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?