3 Things on Sunday

1. My PhD research proposal was accepted!! I waited a month for my advisory committee to come together for a meeting, and the meeting went amazingly well. I can finally – after 3 years and 2 other proposal attempts that fell through for different reasons – finally, move on to actually DOING THE RESEARCH and finishing this f-ing degree and get a job.

2. I had my first me-time in a long time getting my hair done this weekend, but thoughts of how expensive it was going to be and how much I just wanted to be home with my little family made the whole 2 hour process unenjoyable. It’s funny how you can be at your wit’s end with trying to keep up with your demanding toddler’s needs and then in only 5 minutes of being alone feel like your heart is aching from missing that wonderful, demanding toddler.

3. Night weaning is going really well, but sleep isn’t… It’s complicated. Avery has been sick forever and the cough still keeps her up at night. The doctor assures us it’s normal for kids her age in daycare to be sick for this long, and for things like runny noses and coughs to linger well beyond the duration of the actual bug. She’s also struggling with yet another itchy post-viral rash (apparently she’s prone to them). So she does a lot of crying through the night, and I used to be able to make her feel better by nursing. Now we just put a hand on her back and lay next to her while she fusses, and she doesn’t even ask for milk to help her get through it. She just deals with it. It makes me proud of her, and also sad that the instant comfort phase of her life is over. She makes her own comfort, now. That said, last night she was really upset, and I brought her into our bed to sleep on top of me. Just because we’ve night weaned doesn’t mean we’ll let her suffer all night or go without sleep.

The good news is, she usually goes from 7pm to 4am with only one wake up that we need to go to her bedside for (that one wake up takes 2 minutes for my wife and an hour for me, though). The bad news is, 4am is when she wakes up for the day now… We’ve let her have an earlier nap to compensate, but that just messes with her afternoon energy levels. Can’t wait for her to settle into the new normal without night (and morning) nursing and hopefully find a good rhythm we can all be happy with.

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I Resigned

Tonight was the Annual General Meeting of the not-for-profit I have chaired for the past two years (and have been an executive director of for three years). I resigned tonight. It felt amazing. 

The organization is Out On The Shelf (www.outontheshelf.com). It’s a queer resource centre and library. When I joined the board we were living out of a storage unit and one of our directors was suggesting we dismember because we weren’t worth keeping alive. In the time I’ve been with the organization we scored a big grant, found a permanent home, started operating at full capacity again, rebuilt our organizational structure to function in a much more efficient and productive way, got more grants, and grew in budget, volunteer power, and name recognition. It has been an extremely draining, challenging, and rewarding 3 years. 

Tonight, after the AGM ended, I packed up and left while the new directors huddled around the table sorting out all of their paperwork. The new Chair, someone I groomed when I was very pregnant and knew I would need someone to fill in for me on occasion when the baby came, very capably and excitedly organized everyone and started his term with a young and fresh passion and energy. 

It feels so good to be free, especially so because I feel confident with the hands I am leaving the organization in. I feel proud and hopeful. It was a good day. 

Now I can focus on my dissertation while the baby naps… 

The Work-At-Home-Parent

I see a lot of posts on social media about what it means to be a stay at home parent or a working parent, how these parents made the decision to stay at home or go back to work, and the guilt and pressures they feel about their decision (because ALL parents feel guilt). I find I can’t relate to these articles about how to be productive as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), or how to deal with guilt over leaving your kids with someone else all day as a working parent. I don’t see posts about work at home parents, and I think that we have a unique experience that should be shared. 

I take care of my baby full time with the exception of a few hours some weekends when I escape to a coffee shop to get some focused work done. I took a 4 month leave from all other duties when she was born, but then returned to my two work duties: I do work with a not for profit, and I’m a part time PhD student. I currently set my own hours, but I have timelines and deadlines to meet. I make very little money. Here’s how I made my decision to be a WAHM, and the struggles, guilt and pressure I feel about my decision. I suppose I should end on a happy note, so I’ll also share the great parts of my arrangement. 

*recycling an old photo I took for a previous post about being a WAHM

The Decision

 The decision to be a WAHM was really a decision to become a mom while I was still a grad student. We thought about waiting until I had a paying job to start our family, but the future was uncertain (when would I finish, would I find a job, would the career path be forgiving of taking a parental leave…). We also liked the idea of saving money on childcare if I could manage both school and baby, since I work from home at this stage in my PhD. My not for profit work was the same deal. I was already involved, and figured that as long as I could balance everything, I’d keep it up after the baby came (turns out I couldn’t balance that many things, so I’m resigning from the NFP at the end of my term at the end of this month). 

The Struggles 

  • There’s an expectation that because I’m home and don’t have billable hours that I’m free to run errands and do extra cleaning and household tasks. While it’s true that I can throw laundry in and prep dinner while I work from home, every household task that I throw into the mix takes away time that I could/should be working. And I actually love cleaning, so if my wife points out how dirty it is behind the fridge, I’m going to want to clean the kitchen instead of get work done. And I have very little self control. 
  • Self control… I’m a good self-directed worker as long as the work is peaking my interest, but if there is something more interesting to do – like play with the baby or clean that part of the house that has been bothering me – I struggle with the self control to get Work done. 
  • Taking care of the baby is often not labeled as work, so if I work part time on school, there’s an expectation that I have part time hours to devote to something else. My life would be infinitely more balanced and supported (and I would feel I finitely more validated) if parenting was seen as legitimate Work in the eyes of our society. 

The Guilt

  • Because I’m doing my PhD part time now to accommodate parenting, it’ll be longer before I can contribute financially to the family in a meaningful way. I’m also not taking on the little paid side projects I used to do. 
  • I sometimes have to turn the TV on to distract the baby when her toys have become boring and I need to keep working.
  • I worry that she’ll think she’s being ignored because I’m not engaging with her, when really I’m trying so hard to peel my attention off of her and how cute she is so I can focus on my work. I don’t want her to think that I prefer looking at my laptop over her. 
  • I also don’t want her to learn that it’s ok to ignore people when you have a shiny screen in front of you. 

    How I Manage

    • I let her nap in the way that she’ll nap the longest and most soundly – on me in the Moby wrap. Despite how hard we’re trying to control her night time sleep habits, naps are when I get the most guilt free work done. There’s no way I’m giving up 2 hour naps, even if I need to stand and sway for the whole time. I stand at my computer and it works beautifully, despite the sore legs and back. 
    • I enlist the help of my wife or my mom to watch her for a few hours a week while I go to particularly long meetings or do some intense focused work at a coffee shop. This was trickier when she breastfed every hour and a half and she refused to take the bottle, and tricky again when she was in the thick of stranger anxiety, and I’m sure we have yet to hit the peak of separation anxiety. But when we can make it work, it helps me a lot. 
    • I take her to short meetings and I am unapologetic about it. If a meeting is scheduled during her nap time or after bedtime (don’t go there…) I ask to reschedule or I decline. I also don’t hesitate to let her nurse during a meeting if she needs to, although now she is old enough to wait for the duration of most meetings. She has gotten really good at sitting next to me and playing with her toys while I’m in meetings. *it wasn’t always this easy though – the first big meeting I went to with her was when she was 1 month old and she screamed bloody murder the whole time. #Colic. 
    • I’m kind to myself. If society doesn’t constantly remind me how important and valid a job it is to be a parent, I’ll do it myself. My daughter is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of my day, and work will always come second. I’m lucky enough to be able to have these priorities and not get fired for it. 

      The Best Parts

      • I don’t miss a thing. I see every First and have an intensely close attachment with my baby. 
      • Things like laundry and meal prep are usually within my daily priority list, which makes our evenings and weekends a little more open to do fun family things. 
      • If my baby is sick or if we’ve had a particularly rough night, we can stay in our pyjamas all day and the Work can wait. 

        If you work from home with a baby, what are some of your lessons learned, challenges, guilty feelings… and what’s great about it? 

        Foggy day outside and inside

        Spring is on its way. These foggy, warm, drizzly days of early March usually energize me. I love dark and dreary weather, and I love seeing the earth thaw and come to life. But today I’m feeling like I just have to get through.

        I’m in pain from a little fall down the stairs on the weekend, and my mouth is all swollen and blistered from an allergic reaction, meaning I’m on a liquid diet and have no energy. Avery and I both have mild colds. I’m a week behind in work. We had the house cleaned on the weekend but there are already multiple piles of cat barf on the floor again that I haven’t gotten around to picking up. I’m wearing pajama pants because the only two pants that fit me are in the washing machine, and the dryer is full of clothes that need to be put away. The counter is full of dirty dishes. My mom is coming for a visit today which is nice for socializing but means I won’t get caught up on anything today, and tonight I have plans to go out for $5 burgers with a work friend of my wife. 

        When I write everything out it seems like nothing out of the ordinary – its just another day in the life. But today I feel particularly bummed out about everything. Hopefully knocking just a few things off my list will help me feel better. Now if this baby would just go to sleep so I could be free for a moment to get up and do things before company arrives…

        Being a WAHM, PhD Mom

        There are parents out there who have multiple kids in their care full time, run a business from home, and seem to get cooking/cleaning/workouts/blogging and everything else done to boot. At least I think these parents exist… Maybe social media lies. Anyway, I don’t know how those superwomen (and super-parents of other genders) do it, even if they don’t look as polished and happy doing it when the camera is off and the Instagram is logged out.

        I’m struggling with full time care of my almost 6-month old while balancing one measly distance education teaching assistantship. We have started eating more Kraft Dinner and delivery pizza than healthy home cooked meals. My house is a disaster. I kid you not -and this is something I wish I was kidding about – there has been a barfed-up cat hairball on the landing of my stairs for 5 days now. 

        I’m staying on top of my paid work, but I’ve resorted to plopping Avery in the bumbo in front of some YouTube kids channel for half an hour while I marked papers. I mean, I have no problem with kids watching TV (I used to love it when the TV babysat me as a kid), but I can’t help feeling bad about it. She’s not even 6 months old. 

        So here I am feeling bad about myself already, and then comes the pressure to get my PhD done. I’m on a 2-semester leave of absence from dissertation work. Everyone in my life knows this, and yet people can’t seem to stop reminding me that I need to get back to it. When my baby was 1 month old my dad started asking “so how’s the PhD coming along?” My mom always asks when I’m going to be able to start working on it again with a concerned look in her eye because apparently taking a leave is a sign that I’m not serious about it anymore and might quit after all I’ve poured into it so far. My wife talks about how she can’t wait for me to start making a steady income. This is fair – being the sole wage-earner in the family would be stressful… but so is trying to balance full-time childcare with finishing this damn PhD everyone keeps reminding me about!

        I’m going back to “full time” studies in the summer. I don’t want to / can’t afford to put Avery in childcare this summer when she is only 7 months old (yes, we’re spoiled in Canada, getting accustomed to a 12 month parental leave – even though that doesn’t apply to students like myself). My wife luckily works much closer to home now and has been able to be home by 5 and help with bedtime, but in the evenings I’m too haggared to do a bunch of academic reading and writing. 

        While I feel shitty about myself and wonder how others manage to balance work and family, the reality is that I’m doing it. And this summer I can plop Avery in the grass to watch the birds in the garden instead of the TV and I’m sure I’ll feel better about ignoring her then. It feels like I’m failing sometimes, but the important things are getting done. That hairball can biodegrade on my floor for all I care.