Category Archives: Life after the PhD

On sleep, work, the baby, and balance (or haven’t I been here before?)

I find myself reminded on a daily basis that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

I am functioning, but only just. It isn’t even that P’s sleep is all that dreadful, more that she’s up twice every night so the sleep I do get is always fragmented into three blocks, compounded by her for the last week or so getting up for the day before 6 a.m.

Every morning I find the last line from Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable rolling round and round in my head (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

I can remember being in a very similar stage at a very similar point during E’s infancy (I wrote about it here). The situation wasn’t identical, of course, but it was eerily familiar: I had a baby who was waking up to nurse twice a night, guaranteeing I couldn’t get a block of sleep longer than four hours, and I had a looming academic deadline. In E’s infancy it was the first chapter of my dissertation. This time around it’s the first draft of the book chapter for an edited volume.

We’re running a workshop for the volume in mid-July and all contributors are meant to have the first draft of their chapter available for circulation by the end of May. Given I’m one of the editors (and Q. is another- the book project is really his baby), there wouldn’t be serious consequences were I to miss that deadline. But that’s certainly not ideal.

When we first organized the workshop and mapped out the deadlines, I can remember thinking (this was before P. was born), “No problem. I’ll start reading and collecting sources in March and then I can write the chapter in May.”

I didn’t seriously believe, you see, that I could end up with TWO babies who would get up twice a night to nurse in the second half of their first year. Surely, I thought, by the time P was eight or nine months old she’d be sleeping better than E was. And then she was such a good sleeper for her first two months that she lulled me into thinking she’d be an easy baby.

Ha.

So here I am, with an academic deadline and a brain that feels like mush, and what really gets me is the whole thing is just so.damn.familiar.

Last time around, when I was assessing the impact of my long-term sleep deprivation, I noticed this:

I’m breaking things.

In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?

Yep. I’ve started dropping things or being unable to properly hold them when I go to pick them up. It’s like I’m losing my hand-eye coordination.

And there was this:

I forget things.

I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.

Yep. I forget appointments, plans, ideas, even words. A normal conversation in our house now looks like this:

Q. (wrestling with tangled cables): “We should set up a charging station for the mobile phones.”
Me: “Yes! I want to get one of those…things.” *gestures helplessly* “You know! The things with all the things that you can plug in.”
Q.: “A power bar.”
Me: “Yes! Fuck. I want a power bar for my desk downstairs so I can have a charging station for the iPad and my phone and my laptop.”

I have these kinds of conversations with E. all the time. My FIVE YEAR OLD fills in my vocabulary gap when I can’t remember challenging words like “gate”, “streetcar”, or “upstairs” (these are all real examples).

I invited some of E’s friends and their parents to come on a nature walk with us a couple of weekends ago and got the start time wrong. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the family who came didn’t mind being there thirty minutes early, but still.

I had to take P’s passport application in twice because the first time I went to submit it the nice lady behind the desk had to tell me that not only had I forgotten to sign it (which was easily rectified right there in the office), but I had neglected to get Q. to sign it as well (which was not).

I cannot emphasize enough how NOT LIKE ME these types of things are.

My sense of my innermost self is built on a foundation of BEING ORGANIZED.

I am the one who is always on time for everything. Always. Even with two kids.

I remember appointments.

I fill out forms correctly.

If Q. is the absent-minded professor in our family, I am the steel trap memory.

I know the sleep deprivation is temporary- E has taught me that much.

But its effect is enormously difficult for me to cope with, not just because it makes me bleary and fuzzy and short-tempered each day, not just because it means I cannot imagine how I am going to maintain the needed focus to do the research for this book chapter, let alone actually write the thing, but because it fundamentally erodes a not insignificant part of who I believe myself to be.

4 Comments

Filed under Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, P.- the first year, Sleep, Writing

Serendipity

I am not one for believing that things happen for a reason.

I didn’t think like this even before my father’s accident and my stepfather’s death, although I have said to a number of people that if I did believe this sort of thing I would believe that P. was sent to be this horrible year’s silver lining.

Sometimes, though, I can see how it would be tempting to think that the universe every now and then has our best interests at heart.

A few weeks ago I was walking E. to school when one of his old nursery school teachers cycled past. She saw P. in the carrier and stopped immediately to chat- she hadn’t known I was pregnant.

We had a brief conversation, during which she mentioned that she was no longer teaching full-time at the nursery school but was now instead looking after children who are too young to go to the nursery school.

Here’s the thing- I am going back to work in September. I don’t really want to- I would rather be at home for another year, but it’s not feasible for a number of reasons.

Q. has agreed to take one day off a week to be home with P., and I’ll be home for another day. But even the prospect of looking for part-time care for P., three days a week, was causing me huge amounts of anxiety and guilt. Anxiety because I was worried about finding the right kind of care for her, namely a home-based setting with a native English speaker. And guilt because we didn’t need this kind of care for E.- we juggled him between us until he was old enough to go to nursery school- but we can’t do the juggling act again.

I asked her if she would be interested in looking after a 14 month old for three days a week starting in September.

She said that sounded like fun.

I took her phone number and took a little bit longer than I should have to call her because it takes me a long time to do anything right now, especially call people (because I absolutely loathe talking on the phone), but it worked out because even though word had gotten around by that point she had been waiting to hear from me before talking to anyone else. She believes that things happen for a reason, you see. She felt that our meeting had been “meant to be”.

We met up yesterday to discuss the details.

We’re still figuring out a few things, but I think we’re basically sorted. She’s willing to come to our house and she’s happy to pick up E. after school on the days she is working. This is so much better than I was expecting, as you basically can’t get a nanny who’s a native English speaker. We’d been assuming P. would be in an in-home daycare somewhere and then we’d have to find some sort of after-school care for E. And finding a part-time spot can be difficult.

She is a trained ECE.

She has decades of experience with the littlest people.

I worked with her on my duty day at the nursery school for an entire year.

I KNOW how good she is.

And now she’s going to save up all of that love and kindness and energy for my P.

We hit the jackpot.

I might be able to now stop having anxiety attacks about going back to work.

4 Comments

Filed under Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, P.- the first year, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

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.

3 Comments

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

Clarity (Part One)

It has been hard for me, this past year.

Hard to be unemployed without paid work (for, as Q. pointed out to me, over and over again, I did have a job, just not one that society values).

I have had a lot of time to sit and think. Probably too much time to sit and think given my natural propensity for thinking/fretting/planning.

I went round and round and round in my head.

My thoughts were a maelstrom.

A vortex.

And then, at last, there was stillness.

I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing this year.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do in the future.

I don’t know whether I will have a ‘job’ or a ‘career’.

But I realized the only thing I really needed to understand in order to be able to move forward.

Absolutely nothing is more important to me right now than having control over my time.

Not salary. Not the type of work. Not the opportunities for promotion.

I do not have to work in an office for eight hours a day.

And I am choosing not to.

I don’t know what’s coming next.

But now I know I’ll recognize the opportunity when it happens.

Because finally, finally, I know what I want.

Leave a comment

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Summer’s End

The days are shorter.

The mornings are darker.

The air is cooler.

September is coming.

It is bittersweet.

I am excited for E., as he begins his journey at a new school. I hope that he will be happy. I hope that he will love school and love learning and cherish knowledge as his father and I do.

I will miss him though.

We have had a glorious summer, he and I.

Last week, he went to a day camp run by his nursery school. The first day I dropped him off, he was worried and sad. But it was only for the morning, and I picked him up before lunch, and all was well.

This week, he’s been there all day. I drop him off at 9:00, and I pick him up at 3:30. It’s a slightly longer day than his actual school day will be, but it’s served its purpose as a transition aid.

He’s been fine.

He’s had so much fun every day.

I’ve had so much fun every day. I’m finally able to focus on my work again, and it’s amazing how much you can get done when you have multiple hours, every day, to yourself. Q. and I had a library date, which used to be one of our favourite things before E. was born. I think our last one was during the February reading week in 2014. I think the last time I set foot in the library was October 2014.

I am ready to get back to work. I took the time I needed to decompress after finishing the Ph.D., and I devoted the spare time I had this summer mostly to sleeping and reading, and now, as the seasons start to change, I can feel that I’m ready to look at my research again. I’ve spent this week sketching out a plan for the next semester, and working on applications, and reading my way into a new field for the chapter I’m writing in the edited volume Q. dreamed up.

And I’m excited about my research again.

(It’s been a LONG time since I could say that.)

But.

This week, I’ve been struck every day by how little time I have with E. between when I pick him up at 3:30 p.m. and when it’s time for bed.

Four hours.

And far less for actual fun, since we eat around 6:00 p.m., and someone has to cook dinner.

The days where we do something after I pick him up from camp, like go to the library, or go to a park, we get home and bang! I have to get started on dinner pretty much right away.

I know I have been so very lucky to have had this time with him.

I know I haven’t always felt lucky. I am not suited to being home full-time, and parts of this year (the winter especially) were really hard for both of us.

But I also know that this September marks an end to our freedom.

And, even as I make my plans, and organize my days, and revel in the fact that I will have time and space to think again, I mourn the loss of what we’ve had.

I’m going to miss him.

IMGP4543

IMGP4767

2 Comments

Filed under (Pre)School Days, Brave New (School) World, E.- the fifth year, JK, Life after the PhD

Random thoughts on a summer Thursday

Item: The second week of August is almost over. I am not sure how this happened.

Item: This means that school is less than a month away. REAL school. Five full days a week. We’ve found out that despite having nine other children from his nursery school going to his new school, only one of them is in E’s new class. A new class which is a split JK/SK, which means it could have upwards of thirty kids in it. I am trying not to freak out, but it is hard.

Item: I am freaking out about lunches instead. We are supposed to send two snacks and a lunch daily. Nut-free, but that seems light compared to the restrictions imposed on some of my friends who live in other cities (no homemade items being the most egregious). I am not sure what we will do about protein given a) we cannot send nut butter and b) I’ve found more than one study that suggests an insulated lunch bag and cold packs still doesn’t keep food cold enough to be safe. I am also utterly overwhelmed by the sea of lunch packing options and am trying to strike a balance between getting good stuff and not freaking out at the cost of replacing it if E. loses it all in the first week.

Item: As a result, I have yet to buy any sort of lunch packing equipment. I have a week to sort this out (E. will need a lunch packed for his week of full-day camp run by his nursery school, which we are hoping to use as a transition point to JK).

Item: At no point am I likely to turn into one of those Pinterest bento box mothers who constructs unique, adorable, and nutritiously balanced lunches, all cut into beautiful shapes and designs, each and every day. That way lies madness.

Item: Not that I am complaining, but my child is going to have to stop this “go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. and sleep until 8:30 a.m. or later the next morning” phase before school starts. He slept until 9:45 a.m. the other day. School STARTS almost an hour earlier.

Item: Child is also eating like there is no tomorrow, so hopefully this is just a growth spurt and not some new need for thirteen hours of sleep a day.

Item: I had a Skype conversation with my supervisor this week where he wondered about my progress on getting a couple of articles ready to be sent to journals. Answer: none.

Item: The day before, E. spent twenty-five minutes of his hour-long quiet time singing (loudly) “When is quiet time going to be over?” to the tune of “Bumping up and down in my little red wagon”. And my supervisor wonders why I get nothing done.

Item: I heard back from the academic press where I sent my dissertation/book manuscript in March. Two very long, very detailed reader reports. One generally in favour of the book, one more on the fence. Editor wants the book again when I’ve made the revisions and seems very positive about it, so it’s a good result, as the two expert readers have basically given me a road map of what I need to do to make the book better. I could have tinkered with it for months without being able to reach the same conclusions.

Item: Supervisor wonders when I might get the revisions done. “By Christmas?” I laughed. “If I’m still unemployed, maybe.”

Item: I am still unemployed. Still putting out applications, still have irons in the fire, but nothing concrete as of yet. I just applied for a job that would be absolutely perfect- permanent, part-time doing interesting work involving research and writing for a non-profit organization that does a lot of good in the community. See? Perfect. I am just hoping I get an interview with them as I know I could do the job, but my background isn’t quite approaching it from the angle they wanted.

Item: Cycle day eleven today. This cycle’s experiment is apparently “let’s not follow the diet we have been and eat a lot of sugar and dairy products and see if we still ovulate”. Oh the ice cream.

Item: Out of the last seven weekends, we have had grandparents staying with us for six of them. That is too much. E. has forgotten how to play by himself.

Item: I read Station Eleven, The Bone Clocks, and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood trilogy all in the last month. It turns out that is too much dystopian near-future fiction. I might have to go back to Guy Gavriel Kay for a bit. (I recommend them all most highly, just not all at once.)

Item: The sun is going down noticeably earlier in the evenings now. I’ve realized one of the things I miss most from my pre-kid life is going for long walks on summer evenings after dinner. E. was staying up later earlier in the summer, but he’s too tired at the end of the day to want to go on yet another walk (and I’m not really at a point where I can handle the constant barrage of questions as we walk).

Item: I had to take E.’s balance bike away from him for a week because he twice forgot to stop before rolling out into an intersection. This is a punishment for me as much as it is for him as running errands now takes four times as long.

Item: I had a birthday recently (post to come on that). E. dictated my birthday card to his father. It said: “Dear Mummy, I think you have had a good supper and a wonderful birthday. We’re about to give you lovely presents. I hope you’ve had a lovely birthday. Love, E.” (with his name signed). Heart exploded.

Item: E. is currently shouting the alphabet (alternating in English and French) from his room. There is not much quiet in quiet time these days.

Item: Really though, FOUR is awesome. Loud. But awesome.

3 Comments

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Brave New (School) World, Cycle Madness, E.- the fifth year, Food, JK, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Just Say Yes

I know I’ve been really quiet lately. Partly it’s because it’s summer here and E. skips his quiet time quite a lot so we can go out and enjoy the sunshine. Partly it’s because I’ve been working on job applications and my parent job for the nursery school (I left all the work I had to do until the end of the year and then had to really put some time into it in the last couple of weeks).

Mostly, though, I think it’s because I’m still where I was two, four, six months ago, and I don’t feel like repeating myself over and over again. I have enough of that in my own head.

I’m getting close to the point where I’m supposed to go back to the clinic to set up the timings for an IVF cycle in August, and I am still evenly balanced.

I want to go in.

I don’t want to ever go back.

I want a second child.

I want our life as it is to continue.

I really thought by now things would be clearer to me, but they are still as clear as mud.

Here’s a really interesting ad for a full-time, permanent position in the field I think I’d really like at the university where I could actually commute to it and still drop E. off at school.

Yes.

Here’s the chair of my department, wanting to know if I want to teach an online course for them next summer. Oh, wait, now it’s two online courses. Two full-year courses, taught in a compressed fashion.

Yes.

Here are all my pills and supplements that I have to take every day, and all the protein that I have to eat, if I am going to give another IVF cycle its best possible chance.

Yes.

I say yes to everything, to every opportunity, to every possible future, because we’re not yet at the point where I have to say no. I don’t have to narrow yet. I don’t have that job. The online teaching is a year away. I may not go back to the clinic, but maybe I will.

At the same time, keeping all the options open is in itself exhausting. Who am I going to be next year? Will I start a career? Will I do sessional teaching as a job to stay flexible for E.? Will I get the job AND do the online teaching, because it would be utter madness to not get myself entrenched with online courses, even though that would make for a crazy few months? Will I do the online teaching AND have a baby at the same time? Also crazy in the short-term, but a decision that would make sense long-term.

About the only thing I know is I’m not going back to the clinic in August if I get the full-time job and it starts in August because I wouldn’t have the time.

Every day, I choose not to choose yet, because I don’t have to.

One of these days, not choosing is going to be too exhausting.

One of these days, something will become clear, whether it’s my employment options for next year, or how I feel about the clinic, or all of the above.

But it’s not today.

3 Comments

Filed under (Pre)School Days, A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Life after the PhD, Second Thoughts, Three's Company