Today was hectic and wintry and ended with pink vomit. It helps to remember that I love these people tremendously, and soon we will be back at the ocean.
Today was hectic and wintry and ended with pink vomit. It helps to remember that I love these people tremendously, and soon we will be back at the ocean.
A year ago today I had The Talk with my advisor and walked away from graduate school. It was a terrifying and relieving experience, and I haven’t regretted it for a day. I never would have guessed that a year later I’d have a job, a blog, and a love for french braiding. This journey has been amazing.
Quitting grad school is just like this, every day. Except on days when it’s -10 degress in Iowa. Which is most days, lately.
I and a couple other post-academic grad school quittas are setting up a fabulous, free, catch-all website for people quitting grad school or leaving academia, and we need your help. If you quit grad school — if you’re here because you’re thinking about quitting grad school – please contribute to the site or the book. It’s the nicest, easiest, non-academic-iest writing you’ll do and you will help out so many people dying to hear stories from others who’ve walked this road. Head on over and consider sending me a short idea for an essay (as long or as short as you like!) for the site or e-book. We’re hoping to have all of the submissions gathered by Feb. 1st, so get on that already!
When Lauren and I met a year ago, we had a couple obvious things in common: we are both grad school quittas, raising young daughters who are close in age. We are feminists who love pop culture.
The more we talked, the more connections bubbled up: We are writers who didn’t have writing as a primary part of our identity or daily life. We have had intense relationships with music, fan communities, and hippie boys. We love reading and teaching young adult novels.
Mama Nervosa was founded when Lauren and I were saying goodbye, standing across a kitchen counter from one another: we should blog together, Lauren said, completely casually, as if this were not the most awesome, amazing, generous offer anyone could have made to me at that moment. Seriously, she could have handed me $100 and it would have been less awesome than an invitation to blog together.
Over the course of the past year blogging together, we have had several conversations about what exactly Mama Nervosa is: Are we a mommy blog? A feminist blog? A post ac or alt ac blog? Are we writers? But we can never seem to narrow it down to a single category or check box: we are messy, overlapping, we don’t fit.
Mama Nervosa is motherhood and memoir, quitta and adjunct and post ac, feminist and funny. We are not a reliable product: we have no posting schedule, no length requirements, we begin regular features and wander away from them.
If we have a narrative throughline, a recurring theme that links our posts on topics as varied as loving Neil Young, growing up in Tulsa, quitting grad school, teaching Adrienne Rich, missing the ice cream truck, and falling in love, it’s our willingness to expose the process. If Mama Nervosa has a core belief it’s this: if there is grace to be found in this world, we are more likely to stumble into it along the way than to see it shining brightly ahead of us at some mythical finish line. I’m writing it down as I go, trailing blog posts and cheerios behind me, grateful to be here now, even if I’m not sure where I’m going.
In the car today on the way to gymnastics, D says:
“Mom, say this: Raise your hand if you know the name of the ship the Pilgrims sailed on.”
“Raise your hand if you know the name of the ship the Pilgrims sailed on.”
D raises her hand. I call on her.
“The Mayflower.” Then she says, “Wasn’t it good how I didn’t just blurt it out?”
“Yes. Nice job not blurting. What else did you learn about the Pilgrims? I noticed a picture of Pocahontas in your Friday folder last week.”
“Pocahontas went to meet the king and queen. She was an Indian. She lived in India. Her dad was in charge of their area, and he didn’t like the pilgrims, and then Pocahontas got tooken to meet the queen, and then she met her husband and they had a baby and he was their son! So was that baby a boy or a girl?” (That last question is clearly an imitation of her teacher’s voice, so I answer.)
“Um, a boy.”
“Right. He was a boy.”
I wait a minute, to see if more information is forthcoming, but this seems to be the end of the story of Pocahontas. I ask a couple follow up questions, but it seems like she genuinely has no idea why Pocahontas’ father didn’t like the Pilgrims, why the Pilgrims came to North America, or why Pocahontas went to England to meet the king and queen. Since we only have a few minutes in the car, I decide to try and intervene with the most glaring misunderstanding.
“Hey D, remember when you read about Christopher Columbus?”
“Yes. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. That’s a rhyme: two, blue. His mom and dad thought the earth was flat but he did his dream and sailed and he was right because our world is a sphere, mom! A sphere!”
“Um, right. Remember how he wanted to sail to India, but he ended up in North America, but he didn’t realize that he had made a mistake sailing, so he called the North Americans he met Indians?
“Yes! But they were NOT India Indians!”
“Right. And neither was Pocahontas. She lived in North America, near the ocean, and the Pilgrims met her when they sailed here.”
“Oh. Did they think they were sailing to India?”
“Um, no. They pretty much knew where they were going. They just weren’t very respectful about people’s names. What else did you learn about the Indians?”
“Um, some really nice people bought Squanto and set him free after the bad people taked him and sold him. There’s a special word for that.”
“Slave? They made him a slave?”
“YES. They slaved him, and it was really bad, they were bad guys!”
“Who? The Pilgrims?”
“No. Well, I don’t know. Maybe Pilgrims. Or maybe Indians. But then those other people bought him and set him free. Wasn’t that nice?”
“Yes. That was definitely nice.” Again, all my follow up questions about this gem of a revelation are met with total confusion. She does not know if Squanto was enslaved (or freed) by Pilgrims or Indians, why he was enslaved, or how this story is connected to Pocahontas, if at all, beyond her initial (mis)understanding that both Pocahontas and Squanto lived in India.
Also, at no point did she mention the Pilgrims and Indians having Thanksgiving dinner together, which I would have assumed would be the centerpiece of any kindergarten lesson about the holiday. Or maybe it was, and I have the kid who only remembers the peripheral details of interest to her: ships, slavery, conflict, marriage babies. American History at its kindergarten best.
1.) It’s not all tea parties. Yes, there are tea parties and princess dresses and My Little Ponies. There are also dinosaurs and robots made of legos and occasional wrestling matches and hair pulling. Today, D and Lucy defeated some sea snakes in the hallway by spraying large quantities of air freshener and then fleeing for the top bunk. Rather than saying no to gendered toys, we have tried to say yes to most things ( only a few things–Bratz, Alien Autopsy kits–have been ruled out entirely) and then encourage them to mix it up. It would not have occurred to me to put the My Little Pony skirts on the dinosaurs and stage an elaborate dino ballet, but they don’t hesitate to cross gender (and species) boundaries when they play.
2.) Having 3 is actually not that much more difficult than having 1. Because when you have 1, all you know is how to be a parent to 1 kid. And if you are anything like me, it is the most unbelievably overwhelming life-altering time suck you could ever imagine. I distinctly remember feeling that every minute of every day was overflowing with this new weird experience of parenting and sometimes that was joyful and sometimes we were all crying but there was no escaping, either way. I wrote about the intensity of those emotions earlier this spring. But once I had two, and three, I flexed. Time flexed. I parent differently. I’m less likely to read Busy Busy Pandas 100 times in a row and more likely to read it once and then say, “Now look at the pandas and make up your own story!” Or, “Go find your sister and ask her to make up a panda story with you!” Or, “Go roll around on the floor and pretend to be a panda!” Before Margeaux was born, I worried that D and Lucy would be jealous of the time I would need to devote to her. It only took a couple weeks to realize that in fact, they are so deeply enmeshed in their relationship to one another that if I left the fruit snacks and juice boxes within their reach, they might ignore me all day. And now that Margeaux is on the move, she tags along behind them and plays along to the best of her ability. Which brings me to:
3.) By the time you get to the third, safety standards seem like very flexible recommendations. When D was 1, if you had suggested that I let her go down the steps alone to jump on a trampoline with a 4 and 5 year old, I would have laughed out loud at your hilarious joke. Margeaux does this every day. In the morning, she sits on the couch with a toaster waffle and watches Ni Hao Kai Lan in her sleeper. She brushes her teeth. When I drop Lucy off at preschool, if I start chatting she’ll slip away and sneak into the classroom and sit down in a chair at one of the tables, like she’s totes ready for art center or play dough time. She can climb all the way up the ladder to the top bunk, though I try and prevent this since she and Lucy came crashing down in a sad, bruised pile last week. Today, though, I forgot to pull the ladder up because D slept in late, and when they fled the sea snakes Margeaux followed them up, lickity split, and they rolled around on the top bunk laughing and shrieking. When I reminded them that it’s not safe for Margeaux to be up so high D said, “But Mom! We were escaping the sea snakes! And sea snakes aren’t safe for babies either!” Can’t blame a girl for looking out for her baby sister.
What I thought: I’ll just lay down with Margeaux this first night in her big girl bed while she figures out how to fall asleep.
What Margeaux thought: Whoa. I can just climb in and out of this bed? Anytime I want? Maybe I’ll just do that a couple times. Maybe a couple more times. Weird how mom is not excited about climbing in and out of the bed.
What I thought: Maybe she just doesn’t understand what’s supposed to be happening here. “Night night Margeaux! We go night night in the bed! Put your head on the pillow and close your eyes!”
What Margeaux thought: Oh! Night night! Maybe I’ll lay on my back. Huh. I’m not asleep yet. Maybe I’ll flip over to my tummy. Nope, still not sleeping. On my back? Still awake. On my tummy? Still awake. Mom looks like she’s sleeping. Maybe I need to be closer to her. I’ll just put my face right here, touching her face. Wow. Her eyes are right there. I can touch them! (pokes me in the eye about 50 times, saying EYE! in a perky voice each time) Oh look, there’s her nose! And her mouth! Does she have teeth? (jams a couple fingers in my mouth) Yup, teeth!
What I thought: Please god, please, let her fall asleep.
What Margeaux thought: Are those Polly Pockets? YES! I never get to play with the Polly Pockets!! I’m just going to dump all these tiny things on the floor, so it’s easier to find what I want.
What I thought: I wonder how much that sleep lady that my facebook friend was talking about costs. I’m pretty sure I remember her saying the sleep lady totally trained their toddler to sleep in a weekend. I need to look her up tomorrow.
What Margeaux thought: I love that duck and turtle on my wall. Maybe I should say good night to them. Night night duck! Night night turtle! QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK! Hey, is mom still awake? Hard to tell when her eyes are closed. Better look closer. Hmmmm. Our foreheads are touching, but I’m still not sure. Maybe I should shout in her face a couple times. Mama Night Night? Mama Night Night?
What I thought: I’m going to open my eyes, just to be sure this is actually happening.
What Margeaux thought: YES!! She’s awake!! “HI MAMA!!! HI MAMA!!!”
Funny how she keeps telling me it’s night night time when I’m so wide awake.Maybe I’ll try laying on my back again. Nope, still not sleeping. Tummy time! Hmmmm. Still awake. What if I kick these blankets off? Or pull them up to my chin? Or kick them off? I like how it feels when my feet bounce off the mattress. Maybe I’ll just kick the bed a couple times. Maybe a couple more times. Hey, what if I kick mama? Do my feet bounce? Nope. What if I kick the wall? Nope? Okay, better kick the bed a few more times then. Night night Mama!!
**It was around this time that I actually did fall asleep. When I woke up in the middle of the night Margeaux and several Polly Pockets were in bed next to me. Needless to say, no one got much sleep. If you’re the sort of person who prays, please pray for us. If you’re the sort of person who trains other people’s children to sleep, please come to my house immediately. Because I’m about to get back in bed with her, and I’m not looking forward to it.
Today was observation day in dance class. You can see the reflection of all the parents in folding chairs in the back of the studio. The girls started classes at this studio in early September, and parents haven’t been able to see or hear (other than the echo of the tap shoes) the classes yet, so today was exciting for all of us.
When I was pregnant with Dorothy, I had two CDs in my car that I listened to over and over: Weezer’s The Blue Album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. Back out of the driveway, put on my seatbelt over the awkward big belly, down the hill to the highway, music blasting out my windows into my otherwise quiet West side neighborhood: Say it ain’t so, My name is Jonas, the Sweater Song. Lying on the floor! Lying on the floor! I’ve come undone!
On the way home, bumping down the brick streets away from the warehouse/office/greenhouse, singing Thunder Road: Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night—you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright…
All the pregnancy books tell you that your baby is absorbing sound and rhythm before she’s born, learning to recognize your voice, getting smarter as muffled waves of Mozart wash over her. I wonder if there are long term studies on the effects of Weezer and Springsteen, if Born to Run babies grow up unafraid to ride motorcycles into some dark night. When an old friend’s band came through town I declined the offer of earplugs, needing to feel the sound full on, hoping the baby could feel the intensity of that show: Turn off the lights and watch it all melt down, Napoleon slow, to the bottom of this town. Am I a bad mother if I secretly hope my girls absorbed a little bad boy rock star in utero?
T has always been resolutely opposed to kid-oriented music: in his car, the girls listen to Phish, or jazz, or the local radio station that makes me batty because you never know if you’re going to get Ani DiFranco or Celtic folk or terrible low-key techno, bass thumping under some weird repetitive phrase: Ambient! Technology! AMBIENT! TECHNOLOGY!
I’m more lenient. Laurie Berkner Band, Muppets soundtrack, even the dreaded Kidz Bop, with its kid safe versions of pop songs that can’t possibly hold any meaning for my kids: The Chipmunks singing Party Rock, a shiny clean version of Call Me Maybe: Your stare was holdin’, ripped jeans, smile showing, where do you think you’re going baby?
Most days, though, we listen to the Fresh Beats. When we started watching the show on Nick Jr, D was immediately hooked: the plots and jokes are a step up from Dora and Wonderpets, the music is insanely catchy, and the mix of fantasy and pseudo-reality is weirdly engrossing. And then she noticed the commercials for the Fresh Beats LIVE IN CONCERT. Kids dancing in the aisles, Kiki rocking out on guitar on stage: Mom can we please go tomorrow?
Live music, lesson one: let’s check the tour schedule.
Indeed, the Fresh Beats were coming to our very town, and the tickets were outrageous.
Live music, lesson two: sometimes it’s worth it.
I ended up buying scalper tickets through Stub Hub, guessing that the small mark up would be worth it to get close to the stage. I’m a front row junkie. Live music was a central part of my identity and my relationship with T in our 20s (our experience seeing Phish at Coventry was the pinnacle of this). I proposed at a Phish show. The fact that it was the Fresh Beats didn’t so much matter – I wanted the girls to have a taste of the magic, the intensity, the awesomeness of rocking out in the presence of a band you love. Front row seats were hundreds of dollars and could only be bought as part of a package including a backstage party with healthy snacks, but I got us on the main floor about 15 rows back.
Live music, lesson 3: Vocab
I may have been the only parent there who used the words merch table, opener, set break, cover, and encore. The 2 year old next to us spent most of the first set quietly weeping. Some kids appeared overwhelmed; others seemed underwhelmed. But D and Lucy really loved it: maybe because of my dorky prep, they were expecting a concert, not a live version of the tv show, they were psyched to be close to the stage, and they stood up and danced spontaneously to their favorite songs. Afterwards, they were bursting with excitement, wanting to rehash their favorite moments, excited to talk about the new songs, stoked that the band played some old favorites. When the songs we heard live come on in the car, they talk about the show: “Remember when the monkeys came on the screen and we all yelled GO MONKEYS! GO MONKEYS!”
I want them to love Weezer like I do, and Phish, and the Killers, and Regina Spektor. I hope that those months spent floating in the belly listening to Born to Run mean they learned the Boss’ voice along with mine. But for now, it’s okay with me if they love the Fresh Beats and Carly Rae Jepson. After all, my first concert was New Kids on the Block. I want them to know the dorky joys of fandom, the thrill of unrolling the poster from the concert and taping it up on your bedroom wall. I love that they know all the words to their favorite songs, fantasize about being rock stars with their own bands, put on shows in the living room. A couple days ago, D said from the backseat while we were listening to a Fresh Beats cover of I’m Yours, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to have a band, and I will sing, and there will be guitars and drums and a banjo and a washboard and Jason Mraz will play the keyboards.” Maybe it’s time to start those guitar lessons: we’ve got a couple rock stars in the making here, and they’re already imagining their heroes singing back up.
I’m blogging every day in the month of November as part of NaBloPoMo at Yeah, Write– check out the other amazing talented bloggers who are also on this crazy train!
I’m writing this from a chain coffee shop in a strip mall a few blocks from D’s elementary school. Today has been fragmented in the way so many of my days seem to be lately: a few hours making small talk with parents who are showing us the ropes of popcorn volunteering, a few hours on campus answering student emails and reading reviews of Halberstam’s new book about Lady Gaga and wondering whether I should assign it for my Mass Culture class next semester, back to the elementary school for the book fair, then the coffee shop, then back to the elementary school, then back across town to go home.
I wrote the other day about how I have this more is more is more problem, but maybe the problem isn’t the more, it’s the driving to get to the more. The girls go to school in a nearby district and we can’t afford the extended day care at the preschool, so on days when I’m working I drive D to kindergarten, then drive Lucy and Margeaux to my mom’s house or T’s mom’s house, then drive to campus, then drive to my downtown class, then drive back to campus. By noon I’ve spent around 90 minutes in the car. Now add the driving to gymnastics and dance, the drive to school and back on days when I’m not working, and let us not forget the 45 minute commute to the night class, and I’m starting to feel like I live in my car. If you need further evidence, just look at the mountains of jackets, shoes, empty travel mugs, granola bar wrappers, and mismatched gloves accumulating in the minivan.
One possibility is to try and move to the district where the girls are enrolled, home of the strip mall chain coffee shop. Housing prices are affordable here (if we could sell our house, a nightmare which I will address in another post). We love the elementary school and have every reason to believe we would continue to be satisfied with the academic experience. There’s a Spanish immersion program and a championship marching band. There’s also a Romney/Ryan/Take Back Our Country yard sign in every other front yard.
The parents we’ve met have been lovely: friendly, funny, welcoming. I’ve asked lots of questions about the district, and everyone has been eager to be helpful, offering insight and perspective on teachers and schools. What I don’t know how to ask is, are we going to be welcome here once you find out we don’t go to church and my kids are ardent fans of President Obama? It seems crass, somehow, to bring it up, like I’m accusing them of intolerance when they’ve been nothing but genuine and kind. But I can’t help but wonder if it just hasn’t occurred to them that I’m an interloper of sorts, if they’re simply assuming that if we moved here we would join the neighborhood Bible study group and our kids would go to Sunday school with their kids.
I want to be clear that I’m not hesitant about living in a community where faith is an important part of many people’s lives. I just don’t know how to gauge the centrality of faith and politics in establishing relationships here, and one of the things I really am longing for is a neighborhood where I can have coffee with other moms and carpool to preschool and feel connected to my neighbors and my kids’ schools and my community.But if those activities all include Bible study, this is just not going to work.
I want less time driving and more time doing, and in order to get that, something’s gotta give. My schedule next semester is shaping up to be slightly less time intensive behind the wheel, but there’s still the crazy morning commute: so much time and money wasted. This might be the only area of my life where I can say with absolutely certainty that I want less. I just wish I knew how to figure out whether or not we might want to call this place home.