Sandwiched

On Sunday, I was eating lunch with Q. and the kids and getting ready to take E. out to a special concert (an early Christmas present). A flurry of messages from my sisters led to a phone call to my mother, which led to me putting P. in the car on Monday morning and driving for the rest of the day.

My Dad has been very unwell over the last couple of weeks with several major ups and downs. My youngest sister had been in to see him that weekend and it was clear that one of us needed to be there after she left.

The drive up reminded me of those train rides after he first had the accident, the landscape equally bleak, his status equally tenuous. It is easy, too easy really, for my sisters and I to shift back into crisis-management mode. We have done so much of it over the last (almost) two years.

The big change, of course, was that I was driving rather than on the train, because the unborn baby who rode that train with me was now a toddler giggling at me through the backseat mirror as she made her stuffed animals dance to the music. She was better company, certainly, than when she was still in utero, even if we did have to make a few unscheduled stops in the parking lots of roadside rest stops so I could put her boots back on after she pulled them off, tossed them away, and then regretted that choice.

Better company, but not easier to manage.

I was able to come only because my father’s health crisis occurred both after my semester had finished and before my mother had moved. Q. had enough flexibility in his work week to do the school run on the days when we didn’t have our nanny, and I was able to stay with my mother and leave P. with her during the day while I drove to the hospital. The drive is an hour and fifteen minutes (except for last night when it was inexplicably two and a half hours) and during the day, when it’s clear, it’s a nostalgic journey through the landscape that still feels like “home” to me. At night, or in a snowstorm (we had one of those this week too), it’s long and tedious.

By the time I was able to see my Dad on Tuesday morning, he was much better, and by Wednesday he was clearly on the mend, despite, as his doctors said, their total inability to find out what had been wrong with him in the first place. It must have been an infection of some sort- his nurse told me that it happens not infrequently where a patient gets sick and then recovers without them being able to identify where the infection is hiding. It would have been better if they had known what it was. The work required to allow my father to leave the hospital and live in his new house progresses at a glacial pace and this latest scare will no doubt contribute to even more heel dragging on the part of my stepmother.

I am taking P. with me to the hospital this morning for what will almost certainly be a very brief visit with my father (busy toddler and critical medical equipment not being an ideal combination). Dad is looking forward to seeing her. It’s been nice for me to have some time just with him, something which, again, hasn’t happened since the early months after his accident as usually when I’m in town I have both children with me. We’ve been able to talk about my work and play some online Sudoku. I’m confident that I’m leaving him in relatively good spirits and restored to (his version of) good health.

We are out of crisis and back to our (still new) normal.

By the time I am home again, I will have put close to 2,000 kilometres on the car and spent more than twenty hours driving.

I have blown an entire week of work.

I have been Christmas shopping online at 5 a.m. when I can’t get back to sleep after P. has woken up to nurse.

I am glad I came.

It was the right thing to do.

But I am tired.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, P.- the second year

This week

Some thoughts on my work in December

  • It is exam season here, which means that Q. is refusing to have library dates with me (even though we’re now both free of teaching so we could work together) because if he goes to his office he can work in blissful silence as opposed to the “silence” of many undergraduates “studying” with their closest friends.
  • The library where I work in the mornings most days is still very quiet. The big library is not. I’ve had to shush people on a daily basis (and I am sitting in the SILENT ZONE where no talking of any kind, ever, is permitted, so I have no problem with shushing). The main irritation with exam season for me is that someone else gets the little room I like to think of as my own because they all start studying before 9:30, even on Fridays, and that’s the earliest I can get to a desk.
  • I can accept this, with some bad grace, if the people who take ‘my’ room use it wisely. Today it is occupied by a pair of love-struck undergraduates. They have been cuddling and whispering throughout the morning (I am far enough away not to hear them, but I notice this when I walk past), and are currently both asleep with their heads on the desk.
  • I am looking forward to around the third week of January when all the good intentions for the new semester have worn off and exams seem a lifetime away and the only people left in the libraries are those who are very serious.
  • When I arrived at the little library on Tuesday, one of the librarians was busily taking the ornaments off the Christmas tree at the main entrance. I walked past and then doubled back to confirm that, yes, she was taking them off and not putting them on. The tree went up in the third week of November. Confusing, but when I walked out of the library at the end of the day, the tree was fully decorated again, only now it was much bigger and bushier and it smelt divine. They’d obviously decided that a real tree couldn’t be trusted to survive if displayed any earlier, so they’d set up the fake tree first, even though that made extra work.
  • The tree smells amazing. I love walking past it.
  • I have spent the bulk of my workweek cutting words out of my chapter for our edited volume. It feels weird to consider a day productive when the end result is fewer words on the page, but the chapter was significantly over length, so it had to be done. I’ve cut 2,457 words out in the last three days. Progress, to be sure, but there is more that must be destined for the trash.
  • I have started my book revisions. This should be accompanied by several (nay, copious) exclamation marks, given this is the albatross that has hung around my neck for the past two years (moaned about most recently here and here). What forced me to get started was, I think, a combination of personal loathing (I am so sick of not having finished the book that I think the idea of continuing to not finish the book is now worse than the process of finishing it), the lack of alternatives for procrastination (chapter draft finished- all the tinkering in the world can’t eat up every day of every week), and my newly-formed writing accountability group. At the first meeting, three of my four goals for December were book related. I wanted to work on the book revisions at least an hour a day once my seminar paper was over, I wanted to have completed all the “easy” revisions my readers recommended, and I wanted to have started a new file on my computer for the second draft (which ought to be the most absurdly simple goal to meet, but the very act of starting a new file and thus BEGINNING the revisions was something which had become a huge mental block). I am motivated to not embarrass myself, and so stating these goals to the other members has meant that now I am on track to meet all three goals.
  • Before starting the revisions, I forced myself to read the readers’ reports again. For two years now I have operated under the knowledge that there was a good review and a bad review. Reviewer B really quite liked the book and thought I should be offered a contract once I had completed the (relatively minor) revisions. Reviewer A didn’t like the book all that much and had doubts about whether it ought to be published, even with significant revisions. The funny thing is that once I read them again, I realized this wasn’t quite true. Both readers had similar criticisms about the book overall: they both felt the middle four chapters were the strongest, and they both, quite rightly, felt that I suffered too much from the dissertation anxiety of “must include everything!” and used too many examples and discussed those examples at far too great a length. Reviewer A’s most serious criticism largely stems from (I think) a misunderstanding of my argument, which itself stems from the way I did (or did not) define my terms and organize my ideas. Two years of ignoring the reports has meant that I’ve created enough distance between myself and my dissertation that consigning large sections of it to the trash now seems like the obvious right thing to do instead of an unimaginable horror. I don’t think I could have made the revisions in late 2015 and early 2016 even if my life had not been derailed by pregnancy/father’s accident/stepfather’s terminal cancer; I think I would have still been too close to it. But now I have another project which I’m enjoying, and the dissertation is no longer sacrosanct. Between the two reports, the report from my external examiner (who also felt the middle four chapters were the strongest), and my own sense of what needs to be changed, I think I have a strong (and not too contradictory) framework for going forward. It will still be a lot of work, of course, especially once the easy revisions are complete and I have to get down to the business of editing, but it now seems manageable, and provided I keep telling my accountability group what I intend to do, I will have no choice but to do it.
  • And now I must go and open that new file and complete a few more revisions. To close, a different kind of Christmas tree (spotted in the big library, along with a sign explaining the history of the books used, because of course):

1 Comment

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Say What?

While driving in the car:

Me: “E., have you thought about what you want to ask Santa for this Christmas?”
E.: “I know exactly what I want! I want a balsa wood glider that is big enough for my stuffies to ride on it!.”
Me: “…”
E.: “It will be so fun to see them sailing through the air!”
Me: “What an interesting idea, E.! Have you thought about a back up option in case Santa has trouble finding a balsa wood glider that big?”
E.: “If it’s not big, how will my stuffies fit on it??”
Me: “They’re usually pretty fragile given the wood is so light. Do you think they would be strong enough for your stuffies?”
E. *getting agitated*: “Yes! It would be FINE!”
Me: “Maybe what we can do, E., is we can look online to do some research and see what sizes balsa wood gliders come in.”
E.: “Ok! Then we will know which kind I should ask for.”

All is quiet in the car. After we are home and the kids are in bed, I relay this conversation to Q.

Q.: “Oh, that’s nothing. We had this conversation the other day. He talked himself down to the balsa wood glider after he originally suggested he wanted his own little airplane to ride in that would go above the house.”
Me: “…”

1 Comment

Filed under E.- the seventh year

Too Busy

I missed my 30 posts in 30 days goal by three posts. I got pretty close, and I even had ideas for two posts that would be quick and easy but still have some substance, but the last two days of the month were so crazy blog posts were never going to happen.

Tuesday I got home from teaching around 9:45 p.m. and went straight to bed. P. slept through from 7 (or thereabouts) to some time after 6 for the second night in a row. I nursed her and she went down again. She woke up on Wednesday morning one minute before our nanny arrived at 8:20.

Amazing, no?

Well, no. It turns out P. was sleeping like mad to try to fight off the HFM she’d picked up from Spud, as when I got home on Wednesday there was a note from our nanny that she thought P. was getting a yeast infection because she had a few spots in her diaper area.

It wasn’t a yeast infection.

P. woke up covered in spots on Thursday morning (after being up five or six times that night). She was only up twice last night and is covered in more spots today. Some of them seem to be crusting and drying already so I’m hopeful she’ll fight it off quickly. She is eating well and is mostly cheerful for everyone else (and is a total mess when I’m around). E. is still healthy, thank goodness. Q. and I are both sick but I think we just have end of semester colds. Q. had a sore throat one day and I’ve had a super runny nose but no fevers and no spots to report for either of us.

So Wednesday I dropped E. at school and then got straight into the car to drive to meet my mother so we could house hunt. We were supposed to be on a fact finding mission- trying to narrow down what Mum really wants.

We did that admirably as Mum ended up putting in a successful offer on a townhouse!

It worked out so well- we were in the complex to look at another place (which had just come back on the market after a conditional sale had fallen through) and her agent said that this one had just come onto the market the day before and was significantly less expensive. She felt we should go and compare. The less expensive one was also MUCH MUCH nicer inside. The basement hadn’t been as finished but the main two floors were beautiful- Mum could just move in and not even have to paint.

The funny thing is that the day before, when the agent had sent through the listing for the one that wasn’t as nice, I’d looked at the pictures and thought, “Gee, I can really see Mum living there.”

Then we went to see three condos, the last of which was empty, so we stood in it for a while and discussed. Ultimately Mum really didn’t want to move to a condo. She hadn’t liked the downtown. She really wanted some outdoor space. She needed a townhouse. And she really liked the nice one.

Mum and I went for lunch (where we independently decided to order the exact same thing) and labmonkey looked up transit routes for us while the real estate agent went back to her office and emailed us other examples of townhouses in that complex that had sold in the last few months. It was clear the nice one was massively under priced and that the complex itself was in a great location.

It was also clear that the middle units had a different layout from the end units so we decided we needed to see the other layout (there was a third unit in the complex that was also back on the market after a conditional sale had collapsed due to financing).

Here is the part I am most proud of: while we were waiting for the agent to call us back to tell us whether we could go and see the third unit, we were also trying to figure out whether I should cut and run because I had to leave basically right then to have any chance of avoiding the traffic.

I was considering doing it so I wouldn’t miss three bedtimes in a row (even though Q. was totally fine with that happening). I was super tired. I hadn’t finished my seminar paper yet.

And then Mum started to crumple too. “You bail and I’ll bail and we can get back before dinner and we’ll just tell the agent we don’t want to see that other place,” she said.

I pushed right back and told her she had to see that other place because if she didn’t see it she wouldn’t be in a position to put an offer in on the nice place and it was going to sell that day because there were already offers on it. And then our agent called and we could get in to see the third unit in half an hour and I decided to stay because I knew if I didn’t stay Mum wouldn’t be able to make any decisions- she was getting overwhelmed and frazzled.

So we saw the third unit and it was a total non-starter. It was clear the layout in the other two was much better even if the kitchen was a bit tucked away. We conferred with labmonkey (who had realized the transit was even better than she had originally thought). We agreed on an offer price (above the price of the not as nice one, but not by much). And then I did finally get in the car and drive home (which took over two hours but I knew it would). On the drive home I talked to labmonkey and my other sister, and to Q., and to the mum of E’s best school friend who was trying to organize summer camps (HOW can it be time to think about this??!!).

I got home just in time to nurse P. and put her in the crib. Then I got E. in bed, and ate a late dinner with Q. I was just clearing up the dishes when I learned from our agent that the offer had been successful and Mum had a new house!

We went to bed a bit after 10 and I could not get to sleep. I was excited and stressed about the new house and worried about P. and my paper. I saw the clock at 11:37 p.m. and then I fell asleep. P. had woken herself up and resettled a couple of times while I’d been trying to fall asleep so I suspected I was in for a rough night (which was true).

Thursday I was up early because P. woke up and needed to nurse again around 5:30 and then I didn’t get back to sleep because I started thinking about house stuff. I really hadn’t slept well- lots of tossing and turning when not getting up to deal with P. My cold was getting worse.

I took E. to school, came home, spent 90 minutes making the handout for my paper and 50 minutes finishing it (I needed to write a conclusion, streamline the introduction and generally edit in a few places). Then I nursed P. before her nap, showered, dressed in my good clothes, printed my paper and handout, paid our nanny, and jumped in the car. While in the car I ate an apple and a Lara bar.

It poured rain the whole time I drove (to another nearby city- I cannot believe some people do these kinds of commutes every day). While I drove I talked to Mum and labmonkey about financial stuff to do with the house. I’d left later than I wanted to but I got there exactly on time. I met with a grad student (I had a caffeinated tea because I was seriously flagging) for an hour, then had twenty minutes to look over my paper (during which time I also called my other sister to talk financials and read a worrying email about my father). Then I went to the departmental wine and cheese where I ate some cheese and drank 1/4 of a glass of wine. Then I gave my paper and spoke for 50 minutes and answered questions (not very many in the end, but I thought the paper went well).

By the end of the paper I was a wreck. I was light headed and shaky and I thought I was running a fever. But I think I was probably just hungry and tired because we then went out for dinner and I felt a lot better. I drove the other two people to the restaurant and they had to stand around while I pulled out a car seat (because I had cut things too fine in the morning to get it out before I left) and then cleaned up the sea of plantain chips and Cheerios I found lurking beneath it. We had a nice dinner out and then I got back in the car to drive home again.

I got home around 9:45. Q. was already in bed. The kids were asleep. I pottered around a little bit getting unpacked and organized until the adrenaline had worn off and then I crashed.

Today was supposed to be quiet as I’m home with P. and E. has no school but is out for most of the day on a special adventure with the nanny, but P. has been a wreck all day (still spotty, obviously not feeling well, and suffering from major Mummyitis) and I’ve been trying to organize the lawyers for the house purchase. So it’s been one of those days where I’ve felt like I’ve been rushing around like a maniac but not accomplishing very much.

Still. End of semester. It’s December. The crazy week is over.

I made it!

3 Comments

Filed under Family, Life after the PhD, Money Matters, The Sick

Novus Domus

Today I am off to help my mother househunt. I’m not expecting we’re going to find THE ONE on this trip, but we’re scheduled to see seven properties and I’m hoping by the end of the day we’ll both have a better idea of what she likes (or doesn’t like) and what she is looking for in her new life (and it really is a new life and not just a new residence as she will be moving from the eastern end of the province to the south, leaving a rural area for a heavily urbanized one, and changing from a sprawling four bedroom house in the woods to a condo or a townhouse).

The process of selling her house and preparing to move has been very stressful for my mother. She’s going to leave behind the house in which she’s lived for the past twenty-six years, the house where she raised her children and the house where she was left behind when they went out into the world, the house where she celebrated her marriage to my stepfather and the house where she sat with him until he drew his last breath.

That house has a lot of memories tied up in it.

When I left it (at the point where I thought it might have been for the last time) earlier this month, I took pictures of the yard while Q. was loading the kids into the car. The sun was out. There was fresh snow. It was beautiful, but both Mum and I knew how desolate it would become later in the winter.

Mum had tears in her eyes as I snapped the last few photos.

“This house needs a family,” I told her.

“I know,” she said. “It’s just hard for me to realize that my family has left.”

As hard as it is to go, Mum wants a different life now. She doesn’t want to rattle around in that house, alone as she ages, and hundreds of kilometres away from her children and grandchildren.

And so, over the past year, she has taken the steps to make this move possible.

I’m really proud of my mother.

She has been extraordinarily brave.

It takes great courage to be willing to pack up the life you have known longer than any other.

The process of choosing the new house has been hard for her. She isn’t quite sure what she wants her new life to look like. It’s hard for her to imagine the possibilities. It’s easy for her to get overwhelmed.

That’s where I come in.

Over the past year I’ve been my mother’s unofficial financial advisor and real estate consultant.

I helped her to make a budget and a spreadsheet that would let her track her savings.

I’ve gently helped her come to accept the reality that she will need help from her daughters to be able to buy a property in the new market that is not either a hovel or so small as to make her feel claustrophobic (neither of which we want for her).

I’ve asked her the hard questions, sometimes more than once over several months, to try to help her identify her priorities (two bedrooms, at least some outdoor space, lots of light, a good kitchen, a decent walk score and access to transit).

I’ve offered advice on online property listings.

And tomorrow, I’ll be with her when she first looks at properties after she’s sold her house.

It’s going to be real tomorrow (I think) in a way it hasn’t been before when Mum’s looked at places.

Now she’s actually in a position to buy one.

I expect that will feel a bit overwhelming too.

It will be good for her to have company.

I spoke to Mum on the phone yesterday, when I was eating a (late) lunch while writing my seminar paper for Thursday, and she was in the middle of the long drive from her old home to what will become her new.

We chatted about our plan for Wednesday.

Mum told me that she’s continued her practice of gratitude: every day she writes three things in her journal that made her happy or for which she is grateful.

My Mum has given me so much.

I’m so glad I can do something for her.

2 Comments

Filed under Family

The Unintended Age Gap

One of the unexpected bonuses of moving back to Canada was ending up in the same city as friends from our graduate school days. They are, like Q. and I, a couple who met while pursuing graduate degrees. They are, like Q. and I, a mixed-nationality couple (she’s Canadian, he’s Irish). Their children, like E. and P., have dual citizenship and think nothing of travelling overseas; it’s just what you do to go visit one half of your family.

We really like them.

We almost never see them, even though they live relatively close by (if anyone can be said to be “close by” in this city if you have to drive to see them).

Partly this is because of their schedules- both parents work full-time in high pressure jobs. Someone is often away on a business trip. They’re not great at returning emails.

Partly this is because they are more Q.’s friends than mine and he’s not great at organizing social engagements. I usually take care of that side of the calendar but I’ve been dropping the ball when it comes to seeing our friends for, let’s face it, close to two years now. All I tried to do in 2016 was survive and then 2017 has been equally busy (if less stressful and filled with less sorrow) with kids and work and life.

We used to do better at getting together three or four times a year but in the last few years it’s really dropped off (case in point: we’ve seen them once since P. was born, and when we sent out an email announcing her arrival they were extra surprised and excited because they hadn’t known I was pregnant).

When we do get together, we always have a great time. We value their friendship. It’s a rare thing to have that length of history with someone when you’ve moved around as much as we have.

The sticking point is our kids.

Their two boys are ten and eight.

They have extracurricular activities, interests, friends of their own.

It was easy to make the time to get together when they were little and we didn’t have any children of our own yet.

It was still relatively easy to get together when E. was a baby because their boys weren’t yet in full-time school.

It’s much harder now.

I think intentions are good on both sides, but their kids have their own lives, and our kids are too young to be interesting on their own merit.

It’s one of the hidden costs of infertility nobody like to talk about because you look ungrateful if you voice any kind of regret after you’ve been able to build your family: you end up out of sync with your friends.

I don’t want to trade my family (I hope that goes without saying).

But there is no denying that if E. had been our second child (as he could have been if we’d been able to get and stay pregnant when we first started trying), our kids would fit more easily in with theirs. The same would be true of another set of good friends (who are relatively close by but not in the same city). Their kids are ten, nine, and six, and I know they spend a lot of time with another family with three kids similar in age to theirs. That family lives in the same city we do, so it’s not a question of geographic proximity.

It makes sense that this happens, but it’s still hard.

I have lots of women I talk to when I’m dropping E. off at school, who all obviously have children the same age as E. since they’re in his grade, but, despite my best efforts, I still haven’t managed to turn any of them into actual friends. We’re stuck at friendly.

My actual friends had their children before I did.

The oldest of those children will graduate from elementary school the same year P. starts.

It’s hard to catch up.

1 Comment

Filed under 21st Century Parenting Politics, Blink and you'll miss it, Friends

Outbreak?

Last Saturday we spent a delightful day with labmonkey, Pea, Spud, and three-fifths of another family (whose parents I’ve been friends with for longer than I’ve known Q.)

The reason only three-fifths of the family were in attendance was on Friday the Dad emailed to say that everyone was feeling unwell and they weren’t sure whether or not they should come, given the littlies.

I wrote back saying that, while I couldn’t speak for labmonkey, I took the view that since E. was in school, he and P. were exposed to pretty much every germ out there. Colds and other minor illnesses really didn’t bother me.

The Mum and the middle child opted not to come, but the others did. There was pulled pork for lunch and pizza for dinner. The adults tested out a boardgame Q. has invented (needs some tweaking but shows great promise) while the bigger kids built marble runs and LEGO creations. The littlies napped (but not at the same time). All the kids trashed the living room, which by the end of the day looked like a tornado had visited. After dinner the adults and big kids played Codenames Pictures while P. and Spud pushed buttons and pulled levers on the exersaucer while also staring at each other suspiciously.

We had a great day.

Monday morning labmonkey messaged me to say she was afraid Spud had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. On Saturday he’d had only one suspect spot, not enough to set off any alarm bells. By Monday it was a different story. A doctor confirmed the diagnosis Monday evening.

It’s possible E. had a very very mild case of HFMD in kindergarten as I can remember him having a few odd spots around his mouth and then learning later from another mother that HFMD was going through the class.

I’m not at all certain that’s what it was.

And I’m absolutely certain P.’s never had it.

The incubation period is 3-6 days. If we can get to this weekend without either of them being sick, we should be in the clear.

Q. is convinced our kids have super immune systems since they almost never get sick, even with E. (no doubt) bringing home all kinds of surprises from school.

Fingers crossed he’s right.

4 Comments

Filed under Family, Friends, The Sick