then fine, but otherwise an acknowledgement has to be made that mothers/primary caregivers do not have as many hours in the day to devote to graduate school and have other challenges, including financial challenges, and make at least some tiny effort to support them. In general, I felt the need to hide the fact that I was a primary caregiver, due to the competitive work culture.  I never saw any evidence that the department wanted to support parents or make us (well, mainly me – I was the only female parent in our department, and the men were never the primary caregiver) feel welcome. I’m not suggesting that the department should have bent over backwards for me, but even just a small gesture, like someone reaching out to ask how things are going, would have made a huge difference.”

I wrote this in a hurry, so it wasn’t incredibly well thought-out, and I hope it doesn’t sound super whiny. It is all true, though! Honestly, sometimes I wish I had been a little more of a trailblazer and tried to force one of those “tough” professors to accept that I had maybe 20 hours a week (at best!) to devote to research and take me on as a student anyway. But I did what I could with the personality that I have. I like to think that just existing in that space as a mom, and especially as an autism mom, helped in some minuscule way to move the needle in the right direction.

Law-mom: Econ-mom, actually, from a legal standpoint, I think you were discriminated against. In the law, what you experienced is a called a “disparate impact,” this “passive discrimination” that you refer to. It’s when certain policies or employment structures have a “disparate impact” on only certain groups of people. Of course, to *prove* that in the court of law is a whole other ball of wax. But, being a woman who understands most of what you experience as a mother in today’s culture, I believe that your department’s policies probably had a disparate impact on women–namely, in this case, women who are also caretakers. Of course, a huge percentage of women of a certain age *are* also caretakers. So, they are nearly synonymous terms.

I say, good for you for saying something! I am sure there are people in that department who have probably never thought about that issue before in their life.

What Do ‘Laziness’ and ‘Productivity’ Mean?

Last week, my opinions were gently criticized on Conan Tanner’s podcast¬† regarding something I said or wrote about laziness (around 1:48:10). I would like to gently respond to that criticism. ūüôā¬†

When I was interviewed by Conan on his podcast, he asked me what I thought about a mandatory minimum income (around 1:02). I don’t think this is what Dr. Salinger was referring to when she referenced my prior comments about laziness, but Conan thought it was (so he told me later).  I think Dr. Salinger was referring to my above-linked blog post.  (I would like to thank her for being a MOE Reader!) Regardless of which comment(s) she was referring to, I will respond to both possibilities.

Truthfully, I had never given the concept of a mandatory minimum income much thought prior to my discussion with Conan. When he asked me about it, I said I would “play devil’s advocate” and noted that I wasn’t crazy about the idea of paying for people who sat around all day doing absolutely nothing. But after that, Conan challenged me, and I came around. He noted that if people have their basic needs met, they are less likely to do harm, with which I wholly agree. However you interpret my comments that day, everything I said on Conan’s podcast was pure contemplation. My ideas were not well-developed. I was merely thinking out loud. (My ideas are still not well-developed on the subject, and I invite further conversation about it. I would love to talk about it with Econ-Mom, who I would expect to have well-substantiated views on the subject.) 

Later, however, I did formulate some of my feelings about laziness (as a general topic) in the above-linked blog post. That post was in response to something Conan said while he was talking with Econ-Mom. I do not remember if it was said in the context of talking about mandatory minimum income (and I’m not going to go find out because I cannot remember where in the podcast it was said). Regardless, my response was solely to something that Conan said: “What is so wrong with being lazy?” To which I said: “Everything.” 

Let me emphasize something about that opinion: it is based largely on *feelings.* I can have feelings about something and still, rationally, come to a different conclusion about things. So, I *feel* like it is inherently unfair for some lazy people to get something for nothing. (The Little Red Hen agrees with me.) But that does *not* mean that I do not believe in social welfare. I believe in social welfare because I care about people. And I know that many people require assistance because they are just down on their luck. Furthermore, most people, including myself and my family, are just one or two tragedies or emergencies away from homelessness and bankruptcy. I am incredibly fortunate that I *can* work. I am blessed with a healthy, functioning body that allows me to do things. I know people who are unable to work because of their health issues, and it is *not* their choice. And they are *not* lazy. In fact, I bet some of the most struggling people are some of the hardest working, most industrious, and least lazy people on the planet. 

That brings me to what I really wanted to write about: What does laziness mean?  To me, laziness means selfishness and entitlement. It means not lifting a finger to help out when others are tirelessly working to help you and serve you. Laziness means not making the most of one’s abilities and/or not making the most of a day and what it brings to the table. It means expecting others to do something for you. It does not mean resting or relaxing after working a long day. It does not mean exploring hobbies or being creative.

We can also ask, what does productivity mean? To me, it does not mean productivity for the sake of productivity. It does not mean working oneself to the bone in the pursuit of the dollar or personal achievement. For me, productivity means taking care of what needs to be done. Because *someone* needs to do it. I put in long, tiring days because I have to. Food needs to be put on the table. A roof needs to stay over our heads. Kids need to be tended to and cared for. Clothes need to be cleaned. Homes require a basic level of cleanliness or chaos and squalor result. To me, productivity is the sheer force of necessity. It is not the mindless pursuit of acquisition and achievement. 

So, those are my terms and how I think about them and define them. Econ-Mom: What do you think? 

Econ-Mom has given me permission to post her response email to me:

“I read the post quickly yesterday….All I can say at this point is that I’m clearly too “productive” to do anything!! I just freaked out this morning because I couldn’t find the Xmas card for DH’s aunt. I’m pretty sure I put it in the mail with the other cards, but it’s supposed to go to Canada and will not get there on one stamp!! ūüôĀ ARRGH….Holidays!!!! 

But I will try to write an actual response soon, I promise!! ūüôā Or, if you want to publish with a note that Econ-Mom was too “productive” to respond, I’m fine with that too!”

Day 43: Health Journey Status Update

Hello, MOE Readers. I found the time on my lunch break the other day to write this. It was an overcast day, and I chose to skip my daily walk because I have turned into a Weather Wimp. And no, I have not actually kept track of the number of days since I decided to cut sugar and gluten out of my diet. I just Googled how many days have passed since I first posted about my decision. ūüôā

Progress: I have lost 6 pounds, and my pain continues to remain minimal. I have been doing 10-15 minutes of yoga 2-3 times per week, and walking 30-60 minutes almost every day. I saw my new doctor last month, and he thinks I may have an under-performing thyroid. (Interesting.) I still need to get the blood work done since my appointment; but once I do, I should get some answers. I’ll keep you posted.

Those of you who keep up on our Facebook page (and if you don’t, please consider liking the page) may have seen my more regular updates since Day 1 and know that, save for one minor slip-up, I did stick to the no (low) sugar and no gluten for the three weeks before my doctor appointment. Since then, I have cheated a few times here and there — particularly the week of Thanksgiving — but for the most part, I have been keeping at it. (Okay, I may have binged on some Halloween candy one night when I was PMS’ing.) However, the continued results keep me motivated. And for the most part, I don’t even miss pasta or pizza. ūüôā

What I’ve been eating to avoid sugar and gluten: I think the key to my success is that I have been eating less almost effortlessly because most of what I eat is high in protein or fat and keeps me full. I eat a lot of nuts, fruit, and low or no sugar yogurt for breakfast and lunch. I am now obsessed with dates. They are nature’s candy. And, I’ve been practically living on curry carrot soup for the past few weeks. I’ll have a bowl or two at lunch and a bowl or two with dinner. This is a great base that you can play around with. I’ve discovered you can add practically anything to it, including canned pumpkin, corn, and/or roasted peppers.

I got this recipe from a friend, but I have tweaked it in enough ways now that I think I can call it my own.

Curry Carrot Soup:

3 tablespoons coconut oil (olive oil works, too)

6 cups veggie stock or bone broth or a combo thereof  (I usually use up whatever is open, and then do the remainder of the other)

8 medium/large carrots chopped (or 8 handfuls of baby carrots)

4 medium celery sticks (if you are out, fear not; it will still turn out well) chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3 teaspoons curry powder

3 teaspoons salt

lemon or lime juice, to taste

black pepper, to taste

You could sautee the onions in the oil first, but it is not necessary. Except for the lemon/lime juice and pepper, bring all the ingredients to a boil and let simmer until the carrots are totally soft. (I usually just leave it simmering for a couple hours). Use an immersion blender to blend it until smooth and then add your lemon or lime juice and pepper to taste.

Enjoy a healthy, low-fat, no sugar, gluten free meal all week long! (And, this is fairly obvious, but if you are vegetarian or vegan, you can make it so by just using the veggie broth.)  I have been adding bone broth to everything I can these days for the collagen.

Cheers! And happy holidays!

Our Auto Show “Adventure”

Econ-Mom:¬†Today we made Family Mistake #5782 and decided (er, DH convinced me) to drive to the LA auto show.¬† You’re probably already laughing at me (or just shaking your head) but in case you’re wondering why this was a giant mistake:

  1. LA is a 2 hour drive away;
  2. My younger son has pretty significant sensory issues; and
  3. The auto show is extremely crowded.

After getting on the road late, stopping to play at a rest stop, and a trip to a Jack in the Box (with a very disgusting bathroom) , we finally found a $20 parking place that was pretty close to the auto show.

Outside the convention center we saw people doing some stunt driving, which I thought was kind of cool, but Peanut immediately started scream-crying because he “wanted to go inside.”¬† Of course, the entrance was still a little hike, and Peanut refused to use the stroller we brought (apparently he’s too big for the stroller now). While Peanut was wanting to be carried, Tuffy ran ahead and almost plowed into a few people.¬† So, I yelled something like “Tuffy get over here!” and then he started crying.¬† (He’s going through a super sensitive phase lately, I think partly because second grade has been hard for him.¬† So it’s not uncommon for him to cry if I raise my voice, which is something I am really trying to work on!)

Now both kids have gotten upset, and we’re not even inside yet. But once we got in the door, they were excited to sit in the cars.¬† Peanut especially loved to sit in the driver’s seat and push all the buttons. (I’m 50% sure he broke something during the short time we were there — just the stress of him touching all of these expensive things was enough to make the whole trip not worth it.) The environment was definitely overstimulating, and Peanut kept bolting away from us, so one adult would chase him down.¬† Luckily our cell phones worked in there because we got separated a lot. Tuffy was handling things okay at first but then started to get upset because he kept getting electric shocks every time he touched a car.¬† (Things you learn about your kids — apparently Tuffy really hates electric shocks!)

So, Tuffy is in tears again, and Peanut is literally getting bowled over by adults because it’s a mad house, and no one is paying attention to where they’re going. Since everyone was getting agitated, I suggested getting some food. But by this point I was already pretty fed-up, so when the kids started whining about how long the food line was I said, “That’s it, we’re leaving,” and we all marched back to the car.¬† Clearly, we all had just needed a nap because all of us (except DH thankfully) fell asleep on the way home!

In hindsight, the thing that makes these situations worse is that I’m not only getting irritated from dealing with the behaviors from the children, but I’m amplifying my distress by getting mad at myself for making the poor choice (or in this case letting DH talk me into the poor choice) to bring the kids somewhere that’s a sensory nightmare. I’m not sure why I never learn this lesson!! Only last month I made the mistake of bringing the kids to a hockey game.¬† Why? Well, selfishly, I wanted to go to a work social event. They’re usually happy hours which aren’t family friendly, so when my work organized a group hockey game outing, I thought we could join.¬† WRONG. (This was actually a way bigger mistake than the auto show – the hockey game was incredibly loud and both kids were in tears by the end of the first period so we had to leave.)

You would just think that I would stop making the same mistakes over and over again!! It’s so frustrating. However, I’m trying to re-frame this in my mind and think of it like this – you know what, we are perhaps a slightly crazy family, but we’re also an adventurous family.¬† DH and I always used to do tons of road trips, and we loved trying new things before kids, so we are going to keep trying to expose our kids to new experiences, too.¬† Sometimes those experiences are going to really suck. But it’s not necessarily bad for the boys to try new things and have the occasional rough experience out there in the world.¬† A lot of places in the world are a sensory nightmare, unfortunately, but the kids do better and better as they get older – and we are *trying* to get Peanut started with OT which will hopefully help (of course the intake process at our HMO has been long and drawn out but that’s another story!)

Law-Mom: I give you so much credit that you keep trying, Econ-Mom. I know it is/can be so hard. We were not adventuresome when the kids were young because, seriously, every outing just felt like one giant headache, such that it was “so not worth it.” (Eating out at restaurants with the allergy issues still feels that way. I get jealous every time I hear about someone going out to eat.) It is a struggle, finding that balance between activities that you are good for your kids and a stretch for them, while also maintaining your own sanity.

Truth be told, I feel like I have sensory issues, so I really appreciate it when you say that the world is a sensory nightmare. Because I feel like it is.¬† I really *cannot* stand noise. (Ergo, I am not a fan of large parties.) It drives The Hub crazy how much I hate his loud music. I shut myself up in our bedroom the other day because he had the music too loud, but he was making dinner so I didn’t want to force him to turn it down. Today, I went on a field trip with a group of third graders, and I am still reeling from the experience of all the noise.¬† (I feel dizzy and exhausted.) Crowds and noise are just a nightmare for me. So, I avoid them. When I take my kids places that are super crowded, it is that much worse for me because I am absorbing literally everything from them and from the crowd around me.¬† The older I get, the more sensitive I get (I think). So, I have a lot of empathy for children with sensory issues. And their parents! Because as sensitive as I am, I can *handle* it. I may not like it. But I don’t throw myself down in the middle of a store and throw tantrums (as SC1 used to do). I save that for when I get home. (JK.)

Day 2: Already Feeling Improvement

Hi MOE Readers,

I know I said that I was going to post my status updates on our Facebook page, but I wanted to share a little bit more about yesterday than just “I did it!” I also don’t want to make this blog all about my dietary and pain management efforts. However, I think how we, as moms, take care of ourselves is a hugely important piece of the puzzle in being Moms on 11. We all know that if we feel like our best selves, we can be better parents (and employees, wives, daughters, friends, etc.) So, I think this fits with the general theme of our blog. And if I can provide inspiration for anyone out there who is also struggling with weight loss and/or joint pain, I want to be an encouragement to you!

So, here we go!

When I woke up yesterday morning, my back pain was gone from the night before, but it still hurt to walk. That’s when I decided to go sugar-free and gluten-free until my doctor’s appointment and write my blog post to keep myself resolute throughout the day.

By the way, when I talk about my joint/hip pain, I am not talking about the excruciating, unlivable pain that I know some people suffer.¬† But it’s bad enough that it is wearing. And it is bad enough, that sometimes I will not exercise, because repetitive movement exacerbates it, which is what bothers me the most about it.

Despite the (mostly left) hip pain, I still went walking yesterday, and I enjoyed a beautiful long walk in which I stopped to take a dozen or so pictures of the flowers.


But by the end of the walk, my hip was really aching and I worried I had overdone it.

And then something truly miraculous happened: at around 2:00 in the afternoon, my hip pain totally went away! (Okay, I still felt – and feel – it an itsy bit, but comparatively it is gone!) So, was it my sugar-free, gluten-free diet for the day? I obviously can’t know for sure, but the early and almost miraculous results are keeping me motivated!

[Note: I have gone sugar-free, as well as gluten-free before. But I’m not sure I’ve ever done them both at the same time.]

So, how did I stay strong, especially when I had to take my kids to a “Boo Bash” PTO fundraiser last night where there was pizza and cupcakes? Well, for starters, my pain-free evening kept me motivated.¬† But also, I planned ahead. I made chili in the mid-afternoon and ate it shortly before I left, so I wasn’t the teensiest bit hungry while watching the kids stuff their faces with pizza.

Last but not least, I decided to buy some bone broth protein powder and Glucosamine with Turmeric. (I bought them on Amazon, so I won’t get to start taking them until Day 3 or 4.) I also was taking a collagen supplement (“Trim” by Modere) about a month ago that made my left shoulder stop clicking when I swam, so I decided to buy more of that, too. (“Trim” is also supposed to help you lose weight by blocking fat storage. I did lose a couple pounds while taking it — most of which I promptly gained back the following month — but I figure it was worth trying again.)

In short, Day 1 was a success! We’ll see how well Day 2 goes. Happy Saturday!

Day 1: My Health Journey To Lose Weight and Eliminate Pain

In addition to being at least 20 pounds overweight for my height and frame (I have been unsuccessfully trying to lose the baby weight for 8 years now) I have been dealing with joint pain for the past 5-ish years. It started in my hips. I thought I had an IT-band injury five years ago after I ran a 10 mile race. Unfortunately, the pain has never gone away and exercising has gotten progressively harder.  (Which, of course, does not help the weight loss, either.)

Basically, I cannot run, lunge, row, weight lift, or do yoga without pain.  I mean, I can DO these exercises, but if I do them repetitively, over time I am in so much pain I cannot even sit at my desk without everything hurting. Stretching and yoga sometimes do not help but actually make the pain worse (like it did yesterday).

It’s getting to the point that I know I have to do something about it. I am only 40 years old. I know that I if I do not take proactive steps to correct this, it will only keep getting worse.¬†It’s to the point that I cannot even bend over to do the dishes without it hurting.

I have been given tons of advice by well-meaning friends. I have tried many different things to help my hip joints (where I experience the most pain) — including diet and exercise changes. But nothing seems to work. (Admittedly, I am not always consistent with these things. But it’s hard to stay on a particular regime when it doesn’t seem to be making a difference.)

I suspect that my problem is arthritis, and I suspect that I have a gluten intolerance. I pay the price whenever I eat gluten in many ways. I know that gluten intolerance can cause inflammation, which I know can also only make arthritis worse.

Here are the steps I am taking to help solve my pain problem:

  1. I made an appointment with an integrative medicine doctor. My appointment is on November 15th. I am hoping he can determine what is causing my pain, as well as give me solid advice for managing it, be it in the forms of diet, supplements, physical therapy, and/or new exercises/stretching I can do at home;
  2. I bought new walking shoes yesterday for people who supinate (which I do);
  3. Until my appointment (and this is where you and this blog post come in): I am committing to NOT eating sugar and gluten. Between now and the 15th, that is 21 days.
  4. I am going to check-in on our MOE Facebook page every day and let you know how successful I was at avoiding sugar and gluten, and if it is making a difference. I am doing this publicly in the hopes that the accountability will help me stick to it!

I am committed to living my best life. Our move to the southwest was my first step in that commitment, and it was one of the best (albeit hardest) decisions I have ever made.  But I also want that best life to be at least 20 pounds lighter without hip/back/joint pain so that I can enjoy exercising again and feeling my best!

Thank you for your help!



How an Autism Diagnosis Should Go

[Editor’s Note: We cannot explain why there are no spaces between paragraphs in this blog post. The formatting is inexplicably not working properly.]
Okay, this is a long post, but now that I consider myself a veteran autism parent, I have a few ideas to share about how the world could be a better place for autistic people and their families.
The journey to getting my son’s autism diagnosis was hard, for two main reasons. (And I think many people have a similarly difficult time, though of course everyone’s experience is different!)¬†First, I was coming to terms with the fact that my child is “atypical.”. When I had my son, I started reading those Baby Center newsletters.¬† They always discuss milestones and then say, “But don’t worry, every kid is different! Never compare your child to another child.”¬† Then all of a sudden, as you start down the path to the diagnosis, everyone is saying, “Well actually, your child is too different. He doesn’t talk enough or say the right things. It’s wrong that he likes to play with the same toy for 30 minutes. It’s wrong that he doesn’t do pretend play. It’s wrong that he doesn’t look at people.” (To be fair, no one used the word “wrong.”. But just by the fact that your child is being diagnosed with a “disorder” it’s hard to avoid the implication that the behavior is wrong.) I felt sad and guilty for not realizing earlier how “wrong” my child’s behavior had been, but at the same time angry at all these “experts” who didn’t have a single good thing to say about my beautiful, intelligent, amazing child.¬† No one cared that he could take any set of objects (e.g. a bunch of pencils) and form them into the shapes of letters.¬† No one liked the way he played – drawing letters over and over in the sand with a stick is “wrong,” but building a sand castle is OK.¬† Learning the sign language alphabet was an “unusual hobby.”¬† (Of course now, in hindsight, I can certainly agree that that was a somewhat unusual hobby.¬† But when that came up during our diagnosis I bristled because I felt that the word “unusual” did not literally mean “not usual” but in fact “bad.”
Second, my husband and I essentially had a ton of extra work dumped in our laps.¬† Speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA, developmental preschool.¬† There were assessments and SO MUCH PAPERWORK for each of those things. And “homework.”¬† The speech therapist would say “work on XYZ” and the OT would say “have him practice XYZ” etc., and I felt like I could never fit it all in, not to mention that it was stuff that my son didn’t *want* to practice. Oh, and by the way, I had a newborn baby! And given that half of his childhood was being taken up by therapy, I didn’t want everything for him to be work, work, work all the time.¬† I tried to tell myself that letting him line up letters for 30 minutes was not a *wasted* half hour, that was just him being a kid and playing how he plays, but I was never quite sure if I was doing the right thing! (For the record, we are four years post-diagnosis and Tuffy is doing incredibly well with making friends, keeping up at school, and just being amazingly well-behaved to the point that people who meet him now literally don’t believe me when I tell them about his meltdowns, so clearly I did execute everything perfectly despite all my fears! Or just maybe, autistic kids are super resilient just like all kids. But I definitely had some part in it!)
Given how hard the diagnosis process and early post-diagnosis months are, how could it be better?¬† How should this process go?¬† I believe that some of the first steps should be about supporting the parent(s).¬† For one thing, many autistic children do NOT sleep well, so not only do the parents have to deal with the issues I just described but they’re doing it on very little sleep.¬† It is SO HARD to do anything other than just survive when you’re not getting even close to enough sleep (and the sleep you do get is fragmented!).¬† It takes energy to work on goals with your child, especially behavioral goals.¬† Not to mention the fact that you’re also probably emotionally exhausted if your child has big meltdowns.¬† It’s just hard when someone regularly screams at you (and in some cases physically attacks you – my son didn’t do this but I hear this from a lot of autism parents).¬† It doesn’t matter that the person is a small child and you know not to “take it personally.” It is still just hard.¬† So you spend a lot of energy walking on eggshells to avoid the meltdowns.¬† For example, Tuffy used to have a very strict routine around opening his yogurt in the morning.¬† If my husband started opening the yogurt (not permissible – Tuffy had to open it himself) I’d dive across the room in slow motion yelling “Nooooooooo.”¬† (I didn’t really do this, but you get my point.) And God forbid the lid ripped while Tuffy was opening it, because if we couldn’t get every visible molecule of foil off of the plastic yogurt cup, the scream-fest was about to begin.¬† (By the way, if you’re reading this and thinking that we were just coddling him with his yogurt whims, please, please believe me that that is not how autism works.)
So, after years of raising an autistic child that you didn’t realize was autistic, sleepless nights, endless paperwork, judge-y stares and comments from parents or others who don’t get why you won’t take your child to the grocery store, why you can’t get him to wear his coat, etc., you finally get to the diagnosis, at which point things are supposed to get better.¬† But what actually happens is that you get to hear a whole bunch of stuff about how earlier diagnosis is better and then feel guilty for getting your child diagnosed “too late,” even though you probably had multiple doctors dismiss your early concerns anyway! (Of course, it’s more and more common for kids to get diagnosed quite early, but in our case Tuffy was over 3 and I got to hear a non-stop stream of praise for “birth to 3” intervention and how AMAZING it is if you can start services in that “critical window of brain development.”) Then you’re given a list of ABA providers that are covered by your insurance (if you’re lucky) and sent on your way! Never mind that most of those providers have long waiting lists so that critical time is ticking away as you frantically sign up for waiting lists as fast as you can fill out 30-page intake packets!
Here’s what should happen.¬† First, support from other parents is SO CRITICAL.¬† One of the first things I asked after we got Tuffy’s diagnosis was, “Is there a support group?” and the psychiatrist said, “Oh, I think XYZ has one.” So, I looked online and found that that group is only for people who receive their diagnosis through XYZ (which we didn’t.)¬† This is just ridiculous. Providers don’t necessarily need to facilitate these kind of groups, but it should absolutely be part of their job to know as much as possible about what supports are out there (including stuff like local Facebook groups!) to educate parents. Autism is not just a medical issue, it is a life issue.¬† There is SO MUCH that you cannot learn from therapists and doctors (unless they happen to have autistic children themselves!)¬† I mean, just imagine raising a neurotypical child with only the information you get from your pediatrician. Never having a mom-friend or family member who is also in the midst of raising a neurotypical child, who you call and say, “Hey, he won’t take the bottle,” or “Do you let your kid nap in the car?” or just commiserate about anything and everything! You probably won’t come into an autism diagnosis knowing that some parents do a TON of ABA and some choose not to do any.¬† You won’t know that you’re not the only parent who plans their day around not using public bathrooms, because your child can’t handle the noises from the hand dryers, or that you’re not the only parents who has lost your child and that some parents get GPS trackers for their kids. You won’t know what places are good for autistic kids to take swimming lessons. You only know what providers are telling you, and let’s face it – they are almost all wonderful, caring, hard-working people, but they don’t live autism 24/7. (Sorry for being super cynical, and I’m not directing this at anyone personally, but on some level I do believe that the fact that they are also trying to stay in business shapes their views on therapy to some extent.)
Second, the parents should go to at least one session with a therapist who specializes in autism.¬† Let’s face it, no two people on earth have the *exact* same ideas about parenting, but it gets compounded when you start throwing in all these interventions.¬† Some parents are more “pro-therapy” than others. Some are more skeptical about autism than others. Most are struggling with some level of grief as they figure out how to revise the (often subconscious) expectations they had had for how their child’s life was going to go. (Not to mention revising expectations about how our careers would go and weighing whether or not to quit our jobs and/or give up on other ambitions! Ahem, this was me.) This stuff is hard, and getting the parents to a place where they can be united would probably do at least as much for the child than many hours of therapy!
Finally, sleep issues need to be HIGH priority. We didn’t start Tuffy on melatonin right away because providers were pretty wishy-washy about it.¬† I wish they had made it more clear that it’s not harmful to try and that it’s worth trying if your child has trouble sleeping, because getting more sleep is really, really good for your child and yourself. You need extra patience to raise an autistic child, and patience is so hard to come by when you’re sleep deprived.¬† By the way, your child needs sleep, too! I believe that starting melatonin improved Tuffy’s behavior more than any therapy we did.
One last thing – before all of this, newly diagnosed parents should just get a spa day to rejuvenate for the work ahead!¬† ; )¬† I’m not sure our health insurance system can cover that, but if you have a friend whose child gets a diagnosis and you are able to pamper them a little bit, please do! It’s going to be an emotional time no matter what, but if society’s reaction was to celebrate the fact that the parent had put a lot of time and effort into getting that diagnosis and was really invested in learning and doing what’s best for their child, I think that would be cool.
Econ-Mom, my heart really goes out to you hearing all of this.  I know that SC1 is not autistic, but between severe speech delay, poor speech articulation, daily temper tantrums, sensory processing issues, seven severe food allergies, and 5 hours of chopped up sleep per night while also taking care of a newborn, I really do appreciate how hard it can be.  (I was so sleep-deprived that I was on high blood pressure medication for about a year after having severe preeclampsia with SC2.)
I was constantly asking specialists if SC1 was on the autism spectrum and constantly being told she was not (basically because she made eye-contact). But there is also this really difficult parenting-space to exist in when your child is not developing the way you expect (based on the development you see in her peers), but you also can’t get a clear diagnosis. (We only finally got some answers after a neuropsych evaluation in third grade.)
If it had been any harder, I would have needed a support group. So, I 100% agree that specialists and providers should be offering and providing that kind of information to parents struggling to get through the maze and the days (daze) of parenting special needs children. In the end, I survived because I made friends with a mom in my neighborhood who had a child on the autism spectrum, and she and I could relate to each other’s struggles.

The Special Ed Coverage Gap

I had an IEP (individual education plan) meeting for my younger son, Peanut, today, and it did not go well. After up-ending our schedules to bring him into the district’s special ed preschool for SIX DAYS (note: DH did 5 of these days so I have to give him a big shout out for pulling much more of this weight while I’m still very new at my job), the conclusion was basically that Peanut has some things he needs to work on, but he’s not eligible for special education services.

Apparently, he was a little angel during these six days, which is usually what you want to hear about your child, but not in this case!¬† So, I asked about putting him in our local developmental preschool (there is one at the school my older son attends) as a typical peer, and they said, “Well, the typical peers need to be really good role models.”¬† So, he’s too disabled to be a typical peer, but not disabled enough to be in special ed.¬† Great. Thanks for nothing public school system!

Build Better Bathrooms

(The above should say “waiting in a shorter line,” but I still found it amusing.)

I was talking to a mom of (two) boys the other day, and we were discussing gender differences. She was saying how some moms will tell her that “girls are harder,” but she disagrees for various reasons. Then we proceeded to discuss the “pros” and “cons” of parenting both genders.

At some point in the conversation I said, “You know what I always resented? Going on road trips, and feeling annoyed because The Hub could not help me with two girls. So, I’d be stuck in the restroom changing two sets of diapers.”

And she responded:

“But that happens with us, too, because the men’s rooms don’t have diaper changers!”

To which I was momentarily speechless. And then I gasped and got rather excited and high-pitched: “OMG, I can’t believe I never thought about that before!! Ohmygosh, of course, they don’t! Omg, they¬†need to do something¬†about that! OMG, I’m sure Econ-Mom will talk about how men need to be more involved in child-rearing again!!”

Right, Econ-Mom!?!

My friend and I discussed the pitfalls and perils of gender-separated bathrooms for quite some time, including other, even more important reasons for having more family bathrooms aside from the fact that child-rearing should be a gender-neutral activity.¬†For example, it’s awkward for moms of boys to be taking their boys-of-a-certain-age into the women’s bathroom with them, but equally dangerous for them to be sending said boys into the men’s bathroom on their own.


Seriously, people. Two words: family bathrooms. More of them. Please.

This reminds me of a point I have been complaining about for 15 years now, ever since my first debut as a litigator at the Daley Center courthouse: poorly designed women’s bathrooms. The women’s bathrooms at the Daley Center were clearly designed by men because they do not even have counters! So, you have no where to put down a purse,¬† an attache, a briefcase, or a coat.

Do the men’s rooms have counters? Don’t men have briefcases and coats? Where do they put them? The floor? And if so….gross!

This is why we need more women in the fields of architecture, design, and engineering.¬† (Why we need more women in all fields.) I’m personally sorry I didn’t pursue that career path, because I think it would be more rewarding than law. I’d love to take charge of a new nationwide movement to¬†build better bathrooms!

In short, in order to be a better, more functioning, and more sanitary society, we need (1) more family bathrooms with (2) diaper changing stations, and (3) counters.

Econ-Mom: Oh gosh, bathrooms.¬† Having recently lived in Seattle, where there is a bigger push for gender-neutral bathrooms, part of me does feel like it’s a bit weird.¬† For a while I was working in a building with a gender-neutral bathroom. I rarely used it (because there were also men/women bathrooms) but the few times I did, I was always kind of worried that I would walk in on a man using the urinal.¬† (Yes, there was a urinal, and yes it was a multi-person bathroom.)

But a much bigger part of me is all for gender neutral bathrooms!¬† This is an issue where the disability community is very much in line with the transgender community, for obvious reasons.¬† I still take my 7-year-old (who is super tall and looks like he’s about 10) into women’s bathrooms with me on occasion, depending on how comfortable I am with the situation.¬† I was somewhere recently where I had him in the bathroom and a lady walked in and said something like, “Oh my gosh.” I thought that was probably directed at me/my son but I just ignored it.¬† (BTW, if she had asked me why I had him in the bathroom, I would have happily told her that he is autistic and I don’t feel comfortable letting him go in strange bathrooms alone.)¬† Of course, people with more severe autism or other disabilities go with a caretaker for their entire life (and just to be pedantic, I will point out that most caretakers are women.)

All that being said, my number one biggest issue with bathrooms is that they are quite often sensory nightmares.¬† I was cracking up recently because someone in one of my autism mom groups called those high-powered air dryers some really dramatic name like “death machines”, and everyone in the group was like, “Preach, sister!”¬† There are honestly tons of ASD parents out there who do not take their kids to certain places because the bathrooms are just not an option for their child.

Law-Mom: I get that.¬† I think I’ve mentioned on this blog that The Hub and I were convinced for the first few years of SC1’s life that she was autistic for many reasons, including the fact that loud bathroom hand-dryers would make her cry.

Also note: I don’t think they need to build more family bathrooms to the exclusion of gender separate bathrooms. Maybe that would be not be economically feasible? But would it really be that expensive to just have one family bathroom for families to use (not necessarily with multiple stalls)?

Finally, in this campaign to Build Better Bathrooms: when they build women’s rooms, they should just build them two to three times the size of men’s bathrooms (i.e., with two to three times more stalls). Surely that would make everyone happier, including the men who would spend less time waiting for their female companions.

We Respond To Each Other’s Podcasts

Law-Mom:¬†¬†I really enjoyed your conversation with Conan Tanner on “Barbarian Noetics,” Econ-Mom. I particularly appreciated your comments about changing the paradigm so that all¬†parents – moms and dads – spend more time with their children. I also appreciated Tanner’s comment about making the world a more “child-friendly” place to be. Shouldn’t that ultimately be the goal of our society? A more child-friendly world is a more human-friendly world.

I did want to respond to two things that I believe Tanner said during your discussion. The first was¬†Tanner’s comment,”What’s so bad about being lazy?” or, “What’s wrong with lazy people?” At that point, I wanted to barge into the conversation and say: “Ummm…everything.”

I don’t know what that says about me, but I truly have a deep-seated bias against lazy people and laziness in general. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in relaxing and rewarding oneself after a long day, or a long week, of being productive. But I truly abhor general slothfulness. I get mildly ragey when I perceive lazy behavior in my own children. I think some of this is because I have an understanding of just how hard you really have to work to enjoy the finer pleasures of life. And I think most people have to work super hard in life to get where they are. (Not all, of course, but most.)¬† So, while I do not consider myself very conservative in political matters, I do understand the viewpoint of: “Hey, look: I’ve worked my tail off, so I’m not super interested in being taxed out the ying-yang so that someone else can sit on their duff and enjoy the fruits of my hard labor.” It’s the story of “The Little Red Hen”: I’m not interested in sharing all of my hard work with you ungrateful, lazy, jerks.

Is that selfish? Maybe. But I think it’s understandable. On the flip side, I do believe in cooperation (as I talked about with Tanner). But cooperation is a two-way street: it means everyone is working and¬† being productive. You only get to be lazy, IMHO, if you are younger than the age of six and/or an invalid. Otherwise, you don’t get a pass in my book. I’ll share with you, but you need to uphold your end of the bargain.

Last but not least, Tanner asked: Why don’t we allow jurors to do their own research? Because the judge has already carefully ruled on what the law is that governs the case and what evidence can and will be admitted. And, if jurors were to “go rogue” and find that different law applies, or different evidence is relevant, it could very-well jeopardize the defendant’s constitutional rights. Of course, the judge may have gotten everything wrong and violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, anyway…but at least there is a record of it. Since no one knows what is going on in the jury room, it is extremely important that the jury follow the judge’s instructions and not do their own research — on the facts or the law — so that everyone knows exactly what evidence and law the jury heard, received, and deliberated over.

That being said (a perfect use of the phrase, I might add), I agreed with both of you that: (1) it was an abysmal use of resources to try that poor transient man over a $20 meth exchange; and (2) that he very likely was not tried by a true “jury of his peers.”¬† The first point is easily solved: Stop prosecuting and jailing harmless homeless people for non-violent offenses and offer rehab and resources instead. The second point, however, is a bit more problematic and difficult to solve. I agreed with the points you made about finding a way to include more caretakers on juries. Still (and this is coming from someone who skipped out on jury duty, because I was the full-time caretaker of my 10-ish month old), I’m not sure I’d be super keen on leaving my child with government-paid daycare workers whom I’d never met or seen in action. So, I think there would need to be some¬†choice¬†involved on the part of caretakers, because otherwise it might feel a bit like forced child-napping. Not all young children are easily separated from their parents (SC1 being one of them) and it could be traumatic for some children to be away from their caretaker for days, or sometimes weeks, on end.

Econ-Mom:¬† I also really enjoyed listening to Law-Mom on Barbarian Noetics! Law-Mom and I have a lot to say, people!¬† It’s now already been a crazy week-ish since I listened, so I don’t remember all the brilliant points I had here, but as someone who has taught Introductory Economics, I feel compelled to say something about bartering. Law-Mom and Conan talk a lot about a more cooperative society and end up talking about bartering.¬† I’m not against bartering, I think it’s great when it works!¬† And for what it’s worth, I believe it should be studied more (for example, how and why people revert to bartering in economic crises, such as what’s going on in Venezuela right now).¬† But it can’t scale up that well because if you have N goods, it means you have to somehow keep track of N*(N-1) prices.¬† [Law-Mom: I do not understand this at all, Econ-Mom. Please do elaborate in another post.] For example, if you have apples, oranges, and pears, you must have some kind of going rate for apples in terms of pears, apples in terms of oranges, and oranges in terms of pairs, and vice versa. More importantly, when you get to the point where you have thousands of goods (which we do currently have – if not millions!) you run into almost zero chance of finding someone to make a mutually agreeable trade with.

And regarding Law-Mom’s point above about making jury duty optional for parents of young children I absolutely agree!¬† For¬†sure neither of my kids could have gone with a strange caretaker, and that goes double (or times 100) for kids with more severe autism or other conditions.¬† But it’s just sort of food for thought.¬† And I do think that people abuse the chance to get out of jury duty to some extent.¬† I just had someone tell me that she was still using the ‘caretaker’ excuse even though her daughter was now 16.

Finally, regarding laziness…. Well, I think I’m just going to have to write a separate post about universal basic income because it’s a very interesting topic that economists are really getting into these days!