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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The BlackBerry, my Frenemy

Last week, my company-issued BlackBerry Curve 8310 died.  When I say it died, I don't mean that something malfunctioned; it simply would not turn on anymore.  I was secretly excited.  I figured I'd have a glorious carefree weekend without my electronic tether.

After all, the BlackBerry (affectionately known in our household as the Crackberry; I have no idea who coined the term but we adopted it as our own)  has been both the bane of and the panacea to my existence since it arrived at our household. My husband brought the first one home from work in 2004.  It was a curious  thing, and while I was impressed with its possibilities back then, it was also the chief relationship-interrupter.  It would go off and my partner would drop everything.  I found myself wanting to sabotage it and did everything I could  to get him to ignore it.  In fact, when we went on vacation in Hawaii, I intentionally buried my nemesis in a pile of dirty laundry in hopes that he wouldn't hear it.

A few years later, I was nine months' pregnant and my RAZR3 died.  By this time I was lusting after the QWERTY keyboard and it now had access to the web.  Thus began the "love" portion of the show.  Through  the next few months, when stay-at-home moms became my idols and I truly realized how amazing and rare that talent was, my new CrackBerry became the one connection I had to the outside world.  I could breastfeed and check on the world news (which I was in no emotional position to check), read and surf the Web, chat with a friend, anything to get through that first few months.

As I went back to work, the CrackBerry further embedded itself in my life.  I received one for work shortly thereafter.  At first, it was great because I could answer little emergencies without firing up my dinosaur of a laptop which took 20 minutes to load.  I did start to observe, however, that perhaps I was spending a bit too much time paying attention to the CrackBerry and not, say, having a conversation.  It was all too easy to confuse the urgent with the important.

Then the project at work got really crazy and my work CrackBerry started competing for my time with my child.  Back to hating it I went.  I would have done anything to go back to the RAZR; everyone expected that I read their email as soon as I got it.  It is much easier to ask someone to work the weekend over email which seems less confrontational than actually having to talk to the person to do it, right?  Soon I was working during almost every time my daughter went down for a nap.

Lately, my husband and I are still in the process of learning to balance our electronic ball and chains with our personal lives.  This certainly got worse when we bought iPhones for our personal use, to the point where our daughter, at 27 months, already tells us "No phone.  I here" when we get sucked in.  Fortunately, that all-too-embarrassing and telling moment is rare around here.  If we were never admonished, it would be even better.

At some point, we learned to turn the darn things off and to stop picking them up in our downtime.  Life got a lot less crazy.  We still do our share of zoning out from time to time, but we've realized our time with each other is a lot more important than what someone posted on Facebook or the latest work disaster.  We pick them up when we know there's something in particular going on for work, but those weekends are the exception rather than the rule.

All of which led me to anticipate a blissfully ignorant weekend.  I did have my blissfully ignorant weekend, but I guess I haven't been noticing how many of those I've been having recently, so it was not all that different until Monday morning when I realized I had no idea where I was supposed to be.  Did I have a meeting?  Where was it?  Somehow it really turned into my day-planner more than anything.

I'm not sure whether the smartphone has affected me in a positive or negative way.  In some respects, my attention span is surely shorter than it used to be, but at least I am more prompt.  As a society, we consume an astonishing array of information, but what we have gained in breadth, we might have lost in depth.  When was the last time you read an entire newspaper instead of skimming the headlines on a website?  Do these grown-up toys make our lives more enjoyable for what we can do with them, or have they killed our ability to find joy?  What do you think?  I'm sitting on the fence for now (with Pandora playing in the background, skimming the Wall Street Journal . . . )

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back to school

When I tell people that I'm also a mom (if I'm at school) or that I'm going to school (to one of my mom friends), the reaction is usually about the same: "OMG!! R U SERIOUS?" Then the classmates ask me How can you Possibly Handle a Kid with school, or the moms ask how it's going and how I manage, because they're thinking about going back. Or they secretly also think I'm nuts.

Let me explain how it works. I am not and never will be Superwoman. However, mommyhood gives you an edge over the average student. Whether you want to or not, you learn time management. As in if you do not drop whatever else it is you're doing RIGHT THIS SECOND, your kid is going to run into traffic / impale the cat / throw your favorite shoes into the toilet or God-knows-what else. So there is no option to study while your kid is awake. There is only naptime and nighttime (occasionally poopytime if it's a big one, sorry folks) so you better get it straight. This ongoing situation has made me terribly productive and aware of how valuable any free second actually is.

I had lots of time to get it right before having a child. Seven years of college to be exact. I think I spent a year of that between the gym and the bar. Those days are gone, baby!

This translates into being better at being a student in the following ways:
1. So what if I have to start reading the textbook two weeks before class? That's the only way I'm going to cover the course material, and this is how I chose to spend my free time.
2. Anything that doesn't involve Special Agent Oso is incredibly absorbing and interesting. Really. Anything.
3. Group time in group projects is double time to get it done. Any minute spent in group time is time I could be spending with my kid. And I'd most likely rather be spending time with my kid. So if you're in my group and you want to flirt with another person in my group, you sure as hell better be doing it outside of group time, or I am going to go Chuck Norris on your ass.
4. I have learned to give up most things that are not important or interesting. My time is filled up with the important and interesting, which is a really fun way to live. So yes I probably missed the Lakers game. But I can analyze a 10-Q.
5. In all this busyness and chasing after the kiddo and schoolwork, I have also learned to be patient. Patient enough to take one class at a time and no summer classes . . . which means I will be graduating . . . not anytime soon. And that's just fine.

What do you think? If you had to do college again now, if you have a child, or even if you don't, would you be better at it the second time around?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Science Embassy: Guest Post: Wilbur and Orville's Mom

Just as I was about to start my own blog, I ended up doing a guest blog. Life is strange that way.

The Science Embassy: Guest Post: Wilbur and Orville's Mom: "Introducing fellow science diplomat Natalie Straup. As we add more writers to this blog I will continue to update a list of diplomats on th..."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This is a blog about the three main aspects of my life right now: being a mommy, working full-time, and pursuing an MBA at the same time. It's not easy, but it's what I do, and it's not rocket science (which is part of what I do at work). Hopefully you'll get a little bit of everything out of this.

I became a mom in May 2008. I thought I would morph into the perfect, quintessential mom the moment I gave birth. That's not exactly what happened. What really happened is that eventually, my daughter taught me what is important in life, which turned out to be something different than what I thought it was. That process is still ongoing.

As far as work goes, I can best describe myself as someone who has career ADD. I have a BS and an MS in Mechanical Engineering. As far as I knew at graduation, this would mark the end of the learning process and the beginning of 30 or 40 years of running around in a lab coat and solving the world's problems. How funny that seems to me now! I always imagined myself as a working mom. However, the picture a DINK (dual-income no kids) husband or wife has of a working mom in their head does not quite capture the reality. It has its really wonderful moments and its not-so-great ones.

On top of all this and struggling with a post-partum mood disorder, (I will get to that at some point), I decided what I really needed was a Masters in Business Administration. Seriously. You can stop the chortling now. At the time, I was a bit bored with my current job (see ADD reference above), my husband was in his last semester of business school, and it looked like something interesting that had relatively little to do with what I was working on then, but enough to get someone to pay for it. Three cheers for working for a big corporation! I'm about to start my third semester. I've learned what works and some things that my family would definitely prefer I not take on. At the end of the first semester, I think I found the real reason I enrolled in business school. I want to make a difference in the world for the better, for my daughter and for everyone in a tangible way. I have always fantasized about working for a non-profit company, but I think I've found a way to help the world through business. That sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Save the planet! Save the people! Save the bottom line! Are these things really symbiotic? We shall see . . .