Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

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.

Got Chuckle?

Does anyone have a recipe for homemade chloroform? I ask because I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. Insomnia + exhaustion is a bad combination.

By the way, how do I know homemade chloroform even exists? Because I still remember a story My Better Half told me about a long time ago, where a friend of his figured out how to make it and called his homemade concoction “Chuckle” because the chemical makeup was something like CHCl or something. If you know how to score some, let me know. Til then I’ll be self medicating my insomnia with listening to the most boring podcasts I can find.

Vacation recap

Yesterday was my last day of vacation staycation off. I just don’t know what to call it. It’s probably no secret that a vacation with two kids 3 and under is hardly restful, so while calling it a vacation is wrong, even the “-cation” part of staycation just rubs me the wrong way. Here are some handy reminders that I may need to review when planning our next trip to ensure sanity next time around:

  • If at all possible, avoid making the first day of your time off a 19 hour day of packing, travel with the two kids 3 & under, trying to coax the two kids to sleep in unfamiliar beds and surroundings, and picking up all members of the party.
  • When hiking, make sure none of the children goes too far ahead, potentially selecting the wrong trailhead. You know, that one that goes 600 miles to the Mexican border? Avoid that happening.
  • Keep in mind that all sightseeing road trips are for everyone else. You will be spending every stop feeding a child, calming a child, or helping a child use the bathroom.
  • But fear not! You will have plenty of time to sightsee blue skies and trees from inside while you man your station at the kitchen sink, where you will be stranded doing dishes for 9 people, 4 of whom graze throughout the day, requiring an endless supply of clean dishes.
  • Be sure and eat out as much as possible at restaurants you’ve been dying to try. Because restaurants are tons of fun with kids 3 & under, am I right?! You may not get to eat the food you ordered your Better Half selects for you (because you’re not given the chance to read a menu nor are you around when orders are taken) until hours later but you’ll be sure to enjoy the ambiance of the potties, on account of the parade of children who decide one after another, but never simultaneously, that a trip to the potty is necessary.
  • Bring a bottomless supply of coffee because you will get no naps. None.
  • And/Or bring benadryl for the children.
  • And/Or BYOB. So you can doctor up your coffee so you can prevent yourself from becoming a total witch to your family. You won’t be going anywhere most days anyway.
  • The day your time off ends, you will get to go to bed at 6:00 p.m., though and sleep a glorious 11 hours. And it will not be enough.

A fieldwork widow

The spring semester has wound down, and My Better Half™ decided after much deliberation to accept an offer of summer archaeological fieldwork. Normally this wouldn’t even be an option, as the typical fieldwork schedule is 10 days away, 4 days at home, repeat. If you’re lucky. But this year there happens to  be a project within driving distance of where we live, so every morning he reports to the office at 5 a.m., commutes from there to the site, and then returns home at the end of each day.

I’ll do my best to contain my enthusiasm. Because despite the extra income which is helpful necessary, this still presents many challenges. Here’s just one of them: his 5 a.m. start time, for instance. If the Dawdler Toddler would actually go to sleep when we put her to bed at 8:00 p.m., My Better Half™ would stand a chance at up to 8 hours sleep as long as two additional conditions are also met:

  • Baby also cooperates and sleeps through the night (which has yet to happen, ever).
  • Fairy Godmother pulls her weight and relieves us of the nightly household work of packing lunches and doing dishes and putting away laundry and shuttling Dawdler Toddler back to bed after each and every attempt to delay bedtime.

All in all, this means on any given night, My Better Half™ can expect to get somewhere between 0 and 6 hours sleep before reporting for highly physical labor. And once I’ve slept in til Baby’s natural alarm at 5:00 a.m., I get to get the kids up, clothed, fed, and loaded in the truck for daycare drop off before I report to work, only to repeat all that in reverse at the end of each day, exhausted.

Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m dreading the rest of fieldwork season unnecessarily. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t yet had any coffee. Or maybe it’s more that last night presented what I know to be a typical case study. We were up 4 times between 9:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. with Baby, who was uncharacteristically fussy and inconsolable. By the time Baby finally got up at 5:20 a.m., desperately needing a diaper change, I discovered that we had no diapers. None. Not in the house, not stashed in the back of his sister’s closet, not in the diaper bag, not in the truck. So poor Dawdler Toddler also got to wake at an unnaturally early hour to start her day, because last I checked Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on me leaving my kids at home to dash to the store to grab diapers. This may be just the kick in the ass that I needed to change my outlook on adjuncting to note how accommodating it is in allowing for co-parenting and equitable division of household duties. Or maybe it will just make me hate fieldwork more than I already did.

Uninspired. Or just plain tired.

I’m sitting here staring at my monitor ready to write a post. Why? Not because I have anything to say but because I have, for the 1st time today, 20 minutes or so to myself before I collapse in exhaustion.

Between working a full-time job and taking care of a 10 month old without a single full night of sleep in more than 10 months, I feel drained. Creatively. And physically. Spent, in every way. The time to write & the moments of inspiration just do not coincide. And when I do have time, like now, I flip to “inspiration, saved for later” and find…nothing.

I guess the good news is that it’s starting to dawn on me that perhaps the two (sleep deprivation/fatigue, and inspiration, lack of) are related….

Unfiltered Thoughts: The Workday

Am I the only one who views the workday as an impediment to the sh*t I want to and need to get done? Instead of sitting here for 8 hours I would rather:

  • finish my Photoshop Mother’s Day project
  • finish the art I started 7 months ago for my daughter’s nursery
  • finish start at least one of the three books I got from the library
  • watch another episode of Luther
  • nap

And, for those of you who are counting, in addition to the pet projects I would like to get done, I also need to:

  • fold and put away laundry
  • buy a robot vacuum / floor cleaner mop
  • figure out something to make for dinner that isn’t one of the 5 same old, same old recipes in my repertoire of late
  • nap.

A Problem Only for Upper Middle Class Moms

I started my new job almost a year ago, when I was six months pregnant. And within a couple weeks, my new boss connected me with a woman who works here who had just come back from maternity leave. I went up to talk with her one afternoon because she’d just enrolled her daughter in the same daycare we were considering. We compared notes on the daycare, and, naturally, touched base on a lot of other baby-related issues: hospitals and birth, pumping at work, and, of course, sleep. She told me the following anecdote:

“We had our first overnight away from the baby when she was about 3 months old. My in-laws kept her while my husband and I just went down the block and checked into a hotel. Right after check-in, we ordered room service, took a tylenol PM, and slept for, like, 12 hours.” I thought she was kidding. Thing is: she wasn’t kidding. One of my friends says to me, frequently, and with pity, “I always tell [our other friend] how bad I feel for you guys because you don’t have any family here, so you’ve never really had time away from Baby! I’m SO sorry! It must be really difficult.” Is it hard? You betcha. Is it worth every sleep deprived moment? Absolutely. Would we give anything for a night of uninterrupted sleep, since it’s been nine months without so much as a night off?

Sorry, had to get another cup of coffee.

Yes.

But let’s keep this in context. Do you really think that moms around the world feel sorry for themselves because they can’t get a night off? Do you think that moms across the US have the luxury to entertain the thought of getting a full night’s sleep, nevermind in a ritzy resort where they get room service and a pedicure and facial the next day? We certainly don’t. Clearly a first world problem. Especially in this sh*tty-ass economy.

Our world has been turned upside down, but in all the right ways. We are blessed with a healthy, adorable, loving, curious, funny, happy Baby. We couldn’t be luckier. So we’ll have to put up with being  sleep deprived and caffeine-dependant until she sleeps through the night since we don’t have someone who can take her. If that’s the biggest problem we have, we’re doing pretty damn well. We’ll just keep brewing more coffee so we can keep up with her.

Best Argument I’ve Ever Heard for Going to Church

After a nearly sleepless night, during which baby slept no more than one continuous hour at a stretch, with long droughts of zero sleep in between, I was racking my sleep-deprived brain for things to do with baby today. I don’t really have any friends with babies nearby, so I can’t just call on one of them to hang out at their place. I’ve been on walk after walk after walk and it’s not even 10 a.m. Plus it looks like it’s going to rain any second. The malls don’t open til 11 and I don’t have any money anyway, even though they are indoor spaces to walk gawk at people. The zoo and the desert botanical garden are outrageously expensive, and given that baby is sick, we would probably have to forfeit most of a visit anyway, so I don’t feel like that expense is justified.

And that’s when My Better Half™ said “You know what is indoors and has free babysitting and is open this time and is free? Church!” Note to self: gotta find out timing of nearby church services for next Sunday. I think if I time it right, I could go from one service to the next, drop baby in babysitting for each service, and get in two naps! Followed by donuts.