Cultivating Stillness

So we are officially one week into the autumn semester here.

One week since Q. started teaching again.

One week since I did not, for the first time since we moved to this city seven years ago (except for the year I was still on leave after E. was born).

One week since I have, officially, become a SAHM.

And I am, not to put too fine a point on it, going absolutely fucking crazy.

Not with E. It’s got nothing to do with E. Right now we’re having a good time together. There are no tears at nursery school drop offs, because he knows I’m picking him up right after lunch. We potter around the neighbourhood.  We bake. We clean the house. We weed the garden. We spend part of every day building a couch train (where we take all the cushions off the couches and put them on the floor in a very particular order that is known ONLY to E. and tears ensue when I, or the stuffed animals helping us, invariably get it wrong). We read books (currently he is big into Amelia Bed.elia Goes Wild). We play alphabet Go Fish (and I regularly lose to his favourite stuffed animal, which is both amusing and somewhat humiliating at the same time). I successfully signed him up for swimming lessons (making sure to be logged in to my computer at the exact moment registration opened in order to grab our most-wanted spot), which will start at the end of the month.

It’s not E.

It’s me.

I am losing my mind because the future is stretching out in front of me, all nebulous and uncertain and I DON’T HAVE A PLAN.

I don’t do well without plans. (Understatement of the century, right there.)

I knew when I started the PhD I probably wouldn’t get a tenure-stream position. Being unable to move to take up a job elsewhere makes that highly unlikely, even before the job market tanked. By the time I was in the throes of writing up the dissertation, I knew I didn’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one existed. I didn’t have the drive for it. I wasn’t willing to work the hours it required. There was no room in our household for two career-stream academics if we were going to actually parent our son ourselves.

But I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t get contract teaching. Even if it was only one course at first, or just a few tutorials, I always assumed I would get my foot in the door. The pay wouldn’t be much, but my time would be flexible, I’d still be teaching, and I’d stay bound to the academic year. I could be at home with E. in the summers.

And then this academic year started, and I don’t have teaching, not one little bit, and my foot’s not in the door.

I’m supposed to be embracing this year at home.

I am supposed to be viewing it as “a golden opportunity to spend one more year with my son, who is probably going to be our one and only, before he goes off to kindergarten and his teachers see more of his life than we do” rather than “an indictment of failure because you just spent six years on a PhD and for what- if you’d just stuck with contract teaching you’d be entrenched in the courses by now and no one could get rid of you even though you wouldn’t be properly qualified”.

Oh yes, I haven’t actually FINISHED the PhD yet. I’m supposed to be doing revisions right now (more on that in another post).

So it is maybe premature to consider the PhD a waste of time when I haven’t even finished it yet.

We are a week into our new routine, and already I am catching myself trying to make up a new plan. At night, during E.’s quiet time, even when he is at nursery school and I should be working on the dissertation, I find myself surfing websites. My inner monologue goes something like this:

Ok, so we could transfer over your teaching qualifications from Australia. Then you could teach high school here. But there aren’t any jobs in teaching right now! Well, no, but you could send out your CV to some of the private schools- the ones that teach Latin and would like that you’ve coached rowing- and just see if they bite. But teaching high school in Australia stressed me out. It’s not family friendly- not during the year. I wouldn’t be able to do pick ups or drop offs for E. at school.

Ok, so what about university administration? There’s a job for a grant writer/editor at the big university downtown. They want a PhD in their minimum qualifications. You could be good at something like that. You could do well with something like that. You’re not actually qualified for that job, but if you get your foot in the door with a university, you can always move sideways into another position. Yes, but can I do an office job? Can I do nine to five? What if the job doesn’t come home with you? Wouldn’t that be a nice change? But what about the summers?

Ok, what about libraries? You love books. There are lots of interesting things to do in a library. Yes, but they want a degree in Library or Information Science. Great idea! More school! Let’s put off the decision making! Are you serious? Do you really think Q. would agreed to that? Yes, yes he would. If you said, “Hey Q., I know I just spent six years working on my PhD and I’ve been a student for nine of the twelve years we’ve been together, but I think what would really make me most happy would be to go back and do another two years getting another degree”, you know that Q. would agree. He wants most of all for you to be happy. He’s not the selfish one in this marriage. But that’s not fair to him. And it’s not making a decision, it’s just deferring it. You’d be hiding your fears in another degree program.

Right. So what about freelance writing/editing and working from home? You’re available for E. and you can do your own writing too. TOO SCARY. DON’T MENTION IT. WHAT IF I FAIL?

Well, LOOK. We need to come to some sort of decision here. This is your future and the future of your family we’re talking about. What do you want to do? PANIC STATIONS!

And round and round I go, over and over for hours and hours.

Today, I am saying only this:

Stop, Turia. Just stop.

I don’t NEED a plan right now.

I can’t make a plan right now.

I can’t even begin to try to imagine what the rest of my life will look like because a) I haven’t finished the PhD yet and I need to spend my time making sure my thesis is ready to defend when we finally settle on an examiner and a date, and b) we don’t yet know that E. will be an only. I’m 95% convinced that he will be, but I can’t make plans based on the assumption that we are really, truly, done with trying until we do the last FET.

So today I am telling myself to let go of the need for a plan. I am telling myself to cultivate stillness. I am telling myself to wait, wait at least until the new year, when the thesis will be done and the FET will have happened, before I make any decisions about the future.

And I am also telling myself to be gentle. I am reminding myself that I don’t have to figure it out all at once. What E. needs from me as his mother in the next couple of years as he starts full-time formal schooling is not necessarily what he will need from me when he is eight, or ten, or fifteen.

I am trying to train myself to imagine other possibilities. Q. and I were both raised by mothers who were at home with us for much of our childhood, who then went on to become teachers. Our mothers were always around in the summers. It is exceedingly difficult for me to imagine a life where that is not the case for E., a life where I work in an office and we have two weeks together in July or August. There would be good things in that life too. Maybe E. would get to go away to camp when he was older, something my sisters and I never did because our mother was always at home. Maybe E. wouldn’t spend hours marooned at school waiting for his mother to finish her work devoted to other people’s children so she could come and pick him up, like we did. Maybe E. would have a mother who could come to some of his assemblies and come on school trips and do all of the things during school hours that parents who are also teachers are never able to do.

My mother stayed at home until I was ten (the advantage of being the eldest). But when I was ten and she went back to work, she was only a year older than I am now. I don’t want to be a SAHM mum long-term. It wouldn’t be good for me mentally. I’m already struggling enormously with the idea of going without an income for the year, even though Q. makes a good wage and we will be ok. We won’t be putting much away for later, but we’ll be ok. But we’ll have to think about money a lot more than we have in the last few years, and we’ll have to be much more careful with it, and I’m realizing just how important it is to both of us and to our marriage that we don’t usually have to be super careful.

I’m really lucky, I know that. I am incredibly privileged that I can have this year at home with my son, that my husband fully supports me being at home, that he makes a good enough wage that we can manage with me at home without doing more than tightening our belts a little. I am (relatively) young still, and healthy, and I will have a PhD before the year is done, and I have the chance to choose, really choose, what I most want to do with my life.

Right now, though, I don’t feel lucky.

I feel adrift.

And trying to embrace the NOT KNOWING is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.


Filed under Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Money Matters, PhD, Writing

2 responses to “Cultivating Stillness

  1. I am so sorry hun! I once read a quote and it has really stuck with me ever since (because I am also a HUGE planner). The quote said this…

    “You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.”


  2. Pingback: Resolutions | Res Cogitatae

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