Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trying to See the Big Picture


This was such a crazy year that I'm having a hard time looking at it objectively. For some reason I just don't seem to be able to see the big picture this time, so immersed that I am in the little things that have been bothering me lately.

I feel kind of numb. Everything is well (apart from my dread of the online teaching gig), this was a year full of good things (and its fair share of craziness and turmoil), but I just don't seem to feel that there's any spark to any of it.

As we become older, at least that's what I have been experiencing in the past several years, we become more and more rational and less emotional and "touchy feely." And moments such as Christmas and New Year's Eve that in the past -- particularly in my childhood and teenage years -- were filled with nostalgia and melancholic musings are now nearly meaningless. And I don't really seem to care! I don't like to feel numb! I've always been such an enthusiastic person. I don't much like this person that I've become :-(.

The problem is, I feel, is that there is no time, to pursue the things that I am passionate about, the things that bring "spark" to life. There are many responsibilities, taking care of the kids, the house, hosting parties, shopping, answering the phone even (I had to do that four times while trying to write this post!).

So, this post is a lame attempt to look back at the year that passed and try to infuse some "spark" into my numb self.

I should be happy, shouldn't I, that I finished the PhD, too bad I keep on thinking on how it's not really "useful" to me (except in the nightmare of the online gig, which one could do even with an master's).

I am indeed extremely thankful for all the home renovations, because we have new siding, brand new roof, nice tiled bathrooms. That made me happy yesterday when we were looking at two spectacular "model homes" in our friends' neighborhood. I don't much mind looking at this fancy shower when I know that mine at home is beautiful, if small ;-).

I am glad that K is no longer working at Big Pharma and is excited (if tired by the long commute) with his work at the university and I am enjoying immensely my work at the school -- the most relaxing job I've ever had! (is that an indication that I should continue being involved with elementary school education?)

what else... we had a lovely Christmas with family. We traveled a lot -- to Brazil, to Boston/Cambridge, to MA a few times, now to Florida.

My youngest nephew was born!! My brother moved to New Zealand. My grandma is now resting in peace. We celebrated 14 years of marriage in great style.

Many many things (I'll come back to include links).

Most important of all, we're healthy, and happy, and together. That's the most important thing of all!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


From the past weeks/month(s), varying degrees of seriousness:

(12/21) Not having checked the weather forecast (light snow, turning into a mix and freezing rain) and leaving both cars outside overnight when we had been leaving them in the garage for weeks every single night... Good thing we only had to clean one of the cars that morning to go out to IKEA.

This one was really really upsetting for me:
Remember that over two weeks ago (12/11) we had an appointment with the Sears technician to look at our washer? Well... I missed that one, because they didn't have my cell phone (K had scheduled it and not given my cell #) and I thought that being 5 minutes away at school wouldn't be a problem because I'd left a sign at the door with my number for the technician -- ha! They call when they're on their way to one's home, not from one's front door! :-( Much despair ensued, and I was able to schedule another appointment only for Friday (11/19), the day we were coming back from our anniversary trip (and had snow on the way back, more on that later).

The biggest blunder of all, though, was scheduling these visits at all! It was sad to waste a perfectly good 79 dollars just to be told the obvious: that we needed a new washer :-(. The technician sad that these machines last only 7 years on average. Ours was going to be 8 in February. We talked a bit about how manufactured goods don't last long the way they did 20-30 years ago and he shared an anecdote about a friend of his who worked for GE and told him that these appliances are meant to break after a certain period (top loaders apparently only last 8-9 years as well). Isn't that sad that this "consumer society" has gotten to this point? Things are made not to last on purpose so we have to go buy more things! I think that is absolutely outrageous!!!

We couldn't make it to the store the day after the technician's visit, so on Sunday 12/21, my husband made the purchase, minutes before the stores closed. Our new washer (bigger and better than the old one) was delivered on the 23rd and I already used it then. I'm pretty happy about it, although we really didn't have the money. Good thing there's a whole year to pay (interest free).

Online gig
Ongoing in the past month:
Posting feedback late in the online teaching gig, either because I forgot I had to grade certain assignments within 48h (after a crazy grading jag, staying up half or all night after grading all day long), or miscalculated how long it was going to take to grade and give students feedback. The result is that there are 4 more weeks of this class and at this point I am failing and if I turn in anything else late I may not be permanently hired. Sigh. So much stress! I really can't stand the fact that I desperately need this "marginal" job because of the (little) money right now :-( . I think I'd be better off adjuncting. I should go email CCs, colleges and universities RIGHT NOW, shouldn't I? I need to be more proactive about this and I will, after the latest bad news.

Health Insurance situation (last couple of months):
Because I've been so busy and stressed out with the online gig, I was delayed in submitting my sons' application for the state sponsored health insurance and now they will probably be without insurance for the whole month of January until the application is processed. :-( I know that they can pay any retroactive bills that we have during this period, but still, I am mad at myself for letting that happen! I still need to mail the necessary documentation, BTW, when we get back home.

K included me in his insurance, but it will cost over 300! :-( We will still pay for the boys (50-60 a month for each), but that's less than the over 300 that we'd have to pay the university for them too. I feel sick to my stomach to think that I "wasted" over 3 thousand dollars paying 100+ a month for an extremely high deductible plan for me which I never ever used, not even for check ups, before K was hired by Big Pharma last year. I guess I prefer to be paying more now so I can go to the doctor, dentist, etc. regularly from now on on K's "good" insurance.

Sorry for the negativity... But I wanted to get this post out, things will be brighter here soon (literally). :-)

From Florida!!!

After many hours driving (11+ from Richmond, VA to South of Jacksonville), we arrived here on Friday night and it's been lovely to experience the warm weather. Hopefully, I'll post some pictures soon, but, like they say on NPR, first the news... (or a quick update).

- We had a lovely time during Christmas with our in-laws, BIL's family and a last minute addition: my husband's cousin (whom we hadn't seen for 14 years, since the time we first met) and his wife, who were visiting the U.S. for the very first time. Unfortunately there was a lot of shopping involved (both on Monday and Tuesday), but we had a lovely time for about 20h between Christmas Eve and Day before we all went our separate ways (in-laws to MA, cousin to NJ) around 2 pm on the 25th.

- We had a late start to Richmond, VA (6 pm) and an even later time going to bed because we were talking to our friends there who are planning to return to Brazil soon after living many years here in the U.S. (tough situation). We didn't leave until 11 am on Friday on our way here...

After many days out of the loop I finally spent sometime tonight reading some blogs and trying to catch up. That online gig is not leaving me any time for that (more on this later). Anyway, i do have to go to bed now, however...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nay/ "Neguei"

(only my BIL/SIL and maybe some Brazilian readers will understand the second part of the title, it's a slangy expression that means "negative" or "[I've been] denied something" or "something went wrong")

In fact, I would be shocked (if thrilled) if it were a "yay" instead of a nay, but it was only predictable that I wouldn't get in. The email I received states that there were over 300 applications for the postdoctoral fellowship I applied to. It's only natural I wasn't one of the 5 "lucky" ones. Whatever. Hopefully this doesn't reflect on the quality and value of the work of 295 of us. It only means that graduate schools HAVE GOT TO STOP ACCEPTING PHD CANDIDATES ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or, obviously, misguided souls like myself have to stop applying or, get the degree and go back to our home countries already (it is true that I would have an academic job there, although I hearsay that most higher education institutions that can are firing all their PhDs and hiring people with Master's degrees instead -- in Brazil the salary for the various levels of teaching jobs are regulated by a national teacher's union, so people with doctorates have to earn more, so they become undesirable).

I think that slowly but surely I am giving up any and all sliver of hope of ever becoming an academic. I will always be in the margins, if anywhere near the ever more disgusting "Ivory tower." I actually feel like really giving up for good this time and never even thinking about my dissertation and submitting any other papers for publication or presentation... Not going to the conference at Harvard in May (I will, though, since I was the one who had the idea to invite my friend to co-chair a panel). What a WASTE of ten years of my life, in a sense... good thing at least I had a splendid excuse to just stay home with my boys and have my parents come and help us for 24 months...

What a nice Xmas present, no? I'm glad last year we really had a live-saving gift, right on our anniversary (that we celebrated last week, but it's the subject for another post! :-).

OK, enough of ranting.

On other news, my grandma's funeral will be this afternoon at 5 pm. I hope to talk to my parents on the phone later today. My uncle (the one who lives in D.C.) just called me. It was nice talking to him.

I have to go back to cleaning the house. K just picked up his parents at the airport and is coming home. I have to prepare lunch too. Hopefully I'll have more time to blog later. There is another post about some "blunders" that was ready to be published when I heard about Grandma's passing. She was lucid to the very end and only her daughter (the one who's lived with her since 1979) was with her, my uncle told me.

1912 (or 1910) to 2008

1912 (or 1910) to 2008

I don't have any grandparents anymore. My vovó Olivia Diva died tonight, less than an hour ago. My mom just emailed us the news from grandma's house. She is resting now, and she passed away peacefully at home, the way the family wanted and probably she did too, although she was clinging to life and didn't want to die. Most of us don't.

Some previous posts about my grandmother and my dad's family here, here, and there.

I am sad, but I knew it was coming, I just didn't think it would happen so quickly. My other grandmother also died while I was far away, back in 1997, only seven months after our arrival in this country. I wish I could be with my parents right now. Good thing I will see them in only three weeks (I'm going to Brazil for a few days in January).

I just hope that now that grandma is no longer here that the serious conflicts in my dad's side of the family don't erupt all of a sudden and that all legal and financial matters pertaining to the family can be resolved in a civil and peaceful manner in honor of vovó. This is what I will be thinking and praying about now. As for vovó Olivia, she is resting in peace now, with no more pain and suffering. And what remains of her will be laid down to rest beside my grandfather, who preceded her precisely 30 years and a couple of months ago.

Both of them will be only a few hundred feet away from my maternal grandparents' resting place, in the same grassy cemetery where, back in 1986, I saw the slanted late afternoon sun shine on my beloved Vovô Passos's face, as they opened his casket for one last goodbye before lowering it down, close to the earth. I remember filling my hand with dry, dusty soil, and dropping it into the grave.

From dust we come, and to dust we shall return.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Update on my Grandma -- The TIme is Coming

My parents traveled South from the Sao Paulo countryside to Curitiba last Thursday and they have been with my grandma a few times. They and my other two aunts are trying to help the younger aunt who has been caring for grandma 24/7 for many intensive weeks (not to mention many many years).

My mom emailed me earlier today and said that grandma is clinging to life, but she is probably going this time. The sentence that stood out in that email was their realization that that "spark" in her eye is gone. Now that she's off the antibiotics she's more lucid, but she is extremely weak.

I just talked to mom and dad on the phone and they said that they will probably call with bad news soon. They talked to her doctor today after he visited her at home and he explained that her blood pressure is quite low and that there could be hope only if it went back up. She is no longer eating and is on a diet of liquids.

The most important thing is that they've been able to keep her home. My parents asked for us to pray that she may go painlessly.

I'm so sad... I'm just crying now. How special it was that the last time we were together we talked about breastfeeding and I nursed Linton for one of the last times before we weaned...

I'll let you know when she goes. Thanks in advance for your support and sympathy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Things Are Gonna Get Easier"

Phew... I just posted weekly feedback for last week for one of my classes and I'm so relieved that I'm doing it earlier for the first time! (I've been doing it on Sunday -- the last possible day).

And last night, for the first time, grading took less than 4-5 hours, I think I graded one assignment for a whole class in under 2h, perhaps less than 1h30.

Sorry to be boring you to tears with my whining and posting about this new gig. It looks like I should stick with it since the future looks bleak for so many people now, right? I should be grateful for my jobs, whatever they are...

In spite of that, I'm creating a new label for my work related posts -- "Working in the Margins" [question -- should it be "on the margins"? should margins be singular? What do you think?] . I may change it someday, but for now, this is it... elementary school teaching, online teaching, are really the "margins" as far as academia is concerned. I'm happy, though.

Now I have to go to bed since "tomorrow" (already today) I have to get ready to go on the very first getaway with K since the kids were born. YAY!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Stayed Up All Night...

... grading. And even then I was late posting the weekly feedback. And I still have a load of assignments to grade that were due yesterday.

It's a nightmare this mercenary job that I took, a veritable nightmare. I just cannot grade fast enough and their emphasis is on doing things in their schedule, not on the students. I am sure that it's more important to them that I return the feedback (even if it's nothing really) on time, than giving significant feedback. I made a conscious decision to enjoy my guests on Saturday night and then I rested a bit on Sunday morning... and, stupid, I thought that if I started grading mid-afternoon I'd be done before 2 am... ahahaha... Impossible.

OK, I can hardly sound coherent. I need to take a nap before I go back to grading. And I don't even want to look at my mentor's email,... I can tell that she won't have good things to say about my delay... OK, I really have to go catch some zzs now... but I'll be back later. Hopefully not up all night AGAIN. :-(

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When the Tables Turn

You know, this economic crisis doesn't inspire any fear whatsoever in me. First, of course, there's the confidence (and also the faith) that we will be all right, that we will have jobs that will enable us to live and pay the mortgage. And second, there's the fact that we made the right decision as regards to real estate. This house here is not running much risk of depreciation given the huge level lot, its superb location in a desirable neighborhood and stellar school district.

These things are not as relevant in maintaining our peace of mind, I think, as is the fact that K and I were both raised in extreme frugality. It wasn't really poverty, no, and outwardly, as PK's, we almost looked sharp (although I grew up wearing second hand clothes -- I don't mind them to this day, either for me or my sons). But the frugality, the not having any money to spare, not ever eating out, always taking our own food for trips*, "borrowing" our aunts' and uncles' beach houses for vacations, always buying clothes in the cheapest wholesale places in the city of São Paulo** and never ever buying anything at malls, etc. these were the defining things in our childhoods. Frugality and thriftiness just won't ever leave us, I think, and that -- in spite of my half hearted attempts to rebel against it -- is a very good thing.

In a culture of extreme consumerism as the U.S. frugality is frowned upon. "Living within one's means" -- a phrase that has now become ubiquitous was something to be laughed at. New cars used to be a necessity, as were eating out and buying tons of toys and paraphernalia for one's children (please don't get me started on toys, I've had a post literally "boiling" in my mind for years now) . Ha, if I tell you about cars... it'll be an interesting story. I still remember my dad's first car, a yellow VW beetle that he got in 1973 or 4. Most of our family cars (one at a time) were VWs (I guess it's the Germaness in my dad that had him prefer the German maker), all of them used. From 1979 to 1986 we had this bright blue VW Passat that had belonged to my grandfather before my dad bought it from him. The only way my dad was able to get us a "new" used car was taking his vacation and coming to "visit" his brother here in the U.S. (my uncle lives in D.C.) and working with him for a month. Then, we finally had a slightly more modern car.

Well, anyway, what I mean is that now that we're deep in a recession, the tables have turned. Values that my parents painstakingly instilled in me (and which were the norm here in this country less than 50 years ago -- I get that from old people all the time, I, in my "youth" fully identify with them in this respect, all because I was raised in another country) are now being brought back to the forefront. Now, perhaps this is mean spirited of me, but when I listen to people talking about their negative experiences in this time of crisis, such as the woman who was interviewed on NPR saying in tears that Christmas used to be a "huge deal" for her family and this year it's not going to be, I don't pity them. I just think -- this is normal for me, not doing any excesses because I cannot afford certain things.

And the funny thing to an slightly "anti-consumerist" person like me (I'm not even close to what Jo(e) is -- I still buy plenty of things I probably shouldn't be buying) is all this talk that the economy will hurt even more if we don't buy. Sigh. That's why I don't like capitalism. We always need to be buying things we don't need so big shots can make big profits. Sure, I know... the people who make these things need to have a job too. Well, let's put it that way, I don't really like to think about large economic issues. I just can't stand the idea of so few people being so rich and having so much and the majority of people on earth living in such abject poverty. And it frustrates me that I feel so powerless -- I haven't yet been able to find a charity or organization in which our whole family could be involved in helping those in need.

There's so much red tape in some philantropic agencies and charities in this country that I have a feeling that those who really need help don't even contact them. I know that these things need to be regulated so the procedures and the help are done in a fair manner, but still... I understand now why so many people get involved in humanitarian aid in other countries or go on "mission trips." It is easier to feel useful and to really learn from the suffering of other people abroad than at home. But I know that there are countless destitute people all around us, they are just invisible.

OK, I'm going off in a tangent and I should wrap this up. I guess what I wanted to say in this post is that the current situation is providing me much food for thought and a new perspective on the usefulness of thriftiness and frugality. The same things that made feel slightly bad in the past now make me feel pretty good because, hopefully, not buying everything in sight it is going back to vogue -- and I don't really care if it's not good for the economy (sigh). Should I, really?

* We have an interesting expression for this in Brazilian Portuguese -- farofeiro from the food farofa (in old times, chicken and manioc flour, prepared for eating during long trips). I really didn't like belonging to a farofeira family. In Brazil people don't often make picnics or bring their own lunches to eat outdoors at public places like here, so we were always the odd ones out -- e.g. when spending the day at a beach during one of our trips, we ate our lunch sitting on a low wall, next to a city park or square, or next to a parking lot, I don't remember exactly. On car trips we'd always eat boiled eggs, fruit yogurt, fruit, etc...

** Rua Zé Paulino (Zé Paulino Street), Brás, or 25 de Março (March 25 St.) -- places in which many textile factories are based and where one can buy clothes and fabric directly from the manufacturer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

She's Sick... Again :-(

I knew I had forgotten to include some important things in my previous "tidbits" post, but they might as well be in a separate one, given their sad overtones.

My only surviving grandmother is sick again, and this happened around the same time that she was seriously sick late last year into January this year. This time she has not been hospitalized, though, which is a blessing for the family because she doesn't have insurance and going into a public hospital would just kill her right away, so her children share the costs of hospitalization at an expensive private hospital.

She had a gastrointestinal problem last week, maybe the stomach flu or food poisoning, and things went downhill from there. She is very week from not eating much and confused from the medication. She's suffering from fluid retention and she is doing physical therapy every day so that fluid doesn't accumulate in her lungs like it did almost a year ago. My aunt also paid for years an at home nursing service and they come if needed too. My aunts are doing everything they can so that Grandma may not feel pain and discomfort. She really doesn't want to go to the hospital, so it would be a blessing if she could die peacefully at home if at all possible.

It seems that death doesn't come that easy for people who have lived that long, though. My poor aunt who is single and who has lived with my grandma since grandpa died back in 1978 is stretched thin, she's reaching her limit. Her greatest despair comes when Grandma feels frustrated and says she wants the doctor to give her something so she can just die. That must be just devastating to hear (and to say too).

So, if you pray, keep my aunt and my grandma in your prayers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the other hand, death sometimes comes too quickly as it just happened two days ago with Cleide, an accomplished dressmaker who made many clothes for me, my mom and countless people we know in Brazil. She had a headache, went to bed and didn't wake up -- went straight into a coma. She came to in the hospital, when they diagnosed a huge brain tumor. This happened last week on Tuesday. She was going to have surgery this past Tuesday, but died on Monday night.

Yeah. Just like that. So incredibly shocking. K and I were stunned, particularly because last June, on a day when we went to the notary public to get K to sign a permission so I could return to the U.S. with the kids without him (Brazil requires a notarized permission form), we went to Cleide's house so we could go online and print out a form (she was one of the few people we knew in the town and who we knew would be at home). Having seen her so recently makes her death even more surreal. Well, one could argue that at least it was quick, that she didn't suffer... but this must be hard on the family who couldn't prepare for such a sudden development.

Well, it's hard anyway -- it's been incredibly hard on my aunt to see my grandma waste away so slowly, over a period of so many years. One thing is certain, no matter how/when it happens, death is never something that we naturally accept and feel OK about. [Sigh]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tidbits of Life & Stuff

  • Our washer is broken. It was not doing well for a month or so (making a horrible noise when spinning), but it stopped spinning last Thursday. It's a plain Kenmore front-loader that will/would be 8 years old in February . The Sears repair person is coming on Thursday. I just hope we don't need to get a new one :-( . We're already buried in debt, but a washer is an inescapable need!
Parents in-law and brother-in-law's family are coming for Christmas. We'll be together for only 2-3 days, and that makes it more stressful, I think, than a more leisurely week spent together, but they can't come earlier. Maybe one of K's cousins from Brazil will be with us too (he's coming to NYC around this time). We want to travel to Florida after that, starting possibly on Christmas day, but we're still not certain we're going. I hope we do go.
  • Obviously, as one of the greatest procrastinators ever, I still have to go Christmas shopping. Not fun :-(. We're doing a "secret friend" gift exchange in the family, so that will make things easier this year.
My husband heard something on NPR about a Chinese film maker and we're very intrigued about him and his films now. I've already placed the films mentioned in the essay in our Netflix queue. One the things I liked the best in the essay was the writing, which was really good (like in most of NPR's essays and reporting). The connections that John Powers (the author) made between the film's relevance given today's grim economic reality in the last three paragraphs is great.
  • It feels to good to read well written things because I'm being subjected to reading absurdly bad writing in the online gig. I guess that's one of the countless problems with online education -- many students are so ill-prepared that they cannot, by their circumstances, take much from the class. It's so sad! And it takes me just so long to grade these bad assignments. This is one of the reasons why I've felt really overwhelmed by this class and the grading deadlines. This and the feeling that I can never ever relax. Good thing there's a two week winter break.
I have two sets of Christmas tree decorations: in typical colors (red, white and green) and pastel pink and green (I'll post pictures of them in another entry). I think I'm going to go with traditional this year because the theme of several decorations (including the chosen dollar store tableware) is snowmen.
  • The boys urged me to hang lights outside tonight and, taking advantage of the mild weather, I did it with their help. I don't like all the waste of electricity energy, so I don't use timers and only turn them on when we're home, but I still wish I could replace them all with LED lights. Some other year when we have more $...
OK, more later...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Amiga Inglesa/ English Friend

I want to register here that I just received the most wonderful and encouraging comment that I have received in a really long time!

Thanks, anonymous amiga inglesa (English [female] friend), you made my day! Comments like these and the friendships that I make reading other people's blogs are what make the whole "blogging enterprise" worth while. That is one of the reasons why I don't ever want to quit blogging. For some lucky few like dooce, blogging brings food to their tables and an income to live on, for others, like me, it brings the emotional, social, and even intellectual support that I need and crave in order to keep on living my sometimes complex and crazy little life.

Thanks for the kind words about my writing, amiga, and, mainly, thanks for reminding me that there are people around the world interested in Brazil!! This alone is extremely encouraging! I am aware of the departments of Brazilian studies in the U.K. and I have thought of trying to apply there or find out whether I could get a job there. In fact, it was a British translator who first brought Clarice Lispector to the world's attention and Bloomsbury and its editor Liz Calder have also published several recent books of Brazilian literature in English translation, so I know that there is significant interest in Brazil and Brazilian literature in the U.K. (not so much so here in the U.S. :-( ).

I don't know if I've blogged about this or not, but I collect children's books from Brazil too! Actually, children's literature is one of my passions, one of the reasons why I might do well in librarianship too. I'd love to be able to talk more to you about the Brazilian children's books that you have and appreciate. I wasn't aware of the immigrant Brazilian children in the U.K. and the demand for books that will appeal to their interests. Fascinating subject. There's a Brazilian immigrant writer who lives in the New York City area and who has written a few books aimed at Brazilian immigrant children here in the U.S., particularly this one. It might be useful for Brazilian kids in the U.K. too!

Well, I have to go back to work in my "in the outer fringes of academia" job now. But I do so with a smile, knowing that someone in the other side of the pond reads my words and can be so kind as to send me a lengthy and encouraging comment. Thank you so much amiga!!

P.S. And many congratulations, amiga, on learning Portuguese from scratch, as you say! Awesome!

P.P.S. You may not have noticed, but I deleted the words "useless PhD" from my blog banner. I hope that the more positive attitude may help my outlook and approach to life.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Outside Higher Education - A Mother's Manifesto

December is here, and so are the butterflies in my stomach.

This month is when I'm going to find out whether that postdoctoral fellowship will happen or not. My overgrown pessimistic side says "no," but a tiny part of me still hopes.

So, just in case I do get another shot at being an academic again, let me try to squeeze this post out of my brain before the almost clever title becomes obsolete.

I have said countless times that for me, being a mother is infinitely more important than the PhD and having an academic career. In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I've been thinking lately that I actually don't want an academic career. Trouble is, what then, am I to do with my life? I know that there are many things that I can do, but very few of them will make use of the work that I put into the degree. So, let me get started with some ideas as to why higher education and motherhood don't go so well together, at least in my experience (and, of course, who am I to be writing this meager post about such an encompassing issue? You can read a whole book about the subject, and follow several of the book contributors' blog at, ironically, Inside Higher Ed ;-)

The academic establishment is a rough place for anyone. We as a family know that it's not much easier for men in the sciences either -- my husband is doing his second post-doc, last year he sent out 25 job applications and was selected for only one campus interview. The "dream" industry job that appeared out of nowhere went up in smoke within a year. If it isn't easier for him, however, it's much harder for me.

Of course, as I've said repeatedly, it's not hard only because I am a mother, but also because of the particular area of specialization that I've chosen and because things are harder for people in the humanities to begin with. However, one thing is abundantly clear, having babies during graduate school slowed me down considerably. It took me a really long time to finish the dissertation, it took me a couple of years to be able to present at academic conferences again and... most importantly, being busy as a mother has not made it possible for me to pursue the publication of articles and, perhaps, even working to transform my dissertation into a book.

Having a PhD and being outside higher education doesn't feel very good, but at least I'm in very good company! My friend Articulate Dad's experience was an eye opener for me in realizing that there are other avenues to explore, that we don't need to be constrained by our drive to "fulfill our destinies" as PhD holders by becoming part of the academic establishment. And also, in a sadder note, that one can try with all one's might, for several years (three in his case), applying for literally hundreds of position and not getting anything. Not even a campus visit (only for a lecture post).

The saddest thing for me is to realize that as graduate students we're mere "cogs" in this huge gear that is higher education. There is no room for us when we graduate, but they still need us as cheap labor and as ego building fodder for tenured professors (and their careers, in the case of the sciences), who revel in teaching graduate students and/or having their names appear in every single of their students' publications. (this last feature of the sciences sometimes makes me glad that I'm in the humanities -- if I ever publish anything, it's in my name alone!).

My friend M had a recent conversation with a graduate student colleague that makes very clear the incomprehension and almost intolerance that people who decide to have babies and pursue a PhD at the same time face. It seems that it is easier and more comfortable to be a mother here, outside of academia, than inside. Particularly because it seems that by being mothers we are at much higher risk of remaining in the fringes -- as adjuncts, lectures and, obviously, being in the fringe of the fringe of the fringe, like I am doing right now, working online.

Well, I am sure there's more to be said, but my son is sick (he's got a croupy cough) and I'm getting really sleepy because last night was not very good, so I'll leave it at that for now! ;-)