This expedition has been years in the making, from applying to proposals & gathering funds, sussing out a timeline, and making a plan where we could bring the boys, caregivers, and still get our work done. Here’s what is going to happen & how we got there:
Me & Simon (the science team), Joey & Blake (the nuggets), and Grammy & Papa (the caregivers) are flying to Honolulu on February 1 for one month. We are staying at a rental house by Kailua beach, a short drive from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, where Simon & I will be working. In addition to space for the six of us, the house has a semi-attached “in-law suite” that will serve as our lab.
It all started with a NASA proposal two years ago that I developed with my postdoc advisor, to inform the HySPIRI satellite mission during an expedition to Hawaii. NASA will fly over the Hawaiian Island chain with hyperspectral remote sensing imagers to simulate HySPIRI data, and during the same time a science team will be collecting data on the ground to validate and test the imagery. We are on the coral reef team. My question is how well coral reef health can be determined from some of the highest quality satellite imagery, utilizing the relative proportion of coral and fleshy macroalgae as the metric of health. This proportion can be detected from space with the correct sensor, and is a well established indicator of coral reef ecosystem state. A healthier reef has more live coral, and a more degraded reef has been overgrown with fleshy macroalgae.
The Freeman & Freeman paper that came out in December was a thorough investigation of passive acoustic indicators of coral reef state in the Hawaiian Islands from our 2012 fieldwork. One of our most interesting finds was that different acoustic signals come from reefs with lots of coral (healthier reefs), versus reefs with lots of fleshy macroalgae (more degraded reefs). We were very interested in testing this further, and seeing if we could use remote sensing & acoustics together to improve the overall ability to determine coral reef state from afar. When Simon started his fellowship as a federal scientist in June, he was given start-up funds and has been able to dedicate part of them to his own, complimentary experiments in Kaneohe Bay in February.
The timeline was heavily constrained by flight time for the NASA aircraft and instruments, but thankfully it was confirmed with enough advance notice that we have been able to get all of our coordinating pieces into place. Simon requested and scheduled his experiment. My parents were able to take a month away from work & home duties, which meant that we could bring the boys. We can’t express enough gratitude to them, as neither of us would be willing to leave our kids for a month right now. The kids, in turn, are so excited for a month on the beach with their grandparents:
We have dreamed for far longer than we have been parents about conducting joint fieldwork and having our children along, a-la Rosemary and Peter Grant style. What an incredible experience for them – an opportunity to live in a new place, enjoy a new culture, and learn about the diversity of the natural world. Not to mention lots of QT with the grandparents. We are beyond excited that this is happening, and can’t wait to share it with you over the blog-channels in the next few weeks.
We made it home! In time for Simon to start his new job! With most of our things!
After our last post, the comedy of errors continued including a rental car with no child seats (did you know that rental agencies are not obliged to guarantee child seats?, and that if you try hard enough, priceline will refund prepaid ‘nonrefundable’ rental car fees?), lost diaper covers, awkward seating assignments on flights, Blake being kicked out of a bar (too intoxicated), etc.
But something strange happened. After the first few days of everything seeming to go wrong, Simon & I stopped being stressed. We accepted the situation, paying an extra $1700 for flights, and moved forward calmly. We worked together to manage the safety, happiness, and well-being of our family first. We met many friends and colleagues along the way who were always surprised when we said our trip was full of things going wrong. “But you seem so calm and happy!” they said. Truthfully… we were.
The biggest reason is that we were with our kids, and my strong feeling is that happy parents make happy babies, and happy babies make everything easier. We both work hard to achieve family happiness at all times, but especially during travel and times of stress. The side effect of ensuring that the boys get time to play outside, timely meals, naps, and bedtime, is that we experience many of the calming benefits and are able to better handle the various fires being thrown at us.
In addition, we had a lot of good things happening alongside the fires. We had productive meetings with colleagues; Simon got good experimental data, we gave various talks, brown bags, and seminars at Scripps and at the International Coral Reef Symposium that were well received; we enjoyed quality family time in beautiful places; and we had happy reunions with friends.
Something else special happened on this trip though. In our times of great duress, we received unexpected assistance from strangers. Random acts of kindness that meant so much given our compromised state:
The strangers that switched seats with us on the red-eye flight from LA to DC so that our family could sit together in one row
The Virgin America flight attendant that provided six little bottles of water when we desperately needed it for the kids
The baggage claim clerk that helped me move all of our luggage to the street to meet Simon with the rental car and I was alone with Blake
The collection of Brazilian scientists at ICRS that happily held & played with Blake during the last night banquet for an hour while Simon & I ate and made friends with them
The friends-of-friends that offered to take photos of our whole family on our last day (and only day on the North Shore!)
The cleaning staff at both hotels we stayed at, who were amazing about providing extra towels and coming back repeatedly so as not to disturb our napping children when cleaning the room
That’s not to mention all of our friends and family that stepped in, whether or not we asked, to play with Joey, hold Blake, and in general help us out immensely. Japanese grammy came all the way from New Zealand to Hawaii to look after the boys during the meeting. She did the typical grammy thing – spoil Joey rotten with care and attention – so that now Joey wants to “go back to Hawaii”. Why? “Obaasan”.
Those relatively small kindnesses made all of the difference for these strung-out parents that wanted to bring their kids on a work trip. Kindness matters most to those who need it. Look for the need and pay it forward. You might be in the needful position some day.
I wanted to call this “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” but I’m pretty sure my mom reads it.
You may have gathered that we have taken to the air again with our two kiddos and are currently in Hawaii. The lack of a pre-departure post is a fair indicator of our lack of organization for this trip.
Usually, I am a super-planner. Every detail thought out, from snacks for everyone on the plane to printing out hotel confirmations and addresses ahead of time (or more recently, saving them to my iPhone). Simon is surprised if I cannot spout off our itinerary in detail at any point on an adventure.
This trip was not well planned. In fact, it coalesced together in a messy fashion after we both were given slots for conference talks at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu this week. From there, we slowly added on items. We decided to bring both boys & a dedicated care giver (Japanese Grandma!). We decided to come to Honolulu early to use rewards nights at the Marriott for our anniversary, and to stay the weekend after the conference with friends on the North Shore of Oahu. Somewhere along the way, we had the idea to make a long layover in San Diego en route to Hawaii where we would visit Scripps to give talks, catch up with friends & colleagues, and Simon would collect some data off the pier while we were at it. So in summary, in two weeks we would visit two cities, stay in six different places, do a wide variety of work things, vacation with our kids, and catch up with friends.
What could go wrong?
Turns out, a lot:
We forgot toothpaste
We didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have childcare in San Diego for all of those talks and experiments & had to modify our plans at the last minute
Joey took three days of sharing a room with Blake to nap quietly without waking his brother, much to my dismay
Our bags didn’t really fit in the rental car with the car seats (so I had either a large suitcase or stroller on my lap)
Renting car seats with the rental car is expensive & they didn’t tell us that ahead of time. In fact, our first rental car reservation added so many costs & fees that Simon elected to cancel it and find another rental car at the airport, adding nearly an hour delay before we got to our digs for the night.
We missed our flight from San Diego to Hawaii and had to fly standby the next day
On our standby flight, we were seated behind another child who spent a lot of time screaming, making it extraordinarily difficult for our non-screaming children to nap and remain well-behaved
We lost Simon’s wedding ring and the quadcopter (not at the same time)
We continue to not have baby wipes available when we need them, despite bringing at least five packages with us
I’m forever optimistic, and am inclined to now list the things that are going well. I’ll spare you bullet points, but will say that we are still having a good time and for the most part the boys are not phased by our stress and struggles.
Our little champion flyers wait patiently to get on the plane to Honolulu. Our standby tickets meant we were last to board.
After three days in a hotel, I finally had two children napping at the same time!
We were as happy as we look here all day in Waikiki, despite various struggles before and after.
Blake scored us an upgrade to the oceanfront suite at the Waikiki Marriott – an unexpected perk along the way!
Whether this trip is a set of unique challenges or a complete disaster depends on your point of view. For example, we found ourselves leading a discussion with graduate students about government jobs and postdocs while holding a very alert and cheerful Blake, watching Joey play with the foozball table out of the corner of our eyes. At least we’d had the foresight to suggest this event occur in the graduate student lounge? And the grad student coordinator that organized for us had kindly provided Joey’s favorite snacks (bagels) as refreshments, further sweetening the deal for him. In fact, he has been asking to go to another “work meeting” with us since.
So what do you do when your plans fall apart? Or you failed to make a plan in the first place?
Make a new plan stat.
Simon & I will waffle endlessly about things like where to go to dinner – until we get to a critical situation. Then we both switch gears and start damage control. We dish out orders to each other and the children, and follow one another’s instructions exactly.
This trip has been a healthy reminder that planning is important, but even more important is learning to roll with the punches and make the best of it. We could have let various challenges ruin this trip, but that would have been a much bigger loss overall. The kids mean that we spend more money (missed flight? better just get a new hotel and go out for lunch so the boys can eat & nap), they also keep us on the happy end of the spectrum. They achieve this magic partly because we want the best for them, including happy parents, and partly because they are delightful and they cheer us up. Joey has even started making jokes. We also have some perspective that the most challenging situations wind up being some of our favorite memories and most endearing stories later on.
That ^^ was supposed to be the end, in hopes that posting would put an end to our comedy of errors. Nope! Cue some important emails to Simon yesterday about his first day as a federal employee – not only does he have to be in the office in person with paperwork on Monday, but he needs to arrive no earlier than 7:30am and no later than 8:00am. Our flights would not get him there in time.
We each had our own itinerary on the same flight, and Joey was attached to Simon’s. Much of our first day at the conference was spent looking for flights, calling airlines and travel agents, and establishing that Simon really had to be at work by 8am Monday (he does). We went through a string of options and came down to the choice of 1: buying Simon a new flight home early, while I traveled alone with both boys on a red eye and really hoped that they would let me add Joey to my reservation without asking for large sums of money or 2: cancel all of our flights home and buy three seats on an earlier flight together.
I think we’ve finally learned something from the last few weeks, because we picked #2. This sadly means cutting our family fun weekend on the North Shore a little short, but based on how things were going we decided to plan conservatively.
What else can go amiss in the next few days? Stay tuned for updates 🙂
Blake crossed off two big firsts last month – his first flights and his first scientific conference. He has many more of both ahead of him, so I’m glad to report that everything went well.
Joey stayed home with his grandparents while Simon, Blake, and I flew to New Orleans, Louisiana for the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM). We were quickly reminded of how easy it is to fly with an infant compared to a toddler!
We were thrilled to see lots of kids running around OSM, from tiny to school age. AGU kindly provides onsite daycare at a reasonable cost, with no obligation (parents can drop kids off when needed and pay by the hour). The meeting is divided into talks during the day, mixed with town hall meetings and big plenary talks, followed by poster sessions in the evening. The poster sessions are prime kid territory – there are food and drinks available, its already loud, and the posters are in a huge open space! Blake is too little to run around, but he was a great mascot at our poster.
At just over two months old, Blake was perfectly travel sized and spent most of his time engaging in that newborn specialty – sleep. Since he isn’t yet on a very regular schedule and likes to be with us all of the time, it was pretty easy to haul him around the conference in a baby carrier. Both Simon & I were participating in the meeting, so we could trade off baby duty. Simon held Blake in the back of the room during my talk. Some may find that distracting, but I was really pleased to have them there for support! He was also a good sport about participating in all of the lunch and evening networking & socializing that goes hand-in-hand with most conferences. This was a particularly fun meeting for us as we had the chance to reconnect with many friends and colleagues from Scripps, including one of the greats – Walter Munk – who Blake was photographed with.
Blake meets the father of oceanography, Walter Munk
Scripps friends gather for dinner in the French Quarter
Freemans at the Scripps reception
Schmoozing like a pro
Quick visit to the aquarium
Blake enjoys fancy hotels
Lauren & Blake with her PhD Advisor Art & his wife Jenny
We’ve employed a variety of strategies at scientific conferences in the past – bring baby & caregiver, bring baby & extra parent, leave baby & 1 parent at home, leave baby (once toddler-sized) with grandparents… Unfortunately this situation doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. But with some creative thinking, its definitely possible to pull it off. In our experience, it is rewarding and fun to bring kids along. When you are on break from the meeting you get a mini-family vacation in a cool new city, your old friends and colleagues get to meet your kid, and your baby is taking in the latest ocean science developments to prepare for kindergarten. That said, a baby older than about 6 months really requires a dedicated caregiver in our experience.
The adventures of Joey & Blake will kick into high gear in April – stay tuned!
We had a wonderful catch-up with some dear friends in San Diego last weekend, who mentioned that we had it “all figured out” when we talked about how we work together. I had to laugh a bit, since I think we have it far from figured out! Most notably, we do not live by the ocean right now. We drive three hours each way for a weekend beach break – shew!
That said, working together has been a good life choice for us. We’ve been working at the same location for 7 years now – since 2008 when we both started at Scripps, followed by our dual move to NRL. Here’s why we like it:
We drive to work together. This saves us the hefty expense of a second vehicle, and the lesser expense of daily fuel miles.
We can have lunch together any day we want to.
Simon is my #1 advisor for science, strategy, and my best brainstorming partner. If I want his input, all I have to do is walk downstairs.
Being established as a couple at an academic type institution gives a bit more staying power – if one of us is deemed very desirable, the other benefits.
When one of us bikes, the other has the car and can rescue them in an emergency (we aren’t on the other side of town).
If Joey has an emergency and needs us, we can discuss it in person and make an action plan quickly.
Here’s what we do to make it work:
Plan ahead (especially since we share a car) – we work the same or complementary hours depending on the day, and we have to constantly remember to respect the other’s work needs and our nanny schedule.
Respect one another’s workspace. We are in different departments and each have our own office, so we aren’t literally together all of the time. It’s important to liaise with our co-workers and be productive while we are here.
Don’t abuse the privilege – I don’t spend time in Simon’s office having prolonged discussions on non-work related topics (where we want to go on vacation, what we want to do this weekend, etc)
Plenty of folks think we are a little crazy for both living and working together! We’ve seen a variety of strategies where both members of a couple are employed. The most common is that each works in a different place. For those that are in the same location, there is a range from complete dis-interaction with each other (they prefer to keep work and home separate) to couples like us that regularly consult one another throughout the day on statistical tests, the best journal for a certain paper, or coding assistance. We think of ourselves as a team, and so far this works for us.
An important part of being scientists is to attend scientific conferences where we share our work, learn about recent progress in the field, and liaise with collaborators and colleagues. We were presented with a fairly unusual situation a couple of weeks ago, even for us. Both Simon and I had scientific conferences during the same week – in different cities. The acoustics meeting (Simon) was in Indianapolis, Indiana and the optics meeting (Lauren) was in Portland, Maine. A few years ago this wouldn’t have mattered aside from us missing each other, but it was a pretty big challenge to figure out how Joey would be cared for during that week. Normally for work travel we would employ one of the following strategies:
All three of us travel to the site of the conference. The parent who is not involved in the conference takes the lead role in caring for Joey, while the other tends to scientific duties. The family would reunite in the evenings and during midday break sort of like a normal working day at home.
The parent involved in the meeting travels alone. The other parent stays home with Joey and takes the full care load. During work hours, Joey is with his nanny.
Joey is left at the grandparents’ resort while the two parents go to their meetings.
The fact that we each had a meeting at the same time in different cities completely ruled out 1 and 2, and 3 was not an option on this particular week. We first weighed the importance of the meetings and decided we would both very much like to go to our respective events. We then began emailing our friends, asking if they would like a free trip to Maine in exchange for hanging out with a fun one-year old during the day. This was surprisingly successful, and before we knew it we had booked a third flight on air points for Uncle Joe to come along to Maine to care for Joey.
How It Worked:
All 3 Freemans went to Maine first for a long weekend, where we stayed in the conference hotel. Joe arrived on Sunday night, also staying in the hotel with us. Simon stayed until Monday night to give Joe the down-low on childcare, and then took another flight to Indianapolis. For the remainder of the week, I got up with Joey each day and prepared him for his morning events, then left J&J to eat breakfast and go to various sessions. I ran back upstairs at 11:30 to take care of Joey’s nap-time routine. Joe stayed in the dark room working during nap-time while I returned to meeting activities. The evenings varied, but at a minimum I met the guys to take care of bedtime.
What We Thought:
First off, we felt extremely grateful to Joe for taking time out of his own life to care for Joey extensively and spend relatively little time with me. I felt guilty often during the week for leaving him in a dark room for 3 hours while Joey napped and the sound machine played rainforest noises… all the while I was having an enjoyable social lunch at the pub next door.
Overall, I don’t think we could ask for a much better setup. I wasn’t comfortable hiring a local caregiver without meeting them first (which there wasn’t time for). Joey adores his Uncle Joe, and I daresay vice versa is also true. I was able to participate actively in the meeting, show off Joey to fellow scientists at key times, and develop meaningful collaborations. I left the main social event (awards banquet) for half an hour to put Joey to bed, but managed to eat my dinner first and get back in time for dessert and entertainment. Joey was very happy all week, and enjoyed Portland’s prolific parks, crisp weather, and excellent children’s museum.