Tag Archives: Education

Let’s Talk about Debt, Part 3: Debt & Regret

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

The long and short of it is that the culture of debt in grad school supported my dumb decisions. The problem is both individual and systemic. Because the system gave active and vigorous windmill high-fives to my desire to avoid adulthood or cope with poverty and bad choices, there was no pushback on my decision to subsidize my very long and mostly pointless degree(s) over and over again with government money. I had to force myself to lift that rock and peer at the gross stuff, on my own, and because human beings like to avoid pain and embarrassment, it took me a long time to have the guts to do that. As in, years. And when I finally decided to leave, some still encouraged me to stick with it, just for a few more years.

But, now we’re there: we’re looking hard at our budget, we’re coming up with a plan to reduce our debt and be able to afford things like, ya know, FOOD, and it’s very painful. Ask yourself the last time you looked up your outstanding balance on student loans, or did the math on how much interest you pay on your credit card every month. It hurts.

It’s very easy to say yes to loans when you’re 22. You think, I will be done in 5 years. You think, This is an investment. And you think, as I mentioned before, that at some point you hit a threshold past which the amount of debt doesn’t really matter (a mountain is a mountain, right?).

But it does matter. Everest vs Mt. Hood matters. K2 versus McKinley fucking matters. There’s a world of difference between 60k and 20k in debt; between 120k and 70k. (Even if you don’t have debt going into grad school, how many grad students go debt-free during the average 8.2 years it takes to complete a PhD?)

Let’s say you only have student loan debt when you finish your degree (no credit card debt, even!), and you decide to aggressively pursue debt-free status. You are a very, very lucky PhD and you find a job in the midwest that pays 45k a year. You’re single and don’t have kids (or pets): bonus! You pull a Joe and share an apartment with a friend and are able to live on 25k a year, doing the rice and beans thing and keeping costs low. Putting 20k towards student loans, which doesn’t include interest and all that stuff, it will take this much of your life to repay the loan:

  • 20k in loans = 1 year
  • 40 k = 2 years
  • 60k = 3 years
  • 100k or more = 5+ years

Really, let’s reframe student loans as a prison sentence. The higher your debt, the longer your sentence. And 5 years might seem like nothing at 22, but I’m telling you that ten years later, 5 years seems like a big chunk of your life, and that’s if and only if you are able to put a huge amount towards loans every year. Most people – like me and my family – can’t approximate that.

So you might say Fuck it, I’ll just make my minimum payments for 25 years or whatever and just count on having to pay it. OK, yeah, that makes sense (if you ignore things like the massive amount of interest you’ll pay); but really, think about what you could be doing with that $400 or $500 (or $1000) per month. You could… save for retirement. Get your kids the braces they need or help pay for your Mom’s nursing home costs. Go on a honeymoon in San Francisco instead of camping. Get your dog the surgery for his hip instead of putting him to sleep. Invest in the stock market, or buy a kickass car. Fix the car you already have. That kind of money, month after month? It can be a life or death, eat or go hungry difference.

Loans are only an investment if they pay off. Going into tens of thousands of dollars in debt for an advanced degree that is highly unlikely to get you a job that pays more than an entry-level salary is idiotic. We are crazy for thinking this was the right thing to do. Because we end up on food stamps. Or we end up realizing we should have gone in a different direction in our careers and go back to school, again, for a different, practical degree (I know PhDs who are becoming librarians, midwives, doctors, high school teachers: they could have saved years of time, effort, and money without the scenic route through a PhD, although few will outright say that they regret the PhD). I’m starting to agree wholeheartedly with the boom-and-bust “higher ed bubble” theory because my decision to go to grad school parallels so closely the heartfelt and utterly misguided desires of folks who bought houses during the real estate bubble and ended up with homes worth less than the money owed on them. A PhD is worth so much less than the debt incurred to earn it. The PhD, in most cases, will cost you way more than it’s worth in debt and regret. But when you are inside the system, it’s surprisingly difficult to see the writing on the wall. People are so certain that they will regret quitting more than anything else that they stay on even when the thrill is gone. This is bonkers. Quitting is awesome. Quitting is freedom. Debt sucks. Debt is prison.

I’m in my early thirties and I have two daughters, a house, two Master’s degrees and a ton of worthless graduate credit hours. I have dreams for my daughters that may never be fulfilled. I have dreams for my own life that will be on hold indefinitely, and may go completely unfulfilled because the next decade or more of my existence is dedicated to paying for mistakes I made when I was young and willfully ignorant.

What Lauren Learned About Identity & Work via a Craft Disaster (aka “Do it, start it, FUCK THIS IT’S NOT WORKING!”)

It’s time for me to ‘fess up: I did not do the Pinterest challenge assigned to me by Renee, the winner of the Pin Us To It prize at our 4K giveaway.

Now, I bet some of our newer readers, brought here by our connections to other post-academic blogs, are thinking “WTF is this Pinning shit?” So before I launch into a discussion of my crafting experience, let me say this about Mama Nervosa: it’s a non-niche blog. We don’t just write about being ex-grad students, or just write about being feminists, or just write about being Moms, or just write about secretly reading super goofy quasi-pornographic YA lit in sixth grade. We write about all of our experiences, and some of those experiences include stuff that’s very typically feminine or maternal. We simply aren’t interested in fracturing our identities into separate blogs or saying that how we feel about ourselves as brainy feminist women has nothing to do with being mothers or crafting disaster-ers. I’ll try to make some connections between this craft experience and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking as I quit grad school towards the end of the post, so stay with me!

From our inception as a blog, we’ve been preoccupied with Pinterest and lifestyle blogs because they’re such an integral part of the online mommying world (read this recent article from Jezebel for a taste of it). Jen is pretty ok with Pinterest: she recognizes its flaws, but overall, her experience with Pinterest is positive. I… let’s just say I feel differently. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Debt, Part 2: The Catch 22 of Grad School Economics

The impossibility of the Grad School Economy really hit home for me last summer (2011). We’d just moved to a bigger place after squashing into a 2-bedroom apartment for years. Like the woman in the Grad School to Welfare article, we live outside our university town because it is more affordable. My daughters were 3 years old and 18 months old at the time, and I was gearing up to take my comprehensive exams in the fall. Because summers in the past have been terribly tight (more on that in a minute), I took a job as a part-time writing tutor at my University. We could only afford half-time childcare for the girls, which meant they spent the mornings at school and I either tutored or worked towards comps during that time: this meant commuting between their schools, my school, and our house all between the hours of 7:30 am and 12:30 pm. So, my schedule looked something like this:

7:30 Leave with both girls and all my school stuff to take Kid 2 to infant daycare in nearby town.

7:50 Drop off Kid 2, drive Kid 1 to hippie daycare for preschoolers in university town.

8:15 Arrive at writing center, check email, tutor anxious grad students on mind-bending dissertations about standardized outcomes language in nursing or African-American porter unions or bio-mathematics.

10:30 Finish tutoring, get out comps stuff and start getting head into game. Read articles, look up references, start taking notes/drafting.

12:00 I just got into a writing rhythm, but I have to pack up and race to hippie daycare because I’m already running late.

12:20 Drive to nearby town to pick up Kid 2 as fast as possible, because if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, then they won’t nap, and if they won’t nap then I am SOL in terms of work time.

12:40 Drive home with the radio blaring to keep kids awake. They scream in my face.

1:00 Shovel food into their gaping maws as fast as possible, nurse one or both to sleep. Get comps stuff out, find where I’d left off, and start drafting or note-taking, while feeding myself with my non-dominant hand.

2:15 Shit! Someone is setting off firecrackers. Please don’t wake up please don’t wake up. If they wake up, I am ruined. RUINED.

3:15 They slept and I got a paragraph of summary written. Now it’s time to be a Mom, fix dinner, clean up, do bath time, and do bedtime.

8:45 They’re asleep! Now I have to decide if I’m going to work some more, have sex with my very neglected husband (oh yeah, that guy), or go to sleep.

9:15 Sleep wins.

Other than being completely crazy-making, the Catch 22 of this economy flummoxed me:

  • If I wanted more time to write, then I needed to have more money to pay for childcare.
  • If I needed more money for childcare, then I needed to spend more time working on a job that paid.
  • If I spent more time working at a job that paid (tutoring, nannying, adjuncting 1-2 sections at a local CC, all of which I’ve done as a grad student), then I had no time to write.
  • If I spent more time writing during “free” time (evenings and weekends), then my marriage collapsed like a dying star and I became a stranger to my children.

We know firsthand how painful and terrifying it can be to go broke. We went broke in 2010, the first summer after our second baby was born. I was too exhausted and clueless and desperate to calculate the full cost of childcare for two children. The pregnancy was a surprise, and I wanted to prove that I could balance family and school, so I was bound and determined to have a sitter for the girls and get some work done (any work, progress is progress, right?). But my summer income is zero: my TAship was a 10-month contract, and July and August are always tight. By the time I realized that there was simply no way for us to afford childcare for two young kids relying solely on my husband’s salary, it was too late to regroup and come up with an alternative plan. I pulled both girls out of childcare and spent that summer as a stay-at-home-mom, letting go of all work time to take care of my family and painstakingly attend to our budget. We made it, but it was extremely stressful, and I lost a lot of momentum towards comping, which was what I felt I needed to do so I could get to the part where I made actual money.

But after that, we prioritized money over grad school progress to avoid repeating that experience: I tutored in the summer, and taught anywhere from 1 to 3 additional courses each semester (in contrast to my usual one). My husband got a promotion at his not-beloved-but-solid job; he also works a second, part-time job every other weekend.

Focusing on income cost me dearly as I struggled to prepare for comps in 2010-2012. I deferred again in Fall 2010, and again in Spring 2011. Last summer, I was determined to comp in September, but Grad School Economics made that impossible. My adviser was skeptical that I would be ready to comp in the spring (2012). I was absolutely determined to make it work, and I took drastic measures to sprint my way towards comps readiness: I hired a cleaning lady, put my kids in daycare full-time, and started writing nights and weekends. I wrote and wrote and wrote, often immediately scrapping what I’d just spent weeks on. I was still floundering with topics and focus: maybe I was just not academically ready to comp at this time, but I didn’t really have the time to come to that realization, nor did I have the time to concentrate and solve that problem. I was out of time: I needed to comp as soon as fucking possible. I was dug in and furiously working away in a not-very-productive manner, but I knew that our family could not sustain this life for long, so I thought if I really hammered at it and got through comps, I could slow back down after that, maybe even work a part-time job while I dissertated and the girls got into school, whatever. I needed to get over this ENORMOUS mountain.

But at my first meeting with my adviser in the spring semester of 2012, it became clear that I was nowhere near ready for comps and had miles to go before I slept. I’d lost my way and would have to work harder, for longer, to reorient myself and get back on track. I was not up for that. It felt impossible to continue in this way, so I quit.

(To be continued!)

Let’s Talk About Debt, Part 1: the Real World Economy versus the Grad School Economy

Lauren Does Math and Has a Brainsplosion

I sat down to work on our family budget yesterday and it was… unpleasant.

I am not a math person. I’m not a person who thinks well in this way. I worked extremely hard to get an A in basic college algebra. It takes considerable effort and a lot of repetition for me to do math right, and even then, my brain trends towards the unrealistically optimistic. I’m a “round up” kind of gal. I had been working on a budget for awhile, here and there, using estimations of biweekly payments, etc etc — estimations that I thought were very conservative. But, I was off by about $600, which is a lot of money to “find” in an already dramatically scaled back “Lauren quit grad school and ruined our lives” plan.

I’m not the only one facing the harsh reality of the real world economy, versus the grad school economy. A much-circulated Chronicle article about PhDs on food stamps makes it clear that whether you finish or not, the transition from grad school economics to real world economics is devastating to a lot of people. And if you have the stomach to read the comments, you’ll note that many of them are a variation on the theme of “They got what they deserved” or “How could they be so stupid?” or “What part of ‘loan’ did they not understand?”

And it’s true, it’s insane that we all fell for it and made chronically bad choices when it comes to economics. But, here’s the thing: everyone else was doing it. First of all, insane willingness to take on debt has staggeringly obvious precedence in every facet of American life from the housing bubble to the net bubble to the national debt. PhDs aren’t the only ones being blithering idiots in a culture predicated on getting what you want right now and paying for it, literally and figuratively, later on.

But beyond that, I think in grad school there is a special economic culture; or at least, I felt like I was part of a strange little world in which there were different economic expectations and rules. The sort of unspoken rule I — and many of my peers — operated on went along the lines of, “If I’m going to be paying this debt off for the rest of my life, the amount of debt I’m in really doesn’t matter.” Continue reading

Moving Out of My Grad School Office & My Academic Home

In case you’ve ignored everything we’ve written so far, I quit grad school this semester. I mean, last semester. Because the semester is over, which means… yeah. I’m done with the whole thing.

Scheduling a somewhat spontaneous, short notice road trip during the final week of the semester meant that I didn’t have a lot of time for sentimentalism while wrapping up courses, packing up my office, and turning in my key. Nevertheless, I had a bit of a lump in my throat as I hauled out boxes of books, knowing that this was likely the last time I’d walk through these hallways.

EPB houses English, Rhetoric, Philosophy, and a couple other little CLAS departments. I moved into the EPB shortly after we moved to Iowa to start grad school. EPB stands for “English Philosophy Building,” but we more lovingly refer to it as the EXTREME PARTY BUILDING!!!!

EPB is rumored to have been designed to be riot proof[Isn’t that a campus legend at your school? I remember rumors about another riot-proof building at the University of Oklahoma (where I did undergrad), but they are nothing alike.] It has terrible air quality, terrible lighting. It’s industrial and cold. But, it’s right by the river, a quick jog to the library, and has it’s own parking lot.

Corridor of offices in the EPB basement.

Mystery button in the hallway. I wonder if anyone has had the guts to push it. It’s like that scene in Joe vs the Volcano when he finally cranks that wheel that says DO NOT TOUCH after waiting for YEARS. (I did not actually push the button.)

I remember picking up my key as soon as I possibly could, thrilled to find a mailbox with my name on it. I painted my first office a robin’s egg blue and brought in rugs, lamps, and candles to warm up the room. Because I’ve taught in the Rhetoric department for my entire tenure in graduate school, the EPB has always been my academic home, no matter what program I was enrolled in or crazy academic rabbit hole I happened to falling through at the moment. I taught my first class on the first day of my first semester in grad school in the EPB, and my last class on my last day of grad school was there, too. My best work as a grad student has been as a teacher and leader in Rhetoric in the EPB, and I have tremendous affection for this ugly mutt of a building, and the wonderful people inside.

My office has moved several times over the years, but since I’ve always been in the basement, and all basement offices are identical, I can picture an office amalgam and it pulls together eight years of teaching memories.

Packing up my office. You can’t see the taped up newspaper clippings about my students, art from my kids, or the stacks and stacks of books I already removed. And yes, that’s a diaper box I used to store old student portfolios.

I’ve also always taught in the basement, in a series of identical classrooms.

It’s boring, but it’s home! Plus, whiteboards! Plus, good tech!

As I was moving out, I ran into an old colleague friend and we had a long chat about how tough school is. He said I had guts for leaving and spoke of his own stall out in year 8 or 9. As we talked, I felt glad to be on this side of the decision. I will miss teaching and Rhetoric, but I don’t miss grad school.

But, the best part of EPB life has to be the graffiti in the first floor women’s restroom. Sex, drugs, Jesus, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock… you name it, it’s there.

This is just one of many stalls covered in graffiti. The bathroom was deserted when I took these, by the way.

“No one hits the bullseye with the first arrow”
–> Unless you’re Legolas.
Or Katniss! (I added that part!)

“I BELIEVE IN SHERLOCK HOLMES.”
“Moriarty is real.”

“Lovers of English, understand.
There is a great difference between “God” and “A God.” The latter is too specitif
to allow the meaning of the word.
The first, encompasses the posibility (sic)
of ALL + Everything.”
–> and every religion and way of life
LEARN
TO
THINK!
Can’t, too busy smoking weed!

Someone who loves me went to
Raxicoriphalipatorious (sic) and all
they got me was this lame
egg thing.
Bowties are cool.
#SEXY

“THERE IS NO
GREATER JOY
THAN BEING COMPLETELY
HAPPY ALONE.”
–> Impossible sex=happy
–> Masturbation: best of both words!

DON’T HAVE SEX! UNTIL YOU’RE MARRIED!
Don’t have good sex until you’re divorced.

Bye, EPB. I will definitely miss you.

Google Diaries: We know you quit grad school.

When Lauren and I initially created Mama Nervosa, we imagined a space where we could write about the whole, weird range of experiences that make up our lives and identities: watching tv, mothering, unsuccessful crafting, writing, teaching, and figuring out who we are and what we do beyond grad school.

It turns out that this question of figuring out life beyond grad school resonates with a large number of people, many of whom find us by searching some variation of the phrase “I quit grad school now what” on google. I quit grad school. I want to quit grad school. Should I quit grad school? I want my husband to quit grad school. How do I tell my wife I quit grad school? My personal favorite: quit grad school no job 2012. It’s a tiny diary entry, a moment of grief and hope and desperation poured out into the google search box.

We’ve both written about leaving grad school, but while Lauren is saying her goodbyes this week, I said mine a long time ago. Eight years ago, in fact, a number which completely shocked me when I did the math this morning. So what have I done since I sent that fateful email? Continue reading

Out with a Bang: Exiting Grad School With Grace and/or Guts

If, like me, you’re quitting grad school after this semester, congratulations! I don’t know about you but I’m simultaneously freaked out by the end of my graduate life in a week, and extremely ready to move on. I’ve been thinking about the many ways one could end grad school on a high note.

Continue reading

I’m an Adult Woman With Kids in Search of Myself (and I need some new options)

This week, I’m rereading The Feminine Mystique. Look forward to more posts about how it resonates with my life as a young mother nearly fifty years later.

When I was growing up, all I wanted was to settle down. I wanted to move to a small town where everyone would know my name. After 4 moves in as many years, I wanted to live in the country, preferably close to my family, and never move. I have long considered myself a bit of a homebody and not much of a risk-taker. This has been backed up by a long history of being pretty wussy about change and trying new things (like driving a car, flying on planes, etc).

But lately I’ve been extremely restless. My uncertainty about the future and desire for change has taken on a new urgency. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re in the waning weeks of my final semester in grad school; maybe it’s my anxiety about how to fill the time as a (mostly) stay-at-home parent. Something in me is scared and the thing I’m scared of is: stasis. In reflecting on my life history and how I got here, I’ve been reevaluating myself and my choices, and I have come to the conclusion that I am a change junkie. I don’t often seek out action in the physical or visceral sense, but I seek out constant stimulation in my mind. In high school, I shifted from obsession to obsession, immersing myself in worlds of music and books. I fantasized constantly about what was next: a guaranteed ticket out of Oklahoma, a man to love me, and music. I wrote long stories about this future life (yes: I will share them with you, later). Then I had college, an intense time packed with experimentation, work, and fun. Grad school was the ultimate, brainy gamble: a career version of Russian roulette, except the revolver has five bullets instead of one. Soon after starting grad school, I became obsessed with having a baby and learned every single possible thing about babies and birth and breastfeeding. Then I changed programs. Then I had a baby. Then I (accidentally) got pregnant again. Have I mentioned that the longest I’ve lived in a house or apartment since leaving my parents’ home at 18 is 3 years? And every semester in school is a fresh start. That’s 3 months before a total shake-up.

I’m a change junkie.

Nowadays, it’s manifest in little ways — the constant email checking, constant Google reader reloading – and big ways: desperation for a job or a big project; thinking about a new baby or moving or whatever. It’s all part of the same giant problem I’m staring down:  I’m scared of being bored. I’m scared that in three weeks, I’ll start the “rest of my life:” a life lived in one place, doing the same things, with the same family. I keep trying to implement my Radical Thing-Doing plan, but I’m doing the dishes thinking, “Jesus, I just keep having to do the dishes.” I clean the floor and in an instant, it’s showered by cornbread crumbs. I’m not getting zen.

In college, when I read Betty Friedan and Anne Sexton and became a feminist, part of the powerful persuasion of second wave feminism was its revulsion at the tedium of conventional motherhood. I shared their utter outrage at the marriage and family manuals and women’s magazines of the 50s and 60s, which glibly suggested that caring for a home was as stimulating and challenging as traveling, writing, working, anything else. That in the day-to-day challenges, emotions, interactions, and triumphs, a smart woman could find satisfaction. I hated that notion. It insulted me. I told my then-boyfriend (now husband) that my worst nightmare would be a house in the suburbs and a minivan full of kids. I think that has carried over a bit in my reaction to mommy and lifestyle blogs that make it all seem so satisfying, so engaging and rewarding. I don’t find it to be that way. I know there are Moms who do… I envy them. I believe mothering should be defined by the relationship it represents – mother and child – but it is often discussed as and characterized by the things mothers do, especially in the early years when, as Jen eloquently describes, we have so much intimate participation in every functional aspect of our children’s lives.

Having kids certainly changed my perspective on mothering as a nightmare: I deeply wanted them, and I love having them in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But, this shit is not working. I am struggling – really struggling – to find myself – my whole, individual self – in any version of “adult woman with kids” available out there. (Saying “mother” always, already feels so loaded. I’m a woman, and I have kids. I’m trying to figure myself out here.)

I don’t identify as a SAHM: as I’ve said before, I’m mothering by default. I’ve done the natural mothering thing and philosophically, I’m on board, but once you move past the urgency of infancy, AP is compatible with almost any lifestyle. I don’t have to SAHM it up to be an attached mom.

While I can and do “work” at “home” – trying to grade papers while the kids make a mess with waffle syrup, or writing a blog entry in a running car with a sleeping 4 year old in the backseat – it isn’t exactly work, and it’s not exactly fulfilling. I’m not about to start my own Scentsy franchise or whatever. Most of my “working at home” is characterized by the desperate desire to be left the fuck alone so I can concentrate. The push-pull is intense when you are constantly interruptible.

At least for now, I’m not a career woman. While momming 24/7 seems like too much, working full-time feels wrong at my core, and as long as my husband has a 50 hour a week job that pays the bills, it makes sense for me to spend more time with the girls, which requires being at home and doing all that home stuff. I don’t feel a strong calling to a full-time occupation. Nothing I can do is worth the sacrifice of 90% of my time with my kids, at this age, anyway. (Writing? But that doesn’t pay.) While I adore teaching, I’ve worked with diffident eighteen year olds long enough to know that investing my identity completely in their success is a recipe for a nervous breakdown. A job won’t make me feel better at mothering: if anything, the more I’ve been away from the home this year (struggling towards comps in grad school), the more chaotic and distressed our home lives became. Things fell apart. I am needed, however much I may suck at domestic tasks: something about me is a kind of glue to our household.

A few months back, I read an interesting post on this topic at Her Bad Mother. Catherine Conners recently moved her family from Canada to New York so she could pursue her dream career. Because of this transition, her husband became the caregiver in their family, and he… hated it. I could relate completely to her description of his feelings about stay-at-home-parenting:

If I write the words Kyle does not like being a stay-at-home dad, Kyle does not like being dependent upon me, Kyle is not comfortable being the ‘wife,’ it just sounds wrong, it seems open to misinterpretation, to misunderstanding on the part of anyone who would read those words and not get that he loves his kids, and that he loves being with his kids, and that he loves me and is proud of me, and that he wouldn’t want me to be anyone other than who I am, that all of these things are true and important, more important than the ‘and yet…’ that follows them. And yet he doesn’t like being at home I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his reality. I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his feelings.

I can relate completely. Kyle and I are on the same team here! Wow! But can you imagine this being about a wife? This family been in this new life arrangement for a few months – how many years of dissatisfaction with stay-at-home-motherhood do women weather without anyone being seriously concerned about their fulfillment, or seeking alternatives? Other than fellow Moms who completely get where I’m coming from, does anyone read my blog and feel sympathetic to the “complicatedness” of my feelings and reality? I think it speaks to Catherine’s own complicated experience as a mother that she can sympathize and respect her husband’s experience, even as it imperils this fragile plan they created so she could pursue her own dreams. But as I write this, I imagine readers stumbling across me and being like, “Ugh, another bored white mom complaining about her privilege.”

I decided to reread The Feminine Mystique because more and more I’m dissatisfied with the options available to me – which can be boiled down to public/private or public/domestic, work/home – but despite wave after wave, there still aren’t many in-betweens or alternatives. Either you find yourself in or through the home (SAHM, WAHM), or you have to reject the home (WOHM). Right? So what else is there? Is there a place outside the home where I can find myself as a woman and a mom? Is there an out-walking-around-mom? A driving-around-and-talking-mom? A reading-and-writing-sometimes-cranky-always-loving-always-thinking-mom? We need more options for individual fulfillment beyond work and home. We need some new spheres.

4 Roads Not Travelled: What I Should Have Done Instead of Going to Grad School

Every day, someone finds our blog by googling about quitting grad school. This is awesome: welcome. I hope our writing has been helpful to you. I also thought it might be wise to have a landing strip for folks googling  “Should I go to grad school?”

My answer is: No. Don’t go to grad school. If you want a “yes” or a “maybe,” talk to someone else. I think more people, including advisers and professors, should actively discourage people from grad school. Even the smart students. That’s what I want to do with this post. I wish someone had said this to me, given me pause, made me reconsider. There were a lot of yeasayers when it came to grad school. I want to be a naysayer.

Don’t go to grad school.

I’m about two weeks away from being done with grad school. I go through phases where I feel profoundly bitter about my lousy decision-making, and I’m right smack in the middle of one right now. Bitterness is a common post-grad school emotion: for example, after leaving grad school, my husband changed his Facebook info to “Studied: Bitterness. Degree: MA in unemployable bullshittology.”

So yeah, take this with a grain of bitter salt. This is from my perspective, bla bla bla disclaimer.

I generally pride myself on being a smart person, someone who can see the big picture, weigh pros and cons, and come up with solutions to problems. I like being decisive, and I like being right. Hell, that’s one of the reasons I thought I was a good candidate for grad school.

A very quick sum-up of my grad school experience: I enrolled in a PhD program in American Studies, an interdisciplinary field, immediately after graduating from college in 2004. I quickly became disenchanted for a variety of reasons I won’t get into now. In 2007, I decided to leave that program with an MA and considered many, many, many other paths before applying to (get ready for it) another PhD program, this time in literacy education. It was a much better program and I learned a lot, but even so, after five years, I am now leaving that PhD at the comps stage. All told, I’ve been in grad school for eight years, and will leave with 2 Master’s degrees and a boatload of mostly useless credit hours.

Grad school has been an exercise in wishy-washy hemming and hawing, and pretty much every decision I made from the type of degree to pursue to the courses I took was wrong. It has been a comedy of errors, and sometimes I can laugh about it (really, most of the time I can), but right now I’m thinking about what I should have done instead of going to grad school.

Become a High School English Teacher

I was an Education major in college and came within an inch of finalizing my teaching license by the time I graduated. I student-taught 9th and 12th grade in a suburban high school, which was a fantastic experience. I should have earned my license and become a teacher.

I had good reasons for not wanting to become a high school teacher by the time I wrapped up my BS Ed degree. No Child Left Behind was just rolling in like a tsunami and I could see the impact it would have on classroom teaching practices, school budgets, and teacher life. I did not want to experience that. At 23, I didn’t feel quite ready to sign up for my lifetime career, and I wanted a chance to get out of Oklahoma. I was having a ball in my upper division, honors courses and wanted more of that. I was newly engaged and my partner also wanted to go to grad school. So, there were reasons.

That being said, I could have, maybe even should have, finished up that teaching license so that HS teaching would have been an option at any time when grad school started sucking (which it did almost immediately). While there are serious drawbacks to HS teaching, I love working with teenagers, especially goofy, immature, at-risk college freshmen. They are essentially high school students. I love teaching books, writing together, and the buzz of the classroom. I would have been happy in high school.

I could have taught for several years before having kids, and might have been able to arrange a part-time schedule when they arrived, or at the very least have paid off my student loan debt and put aside some money before they showed up. I can’t quite quantify for you the benefits of having earned money for most of my adult life, versus having borrowed my way into crushing debt. Even a few years of teaching experience would have been invaluable in terms of understanding what I truly wanted in a job and a graduate degree, so it would have helped me make better choices if and when I did pursue graduate studies. I still might pursue this avenue: ten years later, I am securing my teaching licenses in Oklahoma and Iowa so that I’m never more than a few bureaucratic steps away from being eligible to teach in public schools.

Earned a Master’s in a Traditional Humanities Discipline

I did not understand the differences between an MA and a PhD at all before deciding to go to grad school, and this led to some extremely bad decision-making. Retrospectively, I can’t emphasize enough the value of an MA, even if you drink the kool-aid and go on to a PhD (don’t do it!).

An MA provides a breadth of knowledge that is essential to teach at the college level, as well as make decisions about dissertation research. There’s no way I could have been competitive for English or History faculty positions at 4-year schools with the scattershot coursework I took in my interdisciplinary humanities PhD program. I did not have a solid grounding in any area or field because my program let me design my own very special and unique “plan of study” (ha) and didn’t require me to have a certain number of hours in a single discipline. Ergo, my Am Studies MA is a patchwork of English, History, Comm Studies, and Anthropology courses, and I am not qualified to teach any of these at the college level.

I can and do teach at a community college, which I adore. I wish I’d known that this was an option: I could have done Master’s work in English and likely landed a teaching gig I’d have enjoyed, without all this unnecessary extra coursework. But, because I don’t have a ton of graduate course hours in English, I’m not always eligible to apply for CC English positions, because they want that breadth of graduate coursework (MA-level courses in Brit Lit, Am Lit, etc). By definition, the “Master’s Degree” is the teacher’s degree. I currently teach developmental reading and writing, and I like this very much, but I am disappointed that there are limitations to the jobs I can apply for because of my crappy coursework.

I could have earned a traditional MA and had that intellectual experience I was seeking after college, figured out that PhD students are wackadoodles, and then left. I could have gone on to do just about anything without sinking myself further into debt. I would be exactly as competitive for jobs as I am now, with two truncated PhDs. That extra coursework is doing nothing for me in terms of job apps. The only thing my additional years of coursework has brought me is more teaching experience, but I could have been doing that anyway (profitably!).

A traditional MA would still have been beneficial if I’d moved on to a PhD. Another drawback to leapfrogging all that MA coursework is that PhD course reqs are geared towards specialization and research, not establishing a broad knowledge base. Thus, I was really hamstrung when it came to conceiving of a decent research project. I had to read, on my own, the entire back history of any field I was interested in, because I had not sat through the coursework that would have provided it. This was especially true in my Education PhD: I just didn’t have the background to dream up a good research topic in a field where I’d mostly taken courses on how to do research. I needed that interim step.

Found a Professional Master’s Program

I toyed with going into counseling or social work. I could have done an education-focused MA in student development or athletic services. In fact, my adviser is eager for me to switch to a Reading MA because it would be “right up my alley.” Any of these programs would have been interesting and challenging, and would have the benefit of actual applicability to a job I might have enjoyed, with the possibility of making more money as well. I knew absolutely nothing about professional Master’s programs when I wrapped up my college career. I wish, wish, wish I’d been less embarrassed to talk to my education profs about my interest in pursuing grad school (I felt guilty that I didn’t want to go right into teaching) so MAYBE someone could have floated one of these great options in my direction. I wish I’d done more research.

Opened up a dozen credit cards and spent a year bumming around in Europe with my husband.

I went to college in those days when credit card companies would set up tables in the south oval and give you free shit if you got a card. I wish we’d opened up a ton and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt traveling in Britain, Germany, France. I wish we’d bought unnecessarily elaborate travel gear and taken a hundred thousand photos. I wish we’d lived for two weeks in some ritzy hotel in Rome, smoked a ton of pot in Amsterdam, and bought ridiculously expensive Eiffel Tower souvenirs for everyone in my family. I wish we’d had our luggage stolen and slept in iffy hostels and skinny dipped in the Adriatic.

Wannabe Rick Steveses

I would have accrued less debt and wasted less time than I have in grad school, and my God, the memories! I don’t know if, between a family and student loan debt, I will ever, in my life, be able to afford international travel. It would have been foolish and irresponsible, sure, but so was grad school: at least this would have had bucket list payoff.

Muppet Babies and the Do No Harm Theory of Children’s Television Viewing

This week, we are talking about watching TV with our kids. You will find that Jen and I are rather unabashedly pro-TV. Read on for Muppets, Dora, Kipper and more.

Lauren: I’m here and ready whenever you are.

Dude, 3 more hits and today ties our busiest day so far!

Jennifer: My kids are watching Dora the Explorer, and Tyler has pledged to supervise toothbrushing. I’m in!

8:12 PM Lauren: Sweet!

What time is it where you live??

Jennifer: It’s 9:15. Normally they are in bed by now, but dinner was late so we pushed bedtime back rather than fight over changing the routine.

8:13 PM Lauren: WOW

If my kids aren’t in bed by 8:15 I’m like WTF YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY

Summer is definitely bumping everything back for us.

Jennifer: But yours get up early. Mine will sleep till 9 tomorrow morning.

Lauren: I was watching Dora the ‘Plowah with Holly at 5:15 today.

8:14 PM In the MORNING, I mean.

Jennifer: I do not know how you do it. Usually Margeaux wakes up around then, and I just bring her back to bed with me.

Lauren: She won’t accept ANY substitute! And she won’t stay in bed or stay asleep. She just starts whining “wanna get uuuuuup”

8:15 PM Jennifer: Yikes. we have had our share of sleep struggles, but I feel like that would have pushed me over the edge.

8:16 PM Although for a while around age 2 D was having nightmares and would demand to watch Wonder Pets in the middle of the night.

Lauren: I’m inured to it. It’s debilitating at times for sure, but Robin sleeps pretty well at 4, so I have hope that things will settle down, you know, in a few years.

Haha

Yikes

Our fave show for toddlers is a British show called Kipper

8:17 PM It’s completely lowkey and not remotely annoying. Robin was OBSESSED with it, but Holly has zero interest (she is all about Dora).

 

Jennifer: I’ve never seen Kipper!

Lauren: Oh, dude. It’s so good.

Jennifer: We still love Wonder Pets. Also this new show, Doc McStuffins.

Lauren: My kids did not get Wonder Pets. They’re like, wtf.

I do not know of this Doc McStuffins.

8:18 PM We only watch tv streaming on Netflix so we are always about 5 years behind any tv trend and completely dependent on their selection (hence the absence of Disney in our lives).

Jennifer: Doc McStuffins is a 6 year old Af. Am. girl. Her mom is a doctor, and she cures her dolls/toys/stuffed animals of various ailments that she makes up funny names for.

8:19 PM Lauren: Oh dude, that sounds awesome!

Jennifer: My girls have started saying, “What’s the diagnosis?” when they play with their dolls.

Lauren: Robin is OBSESSED with anatomy right now, she would love a show about doctor stuff.

Jennifer: Disney Channel.

Lauren: Fuckin’ Disney.

8:20 PM Jennifer: Maybe you could get it on DVD?

She has a stay at home dad, which is also cool.

Lauren: That is really great.

Maybe someday it will trickle down to Netflix availability.

Jennifer: Someday… and in the meantime you have Kipper.

8:21 PM So what are your tv rules?

Lauren: The rules I wish I enforced, you mean?

Jennifer: HA!

Yes.

Lauren: If I’m following the rules, they can watch one show in the morning and one show when they get home from daycare while I cook dinner.

8:22 PM The rules we always stick to is, no TV during meals, and no TV after dinner.

Any day Holly wakes up at 5 am I pretty much will allow anything if she just lets me sit and zone out.

Jennifer: That all seems very reasonable.

8:23 PM We almost always do tv as part of the evening routine- tv, brush teeth, go potty, stories, songs, bed.

Lauren: I read in a sleep book that TV right before bed makes their brains all crazy

And since sleep is the holy grail in this house, I banned TV after dinner time.

8:24 PM Jennifer: Yeah, it’s probably bad for their brains.

Lauren: We typically play for 15-30 min with Brian when he gets home, which is typically during dinner

So it’s dinner, play, bath, stories, tooth brush, bed.

8:25 PM But TV is def part of our morning routine.

8:26 PM Jennifer: It’s just such an easy way to fill those little gaps of time when I need to be productive and I need them to not destroy anything.

Lauren: Yep

Jennifer: Because free play and art make messes. And that’s fine, but there are limits to when I can deal with messes.

Lauren: For me it’s essential if dishes are to be done or dinner to be made when we get home in the afternoon.

8:27 PM Jennifer: And honestly? I don’t feel as guilty as I think I’m supposed to. They have definitely learned stuff from watching tv.

Lauren: Otherwise I’m interrupted every 5 minutes with needs for shoes, toys, coats, a drink of water, etc etc

Jennifer: Mine do things like play “shirt store” and take all the shirst out of all the drawers.

8:28 PM Lauren: HA!

In moderation, I don’t sweat it.

But, I don’t like the way it dominates our home time

Jennifer: Do they ask for it?

Lauren: And I worry that my kids will be unmotivated blobs like I was as a kid, and I really don’t want to encourage that.

Jennifer: Or is that you find yourself offering it more than you want to?

Lauren: Which is why I really WANT to enforce those rules.

Oh yes.

8:29 PM I find myself saying yes a lot.

I find myself offering out of desperation more than I’d like to.

8:30 PM Jennifer: Dorothy didn’t watch tv (except what we were watching) until I lost my job and unexpectedly became a stay at home mom.

Lauren: The amount of TV we watch is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep I’m getting, let me put it that way.

And I don’t get much sleep.

8:31 PM Jennifer: She was about 1, and I was pregnant, and until that shift to being home I didn’t realize how many hours there are in a day spent entirely at home. And so I began to fill a couple of those hours with Elmo, and we haven’t looked back.

Lauren: Yeah

Jennifer: Yes– I feel you on the more tv when I’m tired.

Lauren: That’s almost exactly the same thing that happened with us.

We didn’t watch kid shows until Robin hit about 14 months and I was pregnant with Holly and then it was all Kipper and Yo Gabba Gabba and Curious George.

8:32 PM Jennifer: Maybe their brains are fried on the inside from all my lax parenting.

But from what I can see, they are doing just fine.

8:33 PM Wonder Pets at 2 am and all.

Lauren: I worry about it when school comes around.

My kids will never be watching whatever shows are cool.

8:34 PM PLUS it seems like gender becomes a real issue as you move into school-age/tween shows.

So I start getting all lecturey and annoyed.

Jennifer: What do you think about gender in the preschool age shows? I know you hate Angelina Ballerina.

8:35 PM Lauren: I hate Angelina for reasons that go beyond gender.

I hate Angelina because the entire construct is completely idiotic, and I find her whiny and annoying, and the more I watch it the more problems I find with it, so it makes me grumpy.

8:36 PM As far as gender goes, Angelina does feature boys who dance, and girls who enjoy dance other than pretty ballerina dancing.

And technically the mice represent different races, so that’s good (I GUESS).

Jennifer: I’m fascinated by the way kids tv shows make the animals different races.

8:37 PM I can’t decide if I think it’s useful or ridiculous.

Lauren: Yes, it’s pretty interesting to parse. Angelina attends some absurd dance school with only five students and each student is from a different country.

It feels tokenish?

I mean, take a really flat show concept with no real narrative

Add stock characters

8:38 PM Does it really matter if Marco is a South American mouse?

Wouldn’t it be just as meh if he was a white mouse with no accent?

Jennifer: Dorothy sometimes makes up nonsense words and claims she’s speaking Chinese, like Kai-Lan.

8:39 PM Lauren: Robin insists that the word “crotch” is Spanish.

I definitely attribute Dora and other shows for my girls’ awesome counting and Spanish speaking.

Jennifer: Ha!

Yes.

8:40 PM Lauren: Often, Robin and Holly play a game where they have to say abre or cierra to get through.

That’s all Dora.

8:41 PM Jennifer: My girls definitely incorporate the basic Spanish into their games. Although I think the Spanish is easier to understand on Handy Manny. And I like that the voice is Fez from that 70s Show. But alas, my girls will. not. watch Handy Manny.

8:42 PM Lauren: We don’t allow Phineas and Ferb anymore because of the sexism.

It’s a shame, because otherwise we enjoy that show as a family. But we can’t get past how sucky Candace is.

8:43 PM Jennifer: We have never watched it- the girls havent really shown an interest.

Lauren: That show would be great if you were raising boys.

It’s all about intelligence and seizing the day, some of the guys are nerdy and some aren’t, it’s based on cooperation and not competition, etc.

But their older sister is this vapid idiot who obsesses over either catching her brothers breaking the rules, or what her boyfriend thinks about her.

8:44 PM She has no interests, identity, or purpose beyond those things. She’s completely uninteresting.

Jennifer: Ugh.

Lauren: The music is awesome and it’s really funny. And it’s sexist so we can’t watch it.

So now we watch Spongebob, which only has ONE female character, a Texan squirrel.

8:45 PM Jennifer: Sandy!

Lauren: Sandy’s kinda hardcore

Jennifer: My sister used to watch SpongeBob when the show first started– she was in college.

Lauren: It really has a universal appeal.

8:46 PM Jennifer: My personal favorite Spongebob episode is the one where the jellyfish are having that crazy party at his house and they’re blasting the music and he can’t sleep.

Lauren: HAha

Our favorite is the Krusty Krab Pizza episode.

8:47 PM Jennifer: My girls aren’t really into Spongebob yet.

They like Cat in the Hat.

Lauren: Holly calls him Spongebob Snowpants.

We did Cat in the Hat for a long time.

It’s okay

I mean, I don’t think it’s brilliant, but I like it. Seems like they air the same eps over and over again so we got bored with it.

8:48 PM Jennifer: Yes- and it borders on too factual/educational for Lucy, who prefers Dora and UmiZoomi above all others.

8:49 PM Lauren: We have played Umizoomi games but we have not seen the show. This is the magical skirt show, right?

Jennifer: Yes. Geo uses his shape belt to build things, and Milli can measure things with her ponytails and change the pattern on her dress to fill in missing parts of patterns.

8:50 PM Lauren: NO. Her ponytail??

Jennifer: Yes. They turn into measuring tapes.

Lauren: Speaking of hair, how do you feel about the final episode of Dora, where she goes from being our androgynous explorer to a fairy princess?

8:51 PM Jennifer: It drives me nuts.

And really, I blame Diego.

Because until the Diego spin off, Dora was not explicitly a girls show.

Lauren: I think Diego was intended to be for older kids, but it ended up being the boy show.

8:52 PM Which is irritating, because S1 and S2 — even S3! — Dora is so gender neutral and friendly to all little ones.

8:54 PM Jennifer: My girls will watch Diego too. But with both Dora and Diego the shouting makes me crazy. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME?

I know some people are really freaked out that Dora has no parents, but it doesn’t bother me.

Lauren: Yeah, the volume and repitition is a little rough.

8:55 PM I think it’s FANTASTIC that Dora goes out on her own with a map to solve problems.

Oh my God, if my girls can do that, I will succeed as a mother.

I mean she’s basically a Girl Scout!

Jennifer: I feel the same way.

8:56 PM Lauren: Here, you’ll love this:

Jennifer: and honestly, even though my kids are constantly supervised, they are so much more invested in each other and their games and pretend worlds that I think sometimes they see me as sort of a distant, supervisory, non-entity.

In that sense, shows like Max and Ruby and Dora, where the parents aren’t around, probably feel truer to how they exeprience their world.

Lauren: When I was a kid, my Mom kicked us out of the house and was like “see you at dinner”

8:57 PM We wandered all over our neighborhood, within the established parameters.

And that was that. She didn’t even keep the door open to hear us.

Jennifer: HA! (cereal guy)

Lauren: Right: I mean, I agree some of the scenarios are far-fetched/odd, but I think it’s probably right to acknowledge that kids are the center of their own world

8:58 PM And parents move in and out of that world. We don’t have to be the focus or the bosses all the time.

8:59 PM Jennifer: Definitely. I don’t want to play shirt store. And I’m sort of glad they don’t need me to.

Lauren: Right.

I guess I think it’s interesting that we expect shows to pass on messages to our kids, and in some ways reflect reality, but also be wildly interesting and entertaining.

9:00 PM AND educational.

Jennifer: It’s a lot to ask. Definitely more than I ask of the tv shows I watch.

Dancing with the Stars is definitely not meeting all those criteria.

9:01 PM Lauren: Right. I remember one of the folks discussing this with us on facebook said that if a show didn’t have a “purpose” then her kids probably shouldn’t be watching it.

Jennifer: Maybe Project Runway does?

Lauren: Creativity! Sewing! Bitchiness!!

Jennifer: Although, I’m not sure I agree that all kids tv needs purpose.

9:02 PM It can’t be harmful. But it’s okay with me if it’s not super educational.

Barbie Mermaid movie falls into that category.

Or Fresh Beat Band.

Lauren: Right, I remember several people agreeing with you that “do no harm” is ok.

9:03 PM I think this is where I tend to push certain shows and discourage others (ANGELINA) — because I think ok, fine, if you want to watch a show because it’s fun, which is fine, a least make it one with a decent narrative, or decent music, or humor, or something.

9:04 PM How about The Princess and the Frog or Gabba or Spongebob, and NOT the skinny new My Little Ponies?

Jennifer: Have you heard about the bros who like My Little Ponies?

Lauren: No

9:05 PM Jennifer: Let me see if I can find a link. They’re guys who are obsessed with MLP.

Lauren: I do find that, as a Mom, I am surprised at how much I enjoy watching my children enjoy something like a TV show.

9:06 PM We went a little wild with the Dora swag for Holly’s birthday because she just gets SO EXCITED to wear anything with Dora.

Jenniferhttp://jezebel.com/5827591/the-unlikely-origins-of-the-brony-or-dudes-who-like-my-little-pony

9:07 PM Lauren: Wow, that’s really interesting. I’ve watched it and I don’t find it that riveting.

Jennifer: Me either.

We watched the Muppet movie last weekend, and we were thrilled that Dorothy loved it so much.

Lauren: Nice!

9:08 PM Jennifer: Maybe partly because we have childhood connections to it.

Lauren: We had a phase where Robin was into Muppets Take Manhattan: that was awesome.

My girls love the Chipmunk movies.

Jennifer: And partly because it was so hilarious to watch her encounter the Muppets for the first time and try and make sense of them. When Beaker came on, she actually said “Why does that skinny oval keep saying MEEP MEEP MEEP?”

Lauren: (Which I also have some gender problems with, esp. the newer one, but that’s a battle for another time.)

9:09 PM Jennifer: We haven’t seen the Chipmunks.

Lauren: I spent last summer showing my girls episodes of Muppet Babies on youtube while I made lunch

That was pretty great. Muppet Babies is awesome.

9:10 PM Chipmunks are def. a “do no harm” kind of show. The music is pretty good, though!

9:11 PM Jennifer: I think the honest truth is that I like tv, T likes tv, our kids like tv, and I’m more invested in raising media savvy kids than kids who aren’t exposed to tv.

Lauren: To be fair, I should hate Muppet Babies because Piggy is such a psycho. Damn you, nostalgia!!

We live TV, too.

9:12 PM Jennifer: I haven’t watched Muppet Babies since childhood, but I’m totally going to watch it with the girls tomorrow now that I’m thinking about it.

Lauren: And, I do use shows as opportunities to have actual conversations with my kids about choices, bodies, stereotypes, feelings, etc.

(It’s as good as you remember it.)

9:13 PM In fact, the other day, Brian and I were saying that we need to start talking to the girls about commercials. We never see them, which we think is AWESOME and IDEAL, but we want them to know what they are before they start encountering them later on.

Jennifer: This was the first Christmas where the girls realized that the things they see in commercials are actually real things in the world.

Lauren: We plan on telling them that commercials are lies/tricks. It sounds extreme but it’s also kinda true.

9:14 PM Jennifer: My mom definitely told me that Magic Shell and the Easy Bake Oven were lies. Why she chose those products I’ll never know.

9:15 PM Lauren: HAha

That’s interesting

Jennifer: The girls got Stompeez for Chirstmas. Because they were obsessed with the commercial.

Lauren: My parents never talked to us about commercials. I was a total dupe for that stuff.

I want my kids to have robust skepticism when it comes to consumerism.

Are those the weird slippers?

Jennifer: Yup. We have a rabbit pair and a cat pair.

They were definitely overpriced. But kind of adorable.

9:16 PM Lauren: We saw that commercial while visiting my inlaws at Thanksgiving and Robin was really interested.

Jennifer: I felt like they fell into a sort of Do No Harm category.

9:17 PM Lauren: Sure. Animal slippers? Do not harm.

Barbie I’m not sure about.

Jennifer: Better than Bratz dolls.

Lauren: Bratz I’m adamantly opposed to

Haha — great minds.

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: Robin got a My Little Pony doll in a kid’s meal last week

9:18 PM And every time I see it I’m like “wow, that pony doesn’t look like a real horse, look how thin and unhealthy this body is, look at the way the nose is too small for her to eat” etc etc etc

Jennifer: We have some My Little Ponies, and some Barbies, and some princess dolls, and some Groovy Girls.

Lauren: Robin’s all EYEROLL on me.

Jennifer: I told Dorothy that Bratz wore too much make up.,

9:19 PM In general, my toy policy is like my tv policy: moderation in all things.

Lauren: I just don’t get the appeal of Barbies. I had ONE Barbie as a kid, and I ended up giving it to the boy next door, who LOVED Barbies.

I got bored brushing her hair.

Jennifer: Ours have snarly hair.

Lauren: I will definitely allow my kids to get the Katniss Barbie!

My friend Steph and her sister did amazing stories with Barbie. So did Pamie at pamie.com. If my kids did that, I’d be cool with Barbie.

9:20 PM Jennifer: My girls mostly use them in pretend games which typically involve someone being stranded and someone else rescuing them. Or someone being hurt and someone else being the doctor.

And they put on dance shows.

But our dinosaurs put on dance shows too.

9:21 PM And honestly, all of that is part of why I feel like tv hasn’t fried their brains. They pretend avidly. ‘

Lauren: Right

9:22 PM I think that if we use TV to start conversations and ask a lot of questions, then it can be ok.

I never want them to accept it at face value. But otherwise, I can be ok with it.

9:23 PM Jennifer: I have actually banned some pretend games (fork people and crayon people). I think tv can be good in lots of ways: to start conversations, to ask questions, to relax when we need our bodies and minds to wind down after a long day.

9:24 PM I like to snuggle up on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk.

Lauren: Definitely: and I look forward to sharing certain shows with the girls when I’m older.

Mystery series, like I watched with my sister and Mom. Buffy.

9:25 PM Jennifer: Project Runway. Amazing Race. Possibly The Cosby Show.

X-Files.

9:26 PM Lauren: When we visited my inlaws at Thanksgiving, we all enjoyed watching Dancing With the Stars together

I thought that was pretty cool!

XFILES OMG.

9:27 PM Jennifer: Right? I want my girls to at least consider growing up to be Scully.

Lauren: She’s a skeptic

I like that

And Mulder, so cute.

Jennifer: I KNOW.

Lauren: Scully’s cute, too, for that matter.

Jennifer: Yup.

9:28 PM So: I think we are definitely pro-tv. People might hate on us for this.

Lauren: Yeah, I can imagine some people I really admire being like OMGBADMOMMY.

9:30 PM Jennifer: Me too.

Lauren: I don’t know; I keep reading about Moms hating on each other on the internet and I’m just not sure how to avoid that.

I mean, there may be no way to avoid controversy.

9:31 PM Jennifer: Let’s get Ashley Judd to say something about it.

She’s freaking amazing.

Lauren: Totally! And hey, she’s on TV.

Jennifer: Perfect.

9:32 PM Lauren: From our facebook convo, we know that this is something a lot of parents are thinking about

9:33 PM Jennifer: But I think a lot of this comes back to your most recent post: I am not a perfect mom. But I am trying very hard to be the best mom I can be, in the way that is specific to my own pleasures and quirks.

Lauren: And people have divided opinions about what’s appropriate, etc.

I neither think watching TV will ruin my children, nor do I think NOT watching TV will automatically make them good people/better people.

9:34 PM Jennifer: Right.

9:35 PM Plus, the Muppet Babies is just too awesome to deny.

Lauren: I’m sure there are lots of kids who do not watch TV or watch limited TV, and still suck.

Muppet Babies is so. Good.

9:36 PM So when you post this, you’ll have to find lots of Muppet Babies pictures

Because MB worship is what this has boiled down to. 😉

Jennifer: I see nothing wrong with that.

9:37 PM Lauren: Well, it’s my bedtime, since I get up at the asscrack of dawn.

Jennifer: May you dream sweet, muppety dreams.

9:38 PM Lauren: That would be awesome.

Have fun revisiting M. Babies tomorrow!

Jennifer: Can’t wait! TTYL!

Lauren: TTYL!

What do you think about kids watching TV? What are your house rules? Anything we missed when it comes to feminist shows, especially for little ones?

If these issues interest you, definitely check out Peggy Orenstein’s awesome blog and books, as well as the essential resource Pigtail Pals.

Feist on Sesame Street was an early, televised ray of hope when Dorothy was a baby.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood does good advocacy work on these issues, though I don’t think Lauren and I are signing up for screen free week.

Geena Davis has run the numbers on girls and women being underrepresented in the media.