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Aunt Pythia’s advice

October 24, 2015

Readers, Aunt Pythia is a bit sad and a pinch exhausted today. On Thursday, Aunt Pythia’s sweetiepie 7-year-old had an accident at school and broke his tibia bone. And it really caused him such excruciating pain, readers, that it was terrible to behold. You all would have been crying alongside Aunt Pythia if you’d been there.

Now he’s got a good cast on, thank goodness, and a waterproof one at that, which means he can take showers and even baths with it, and things are normalizing, but it isn’t great, and bathroom visits are a real ordeal.

The moral of that story is, thank goodness for casts.

You can even swim with it. The water goes in but then drips out.

You can even swim with it. The water goes in but then drips out.(this is not a picture of my 7-year-old)

For that matter, can we take a moment to just appreciate penicillin too? And our present-day understanding of hygiene? And surgical techniques and such? That stuff is amazing, and I’m glad I’m alive today to enjoy it all. Who’s with me?

After meditating on modern medicine, and digesting the questionable content below, please don’t forget to:

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all at the bottom of the page!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I need your help! I am a (relatively) young womanly person of late 20’s who is striving to become more conscientious about where to ethically invest my earnings. When researching how much I need to have prepared for retirement, all of the online calculators and financial advisers I’ve consulted have thrown a figure my way in the ballpark of $2-3 million assuming a retirement age of mid to late 60s and a 4% gradually increasing annual withdrawal rate.

While I make a decent income (70K), there is not much of a chance that I can save that much in the next 35 years without falling into the trappings of Wall Street investment returns. I can’t do much about the restrictions my employer has placed on my 401K investment options, but I do have control over my IRA and general savings/investment practices.

What micro-level advice do you have for people starting out in ethical retirement planning/investing? Any resources or must reads? Much obliged.

Confused And Tentative

Dear Confused,

First, let me just say that you are way ahead of your peers in planning this stuff. I really haven’t started planning myself, because kids cost so much and so on, and I’m figuring I’ll just work until I die.

Second, there’s really no way every person can have $2-3 million in retirement savings. I just don’t think it’s reasonable or realistic. Think about that as a social policy: hey everyone, I know you’re still paying off your student loans, and that the cost of renting is sky high, and homes are already overpriced and poised not to rise, and daycare costs more than ever, but please save $2 million on top of everything else. WTF.

Not a viable expectation for the average household. Politically speaking, retirement in this country is going to have to change as the post-Boomer population gets old and continues to be broke.

Also, you’re right, there are few options for ethical investing that aren’t risky. I mean by that that you can always sponsor your friend’s ethical business, but most businesses fail, so it is super risky. More generally, if you’re interested in avoiding fossil fuel investments, take a look at this, and if that catches your fancy, check out this website.

But my general advice is to do your best, and stay healthy, and not worry too much about money. If you have retirement investments, great, and think of putting some in an ETF that tracks the market just as a hedge against political manipulation more than anything else.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I love your column. It feels like a community of warm hugs. I have gone back and forth on sending this embarrassing question so many times, but I finally decided that I need your honest insight.

As a minority grad student in STEM, I routinely come across mean, patronizing jerks. I have learnt to survive my interactions with them with my sanity somewhat intact. However, what catches me off guard is my reaction when someone decides to take an interest in me and mentor me academically and personally. I end up developing a crush almost every time.

I want to make it very clear that I don’t want a physical connection with them at all. But, I do fantasize about an emotional and intellectual bond with them. Some of these relationships have actually led to some wonderful (strictly platonic) mentoring relationships.

Grad school and academia can be very isolating, so it’s so nice to have someone to talk. And if this someone has been in your field doing the work that you dream of doing one day, that’s even better. Still, I can’t help feeling guilty for feeling so vulnerable that even the slightest bit of attention or praise from them makes me feel so exhilarated.

I have friends outside of my field and am a somewhat social person with a fairly fulfilling personal life. So, what is it about charming, passionate, and kind STEM people that brings out these intense feelings in me? How do I avoid developing these silly crushes?

Lastly, (I’m not even sure that I am prepared to hear an honest answer to this), do you think my feelings are obvious to them? I am always respectful and deferential to them, but I wonder if they might have an inkling anyway. I love what I do and I don’t want my work to be undermined by these stupid feelings that I can’t seem to be able to control right now.

Great Regrets About Pining Heart


Dear Pining,

Oh my god, I am so glad you wrote. I am the same way. Seriously. And the crushes can be quite intense, sometimes, right? I remember when one of my sons (I won’t name his name because he’ll hate me for it) went through his first crush when he was about 6 and he said to me, “I love her so so much, it’s getting worser and worser!” and he looked positively anxious about what would happen to the explosion happening in his little heart. Well, I got him at that moment, and I get you now.

But wait, and here comes what will become my tag line, what’s the problem here? You haven’t actually told me why this is a bad thing except for how you sometimes get embarrassed by them.

To answer your question: do people notice your crushes? Maybe, probably not in an exact way, but even if they did it would be super flattering. And since it’s platonic, and you’re looking for an emotional bond, I’m thinking that’s exactly appropriate, and probably also what they want.

Finally, I’d say you are controlling yourself with respect to these feelings, in spite of your sense that you’re not. In other words, you can’t control your feelings directly, but you can control what you do in response to them. And since you haven’t actually done anything super impulsive, and stuff hasn’t developed beyond intellectual and emotional realm, I am not only proud to say I get you, I’m proud to say you’ve done great.

You know what? I feel sorry for people who aren’t like us, and for whom it takes weeks if not years to develop strong emotions for people and things. They don’t get to experience the intensities that we do! And yes, it means they spend less time lying on couches crying about broken hearts to dear friends who have heard it all before many times, but whatever, we always eventually pick ourselves up again and go find a new person to love. Plus we buy our friends beer and they merrily forgive us.

Many warm hugs,

Aunt Pythia

p.s. there really is no way to avoid this, it’s part of you, like your arm. I’ve tried. Just buckle up and try to enjoy the ride.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m in my early thirties. I have a newborn, my first child, and I find it so damn hard to take care of him. He’s now 8 weeks old, and I’m on maternity leave for 6 months (luckily I’m in Europe, can’t imagine what I would have done in the States).

Both my husband and me live abroad and have no family around to help. I consider myself a pretty capable person, and I keep thinking how the hell do other people manage. There are so many babies, children, people in this world. How do all millions of moms manage, when I’m barely surviving?

I have figured out how to be highly successful academically and professionally. I have learned to have good relationships and a pretty good life. But I am probably average at taking care of a newborn. I find it so hard.

Dear Aunt Pythia, did you have a hard time too when you had your first baby (and second and third)? What helped? Any tips? Ideas? Strategies? What would you do differently if you had your first one again?

Maybe Overthinking Motherhood

Dear MOM,

Thanks for asking. I tell this to everyone I know with a newborn, especially if it’s their second.

Namely, the first 4 months of a baby’s life, and especially the first 6 weeks, is really really hard. In fact the way to survive it is to try to quantify how difficult yesterday was, and compare it to today, and take note of the minute differences. Give yourself a break, and a chance to cry, every time there’s been a regression, and give yourself a party every time there’s even the smallest amount of progress. In other words, keep your head down, in a day-to-day sense, and you will slowly begin to see how certain things have gotten easier (breastfeeding, putting them down to nap, walking around without pain) even as other stuff is momentarily harder (sleep deprivation, never getting a chance to take a shower, running out of groceries). It’s super painful, and surprisingly difficult, but after a few weeks you begin to see things improving, and then by the time they’re 6 months old, you almost feel human again.

Oh, and the moment they try to keep themselves up to say up with you when they’re tired is the moment when you can train them to sleep through the night. This usually happens at 5 months or so. And the trick there is, if you notice a bunch of fussing with an 8pm bedtime, then put the baby down at 7:30 the next night. And if they’re fussy at 7:30, try for 7pm the next night. Sounds counter-intuitive but it works.

Finally, the only moment where I really felt truly desperate was when I had a newborn and a 2-year-old and my husband went away for a math conference for a week, and I was working. Please kill me now, I thought, and I meant it. But even that ended, and now those two kids are like, almost adults, and they are my favorite people to hang out with. The younger one just explained fission to me the other day.

In the words of my wise mother, sometimes you just have to muddle through. Also, good babysitting is worth it. Go into debt temporarily if necessary, it’s still cheaper than therapy.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I want to fuck an aunt.


Dear Manoj,

Thanks for the note. It reminds me that, as a WordPress Premium member, I get to look at all kinds of statistics with respect to how people got to my blog, what they looked at and when, and which links they click on while they’re here. It’s interesting, and I look at such statistics daily.

One of the categories is a list of search terms that people used to get to my blog, and by far one of the most common ones has been, over the years, something about aunts and sex, so a kind of incest fetish thing. For example, here’s a screenshot of today’s search terms:

Every day. Every single day.

Every day. Every single day.

So, what can I say? Aunt Pythia constitutes – possibly defines – her own bizarre porn fetish category. It’s somewhere in between flattering and repulsive.

So Manoj: thanks, I think.

Aunt Pythia


Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants to hear from you – she needs to hear from you – and then tell you what for in a most indulgent way. Will you help her do that?

Please, pleeeeease ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form for later or just do it now:

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. JSE
    October 24, 2015 at 8:42 am

    When we think about medical progress, I feel like we are always thinking about genomic this and nano that. But medical progress is happening fast in all domains, even old ones like “what happens when you break a bone.” I broke the hell out of my elbow ten years ago. A couple of surgeries and eight months of physical therapy and I eventually got back full function. Twenty years ago, they told me, the same break and I’d have had a more or less locked-in-place elbow for the rest of my life. Yay medical progress!


  2. mathematrucker
    October 24, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Impatiently thinking she was already at the bottom of the stairs, five months ago my 84-year-old mother fell on the second-to-last step and broke her hip.

    Sometime during the drama that ensued, it dawned on me that the difference between a mom who walks and one who doesn’t, is vast. Her successful partial hip replacement surgery, her surgeon, and all the nurses gave me a new appreciation for the modern medical community.

    Seeing her mountain range of bills, including some isolated 14K’ers like Pikes Peak, get paid one after the other automatically by Medicare and her expensive secondary health insurance, was a huge relief too. Watching insurance claims get paid is very similar to watching an investment appreciate in value.


  3. lk
    October 24, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    I don’t know if you’ll find this a relief or disappointing, but you’re not alone with getting the strange aunt sex searches:



    • October 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      My baseball blog once got a hit from “Pizza Hut MILFs”. I don’t think that will ever be topped.


  4. October 25, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Dear AP, you must be distracted to have picked out “Pining” instead of “GRAPH” from the sign-off. Sorry to hear about your kid, though.

    Dear GRAPH: don’t worry too much about the in-subject crushes, I think they are much more common than most people acknowledge and there’s a good structural reason. If you spend a lot of time immersed in a field, care for that area passionately, and then spend time with someone who is amazing at it, seems pretty reasonable to have very strong positive feelings for that person.

    That said, a word of advice: keep in mind that the objects of your admiration are still humans and imperfect. Times I’ve seen this go wrong were when the crushee felt a hero worship that made it uncomfortable to have a normal relationship with the crusher or when the crushee did something pretty normal (not god-like) that disillusioned the crusher.

    Dear MOM: your note could have been written by my wife or me, circa 8 years ago. Well, you said you are average at parenting, I rate myself below average, so that’s a difference and a caveat against following my ideas. That said:
    (1) most parents aren’t trying to do it on their own and get it perfect: You said you were away from family, I’m guessing about the perfect part.
    (2) a lot of parents have a lot of preparatory experience with small kids. Extrapolating from what background you noted, I’m guessing you didn’t.
    (3) putting (1) and (2) together, I conclude that you are too hard on yourself by choice of reference set of other parents.
    (4) in the spirit of (1-3), try to find as many ways to get perspective as you can. Mainly, that means (a) find a way to get enough sleep, and (b) make sure the baby isn’t the center of your universe. Both of those probably mean you have to find someone who can watch the kid for a while, so do that! Whoever is watching them won’t break them, at least, as per AP’s son’s recent experience, not beyond repair.

    Also, writing down some notes that you can re-read later might help add some perspective, or at least some humor. When we were worried that our kids were eating too much, we went back to read about the times we worried they weren’t eating enough. We are currently agonizing about how to get one of our munchkins up in the morning and got a chuckle (er, wry grin) from a reminder of the times he wasn’t sleeping enough (for our tastes).

    Finally, it won’t necessarily get easier and it has been hard forever. To paraphrase from Plato’s Meno about whether we can teach virtue to our kids
    Socrates: you know Themistocles, Aristides, Pericles, and Thucydidies?
    Anytus: Sure. Awesome dudes.
    Socrates: And their sons?
    Anytus: hmm, assholes.


  5. XX
    October 25, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Dear GRAPH and AP,
    Thank you very much for talking about the crushes. I too have had many, some quite intense, crushes on people including colleagues, collaborators, mentors, and even on younger folks. I have always felt embarrassed and guilty because I felt they were inappropriate, but I could not control my feelings. I have not told anybody about them and have never acted on them (and probably never will). It is a relief to know that I am not alone and that I am not crazy. At this point, I have come to view them as positive things that makes life more exciting and try to enjoy them while they last.


  6. g
    October 25, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    On aunts: There was a discussion on Hacker News a few weeks back (which I now can’t find, perhaps because Google sees some naughty words in it and wants to protect me from seeing them) about the most popular search terms used on some porn website or other, for users in various different places. The winner (if that’s the right word) in India was “aunt” or “aunty” or “auntie”. Apparently, in this context it doesn’t literally mean a parent’s sister, it’s just slang for “older woman” or “mature woman” or something.

    I have no personal acquaintance with the doubtless fascinating world of Indian pornography, so I don’t know whether that’s correct. If it is, perhaps it makes “Manoj”‘s note slightly less alarming.

    … I see a similar observation in the Slate Star Codex post linked to by lk, above. It’s probably correct.


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