Category Archives: family

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.

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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?

 

 

Father’s Day shouldn’t be a freebie.

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Today I had a brief Twitter back-and-forth with a friend, in which I expressed my frustration with the Father’s Day rhetoric and a lack of interest in perfunctorily lauding my own dad’s, shall we say, lackluster performance in the parenting arena. My friend disapproved of the sentiment. His take was essentially–hey, it could be worse, think about all of the people out there who don’t even have fathers. This is a common argument, and while I can generally appreciate where it’s coming from, it also reinforces one hell of a low standard for what fatherhood is about. The push to praise fathers just for being more or less present–‘social promotion’ for parents, if you will–is in some ways a slap in the face to the men who truly are invested and actively involved in their children’s lives–the ones who are actually good dads.

Serendipitously, not long after this conversation I came upon a Slate interview with Louis C.K., which makes my point pretty nicely:

Slate: In an episode from the first season of Louie, a single mom your character meets at a PTA meeting tells you, “Just by showing up, you’re father of the year.” Do you think you have more freedom to talk about being a dad because there are fewer expectations placed on fathers in general?

Louis C.K.: It’s funny—in life, those roles have all changed. There’s a lot of fathers who take care of their kids, there’s a lot of mothers who have careers. But in culture, those roles are still the same. When I take my kids out for dinner or lunch, people smile at us. A waitress said to my kids the other day, “Isn’t that nice that you’re getting to have a little lunch with your daddy?” And I was insulted by it, because I’m like, I’m fucking taking them to lunch, and then I’m taking them home, and then I’m feeding them and doing their homework with them and putting them to bed. She’s like, Oh, this is special time with daddy. Well, no, this is boring time with daddy, the same as everything.

If I do something for my kids, I get a medal, because most fathers don’t. If a mother makes a tremendous effort for her kids and does incredible things, no one gives a shit, because she’s a mom, and that’s what she’s supposed to do. It’s like giving a bus driver a medal for driving straight ahead. Nobody’s interested. And that’s really not fair, but it is the way it is.

The phenomenon described in the interviewer’s question and the last paragraph of the response has been made many times by many women, obviously from a slightly different perspective; it’s a valid and frustrating point, but not really what I’m responding to. What’s caught my eye here is how offensive the low-bar treatment is to a single dad raising two daughters. Any schmuck can do the fun stuff. He’s (rightfully) upset about the lack of recognition for taking on the boring, never-ending, soul-crushing aspects of childrearing, which comes from the assumption that he wouldn’t be involved in that stuff anyway. Handing out gold stars for showing up reinforces the notion that he doesn’t have to be to make the grade, and that’s good for nobody.

ETA: Some interesting comments on a related post at Naptime Writing.

(Fiberoptic) Wire Mother

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I realized yesterday that the Internet is, in effect, my mother.

(I was going to put a picture of the actual wire mother here, but my god, it’s depressing.)

This, when I was trying to figure out how to keep cut cilantro from wilting before I could use it all. (Make sure the leaves are dry, put it in a cup of water, put a plastic bag over the top et voilà, non-wilty herbs. Magic!) I turn to the Internet for recipes and cooking how-tos, for stain removal secrets, gardening tips, book recommendations, financial moves, you name it, she’s got it. I’ve never been much on asking anybody for relationship advice, but as a teenager, I had The Talk(s) with sites like Go Ask Alice, which were certainly more reliable sources of information about sex and my Lady Parts than my dad (and really, who was gonna ask him about Man Parts? Yikes.).  I’m pretty sure that the Internet will also be one of my main sources of information about baby raising. And it has never let me down when it comes to guilt tripping me and telling me what I should be doing with my life, which for me really seals the deal on this theory.

All of this to say.. essentially nothing, except that the 90’s and aughts have turned out to be a pretty decent time to be without the traditional sources of wisdom, conventional or otherwise, about How to Do Life. Thanks, Al Gore. (Wait..)

(I do realize what a ridiculously traditional role I’ve painted for my Internet mother–rest assured, she is all that and so much more.)

Autonomy and Legacy

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When I was young, my dad came home late most nights. I don’t know how much of that was about avoiding my mother, or how much was about the gambling. I do know that in the early years, he still worked with my grandfather, who had purchased the family business from his father just as mine would later buy it from him. By the time my teenage years had become visible on the horizon, things had changed. My parents separated. My dad began to visit another state every other week or so to spend time with a new partner. From the night my brothers and I went to live with him full time to the day, four years later, that I moved into my own apartment, I never saw him work a 40 hour week. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t happened since.

I wonder, frequently, how much of my values around work and what I’m willing to sacrifice for it come can be accounted for by having had this as a model. After my grandfather’s retirement and the eventual death of his business partner, my dad had no one to answer to but his clients. He could come and go as he pleased, staying only as long as was actually necessary to complete the day’s work. He took frequent vacations. In short, he had (has!) it made. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the career path I’ve chosen mirrors this setup as closely as is probably possible for someone who is not self-employed.

As a professor, I set my schedule, choosing classes according to the times and days that suited me. There were days–many of them–that I didn’t set foot on campus. I abided by certain administrative edicts, but in practice had a great deal of freedom in terms of how I ran my classes. Given the location of my workplace, I (along with everybody else) coasted through Decembers and an extended Holy Week. Given the sweet deal that I still can’t quite believe I lucked into, I collected paychecks throughout the summers and spent them on national and international travel. And the obvious extra perks of the job aside, this suited my personality extraordinarily well. I had the kind of responsibility under which I thrive, the latitude to make major decisions about my courses as I saw fit, and the opportunity to make my voice heard through work on the committees that represented the extent of my duty to be a “team player”.

As a grad student, my sense of autonomy this year has been under steady attack. My department is actually not one of those horror stories where doctoral students are reduced to glorified grading machines or swatted away like so many flies by those who would be their mentors. I think we have it pretty good, relatively speaking. Relative to other grad departments. Relative to my (admittedly privileged) adult life to this point, though, and to the kind of life I’m comfortable living long-term.. not so. Not only in terms of the infantilizing nature of the experience, but in terms of the kind of time commitment that is considered standard, at least at an R1 institution. And I don’t know that there’s a way to describe the things that have been difficult for me to stomach without it coming across as whining or simply not understanding how the system works, so I won’t attempt it. I had a pretty good idea of the kind of careerism that gets people in the door here, and this was something I considered in deciding whether or not to come here. Obviously I ultimately did come, but I will say that evaluating my experience this year, and thinking about the general academic career trajectory in the U.S. and what’s required to move from one stage to the next, it’s not difficult to see that I need to seriously investigate other options. I’m bad at politics. I’m bad at hoop-jumping. I’m bad at waiting for unreasonable amounts of time for decisions to be made or actions to be taken. Or rather, I can do these things, but dealing with them makes me miserable. Putting myself through another decade-plus of the same would be untenable. So the plan as it stands now is to complete the degree, and to do it in a way that sets me up for a number of possibilities post-dissertation. In the meanwhile, I strongly suspect that engaging with the Outside will benefit my dealings on the Inside in ways that will make my years in the program much more gratifying.

My dad, for his part, is still working his short weeks. He has some values and personality traits that I do not admire quite as much–some of which have nonetheless clearly been bestowed upon me–but the disregard for whatever mold one is supposed to fit into, the placing of life and the business of living it above all else..  that I can work with.