Goodnight, moon

In the great green room,
there was a telephone,
and a red balloon,
and a picture of
a cow jumping over a moon…

It is night time, so we have read Goodnight moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, to our daughter five times, or maybe more, if you count our recitals by heart (but wait, you forgot the toy house, my husband says, and he is right). It is like this most nights. She loves this book, the two kittens, the mush and goodnight nobody, because why not when s/he is always there? She has a special squeak for all animals, but especially the the kittens and the mouse. The bunnies standing in for humans get none, but why should they when they waste a perfectly good bowl of mush?

How great is my Friday night?


It was a week of firsts for me. My daughter walked up a (small) mountain for the first time, all the while reminding me what it was like to feel giddy with joy at every turn in the trail and with every bird sighting. I started a full-time job outside of research for the first time in my adult life, and left at 5 pm every day without guilt. And my husband and I worked on building a shed together with our daughter there and actually got stuff done. Amazing what happens when babies are old enough to walk. This is not to say this last task was easy; there was more than one pause in the building project because someone wanted to walk over the instructions or “help.” But the fact that it was possible is progress in my book.

On a not quite unrelated note, I’ve been musing about careers tonight, and have come to the conclusion that I need to answer a few questions about myself before I pursue any more career change. I have always had a sense of unrest about my career path; nothing I have done has felt quite right. With each change I learn more, which in itself is valuable, but the unrest remains. Perhaps this is the year in which I seek to discover its origins. Or perhaps it’s simply time to take a step back and let other things be more important for a while. It’s hard for me to conceive of this; my identity has been so wrapped up in what I do for so long that the whole concept of balance is unnerving to me. But that fear, like so many others, is surely arising out of the darkness of the unknown.

If any of you have been through a similar career change, what helped you make the transition, and what lessons did you draw from the experience?

So much cooking

The freezer is currently empty, bar about 30 pouches of breastmilk and some frozen peas. This is a disaster in the making, because despite usually loving to cook, I can’t muster up the will to do it (and quickly) on weeknights. It’s too stressful. Whereas before figuring out what to cook for dinner was a leisurely activity, these days, it feels like a sprint up a mountain pass with three packs full of bricks on my back. All of this means that despite good intentions, my daughter now points to the microwave when she’s hungry.

At least she loves peas.

I don’t know about you, but when I first imagined motherhood, I envisioned cooking nutritious, beautiful meals for my little one, which we would eat at the dinner table, peacefully. I’m not sure where I got this idea from. Cereal boxes? Too many reruns of Full House when I was growing up? Usually, if we manage to get dinner on the table by 6, things are ok until, all of a sudden, they are not. Any later than that and the ok stage doesn’t last long enough for her to actually eat anything, even if she is sitting on my lap, which then leads to a scream filled evening and later on, nightmares for me about whether she’s getting enough iron.

Oh the joys of doing baby led weaning AND being a research junkie.

I started doing meal planning not too long ago. This used to be a thing I hated and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do. After all, who could possibly know what the want for dinner a week in advance? But now, it is magical because I don’t have to think when I get home. I have ingredients (the fewer, the better), a 3-4 step super quick recipe, and about 10 minutes. Brilliant.

This is how I discovered that I no longer have the capacity to make decisions by about 6 at night. I am already maxed out for the day, and probably have been for several hours by that point. Funny how that happens.

Anyway, all of this is leading to the fact that tomorrow will be a day of cooking. I can feel it (fingers crossed, pretty please). And tonight? One of blissful sleep, if I have anything to say about it.

(Given that we’ve had three wake-ups already due to molars, just like every other night this week, I am clearly delirious).

Torn in all directions

My daughter hasn’t wanted me to put her down lately. I get home from work and she clings on for dear life all evening and throughout the night, crying when I put her down to make dinner and, after bedtime, waking when I attempt to regain a little space of my own. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I love that she finds comfort in my presence. On the other hand, I’ve always needed some space of my own and am finding it difficult to fulfil this need.

This is one of the challenges I’ve found most difficult in becoming a mother thus far. My daughter’s persistent and communicative and very sure of her needs. My career (up until this point) has been all demanding. My husband, primary carer to my daughter most days, needs his space as well when I get home from work. And so I find myself torn: my own needs are often in conflict with all of these demands. I want to make everything better for everyone else, because I was brought up to put others’ needs before my own. If I do this, though, cracks begin to appear in my character; my resilience fades. In the process, my worst personality traits become amplified in all the caring for everyone before taking care of myself.

I want to provide positive examples of how to balance needs for my daughter, who will one day face some of the challenges I’m struggling to cope with now. She’s persistent and stubborn, is quick to anger and slow to forgiveness, and also needs her space–all characteristics I’ve been known to exhibit from time to time, to the point where, some days, I feel like I’m staring at a reflection of myself as I try to read my daughter’s anger. My poor mother. My daughter will survive as I did, but I’d like her to have an easier time managing these traits, so she can channel them into something positive. I guess I’ll have to figure out how to do that for myself first.

I keep reminding myself that these days are like these trips we used to take through the canyons of the Blue Mountains. You get through unworkable challenges with persistence, grit, and a bit of blood, only to find a view that makes it all worth it on the other side. We’ll make it, one slippery step at a time.

Quiet time

It’s Friday night and I am already in bed, listening to my daughter breathe rhythmically next to me. She’s never been a good sleeper. We gave up on the cot long ago, except as an extension to our bed, because at bedtime, she went into a panic whenever we would lower her onto her mattress. She preferred to be right up close to me, her fingers curled around my shirt collar–her way of keeping me there just for her.

Before she arrived, I never thought I’d be sitting here, watching an infant (now toddler) sleep night after night for over a year. But she was so persistent, so determined. Any attempt at sleep training failed, and honestly, can I fault her? We’re asking her to go against her instincts, to cooperate, and to abandon her persistence. I suspect these traits–so irksome now (or are they?)–will serve her well one day. Once we stopped trying to change her and simply worked on accepting things as they were, I stopped minding the arrangement. It may be unusual and it has taken some sacrifice, but it works for us.

If there’s a lesson in there, it is this: what works for you and your family may surprise you. Embrace what feels right, whatever it happens to be, and forget everyone else.

Five things I wish I knew about combining motherhood and academia before I started graduate school

When I first entered graduate school, the thought of having a family was the last thing on my mind. I defined myself by my academic pursuits, so the long hours didn’t bother me, and I felt there were many opportunities to try out different roles in academia and industry.  The idea of getting a job abroad for a few years was exciting, as was the chance to explore new ideas somewhere else for a while. I didn’t think much about what I wanted beyond that, for the most part.

Fast forward eight years, two countries, five postdocs (between the two of us), one fellowship, one marriage, and one child, and I find myself in a very different mindset. I want to stay where I am and allow my child to grow up somewhere specific. I never had a hometown, and even if this place we live is on the far side of where I am from, it feels like home to me. I am finishing a fellowship here, and when I started looking around for new positions, I found very few desirable options that would allow me to pursue academic research and lead a life that is good for my family.  This is where my academic journey ends, for the most part. There will be ties and unfinished projects and continued involvement in wrapping things up, but I plan to focus my attention elsewhere.

All this has me reflecting on what I would tell my graduate school self if I had the opportunity to share what I have learned about the particular pains and joys of combining academia with family life. I’ll share five of these thoughts with you here.

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