Category Archives: A (Good) Day’s Work

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

Make Time for Me

I am trying to find the positives in going back to work, even though at this point I really don’t want to go back to work.

It will be nice to have some time and space to think again.

It will be nice to have some quiet. I was home this summer with both kids, and while it was in many ways a lot of fun, it most certainly was not quiet.

It will be nice, I suppose, to think about my research again. Perhaps I will actually make the revisions the press requested for my book (two YEARS ago. Gah.).

Mostly I am looking forward to being able to make the time to exercise and to occasionally have lunch with a friend.

When E. was little, I found it hard to rationalize doing anything for myself that wasn’t work-related, because if I wasn’t home with E., that meant Q. was, and that meant Q. wasn’t working when he should have been. It felt inappropriate and frivolous to use my time away from E. for anything but the PhD.

This time around, it’s different.

Three days a week P. has a nanny. It is the nanny’s JOB to take care of P. She is not supposed to be doing anything else.

So if I want to use an hour of that time to go for a run, or to eat lunch with a friend, I shouldn’t feel guilty, because the only person whose work isn’t getting done at that point is me. In my view, life’s too short to work all the time, even if I’m supposed to be maintaining full-time hours in my research position and I’m already behind by choosing to stay home with P. one day a week.

I do better work when I make time to read for fun, when I make time to run, when I make time for anything other than sitting in a library staring at a computer screen with a pile of books stacked next to me.

This does not make me a particularly good academic, but it makes me a better person and a much better mother.

I don’t want to be back at work next week.

I would much rather still be at home with P.

I would much rather be the one picking E. up after school every day.

But if I’m not going to be able to do that, at least I can try to make sure that my time away from them is well spent.

And that means making time for me, not just for my research.

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Not Ready

My first baby, who could have napped and nursed however he liked, quit nursing during the day at just over ten months and started trying to transition to one nap before his first birthday.

My second baby, at fourteen-and-a-half months, needs to nap twice a day. She still loves to nurse, not only before she naps, but throughout the day. She pats my chest or, if it’s more urgent, she lifts up my shirt or sticks her hand down the neckline. She nurses for anywhere from five seconds to fifteen minutes. If I’m sitting on the floor or in a chair she will often stand up on my thigh, making an inverted ‘v’ with her body, and wiggle her bum in the air. She uses her inside hand to grab my bra or shirt or stroke my free breast. Sometimes she reaches up with that arm and waves it around in the air. I call that “yoga nursing” because she looks like she’s doing the triangle pose.

She asks to nurse when I’m cooking dinner, and I hold her with one hand and stir with the other, with her wispy hair and her still-tiny ears curled in over my chest.

She asks to nurse on transit, in museums, while walking down the street, and, as much as I can, I say yes. I have mastered the art of nursing with her in the Ergo, something I never managed when she was younger. I have become an unintentional advocate for normalizing breastfeeding and know that my country supports my right to feed my baby wherever, whenever I choose. I have become almost immune to accidentally flashing strangers when she unexpectedly decides she’s had enough. The milky smiles make the potential embarrassment worthwhile.

She asks to nurse at night, and I still say yes, although if she wakes up too early in the night I send in Q. who tells her gently that it’s “sleepy time now. No milk. No milk. It’s sleepy time.” When she wakes to nurse closer to the dawn I sit in the rocking chair and hold her close and breathe her in. In those moments she is still, calm, content. I am still allowed to cuddle her, to smooth her one tiny curl and kiss her head

My nursing relationship with my son ended badly, much earlier than I had hoped it would.

And so, to my daughter, I say yes, as much as I can. Yes, I will hold you. Yes, I will cuddle you. Yes, you can nurse now.

She is my last baby, and I am in no hurry to wean.

She is my last baby, and my maternity leave is almost over.

She is my last baby, and so she does not get to have what she wants. She will have to nap only once, so her brother can be picked up from school. She will have to nurse less, because I will not be there.

She will adapt.

She will be fine.

I will be fine, too.

Going back to work is the right decision, on many levels.

But right now it doesn’t feel that way.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Nursing, P.- the second year

Microblog Mondays: Silent Women

Q. and I ran a mini-conference at our university last week, a workshop for the people who are writing chapters for the book we’re editing. It was an exhausting three days, with me out of the house each day from 9:15 a.m. until after 10 p.m. (except for an hour around bedtime when I would leave the workshop a little bit early to make sure I could get home in time to see E. and put P. to bed before taking a cab to the dinner location).

It was also invigorating: I spent three days listening to interesting papers and talking to interesting people in a very collegial environment (which is certainly not always the case in academia but Q. and I were quite strategic in who was invited to contribute to the volume, operating on a policy of “how many of our friends or people vouched for by our friends can we get involved”). It was wonderful to remember why I did a PhD in the first place, and to devote some time to the academic part of me. And, let’s face it, the chance to have uninterrupted adult conversation and drink hot tea and eat my own food at my own pace without needing to help someone else with their meal was also most welcome. Most people were exhausted by 4 p.m. because everyone had to attend every panel, unlike at a conference where no one will notice if you skip out on a session or two; I kept telling everyone I felt like I was on holiday.

The workshop was very successful and Q. and I feel confident we’re on track to produce a very interesting volume.

But here’s the thing- in the first morning session, there were seven women present (and nine men).

During that two-and-a-half hour session, three of those women said nothing at all. Three of the women spoke once.

And then there was me, who just wouldn’t shut up.

I found myself thinking about this all through lunch. Yes, I am much more well versed in the project and the literature, even while being on maternity leave, because Q. and I have been talking about the book and thinking about the book for two years now- but that holds true in comparison with the men as well. And yes, I was ridiculously excited to be out of the house using my brain, so I was maybe a little bit overeager to participate and a little bit nervous to establish my status (since the draft of my chapter which I submitted had been underdone given I’ve been on maternity leave and I knew it was underdone, although it looked far more advanced than it actually is when compared with some of the others).

The truth is, I’m always going to have something to say. I trust that my thoughts have value. I’m not intimidated by men, even very senior ones.

I sit at the table, and I speak up.

My sisters are exactly the same way. So at lunch on that first day I texted them, telling them what I’d seen and asking them how we’ve ended up being women who will not be silent.

We didn’t really come up with a clear answer, but we agreed that P. will have three fierce role models as she grows up.

The gender discrepancy in the workshop got better in the later sessions, but it never evened out entirely. I made a point of noticing when a woman had her hand up to speak and was being overlooked and made sure to defer back to her when it was my turn. When a female graduate student was brave enough to ask a question in front of several very senior full professors from overseas universities I made a point of finding her during a break to tell her what a great question it had been. And I made a point of telling Q. and our very good friend O. (who was one of those senior visiting professors) what I’d noticed at the end of the first day so that for the next two days they made a point of doing these things too.

Do you sit at the table and speak up? Do you feel valued by your colleagues when you do?

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

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Unbalanced

Sunday night, I went to bed after 11 p.m., only to get up again ten minutes later when I heard the car in the driveway and knew my mother and stepsister were back from the hospital. I went downstairs to find out how my stepfather was doing and to let them decompress (things can be very hard right now).

I eventually went to bed and fell asleep around 12:45 a.m. The next morning we woke up and got on the road as early as we could (7:45 a.m., which was 45 minutes later than Q. had hoped for and 15 minutes earlier than I thought would be possible) in order to make the long drive back home in front of the worst of the holiday weekend traffic. P., mercifully, slept most of the way instead of screaming like she had on the outward trip, but it still took us 8 hours (same as the previous trip but with two stops instead of six).

Monday night I went to bed around 9:30 p.m. I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to feed P. (she is still sleeping really well at night). Then I went downstairs and pumped.

And then, starting at 5:00 a.m., I marked essays. I marked until E. woke up at 7:15.

I felt like garbage the rest of the day.

Last night I did not get up after feeding P. at 4:30 a.m. I pumped after her morning feed. I did not mark essays. I slept until E. woke me up at 7:30 and as a result I feel like I can function again.

I can’t mark during the day as I get exactly 45 minutes of time to work (after lunch when P. naps in a carrier and E. is watching videos). That is enough to check work email and moderate the discussion forum. It is enough to keep my head above water with the course which is into its concluding week (I had originally planned to actually write a concluding lecture but that is not going to happen). I am only able to type this because P. is nursing.

I don’t want to ask Q. to come home early because he lost his entire week last week coming with me to see my family (where he took over in the kitchen and kept us all fed for the entire week so my mother did not have to worry. I love that man).

I will probably get an hour tonight when Q. takes P. for an evening walk after E. is in bed.

But I think tomorrow I have to get up again after her feed. They won’t get done otherwise.

I am heartsick and grieving, for myself, my stepfather, my mother, my entire family. I had to say goodbye and leave, knowing that I will never see him again.

I was supposed to be there this week with the kids. My mother was going to look after E. while I marked when P. napped. Instead, she has brought my stepfather home from the hospital and will look after him until he dies, and I can do absolutely nothing to help.

We knew teaching the course after P. was born would be a challenge.

We are so close.

There are only a few more days to go.

But this is really hard now.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Life after the PhD, Loss

Manic Mondays

This is fairly typical for my Mondays this semester.

6:30 a.m.: Get up. Print various files required for today that I was too tired to print last night by the time I finished prepping the classes.

7:00 a.m.: Feed cats. Dump dishwasher.

7:15 a.m.: Wake up E. Finish making his lunch. Pack backpack.

7:30 a.m.: Make sure E. is out of bed and getting dressed. Make his breakfast and my breakfast. Kiss Q. who is heading out early to get in a swim before work.

7:45 a.m.: Eat breakfast with E. Answer approximately forty-five billion unrelated questions. Wonder how E. manages to consume so much food while talking non-stop.

8:15 a.m.: Upstairs to brush teeth and find socks. Double check backpacks are ready to go. Wrestle E. into outdoor clothing.

8:35 a.m.: Leave house. Walk to school. Tell a story about Elmer the little red diesel engine with yellow stripes while giving drivers the stink eye when they come into stop signs too quickly.

8:50 a.m.: Wave cheerfully at E. as he heads into school, even if he is weeping. Walk at high speed to the subway. Be passed by many pedestrians. Realize high speed is no longer all that fast.

9:45 a.m.: Arrive at first university campus. Photocopy test for evening class. Notice random printout in photocopier room of application for conference travel fund. Notice deadlines do not correspond conveniently with conference in May. Realize only possible deadline is probably tomorrow. Fret.

9:55 a.m.: Set up in office. Await student who is supposed to write a make up exam.

10:02 a.m.: Wonder what has happened to student. Start correcting chapter solutions for language class that evening.

10:53 a.m.: Think about packing up as office hour is over at 11:00 a.m. and there is no sign of student. Have student turn up with a jumbled apology about it taking longer than usual to get to the campus.

12:15 p.m.: Student finishes exam. Pack up bag and leave to catch transport to second campus.

1:00 p.m.: Arrive at second campus. Realize am about to either attack passersby or cry from hunger. Buy ridiculously large platter of Indian food. Retreat to office.

1:15 p.m.: Inhale Indian food while also making PowerPoint presentation for lecture that afternoon. Text from labmonkey: Dad is in surgery getting a pacemaker. Try not to worry.

2:15 p.m.: Finish PowerPoint presentation. Call to book taxi for that evening. Call to reschedule E.’s dental appointment. Take a minute to check email.

2:20 p.m.: Write to supervisor to tell him good news about postdoc.

2:22 p.m.: Have knock on office door. It is supervisor, excited about the email. Accept congratulations. Leave office door open because am now on official office hours.

2:30 p.m.: Answer emails from students regarding upcoming assessment. No students come to office hours.

3:00 p.m.: Have spare moments. Check exam schedule for April. Email sisters to try to coordinate who can travel when in April. Suggest options. Bombard sisters with emails because have a few free moments to think about all the things on the to-do list.

3:40 p.m.: Pack up backpack. Leave office.

4:00 p.m.: Start lecture.

5:10 p.m.: Finish lecture. Shut down technology, field questions from students, put on boots. Walk briskly down to where the taxi should be.

5:17 p.m.: Get in taxi. Text labmonkey to see if Dad is out of surgery. He is and it went well. Text with labmonkey to get update about Dad generally while in taxi. Argue with driver about route. Win argument.

5:58 p.m.: Arrive back at first university campus. Pay driver. Eat snack and use washroom.

6:05 p.m.: Start teaching class.

8:45 p.m.: End class. Shut down technology, field questions from students, put on boots. Walk briskly out to bus stop.

8:51 p.m.: Catch earlier bus. Send triumphant text to Q. Eat apple. Finish book.

9:40 p.m.: Arrive home. Turn on computer and look up conference travel fund application. Confirm that cannot apply for funding once conference has happened. Realize will have to get up tomorrow morning and complete application. Q. offers to drop it off, saving the trip to campus. Reminded again why he is so wonderful.

10:00 p.m.: Go to bed. Set alarm for 6:00 a.m. Snuggle with Q. Try to ignore baby dance party in uterus. Sleep.

 

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This and that

A few bits and pieces as I’ve found myself up at work with no access to an office and not enough time before class to do anything fruitful:

  • My cold is officially a sinus infection. Blech. I am hydrating like crazy and have resorted to sticking my head under a towel over a bowl of boiling water to try to encourage things to clear out. I am not sure if I go to see my GP whether she can do anything to help, but if things don’t improve by the end of the week, I may cave.
  • On my way to work today I got off the subway and Q. was waiting to get on. Nice bonus!
  • Phaselus had a dance party in my uterus last night while I was falling asleep and kicked the crap out of Q.’s hand. S/he was then super quiet when I woke up this morning. I had a (relatively) brief moment of panic that the baby dance party had in fact been extreme flailing and distress from a cord accident or something. Then Phaselus woke up. Clearly I need this referral to the mental health program.
  • Speaking of, they called me yesterday to book my next appointment. I was walking home from school with E. at the time and had no access to my calendar, so I asked if they could call me back and said I’d be home in five minutes. Then nothing. I am going to give them until the end of the day tomorrow and then I will call the general number just to make sure I didn’t slip off someone’s desk.
  • I survived my first two rounds of marking for the semester. My first year class averaged a highish C+ on their mid-term exam, and the third-year class averaged a lowish B on the in-class essay. Both are exactly where I would expect them to be, which was rather pleasing as I had been concerned that a) I had set a much too hard exam for the ickle firsties, and b) I had lost all perspective and patience while grading two-thirds of the upper year class’s assignments on the train coming home on Saturday- the train ended up being over two hours late, and my computer wouldn’t connect to the WiFi, so I had nothing to do but mark. It was a real struggle by the end, but apparently I didn’t take it out on them. Hurrah!
  • I did some digging and some calculating and I think I worked out how much maternity leave I’d be entitled to if I took 10 months off (September 2016 to June 2017). It is a decent chunk of change. Certainly enough that I could rationalize doing this, taking July and August off as unpaid leave and then starting the postdoc in September 2017 when the baby would be almost 15 months old. “I thought you said you would go crazy if you were off for a whole year,” said Q., when I announced this to him last night. “I did,” I said, “but if I take the postdoc, there’s no way I’m putting the baby in full-time daycare at six months old to start in January.” I think if we go this route I would want to look in to getting some casual help from January 2017 onwards to give me a bit of time to work on my own stuff while E. is at school. I also think taking the postdoc depends on Q. agreeing to be at home with the baby one weekday each week (and then he could make up the day on Saturday if he wanted), and me being at home one day and working four official days plus some evenings. I know lots of people do it, but putting a 15 month old in full-time daycare is not something I think I can do. Plus the financial advantages of the postdoc over contract teaching evaporate if a full-time nanny or infant daycare place enter the picture.
  • Six months in, E. still complains bitterly about going to school and how much he misses me. He seems absolutely fine when he is there. We’re getting no reports of behavioural issues and there are even signs he’s making friends. But he is a true homebody introvert at heart and he really would just rather hang out with me.
  • His kindergarten class is participating in the ‘Reading A-Z’ program where they send home leveled readers and once the child has mastered it, the book goes back and another one comes home. We have suspected for a while now that E. is masking how much he can read while at school and this was proved by the level ‘aa’ (I think the very first level) book sent home with him on Monday. E. read it once, then had it memorized, and announced to Q., “Well, it’s a bit simple, isn’t it?” “I hope I will get a more interesting book this time,” he told me as he went in to school this morning to exchange it.
  • I decided to out myself on Facebook today. I am feeling more pregnant than usual in the last few days and just felt it was time. I posted this photo (I did think it would be too subtle, but people picked up on it right away.)
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