Dealing with Roadblocks, Changing Expectations

It was the winter of 2009 and I was excited to be back, if not only momentarily, to Stanford to submit my dissertation and be finished with my Ph.D. I was close to 20 weeks pregnant, and had been lucky enough to secure a tenure track position at the University of Idaho in 2008. This trip was a chance for me to say goodbye to friends I hadn’t seen upon rushing off to Idaho for my job, and I was eager to connect with people I knew I may not see for years to come.

The plane touched down in beautiful, sunny San Francisco, and, being pregnant, the first thing that crossed my mind was getting a rental car and eating. I gobbled down my food from my all-time favorite fast-food chain, In-n-Out, and then headed to my hotel across the Bay in my rental car. Just as I was nearing the entrance for a bridge, I felt the all too familiar urge to be sick that had begun a mere 7 weeks into my pregnancy. Unable to stop or pull over, I grabbed the In-n-Out box and hurled my food in it like I had done nearly everyday since the pregnancy test turned positive. It gave a whole new meaning to In-n-Out.

I had been looking forward to seeing friends, visiting museums, shopping, and dining at some of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area, but here I was, stuck in a hotel room laying on the bathroom floor with the lights off for nearly the entire trip. This trip would be the first of many where inevitably something child- or pregnancy-related would interfere with my plans and work.

Up until my pregnancy, I rarely experienced roadblocks on the level I experience in my work today.  When I found myself pregnant in the fall of 2008, I found myself frustrated with my health, with my pregnancy-induced exhaustion and nonstop morning sickness, and with the ice and snow that made walking and getting around campus and town difficult while pregnant.

When my daughter was born, I had additional health problems, and she had colic that lasted for months. In between my months of pain and her 3-month crying spree, I felt helpless, lost, and totally and utterly unproductive. I felt like a failure of a mother, and a failure of a professional.

I spent many a nights sleepless, looking at my daughter with a mix of amazement, awe, and regret for the life I once had. My life had changed, and I was now at the mercy of this tiny beautiful baby who would determine the course of my day for the rest of my life. I feared life with a child (or children for that matter) would never get easier, and that I would never be productive again. I imagine many moms experience this feeling with or without a job. Each time something came up and interfered with my plans, I found myself angry and resentful. Why was I trying to balance so many things when they could easily be thrown in my face with a pukey, feverish toddler? Why did this have to happen to ME?

Luckily I had colleagues who reassured me that things would get better, and they did.

But illness and sickness has plagued our house for over a year now, and while nothing is thankfully life threatening, it is hard to keep on track, stick with goals, and finish long-term projects when life is regularly interrupted and a full night’s sleep is a thing of years past.

In the fall of 2012, we only had one full week (Thanksgiving, I believe) where none of us were sick. During that time, I was teaching 3 classes, advising more than my normal load of students, following up on copyedits for my book, had a conference to attend, and had about a gazillion other things on my plate for research and service in my profession. There were things that absolutely had to get done, such as teaching and my copyedits. Lots of other things and commitments fell to the side or behind, and I found myself continually frustrated and upset that my work was suffering.

In the midst of cleaning up puke, puking myself, having a scratched cornea, dealing with downtime while sick or taking care of someone who is sick, and talking to trusted friends and colleagues about my frustrations, I realized that I shouldn’t expect my life to be smooth. In fact, I must have been on a lucky streak prior to having kids to have enjoyed such an easy path with few obstacles in my way.

So this year, 2013, I am readjusting my priorities and limiting my workload to one that I can both enjoy and handle. I am saying “no” to many offers and commitments this year, and taking on only that which I can get done in a reasonable rather than Herculean manner. I am going to try to learn to expect and anticipate roadblocks rather than be rocked to the core by them. And in my downtime, I will learn to take it easy, not stress over missed work or opportunities, and take care of my children and myself. If I fall behind on a project I will let it go or leave it behind if need be, as a colleague recommended. I will readjust my priorities and accept that things happen rather than mourn them with sorrow and regret. I will keep working on the projects that I love, and try to let go of abandoned projects and opportunities unseized.

As I am finishing up writing this blog, my daughter just puked after several days of a fever and my son being in the ER three nights ago. And so continues my journey of patience and readjusting my plans!

One thought on “Dealing with Roadblocks, Changing Expectations

  1. Pingback: Dealing with the Tenure Clock and Academic Parenthood | tenure.track.mama

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