Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mommy & Me

“Mother.” I sighed. I had called to see how today went – she had an appointment with the doctor and she and Dad took Little One to see a show.

After she finished with her stories, I told her I talked to Brother yesterday. He told me that Littler One will be a girl.

“He didn’t sound happy.” I mused. “He sounded tired. The poor kid’s exhausted, I think.”

“He works really hard.” Mom replied. “And Brother’s Wife has him running all over. He cooks and cleans up every night. Helps clean the house, does all the laundry, picks Little One up from daycare every other day. Works all the time. She doesn’t know how good he is.”

Before they were married, Brother’s Wife informed Mom and me that he loved her far more than she loved him. But her mom told her that was the way it should be – that way she’d always get her way.

I am unwavering in my belief that there are rocks smarter than this girl, but to say such a thing to your boyfriend’s family is asinine. He’s far too good for her and I only tolerate her as his wife and Little One’s mother. Otherwise, I – terrible as it sounds – have zero interest in her. My mom – though she does put forth tremendous effort – is similarly disenchanted with the pretty blonde.

“When they came over the other night for dinner, I put my plan into practice.”

“Ah.” I said knowingly. She had explained that Brother’s Wife expected Brother to help cook and clean up each time they were at my parents’. When Brother said that was standard operating procedure regardless of the location – his wife’s parents, my parents, their home, friends’ houses – Mom was displeased.

“So Brother helped me cook dinner – he grilled while I made pasta salad. Then after we were finished, I said, ‘Brother, you helped cook. Now go sit down. Brother’s Wife, you’ll help me clean up.’”

She paused to allow me to be impressed that she remembered the script she’d devised earlier. I smiled but didn’t comment, resting the phone against the left side of my face and snuggling into the couch.

“She said she guessed she could do that, and helped me get the kitchen back together.”

“Good.” I praised. “So you feel better?”

“Well, some.” She said. “But she still takes him for granted! We had to go get Little One last night so that she could yell at him in private. She said he went for a drink when they got home from the sonogram, then wanted to watch TV later on. Since she wanted him to vacuum and clean the kitchen, Little One had to leave so they could fight.

“So Little One came over and when Brother came to get her this morning, he said he did what she asked but she kept bossing him around. So he left for a little while – he just got tired of listening to her.”

I watched the end of Raymond while she detailed how lucky Brother’s Wife was. How hard Brother worked, how much Brother did, how wonderful Brother was.

“So I’m going to tell her.” She said. And that’s when I sighed at her.

“I think you should let him figure it out.” I advised. “He’s smart and resourceful and he can do this on his own. You don’t need to correct her behavior, Mom. Then she’ll get mad and you’ll be hurt and I’ll get another phone call about how she’ll never let you see Little One again.”

“I’m not going to cause problems!” Mom said, indignant. “I’ll just bring it up casually.”


“She should know! If she doesn’t start taking care of him a little, he’ll burn out and there won’t be anything left for her to take advantage of. He said he’s only staying because of the children.”

“Well, Brother sometimes lies. Or gets frustrated and wants to vent. If he wants to leave or needs his situation to change, he’ll have to make that happen. You can’t do it for him.”

“She needs to know.” Mom stated stubbornly and I told her to do what she needed to do.

We get bored in my family. None of us sleep well, leading to irritability in general. Mom, Brother and I are quite sensitive and are therefore offended when people don’t take the care with us that we would display with them. We are fascinated by drama, though we are very upset by it. Yet we continually create it.

It’s so easy to see from the outside though. I don’t give Mom too hard a time because I get it. There’s this injustice and it tugs at the consciousness, demanding some action or attention. After all, I, in my infinite wisdom and maturity, wrote email to Boss this morning.

I've been avoiding saying anything about Dawn because I don't want to make you uncomfortable and would hate to seem intrusive or disrespectful. I have every confidence that you did what you thought was best with the situation and do not require details or explanations. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to work for you and am learning a tremendous amount. I just wanted to share some information so that I can stop thinking about it and so that I'm confident you're aware of the situation as you decide what to do next with that position.

The last time I saw Winnie was before the retreat last summer. We talked about how one of my papers had been accepted and how she was disappointed that her former advisor hadn't submitted everything she'd written. She seemed sad and exhausted, which struck me as unusual for her, so as she was making copies, I asked what was going on. She told me that she was on probation for not accomplishing tasks quickly enough. That her mentors in her other lab were vocal in their disappointment in her work. But she said that she felt buried in administrative and other tasks - training students, dealing with protocols and revisions for the entire lab, keeping records. She said she wished she was able to spend more time in our offices - and on her research - but she didn't have the resources to do so. Her hands were shaking during the conversation so I helped her punch holes in papers and put them in a binder. I encouraged her to skip the retreat if she didn't have time to make a poster and deal with travel, and she spoke to Jill about her options.

I understand the retreat went very well for her, and I was pleased to hear it. I also acknowledge that I could have caught her on a bad day when she just needed to complain a little. I know there are times I'm overwhelmed and busy and then things lighten up and feel more manageable again.

Regardless, that conversation haunts me and when Dawn started, I suggested she might want to guard her time a bit more carefully. I shared that I worried they'd taken advantage of Winnie and pushed her far too hard to do work outside the research project she wanted to do. When the same thing appeared to be happening - the lack of research support or training at [other lab] followed by insistence that she handle tasks more related to the lab than her own work - I was pleased that Dawn stayed focused on her tasks and limited her involvement with protocols and training and doing projects for which she didn't have time.

Since this apparently led to her eventual resignation, I feel guilty for encouraging her to go down a path that ended up working out so poorly. I think Dawn is very bright and extremely motivated. She seems focused on what's fair and feasible and is clearly willing to help and work hard, but seemed to chafe against the environment in that lab.

I very much wish that Dawn's time here had ended differently. I do want to be clear that I know you did your best to help her. I certainly don't mean to offend you - I just wanted to make sure you had my information. I think I've had such wonderful collaborators here - Dr. Icing and Quiet Mentor have been encouraging and helpful - that I'm bothered that another scientist will be lost to what seems to be a terrible environment and selfish mentor at [other lab].

If you'd like to discuss this further, please let me know. Otherwise, please accept my apologies for intruding on a situation that has nothing to do with me or my career. I debated heavily over sending anything, but every time I look at the empty desk in my office, I felt heavy with the need to say something.


I didn’t send it. I’m torn as to what I hope to accomplish. I don’t have a complete picture and I’m clearly on Dawn’s side since I had grown to enjoy having her around. It has nothing to do with me and therefore any statements in this area could be construed as disrespectful. And I’m not exactly operating from a position of great power. My performance in this postdoc has been adequate but not overly impressive. I don’t want to cause problems for myself or introduce tension into my relationship with Boss unless it’s truly worthwhile.

The problem – for Mom and me – is that we see a situation that could go a couple of ways. We very much want to help and have enough free time to obsess over a way to do so. As for what the right answer is, I’m not really sure. I find we’re both helpless against the impulse to share our thoughts, try to help, make sure people know what we think is right, even when said thought has no real place in the situation.

Mom now has a new plan though. She will patiently wait for the moment where she can pounce on some statement an unwitting Brother’s wife makes. Then she will try her best to casually incorporate how wonderful Brother is and how lucky his wife should feel. And it’s not likely to do any good.

I’m less decisive in my approach. I don’t know whether to send the email or to wait and see what happens. I feel sick at the very thought that yet another person will be hired to work in that lab. So now it’s your turn to sigh at me.


TitleTroubles said...

First off, your SIL sounds scarily like my now ex-SIL. The difference being that one day my brother abruptly decided that he was done doing what she wanted and quit cleaning and cooking and shopping. That and Teh Moron is now, finally, blessedly, my ex-SIL.

Your letter to Boss was very well written, and very true to what you've told me. I will admit to being a little relieved when I reached the "I didn't send it" part. I'm not in a position to sigh at you, as you know I've sent a similar e-mail to my own Boss, though in that case, the situation probably had more of a direct effect on me. So, I guess I don't have any good advice here. Were it me, I think I'd see how things played out a little more. Does Jill know what Winnie told you? Because if Jill knows, then Boss probably knows already.

Anonymous said...

hey katie, i know how you and your mom feel, i find myself wanting to do that all the time. but good for you for showing restraint, as i usually put my foot in my mouth. good luck with the work situation.

Kisha said...

"Wife informed Mom and me that he loved her far more than she loved him. But her mom told her that was the way it should be – that way she’d always get her way."

That's just weird. First, why would you say that to HIS family? No tact. And shows little caring for others.
Second, what kind of mother gives advice to a daughter like that? One whose main goal is to get her married?

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