A Day as Mama and Data Manager

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.

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There are three main things I do in my day-to-day life: mothering Lydia (10 months old) and Nicholas (10 years old), working 40 hours a week as the data manager of a social science research study, and writing this Handbook.  I write quite a bit about the first activity, and if you are reading this you’re obviously aware of the third.  But I’ve written very little about my job.  What is a “data manager of a social science research study,” anyway?

My job is to organize the HUGE PILES OF DATA collected by interviewing 1,517 men every 6 months for 4 years, then every year for 9 years, and 3 more times since then (whenever we got a grant to follow up).  Other people do the interviews; I just work with the data.  The study started when the guys were in elementary school.  They answered questions for about 2 hours each time, and in the early years their parents and teachers were interviewed, too.  Each person’s answer to each question is encoded as a number in a data file, which looks like a spreadsheet.  The row is the data on that participant, who is identified by a 5-digit number.  The column is the question, which is identified by a string of 8 letters and numbers.  There is a separate data file for each questionnaire, each time it was asked; each data file has a name, also 8 letters and numbers.  There are patterns to these 8-character strings, which I can “read” and remember very easily after 16 years working for the study.

In addition to organizing the data from the interviews, I make variables called “constructs”, each of which represents an idea that is measured by a bunch of different questions.  I write computer programs that do arithmetic and algebra with the “raw data” from the questions to create the constructs.  For example, the construct Parental Stress sums up the parent’s answers to these 14 questions; a parent with a score of 14 is exceptionally calm, while a parent with a score of 70 is a frazzled wreck.  My programs attach labels to the constructs and their values so we can keep track of what all the numeric values and 8-letter-and-number variable names mean.  (No, “frazzled wreck” is not the actual value label!  It’s “very high stress”.)

So, it’s my job to know what questions we asked, how the answers were coded, what constructs were made, and where everything is in thousands and thousands of data files.  I also spend a lot of time looking for things that don’t make sense, figuring out what’s wrong, and fixing it.  The higher-level statistical analysis is done by other people, as well as most of the writing of papers about our findings–but because I like to write and am a grammar zealot, they often ask me to proofread and sometimes let me write a section.

The main focus of the study is juvenile delinquency: which boys do it in the first place, which ones outgrow it rather than becoming adult criminals, and what factors make crime more or less likely.  We also have lots of data on mental health, substance use, parenting practices, and demographics.  Interesting stuff!  I love my job.  I’m surprised I managed to summarize it this briefly!  Okay, let’s get on with A Typical Day In My Life…. Read more of this post

This regular bra works as a nursing bra!

I bought all my nursing bras from Target, and I hate them all.  Target makes great nursing camisoles (with shelf bra) which I was wearing all the time on maternity leave earlier this summer and will wear as undershirts when the weather gets colder; if you are small-busted, they have adequate support and are very comfortable.  But Target’s nursing bras, all 3 different styles I bought, are uncomfortable, stiff in the wrong places, and oddly proportioned, at least compared to my body.  One style looks really lumpy under clothes, while the others are so padded that it’s difficult to get the cup out of the way for nursing.

While I was pregnant, I bought a few bras of the same style I had been wearing for a few years before, but in a larger size.  I am thrilled to discover that they work as nursing bras!!

UPDATE: That brand stopped being made within a year after I recommended it (why does that always happen??) but I have now found essentially identical bras made under a different name!  They are Hanes Ultimate Invisible Look Wirefree Convertible T-shirt bras, sold at Kohl’s and other stores.

They have “convertible straps” which means the front end of the strap detaches from the cup so that you can crisscross the straps if you want.  The fastener is a snap kind of thing that stays together really well (never comes undone in the washing machine, even) but can be quickly undone with one hand when you want to, with a little practice.  Here I am holding it with two hands just so you can get a good look at what kind of fastener I mean. Read more…

9 Things I Forgot to Bring After Maternity Leave

Lydia is three months old now, and I went back to working outside the home last week, back to the same job I had while I was pregnant. In fact, I still do basically the same work as I did when Nicholas was a baby nine years ago (although we have moved office buildings since then), and Lydia is going to the same conveniently-located home childcare as Nicholas did, so my daily routine is very much the same as it was then. You’d think that would make it easy to remember what stuff I needed to bring to use at work and what stuff I needed to pack for the baby.

Apparently, it wasn’t easy, because by noon on my first day I’d made a list of SEVEN things to bring the next day . . . and I’d already noticed the most important forgotten item when I arrived at childcare . . . and when I picked up Lydia, her sitter informed me of yet another thing she needed! That’s NINE things I forgot! This made me feel really idiotic and panicked, so even though my actual job-related stuff went very smoothly and Lydia is quite happy with her sitter, my first day was very stressful.

To make things easier for other moms returning to work outside the home, here’s the list of things I forgot. Not every mother and baby will need all of these things, but if you go over this list and think about whether or not you need each of the things, maybe your first day can be a little less frazzling than mine was! Read more…

What to do if your baby spits up blood

Well, of course you should call your doctor if you see any trace of blood–either red streaks or dark brown grainy-looking stuff–in your baby’s spit-up. Blood in the digestive tract can be a symptom of something terribly wrong that needs immediate treatment. But while you are waiting for that call back from the doctor, I encourage you to do one simple thing that just might help you calm down about this very alarming symptom.

Take a look at your nipples.

(That’s if you are the baby’s mother and you are breastfeeding. If you are the father, grandmother, etc., or if you are a bottle-feeding mother, your nipples are not relevant.)

It’s very common for a breastfeeding mother, especially one who has just started nursing a newborn baby, to experience skin irritation from the pressure and pulling of nursing and/or the exposure of the skin to saliva. This can get so bad that the skin cracks and bleeds a little. It happened to me within the first week of nursing Nicholas, so I was not surprised to see little scabs on my nipples by the time Lydia was four days old. I continued applying lanolin after every feeding and taking ibuprofen to reduce the pain so that I could continue tolerating nursing, knowing that in a few weeks my skin would adjust and my baby’s mouth would grow so that it didn’t hurt so much. This is an unpleasant stage, but I got through it before and knew I could endure it again. Read more…

Breastfeeding While Working Outside the Home

My only child weaned 5 years ago this month, and I’ve been meaning to write this article ever since!  I finally got inspired by a recent magazine article arguing that the whole concept of breastfeeding being any kind of good idea is A PLOT TO KEEP WOMEN DOWN!!! and supporting this argument by quoting outdated materials from La Leche League and a few carefully selected over-zealous Websites.  It was so silly, but it was promoting an idea that I’ve heard in lots of less-silly contexts: that feeding a baby nothing but breastmilk until he’s ready for solid foods is horribly difficult unless the mother is willing to be trapped in her home with the baby 24 hours a day.  That just isn’t true!  In my experience, it is entirely possible to pump milk at work and put it into bottles for someone else to feed your baby, even if you work in a non-private cubicle and get only 12 weeks of maternity leave.  To me it seemed hardly more difficult than preparing bottles of formula would have been.  So I am writing this article to share the details of what worked for me.

But first, the disclaimers, Read more…