The ranch, we are still at it.

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So a year has gone by.

And what a year it was. 

My child is now just shy of 16 months old. I can say, without hesitation, that the second year has thus far been immensely more enjoyable than the first. Don’t get me wrong; R. was an adorable infant, but the first year is intense. Need on top of need wrapped in need, with very little positive feedback to tide you over. They don’t call it being in the trenches for nothing. Now, the need is still there, but she is a tiny bit more independent, a tiny bit more curious, a tiny bit more observant all the time. Her personality is blooming and it is glorious. She’s so funny. And affectionate- oh, the kisses and cuddles I get from este pequeño ser, and oh, the kisses and cuddles I send right back her way. There is nothing better. 

I’m a Ph.D. now. It feels like one of those movies where, in its final moments, it speeds up and speeds up and speeds up and you know what’s coming but when it suddenly cuts out and ends with a solid black screen you’re still surprised. I’m not quite sure how I got from ambivalent ABD to done. I know it had a lot to do with a couple of timely fellowships that allowed me to focus on writing without having to attend to other duties to pay the bills. It also had a lot to do with the very thing I worried would set me back: having a baby around the house. 

Before R. was born, I was genuinely unsure of the path I wanted to take with respect to work and motherhood. I thought that it was very possible that I’d want to stay home full-time. As it turns out, I am nowhere near hardcore enough to weather that intensity day in and day out without some kind of break. Writing a dissertation, which is another intense experience but one that requires a totally different kind of energy, turned out to be the perfect break from childcare, and vice versa. Being able to leave my daughter with a trusted sitter and spend a few hours playing with the day’s writing project was such a relief after spending the rest of a given 24-hour period with a little person either attached to me in some way or begging to be. Likewise, closing my computer to go snuggle and nurse and play with my favorite person in the world was a welcome break from the isolating and tedious process that is writing the dissertation. 

My marriage was put through the wringer this year. Finishing a doctoral program and becoming a parent are experiences that, on their own, can rock anybody’s world; combining them left me with little time or energy to take care of myself, much less my adult husband. It got pretty rough there for a while, with neither of us feeling cared for or inspired to care for the other. The dawning of the second year of R.’s life, and now my recent defense, have taken some of the pressure off and we’re in a better place now than we were even a few weeks ago. And somehow, on the other side, I feel like that much more of a grownup. I think it’s related to being taken off autopilot. The great realization that emerges from that period is that it’s no longer okay to coast, to just let things happen. It’s time to Take Care of Business. 

So it is with that orientation that I am approaching my professional life at this point. I have a renewed energy and a newfound seriousness about it that still feels foreign to me, but is welcome. I am still apprehensive about full-time work, but I am more open to an academic job now than I have been since before entering grad school in large part because of the combination of challenging, meaningful work and some degree of flexibility. I know now beyond any reasonable doubt that I’m not meant to be fully at home. Because I have been around with a baby and a very open schedule, I have socialized much more in the last six months than has ever been normal for me. I’ve met a lot of very nice people, but none of them have been quite my people, and the experience has given me some insight into the contexts I probably need to be in if I’m really trying to set myself up for personal, as well as professional, success. I’m in a postdoc that involves a lot of collaboration with people I know, respect, and just enjoy like crazy, and that’s been exhilarating.

The weather in Dallas has been great this week: mid-60s and even on up to 70. We’ve taken a lot of long walks. The sun has already made quite a bit of progress back toward its summer home, and feeling the shift in seasons, feeling the spring light, is as invigorating as it has always been. What happens from here remains to be seen, but from where I sit right at this moment things are feeling pretty good.  

Welcome, 2014. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

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…I’ve been a little busy.

Somehow, Rocío is four months old. Motherhood has altered the passage of time for me. Everything is slower and faster, longer and shorter. I was wholly unprepared for how rapid some changes would be; in the first days and weeks of my girl’s life, the only thing that made me cry at all was a desperate desire to stop time. Betting that’s not going to go away.

Ever.

Kiddo was born at 40 weeks, 2 days, full-term and fully-cooked. She was born fully alert, with her eyes wide open. She had several signs of a post-dates baby, but we’re sure of dates- she was just ready to rumble. Her tininess was due simply to a smaller placenta. Genetic luck of the draw. (And for a first baby, I would definitely consider it luck.) We had her at home, and it was perfect and transcendental and lots of things that sound like total hippie bullshit. She was born right around the time that day slips into night, and that was about right, as we spent the next couple of weeks in a hazy sort of dream world. Behind the veil. No time except the time between feedings, no other outside forces. Just getting to know one another, just life. New life, for all of us. Those, I think, were the most special days I’ve ever had. Pretty fucking cool.

Not that that lasts. V. went back to work after two weeks, and we slowly made our way back above ground. Now we’re a normal family, with normal stress and normal we-have-a-new-baby bickering and normal adoration of our normal AND TOTALLY ADORABLE NOT THAT I’M BIASED little girl. I am experiencing the tugs in opposite directions that most mothers do, wanting to be with my daughter instead of my dissertation and needing my dissertation to give me a break from my daughter, god love her. I am doubtful of wanting full-time work for a while, and not at all doubtful that we were never meant to raise children in isolation. I don’t feel much doubt in general. I don’t feel an identity loss. I feel stronger instead of weaker (and good thing). Relationships with family and friends have been shaken up in ways that I could not have foreseen. In some cases it’s a little bit distancing. In others it’s the complete opposite. This was the right move. This was an exhausting move. It’s a move that I am already convinced I will want to repeat (but not yet..).  My kid smells like heaven (unless she doesn’t). My kid laughs hysterically and it’s like a drug. She opens her eyes in the morning and when her brain registers that I’m there she smiles, big and almost involuntarily, because I am mamá now.

How’s about that.

Six months

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(Of ten. Ten months of corporeal colonization. Ah, ah, ahhh. 25 weeks and change, of 38-42.)

This is how we’re doing time these days, when I am tethered to no other artificial calendar or clock. I officially start my fellowship in July; I can bill hourly work right now but have not been taking as much advantage of that option as a wiser person might. I’ve realized that every hour I put in now is an hour I don’t have to think about how to balance writing with caring for an infant. I’ve also realized that these silent hours alone in the house while my husband is at work are, in effect, the last such hours I’m likely to have for a very long time. Which to take fuller advantage of? Conundrum.

When we bought this house, the front yard was bare, the grass having been scorched away by a summer hotter and drier than is right or fair. When I moved down permanently in December, we bought and seeded winter rye. I remember how refreshing the first tiny shoots of grass looked when they sprung up a few days later, how hopeful. The shift into actively building the life and community that will sustain my family in the years to come, after spending the last few years doing my damndest to not put down roots, is.. a lot like that. Tenuous, and vulnerable, and not yet anything resembling lush- but a sign of what’s possible, what this could turn into if we treat it right.

So, at this moment, things are quietly pleasant. There is an underlying hum of stress around renegotiating my relationship to my work; sometimes I engage it, sometimes I block it out. Mostly, I work happily on settling into a life I’d like to inhabit much more fully than the recent past has allowed me to. And from the ‘sweet spot’ of the late second trimester, where I am no longer sick all the time and not yet big enough to be in a state of constant discomfort, I am genuinely surprised by the strength of my desire to have my girl here with me. In earlier pregnancy it was all far away enough to seem almost hypothetical, but the more she grows and makes herself known the more anxious I am for the day when I can bring her out and meet her. Who will this person be?

 

 

This, that, and the other

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I joined Twitter a few months ago after years of being a social media holdout. I was proud to have missed the Myspace boat entirely, and gunning for the same with Facebook. This is not a unique position, nor one that anyone has ever been surprised about me holding. But Twitter was newish and differentish, so I’d get comments here and there about joining. “[You] would so many pointless thing to say…that would be interesting to follow,” wrote one friend. And how.

Therein lies the rub.

Twitter has been entertaining, informative, and a great time waster. But mostly because I keep my ‘followed’ list small (I, in turn, have a dedicated following of Russian Sexbots). In the first few weeks I added a number of people that I was friendly with and fond of. I continue to follow a lot of them, but ended up removing some: the prolific–and I mean nonstop–posters, the all-[insert sport here]-all-the-time crowd, the ones who use Twitter mainly as a promotional tool for their careers. Even as I trimmed my feed down to a steady, but not overwhelming, stream of interesting, funny, and/or nonsense tweets, I felt confused about the etiquette of doing so. At least some of these people were friends of mine; was it rude to not follow them? It’s not that I didn’t want to know what they were up to- it’s just that, past a certain point, having that information pushed into my stream of updates becomes much less pleasant than the equivalent of dropping in occasionally would be.

This goes both ways, I’m sure. I am not a 140-character gal; I, like a number of people I follow, frequently send out multiple-tweet thoughts, which I’m sure is grating to some people. I have occasional back-and-forths that would probably be better carried out via chat. Some days I tweet entirely too much.

Most of all, though–and here’s where the issue widens to include one’s online presence in general–I tend to tweet about all manner of things. I do indeed have tons of pointless shit to say, only some of which is interesting. I will admit to sometimes committing the cardinal internet sin of cryptically voicing my frustration with one offline relationship or another. I retweet funny things and compelling stories. I occasionally write about my field or my profession. I’ve live-tweeted visits from high-level government officials. I complain a lot (this, friends, is my sport of choice). In short, my history of tweets is incoherent and frequently inane, and while some part of me thinks that this is exactly what Twitter is about, in other ways I can’t help but feel I’m somehow Doing It Wrong.

At this point in the evolution of the internet, we’re big on branding. Themed blogs have proliferated, especially where their authors have dreams of monetization. Facebook has always been about creating and projecting attractive, if incomplete, images of an idealized self. For a number of people, this ethos extends to Twitter accounts, enough so that one feels the pressure to present a coherent identity, but not so much that there is real consensus among Twitter users about what the damn thing is for. I, for one, have a problem with the branding of people–in much the same way that I refuse to strip myself of humor, opinion, or self-respect in the name of professionalism, I don’t want to have to pick and choose the parts of me that are okay for one electronic medium or another. (There’s a feminist critique in there somewhere about the not-okayness of things like feelings and motherhood, and another one about how gross all the capitalist marketing-of-self-as-product stuff is, but that’s for another day.)

Hence my eternal ambivalence about all of this. My guess is that I’ll keep doing what I’m doing–which works for me in that it’s not tied into anything I do professionally, so I have no one to answer to but myself–but I don’t see the uneasiness going away.

ETA: This post and comments take on the same issue, further reinforcing the idea that none of us knows what’s really going on here.

AETA: I’m totally unfollowing Diane Ravitch. I made it five days, but damn does that woman (re)tweet too much.

And now for something completely different

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Exactly two weeks from today, if all goes as planned, I should be pulling a 16′ moving truck away from the house where I’ve lived for the last two and a half years and making the two-day trip down south to begin to inhabit my other life full time. ‘Other’ is about as good as I can do here–it’s tempting to call it my ‘real’ life, but that gives short shrift to what I’ve been doing up here. Life in both places has been pretty equally real, personal, professional, and incomplete.

I’m usually pretty (very) anti-Disney, but when I think of how anemic and circumscribed my life has been in the past couple of years, this is the image that comes to mind.  Remember those sad little mermaid souls? Yeah, that.* There was a time in the not-too-distant past when I was a much happier, more at-ease person, with a much more robust life and sense of self. And while I recognize that the hollowing out of lives and souls is one of the things grad school does best, I’m just fundamentally not okay with it.

So now I have the opportunity to make a change, and I hope I’m up for the challenge. I know I’m supposed to be excited, and in some ways I am, but right now I’m more freaked out. I’m worried about starting over again in a place where my husband is the only person I know, especially since the plan is for me to be working from home for the next year and a half (!?), which means no meeting people through work. I work from home a lot here, but I’ve always had regular meetings and other obligations, and the option of going into the office if I’m feeling stir-crazy. The mental health implications of being home all the time scare me**. I’m worried about what my reaction to the upheaval of the move away from my university community is going to be, and how it will interact with (i.e., make worse) the transition into permanent co-habitation. In the end I know it will be different, and I’m sure I can make it better than these years have been, but man, does it suck to know that there are gonna be some bumps in the road before we get there.

(None of this is at all, let alone completely, different. Yet. Oops.)

*Yes, this would make me my own Ursula.
**The most sensible thing would be to go out and get a job, but for the next 6 months I’ll be in the odd position of being away, but not unattached. Next semester I’ve got an ongoing research assistantship, two conferences, and two trips back to the university (one lasting several weeks). Following that I could indeed work, assuming I do not get/accept a diss writing fellowship that would disallow outside employment. My own Ursula, indeed.