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.