Late last week I had an e-mail from my supervisor. He’s about to go overseas for a month (which I knew) and wants to meet with some of his graduate students before he vanishes. He proposed a perfect solution: he’d see one of us at 9:30, another at 10:30, a third at 11:30, and then we could all go to lunch together at 12:30.
I read the e-mail, and then I went and looked at our online calendar.
The date on which he was proposing we all meet was E’s first day of nursery school. E’s teachers, in their welcome package, have encouraged us to be prepared to spend the first few days of school with our child to help with the transition. They’ll help us decide when E. is ready to be left there on his own. But at minimum we’d planned and expected to have one of us there with E. for the first three days.
When Q. got in from messing around in the garden, I had a rant to him about this.
“Well, I’ll go with E. to nursery school,” Q. said sensibly.
“That’s not a good option,” I replied, “because you’re going to have to go with E. on Friday because that’s when my flight is, and you can’t lose two work days next week.” I have a family wedding I have to attend the weekend after E. starts nursery school. It is the worst possible timing. Q. and E. aren’t going because it is too close to the start of semester, and E. has done enough travelling, but having me disappear on him again is going to really, really upset him.
Q. kept proposing potential solutions, and I kept coming up with reasons why they weren’t solutions after all, until finally I realized what the problem was.
The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t find some other way to make this work.
The problem was I wanted to be the one to take E. to his first day at nursery school.
I wanted to be the one to walk him through those doors for the first time.
I wanted to be the one who saw how he reacted in that space.
I wanted to be the one to be his source of support if he found that first day overwhelming.
I’m having a hard enough time coming to terms with the fact that my baby is going to be at nursery school three days a week starting in two weeks.
I couldn’t face the idea of him going for the first time without me.
So I sat down and I composed an e-mail to my supervisor, and I told him that his proposed meeting times wouldn’t work for me, and I told him why, and I suggested alternatives. Given my supervisor sent his original e-mail from the U.S. where he was moving his eldest child into her new apartment in her new city where she was about to start a new degree (which is why he isn’t available to meet this week), it would be pretty difficult for him to fault my reasoning.
There is no doubt in my mind that had we switched places, Q. would not have been suffering the same angst over this scheduling conflict. He would have arranged with me for me to go with E. to nursery school in his stead, and that would have been that.
Q. loves E., obviously. He’s excited about E. going to nursery school, and nervous, and a little worried about how we’ll all cope and how much he’ll miss the little guy.
But I think it’s safe to say that Q. would not have considered being absent on E.’s first day of nursery school to be an untenable solution.
To be fair, E. is having a lot more trouble separating from me than from Q. at the moment. My disappearing for two weeks in April left a huge impression (not a positive one) on him. He’s been very worried about me leaving ever since we got back to Canada- I think because we were on holiday and he got used to having me around, he now doesn’t want me to start going back in to the library (he tells me every morning: “Mummy no go to work”). We have asked so much of him this summer, and there have been so many changes and disruptions and transitions. I really do think it will help E. make the transition if I’m there with him on the first day.
At the same time, I am aware that I am making a choice.
I am choosing to prioritize E.’s needs, even if that runs the risk of making me look less serious, less committed in the eyes of my supervisor.
But it doesn’t feel like a choice.
Going with E. to his first day of nursery school feels as instinctive as breathing. I could just as easily decide to miss that day as I could decide to stop inhaling oxygen.
I’m not even leaving E. that first day. I’m going to spend the entire day with him- morning program, snack, outdoor time, lunch, nap, afternoon program, etc.
I don’t want to think about what it’s going to be like when it is time to leave him there. I know this is something every mother faces eventually. I know we’ve been incredibly lucky to have kept E. with us for twenty-eight months. But that’s not making the coming separation easier.
I’ve spent a lot of time this summer thinking about what I want from my life and my career. I’m getting closer to the endgame with the dissertation. I should be graduating a year or so from now (or at least have a defence date organized).
I haven’t heard back from my supervisor yet, but I expect it won’t be too difficult to reschedule our meeting. In the grand scheme of things, this scheduling conflict isn’t a big deal, and it certainly won’t be the last.
But it opened my eyes just a little bit more to my own feelings.
When the conflict became clear, I never once hesitated.
I chose my child.
Is that biological?
Is that a societal expectation that I have embraced?
Is that just me?
I don’t know.
But I expect the next few months are going to give me plenty of chances to examine my thoughts.
I feel like a ‘bad’ academic, a bad PhD student already. Academia is never satisfied- it will always demand more. It’s not the type of job that you can leave behind at the end of the day. I’m so aware of how having E. has slowed my progress. I don’t regret this- not ever, not for one second- but it’s the truth. I would be spending far more hours every week on my dissertation if I didn’t have a child. I’m already really stressed about how little time will be available to me this fall for quality research. I’m going to have to become very good at using blocks of a couple hours wisely, something which hasn’t been my strong point in the past.
This scheduling conflict just really drove home how hard it’s going to be to balance everything.