Summer’s End

The days are shorter.

The mornings are darker.

The air is cooler.

September is coming.

It is bittersweet.

I am excited for E., as he begins his journey at a new school. I hope that he will be happy. I hope that he will love school and love learning and cherish knowledge as his father and I do.

I will miss him though.

We have had a glorious summer, he and I.

Last week, he went to a day camp run by his nursery school. The first day I dropped him off, he was worried and sad. But it was only for the morning, and I picked him up before lunch, and all was well.

This week, he’s been there all day. I drop him off at 9:00, and I pick him up at 3:30. It’s a slightly longer day than his actual school day will be, but it’s served its purpose as a transition aid.

He’s been fine.

He’s had so much fun every day.

I’ve had so much fun every day. I’m finally able to focus on my work again, and it’s amazing how much you can get done when you have multiple hours, every day, to yourself. Q. and I had a library date, which used to be one of our favourite things before E. was born. I think our last one was during the February reading week in 2014. I think the last time I set foot in the library was October 2014.

I am ready to get back to work. I took the time I needed to decompress after finishing the Ph.D., and I devoted the spare time I had this summer mostly to sleeping and reading, and now, as the seasons start to change, I can feel that I’m ready to look at my research again. I’ve spent this week sketching out a plan for the next semester, and working on applications, and reading my way into a new field for the chapter I’m writing in the edited volume Q. dreamed up.

And I’m excited about my research again.

(It’s been a LONG time since I could say that.)

But.

This week, I’ve been struck every day by how little time I have with E. between when I pick him up at 3:30 p.m. and when it’s time for bed.

Four hours.

And far less for actual fun, since we eat around 6:00 p.m., and someone has to cook dinner.

The days where we do something after I pick him up from camp, like go to the library, or go to a park, we get home and bang! I have to get started on dinner pretty much right away.

I know I have been so very lucky to have had this time with him.

I know I haven’t always felt lucky. I am not suited to being home full-time, and parts of this year (the winter especially) were really hard for both of us.

But I also know that this September marks an end to our freedom.

And, even as I make my plans, and organize my days, and revel in the fact that I will have time and space to think again, I mourn the loss of what we’ve had.

I’m going to miss him.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, Brave New (School) World, E.- the fifth year, JK, Life after the PhD

Don’t Forget the Map!

Microblog_MondaysQ., E. and I were away on the weekend, squeezing every last drop out of our glorious summer. My supervisor (also one of Q.’s colleagues) very kindly invited us up to his cottage for the weekend, and even the thought of talking shop non-stop wasn’t enough to keep us from saying, “Yes, please!”

Turns out the shop-talk was kept to a relative minimum (although there was this truly hilarious moment where my supervisor wondered where on earth E. gets his loquacious manner, given Q. and I “aren’t very talkative. I’m mean you’re all very civilized obviously, but you don’t waste words.” This is mostly funny if you know my supervisor and understand that you CANNOT get a word in edge-wise with this man.) There was loads of time for canoeing, swimming, falling in love with (yet) another lake, and eating too much good food. E. was in tears when it was time to come home and invited himself back again next year (which my supervisor seemed to think was a wonderful idea, hurrah!).

The drive home became miserable at the predictable point, where Highway With Reasonable Amount of Returning Cottage Traffic met Highway of Doom, so we hopped off, stopped for dinner and decided to plot an alternative route.

This led to the following conversation with our waitress:

Me: “Do you know an alternative route into Big City We Call Home that doesn’t involve driving on Highway of Doom?”
Waitress: “Oh, I am so bad with directions. What if you just tell your GPS to avoid highways? That should work.”
Me: “It’s a rental car. It doesn’t have a GPS.”
Waitress: “What about on your phone?”
Q. and Me, looking sheepish: “Umm. We don’t have smartphones…”
Supremely Patient and Helpful Waitress: “Oh.” *total confusion for a moment* “I’ll just go get mine and look for you.”

We left her a big tip and set off with her directions and got lost, as it turns out, almost immediately, but it all worked out because we drove past a gas station (which we had been looking for) and bought a mini road atlas of the south of the province and then discovered we could pretty easily get onto Alternative Small Highway which we have used multiple times before, as our general rule of driving is NEVER DRIVE on Highway of Doom, but we’d forgotten our provincial road map. This was foolish.

We took Alternative Small Highway and had a very easy trip home.

Lesson learned: If you’re not going to enter the twenty-first century by getting a smartphone, don’t forget your map (or your new handy pocket sized road atlas).

Is there anyone else out there who doesn’t have a smartphone? It seems to be mostly when we’re stuck in traffic we wish we had one.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Books Read: June 2015

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.
For February, see here.
For March, see here.
For April, see here.
For May, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Scott D. Sampson)

The King’s Curse (Philippa Gregory)

The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood (ed. Kerry Clare)

The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)

Inside the O’Briens (Lisa Genova)

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (Jane Hawking)

*The Constant Princess (Philippa Gregory)

First up, I loved loved loved How to Raise a Wild Child. I keep meaning to write a review for it for the parenting website I (very occasionally) write for, but I haven’t been organized enough. I might have to get it back out of the library if my notes weren’t good enough. This book really struck a chord with me. I grew up all over the place, but a lot of my clearest, fondest childhood memories involve nature: finding frogs in our basement window well when we lived in the PMQs on a base, chasing snakes in long grass, star gazing while camping with our tent trailer. E. is a big city child through and through and there are times when that makes me very uncomfortable because I am a country girl at heart, even though Q.’s job will never really allow us to live in the country. I have worried in the past about how to foster a love of nature in E. while living in a city. This book not only gave me some good ideas (E. now has a nature table in his room) but it also reassured me that we’re doing the right things: caring about our garden and including E. in the work to maintain it, looking for nature when we’re out on our walks, bird watching (I have resisted taking on my mother’s hobby but can’t help myself), spending time in the parks and the slightly more wild ravines of our city. Sampson makes the point that for younger children, a backyard is plenty wild enough. As your child grows, his/her need for wild places expands until, as an adolescent, s/he’s ready to embrace the vast wilderness that dominates so much of this country. I still wish we lived in a more rural setting, or closer to the water, or spent more time than a week at a cottage every summer, but this book made me feel better.

I’m starting to think I’ve read too many edited volumes about mothering because The M Word left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited two months before writing this post. I can remember enjoying reading it, but none of the chapters has stuck with me, except for one about a mother who wonders if she is still a mother when both her children are dead, and that stuck with me because it was just unbearably sad.

The premise behind The End of Your Life Book Club is the author’s mother is dying of cancer and she and her son (both mad bibliophiles) decide to read the same books and discuss them when they’re together (often while waiting to see doctors or undergo treatment). It’s as much a story about grief and loss and family and mother/son relationship as it is about books, and I think I liked those aspects of the book better because Schwalbe and his mother don’t tend to read the same types of books as I do. While I enjoyed reading what they thought about reading those books, I didn’t immediately put the same books on hold once I’d finished.

I came to Inside the O’Briens because I loved Still Alice when I read it a couple of years ago and there was an ad on the subway for this one. So instead of buying it at the bookstore which had paid for the ad, I got it out from the library. I kind of wish I’d realized before getting the book out that Genova’s ‘thing’ is neurological conditions. Obviously I knew from reading Still Alice that she’s trained in that field, but I hadn’t realized that ALL of her books follow a similar pattern of diagnosis and reaction and progression. I think Still Alice is the better book, although Inside the O’Briens was still a good read.

Q. and I watched (and really enjoyed) The Theory of Everything a few months before Travelling to Infinity came in at the library (I think I had it on an inactive hold for a while because I had too many other books). It was an interesting read, especially given I’ve spent a lot of time at Cambridge. Apparently this version is significantly shorter than the original (Music to Move the Stars). The cuts are probably a good thing- it’s still pretty hard to wade through it at times. Hawking’s not a natural writer, and she was obviously still very angry about the conditions under which her marriage ended when she wrote the book. It makes for uncomfortable reading at times.

The King’s Curse was the second surprise Philippa Gregory novel I found in the airport. This one tells the story of Lady Margaret Pole, and it treads familiar ground if you’ve read her other Tudor novels which cover the reign of Henry VIII. What I think is most interesting about Gregory’s works is I think she’s changed her opinion on Henry VIII since writing The Other Boleyn Girl. I think she was much more sympathetic to him originally and the more research she’s done, the more she’s come to view him as monstrous. When I finished Travelling to Infinity, I had a brief moment where I didn’t have any other library holds, so I went back and reread The Constant Princess, in which Gregory tells the story of Catherine of Aragorn’s marriage to Arthur and then to Henry after Arthur’s death. I wanted to compare the two accounts. And I find that once I start reading Tudor novels I need to read them all again to feel satisfied, so there will be more Philippa Gregory appearing in July’s list!

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Welcome to mid-life?

I had a birthday recently.

Not a milestone one, at least not officially, but one that very firmly set me closer to 40 than 30.

Q. is going to be 39 in January.

E. is starting school next month.

Two of the houses on our part of the street sold this summer and the new people have moved in. They’re couples in their late twenties or early thirties. They don’t have kids (yet?). They remind me of Q. and I when we bought our house, seven years ago this autumn.

I feel like we are entering a new stage in our lives. Most of our friends are sending their kids to school as well. We’re done with babies and diapers. We’re losing the flexibility to travel whenever Q. isn’t teaching. Now our movements will be ruled by the school calendar (and that has been a bitter pill to swallow).

This summer, within a week of each other, two of my friends’ mothers had strokes. One died. The other survived, but the stroke added complications to her terminal liver cancer diagnosis. She’s still hanging on, but there isn’t a lot of time left.

Here’s the thing that really struck me: we are creeping into that age where it’s no longer shocking or surprising that our friends are losing their parents.

Q. lost his father in 2003. His father was demonstrably “too young” to die. Q. and his siblings were demonstrably “too young” to lose a parent.

But some of my friends, who are a little bit older than we are, and the youngest in their families, now have parents who are in their late seventies or early eighties. And when they die, although it is still a terribly sad thing and everyone wishes we could have more time with our loved ones, their lives cannot really be said to have been cut short in the way people said it of Q.’s father.

It is that, more than anything else, that makes me feel like Q. and I are entering mid-life.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, E.- the fifth year, Family, Friends, Loss

Screen Magic

Microblog_MondaysWhen I was waiting to become a mother, I used to imagine all the things I wanted to do with my child.

One that was high on the list was going to the movies. I used to love going to the movies as a kid. My sisters and I had a tradition of going to see every animated Disney film that dated back to The Little Mermaid. I loved the previews and the popcorn and the huge seats. I loved air conditioning on hot summer days and how the world seemed so bright when you left the theatre after a matinee. I even thought the sticky floor was neat.

And then we had E., who is extremely sensitive and easily frightened and hates loud noises, and, well, I put that longed-for experience in my back pocket and told myself to be patient.

Yesterday, my patience paid off.

We took E. to see Shaun the Sheep, and it was an unqualified success.

We packed his headphones and he wore them the entire time to cut down the noise.

I put my hands over his eyes during the (ridiculously scary and not at all age appropriate) preview for Pan.

We ordered popcorn and sat in huge seats. E.’s had a tendency to fold up on him if he wasn’t sitting right at the back, so that kept us on our toes.

We watched the movie. The whole movie. Even the credits, because Q. and I always watch the credits, and even though E. was bored senseless we told him sometimes there is something special at the end of the movie for those who stay and watch all the credits (and there was, thank goodness).

And we laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed. E. laughed so hard and for so long that other mothers around us stopped watching the movie and were just laughing listening to his joy.

It was a perfect first movie. Very very gentle (only a couple of points where E. became worried) and lots in there for the adults.

We came out of the theatre into the oven of hot air that is late summer in my city, blinking at the sudden onslaught of the sun.

“That was so much fun!” said E.

Yes. Yes it was.

What is your favourite movie memory as a child?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, E.- the fifth year, Microblog Mondays, Three's Company

Books Read: May 2015

Finally trying to catch up with these.

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.
For February, see here.
For March, see here.
For April, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

The Birth Order Book (Dr. Kevin Leman)

The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro)

The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College (Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang)

H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Jane Smiley)

The White Princess (Philippa Gregory)

It Sucked and Then I Cried (Heather Armstrong)

This was the first month since I started keeping track that I didn’t read a book I’d already read before. I think this was for two reasons: I was away for close to a week visiting my sister, which meant I didn’t read much, and I had a steady stream of holds coming in from the library. I tend to reread old faithful books when I’m in between holds, or when I’m in a frame of mind that craves comfort.

The birth order book I read in March was much more interesting than this one. I also have an irrational dislike for authors who insist on putting “Dr.” in front of their names, especially with self-help/health genres. I guess it stems from being in academia, where everyone who publishes has a “Dr.” in front of their name, but no one would be so crass as to spell it out. If you’ve got the qualifications, mention them in your bio on the back inside cover.  This is not a good book to read if you have an only child, as he’s dismissive of any possible positive attributes. His opinion sounds exactly like the stereotype of the only child skewered by Lauren Sandler.

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain was interesting, but I didn’t learn much from it, I think because I’ve already read so much about child brain development. It’d be a good resource if you were just getting interested in the subject.

I have to admit, I was really disappointed with both The Buried Giant and The Rosie Effect. With the latter, I just felt Simsion was repeating himself, with a much less plausible source of tension in the plot. The behavior and reactions of the two protagonists was believable in The Rosie Project, but not in the sequel. I’m not sure what the problem with The Buried Giant was, except that I’d read somewhere it was a retelling of the Arthurian myths, and I guess that meant I went into it with certain expectations that were manifestly not met. My problem, not that of the author’s, obviously. Still. I have read a lot of Ishiguro’s work, and I don’t feel like this was among his best.

H is for Hawk is fucking brilliant and I couldn’t put it down. It is one part the story of the author’s attempts to train a goshawk, one part a memoir of grief and loss (the death of her father is the catalyst for her decision to purchase the hawk) and one part an examination of the eccentric (and not entirely successful) falconry of T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King. There is a particular form of nature writing that I absolutely love (see A Buzz in the Meadow, which I read in January), where the author not only brings you into their part of the natural world but also alters the way you see the world around you. H is for Hawk is one of those books.

I’m claiming I read Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, even though I didn’t read all of the summaries of the hundred novels Smiley chose. I mostly read the summaries of novels I’ve already read, partly to avoid spoilers, as some of her choices, particularly those from the Victorian and early modern periods, I still intend to read. But it was also to see if her thoughts about those novels aligned with my own (which sometimes proved to be the case and sometimes did not). The first two-thirds of the book, where Smiley writes about the novel as a genre, were fascinating.

I don’t have much to say about Heather Armstrong’s book. I read it because I had read that she was stepping back from Dooce, so I felt it would be an appropriate time. It was really odd to read about her relationship with her husband knowing that their marriage has since ended.

When we went to visit my sister and practically-brother-in-law, I had a spare five minutes in the airport with a cooperative E. so I took a quick gander through the bookstore. Lo and behold, I discovered that Philippa Gregory had published not one, but TWO new books without my noticing. Once upon a time I would have immediately bought them both, but since I’ve curbed my book-buying habit, I settled for putting them on hold at the library. The White Princess continues her series on the War of the Roses, this time focusing on Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, wife of Henry VII, and mother of Henry VIII. She was the peace offering that was meant to unite York and Lancaster after the defeat and death of Richard III. I will freely admit that I love love love Philippa Gregory. She writes about one of the most interesting periods of English history (she has a whole earlier series on the Tudor monarchs as well), she’s a trained historian so she knows how to do her research and pick up details, she’s an engaging novelist so she knows where she can play with the truth or fill in the blanks, and she doesn’t write about my period of history, so I don’t know enough (most of the time) to get annoyed with the liberties she takes. (I have a good friend who has a doctorate in medieval literature and a pet interest in the Tudors and she can’t read Gregory’s books. Fair enough. There’s a reason I never, ever read popular accounts or novelizations of Roman history.) I will say that when you’ve read ALL of her books, they do start to get very repetitive. They are always worried about the French or the Scots (or the French AND the Scots), they are always worried about the succession, they are always worried about rebellions, etc. But when you stop to think about it, that probably is a fairly accurate reflection of how they felt. The War of the Roses and the Tudor reigns weren’t exactly periods of calm, peace, and prosperity. I tend to binge on Philippa Gregory- once I read one book I want to read them all again (and I own quite a few, so it’s a slippery slope).

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Random thoughts on a summer Thursday

Item: The second week of August is almost over. I am not sure how this happened.

Item: This means that school is less than a month away. REAL school. Five full days a week. We’ve found out that despite having nine other children from his nursery school going to his new school, only one of them is in E’s new class. A new class which is a split JK/SK, which means it could have upwards of thirty kids in it. I am trying not to freak out, but it is hard.

Item: I am freaking out about lunches instead. We are supposed to send two snacks and a lunch daily. Nut-free, but that seems light compared to the restrictions imposed on some of my friends who live in other cities (no homemade items being the most egregious). I am not sure what we will do about protein given a) we cannot send nut butter and b) I’ve found more than one study that suggests an insulated lunch bag and cold packs still doesn’t keep food cold enough to be safe. I am also utterly overwhelmed by the sea of lunch packing options and am trying to strike a balance between getting good stuff and not freaking out at the cost of replacing it if E. loses it all in the first week.

Item: As a result, I have yet to buy any sort of lunch packing equipment. I have a week to sort this out (E. will need a lunch packed for his week of full-day camp run by his nursery school, which we are hoping to use as a transition point to JK).

Item: At no point am I likely to turn into one of those Pinterest bento box mothers who constructs unique, adorable, and nutritiously balanced lunches, all cut into beautiful shapes and designs, each and every day. That way lies madness.

Item: Not that I am complaining, but my child is going to have to stop this “go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. and sleep until 8:30 a.m. or later the next morning” phase before school starts. He slept until 9:45 a.m. the other day. School STARTS almost an hour earlier.

Item: Child is also eating like there is no tomorrow, so hopefully this is just a growth spurt and not some new need for thirteen hours of sleep a day.

Item: I had a Skype conversation with my supervisor this week where he wondered about my progress on getting a couple of articles ready to be sent to journals. Answer: none.

Item: The day before, E. spent twenty-five minutes of his hour-long quiet time singing (loudly) “When is quiet time going to be over?” to the tune of “Bumping up and down in my little red wagon”. And my supervisor wonders why I get nothing done.

Item: I heard back from the academic press where I sent my dissertation/book manuscript in March. Two very long, very detailed reader reports. One generally in favour of the book, one more on the fence. Editor wants the book again when I’ve made the revisions and seems very positive about it, so it’s a good result, as the two expert readers have basically given me a road map of what I need to do to make the book better. I could have tinkered with it for months without being able to reach the same conclusions.

Item: Supervisor wonders when I might get the revisions done. “By Christmas?” I laughed. “If I’m still unemployed, maybe.”

Item: I am still unemployed. Still putting out applications, still have irons in the fire, but nothing concrete as of yet. I just applied for a job that would be absolutely perfect- permanent, part-time doing interesting work involving research and writing for a non-profit organization that does a lot of good in the community. See? Perfect. I am just hoping I get an interview with them as I know I could do the job, but my background isn’t quite approaching it from the angle they wanted.

Item: Cycle day eleven today. This cycle’s experiment is apparently “let’s not follow the diet we have been and eat a lot of sugar and dairy products and see if we still ovulate”. Oh the ice cream.

Item: Out of the last seven weekends, we have had grandparents staying with us for six of them. That is too much. E. has forgotten how to play by himself.

Item: I read Station Eleven, The Bone Clocks, and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood trilogy all in the last month. It turns out that is too much dystopian near-future fiction. I might have to go back to Guy Gavriel Kay for a bit. (I recommend them all most highly, just not all at once.)

Item: The sun is going down noticeably earlier in the evenings now. I’ve realized one of the things I miss most from my pre-kid life is going for long walks on summer evenings after dinner. E. was staying up later earlier in the summer, but he’s too tired at the end of the day to want to go on yet another walk (and I’m not really at a point where I can handle the constant barrage of questions as we walk).

Item: I had to take E.’s balance bike away from him for a week because he twice forgot to stop before rolling out into an intersection. This is a punishment for me as much as it is for him as running errands now takes four times as long.

Item: I had a birthday recently (post to come on that). E. dictated my birthday card to his father. It said: “Dear Mummy, I think you have had a good supper and a wonderful birthday. We’re about to give you lovely presents. I hope you’ve had a lovely birthday. Love, E.” (with his name signed). Heart exploded.

Item: E. is currently shouting the alphabet (alternating in English and French) from his room. There is not much quiet in quiet time these days.

Item: Really though, FOUR is awesome. Loud. But awesome.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Brave New (School) World, Cycle Madness, E.- the fifth year, Food, JK, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)