Posts Tagged ‘work’


Melting down

August 10, 2015

Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 100 degrees where I live (Fahrenheit, not Celsius, that is). But I am already melting.

Today I woke up early and got ready to walk in to work. I love my walking mornings. I love working up a sweat and changing clothes and putting on makeup after I get in. I love starting the workday early so it feels like I can get everything on my list done. I love the slightly twisted and admittedly self-righteous thrill of being the first one in the office, the one who opens the doors and turns on the lights. I was ready for a morning like that.

But Dot woke up before I left. And she didn’t want me to leave. Suddenly, even though we’d talked yesterday about her daddy bringing her to school this morning and event though she’d been looking forward to that, she wanted me to bring her to school. And N. wanted to sleep some more.

All right, I said. I’ll take you in.

Then, of course, she didn’t want to get dressed. And then she didn’t want to go to school at all, and then when we were finally happily in the car she started crying about how she didn’t want to grow up (a sentiment with which I totally sympathize) and in an effort to be silly and help cheer her up I started listing off things she could do when she was grown up that she couldn’t do now – eat whatever she wanted for dinner, make art projects with knives and scissors, stay up as late as she wanted, dye her hair purple…

Well, it turns out, my five-year-old has a friend who dyed her hair pink. When she was four. And now Dot is telling me she wants to dye her hair, too, and I’m telling her she can’t until she’s an adult, and she is calling me “Mean Mommy,” and I say the true and terrible thing I should not say: “I wish I hadn’t waited to take you to school.” Now we’re both crying and she tells me that I’ve broken her heart into pieces, and I can’t call the words back, though I want to. I feel like the worst parent ever, like I don’t deserve parenthood at all, and I’m also terrified, like it could be taken away at any moment because I’m so bad at it.

I apologize, and we head into school, and all of a sudden she’s the happiest child on the planet, hugging her friends, chirping “hi!” at her teacher. And the teacher looks at her and says, “Do you have your swimsuit on, Dot?” and I realize in the silence that follows that I’ve misread the calendar and that they’re going swimming today instead of tomorrow, and that I’ve left her suit and towel at home. I run home to get it. N is still sleeping and I contemplate hating him for a moment, but I know all the reasons he’s so tired, and if I could I’d be curled up right with him, so I blow him a kiss and sneak out, run the swim gear to Dot’s school, run to park, run to my office, breathe.

It’s funny and I’m still laughing about it, but it hurts, too. It hurts.

And now people who should have been helping me with the scary web migration project that I ended up doing on my own, like that martyr of self-martyrdom, the Little Red Hen, are asking for changes to the final site that I can’t make, or for changes that they could bloody well make themselves if they’d been paying attention because I gave them administrative access when I thought they were interesting in actually helping with the project. This is not unusual, and usually I smile, laugh, fix things, and coax people along into learning new things, but today it’s all I can do to make fixes and type brief, neutral replies. I want more than anything to curl up and hide from everyone for a while, to just hide and not pretend to be loving or good or competent or to have my shit together because right now my shit is not together.

I keep crying.

I keep missing him.

Memories everywhere, and I love them because they’re all I have of him to love, memories and the world’s most ridiculously tiny urn in my dresser drawer, but they leave me so damned raw, nerve endings exposed, eyes red and giving me away.

Dot’s daycare is closed for the latter half of this week; Teddy’s birthday and death day span the weekend. I am facing five days at home with Dot, five days to bite my tongue and pray that I don’t let me rawness show too much as I try to entertain and play and be a good mommy. A good enough mommy, at least.

I hate you, August.



June 20, 2013

I am heading to a conference across the country in about 10 days. I am looking forward to it – I’m not extroverted, but I enjoy the chance to pretend I am sometimes, to talk up my workplace, to learn from others’ ideas and passion and persistence. I get to see some of my best friends from college and hang out and sip grown-up drinks. I am doing committee work I really like, and will be able to meet other librarians I know and smile, and tell them that I’m tenured as of July 1. Which is so much better than having to hustle for job opportunities!

I have new clothes. I will be getting my hair cut and possibly colored, and I’m hoping to sneak in a pedicure (I always say I’ll do this and I never do). I am putting together my conference schedule and my folder of receipts and documents to take with me.

And I am weaning Dot.

It occurs to me that my conference prep is not like other people’s conference prep.

She is three years old now, my Dot, and I know that one of the reasons I’ve nursed her so long is that I never got to nurse her brother at all. When she was tiny, I needed her with me, all the time, especially when she was sleeping. I was terrified that she’d die in her sleep, and I would wake up in the night, put my hand on her belly and send thank yous out into the darkness, over and over. She breathed.

I’ve calmed down a bit – I let her run across the grass at the parks, let her climb the highest and scariest slides and zip down like the daredevil she is. I take a certain pride in the fact that my efforts to keep my fear from making her afraid seem to have been effective. My girl runs and climbs and plays in the mud, and has a fine collection of three-year-old’s scrapes and bruises (mostly on her shins). We don’t care about getting her clothes dirty, or her hair messed up. She plays with a whole heart and I watch her with my own heart throbbing in my mouth, trying to make peace with letting her run free.

But, at night and in the early mornings, for the past three years, she has been all mine to snuggle and guard and hold and keep. At night, her tired, warm little body nestles, her mouth seeks, and after some restless wiggling she relaxes. In the morning, nursing is what eases the way between sleep and waking, the way we welcome each other into the day.

That’s the poetic aspect, anyway, the part I love. There’s a lot of twiddling and pulling and shuffling, sometimes some teeth and some grabbing. I have to wear padded bras or I will embarrass everyone in my workplace with not just headlights, but high beams. And I inevitably fall asleep just minutes after Dot does, meaning that I’m stumbling to the bathroom to remove contact lenses and wash my face at 2:30. I’ve been ready to stop nursing for a while now.

This week, we stopped nursing in the morning. She knows that her milky is going away, that for right now it’s going away in the mornings but that soon it will be going away all together. So far, it has gone something like this:

  • The first day she woke up very early, cried and cried, went back to sleep, slept in late (and we let her), cried a little  more. Then we indulged in breakfast sandwiches at Starbucks before school. Her teachers, who know what’s going on, reported that she had a really good day at school.
  • The second day, she woke up at the usual time, cried and cried and cried, got up for a while and snuggled with my on the futon. Then she told me she was sleepy and wanted to go back to bed. I completely fell for this, and took her back to bed, where she tried very hard to convince me it was nighttime instead of morning. And then she cried and cried. Apparently she had kind of a rough day at school.
  • Yesterday, She woke up at the usual time, cried and cried, and then reluctantly got ready for school, but we did head (again) to Starbucks for breakfast at her request. I hope she hasn’t figured out that there’s not much she can’t ask for just now. She had another rough day at school.
  • And then, this morning – she woke up, asked for milky, and then when I told her we weren’t having milky in the mornings, she got very quiet. She asked me some questions about growing up and we talked about some of the things she can do when she is older and bigger. I told her a story. I sang her a song. I said, “You are my darling baby.””Well,” she said, “sort of.”

Oh, Love.

I hope the trajectory holds true, that it really is getting easier for her, that when I scoop her up this afternoon, I’ll hear that she had a great day. I hope that when I leave for this work trip, it will put N in a better, easier place. I think it’s very likely that these things will happen, thank goodness. But it’s harder for me than I thought it would be, to let go of this part of her babyhood and this part of my mothering. Maybe in a month or so it will start to feel like the relief I was expecting it would be, but for now I have to resist the urge to hug her tight and damn the sore nipples and slow the growing up as long as I can.


Reversal of fortune

June 6, 2013

Earlier this week, I received an email from the president of the university where I work. It sat in my inbox for half an hour as I put off reading it. I knew what it said, you see  – that the denial of tenure decision would stand. It wouldn’t be surprising bad news, but I wasn’t looking forward to reading it again.

Two minutes before my next meeting, I opened the email and read the attached letter, thinking I’d get it over with and then focus on the work at hand with the presence of others as my shield against self-pity. It didn’t say what I thought, what I knew, it was going to say.

The president reversed the provost’s decision to deny me tenure, and as of July 1, I will be promoted and tenured in my current position. No more hoops to jump through, case closed.

This hardly ever happens. Even when the president sets the original decision aside (which is rare), the expectation is that you have to go through an abbreviated version of going up for tenure again – put together a portfolio of your accomplishments, have your Dean arrange for a re-vote, go through another round of proving your worth. Having tenure conferred on you by the president isn’t unheard of, but it’s a bit like a unicorn – no one here has seen it happen before.

It’s also very rare in my set of experiences, that a reversal of fortune is a good development.  I turn it over and over in my mind, trying to find the seams of this most surprising and unexpected thing, trying to figure out how it is put together and why it came to me.

It is very good news, and I’m relieved and happy and resisting the urge to smirk when in the company of certain co-workers. But I’m also weary. It’s like that feeling when you finish a big seminar paper that you’ve been writing for weeks and you stay up all night to push it through and then you hand it in, and you never want to see it again but you can’t stop worrying at it with your mind for a while. Decompression. Shock. Exhaustion. I’ve been on the roller coaster a long time, and really I prefer the more predictable and staid Ferris wheel, or even go carts, which are still fast and crazy but at least allow you to steer.

Also, I let go (or at least significantly relaxed my grip) on certain dreams – impending home ownership, a garden space for Teddy, the possibility of another child, places where I’d planned to be in my career – and I can’t just pick them up again. They were only dreams, but they had some solidity to them, somehow, that I had to let dissipate in order to move ahead. Letting go of those dreams felt freeing and right, and I think it made me stronger and helped me know myself better, but now I’m left trying to figure out what I want in my work and outside of it. I am (don’t get me wrong) thrilled to be in this place, but I’m also wondering if this is where I should be.

I’ll settle into my good news eventually, probably even come to rely on it, but I still feel poised for flight instead of safely settled and nesting.

Not that being poised for flight is a bad thing. And there almost certainly will be a party with drink and song and laughter. Celebrations need to be had, especially as this kind of reversal of fortune should be appreciated as much as possible. I don’t expect to see another of its like during my lifetime.


Glimpses of the Weekend

May 28, 2013

Normally long weekends do me in and I’m ready to return to work by noon on a Sunday, but this past Memorial Day weekend, for reasons I can’t quite put into words, was lovely. I didn’t want it to end.

On Saturday, we went to the local farmer’s market and then wandered around downtown. After much consultation with the bike shop staff, we got Dot her first bike, which was very exciting even though she only agreed that we could take it home with us when I promised to put streamers and a bell on it for her. Saturday afternoon is now my allotted span of time just for me, and I went to the Rec Center and spent a lovely, long, and sweaty time on an elliptical machine. Then I came home, did a few leisurely dishes, and read until N and Dot returned from their outing to the park and coffee shop. We all watched a movie together and then headed to bed. It was lovely.

On Sunday we hung out in pajamas for a long time and then I ran to the grocery store to get food for the week and picnic supplies. Then I made turkey sandwiches while Dot packed and unpacked some bags and we headed to N’s office for an office picnic. After that, N stayed behind to do some work while Dot and I headed home. Dot refused to nap but had a lovely time riding her new bike inside the house and playing “Cinderella,” after which we headed outside. I pulled many, many weeds and cut back browning tulip leaves while Dot played and ran around and had a really wonderful time just being outdoors. This concept, that we can be outside together without all of my attention being focused on her, is new and a bit of a revelation. And to see how excited and interested she was when she spotted an earthworm made my entire day.

Monday we had brunch at the local pancake house and then Dot and I took N to the office. On our way home we stopped at the hardware store to pick up some blueberry bushes and then we headed home. I planted, she played, and then I baked a chocolate cake while she played with her toys and bicycle. Then we played together and had a nice discussion about her big girl bed, which I don’t expect she’ll be sleeping in until next year, but it’s nice to get her thinking about it in positive ways. When N came home we feasted on pizza and watched another movie, after which Dot fell asleep pretty much five minutes after lying down on the bed.

Every day was lovely. We had family time and private time and indoor time and lots of outdoor play time. I still had several moments where I wished Dot had a sibling to play with, that Teddy was here adding to the mix and the chaos and the fun, but those were bittersweet moments instead of plain old bitter ones. I wasn’t ready for the weekend to end.

But today is having it’s moments, too – I just found out I have a phone interview with a place I might really like to work. A phone interview doesn’t mean any kind of certainty, but it’s an opening, and I’m looking forward to it.



Thanks, Village

May 13, 2013

My Mother’s Day weekend was a good one. Quiet. We went to the nearby farmer’s market on Saturday and I watched Dot plunge into the playground. Not so long ago, it seems, I used to follow her up the climber, hovering and hoping that my impetuous toddler wouldn’t find herself stepped on or squished by the much larger children climbing up the slide instead of following proper procedure and sliding down. And now she’s nimbly climbing up the slide, mostly careful not to step on the other kids.

Sunday we met up with another family for a picnic at the arboretum. We don’t know them especially well, and they don’t know anything about our life before Dot, but we like them. Our daughters love playing together, and we had a really nice time. There were frogs in the stream, large families of goslings, ladybugs, and butterflies. The sun shone down, diffused by clouds and leaf shadows – warm and gentle, like a blessing.

And, not far from me, a dear friend lives alone after years of wanting children, trying for children, helping to raise others’ children. On the other side of the country, my sister-in-law faced another Mother’s Day (and all of the ad campaigns leading up to it) without a baby of her own. In the town where I grew up, my mother misses her own mom, gone three years now. In my own heart, the imprint of an absence and the place where love stretches out in feeble attempts to mother a child I cannot see or hear or touch. This holiday, that I used to associate with planting marigolds in paper cups and putting Mom’s flowers on the table, it’s just so full of different kinds of emotional land mines.

Four years ago I received flowers on Mother’s Day, a gift from three good friends at work. They remembered and acknowledged Teddy at a time when I was just starting to see, with painful and bitter clarity, that his existence and loss weren’t really things I could discuss in public. At a time when Mother’s Day made me feel like an outcast and a secret circus freak, I had friends who told me I was a mother, too. I think of those flowers and what they meant to me every year at this time. I will think of them every Mother’s Day, I am convinced, until the day I die.

I have so many mixed feelings about mother’s day. I love the idea of honoring mothers, but I hate the way doing this shuts so many out in the cold. I’m also not particularly happy about how narrowly we define mothers or about the let’s-use-this-to-sell-stuff aspect of the holiday, or about they way we honor mothers on this one day and then fail on so many fronts to improve life for women (mothers or not) and families. Mother’s do a lot of work, and it’s good to see them valued. There are certainly plenty of days where I head to bed frazzled and unwashed and tired and knowing I have to do it all again tomorrow, and a day when people say “thank you” is kind of encouraging. But so many others do vital and thankless work that is unrecognized by cards and flowers and brunches.

Looking back at the labor-intensive first years of Dot’s life, I see over and over again that “It takes a village to raise a child” is adamantly, unavoidably true. An anthropologist I work with has spent quite a bit of time exploring the way support networks have been invaluable to raising children to adulthood. This is as true now as ever. The very rich may be able to hire their villages (cooks, housekeepers, nannies, psychologists, masseurs), but most of us find ourselves living in hybrid villages made up of some combination of family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – not necessarily all located in the same geographic location. While I wouldn’t mind having a masseur on staff, I think I prefer the village I’ve found myself belonging to. My paths to motherhood have not been easy, and I wouldn’t have made it without a workplace that includes health care in its benefits, without colleagues and co-workers who are (most of them, anyway) compassionate and sensible and fair, without friends who are encouraging and funny and wise, without my family who support me with time and takeout food and love. Without the community I’ve found online who know what it is to miss a child and who let me howl and wonder and rant and try to write my way into some sort of sanity.

If Dot grows into anything resembling the well-adjusted, smart, caring, take-no-prisoners woman I imagine her becoming, she will owe so much of that to this untraditional village of ours. This year especially I am humbled by how many friends of mine, who are not in the traditional sense mothers, have enriched and enabled and encouraged my growth as a mother. I know not everyone has this kind of support, but many of us do, and at times when the world seems grim and violent this is something that gives me great hope.

On the day after so much of the world has offered floral tributes to the maternal principle, I want to offer my thanks to all of the villages out there, to all of the people who work to enable mothering and to create opportunities for laughter and picnics and the wonder of watching babies grow into amazing human beings. I want to offer thanks to my own village in particular, because it is widespread and deep-rooted and wonderful, and I am grateful for the shoulders to cry on, the strong arms to lean on, the voices cheering us on, and for everyone lighting the way.


Uff da

July 25, 2012

My dossier is turned in. Finished. Complete. I can make no changes and it is out of my hands.

Uff da, I say. It’s what my mother says when picking up or setting down something heavy. The oh-so-useful Scandinavian-American expression that expresses relief and/or weariness and/or a sense of being overwhelmed and/or a sense of dismay. And it’s appropriate because while there’s a relief that comes with being done, there’s some initial anxiety about letting it out of my control, too.  I am trying my best to stick with the knowledge that I gave it my best shot. And since I don’t hear anything back until March (I know, who dreamed up this nightmarish timeline?) I need to let it go.

I pulled quite a few of my supporting materials from my 3rd year review. My review from when I was a golden child and right on track. The review I wrote while stuck in an overheated office in January of 2008, only just aware that I was pregnant and so sleepy with first-trimester tiredness that I had to get up out of my chair every five minutes to stay awake to write. I remember feeling fiercely protective – I was going to write the best third-year review ever so that when I told people I was pregnant they wouldn’t worry about it affecting my work and I’d be able to provide for my child.

I can’t help but to contrast the then with the now. The now when I don’t write Teddy’s name or story on any of my context statements or in the narrative describing my work, even though he is there, hidden behind the words. Subtext. (And how lonely and sad and strange a thing, to tell one story while your heart writes another.) Comparing then and now, with the help of so much documentation, makes me feel pretty awful about the person I’ve become in some ways. I really do have less energy, less certainty about future projects. My plans have changed – they are smaller in scope. I am less trusting of the future and less willing to claim that I can shape it, which is what people like to hear.

On the other hand…

I am not yet done becoming. I am newly aware of some of my broken places, and some of those places weren’t in great shape before they were broken, you know? I don’t get credit for self-awareness, and perhaps no one should, really. But I think that it will help me become better in the long run. Maybe not better than the person I would have been, but – I am finding surprising strengths within myself all the time – maybe so. I am not going to judge myself that way anymore, in any case. It feels good to make that decision, even though I know it’s one I’ll have to re-make as self-doubts appear.

The other thing about a massive review and presentation of years of work is that it helped me realize how much I’ve done. I’ve done a lot, and a lot of that is really good. Many friends and allies came out of the woodwork to support me while I was putting it together, which I think bodes well, but (and much more importantly) made me feel a lot happier and more at peace with the whole process. They were there for me because I’ve been there for them, and because, in my years here, I’ve made my workplace better. Not everyone can say that. And that will be enough for me, no matter what happens.

It’s good to know that, too.

Anyway, on to August, and to becoming whoever I will be.

Uff da.


Right where I am, 2012

May 24, 2012

I am writing this as part of Angie’s Right Where I Am project, and it’s already striking to me that where I am is different than where I was last year. Not that last year feels all that far away, but even so, I feel different.

There is still a complicated happiness – my family that adds up to some impossible mathematical equation – three, but four, really. Or is that four, but three, really? I don’t know. I never know. I just know that the fourth, the one most people don’t see, is important, is loved, is powerfully here with me and also powerfully gone. There is still delight in my family and in my daughter, who grows more amazing every day. I would love to believe that grief brings with it the magical gift of true and constant appreciation, but to privilege honesty over modesty, appreciation has always been my gift and recognizing the beauty of the moment is something I was able to do before Teddy’s death. There’s an added poignancy to small everyday beauties now, is the main difference. Which is a long and tangled way of saying that I find things to revel in, things that nurture my soul, every day.

But I think part of what I’ve done this year, and it’s probably part of the healing process (though, frankly, it’s one of those parts that I wish I could have skipped), is to recognize my broken places (and my still-broken places) and the ways that those broken places are affecting my family and my work and the way I move (or don’t) through the world.

Because I am broken. This is more apparent to me than it was last year, or even the year before. I am broken, and the family that I love so much has other breaks in it, too. And some of those breaks – our missing fourth, for instance – are just there and are part of who we are. But some of the breaks are things that need to be fixed. Maybe, now that I’m almost four years out, I’m finally beginning to see that.

Because on the one hand, I live in a hyper-aware state of beauty and blessing, with a family who dances together to songs about butterflies.

And, on the other, I am struggling with my work (even though I love it) and I am married to a partner who is struggling with an addiction that touches almost every area of our lives. What bravery I used to have has retreated to the depths of me, and I only seem to be able to summon it up for crises and emergencies. I’ve closed myself off from friends and family and am only now starting to reach out with the knowledge that I can’t hide my broken places from them even though I want to. N and I are only beginning to tackle the problems that have surfaced in recent years with our struggles to talk with each other, with the strange silences that fall uneasily between us in the car, on walks, late at night in the kitchen. I write like mad at work, trying to save my job and knowing it may be too late, that my colleagues may look at my two most broken years and decide that not writing published articles during those times was unforgivable, that even if I manage to submit a solid piece before the end of June I may still be asked to leave at the end of my tenure process.

I am so full of fear, over all of these things. I want a safe place, a stable home, a family who can hold me up when I fall. I crave safe with each particle of my being, knowing full well that nothing is truly safe, not in this life. That’s the sort of thing that people say all the time without thinking much about it because while we recognize the kernel of truth in that commonplace, bearing the knowledge of the absolute vulnerability of yourself and everyone you love is exhausting. And I’m exhausted. But I’m also the mommy. I’m Dot’s mommy and I’m Teddy’s mommy, and my childhood days, the days when I could rest in the safety of being taken care of, are behind me. I do the taking care now.

And I’m finally working my way through the fears to see how I can do a better job of that. I finally see that I need to grow myself into a better colleague, a better partner, a better parent, and I finally feel that I can start to do this. That I can recognize some breaks that need fixing and how they are different from the broken places that make me who I am. It’s a fucking terrifying place to be, this place where you look back and take responsibility for your big failures. It’s a place I never imagined standing, even as I held my little Huckleberry in my arms as he gasped his last few breaths and realized that everything was precarious, and possible, and impossible all at once.

I am trying to let go of the shame of failing my son, and of all the smaller shames that followed it. I know, somehow, that it wasn’t my fault that I was broken, and I’m not going to hate myself for the past three years, eight months, and nine days. I’m not going to hate myself for my partner’s demons, or for my withdrawals from the people who probably would have supported me better if I would have let them.

I’ll carry the fears with me, I think, always. Once death has taken the baby from your arms, you can’t ever not see him, and he is everywhere. But I’m here in this terrifying place and I’m not pretending to be fine, and I’m still standing. I need to fix what I need to fix – to take responsibility for my role in my relationships, for all those times fear has paralyzed me into inaction. And I need to honor what needs to be honored – Teddy, and my love for him, and all the ways that he is missed.

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do all of this yet, but I am strong enough to see it clearly now, and surely that’s a place to start.