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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Why this is here

I was going to start this blog off with some kind of cute post about meeting and fate and all that b.s., but honestly, who has time for that? I’ll generate an F.A.Q. for you here, fully anticipating that my currently non-existent readers will have burning questions along the lines of:

Q. Who are you? 

A. You can call me Liz. I am currently a physicist, but am soon to be a recovering academic / university administrator because–let’s face it–job security is a valuable thing when you’re the mum of and main breadwinner for a persistent and whip-smart little girl. No, I’m not biased–she keeps me on my toes.

Also, having a guilt-free division between work and life is a revelation.

Q. Why did you start this blog?

A. Because I enjoy writing as a creative enterprise. Also, I have a lot to say about parenthood, motherhood, science careers, research, living abroad, and life, which may or may not be useful to the internet.

I also can’t resist sharing the occasional recipe, diy project, or life hack, so I guess that makes this a lifestyle blog…?

Q. Why is your blog called Sassafras and Thyme? 

A. I liked the way it sounded. Plus, both combined remind me of where I come from, which is very far from where I live now.

Q. What will you offer that other blogs won’t? 

A. I’d like to think I will offer you a unique mix of sarcasm, brutal honesty, and wit. But honestly, it’s post number one; let’s just wait and see, shall we?