I have been doing a lot of thinking over the last couple of days about why I am feeling so anxious these days.
Part of it is related to the UK. I have so much anxiety about leaving E. for two weeks when I first fly over that I try not to think about or I start to build up into a panic attack. This has nothing to do with not trusting Q. or my Mum (who is going to come to stay while I’m gone) to look after E. I’m just not emotionally ready to leave him. It feels a bit like that scene in The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman where Will and Lyra go the land of the dead and their daemons can’t go with them. Not that E. is really a part of me, of course. He is his own person. But I feel like it will be ripping away a part of me to leave him.
So that’s part of it. I’m compensating in my usual way: through massive amounts of relatively unnecessary planning. There is a part of me that feels that if I can just figure out the absolute BEST way to pack and the IDEAL amount of stuff to bring versus buying in the UK, things will be better. Right now I am obsessing over buying E. the PERFECT rainjacket and the PERFECT backpack to be his carry-on for the plane. Because, you know, apparently finding the right size of backpack for a toddler with a chest strap and good pockets for sippy cups will make leaving him on the other side of an OCEAN for two weeks easier.
I am driving Q. nuts about this, but I have straight out told him it is how I’m channeling my anxiety, so he is being fairly restrained in how he is handling it. I was obsessing about finding the PERFECT place to live in the UK but now we’ve found a flat so I’ve had to channel the anxiety into something else. (As an aside, I am really excited about the flat. It’s in a small village outside the university town. I will be able to get from our flat to the department and the university library, both about 7.5km away, on a bike on a cycleway that is totally segregated from the road except for 200 metres or so at either end where I will be on a bike lane that is on the road itself. Getting fit without having it take up time that should be spent on the dissertation. Win!)
Part of it is stemming from my anxiety about September and what is going to happen with E. Since we’re away for four months, I feel this needs to get sorted out soon. We should hear from the co-op nursery school at the end of this month or early next month. If they have a place for E. that is two full days plus one morning, or three full days, we’re golden. But I am looking into alternatives. There is another co-op preschool in our area. I don’t think the space is as extensive (I’m going to see it at the end of the month), and it is smaller, so the children are just in one big group of sixteen rather than being divided up into groups according to their age. This would mean E. would be among the youngest and there could be five year olds, although I think it is more likely they will all be four or under since the schools in our area are all moving to full-day kindergarten (which is another post- my anxiety about the public school system and its curriculum and what the f*** is happening). It’s little things: you send your snack with your toddler rather than every family doing a group snack one day per month. But, it only requires a parental duty day once or twice per month rather than every week like the other place. And its morning program is 1/2 hour longer than the other one (8:45 to 11:45 rather than 9:00 to 11:30). So I think if our first choice can only offer us mornings, we need to think seriously about this other preschool, especially if we don’t think E. will be needing full-time care the following year if we’ve had a baby (IF IF IF).
My other option is a dayhome. I have a mummy friend in the neighbourhood (we met at a childbirth prep class) who has someone she adores. She is a qualified teacher and ECE, feeds them organic food, and is incredibly inexpensive for the area. I’ve spoken to her on the phone to confirm she has space in September and would consider a part-time arrangement of three days/week, but I’m waiting for her to call me back to set up an actual meeting. The only negative is she’s a reasonable walk away (probably a touch over twenty minutes), which would become a huge pain if she won’t let us leave the stroller at her place. It’s on my (massively long) list of questions to ask. I think I could probably break down and bike with E. in a child seat during the non-snowy months (I don’t currently bike in this city), but the winter would be an issue.
From a PhD perspective, the dayhome is the best option. I think the morning preschool, however, is the better option for E. I think he would really benefit from having the three hours in the morning and then coming home for lunch and the afternoon. If he is still napping well (IF IF IF), there would be scope to get a lot of work done, but there isn’t really room in that schedule to go to the library, or to go to the university to teach. So that option would require Q. to be willing to take E. a couple of days a week, even though “taking” E. would hopefully mean E. goes to preschool for three hours and then naps. With the dayhome, Q. could work five days, and I could work three. The ideal still remains our first choice of co-op nursery school, since its “full day” program is 9:oo to 3:30, including lunch and nap/quiet time. One of my other questions for the dayhome care provider is about late drop offs and early pick ups. I really don’t want three days a week to mean E. is in care from 8 until 5, or even longer (ten or ten and a half hours per day is not unheard of in this big city filled with two-career families with long job commutes).
There is one other possibility for a dayhome that is much closer, but much more expensive, so we’d probably only be able to put E. in for two days. That really would require Q. being able to take E. for one day. She’s a Montessori teacher and her ad suggested she has very similar values and ideas about children to me. I’m still waiting to see if she’ll consider a part-time placement, and if she will I’ll try to set up a meeting. The two preschools have the advantage of only running during the school year, so we only pay for ten months of care. That said, if we were paying for and using care for July and August, Q. and I would obviously both get more work done- if we aren’t having a baby (IF IF IF).
There is a lot going on. It’s all fallen on me. I’m the ‘boss’ parent when it comes to making these sorts of decisions for E., and Q. really does not have time right now to think about things. I think he’s taken the approach of “if we don’t get the first place we’ll think about things then”, but that’s really not good enough, since we’re going to be away for so long, and I think now we need more care for E. than we originally thought. Being offered three mornings at our top choice won’t be enough. When we first applied, before this semester started, we thought it would be. So I’ve been doing my research and contacting people and next week some time I’ll sit down with Q. and put all the options on the table and see what he thinks about it all, and we will hopefully have a truly honest and open discussion about workloads and what will be manageable next year and what won’t be.
Underlying all of this fretting, though, are two bigger issues that I’ve only just articulated for myself today.
The first is that I’m hitting the stage in my PhD where it is just one big slog to the end. It isn’t fun. It isn’t exciting. It is borderline crippling to face down my inner critic and my inner demons and my inner doubts and to just keep on writing each day. Most days I’m convinced I have nothing to say, that I am a fraud (see: “Imposter Syndrome, Academic, Female”), that nothing I think or write is original. Every now and then I think about how much more I could have done if I’d been working on the PhD full-time these last two years and then I really want to freak out and/or cry. My supervisor’s one consistent critique is that I’m a bit light with my footnotes- I’m not citing enough of the modern scholarship. I’m not citing enough because the modern scholarship is where I run out of time with each chapter. When I was pregnant with E. I read and read and read the ancient sources. I built my database. I knew what my arguments were. The problem now is I simply don’t have the time to read everything I should in the modern scholarship before I hit the stage that I have to start writing each chapter to keep to my timeline.
Anyway. I have made my choices and I don’t regret them and I am doing the best I can. But I am ever mindful of the fact that upwards of 50% of PhDs in the Humanities never finish and that it is THIS stage where it gets to people. The stage where you just have to squash and silence your doubts and keep sitting in that damn chair and typing away at your keyboard. If I get a full draft, I will finish. I will defend successfully. But I have to summon up the confidence and the courage and the sheer bloodymindedness to get there.
The second issue is we are starting to move closer to a time where there are a lot of unknowns in our lives again. Will we have a 2.0? Will I finish on the timeline we’ve set out? Will I get a tenure-stream job (probably not)? Will I get any sort of job?
For the last couple of years, even though things have been chaotic and stressful trying to balance the PhD with being E’s Mum (and Q.’s wife, etc. etc.), there haven’t been any really big unknowns. We’ve been raising E., but not ttcing. I’ve been working on the PhD, but there’s always been lots of it left to do.
Now we’re approaching the endgame. In the fall I will be on the job market. There are post-docs I will need to apply for. If there are jobs in my field I’ll need to go for them. I’ll need to get my application in to the various local universities for their contract work.
And we’ll be back at the clinic.
Dear readers, if you have been with me all this time (and I know some of you have) you know this about me: I do not do well with unknowns. I am a planner. An organizer. I cannot stand ceding control of my life to the universe. It’s why I had so much trouble during the three years we were trying to get pregnant. It’s why I nearly made myself crazy when E. was first born and I tried so hard (and so futilely) to get him onto some sort of predictable routine.
I manage my anxiety by feeling in control of my life.
The more I can’t control the big issues, the more I micromanage and grab onto smaller things. When we were ttcing it was my weight and body image and running. I couldn’t get pregnant, but I could damn well make sure I got skinny and could run really fast.
I have thought for weeks now that my micromanagement of planning for the UK, and now my obsession with daycare, was solely stemming from my anxiety about leaving E. in April. And that is certainly a big part of it. But another part, and probably an even bigger part, is subconsciously I’m aware that these four months in the UK is the last point in time when everything is planned out and set on a straight path, right down to the dates of our flights and the timings for our family holidays. When we come back in August, everything, EVERYTHING is up in the air. Right now we don’t know where E. will be going for care, whether or not I’ll be teaching, and, if I am, in what course and on what day, what types of jobs will be coming up (if any), what post-docs will be available (if any). We aren’t even 100% certain at this stage what Q’s teaching load will look like, and we certainly don’t yet know what his service commitments will be.
What I’m really doing by obsessing over the UK is allowing myself to sidle away from staring at the reality of the great black hole of unknown that happens once we’re back on this side of the Atlantic.
And strangely, realizing that this is what this has all been about has made me feel quite a lot better. For now.