Friday, April 28, 2006

Mother Talk - It's a Girl

Last night I was finally able to attend my very first Mother Talk here in Philly and meet Andi Buchanan , writer and also blogger, in person! I was looking forward to meeting Miriam Peskowitz as well, but she wasn't able to make it.

I felt a little lost at first, because I didn't know anyone there and most people seemed to know each other, but I was able to talk with a few mothers. I had read the essays beforehand, but the readings were fantastic!!

Yvonne Latty made everyone burst out laughing many times with hilarious anecdotes about her family, particularly about their participation in the Rosie O'Donnel cruise (that she and her family - two Black gay women from Philly, one Hispanic, another Jewish, with two daughters conceived through IUI - were utterly "boring" suburbanites as compared to most of the other GLBT families' stories of hardship to conceive, etc in the cruise) and the Disney World Breakfast with the Princesses (she and her oldest daughter were criticising/questioning the princesses, particularly Snow White - as to why she would take an apple from such an ugly witch - they actually asked the "princess" that! :)

Kim Fisher was shy and cute, and read her great essay titled "Shining, Shimmering, Splendid" about her triplet girls' identification with the Disney Princesses - which became a central theme of the evening discussions. Many women, I 'd even say most of those who were there, shared their experiences and their opinions about raising girls, there was also quite a bit of discussion about how girls are/aren't different from boys that I learned quite a bit from, since I have only boys and not girls.

Andi read her piece last, and had to stop before the end before she got too emotional. Her essay is about her daughter learning to write, and "daring" to write "I don't like you mommy," even though she can't yet spell "don't" and how Andi had to figure out that she had to allow her daughter to express herself even though it might hurt her feelings -- a really beautiful essay, and the discussion that followed was very meaningful.

I'm delighted I was able to finally make it to Mother Talk and will probably be able to go to others, now that my husband is successfully putting both boys to bed every night!! Well, in two weeks I'll be back with my very own review of It's a Girl, since I'm participating of the Blog Tour - Yay! Watch this space then.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dissertatin' - Update #6 (Mood Swings)

I wanted to share with you two recent entries in my "Dissertation Journal."

Last Thursday (4/20), I wrote:

You know, I do care a great deal about my dissertation topic, I do. I can still find myself in tears when I start looking at each of the chapters, thinking about what I want them to convey, what I want Brazilian literature to be in the world, how sad it is that Brazil is just a little nothing in the grand scheme of things of this world. These issues truly move me.

And yet I haven’t been doing any progress. It’s such a stupid “fear” that I have – the fear of killing my own passion for this topic. Working on it should only increase my motivation and passion for the dissertation, right? However, working will lead to feedback, and feedback ALWAYS brings me down. I HATE myself for it, though, I totally do. I mean, I want to enjoy this, but really – can dissertation work be truly enjoyable? I have my doubts about that. It’s not that it’s difficult, I enjoy difficult things…I can’t quite put my finger on it. It is and at the same time is not a kind of forced labor. I am “forced” to do it, to finish because I have come thus far, but I am the one choosing the topic, choosing what I research about, choosing the issues to discuss in each chapter.

(It must be infinitely harder for those who don’t really get to choose a topic, like it happens in the sciences – or maybe it is infinitely easier, right!! Don’t I always say so about my husband and the way he got to schedule a defense date regardless of whether he had fully finished the experiment or not?).

This (the power to choose) is really cool – but it has a downside – since I chose this topic, I and only I am supposed to be the specialist, to know what I’m talking about, etc. - and that’s downright scary!! As I struggle to find my own voice and to be able to defend it – see? That’s why we have to defend this thing, right? – to find the right arguments to “prove” that I’m not talking nonsense is quite scary. It is one thing to “own” one’s topic as Articulate Dad helpfully commented to my last Dissertation Update post, and another one altogether different to think independently, to know where I want to go and what is the contribution of my work. The fine line between contextualizing my work in the light of what other people have already written and in a sense “repeating,” reviewing what they say, and moving on to my own point. I have a hard time doing that. Maybe everyone does.

I guess I’m making progress here, if not in the number of pages at least in my awareness of the dissertation as a whole.
~~~ ~~~
Then, on Saturday night (4/22), I wrote:

I’ve been going back and forth – between depressed [like here and here] and OK [like above], now I’m getting antsy because my advisor hasn’t emailed me for 2 full weeks!!! He didn’t reply to my last 3 emails, which I think it’s completely unacceptable. [OK, he finally emailed me yesterday - 4/26 saying he's directing 4 M.A. thesis, is in the committee of 3 Ph.D. dissertations and is teaching classes - oh, well. At least I'm not anxious about this anymore].

What else – I have been in the middle of a “full swing” communication jag with [the professor from Brazil], which is great, but there are so many things to edit and take care of. Revising is WORSE than anything else. – and I still have most of 3 full chapters to write, and those will need to be revised after I do get to write them. Very discouraging.

Anyway, I have to work now, but I wanted to check the last entry. I can’t believe that just 2 days ago I was again so “moved,” really in tears because of how meaningful my research is for me when today all I can feel is a very uneasy feeling of not really owning this thing… this humongous monster that is the dissertation. Oh boy, what can I do?

I’m suffering from full blown ABD- state induced mood swings.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring Pictures

Here's my belated post with photos. I started uploading them large (the last ones are the first uploaded), but then decided to have them small so I could add more. I know there are too many, but I just love taking pictures and this is a really small sample, believe me. I'll upload more to Flikr.
These are two of the photos
we took in Washington D.C. on April 2.

The next 3 were taken at the Morris Arboretum on April 15.

The next 4 pictures are of my very own tulips
in front of our home on 4/16.
Tulips are my favorite flowers, too bad they can
only be enjoyed for such a short time!

These last two were taken by my parents
at Longwood Gardens on 4/18.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lovely Day and Bloggers Meet up!!

I shouldn't be writing because I need to sleep, but I really want to share this.

Yesterday [actually, Thursday] was a lovely day all around. My parents had to renew their passports in the itinerant Brazilian consulate and since I would need to stay with the boys I decided to go to my second La Leche League meeting this month. The meeting was great, especially because I finally got to meet Jo and Sophia, my third blogger meet up (this time with a "famous" blogger :) !! I had not mentioned it before, but I had my second blogger "meet up" with Mama Marta at last month's LLL. Since I also met Kateri at a LLL meeting, I guess it's time I issue a formal statement:
I heartily thank the La Leche League for giving me the opportunity of meeting these great bloggers in real life :)

All right, back to my lovely day... It was also sunny and very warm (almost hot) and there were flowers and new green leaves everywhere. After the meeting, I went to the Jenks playground (too bad the site doesn't have a picture - I didn't have my camera with me) with the boys, and we also spent over an hour at a lovely toy store, since I parked right in front of it. We had lunch at the Farmer's market and the boys enjoyed the playground before and after lunch, when they were finally allowed to use the "big kids" part, since school was over. Then we went to pick up my parents (who actually had to wait for a bit because the boys just didn't want to leave).

Mt. Airy/ Chestnut Hill is such a great place, and I felt kind of sorry for the place we live. When we were moving here, there was a woman from Philly who told us that we would definitely enjoy living in Mt. Airy, and I realized yesterday that she was absolutely right. We just couldn't possibly afford it, though. There were basically no houses at all in our price range in that area when we were looking. I like our house, it's only 4 years old, and the neighborhood is not bad, but in that area I feel we could have real friends (here we barely know any neighbors, we don't really "fit in" with the neighborhood). I mean, just to give an example, one of the moms at the LLL meeting is also writing her dissertation, and of course there would be Jo and Marta and many other lovely people we could meet... Mt. Airy reminded me a lot of the Pioneer valley - except it's in a city, not in the countryside. I have been sorely missing the valley lately (sigh)...

It was a really simple day, but since I haven't spent much time with my boys since my parents got here it was really special for me to enjoy this day with them. I work on the dissertation at home, so I do see them a lot, but my parents are the ones who bring them regularly to the playground and other places. I long for the day when I can spend the whole day with my sons again, but I do need to take advantage of my parents' help while I can, right?

Just in case you're wondering, I'm at a better place regarding the dissertation. I'll write about it soon.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Crash (updated)

I watched Crash last night. Wow, I don't know how to express my feelings and reaction. First, it's very very sad, and I don't like sad movies even though I think they are necessary, if you know what I mean. Life has a lot of sadness. And the Academy seems to really like sad movies (for me Crash was sadder than last year's Million Dollar Baby, though - let me confess that I missed the last fight scene, again because the baby was crying, and since it was on TV and not DVD, I couldn't replay it - and neither did I want to).

I really liked the way Crash showed how racism is so insidious in every ethnic group - this issue is not really discussed, it's a taboo in our politically correct society - in this sense I think this movie is truly important. I felt that the ethnicity that was "spared" the most criticism was the Hispanics - my husband and I were talking after we watched it, and he said that that everyone has a good and a bad side in this movie, but I found two exceptions - the hispanic locksmith (he did react explosively once, I concede, but that was it) and the hispanic housekeeper. (I did miss some very short portions of the film because my son was coughing and woke up a couple of times, and I tried to watch them again after, but correct me if I'm wrong). The hispanic police woman "racially attacks" the Chinese one in the very beginning, so I guess not all Hispanics are portrayed in a completely positive light.

Of course the movie has a lot of characters and a very unique way to tell their stories which didn't allow for extremely deep or rounded psychological portrayals of each character, but we did get the basics - these are complex people, with issues going on both in their personal and professional lives.

I was angry several times, so angry I could barely stay seated... The Black couple stopped by the police, the Persian guy beying attacked as a jihadist. And I could barely watch the little girl's scene (Isnt' life so much scarier after we become parents? I found out that filmakers and TV movie writers know really well how to get to us parents and do that very often and skillfully - not to say "appellatively") . There were many many unexpected twists, but I don't want to give the plot away, so I won't say anything about these.

I didn't watch the other Oscar contenders, but I'm really happy that this movie was chosen as best film. It also absolutely deserved best editing and screenplay -- in my humble and very uninformed opinion :)

Well, I'd love to know what anyone else thought of it!!

P.S. I still need to write something about Bride & Prejudice that I watched last weekend. Thanks Chicagomama and Libby for the suggestion!

Edited to add: I wanted to address the issue that my "blogging buddy" Juliet brought up in her comment, which is right on. I didn't feel like doing a full review in the post, so I didn't write about every ethnicity represented, but Asians are definitely under-represented and I agree with the idea that the Chinese characters' "humanity" is not really highlighted - only as regarding physical suffering, I suppose - they are not two dimensional characters either. Thanks for your comment, Juliet. I think you shouldn't see it, it will upset you.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blogroll Accidentally Erased (now fixed)

I can't believe I just erased most of the blogroll from my template. I was adding a new blog to it and left the template open for a while, then I didn't check what I had done before saving and I just saved and published it. Now it will take me forever to add all the links one by one, I may even forget many of them, and that makes me really sad and upset.

I can't believe I had not saved my template yet somewhere (like my friend Alice had recommended a while back). Of course this needs to be done, just in case an accident like this happens!!! What a waste of time it will be, but I just can't bear not to have my blogroll back...

Well, now I've learned my lesson the hard way and I'm saving this template as soon as I get the links back in.

Updated to Add:
I was able to fix it searching each blog online and adding each manually again, but I think I forgot one or two blogs. I also ended up deleting those blogs which have gone offline and I changed the order slightly. The blogs within each category are (have always been) in alphabetical order, but the categories themselves are not. Of course the template is saved now.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Dilemmas of a Mama(e) in Translation"

This is the title of my latest "One Family One Language" column at the Bilingual/ Bicultural Family Network (BBFN) newsletter. You can check it out here.

You should also check out the columns of my blogging friends Clo (from Multi Tongue Kids), who writes about the French nanny she shares with another family, and Alice (from Jabberlingual), who shares her doubts about the language development of her children, who are exposed to three languages.

The BBFN is a great resource and the site is getting better everyday. Great work, Corey!

My First "Son" - Blues' Pictures for Lioness

This is my dear "first son" Blues... I thought it was high time I posted more pictures of him in the blog, since he made his appearance here only once, and then in competition with my beautiful morning glories. The Lioness recently told me that he looks like her cat, and I wanted to share more pictures with her, so here you go!

We got him as a tiny kitten back in April 2001, two months after we bought a house. I had longed to have a cat forever here in the U.S., but only got to have one when we had our own place since the apartment buildings we lived in previously didn't allow pets. I adore cats and I was fortunate enough to marry another cat lover (that's one of the reasons I married him, to be sure :) and nobody here at home has cat alergies, what a relief!! (I have friends who do and it has even prevented some of them from visiting altogether, since the cat allergy is awful!).

The pictures are from 2003 (July, September and October) and 2004 (February) - we got a digital camera in June 2003. Of course I have many pictures from before, but they're "regular" ones that I haven't scanned yet. Blues even has his own photo scrapbook, which also contains pictures of my previous cats and my aunts' cats... In the outdoor pictures I posted he had a harness because we lived in a condo that didn't allow pets outside, so we'd always bring him out in a harness and leash. Isn't he cute? He likes to relax laying in his back with feet in the air, and he lets me pet his belly! I'll post some other pictures at another time, OK?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Four Years Ago - Just the First Paragraph

Four Years ago today, my first baby was 1 month and 2 days old, and this was the day, the happy happy day in which he was able to latch on and really breastfeed for the first time since his first week of life. It was only then that I was able to (in two days) to stop pumping for good. It was only then that I began to enjoy being a mother fully. This day and the month that preceded it changed my life profoundly and transformed me into a fervent lactivist. Because of my experience, I just melt into tears and feel utterly devastated just thinking about other mothers' difficulty and failure to breastfeed -- I want to help them badly, and I do try to help any new mother I know. I really wish I could become a (certified) lactation consultant,* but right now I'm happy with participating of the LLL (La Leche League).
~~~ ~~~
I wanted to share the whole story, but today it won't be possible. My husband arrived from Brazil this morning (he had a good trip). We got to spend the day together and went to lovely Longwood Gardens in the afternoon. It was heavenly! I will post pictures later, both here and in Flickr. Oh, yeah, and I never told you that we did get to go to D.C. two Sundays ago (on April 2nd) to see the Cherry Blossoms, and I owe you photos of that as well. They'll be coming, I promise. And new thoughts about Brazil and how I kind of feel like I don't really want to go back, at least not now...

But I need to rest. My nights aren't easy - the 22 month old still nurses a few times and has been waking up at 5-6 am, and it takes me a while to get him to sleep again. Today I just got up before 7, because I knew that hubby would call me anyway (he didn't call until 8:40) - and I had gone to bed almost at 1 (as I do most nights). So I'm really tired.

* Oh yeah, I could do that if I don't get the academic job :-) This is serious, though, and not a joke, I really wanted to, but I guess it would be a hassle because I'm not a nurse, or doctor, or social worker...


Thank you for the kind words of support that those who commented gave me.

I felt pretty bad about yesterday's post for the last 24 hours, but I guess I'm OK with it now. My feelings varied widely -- I went from feeling ashamed, stupid, and immature, just like I said I shouldn't be, to being angry and upset again. Then I felt anxious that maybe I shouldn't have written this, and the next minute frustrated because I actually wished more people could read what I wrote, that I thought I had some valid points, and then I ended up feeling stupid for thinking such a thing -- for who am I? just a nobody-ABD, and Does it matter, in the grand scheme of things, what I think?

I mean, the point here is not really my writing or this dissertation, which I am certainly going to finish, though it may have seemed that way. The problem is deeper and will probably not go away once I'm done (OK, maybe it someday it may if, by any chance in the universe, I do get an academic job). The problem is rooted in my ambivalent, complex feelings about academia in general. Most of the time I'm just numb to them, and almost forget that they exist, but since I went back to work on the dissertation, these feelings are back, sometimes with a vengeance like yesterday.

What I feel now goes like this: I may not be the smartest "Ph.D.-to-be" that ever existed, and I'm probably among the less smart, but, I have concluded that having these ambivalent feelings and a natural reluctance to conform (I've always been quite rebelious, though only intellectually, not in my outward appearance or demeanor) will benefit me and help me be a better academic if I ever do become one. OK, I know I am one, but an unpaid academic, and if this is what it amounts to - if I can only be an academic without being paid, then I'll probably quit.

OK, I'm just too random today, so I'll stop. I was supposed to write about something else entirely today, and I'll write another post about it shortly. Not that anyone will read this anyway (I am a defeatist as well, and a whiner, if you haven't already noticed). Sorry, but that's who I am. Oh yeah, and I probably should have kept on writing about Jane Austen and flowers, shouldn't I? ;-)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why? What's the Use? (updated)

I keep a dissertation journal to help me work through the issues I have from time to time. Perhaps that's why I don't write much about the dissertation in the blog (even though sometimes I don't write in the journal very often either).

I know not many academic folks read this blog (or not many people at all, I should add), but I wanted to share my latest dissertation journal entry here. There's a bit of "screaming" in this post, and I apologize for that, but I really feel down right now with this whole dissertation thing. I know it's partly the fact that I can't ever take feedback well, but it's deeper than that, you'll see.
~~~ ~~~
It’s sad to write this entry since the very last thing I wrote in this journal a week ago is a big problem for me today: “I don’t want to write what anyone wants to hear, I want to write what I want!!!!!”

Problem is… they’re probably right. I just received a review of chapter 2 yesterday by email from the Brazilian Professor and she emphasizes again that I should be using my own words, making the work of others work FOR ME and not the other way around (not my work be shaped by other people’s work)…

BIG PROBLEM… it’s funny that education or academic life goes like this – you spend years and years learning to absorb other people’s thoughts which make it harder and harder for one to think by oneself and then when you’re in graduate school all of a sudden you need to be original, to have your own ideas and criticize everyone else’s!!!! I have a hard time with that! Especially because I HATE THEORY! I hate having to talk about ideas, I like FACTS. I guess I am in a completely wrong line of work though, academic life is probably NOT for me, and I’m SERIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But I have to finish this stuff no matter what. And the most tragic thing is that when I’m done I’m afraid that I just won’t enjoy it too much anymore. I will have been stretched and strained to such a degree that I won’t want to continue, I fear. Especially if I don’t get an academic job, which I think I won’t (I assure you I’ll be a happy stay at home mom, my oldest son looks like someone who would actually enjoy home schooling – we were talking about that the other day).

What’s the use of being an expert in something? What’s the use of having a stupid Ph.D. in something only a few thousand people among the billions of people on earth are interested in? What’s the USE??? These questions are anguishing questions and I’m positive the answers people may offer won’t satisfy me. Sure, I do have a thirst to know and to learn, I love books, I love working with the data part in the dissertation, but ultimately, will this research do any good? Will it ever be read by anyone else but my committee and a handful of specialists? Even if it does get published in a book, who reads academic books anyway? A few thousand people at most?

What’s the USE? Why spend so much time and energy in something? WHY?

What’s the use of knowing or making a Herculean effort to learn this "second language" that is academic writing? I am NOT fluent in it, I should add, it’s with great effort that I can make myself sound a little bit like other academics, though it’s slowly growing on me and probably “mangling” my writing skills forever. (This is probably not that bad, I guess :-)

I hope I feel better soon, but right now I’m utterly overwhelmed by the thought of rewriting my 65 page chapter and having been urged to “write in my own words” to avoid citing too much, to “use other people’s work for my benefit” and stuff. I just wish I had never started this, but now I have to finish.

Why has everything in my life to be like that? Is it entirely my fault? It was the same thing with my piano conservatory “degree” (it’s the equivalent of a high school diploma in piano and music). I only finished because I had to, because my mom urged me to keep going. It was OK to finish, but what’s the use to have gone for so long if I can’t really play well, if I don’t have the talent? I’m sure I have much more talent for academic life than for piano, there’s no doubt whatsoever about that, but I HATE, I LOATHE the fact that if I want to succeed I need to write a certain way, I need to fit in, which for me feels almost like “sucking up” to people. I don’t like it, I resist it, and when things don’t “come naturally” to me, I just don’t like to do it.

Perhaps I'm just too stubborn, but the fact is, I value who I am and what little abilities I do have and if they're not enough in academia well, then I don't want to be an academic!! (This sounds very childish and immature, but it is what I truly feel, at the "height" of my almost 35 years – perhaps life will teach me otherwise, since I'm comparatively young).
~~~ ~~~
Well, this “storm” probably will pass, but I still think those “why” and “what’s the use” questions will remain, as well as my stupid stubbornness and pride if that's what my problem consists of. I should have read Invisible Adjunct well before I was an ABD, not just after I had become one. Of course the year during which she blogged was exactly the one that led to my full-fledged ABD status, and I only discovered her after she had already stopped blogging. I wonder how her life is now.

Updated to respond to ABD Mom's great comment to this post.

I guess I can say that up to a certain point I am venting here. Of course I do want to finish and I will -- I am too far down this path to turn back right now and I'm not that childish or immature to do such an impulsive thing. I do feel, however, truly frustrated by many aspects of academic life. I definitely see it as a kind of "private club" that it's very hard to get in. My husband tied with the first place guy in Brazil, but that person already worked at that university (this happens pretty often in Brazil - they need to open a public and supposedly fair competition for a position, but there's someone already waiting to get the job) - I know it's not like that here in this country, but it's still so absurdly competitive!! (the first job my husband applied to had 250 applicants, and the last one, in the school I almost got an interview, there were 150 - for a crappy teaching job with no research and he's in the sciences!!!). I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that I won't get a job...

Sure, I'm doing this Ph.D. for myself, I've always liked to study, etc... even though I had to change my dissertation subject for this one which I'm very interested in but was not my first choice, because if I didn't switch advisors I knew I'd never finish. My school's not that great, you know, the profs are overworked and have to advise tons of students...

The two articles from by Thomas H. Benton in the the Chronicle and that Invisible Adjunct linked to that I read in July 2004 just left me quite discouraged and the strong feelings I had when I read them have never left me - only the really, really bright people should go on to the Ph.D. and I probably am not one of those! If I were I probably wouldn't have such a hard time finding a voice and critiquing famous theorists and using other people's ideas to further my own point!! And if I'm not one of them I can only get a job as another "invisible adjunct." What's the use of a Ph.D. in this case? I really wish other big shot academic bloggers could add their 2 cents to this discussion.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The State of the Dissertation - Update #5

You probably noticed that I am avoiding the subject, even though it's what my life revolves around daily -- but you might not be able to tell that from reading the blog, at least not lately.

I got some more feedback today, this time from the professor from Brazil who's so graciously being a reader in spite of the fact that she probably won't be at the defense (because I simply won't be able to defend by late June - that's when she'll be in North America). She's helping me a lot, giving me advice about structure and content, things that my advisor hardly ever touches on. I will just have to rewrite a whole chapter though, which is 65 pages long and took ages to get written. Of course I don't need to change everything, but ideally, I should. It's such a daunting task, though, one that leaves me paralyzed with fear.

One of the reasons I have not wanted to write about the dissertation lately is the guilt I felt about "wasting" 3/4 of the month of March. I spent two weeks working on the conference paper and then one week writing a paper for publication (which is much needed to improve my CV, I should say). I have resumed working in earnest and was able to add 10 pages to chapter 3 last week. I'm still very excited about the work I'm doing and I want it to continue like that, that's why I'm so reluctant to "embrace" the feedback I get - I don't want to "loath" my dissertation because then I fear it will be too hard to finish.

You can't imagine the pressure I feel from my parents. They were so hoping I would be able to defend before they went back to Brazil! I'm not that pressed for time though because I have decided to remain a student for one more year so I have the professional affiliation to go on the market in the fall. Even if I defended this summer I wouldn't submit the dissertation to the graduate school just yet. Another positive thing is that with our in-laws here if I need help for a few days - to defend or to finish, we can probably count on them.

Anyway... I wanted "to deliver" for my parents' sake as well. I can't talk about blogs and blogging with my mom because she goes crazy thinking that I'm just waiting all this time when I should be working. As if I could possibly work for 8-9 hours straight every day!

This post is a bunch of random ideas and I don't like that too much, but I just have to speak my mind a bit and try to keep things moving. ABDmom always says that blogging about the dissertation helps her to "hold accountable" to the readers and keeps her on track. I'm hoping to write more often about my struggle as an ABD and see if it helps more. I'm trying to read more academic and ABD blogs so I feel more motivated knowing that I'm not alone, since I tend to focus more on blogs and blogging about personal life as I have said before here (in a nutshell, the first blog I read was Invisible Adjunct and even though I enjoyed and read her thoughts on academia I preferred to focus on her personal posts - this is a perfect metaphor for my life, I enjoy working on the dissertation and academic stuff, but my true interest lies in concentrating on my personal life, my kids, making friends, etc - and you can tell this from reading the blog).

All right, enough said. I will try to go to bed before midnight for the first time in what, a week? I'm a night owl, I love to be up really late, but I can't get used to it since after my parents return to Brazil I have to be up at 7 with the boys. When are they going to let me sleep in? Never? I wonder that every day of my life.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sixteen Years Ago Today - Continued

*edited a year later to correct some minor errors*

April 7, 1990. Saturday.

The week since the previous Friday, that unforgettable March 30, the day I met "him," was a time of discovery. It was not like the other times when I had simply fallen head over heels for a guy, it was much more "rational." Instead of floating away in the clouds I felt myself stepping on firmer and steadier ground. It was different.

We got to talk a lot, since we came back together from the university on the bus twice that week. The first time I was not expecting him and he surprised me at the bus stop, it was so cute! I went once to the elementary school during recess on purpose to see him (he was a math teacher then, his first year, his first two months, to be more exact), and when the weekend came we got to spend more time together and talk on Friday night and Saturday. I didn't write much about the the talking last time, but it was amazing... I mean, we just talked and talked about so many things and the conversation was so enriching, entrancing, even. I remember that on that March 30 we talked about the experience of going to the university and how that opened us up to the world, to life and its possibilities. Both of us had a very similar sheltered upbringing and we were amazed at how at ease we felt at the university.

When we talked, nothing mattered much, at least not those superficial things I used to pay attention before on cute guys - clothes they were wearing, hairstyle, etc. All I could see was his face and think about our words that communicated ideas, thoughts, feelings, impressions, and it definitely felt like we had so much to say to each other that all the time in the world would not be enough for it! (oh... how aware I am of that problem with time now that we have two kids! Now I really long for trips in the car so we can talk again uninterrupted for a few hours... [we're lucky that the boys are great on car trips]).

On that Saturday night we went to the school where he and my parents worked (a boarding academy and college) because they usually showed movies, but not on that night, so he walked me back home and we listened to my favorite tapes (we didn't have CDs yet back then). When it was time for him to go to his aunt's home I walked to the gate and he said that he really enjoyed spending time with me and whether I'd like to "officialize" our relationship* (i.e. be his girlfriend/ date him - namorar in Portuguese. ), and I answered without hesitation "Sure!!" ("Claro!").

I was reminded of that "sure" tonight when we were talking online and he asked our oldest son, whether he loved daddy, and our son gave the same response in a lively voice: "Sure!"/ "Claro!" And I thought, oh, yeah, you're your mama's son all right!

I guess now I need to pause my lovely story to explain that in Brazil it used to be that the hard thing to do was to ask to namorar (loosely translated as to date but not with the same meaning, since namorar implies a commitment, a more serious relationship), and there was never a formal marriage proposal. The way it worked there was that after the couple had been "dating" (namorando) for a while, they usually knew when they wanted to get married Then, there was a formal engagement party for the families (usually just parents and siblings on each side) when they exchanged their chosen wedding bands, only on the right hand instead of on the left. Then, a year or so later, they were married. That's how it was for me, but it is changing now [people are planning fancy ways of popping the question, which do not include families, just the couple -- although they still use the wedding band on the right hand] , of course, since all many Brazilians want to do is to imitate "the American way" :-)

What I didn't mention that took place that week and that was very meaningful, was that my mother found out that his aunt (less than two years younger then him) -- who had been my mom's secretary the year before -- had actually tried to set us up! She and her sister (his older aunt) were going to try to make us meet some time, and had even mentioned about me to him (he didn't know who I was, though, just that I was his aunt's teacher's daughter). I was amazed to discover that we had managed to meet on our own, without any interference, because I'm sure that it would have been a very awkward situation if we had been formally introduced to each other in that context. I was thankful for the way we met, and surprised that even though I had never heard of this guy before or seen him in my life, his aunts were already thinking that we were meant for each other! And they were right!

So here you have it. April 7 has always been a special day for us, our anniversary, the first, the "true" one. I do value our wedding anniversary, but March 30 - the day we met, and April 7 - the day we became a couple, are special days for me. I'm sorry that we have to be apart today, but at least I can share this story and record it "for posterity" here in the blog.

I said this post was a "continuation" and not an epilogue, so maybe I'll write more things about that "first year of the rest of our lives" together at another opportunity :-)

-> Next week there's the promised sequel to the birth story of March 9. Oh, I meant to put an old photo of us in this post, I'll add it later, OK?

* He literally said "Você gostaria de oficializar nosso relacionamento ?" -- that's so much like him, he always enjoys saying things differently, out of the box. (comment added on 4/7/07, one year later).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Global Warming and Immigration

I usually don't get political here -- and it's not that I don't have political views worth discussing, it's just that I don't like discussing and or arguing about politics and pretty much anything else (another reason why I sometimes write about "mommy wars" but don't expose too much of my own attachment parenting position here in the blog for fear of getting "in" the war). I understand that most people whose blog I read and who read my blog probably have a similar political view as myself and moreover, since I am a foreigner, I guess my criticisms of this country could be "discounted" because I'm not really an insider.

Anyway... I have decided to speak up about these two topics that are some of the hottest on the news lately. They were on the cover of the last two issues of Time magazine, which we happen to subscribe to -- mostly because it's my only way to keep up with the news since I don't like to read news online and we don't watch television (I wish I could watch at least BBC news every night, but I really don't like to watch television with the kids around. When I'm driving I listen to NPR/WHYY and enjoy it very much, but since my parents got here, I basically don't get out of the house anymore).

I've always been concerned about global warming issues and felt irritated about the fact that the U.S. has refused to participate in worldwide initiatives to help prevent further damage to the ozone layer, etc... I was not very alarmed until last year's hurricane season proved that global warning and its consequences for the weather are of immediate concern. My brother told me something last night that left me even more concerned. We usually joke that Brazil is definitely a "blessed" country because we have no volcanoes, no snow, no earthquakes, no tornadoes, no hurricanes... well, not anymore. Last year there was a hurricane in the region my in-laws live (Santa Catarina, around Florianopolis) - a coastal region. And last Thursday, out of the blue, there was a mini-hurricane in my brother's town, Piracicaba in the state of Sao Paulo, a town which is well in-land. Two huge trees fell on the building he works on, he saw the roof being torn off and rain falling in his office. He thought he was going to die, really. I asked why he didn't go under the desk, and he said he doesn't know, he just stood there transfixed, looking at the sky and thinking where he would run to if another tree fell on the roof. The damage was not that bad, the computers were saved and just the floors were flooded, because the water tank (those stay in the attics in Brazil) broke. Over 30 cars were completely destroyed by trees falling on them all over town, including 10 in the campus of the university where he works (which is beautiful and very wooded, since it's the school of agriculture and forestry). Had he parked his car (actually my parents' car - my husband is using my brother's because it has power steering, which is better for his still recovering left hand) on his usual parking spot in the shade, the car would have been crashed, but he had parked right by the office, so the car didn't get even a scratch. The bad part is the the car insurance would not pay for such a damage. My brother's mother-in-law happened to be in town that day and was walking to her mother's nursery home, all through the storm! Fortunately she didn't panic and was able to keep walking, she was drenched but unharmed. I can't even imagine what this next hurricane season will bring... and what other climate changes will start happening very fast in the next few years. (For a post exploring many serious issues on this subject you should turn to Jo-stradamus at Leery Polyp :-)
~~~ ~~~
Now on to immigration. I don't even know where to start. I guess what I wanted to say here is that I know personally lots and lots of people who some consider "criminals" because they crossed the border and came into this country. Whole families, little children, hard working people. There was a time one of my best friends in the world was one of them as well as her husband (she has now returned to Brazil with her two American born children who are exactly the same age as mine). I've known these people since I came to the U.S. in 1996, and even before, when I visited in 1993 because I have often visited and attended Brazilian churches. While I was never comfortable with the fact they people do have to lie in order to keep on living here and while in my first 8 years in this country I had scarcely met anyone who had come here through Mexico (all my friends and acquaintances had tourist visas and had simply come and stayed), since I moved to PA I have met more and more people whose trajectory to this country was a dangerous and extremely expensive one.

Believe me, I didn't want to hear their stories, I didn't even want to think of how it would feel to be away from both of my children for almost a year, working hard to be able to pay for them to come, and then to have the courage to let them come and cross the border, with a relative or a friend, one by one, the seven year old, the three year old. I shudder just thinking about it. Can you imagine your three year old girl coming through Mexico with your sister-in-law? But these are my friends, they are people from my country. I even can't bear to hear their stories first-hand. My husband and my parents have heard them and told me, I just can't imagine what they went through. Just to be here in this country, and there's work for them, plenty of work, that's why they keep coming.

I don't want to discuss the whys and wherefores, the effects to the economy, the pros and cons of different legislature, nothing of that. I just want to say that I know these people, I try to help them, even, when we meet every week. Their situation is so abismally different from mine, the foreign student* who can go to Brazil and come back at will, who can speak and write English, who owns a home. Some of my friends haven't seen their families, their wives, their children, for many years, and while I do question their motives for this sad separation, I know they feel they have more of a chance to work and help their families being here. I don't even know how to end, this is long enough already, but I just feel depressed thinking about my friends sometimes. It would be nice if those who have been working hard for years and paying their taxes could be able to regularize their situation. What about the others, would they be considered as criminals?

* It did get much tougher to be a foreign student after 9/11 (and what's my fault in being a foreing student even if several of the hijackers had student visas?) , but that's another story.


My mother-in-law just called me on skype to let me know my husband almost passed but didn't. He was tied with another guy in first place, but then they decided for the other. I'm relieved because I don't know if I would have wanted to go back right now, and also because it's good to know that he is competitive after all, and almost got the job.

I'll be back later with a more "political" post.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Tomorrow my husband will know whether he passed the concurso or not (for a teaching position in Brazil). I'm starting to get nervous. What if he passes? We'll have to go back! What about my sons' English? (I mean, I'm not really worried about that - with two uncles in the U.S. we can always send them to live here for a while when they're older and then they'll "finish learning" the language)... Anyway. I want to keep this short, and I'll post as soon as I hear the news. I will have some tough 12 hours or so ahead of me - luckily most of them will be spent sleeping! :-)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Of Academic Conferences and Academic Mothers

Academic conferences and academic mothers are two topics near and dear to my heart, and they happen to come together nicely in this post :-)

It's been over a week since the conference, but I want to write about it before all the impressions fade from my memory.

It's so invigorating to go to conferences! Even if I'm not presenting, I come back home motivated to do scholarly work, to research, to write papers. This time was no different - in fact, it was even more motivating than usual because I have been away from campus for 1 year 9 months and I haven't presented at a conference since 2003! ). When I went to the MLA in December 2004 I came home and started working on a paper right away (too bad it was rejected); this time, I also had a paper to write (one that I know will be published, though :-) and I worked on it quickly and effectively last week.

This particular conference was one of the best I've ever been to because there were four other people from my department (and one faculty member) and I spent all of Friday and Saturday in the company of two good friends. They gave me support when I presented on Friday morning (it was a great success, I must say), and I supported one of them who was presenting. The presenter is a woman I respect a lot, both for her scholarly work and the fact that she also gave birth to two children while pursuing her Ph.D. She was literally a great inspiration for me -- I met her sometime in 1999 or 2000, I think, when her daughter was 3 months old. She told me that she had done her comprehensive exams while 6 months pregnant and that everything had turned out fine, hearing her experience gave me conficence that I could probably do the same. She went to France with her family for a few years and we met again at a conference (of course!) in Belgium when I was 6 months pregnant. I went on to do my comps when I was in my 8th month -- the oral exam was only 10 days before my son's birth -- and when I saw her again in 2004 (at yet another conference in our university), she was back in the U.S., had given birth to her second daughter (9 months old at the time), and I was about to give birth again in a month! By now she has completed the Ph.D. and is getting another master's (this time in my graduate program).

The other person I hung out with is a new student in my program with whom I had already exchanged emails, but who I first met at the conference. He is also Brazilian and is interested in some of the same authors I am working with (yay!). Obviously, he was a little annoyed with the two moms talking about her kids and teased us about it, but we also talked about Brazilian literature and other topics (like department gossip, for example! ;-). We went to several exciting panels together, and it was a great experience!

I also got to see two other colleagues, one who has known my oldest son since he was a baby (she would come to my office hours only to see him during his first year) and another one who entered the program the very semester I moved away, but who bonded with me because she had a baby in April and mine was born in May. I'll never forget the day we first met -- her son was 3 days old and there she was, attending a conference with her mom and baby in tow. I never saw anyone so motivated!! Then, in my last month of pregnancy I saw her and the baby several times as we both worked together at the university - she in her papers, me in the dissertation. I felt sad that I didn't get to see her son and she didn't see mine, but hopefully when I go to the university in May we'll get to see each other's kids! (and my other friend's girls as well).

It's so funny because I had originally set out to write about the conference itself, the thoughts I had about various academic-related issues (e.g. how you can tell just by listening to the presenters, among the grad students, who are those who will more succeed in the job market, which professors are on top of their games and which are not, things like that), but then I concentrated on writing about our experiences as mothers in academia!

And I'm not done yet! My friend's seminar (or panel) organizer was someone I had already met and briefly talked to at the MLA in 2004, and I was really excited to talk to her because she just started her tenure-track job last year. She's from Portugal and studies Brazilian literature as well, and she's really brilliant (she's working on a fascinating book which compares Russian and Brazilian authors). I got to talk to her both on Friday and on Saturday, but we talked most about... yes, you guessed it, kids, and being mothers. She was carrying a breast pump because her daughter is only 9 months old, and she was interested in any suggestions I might have about Brazilian children's literature, since she has a 6 year old daughter. I brought some of my favorite books to show her on Saturday, and she enjoyed it.

What did I miss the most during this conference? Not being able to talk about blogging with my friends and acquaintances... In the very same weekend Jo(e) was at a conference too, and I felt pretty jealous that she got to hang out with other bloggers and do some pretty wild conference blogging stuff ;-) One day when I am a "grown up" academic and get to stay at conference venues and not have to drive back and forth for over an hour, then I will really enjoy conferences fully. For now, I'm still just an "aspiring academic" and a mother of two little boys... and what I value most (as I have already insightfully commented* on a previous post) is being a mother. Hopefully I can be good at both, if not now, someday perhaps.

* why can't I be more modest? :-)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Oh Jane, dear dear Jane...

I'm in a state of grace right now (and I hope this expression means the same in English as it does in Portuguese). I have just seen the latest version of Pride and Prejudice and now you'll have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a side of me that you may not have known, but perhaps just suspected - I am a true Janeite. There, I've said it. A quite fervent one, as a matter of fact! This will come as no surprise for my dear blogging buddy Alice, who wrote a lovely post about Jane Austen last January, in which I included a comment "outing" myself.

I read Pride and Prejudice in my 19th century English literature survey course in college, but it was not until I came to the U.S. a few years later that I had the chance (and the time, for that matter) to read all her other books. My favorite is Persuasion (both the book and the screen adaptation even though the last film is very close favorite now). I have enjoyed the movies and miniseries immensely, and browsed through this book which I very much wanted to buy and just included in my Amazon wish list :) There are other, such as this and that one which I did not know about (and which are a year or two older than the first).

Some words about the other "recent" screen adaptations, if you will...
I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility (Kate Winslet's hair does look ridiculous in that cover, though!) and Emma, and Jane Austen's Emma as well the earlier Emma inspired Clueless. In terms of faithfulness, though, the BBC's Pride and Prejudice could not (and perhaps can't) be rivaled (even if it adds the wet shirt Darcy, but maybe because of that ;). Unfortunately (now, not then), my husband bought it for me as soon as it came out on DVD back in 1999 (he paid 50 dollars for it!) It was a lovely birthday present, but now my copy doesn't have any special features like the one that was released in 2001. I enjoyed Mansfield Park even though my friend hated it because it is her favorite novel and she felt it was changed beyond repair (I hope you're reading this, Nelia, I'd love to know what you think of the latest movie!). Of course I've already said it, but Persuasion is my favorite movie adaptation, though it took forever to be released in video/DVD (and when it first did it had a hideous "fake" cover, I guess they just thought the real actors were just too plain looking and pictured this gorgeous couple in what looked like a romance novel cover - argh! I wish I could find it online, you wouldn't believe it!). I watched it on TV, taped it and kept watching it over and over again. I own the DVD for Mansfield Park and just got the Persuasion DVD last Christmas (thanks, honey!). I gave away my VHS tapes of S&S and Emma hoping to buy the DVDs, but haven't gotten them yet.

Now... back to the most recent movie. I adore it! And I am the most critical viewer of book adaptations you can possibly find, one of those who gets absolutely mad if they change or add anything. I just couldn't resist it, though... I mean, how can you "argue" with the film-maker over small changes when he has the proposal scene on a rain filled day under a beatiful collonade? Or the mirror-beholding while receiving the letter, or the foggy morning of the last scene. I guess they had me at the cinematography (we call, or used to call it photography in Portuguese for some reason). One of my favorite scenes in the mini-series, the Catherine de Bourg-Elizabeth confrontation does come across a bit off with a night setting, but "Dame" Judy Dench does not disappoint (why should she?). Well... enough said. Go see it right now, and don't forget to let me know what you think!

P.S. I almost forgot one of the most relevant things! My husband has seen all the movies with me and he also likes Persuasion best, but I was never successful in convincing him to watch the BBC P&P mini-series, so now I can finally "introduce him" to P&P, Jane Austen's most popular book!! And last but no least, now I know what I want for my birthday :)