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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Having it

posted by Sybil Vane
Or, more exactly, having it in bits and pieces and scattered all over the place, never quite recognizable as 'having it all at once.'

We've not yet found a replacement for our nannyshare situation. I expect it will take awhile; not the best time of year for this type of thing. It's taking up a huge amount of my psychic space. We just can't afford to pay our nanny what she needs to gross for any length of time, but we're in the middle of the semester and I can't not have the 20ish hours of care/wk that we've arranged. Stress.

I have said to people that graduate school is a very fine time to have babies. I still believe this is true. But while I feel good about the choices I have made and the reasons I've made them, I will in the future always advise graduate student mamas to get fulltime care if they can afford it.

That's obviously not how I did things, so let me back up a bit. I got pregnant unexpectedly, when I was midway through my PhD program and overseas for a year prepping for exams and doing a Mr. Vane work thing. My department was incredibly accomodating. They let me take exams in the summer (had been scheduled for fall) so I could be done before baby Vane's August birth. I was supposed to teach that fall, but they rescheduled the class for fall of the subsequent year. Still, I needed to be writing.

I was a productive new mama. I worked fast and with real focus when I was away from my baby, I think because the time felt so precious and so crucial to my sense of self. I desperately wanted to feel like I had my brain back and that I hadn't sacrificed my career by deciding to run with this pregnancy. Because I was working with such intensity, it seemed like I could get by on much less than full-time care. Mr. Vane and I didn't feel enthusiastic about institutional daycare at this point, and the few places we did feel good about had years-long waiting lists. So we hired a sitter for about 16 hours a week. Over the next 8 months, I wrote my prospectus and first chapter and taught a class during those 16 hours/wk, supplemented by frequent evening and weekend work. I felt good, like I was managing things.

It got harder. The novelty of time to work wore off and my productivity tapered off. I got more bored with my diss and worked with less gusto. The realities of never sleeping enough start to wear a person down. And so on. Somewhere along the way we shifted to 20 hours of care/wk in this nannyshare plus 2 mornings of preschool a week, and I taught a bunch more classes and finished my diss and graduated and taught even more classes. Which is to say, it all got done. But frequent evenings and weekends working turned into constant evenings and weekends working, supplemented by frequent 5am risings to get a few hours in. As many times as I have felt proud of myself for making things work, I have felt resentful of my sacrifice, of whatever I have internalized that made me prone towards that sacrifice.

Our story is like a million other academic families. Mr. Vane was never going to be the primary caregiver, not in our current living situation. His job pays our mortgage and is not flexible. My job has the illusion of being very flexible. It doesn't seem like we need fulltime care; we are middle-class enough in our essence to think this sounds like a good thing. And that's part of what I hate - in my moments of intense frustration, when I recognize I simply do not have enough time to do all I need to do, the comfort I can find is congratulating myself on keeping my kid out of daycare. And that makes me even more self-loathing; it's a gross thing to congratulate one's self about. It is objectively true that my daughter loves her nanny and that the nanny loves her. It has been a great situation. And there are time saving aspects of it, like the fact that she is almost never sick (in 3.5 years, 1 tummy sickness, 1 ear infection, and about 5 colds, give or take). But she's not that fragile, ultimately, and would've been fine in daycare. And we would've spent less on daycare than we do on the nanny.

Laydeez, here's where I get a little Linda-Hirschman on your asses: your job is not as flexible as you think it is. Not if you want to do it well. Yes, it's true that a lot of the work, the diss writing and article revising and paper grading, can be done late at night. But the lecture-attending can't. The office hours can't. The teaching can't. The conference traveling can't. And so on. An

My life is working fine and I am mostly happy. Its weird to realize, given that, that you wouldn't recommend your own course of action. But I wouldn't. Because it too often leaves me exhausted and resentful, and with faint disdain for the values that I would use to make me feel better. Maybe this is more negative than it should be because my family is out having fun and I am home writing job letters. And I am extra behind this week because I had to volunteer in toddler Vane's preschool class, which means losing a chunk of the week's work time. Maybe I should revisit this one of those crisp fall afternoons when I am walking to the playground with my kid at 3:30 and crunching through leaves. I'll try to remember to do so.

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