Category Archives: (Pre)School Days

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.

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

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.

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

On being the adult

Microblog_MondaysEvery now and then I have an experience that reminds me, “Hey, you’re the adult now”.

Most of these experiences have one thing in common: stomach flu.

I’ve found that nothing drives home harder the fact that I’m now the adult than those days (and nights) where E. and I are both vomiting.

When E. is vomiting? I’m my mother. I’m there, holding the bucket, wiping his forehead, doing the laundry, cuddling, consoling, cajoling (and yes, sometimes holding him down screaming at 2 a.m. in the bath, but that happens). I make sure he feels as good as he possibly can, even when he feels utterly miserable.

When I’m vomiting, I want my own mother. I want to be looked after. I want her comforting presence.

But I’m the adult now.

I added a new experience to this category a couple of weeks ago.

I turned up with E. for my morning duty day at his nursery school. As usual, we went around the back to the playground to open the sandbox, set out the trikes and scooters, and look for garbage.

There were two dead birds in the playground.

I’m not talking about your typical “old and lay down to die” birds or “flew into the window” birds or even “wasn’t fast enough to dodge the cat” birds.

These were “our parents built their nest right up in the eaves and either they didn’t build it properly or we were too dumb to stay put AND the cat/raccoon found us first” birds.

There is nothing like picking up the scattered remnants (so many scattered remnants) of baby birds, fetching water to rinse off the path, and spraying a bleach solution to persuade the flies to go somewhere else, all while trying to answer E.’s incessant questions, to drive the point home.

I’m the adult now.

And some days that really sucks.

What in your life reminds you that you’re the adult now?

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

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, E.- the fifth year, Microblog Mondays, The Sick

Wanted: Work/Life Balance

A job was posted this week.

Not just any job.

The perfect job.

The exact job that someone had when I read her Q&A for a series on PhDs transitioning out of the academy.

The first job that I read about and thought, “Hey, I could do that and like that!”

The first job that started me thinking seriously about university administration as a career path.

I read the job ad.

I got in touch with the person who had recently vacated the position to ask a couple of questions.

And then the decision was easy.

I’m not going to apply.

It may be the perfect job on paper, but it’s not the right job for me right now.

Here’s the sticking point: it’s full-time, standard hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

It’s at a university which is an hour’s commute from my house.

That job would require me to be out of the house from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., five days a week, JUST to do my job.

The deciding factor in striking it off the list was when I asked the woman who used to have the position about flexibility.

She told me that the environment is heavily unionized, and that options like a compressed schedule or working remotely are explicitly banned in the collective agreement. You can negotiate different start/stop hours (she worked 9:30 to 5:30), but that’s it. During the fall rush, there is a lot of overtime, which HAS to be done at the office.

Even if I negotiated 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I still wouldn’t be able to get back in time to pick up E. from school. And I’d have to leave the house at 6:00 a.m. every day, long before he was awake.

If I negotiated 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., in order to be able to drop him off every morning, I’d miss supper five nights a week.

I’m not interested.

I understand that I am choosing to cut myself off from this opportunity. If I applied, and if I got the job, we could make it work. Q. would have to drop E. off at school every morning, and we’d have to hire a nanny for the after-school shift.

The thing is, I don’t HAVE to have that kind of life.

Q. works a demanding job. On the positive side, it is incredibly stable and he is well-paid.

I do not NEED a job to keep our roof over our heads or food on our table.

I NEED a job for my own sanity and self-worth, to feel that I am making a financial contribution to our family, and to ease the pressure on Q., who finds it stressful to be the sole provider.

But I don’t have to get a job that will immediately require me to spend 30-50% of my salary on a nanny.

Seeing that job ad was actually incredibly helpful. It immediately clarified some of my priorities. It helped me realize what I am (and am not) willing to do.

If the situation were different, my feelings might change.

If it were at one of the other two universities, the ones downtown which I can reach in thirty minutes or less, that would be different. At one of those universities I could work 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. some days, drop E. off at school and still get home in time for supper. If I worked 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the other days, I could get home in time to pick him up. Q.’s job is flexible enough that he is able (and willing) to do some pick ups and drop offs. He just can’t do all of them, all of the time.

If E. were older, and at a point where he was staying longer after school for extra-curricular activities, it might be different. Eventually that university is only going to be about forty minutes away rather than an hour, which would make it more feasible.

Or it could work now, if E. were an extrovert who loved being surrounded by other people and who would be resentful and bored to be dragged home after school. A friend of mine has her daughter in daycare ten hours a day, five days a week (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and that works for them.

It would not work for E. I’m reluctant to post much about it on here, because it is his story, not mine, and I need to respect his privacy, but there are issues with anxiety and difficulties with socializing, to the point that we are expecting the transition to full-time school to be a particularly rocky one. On the advice of his nursery school teacher, we’ve had someone in to observe him who can offer suggestions for what we can do to help him get ready, and who can provide a report to give to his teacher so s/he has some idea of what is going on and what s/he can do to help E. settle.

I don’t feel bad about not applying for that job. I don’t feel disappointed or resentful or angry. I don’t feel like E. is keeping me from my life’s purpose. It became so clear to me last night that it just wouldn’t work for our family at this time.

It’s also made clearer what I should be looking for: ideally, something part-time at one of the universities downtown. I just need to get my foot in the door, and if I’m working for them already, I become an internal candidate with access to all job postings, not just the ones they can’t fill with the people they’ve got already. A full-time position would be manageable, provided I could negotiate staggered hours.

Failing that, something part-time with an easy commute that lets me use the skills I’ve developed during my doctorate and builds experience that will mean when I want a full-time job the doors won’t be closed to me.

Or, something full-time (or close to it) with very flexible hours and the ability to work a significant number of hours from home.

Or, a bunch of part-time/contract/freelance opportunities that add up to a steady income stream. I have a couple irons in the fire here already, including the possibility of developing and teaching an online course for my old department in the summer. I really hope this works out, as it’s a great skill set to develop and a very useful niche to occupy. Plus, you can teach an online course no matter what your ‘day’ job is.

My good friend, Pam, over at Two Adults, One Child, had a post this week about finding your life’s purpose. Reading it at this point was particularly helpful, because it helped me realize that I don’t need my job to be my passion or my vocation or my mission. I want to do something I enjoy, to do it well, to feel like what I do matters, but at the end of the day, I also want to come home and be present for my family. The most obvious way to achieve this is to sacrifice financial reward in favor of time. And that suits me, at least at this point in my life. I am incredibly privileged to even have this choice.

It’s been scary, being unemployed. I’ve never been this long without a plan. I haven’t gone this long without bringing in an income since I started university almost seventeen years ago.

But I feel like I’m making real progress in figuring out what I need and want, and what my family needs and wants, and how best to make these align.

And that makes the future much less frightening.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

E., inventor.

Microblog_MondaysThe Sick has arrived at our house, right on schedule. I’ve been watching the other kids at nursery school disappearing and waiting for it to be E’s turn.

While still so sick that he wouldn’t actually consume anything I considered to be food (preferring instead to stick to the patented “Advil, ginger ale and ice cream” diet), E. still managed to identify a glaring omission in the world of toy manufacturing.

“Wouldn’t it be so lovely to have a battery-powered Elasmosaurus in the bath! It would have six batteries so it would be very flexible and able to swim all around the bath. And it would come with its own fish! The Elasmosaurus would swim around and eat up all the fish and then poop them out its bum.”

“So the Elasmosaurus would poop out the bits of the fish its body didn’t need for energy?”

“No, the Elasmosaurus eats the entire fish, even the head. But the fish are white in the bath and brown when they come out its bum.”

You read it here first.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. For the other participants this week, click here.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, E.- the fourth year, Microblog Mondays, The Sick

Work Matters

It’s looking like our gamble didn’t pay off, at least not for this year.

I am looking at September, and I am, at this moment, unemployed.

I applied for contract teaching positions at four universities.

I didn’t get any of the positions.

Q. and I had a talk about it, while we were still in Oz, when it was becoming ever more obvious that there are just too many people out there with similar qualifications or with so much seniority that they are entrenched in a course even though they have no real qualifications in the subject (and I do). The irony is that I was a contract lecturer before I started the PhD, and if I had kept doing that, I myself would have been entrenched in those courses by this point, even though I would have been less qualified to teach them than I am now.

I told Q. that I wanted to stay home with E.

“This is our last year with him before he goes to school,” I said. “If he’s going to be it for us, I don’t want to have lost that year.”

Q. agreed.

So it looks like I am getting an unexpected year as a SAHM.

E. is going to continue to go to his nursery school, but probably for only three mornings a week rather than three full days. This will undoubtedly be better for him at this point, but we’re not sure how good it’s going to be as preparation for the following year, when our only option for JK is five full days. E. clearly is a child that would have done well with the old half-day program.

We are going to be stretched financially. We’re not going to be in danger of losing our house or anything, but we will have to prioritize differently, and we’re certainly not going to be putting a lot of money away.

But I know that I am lucky. I am lucky in that I have a husband who has a secure job and who makes a good wage, and I am lucky in that my husband wholeheartedly supports my desire to stay at home with E. for this year, while also at the same time understanding that, of course, I will want to do something else eventually. But I don’t have to figure out what that something else is RIGHT NOW.

We’ve never been without an income on my part. It’s fluctuated a lot over the last seven years, but it’s never come anywhere close to what Q. makes. My income was cut in half this past year after my scholarship ran out and I was back on the minimum guarantee. It paid for E’s nursery school with a bit left over to tuck away into our savings.

Losing that safety net is going to be hard for us. We’ve been so careful financially for so long, and we’ve worked so hard to save money, to pay off our mortgage faster, to build up investments, to pay for infertility treatments. We have no debt other than our mortgage. It will be a challenge for us to budget without our extra savings capacity, to feel comfortable with that smaller amount arriving every month, even if it is only for a year.

But Q. and I both believe it will be worth it if it means I can have that year with E.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all worried about being at home with E. There was a comment made by a parent on Ask Moxie the other day responding to a post about preschool and daycare, where the mother said that she largely sent her children to preschool because she was a strong introvert and she needed the time to herself.

It was like a bomb went off in my head.

I’d somehow forgotten that, even though I’m E.’s Mummy, I’m still an introvert.

I can’t think of anything less well-suited to an introvert than to be a parent of a young child. There is no room for quiet and introspection and solitude when you are faced with such a constant well of need.

I love E. with all my heart, but I still often find being his mother exhausting.

Reading her comment made me feel better about all the times I get tired of E. I’m not actually tired of E. himself, I’m just tired of having someone else around me, asking me questions ALL THE TIME.

Most days I suspect I need his quiet time more than he does. Her comment made me understand (belatedly) why this is so.

My son is also an introvert. He is a delightful, highly sensitive child, who is happiest when he gets to stay at home, doing his own thing, with his mother.

And so, while I am a bit nervous about how I will cope with this uncharted territory (because I have never been free to ‘just’ be E’s mother- I have been working on the dissertation since before he was born), I know that E. will thrive.

I have promised myself that when E. is at nursery school, that time is my own.

I will not run errands.

I will not clean the house.

I would like to write, but I recognize that there will be some time after the dissertation is finished where I will not be able to do so. But maybe a bit later, after my brain starts to think about other things again, I can pick up the pieces of story in my head.

And at some point I will start to think about the long-term, and what we will do, what I will do, if this year was not just an anomaly, but an indication of what is to come.

There are huge advantages to being a contract lecturer when you are not the primary wage earner in your family.

It would keep Q. and I in academia together. Our years would follow a similar pattern. We would be free for holidays at the same time.

I could refuse to teach in the summer semester and be home with E. in the summers once he’s in school, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

I could have relatively flexible hours and be around for most school pick ups and drop offs (and the ones I couldn’t make, Q. would be able to organize his schedule to make himself available).

I have known for a number of years now that I don’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one were to come available (which will happen when pigs fly, given how bad the job market is). I just don’t think there’s room for two in one family if there are children involved. A tenure-stream position demands too much of you. I’ve seen how hard Q. works. We can’t both work that hard without abdicating most of the day-to-day responsibilities of raising our son.

I’m just not willing to do that.

But contract work would have been a good alternative.

I may have to start thinking about other options, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’ve been in school, as a student or a teacher or both, for almost my entire life. I am suited to it. It nourishes me. Contemplating a life built on other rhythms seems impossibly alien right now.

In an ideal world, I would find a job I wouldn’t hate going to in the morning, that allowed me to be there when my son got home from school most of the time, that would let me spend the summers with him.

Contract teaching would have worked, but that door might not open for me.

I’m not sure what else is out there that might fit the bill.

If I were really, really brave, I would say outright that I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. But I have not earned the right to say this. I haven’t tried, not really, not properly, to write, to see if I could succeed at it. And it’s not fair to Q. to saddle him with the financial responsibilities of the family (which would cause him enormous stress), and it is not fair to myself to cut myself off from some sort of position that would grant me financial independence and stability if anything were to happen to my marriage. (I do not think that anything would happen to my marriage, but I am a child of divorce and I know what happens to many women who head single-parent families.)

There’s time enough to figure out what I might do.

This coming year belongs to my son, my miracle baby.

I am going to spend my days with him, and I am going to count myself lucky.

Because now I know how close we came to not having anyone else in our house at all.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, E.- the fourth year, Money Matters, PhD, Writing

Resurfacing

Well, hello again.

So where am I at?

When last I wrote, I was facing down the start of a ridiculous month of deadlines. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, panicking.

Here’s what happened.

I eventually gave up and went to my doctor and got antibiotics so that I could stop being sick. I just couldn’t shake it on my own.

I marked all of my students’ assignments and tallied their final grades.

I finished the draft of my dissertation and gave it to my supervisor on time.

The next week I wrote the first conference paper and presented it. It was well received. I wrote the second conference paper while away at the first conference.

Then I wrote my final language exam. I thought I had done well enough that I might maybe, maybe, squeak a viva rather than being failed outright.

They passed me outright. No idea how I managed that, given the mess I made of the final passage, but I’ll take it and run. That made for all four translation exams (two ancient, two modern) passed on the first attempt. I’m the only graduate student in my program to have done this.

The day after the language exam I gave my second conference paper. It was fine.

That weekend my supervisor sent back my thesis, which he had actually read, and read carefully, in two weeks (this is pretty much unheard of in academia). He sent it back with 28 pages of typed comments. Not one was “you have to rewrite this entire chapter/section because it is terrible”.

That Monday Q. went overseas for three weeks. I was on my own with E. for a week, and then had two weeks with grandparents there to help (my dad for the first, my mum for the second).

I worked 12-14 hour days on the dissertation those two weeks. My days went like this: wake up in a panic around 5 a.m. and work at the kitchen table until E. woke up. Then have breakfast with E., and take him to nursery school if it was a nursery school day. Then go to the library. Work until a bit before 5, with a fifteen or twenty minute break for lunch (as much time as it took to get down to the cafeteria level, eat a sandwich, and go back up to the stacks), then get home in time to cook dinner. After dinner put E. to bed and then work until 10:30 or 11 p.m. before going to bed. Repeat.

I am so grateful my parents were able to help. I wouldn’t have been able to get the revisions done otherwise. Even if Q. had been here, he would have had his own deadlines to meet, and I needed every single hour I could get.

I didn’t get every i dotted and every t crossed. This led me to have a massive anxiety attack one night when it became apparent I was going to have to make substantial changes to the introduction where I just lay in bed and cried until I fell asleep, but by the morning I had accepted this and could focus on finishing what I could finish rather than stressing about the revisions that needed more time than I could give them at that point.

But I got it done.

Q. got home on a Saturday night.

Sunday night I finished the table of contents and then turned the draft into a PDF.

Monday morning Q. went up to work, printed the draft out and delivered the hard copies to my committee members, while I did my last duty day at E.’s nursery school.

Monday afternoon Q. and I packed, took apart E.’s crib, and set up his new medium-sized bed.

Late Monday afternoon I picked E. up from nursery school. We had just enough time at home for a quick snack (making sure he didn’t go up and see the change in his room) and then my sister drove us to the airport. That night we flew down under, where we’ve been for the last month, and where I thought I’d have loads of time to blog except that it turned out my MIL scheduled pretty much our every waking minute.

It’s been a bit manic, to be honest.

We’re home now, jet lagged as anything (two nights ago E. slept for less than four hours total), but glad to be back.

Expect more from this space in the near future.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, Anxiety Overload, Down Under, Family, PhD, The Sick, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)