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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 15: The Joys and Sorrows of Book Recommendations

Well, it's been a couple of months since our last one (my fault, I've had the crazy schedule lately), but Amy and I are back with another episode of The Book Blab. You guys, this one was seriously so much fun to record, we both had such funny stories about book recommendations gone awry! I'd love to hear your own stories in the comments. Also, apologies for the less than stellar lighting. We had to film at night because, once again, my schedule is crazy. Enjoy!


Show Notes

0:20 - Suzanne's new PhD program
1:35 - Today's topic: the perilous territory of making and receiving book recommendations
2:30 - Personal experiences with bad book recommendations
  • 3:00 - Suzanne's experience
  • 5:20 - Amy's experience
7:25 - How to handle a book recommendation that you didn't like
10:28 - The joy that comes from getting a good recommendation

  • 11:10 - Suzanne's experience
  • 11:50 - Amy's experience
13:25 - The anxiety of giving a book recommendation (but we love making recommendations anyway!)
15:40 - Suzanne's book recommendation gone wrong
18:20 - The times we've forced a book on someone, and it's gone over well
  • 19:00 - Amy's experience
  • 20:05 - Suzanne's experience
20:53 - The moral of this discussion
22:40 - Two seasonally appropriate reads for October
  • 23:30 - Suzanne's reccomendation
  • 24:50 - Amy's recommendation
28:08 - Conclusion

Books and links mentioned in the show:

Suzanne's recent post about time: Never Enough Time
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (Amy's review)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Suzanne's review)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Suzanne's review // Amy's review)
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Suzanne's review // Episode 6 of The Book Blab)
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Amy's review)
The God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens (Suzanne's review)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Suzanne's review
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Amy's review)

Friday, October 6, 2017

What Makes an Author?


I'm teaching English 101, the freshman writing course, this semester. It's been fascinating. So many things have changed since I took my own freshman writing course over 10 years ago.

The textbook we are using in my course is title Everyone's an Author, and we spent our first day of class reading the introduction and discussing whether the title is a true statement. Is everyone an author?

The authors of the textbook put forward an argument in the introduction that anyone who participates in social media or interacts online (which is basically everyone these days) is an author because they compose, "publish," and create work that has an audience (namely, whichever friends and family follow them, but potentially the world, since anything these days can go viral).

But while my students "publish" writing all the time to social media, very few of them felt like they could legitimately call themselves "writers," let alone something so endowed with cultural meaning as the word "author." During our discussion, I was able to pull out some of my own research interest knowledge and talk about how the invention of the printing press changed the way we view authorship culturally. Before the printing press, when anyone wealthy or lucky enough to find themselves in possession of a quill and parchment could write, the word "author" held a different meaning than it does today. In point of fact, it was much more closely related to the word "authority" (and it's not terribly hard to see how those two words are etymologically connected). An author was simply anyone who had the skill, the knowledge, the ability to write with "authority." Chaucer was an author because of his mastery of the (middle) English language. He could write with skill, he could write with authority, therefore he was an author.

Then the printing press came along, and things changed. Over time, printing press owners and then publishers became gatekeepers of the term "author," awarding it only to those writers they selected and allowed to move into print. No matter your level of skill or mastery of a subject, you could not call yourself an author until someone else, someone with the "authority" of a publishing house behind them, bestowed that title upon you.

In today's world of technology and social media, however, that is changing. Now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can "publish" almost anything they want, from tweets to novels, and find an audience who will read them. The publishing house's role as gate-keeper is becoming narrower and narrower (although, it still pretty firmly exists). The term "author" is being applied to blog writers, people who self-publish novels, or those who write fan-fic. Our definition of who is an author is loosening, expanding, reforming with our technology.

But the point I put forward to my classes in our discussion is that I believe, in our new age of online publishing, the term "author" will need to revert to it's root connection to "authority." Yes, anyone can write whatever they want and post it over every social media account they want, but you should only be able to call yourself an "author" if you write from a position of "authority," a position of mastery and skill over the English language. And my goal for each of them, by the end of the term, is to help them gain that mastery and skill over the English language so that they can feel comfortable with claiming that mantle of "authority," so that they can truly consider themselves "authors."

But do I even consider myself an author? I, who only write in this small corner of the blogosphere, with my small and limited audience (hi, mom!). Do I even consider myself a writer? It's hard to claim those terms for myself. It feels like someone else, someone with "authority" needs to award those terms to me with a publishing contract and a book in print.

But at the same time, I do feel like I write with some skill, with some level of mastery (if I didn't feel that way, I sure would feel uncomfortable in my role as writing instructor at a public university). I do feel like this little hobby of mine, this little blog thing, however small my audience may be, is actually for an audience! People read my words! Doesn't that make me an author, at least in some sense?

I believe it does, and so I just want to say thank you. Thank you for coming here, for reading my words (however unskilled and unpolished they sometimes are). Thank you for participating in this space that brings me so much satisfaction and joy. Thanks for making me feel like in some small way, I can claim the title of "author."

Monday, October 2, 2017

Books I Read in September

You guys, my commute to school these days is loooong. I'm spending quite a bit of money on gas, and it's only a matter of time before I get pulled over because not a day goes by I haven't seen flashing lights somewhere on my drive (this portion of K-10 seems to be over-monitored, in my personal opinion).

But! I don't even mind, because two things: 1.) My drive is surprisingly pretty (in that Kansas, golden corn-field, sunflower, rolling green meadow kind of way). This may change come winter, but right now I'm loving the views. And 2.), you guessed it, the audio books. I made it through five books in September thanks to that commute, and some of them were quite good. So, let's jump in.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Unfortunately, this was not one of the good ones. I mean, the description of it sounds good. Librarians? Mysterious and beautiful old books? Mermaids and traveling circuses and magic? It kind of sounded exactly like my thing. Alas, it failed to deliver, and my general recommendation is to skip this one. I just found it rather boring and uninteresting. I failed to care about any of the characters, the mystery at the center was obvious, there were plot-holes, and there was some content that just made this one not that enjoyable.



Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

This one! Epistolary novel at its best! So this is written from the perspective of an older creative writing professor at a second-rate university where funding keeps getting cut and the building is falling apart around the poor, neglected English department. Having long given up on his own career ambitions as a novelist, and beset by numerous requests for various letters of recommendations (LORs) from students and faculty alike, Professor Jason Fitzger uses these letters as his outlet for creative writing. The result is hilarious. Maybe I found it so enjoyable because of my current re-entry into the world of academia, but this one was just so much fun. I highly recommend (with the caveat that there is a little bit of language at some points).

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Backman strikes again. I just don't even have words to describe how powerful this one is. I mean, it's incredible. It was masterfully written, and I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time. The only reason it will not replace Ove as my favorite Backman is because the content is quite a bit darker, and the language considerably rougher, and therefore it is a harder, less enjoyable read. I just can't even believe how realistic Backman makes his characters, and how much sympathy he made me feel for everyone in this story. And there are some horrible people in this story! The one complaint I had is that at the end, the resolution felt a little too poetic, a little too... satisfying? I have a hard time explaining what I mean by that without giving away major plot points, and I simply don't want to spoil this for anyone. But if you've read it, I'd love to chat with you about it.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

This one was just a complete delight. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just my kind of historical fiction, as the tone and style feels like it could've been written in early 19th Century England. Except there are dragons. What fun! The characters and dragon lore and everything were very carefully crafted and this was just a super enjoyable read. My only complaint is that there wasn't a romance (everything is better with a romance), which I kind of understand given the circumstances, but I still wanted one. I'm tempted to read the next in the series (although, holy toledo there are like, nine books! Ugh!), but the plot preview doesn't leave much room for a romance in that one either, so, kind of less motivated. Anyway, still a fun, solid recommend.

The Hate U Give  by Angie Thomas

I suggested this one (before reading it) for my virtual book club, and after reading it I'm kind of super horrified because SO! MUCH! SWEARING! I mean, it's a YA book, and while there's generally been an increase in swearing in contemporary YA, this is way, way, way more swearing than I've probably read in any book ever. That being said, the swearing is all super realistic, and the book for certain would not be as authentic or believable without it. Still, just be warned before you begin, should you choose to read this one. And, despite the cussing, I do still recommend this one. It is a powerful, powerful book about very current controversial racial issues (the main character witnesses a police shooting of her friend), and I'm actually excited to talk about it with my book club because there is so much to talk about. The characters in this book are amazing, there is a lot of funny humor in between the horrible stuff, and I learned so much I didn't know before about people who have a very different life than mine (the point of reading diverse books). There is a reason this is a best seller right now, and I agree that it deserves it's place and should be read and talked about. But yeah, so much language. So, so much language. Just don't listen to it on audio (which I did, because that's the only way I can read books right now, so I know from experience that it's not a good idea, even though the narrator gives a fabulous voice to all the characters).

Anyhoo, what was your September reading like? Read any of these ones before? I'd love to chat about them if you have!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Never Enough Time


Today is my birthday, and I'm giving myself the present of time to write a post here. It's been a while, and I've missed writing here terribly. But I'm still having quite a bit of trouble adjusting to my new schedule. I'm hoping it's just a this semester problem, I'm hoping things will settle down a bit and I'll get more efficient at all my new responsibilities and be able to breathe a little bit more often. But this past month has just been... intense.

I recently read a post on social media from a friend. She's a stay-at-home-mom, and another working mom had made a comment to her about how much time she must have for things. She was arguing back that stay-at-home moms work too, it's not all sitting around eating bon-bons and watching TV.

This debate is as old as... I don't know. Whenever moms started working outside the home regularly. Who has it harder? Who works more?

I've been a mother for almost six years now, and the vast majority of that time I've been and considered myself a stay-at-home mom. Even when I was a "full-time" student working on my master's degree, I wasn't gone for more than 15 hours a week, which hours-wise is less than part-time. I spent way more time "mothering" than I did studying. I was a mother first, a student second.

But this PhD thing is different. I'm outside the home 30 hours a week, twice as much as before. Technically, that is still less than full-time, but it's still been a HUGE difference. I'm not just a student now with classes and homework, I'm also a GTA. I'm a teacher, designing lesson plans and holding office hours and grading papers and getting paid (pittance, but I'm still getting paid). For the past month I have felt not just like a student mom, but like a working mom. And my time... my time as a working mom looks so different than it did as a stay-at-home mom.

But do I think working moms have it harder?

Here's the thing about time. We talk about time as if it is a standard thing that everyone experiences the same, but that just isn't true. Time moves so differently depending on your situation, your expectations, your desires, your emotions. Here's what I can say about my experience with time as a stay-at-home-mom and as a working mom.

As a stay-at-home mom, I spent a lot more time with my younger children. I spent more time preparing their meals, making home-made baby food, cooking meals from scratch, cleaning the dishes. I spent more time going to story-time at the library, play dates at the park, and hanging out with other moms of children my age. I had time to do a pre-school co-op, reading lessons, and home-school activities. I had more time to play with my children. Every moment of that time with my children felt loaded with deep, deep value. I was doing the most important work I could be doing, and it was hard but so valuable.

But I also spent more time in mind-numbing negotiation with toddlers. I spent so much time not being able to enjoy a coherent thought because of the constant chatter, the constant demands on my time. There was always a diaper to be changed, a snack to be dispensed, a baby to nurse, a toy to fix, something that had to be done right this minute or it would lead to a total meltdown. And all the luxurious time to run errands? Well, if I could time it right and get out the door in that perfect fifteen minute window after the baby's nap but before we needed to be home for lunch, then maybe I could get to the store. But if we missed that window, it meant the outing would inevitably end in tears.

As a working mom, however, I have time to think complete thoughts. I can sit for an entire hour in my office and not be interrupted. I can focus on reading an article with complex ideas without trying to block a constant stream of toddler chatter and requests and destruction in the back ground. I have time to listen to audio books during my commute. I spend six hours every day in clothes that have no spit-up on them and are not nursing friendly. I spend time doing my hair, wearing make-up, and wearing my contacts every day. I spend hours talking to other adults who talk back to me with intelligent thoughts, and we are not distracted by someone smearing spaghetti sauce on the walls or throwing toys at the baby's head. Spending my time this way feels incredibly luxurious, almost selfish even. I feel like I do not deserve it.

But also, as a a working mom, I cannot find the time to go grocery shopping. I cannot find the time to make baby food from scratch. I cannot find the time to go to the library, or play dates with other mothers. I feel so cut off from the other mothers in my area, because if I didn't meet them in the two months before I started school, I feel like there's no hope now. I have no time for this blog, for photography, for all those other hobbies I love and used to fill my evenings with. I haven't watched a TV show since before school started. I don't check social media any more. I get way less sleep.

And then there are those other things about my time now, the kind that just add to my guilt. Like how the nanny taught my two-year-old how to spell his name, or how I watched the video on my phone of the first time my daughter pulled herself up to a standing position because I wasn't there in person to see it. Or about how the birthday present that my husband gave me this year was to take all the kids over to grandma and grandpa's house for the night so I could spend one night without being woken by the baby, one morning sleeping in without children chatter. And it was amazing, and glorious, and I feel so much better after getting nine hours of sleep for the first time since... I don't even know when, but also somewhat guilty that the only present I wanted was to spend more time away from my children. (My baby woke my husband at 3 AM and 5:30 AM, so I'm more glad than not, it was a lovely present.)

I have felt stretched so thin these past few weeks. I have felt so fragile, because three children, and a house to keep up, and a full-time job on top is just really a whole, whole lot. I've found myself sitting in the parking lot at school, crying and praying and wondering again and again why I felt inspired to get this PhD thing. Why I'm bringing this level of craziness into our lives. Why am I using my time this way?

But on the other side, I've had such amazing experiences already. I've been reading so many interesting things, thinking so many thoughts! There are so many things I've been wanting to write about here, ideas I've had while teaching or from my classes. I've felt so lucky. What a privilege, to have this time to learn. What a pleasure, to be teaching again, things I'm interested in to students who actually want to learn (or who are at least paying a lot of money to be sitting in my class and therefore invested in getting a decent grade). I just feel so grateful that I get to be spending my time this way.

And I still do have time to make dinner every day. I'm still home every minute that my oldest is home from school (stupid full day kindergarten). I still have time to read to my boys before bed. I still have time for date night. I still have time to cuddle my baby in the morning. I still have time for the essentials, the most important parts.

Time is such an interesting thing. It stretches out at some points and speeds by at others. There is never enough of it, yet everything gets done in the end. As a stay at home mom, I never had enough time. I never had enough time for coherent thoughts, I never had enough time in adult conversation. I spent my time negotiating with toddlers and coaxing babies back to sleep, and it was exhausting and mind numbing. As a working mom, I never have enough time. I don't have enough time to do all my work and still play with my children. I spend my time flat out running and juggling and trying to not let any of the balls drop, and it is exhausting and guilt-inducing. There will never be enough time.

But time is all I have, and I firmly believe it's just a matter of learning how to use my time more efficiently. I'm still trying to figure it out, I'm still learning how to manage my time and how to fit everything in. Unfortunately, this blog is still going to be taking a backseat for a while, but hopefully not forever. There's just a huge learning curve here at the beginning. It's intense. But I'll figure it out, because this is my life, and I have to make time for all the things I love.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Books I Read in August

Well, August was an intensely busy month, but I still managed to read a few books. And by that, I mean that thanks to my hour long commute every day, audio books are keeping me in the pleasure reading business! It's so fun to look forward to my commute, although, also a little bit discouraging that I am restricted to audio books, because not every book is better on audio. Also, I haven't fully explored it yet, but my new library system doesn't seem to have quite as large of an audio book offering as my last library, which is problematic. But I'll figure out how to keep my audio book queue stacked one way or another.

Anyhoo, let's jump in!

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

As much as I love Jane Austen, I've found that most knock-offs are fun but substantially lacking. True for this one. It's a sweet little retelling of Sense and Sensibility, and it was fun to see how Lodge fit the story into a modern context, but beyond that there wasn't much to this one. It was squeaky clean and nice light fluff reading, but not much more. Still recommend if you like a nice light and fluffy romance.




Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Look, I love Lincoln, and I read a couple of rave reviews about this book, so I was excited to give it a try. And I will say, this was an incredibly creative new way to tell a Lincoln story and explore social issues during the Civil War. I was fascinated by the format, and the way entire chapters were made up of nothing but snippets and quotes from other books, biographies, and historical letters and documents carefully woven together to tell a narrative. I learned a lot. However, I categorically cannot recommend this book. I have a fairly high tolerance for swearing and sexual content, but this book surpassed my tolerance level significantly. Parts were just crass and gross (which I found so weird, considering the major characters are ghosts without bodies). This whole conception of the afterlife was just... depressing. Also, the unique format makes for a TERRIBLE audio book. If you must read it, read it in a print format.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Considering how much I loved A Man Called Ove, I find it a little strange that I'm only just now getting around to reading some of his other books. But part of the delay is that I just didn't see how he could write anything that lived up to Ove. And this book does not live up to Ove. But I still liked it quite a bit. The characters are just as wonderfully fleshed out and complex, and I realized what I love about Backman's style. He has this way of telling a story in a certain way to make you believe certain things about the characters, and then he'll take a step back and reveal the larger context and suddenly everything changes about how you see that character. It's brilliant writing. The critique I'd heard about this one is that the seven-year-old protagonist is just too unrealistic. She's supposed to be smart, but even still, no seven-year-old girl acts/thinks/talks this way. And it's a fair critique. But surprisingly, it didn't bother me too much. I still liked this little girl quite a bit, even if she wasn't a believable character. The story-line itself isn't quite as tight as it should've been, and there's a fantasy story element that kept me disoriented for a bit (it felt so different from Ove), but I still quite enjoyed it, and I'm putting all his other books on hold now.

Slade House by David Mitchell

I just love David Mitchell so much. I meant to read this one when it came out a couple years ago, but never got around to it. So when I found it as a featured audio book on my library's e-catalog page, I pounced on it. But I wish I would've saved it for October! It was such a delightful, creepy story with just the right amount of suspense and horror, it would've made for perfect seasonal reading around Halloween. This is a companion novel (maybe novella? It's short) to Bone Clocks, so you really need to read that one first. But I recommend everything by Mitchell (start with Cloud Atlas, it's by far his best).

What about you? Read any of these books? Any recommendations I should look into?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Notes on a Crazy Month



You guys, this month! This month has been intense. These past two weeks have been insane. So much has happened in these past two weeks that I kind of feel like it's been a lifetime. Basically, my brain is so full it's going to explode. I've had to compartmentalize all the different parts of my life and assign times to think about these different parts, because when I try to think about all the different parts together, it's just too much for my brain to hold at once and I just feel the thoughts overflow and slip away. It has been a busy, busy few weeks.

So, I don't really have anything coherent to say here, but I thought it might be nice or cathartic or something to journal a bit, share some snapshots of all the busy parts that have been going on, and just let you know what's been on my mind. This might be a bit random, but oh well.

1. The Solar Eclipse We happen to live just a few minutes south of the zone of totality, but as luck would have it, I was assigned to teach my very first college class at exactly 1:00 PM on that very Monday. And while it might be excusable for a student to miss the first day of class, under no circumstances can an instructor (especially a bottom-of-the-totem-pole first year GTA instructor) miss the first day of class. So I was super disappointed to find myself on campus in Lawrence that day, with the possibility of only seeing 99.3% totality (so close! yet so far away!). Then, in an even more disappointing turn of events, it was so overcast I didn't even get to see any part of the eclipse! I quickly took roll as soon as class started, then ushered my students outside for the apex (which was supposed to happen around 1:07 PM for us), and we all stood around with our glasses in our hands wondering where the sun was even supposed to be behind the clouds. It did get dark, but with all the clouds it kind of just felt like the darkness of a summer thunderstorm. Super disappointing.

My husband, on the other hand, had a much more exciting experience. He checked our oldest son out of school and headed north with his family. Their first location got totally rained out, so they found themselves wandering some country back roads chasing the sun. They managed to find a hilltop right on the mid-line and jump out of the car just seconds before totality, and despite some light clouds they saw the whole thing, and had a very exciting story to tell. I'm so jealous I couldn't be with them. I told my husband that I don't care where we are in seven years, I am going to see the next eclipse!

2. I Started School! My PhD program started with a week-long orientation, eight hours every day. While this was an incredibly useful crash course in how to teach the classes I'm teaching this semester, it was GREULING. I came home exhausted every day with nothing but hours of homework ahead of me. But the biggest headache of that week was figuring out childcare. Being away from a baby you are nursing for eight hours a day is logistically (not to mention emotionally) taxing. I had to pull out the old breast pump (detestable thing) and find private corners to pump during our lunch break, and even still I noticed a decline in my milk production over the course of the week (perhaps it was the stress?). On top of that, my baby developed a serious addiction to formula and bottle feeding, and is now showing some cheeky attitude when I try to breastfeed. As much as I dislike breastfeeding, I hate paying for formula even more, so I'm fighting her on this, but it feels like a losing battle. I might be weaning earlier than anticipated, which I'm both happy and depressed about. But baby girl's newfound love of formula has in no way dampened her enthusiasm for that 4 AM feeding she still won't drop (at least not permanently, she occasionally sleeps through it, raising feelings of false hope in me that come crashing down a few days later when she decides nope! Party at 4 AM is just too much fun). And no, I do NOT offer her a bottle at that feeding. Baby girls who insist on waking their mothers up at that time of day do not get rewarded with sugary fake beverages in synthetic plastic bottles. If I dry up, well then, she'll just have to deal with it.

3. My Baby Started Kindergarten! My oldest baby started kindergarten that same week as orientation (another logistical headache), but thankfully his transition was just about as smooth as can be. I was not one of those weepy mothers (except for the part about how I MISSED BEING THERE), because I'm actually kind of excited to have kids old enough for school. And he's loved it so far, even though I don't think it's quite living up to his expectations about what school was going to be like. We've probably been watching a little too much Magic School Bus recently, because he asked me last week when his class was going to go on a field trip, and why weren't they learning about all the animals in the ocean, because that's what he thought he was going to learn about at school. Hmmmm. It really is unfair to expect a public ed teacher to live up to Ms. Frizzle.

4. I Saw Hamilton! In Chicago! So, months and months and months ago, my husband and I decided that we needed to see Hamilton, and we were just going to make it happen no matter what. So we hopped online and bought the cheapest tickets we could find at the earliest possible date, which happened to be... last weekend. Then everything else in our life happened (getting into grad school, moving, etc.), and when I realized our weekend trip to Chicago was going to be right after the first full week of school, I just about cancelled (because, can you say most exhausting week of the year?). But I'm so glad we didn't cancel, because despite being exhausted and stressed, that trip was AMAZING and totally, completely worth it. It was so fun to be back in our old stomping grounds (and kind of sad we haven't been back more often in the four years since we left), seeing what's changed about the city (taxes on shopping bags!) and what's stayed the same. The weather was gorgeous, the company fabulous, and we had the best time. It's been a while since we've had a trip without kids, and I'm already itching for another one (preferably after the baby is actually weaned, so the hated old breast pump doesn't have to come along). Also, seeing Hamilton live was really, really super fabulous. I have lots of thoughts about the whole thing, but I'll spare you that since I'm already rambling on here longer than anyone really cares about.

5. Hurricane Harvey As much fun as we had in Chicago, guys, my heart is breaking for Houston right now. My Instagram and Facebook feeds have just been a mess with all the devastating images my friends are posting. Thankfully most of our friends have stayed dry and been okay, but a few of our friends did get flooded, and some more evacuated or were out of town and don't know when/how to get back. There's a part of me that is grateful we weren't there through it, but another part of me wishes we still lived there so we could help and serve. It's hard to watch something like this happen to people and places we know and love, and feel so helpless. We're certainly praying and donating and doing what we can from afar, but my goodness, what a week!


Okay, I've got to get back to doing some real work now. Life is just very, very full right now, and while I'm trying to get a good routine going so I can figure out some more regular time to fit in blogging, the truth is that I can't even figure out how to fit grocery shopping into our new weekly routine (I tried running to Aldi the other night only to find they close at 8 PM, not helpful!). So posts might be few and far between, but I'm not giving up yet! If I've learned anything, it's that this space provides me with a little bit of sanity and writing here makes me feel like I still have some "me" time, so I'll fight for it.

How's your back-to-school transition going so far?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Permission to Want It


I am a mother of three young children, a wife, a homemaker. And in my spare time, I'm getting a PhD in English.

I've had such complicated feelings about this PhD. It was not part of my original life plan. It was never a goal. It was not something I wanted.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to be the good little Mormon housewife. I was content with that life, and getting this PhD feels like telling the world I wasn't content with that life. That I wanted more, that I have goals and ambitions for a career outside the home. Which is why, to other Mormons, I'm always so quick to explain, "This is revelation! God basically told me to do this! I don't know why, please don't judge!"

The whole lead-up to this program has been so emotionally fraught for me, so full of second-guessing, and so much anxiety. Mostly, anxiety about child-care. So many nights I've woken up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep over the anxiety of child-care. We struggled to find a nanny, a child-care facility, a situation that felt good to us. I laid awake in bed those nights praying and pleading with the Lord: Please, help us find someone good! Help us find someone who will love and care for my children the way I love and care for them! And tell me again why it won't be me? Why can't I just stay home with my kids? Why is this so hard?

The answers didn't come immediately, but they came firmly and unmistakably, the way all the answers have seemed to come through this whole miraculous process of having the Lord turn my life around. I felt the words, "I have prepared angels to take care of your children. Please stop worrying."

But I couldn't stop worrying. It took weeks of struggle and stress, and even when we finally found a nanny I was comfortable with, even after she visited our home and showered love on my children and expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the job, I still couldn't stop worrying. What if she quits? What if someone gets sick? What if the baby won't nap for her? What if? What if? What if?

I'm missing my son's first day of kindergarten. His father will be able to take him to school that day, and his grandmother will be there to pick him up at the end, but I will be thirty miles away attending my third day of mandatory orientation, and when I realized this is where I would be on my first child's first day of school, I nearly cried. I wanted to drop out right there. No PhD, no anything, is worth not being there on the biggest moment of my child's life to this point. He knows I won't be there, and he keeps asking who will be there. Who will be there to pick him up? Who will be there to help him find his classroom? Someone will be, but it won't be me.

It should be me.

Will I ever live the guilt of this down?

I have been so distracted by the logistics, so consumed by the worry and the anxiety and the stress and the guilt, that I haven't actually done that much thinking about school itself. I will be teaching this time, two sections of freshman writing. Finally, this past week, when I realized it would be catastrophic to put it off any longer, I started preparing for class.

And...

I got excited. I got interested. I forgot how much I love teaching. I forgot how much I enjoy this subject I'm studying. I forgot that there is something about this whole academia world that brings me a lot of satisfaction. I've been so focused on letting people know that I did not choose this path, so focused on stressing about how hard this is to figure out, how crazy it is to be a mother of three and go to school, so conflicted about asking someone else to watch/love/raise my children for thirty hours a week(!), that I forgot to actually want it.

As I prayed that night, the spirit filled me with these words again, "I have prepared angels to watch over your children. Do not worry about them. I will take care of them, for they are mine. But you are mine too. You are my child too, and I have given you gifts and opportunities, and I need you to make use of your gifts. You have my permission to enjoy this. You have my permission to want this."

I think this time I will listen. I am still working on letting go of the worry. I'm still snuggling my baby a little bit extra, still relishing in the last slow moments home with the boys, still anxious about meeting all their needs. I'm still full of confusion about why this is my life path, still so full of conflicting emotions.

But I'm also excited. And I'm giving myself permission to enjoy it.

To want a PhD.