Autumn is…when, again?

Weird thing about living in PHX is that it remains so hot here well after summer that my brain gets real confused. I keep finding myself thinking things like “I’ll do that after Labor Day.” Like: I’ll start cleaning out the garage after Labor Day. Or I’ll start working on working on my yard again after Labor Day. Or I’ll look into a fall trip with the kids after Labor Day. Or I’ll start planning my son’s September birthday after Labor Day.

Obviously, dear reader, you know it’s well after Labor Day already. It’s just that it still feels, acts, and seems so much like summer here that I lose track of time and find myself still thinking I have loads of time in front of me to tackle the things I have slotted on to my fall to-do list when in actuality, I should have already started them. At least I haven’t already missed my son’s birthday?

duct taping it all together

Here it is just after Labor Day and I have no idea where summer went. Oh, wait, I live in PHX so for all intents & purposes, it’s still here, sticking its ugly thumb in my eye until at least Halloween. But the “fall” semester descended upon us a couple of weeks ago, and it is the. last. fall. semester. ever.

Or it was supposed to be.

My Better Half™ was supposed to graduate in December. Now that’s up in the air. His committee needs time to read the thousand pages he’s written or some sh*t like that. Can’t they just nod and go to their happy place like I do and sign something that says “yeah, whatever, sounds good, nice work!”? The point is that the patience that I had allocated to get me through one last semester of nonstop thinking anxiety about what the job market will hold for him and him stressing 24/7 about final edits and graphics and keeping up with all the department and graduation paperwork, and Oh yeah that whole what the F*CK to do after graduation needs to be spread out even more. Our idea that we would be able to reclaim more work-life balance and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff has been pushed out to an even more distant horizon.

I’ve been doing my best to deal with that. Deep down I’m pissed. But deep, DEEP down, I’m still pissed but also part of me is the tiniest bit relieved that he won’t graduate until May because 1) it will look less bad to not have a job a year from now when you’ve only been unemployed since May (on paper anyway) and 2) the job market BLOWS so who cares? What’s the rush? The past couple of years, the academic job market has been great solidly not sucky in his field. If you’re a bioarchaeologist. (He’s not). This year it seems to be decent marginally not sucky if you’re a cultural anthropologist. (He’s not). But it doesn’t stop my brain from leaping ahead and connecting the dots unnecessarily. When the job alerts that we’re subscribed to come in, I find myself going “would I even entertain living THERE? what about our house, what about our kids, what about my job?” before I even get to “Desired Qualifications: Active research agenda in race and ethnicity, sociolinguistics, and award winning publications in the economic exchange systems of Sons of Anarchy.” I mean, come ON! Now if it were just Game of Thrones Beheadings he’d stand a chance… But at least the piecing together consulting + adjuncting work here is the devil we know, the job market is a complete unknown.

What’s made all that harder even still to deal with has been just a lot of adjustments in my personal life. This time around, I’m really feeling the isolating effects of having a baby. Part of it is I have very little energy left over after a long workday & two kiddos 3 and under, so I can’t summon the energy to think about what there is to go do, nevermind go do it. I’m just tired. All. The. Time. Also, just the timing of where our kids are at socially. Baby is at the peak of separation anxiety and requires being held at all of the times. So it’s just not all that fun to go out with them – I have to hold him. And when we do go out, Dawdler Toddler Preschooler stands frozen in place, clinging to my legs because she’s around “strangers” (i.e., anyone she doesn’t live with), so I can maybe get in 90 seconds of adult conversation at a time. And we almost never, EVER get to go out without them – it’s just too much money for a sitter when you’re only one full-time income and have 2 kids in daycare and no family nearby to dump the kids off with. I think we’ve been out once without the kids since Baby was born. Which will be a year ago in 3 weeks. (Or should I also count the time we used a sitter for us to have a date night the night I was IN THE HOSPITAL GIVING BIRTH? So twice then?)

Part of it is just the rhythm of life with a baby (not just particular to our current financial & geographical circumstances). You find yourself housebound when the baby’s asleep. In other words during the very same block of time you could be getting something done, you’re stranded inside your home seeing as Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on leaving the little ones at home alone while you run errands. Thank God for the interwebz…but there’s only so much shopping and reading and movie watching you can get done online. Amazon’s not all that convenient when it’s milk you need FOR YOUR COFFEE or library books to return. And when you can venture forth, you’re got a little person (or in my case, two) attached at the hip, so heading to that new movie you’re dying to see or out with friends for a beer is not in the cards. And even if you can get out every once in awhile, social things can just be such a pain in the ass when you have to lug around a diaper bag stuffed with diapers, changes of clothes, hats, sunscreen…I’m cranky just typing a list never mind hauling it all around. As a result, all my “free” time becomes the spare moments I have for errands + gym + fun. In other words: no time left for fun 99% of the time.

And do I even need to mention life in Arizona during the summer? It might be fall where you are, but here it’s still 109 out there. Or so I hear, since I am too scared to peek out through the blackout curtains. People hole up indoors and/or take a bunch of time off to get the hell away from the Death Star. It should go without saying that I’ve been avoiding Face-stagram all summer because I’m seething with jealousy at all my friends’ trips to California, Hawaii, the beach, hikes in Flagstaff, and everywhere else that isn’t 109. So between the isolation of being at home with Baby and being indoors while it seems like the ENTIRE rest of the world is out having a blast has taken its toll. I guess while much of the rest of you get seasonal affective disorder from gray wintry days, I get it here from all the sun. I like a nice sunny day here & there. But it’s hard to appreciate when you’re living on the surface of the sun. It is relentless – brandishing a hole in my retinas and a deep resentment in my skin expressed by eleventeen million new freckles every month. I need weather. I need seasons. I could more easily accommodate living here if I ever got to escape and experience weather that would make me more appreciative of what I’d be coming back to. But since we’re still living the grad school life, there are no funds to get us out of here from time to time. Since I’m long winded today, I’ll also save you the details of our car troubles, too. As in: much of the summer spent WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING in our one and only functioning vehicle. Bottom line: it’s hard to get out of the house, which feels really isolating.

You know what else feels isolating? Not being in sync with your friends. Our closest friends have all moved in the last 2 years. Every. Last. One. And now I’m struggling with knowing where to find our kind of peeps. We find ourselves gravitating more and more towards hanging out with the parents of our Dawdler Toddler Preschooler’s friends because if nothing else, they get the whole kids thing. The whole there is a naptime and a bedtime, and it’s tough to get out during those times and no, we can’t wait til 11-ish on a Sunday at a hip restaurant for an hour to have breakfast because we’d all be dying from our kids’ whining us to death from low blood sugar. I’ve been trying to make new friends at work. And, uh. Yeah, see? That’s about the only place I go besides the gym. But, it’s slow and hard, and y’know, just takes time even when you do make a work friend. Which I haven’t really yet.

So I’ve been holding it all together. Trying to just make my way from work to the gym to daycare. Repeat. It’s been going o-kaaayyyyy, I guess, but not great. I think that all of these things will get better soon. But I just don’t know when “soon” is.

So That’s Where Summer’s Been: Indoors with the Rest of Us

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, every year I reach my breaking point. When I am just completely out of patience with the heat. By mid to late September every year I find myself thinking “Where in the HELL has summer gone?” as darkness falls earlier every day. But then I quickly realize “Oh wait. It was here.” It’s just that what I think of as summer – a season designed to spend as much time outdoors as possible – stopped by here way back in February or March. Then it just gets too hot to leave the air conditioning.

But finally, things have turned. (Shhhh! I don’t want the sun to hear me and plot its final revenge of the year). This week the highs are below 100 for the first time in months.

Sh*t. I think it did hear me, because as I looked up the forecast to confirm that’s still the case, the weekend highs are over 100, but just barely, so I’m still going to tentatively mark this one in the win column.

Still. Last night, we went for the first of many nightly walks (now that it’s not blisteringly hot), we found that EVERYONE has been going stircrazy with staying indoors. Normally, even once it gets dark, I’ll see AT MOST 2 other people out & about at the park – usually walking their dog quickly before retreating back indoors. But last night, we saw no fewer than 38 people at our humble little neighborhood park. THIRTY EIGHT. A soccer game, a father teaching his son to throw a football, a family throwing a frisbee around, a family grilling some burgers, little ones playing on the playground equipment, and people just out having a nice night. In other words: all the activities I associate with summer, and always will, despite where I happen to live now, where the summer months are associated only with alternating between complaining about the heat and making a game of who can stay indoors more or log more hours floating around endlessly in a pool.

So if you’re looking for me, Baby & I will be in the park. Or out on a walk. Or off on a bike ride. Anything we can do to be outdoors until next summer arrives. Which, I expect to be around next February.

In Which I Gain 7 lbs in One Week

In addition to being sick, it has been too goddamn hot to set foot outside my front door. So I’ve not been going for the daily walks I so look forward to once summer is over. The September equinox may have signaled fall’s arrival to the rest of the country, but here it just means that in another month or so I might be able to part the blackout curtains that are drawn all summer long. Which, here, is at least 5 months long, give or take. (Please take, by the way. TAKE IT AWAY. I daydream that some southern hemisphere equivalent of a Nordic god will come and throw his reins around the sun and drag it kicking and screaming right where it belongs: safely underground until further notice. Or maybe Vermont since I hear it’s not all that sunny there? Maybe they could borrow it for awhile…) I get that I should expect it to still be this hot since I live on the surface of the sun but I am just over it. Every year I reach my breaking point, and this year, as always, it comes in September when it should not still be 107 (as it has been all week). I would be shaking my fist skyward as I say that but that would mean I’d have to expose my incredibly fair, delicate skin to even more sun damage. Where fair and delicate should be read as “formerly fair & delicate but now permanently sun-damaged and prematurely aged.”

In addition to being too sick and wiped out to brave the heat to get exercise, I’ve also been too wiped out to make multiple meals, which means we’ve been meal planning around Baby. Bad idea, as she has grown quite picky. Proper meals of a protein and vegetables – grilled chicken with vegetables, a lovely salad with fish – are all out of the question. She won’t eat any meat at all, nor most vegetables. She’s an utter carbitarian. A fruitivore. This means that our menus for the past week have looked something like this:

  • Mac’n’cheese
  • Spaghetti
  • Stuffed shells with pesto
  • Grilled cheese
  • Quesadillas
  • Leftovers of all of the above, served with sides of fruit and cheese

On top of everything else, now I’ve got another issue to tackle this week: our dryer seems to be on the fritz. All of our pants seem to be shrinking…

Shaking My Fist Skyward

So after this weekend of 105+, I take back pretty much everything I’ve ever said about “So what it’s hot! It’s hot everywhere because it’s summer. Just adjust accordingly!” Fate, you cruel bitch. I surrender.

I attempted to entertain Baby but she got bored (as did I). Here was our itinerary Saturday:

Our afternoon walk around the hood? Too hot, so that’s out. How about playing with your bear? Bored already? Here’s your lamb! Ok, let’s read a book…or 8. Still no good? Let’s listen to music while you crawl around…what’s that noise? Oh Jesus. She’s trying to eat a diaper. Luckily it’s a clean one. Wanna go swing in your…oh, no. it’s too hot out there and your swing is in the sun. You wanna go to…um….hmmm…the mall, I guess? What do you mean people watching doesn’t entertain you longer than 30 minutes? Sigh. Let’s go…um…well….home, I guess.

Remember your bear? Oh, right. You’re bored with him. Well, try it for awhile while I google playgrounds. Oh, City of Tempe, why is your website so anti-informational?! I can see that you have playgrounds but no info about any of them – do they have baby swings or just big kid equipment? Are they shaded?  Let’s just go drive around and see.

Hmmm. No luck but at least you’re down for a nap. Jesus. I’m starving. I could really go for a burrito. Hey! There’s a burrito place on the other end of Kiwanis Park. OMG! It has a drive thru! “Phone pickup orders only?!” Fine. I will pull over, look up your website & phone in my order from 5′ away. Oh, c’mon people. Your menu is a PDF that won’t open on my phone – time for a redesign, seeing as it’s 2012, guys. Forget it.

And that was just Saturday. I googled Saturday night looking for activities in preparation for Sunday. There are indoor playgrounds…at $9 a head and nowhere near me, so that’s out. The children’s museum online reviews say it’s a madhouse on weekends and toddlers beware.

Sunday, I decided to take her swimming. City of Tempe – WTF? The only pool you have open before May is the wave pool, and @ $7, kinda steep for a public pool. At least it’s indoors. But the waves are bigger than I envisioned – way too ‘scary’ for her, when she’s scared of the pool in the first place. Looking online, there is only other public pool open this weekend. Too bad it’s practically in Queen Creek, but hey, we got no other ideas, why not? After a 25 minute drive, it’s a 20 minute line to get in. Once we got in, it’s a f*ckin free for all. Parents not watching their kids who were practically running over Baby and definitely splashing her in the face. Thanks, little Assholes. We left after 15 minutes of ‘fun.’

So, yeah. I surrender. I have no idea wtf to do w/ her this summer. From what I read online, you get the same sort of Lord of the Flies experience at baby splashpads, other pools, & indoor playgrounds. Baby storytime at the public library? Tuesday afternoons in Tempe, Tuesday mornings in Mesa, Tuesday mornings in Chandler, Tuesday mornings in Scottsdale (are we seeing a pattern?) Did you know that more than 73% of moms are working moms? Cuz apparently public libraries don’t. (I realize that work isn’t always M-F but, c’mon).

I give up. This summer is going to be like Groundhog day.

Unsettled

Ever since we’ve moved here, I’ve been missing my former city of Flagstaff (and Nashville before that). It’s not just the heat, although that is pretty unbearable. And it’s not just that this desert landscape still registers not as what it is but as what it is not – namely not the lush, verdant Tennessee that I grew up with. It’s difficult to articulate, especially to folks who haven’t had the displeasure of living here, but it’s a lot of little things that add up to making it a tough place to like. It’s so big and spread out that the scale of the place can make it feel like you need to pack a lunch to get anywhere. There is an absence of the rhythm of distinct seasons. And there’s no real sense of place or identity for Phoenix. I guess some cities, like Tempe, have made strides to carve out some sense of place, but it seems very inorganic and artificial. Tempe seems to think of itself as a college town. To some degree I suppose that’s true…but the words ‘college town’ evoke something very different to me than a major public university with more than 70,000 students.

All of that makes it hard to find people you have stuff in common with (which was especially difficult for me when I worked for tiny nonprofit museums).  And it’s disharmonious for me to live in a place characterized by sprawl, exurbs, and materialism when those aren’t my values. I could give you all sorts of anecdotes that strive to illustrate why I don’t really feel like this is home, but I fear that those might just sound like I’m grumpy. Besides, what I think is perhaps more telling is the bullseye observation from the New York Times 36 Hours in Phoenix piece that states, “Even long-timers have a tough time explaining the city’s appeal.”

So. True.

The root of the problem is that there are no anchors. You’re not anchored by your city. Even the (smaller) cities like Tempe that comprise the greater Phoenix metropolitan area are still so large that it’s hard to carve out a sense of community or find your like-minded peeps. Tempe has a population of about 160,000 – a big difference from Flagstaff’s 50,000. And that’s not even taking into consideration the other 4 million people here in the greater metropolitan area. You’re not anchored by any larger sense of shared values.

You’re not anchored by work. In the 6 years I’ve lived here, I’ve worked for 3 places that had fewer than 4 employees each, and, not surprisingly, found I had little to nothing in common with most of those coworkers. I now work at ASU, which has more than 10,000 employees, but in a department of 6 that barely intersects with any of the remaining 9,994 folks, making it hard to meet people. And I worked for one museum that, by virtue of having greater than 1 but fewer than 10,000 coworkers gave me a fighting chance of having something in common with my coworkers.

You’re not anchored by your neighborhood. All the homes, by law in Tempe, have 6′ cinder block walls around each yard, making every home a fortress of solitude that outwardly symbolizes the insularity of folks here. In fact, the only people I can think of who do like it here are anchored by family who live here too.

I don’t mean to sound all negative – there are things that I do love here: some awesome restaurants, the wildflowers during the rainy winters, the ability to take walks all winter long, the friends I’ve made here, the people I share a home with, and the, um…well…hmmm.

Reason #4 I Love My New Job

Two words: air conditioning.

Now I will be the first to admit that my pregnancy weight gain hasn’t exactly made me a hot-air balloon…yet, but then again, I could have stood to lose some weight to begin with. But I’ve really tried my hardest to clean up my bad eating habits while pregnant – I didn’t want gestational diabetes on my hands, the mere thought terrified me, in fact. And becoming pregnant seemed to be just what I needed to snap me out of my sh*tty eating habits, even if only temporarily – that baby didn’t need cheez-its, it needed vegetables. It didn’t need diet coke, it needed water. And it didn’t need ice cream. Oh wait, yeah it still needed that. But that you must forgive me for. It is F*cking hotter than hell here year-round after all. And when you’re pregnant? Even if you don’t live in Phoenix, it is hotter than hell everywhere you go. Even in the over air conditioned indoors.

That’s one thing I really hate about living here. It seems like almost anywhere you go here, people WAY overcompensate for the heat outdoors by leaving their air conditioning at frigid temps. Just because it’s 120 outside doesn’t mean I need it to be 68 inside…

Well, usually anyway. But these days? Feels GREAT. Case in point: my cubicle at my new job is right under the air-conditioning vent, and every last one of my coworkers complains about how they are FREEEEZING all the time. And I’m thinking “yeah, isn’t it AWESOME?!” When I wander away from my cube, I feel like I’m right back in the Tennessee humidity & heat in July as I sweat through whatever I’m wearing in a matter of seconds. One of my biggest worries about starting a new job this pregnant was how I’d be able to sit still for 9 hours a day – due to not only the physical discomforts that accompany sitting but also my mind being almost completely distracted by getting ready for Baby! Luckily, I find that it’s easy to sit under this arctic blast all day while I work mentally prep for Baby.

I Scream

Maybe it’s because Phoenix is hotter than the surface of the sun. Or maybe it’s just that it’s the yummiest stuff ever, but I LOVE ice cream in the summer. I haven’t had any crazy pregnancy cravings, but I could really go for some fudge ripple ice cream. So I went out to get some, and…Lost. my. mind.

OMG. They do not make fudge ripple anymore. WTF, people?!

Swollen Summer

What’s it like living in the Arizona desert? Well, the first thing is the heat. Saying it’s hot is a bit like saying Bill Gates has money. True, but not nearly descriptive enough. The cliché is that it’s a dry heat. Yeah. So dry that water gets sucked out of the ground, leaving dissolved minerals known as caliche, an impenetrable layer, behind.

And so hot it’s like living on the surface of the sun. The first time I came to Phoenix was for a baseball game and it was 118°. Another time I burned my hand on my seat belt after getting in my car to leave the store. And the empty plastic Starbucks cup I left in my car’s cup holder? Melted.

But it’s not just the heat. It’s also the intensity of the sun. It’s sunny 295 days each year. I like to joke that people who don’t wear sunscreen every single day are turning themselves into human jerky. Or pleather.

It also makes it hard for me to tell what time of year it is. Flowers strained by the Death Star just bloomed a week or so ago. There’s no leaves crunching under my feet, and the morning’s “chill” simply means I gotta close my sunroof once in a while. It feels like an endless summer since I moved here, like someone forgot to tell Phoenix that it’s actually fall.