I belong to a Facebook group for PhD and Early Career Researcher Parents- where, we share the challenges of parenting while trying to navigate academia and just recently one of the members posted a photo of some adorable but labour intensive looking Easter themed cupcakes proclaiming herself to be a procrastibaker- I can SO relate, and while I certainly would call myself a procrasibaker in the most obvious sense of the word- I bake to avoid the mounds of writing and researching I should be attending to… I realized today, it goes much deeper than that. It hit me this afternoon as I got up from my desk after a particularly dismal day of fiddle-farting around and successfully avoiding the abstract that needs writing, the three separate student assignments that need marking and the script (for a show that goes up in 2 months) that needs re-writing- that my motivation for baking (or procrasti-baking) comes from two places; love and guilt. Love because I know the kids truly love walking in the door and racing up the stairs calling out their best guesses as to what the wafting baking smell is (“Chocolate chip cookies?” “Banana muffins… I knew it!”) And guilt for all the time I have spent away missing birthdays, school concerts, or just being there when they come in the door after school. Somehow- a warm muffin or chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven make ME feel like I am being some kind of good Mom and while neither makes up for time away- I feel like I’m doing just a little something special- while weaselling my way out of reading those 27 student essays… care for a muffin?!
When I am feeling my most discouraged and whipped by this PhD I tend to start listing mentally, everything that has happened in my life over the past 2.5 years that have made it impossible for me to “properly” get this thing done. Pathetic, I know- but somehow I think it is kind of a common “poor, poor, pitiful me” thing to do. But, I recently got to thinking that, funnily enough, when I am feeling particularly buoyed and optimistic about getting this thing done, I turn to that very same list, and use it to pat myself on the back in an “against all odds” sort of way. The ol’ man and I, will, from time to time, start trying to list all the major happenings of the past few years only to give up mid-way through because it becomes a tad overwhelming. At some point, me doing a PhD, in another country, while raising six children seemed like a good idea- if someone is able to remind me of that specific good idea I would be most grateful because most days it completely escapes me.
I have to preface this all by saying I have, from day one, from the first inkling, or seedling of a thought that I should pursue a PhD, had this pestering voice in my head telling me (loud and clear) that I have no business doing a PhD in the first place. (Hello major imposter syndrome!) I really think I am fairly justified in listening, even just a little bit to this pestering voice for the following reasons; I am the only person in my immediate family to have gotten a degree of any kind, I have an uncle on my Mother’s side who has a Bachelors degree and no one on my Father’s side has ever attended university. I dropped out of university before completing my BFA because I was pregnant with my first son. I went back 5 years later (we only had 3 kids at that point) and finished. I then went on to have 3 more kids, keeping one foot in the opera/theatre world, doing a bit of performing and teaching privately from my home. Two years after my youngest son was born I lucked into an adjunct teaching job because of my professional experience in the field. I loved it and decided I wanted the opportunity to move up and get a more stable job in academia, so I went into an MFA program at Goddard College a non-traditional, low-residency, Interdisciplinary Arts program- not your typical route to an PhD.
So, I have a “sketchy” academic background, six children, I am researching voice for the theatre (not a lot of people breakin’ the banks to help me fund that) and let’s not forget I am a woman, in my 40’s – not your typical postgrad – no, not typical in any way. So already the odds are stacked against me. Oh! and did I mention that I am self-funding?! Save for a few government bursaries for middle aged women with lots of kids researching theatre, I am doing this on student loans.
One might say I was (and still am?!) behind the 8 ball…
But despite all that I still thought it was a good idea. Riding on the momentum of my MFA (which in and of itself was difficult but definitely transformative in many ways) we (the ol’ man and I) decided this would be an adventure worth taking. Doing it in the UK seemed to make the most sense because there was a supervisor there who met my research needs (someone experienced as both a classical musician and a theatre artist) and they offered the opportunity to do it as a split site location student as moving the whole family to the UK for my studies was not going to happen.
We decided that to make this whole thing more manageable we would move across the country to Montréal where all the ol’ man’s family is, giving him support when I was away and making popping back and forth over the pond a little less daunting.
It all sounds so easy, right?! I would go away for 2 weeks to a month every semester, teach part-time and he would work full time and hold the fort while I was away.
Piece. of. cake.
Except. Nothing is ever simple for us- you would think I would know that by now- not much is simple with six kids because, well, there are simply so many people involved.
Early in my studies I was in a panic because I did not have a clue as to what I was doing- how does one “do” “write” “participate in” a PhD? So I read books and scoured the internet for helpful hints- everything from “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minute a Day” to numerous inspiring articles such as ;“10 Steps to PhD Failure”.
I can remember sitting reading one of these articles with much anxiety as I started ticking off all the tasks I had already completed in one called something like “Top Reasons PhD’s Get Derailed”. Yes, I am the poster girl for how-not-to-do-a-PhD-but make-it-work-anyway.
And I, or rather we- as this inevitably affects all of the family, are still limping along.
So. Here’s the list (which is surely not complete- because… well… life).
It may conversely make me weep, or pump my fist in victory or maybe both.
1. We sold our house, I left my adjunct job (a small university that I liked very much) and the ol’ man quit his solid construction job and we moved 5 of the kids across the country (our eldest, 20 at the time stayed.)
2. We arrived to new province, a new language, new schools new jobs and then…
3.…a month after we arrived I left for my first one month stint in the UK.
4. My Mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, refused all treatment and died a year after we arrived .
5. My father decided he could no longer care for my Mother who suffers from dementia, and moved her into a full time care facility. I flew back (5+ hours) multiple times to help with the transition.
6. Our eldest son, who had been dealing with addiction issues, reached out for help- we used the money we had made from the sale of our house to bring him to Montréal and put him through rehab for 3 months. (He has been sober for 2+ years now, is a straight A student, works to support himself, writes, plays music- we couldn’t be more proud of him).
7. My Father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer one year after my Mother-in-law died. He is now in remission and doing well.
8. Son #2 fell down a long set of stairs at the metro (subway) and broke his shoulder, he required surgery to insert a steel rod and months of rehabilitation.
9. We moved from the first house we rented in Montreal to a larger one.
10. I got really sick with a mystery illness about 1 year in. I developed eczema all over my face and I lost my voice- for one month- one whole month with little to no voice- kind of ironic as a Doctoral Researcher studying…VOICE! The doctors I saw diagnosed it all as stress related. (No sh*t Sherlock!)
11. I spent a month in New York performing a show at a theatre Festival, (the family came and joined me for a week.)
12. I have presented my research at 8 conferences and travelled to 5 different countries.
13. I have made no fewer than 12 transatlantic flights in the last 2 years, 5 months, 24 days… that does not include two separate research trips to New York, 4 flights back to Vancouver and a job interview in LA.
Don’t try this at home kids. PhD’s + big families + grand ideas= not for the faint of heart. (And if I told you I don’t often feel faint then that would make me a big liar!)
Well, I am not weeping- so it must be a fist pump kinda day.
I don’t have time to be doing this… I don’t have time to be doing anything really, or that’s what it feels like- Have you ever been so busy that you don’t even know where to start, you kind of feel frozen? I guess that’s called being overwhelmed, I am overwhelmed at the moment.
I won’t even go into all the gory details- but just wanted to share something that I found inspiring.
It’s about Annabel Lyon a writer from BC who is winning many awards for her book The Golden Mean (which I haven’t had time to read. LOL!)
“Lyon wrote and researched The Golden Mean over eight years, through two pregnancies, her UBC teaching job, and her childrens’ infancy and toddlerhood. You don’t have to be a parent to recognize that as a feat of great discipline.
“If I sat down to write 100 words, I’d write 100 words. I wouldn’t let myself get psyched out that I don’t have hours to work. I would tell myself, ‘well, I have 15 minutes while the children are napping, and I’m going to go write one sentence.’”
See the whole article here
What inspired me was her approach to her art/work of writing and balancing that with Motherhood.
That’s where I want to be.
I’m sure I could get there, if I just had the time.
Next time I tell you that I’m looking forward to spending 4 days in a hotel room with 6 kids slap me ‘k?
No, really, I joke, a lovely time was had by all for the most part, except for the first night when I sliced open my hand on a wine glass that I had tried to stop from falling when #5 knocked it over at dinner… I probably needed a stitch or 2- but that would have been a HUGE inconvenience- thank God for waterproof band aids… Oh, and then there was my van breaking down on the way home… kind of a bummer when your vehicle just loses power and you are in it with 5 children! (The ol’ man was in the truck with #1 because we cannot all fit in one vehicle) The saving grace? we had made it all the way back into the city, like 10 minutes from our house, I was in the curb lane and was able to coast to the side to pull over, we have BCAA roadside assistance who were great and towed us to a garage (turns out it was the alternator- replaced for $350- not in the vacation budget but what can you do?!)
We really did nothing on vacation but swim and eat and watch Seinfeld reruns- but that was OK- we all just needed to hang out together- so mission accomplished. There were almost no skirmishes (the last evening being the exception when choosing a movie became the issue) I didn’t run at all because I felt bad taking off and leaving everyone, but that’s OK too. We swam close to 4 hours a day- the pools there are gorgeous and warm and the little ones especially had a blast. Another big event was (and always is) trying to get all the kids in one photo smiling or at least looking at the camera- we could not quite pull this one off.
So when does school start?!
I’m actually looking forward to these slow start mornings (Look! It’s 7:16 am and I’m not running around like a mad-woman!) I’m planning on lots of beach time- hanging out in the backyard and taking everything at just a slightly slower pace (I know, I know… good luck with that one!)
Today is also my first official day of training for my next half which looks like will either be Diva on The Run or The Fall Classic. My neighbour and several other friends ran The Scotia Bank Half yesterday and I have to say I was a little envious, a good sign that I’m ready to get out there and train. The last few weeks have been very low key running wise- really it’s all been low key since the marathon- I had wanted to jump back in but should have known better that the end of the school year and all it’s craziness would take over. As well, my knee is still not cooperating fully. I went for a 5K yesterday and it was giving me trouble- I am far from panicking but it’s a concern all the same.
I’m still searching for the perfect programme- if anyone has any suggestions I’m open! Something challenging yet easy on my middle-aged mother of 6 body being preferred.
Except there’s no peas in it.
I’ve been asked what a good pre-run meal is (OK 1 person asked me) and I have mostly been a toast and peanut butter type of gal BUT! I have discovered a Hot Cereal that is homemade and yummy- it is from The Eat-Clean Diet for Family and Kids by Tosca Reno.
http://www.toscareno.com I should be able to link her page non? but I don’t know how.
I don’t know a lot about her and her Eat Clean Diet apart from flipping through some of her books but I gather it is about eating food that is well… clean, natural, devoid of crap… sounds good to me- but then there are the other 7 people in the house that I have to convince.
I found all these things at my local grocery and even though it’s pretty much summer here I don’t mind eating hot cereal any time of the year;
1/2 C Oatmeal
1/2 C Cream of Wheat Cereal
1/2 C Red River (or other multigrain hot cereal)
1/2 C Wheat Germ
1/2 C Oat Bran
1/2 C Mixed dried Fruit, blueberries, cherries, cranberries
1/2 C Slivered Almonds
1.Mix all ingredients together in a large airtight container to keep for weeks.
2. To make breakfast use 1/2 C dried mixture and 1 cup water
3. Mix and heat on medium high until mixture thickens to a porridge-like consistency.
4. Serve in a bowl topped with skim milk.