It's been another nearly six months of absence from this blog, which brings me nearly a month past my daughter's first birthday. I've learned a lot this year--about myself, about being a working mother, about what I really need out of my work life to feel I can give my best to Madeline while parenting.
This weekend, we took her to a fall festival to pick apples and pet animals. We picked up our CSA and showed her around their farm stand and apple barn. We stopped for a pizza lunch, ran errands, and even found some time for Halloween crafting. (Today, Madeline learned how to use stickers. This isn't something you even realize you have to learn, but watching her go from flailing while trying to escape the sticker to successfully, repeatedly placing stickers onto her picture was the most amazing thing I've seen in a while.) And that's the rub. Today was a great day for our family. But the other items on the to-do list are these: working my second job for two hours, working on a grant application, and working on revisions for a journal article that just made it through review. The best days for my family are tainted by this gnawing at the back of my brain: But what about your work? Where will you sneak those hours in?
I'm far from figuring out the balance, and our continuing childcare shuffle has been a big part of that. We've used several different women who offer in-home child care, trying to support other moms as they balance their own work/life needs plus get flexibility (with cloth diapers, our changing academic schedules, and our limited income to give childcare), but the bumps along the way have continually left me with less childcare than needed to make progress on my dissertation. My life is divided into quarters: home, a grant-writing job, teaching for my school funding/stipend, and doing my own academic work. It's that last quarter that stays on the plate at the end of each day.
When Madeline was born, I was preparing for exams. After my orals, which were a shaky experience, I realized I needed to drastically change how I thought about my expectations for each day--and change how others accounted for my work. Because the hours are "flexible" and because "you can write anytime" and because I don't have a 9/5 and because I'm "still a student" my academic work easily falls away when people think about my obligations, daily life, and needs. It's infuriating enough as a graduate student, but as a graduate student trying to be a loving parent but also not disappoint my committee and ultimately graduate so I can move on to the "just getting a job" everyone so subtly hints at it has become the spark that sends me into an inferno of rage weekly.
For instance, at this moment, my husband and I are fighting about who is more inconvenienced by being with our daughter after she woke herself up crying just now: me, as I try to get some late-night work (the only work) done, or him, as he decompresses with video games that cannot be paused. This conversation is a ritual by now. I'm not saying it's good. Or healthy. Or bad. Or helpful. All I know is, it's a way for both of us to let off some eye-rolling without directing it at our daughter. This is what parenting while in grad school (and academia, as my husband is an assistant professor at the state's community college) looks like. There isn't a clock to punch on my end, which leaves me feeling always on the clock. (You know this feeling.)
So, I'm adjusting my expectations. I'm taking moments where I have them and have started keeping more flexible to-do lists, categorized temporally in two ways: how much time they take to accomplish + their deadline. For instance, it's taken me a week to write this post. It's taken me a year to put "call Y & add Madeline to membership so you can start working out again" on my planner for this week. (Don't add up how much money I've wasted. It just adds to the paralyzing guilt.)
But. I've started going to bed at 10:30 to give myself me-time. Time to--wait for it--read recreationally. I had one night where I got swept up in Atwood's The Blind Assassin. I made it a whole 40 minutes before passing out. Since, I've made it about three pages a day, but it's the thought that counts. Seriously. Making the conscious effort to say, "I have done my best work for today, and now I need to be done working and use my brain for myself" required stopping and rerouting a large, heavy train going downhill.
I've started setting alarms for 6 a.m. Someday, it will work. For now, Madeline is still keeping me up from about 4 to 5:30, taking a massive toddler poop on my morning work session plan, but seeing the alarm (and then snoozing and then snoozing) is slowly building up my ambition. I've also started counting my "writing hours" as accomplished for the day when I do not-exactly-writing work. This is a revelation. I spent 2 hours cleaning data or inputting surveys? That's work. Dove into Google Scholar & found the new works I needed to refresh my lit. review? That's work. Had meetings in preparation for my field work? The word is in there, hello. That's work. When I realized how much work I did get done in a day, I felt a lot better taking those 15 minutes before my book falls onto my face and I turn out the light.