Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mama, PhD -- Mother Talk Blog Book Tour

This is not your average book review, let me tell you, and you will soon find out why.

When I first learned that this book was going to be edited I could not contain myself, I was beyond excited! It was like a dream come true!!! How I needed and how I had longed for such a collection, so I could learn from the experiences of women like me and not feel so alone! Moreover, what a perfect a book to submit an essay to, and so I did (after interacting briefly with Caroline, one of the editors, whom I knew from blogging, and with proofreading help from her sister Libby, a contributor and also one of bloggers in the Inside Higher Education Mama PhD Blog -- isn't it exciting that they have a blog in the IHE website?).

And now comes the really hard question: how can I simply review a book in which I could have been published, but wasn't? So, there is only one thing to do, and I hope you (or the folks at Mother Talk who selected me as a reviewer) don't mind -- I just have to share my contribution. Here, and now, since I was unable to post it on the day of my dissertation defense the way I had dreamed about.

Browsing through this book was not as painful as I thought it might have been. I have to admit that getting it in the mail, touching, and opening it for the first time was hard, though. If it doesn't sound too preposterous to say this, I miss my voice in there, but, thanks to blogging, you can still read my contribution, and I hope you will (it's under the cut below).

But first, let me say a few words about the book. The full title is Mama, Phd: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life and you can check out the book's website, the trailer, and the IHE blog. The editors are Caroline Grant -- a fellow blogger with a Ph.d. in the same discipline as mine and whose eldest son was born only a few days before my own, and Elrena Evans, practically my "neighbor," since we live in neighboring towns -- she has visited us a couple of times and it has been a great pleasure to meet her not only "virtually," but also in person. I also have "virtual connections" to several of the contributors, the main one being my dear blogging friend Alissa. Another famous blogging mother, Bitch Phd is also a contributor, among many accomplished women.

The essay that up to now (I have yet to finish reading all of them) has caught my attention the most is, not surprisingly, "Nontraditional Academics: At Home with Children and a PhD." I felt mightily comforted to read about the experiences of the three authors, Susan Bassow, Dana Campbell, and Liz Stockwell, and I can't wait to participate in the website and resource for NTA (nontraditional academic) parents that they are planning to set up! Perhaps I can feel happy and fulfilled academically as an NTA. I will be blogging more about this issue in the future, that's for sure! I could go on and on as to how I identify with the essayists and their experiences, but I really want to take this opportunity to share mine, OK?

Note: the event of my essay's first paragraph took place in May 2006. It was written from June-Sept. 2006. Even though I submitted it, I consider this to be still a draft since there much to be improved on (it's too long, too many details regarding the cultural differences in medical care, etc. I could have edited it before publishing it here, but I left it as it was).

Of Babies and Academic Milestones

Two weeks ago, I had a meeting with my advisor and a committee member to go over the early chapters of my dissertation and the committee member looked at me and laughingly remarked that this was the first time in years that she wasn't seeing me pregnant. It was not a joke, though, because four years earlier I was practically nine months pregnant when I passed the oral part of my comprehensive exams. Then, two years later, when I defended my prospectus in the same room where we were meeting that day, I was eight months pregnant with my second child. The decision to have babies while in graduate school has meant that it is taking much longer for me to finish the Ph.D. – it has been eight years so far – but I still think it was the perfect decision for us. Looking back, I can actually see that most of my academic milestones are linked to my pregnancies and the birth of my sons.


My husband and I are from Brazil, where we lived until we were both 25 years old. A year and a half after we graduated from college and got married, we came together to the U.S. on student visas so my husband could learn English and I, an English teacher already, could have an experience abroad. After a year, my husband started graduate school and I started a year later. I finished my coursework around the time I was nearing 29 years old and during my last semester of classes I often talked to a friend and classmate about how much I wanted to have a baby. One afternoon, I sneaked into a piano practice room in the music department (not my department, I should add) and while I was playing, I felt such a sadness and desire to have a child that I started sobbing. A few weeks later, when a previously planned trip to California with my husband’s family had just been canceled, I was taking a shower when I started screaming to my husband:

“Come here, come here!! I have an idea!”

“Stop screaming!” he said, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

I was so excited I wanted to keep on screaming, but I tried to control myself a bit and said:

“Now that your parents canceled the trip, I know what we should do this summer.”

“What?” he asked quizzically.

“Go to Europe as we have always dreamed of doing and then, we can try to have a baby next year – what about that?”

“Well,” he said, probably not as excited as I was, “that sounds like a good plan, I guess.”

“Yay!! Viva!”I started screaming again. “Let’s go buy the tickets!”

We did travel around Europe for almost a month late that spring. We backpacked and camped, getting to know eight cities, traveling around with a Eurailpass. I stopped taking birth-control pills even before we left, but several months went by and nothing happened.

I knew it probably would be hard for me to get pregnant because I had been diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) when I was 15 years old and I never had regular cycles. I got a referral to a gynecologist who simply told me that I could start taking Clomid as soon I had a period. I traveled to Brazil in August for my brother’s wedding, bought the Clomid and waited. I had been frustrated by several negative home pregnancy tests in the previous months, so I ended up not doing any during that summer and my stay in Brazil. However, a week after we returned from Brazil in September, I bought a pregnancy test and it was positive. This news coincided with the end of my first week teaching a course on my own, so there were lots of things on my mind at the same time. “Graduating” from a teaching assistant to an instructor was the first academic milestone that coincided with my pregnancies.

My first reaction to the news was panic, exacerbated by the fact that 9/11 took place four days after I found out about the pregnancy. I had no idea how far along I was. I had been trying to chart my temperature during the first six months of that year, but my cycles were still irregular and the doctor I saw in June told me that charting was useless, so I hadn’t done it for the past two months. Therefore, when I called the OB-GYN office at the university clinic and they told me I needed a referral to be seen, I was furious!

“But I was seen last June because of infertility!” I argued.

“No, you need a referral because pregnancy is a different diagnosis.”

A different diagnosis? As if pregnancy had nothing to do with infertility! That was when the differences between medical care in my home country and the U.S. started to hit home for me. I thought sadly that if I were in Brazil, I would just go to the same familiar doctor that I had been going to every year and that he would continue to care for me during the pregnancy. Now I had to schedule a doctor’s appointment for a week later at the university clinic so I could do an “official” pregnancy test. I scheduled the test, saw the doctor, who simply handed me a piece of yellow paper with the positive result, wrote a prescription for pre-natal vitamins, and said she would give me a referral to the OB-GYN. I had to wait three more weeks until my appointment and I was frantic when I was finally seen.

I had planned to keep the pregnancy a “secret” for a little while because I was not yet used to the idea of being pregnant. In addition, I didn’t know whether I was a few weeks or months along. However, on the very day of the “official” pregnancy test at the university clinic, I went to the office I shared with other graduate students for my office hours. As I went in, I saw another graduate student in my department, a mother of three children, whom I hadn’t seen for a few months. For some uncanny reason, she looked at me and asked point blank:

“When are you going to have a baby? Are you thinking of getting pregnant?”

She caught me completely by surprise and I just could not lie, having found about the pregnancy only ten days earlier and having it confirmed that day. I closed the office door before saying in a muffled voice:

“As a matter of fact, I am pregnant right now, it was just confirmed today.”

She was very excited about it, which was reassuring. It did not occur to me at the time that I needed to expressly ask her not to tell anyone just yet – after all, I had closed the door.

The next morning I was rushing, late on my way to teach a class when I ran into another graduate student in my department. She looked at me and said simply:


I almost replied: “What? Congratulations for what?” But I checked myself in time and blurted out a meek “Thank you,” understanding instantly that the other colleague had told everyone. The puzzled and slightly shocked expression in my face probably made it clear to her that I was not too happy about her knowing. It was tough to go teach my class after this conversation. After class I met two male graduate students in our shared office. One of them was a close friend from Puerto Rico and the other a very discreet American. I loosened up a bit with my friend as he jokingly told me,

“Yeah, everyone knows that you’re pregnant, she announced it yesterday at our department’s graduate student organization meeting!”

I replied, “I know because another colleague congratulated me just before class! I’m so mad! I wanted to tell people myself! I can’t believe I didn’t go to the meeting…”

The American colleague added gently, “I thought it was strange that she made an announcement of such a private matter, but I didn’t say anything.”

Both of them were very supportive and a few days later, the woman who made the announcement came to apologize. She explained that she shared the news because of two things, first, she was very excited about it, and second, because she felt the other students needed to know so they could help me out in the coming semester – which they actually did. I accepted the apology, but I was still quite disappointed with the whole situation. This was my first pregnancy after all, and I felt insecure and fragile, particularly given my worries with medical care and the fact that I had just started teaching on my own. I wanted time alone for the idea of the pregnancy to sink in and I didn’t want all my friends and acquaintances at the university to know about it since it was so new to me. Moreover, the majority of the graduate students in the department were single and childless which made me worry that I could be jeopardizing my future academic progress because of this pregnancy. One other student had had a baby recently and she had been part of the reason why I felt motivated to try, but she was well ahead of me, already in the dissertation stage and besides, she was not on campus anymore.

Needless to say, when I “told” the department secretary, my advisor, and other professors, they all knew already and it was frustrating. As a result, two years later, many people did not find out about my second pregnancy until I was very obviously pregnant. Others yet, only found out, if at all, after I had the baby since he was born at the end of the school year and we moved away two months later.

After I finally had the first appointment with the OB-GYN in October and a sonogram helped us determine the due date (late March 2002), I realized that the baby was going to be born in the middle of the semester. I had to work out some alternatives for my teaching. I volunteered to teach discussion sections for a fellow student for a month in addition to my own so he or she could substitute for me. However, the faculty member I approached to present my suggestions seemed doubtful about the fact that I expected to teach in the next semester, arguing that a pregnant woman might not be able to do it. I became extremely upset at the prospect of being denied a teaching appointment only because I was pregnant and immediately turned to our graduate student organization. The student who worked with our graduate employees’ union researched the issue and found that if the department did not give me a teaching position simply because of the pregnancy they would be discriminating against me. Many of my graduate student colleagues, particularly the men, came forward to offer me support and several volunteered to teach for me in the coming semester. I ended up being assigned to teach a class on my own and I organized the syllabus based on books that three of my colleagues chose to teach for me while I needed to be away.

My first semester as an instructor ended well in spite of the fact that it felt a bit strange to be pregnant and walking into a residential hall or a classroom building to teach, walking by all those young people, almost “kids,” many years younger than me. On the last day of class, when I was six months into the pregnancy, I had a treat for my students and brought hot chocolate and fresh baked muffins made from scratch to our morning class. I was very moved when a group of female students presented me with several gifts for the baby on behalf of the whole class: a lovely blue blanket (they knew it was going to be a boy), a sleeper, some pairs of tiny socks, and a water-filled teether.

I was feeling so well during the pregnancy that I even taught a winter class while I prepared for my comprehensive exams and the Spring semester. My exams took place in February and in spite of the fact that I was hugely pregnant, I had no problems taking three four-hours long written exams. I passed the oral part of the exam only ten days before my son was born! Another important academic milestone marked by my pregnancy.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned in the new semester because my son was born two weeks early, one week before Spring break. I had to change the course schedule, but it worked out fine. Two of my friends taught in my place while I stayed home for three weeks with my newborn – reading the books they were teaching while pumping milk, nursing, elaborating paper topics, and grading students’ papers. Of course the disruptions in the course schedule did bother some students. I recently read my course evaluations from that semester and I was surprised to see that a few students actually mentioned the fact that I had a baby in their evaluations. One student viewed it very negatively, writing something to the tone of ‘this was a bad semester because the teacher had a baby,’ but two other students wrote: “It took a while to get our papers graded, but considering Lilian had a baby, I wouldn’t hold it against her.” And “Not enough response to how we were doing in class. But no[t] Lilian’s fault. She had a baby. My essay late was well worth her having a baby.” I smiled when I read these comments and felt thankful for the graciousness and understanding of my students.

I was lucky that my husband was also a graduate student (a research assistant) with a flexible schedule. Until the end of the semester, and for the next two years, whenever I had to teach I drove to campus, and my husband met me, took the baby, and stayed with him while I taught the class and then he drove back to pick me up. I took the baby to my office hours, to the delight of the department secretary and several fellow graduate students. A few of the female graduate students and even some of my own students came to my office hours on purpose just to see the baby. Nobody ever complained about him being in the office with me, on the contrary. I brought the play pen from home and stored it under my desk for over a year and once in a while I would close the door and breastfeed him right there in the office. My former advisor even told me to get the baby a “Johnny jumper” (which my son loved) to attach to the office door, but unfortunately the door frame was too wide so we were not able to have fun with a baby jumping wildly right in the middle of an old building in the Ivory Tower, like Maurice Sendak’s Max having a wild rumpus!

When my son was a newborn, I brought him to class only once, while my students were doing the final exam. Over the summer, when he was three to four months old it was a bit tougher because the class lasted for almost three hours. When the students took exams or watched movies, I kept him with me and he would fall asleep in the baby carrier, but on most days my husband went for a walk with him on the soccer fields or, if it were too hot, in the mall.
I often thought that being teaching associate (or assistant) was the perfect job for a new mother since most of the work – preparing for classes, grading papers – was done at home and I only had to be away from the baby during class times. My son was a relatively easy baby, so I had no trouble preparing classes or grading. My dissertation work completely stopped, though, since I didn’t have the time and energy to concentrate on research and writing.

Going to academic conferences also proved to be more challenging than teaching. I presented at two conferences during my son’s first 15 months of life. In the first one, when he was only 3 months old, I could barely go to any panels – I was attending a panel while holding him when he spit up all over me! A year later it was easier, mainly because he did not need to breastfeed so often anymore, and this time I enjoyed the conference more fully. My husband came along with me both times to help me with the baby. After my second son was born, attending conferences became even harder. When he was six months old I went to the MLA (without presenting), but only because it was in the city where we lived and my husband was able to take a few days off work to hang out with the boys in the conference hotel and convention center, since the baby was still breastfeeding quite often. My youngest was almost two when I finally presented at a conference for the first time after three years. I was away only during the day, though, and only was able to participate because the conference venue was at a driving distance from home.
The second pregnancy caught us by surprise, but in retrospect it was excellent timing. The baby was due in early June, after classes were over, so my teaching wasn't disrupted. In spite of the fact that we were going to move to another state for my husband’s post doctoral fellowship, my son would still be born in the same hospital as his brother and I could count on the same doctors. My parents came from Brazil to help us for six months. We would not have been able to make it without them, since I had to look after my two year old, teach, work on the dissertation, give birth and care for a newborn. We also had to sell the house, find and buy another one, pack, move to another state, and, on top of all that, my husband had to finish, defend, and submit his dissertation before the fall semester started! My parents’ help during that pregnancy finally made it possible for me to go back to dissertation work. Therefore, I was ready to defend the dissertation prospectus a month before my second son was born. Yet another academic milestone linked to my pregnancies!

Despite my parents’ help, in some ways the second pregnancy was harder – I needed to work on the dissertation and concentrate on my teaching while all I wanted to do was rest and prepare for the baby I was expecting, while caring for my toddler son. Moreover, I experienced a bit of nausea in the first trimester and sometimes I was feeling quite sick during office hours, but I could not say anything to any colleagues who happened to be in the office with me at the moment because they did not know about the pregnancy. I eventually told the three women in my dissertation group and a few other close colleagues. In my last semester teaching, I was assigned to be a discussion section leader again, working with the same professor on my committee who later made the comment about seeing me not pregnant for the first time in years. In retrospect, I think her remark was linked to the fact that she saw me so often throughout my second pregnancy.

Over two years have gone by and I remain an ABD (All But Dissertation). During my youngest son’s first year of life, I left the dissertation and any academic matters aside to take care of my two boys. This happened mainly because we moved away from the university and – because of my student visa – I had to stop teaching, since I am not allowed to work anywhere else. When my younger son turned one, I decided to go back to work on the dissertation and my parents volunteered to come again from Brazil to live with us for ten months since we could not afford childcare on a post doc’s income. I wonder what would have happened if my parents were not available to help us. I might have to remain an ABD much longer waiting for my husband to find a better paying job that allows us to afford childcare for my youngest, or at least for my oldest to start school (he will be five next year). Family dynamics and culture also played a big part in my parents’ willingness to help us. In Brazil, the parents, particularly the mother, traditionally help their children (or daughters) with childcare whenever possible, even staying for months at their children’s house. Of course in our case the timing was just perfect and my parents happened to retire when my eldest son was one. Now that my parents have returned to Brazil, “the moment of truth” has arrived. I have most of the dissertation written, but I will have to go through the last stages on my own, only with the help of my husband.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One thing that I have struggled with is the pull of my personal life versus the pull of academic life. Reading in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications geared towards academic life that most women who succeed in academia are either childless or have had children early, before they start their careers did not help much; I felt frustrated that I these two key parts of my life didn’t seem to be easily reconcilable. While I was pregnant I felt this separation very keenly – particularly the second time when I chose not to share the pregnancy with most colleagues. It felt very lonely and out of place to be pregnant and working as a graduate student instructor. Later, bringing my young son to campus felt out of place as well even though many people enjoyed his presence. Once I came to campus with two rolling suitcases full of books plus a baby in a stroller to fulfill the library’s yearly requirement to renew all the books I had checked out. The photographer of the Campus Chronicle walked by and took our picture, which was published in the paper – I guess he thought it was a pretty unusual shot. Perhaps books and babies do not seem to go well together.

Interestingly enough, after I had my sons, many other women who were graduate students in my department had babies, and a couple of men became fathers (one even took a one year leave for to care for his daughter). Several of them are still ABD and living far from the university like me, but one has successfully finished her Ph.D. and been offered a tenure track job that she started this past fall. I am 35 and some of these colleagues are the same age or even older than I, so I guess we have no options – we either have babies now while doing the Ph.D. or risk not being able to conceive later.

I am happy that I became a mother during my last five years of graduate school. In spite of the fact that it is making the process of getting the Ph.D. much longer and harder for me, I am enjoying every minute of motherhood. Now, I know there are not many certainties in life, but I am certain of one thing. I will not be pregnant when I defend my Ph.D. dissertation next year! I may even decide to have another baby later, but for now I think I have had enough academic milestones linked to pregnancies and babies.

The End

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Blog readers already know that I was not pregnant at my defense last April! And that in the end it took me "ten years and two sons" to finally get the degree! ;-) I continue to struggle, however, with the fact that I am a Mama and a Phd. I don't think the two go well together at times, I feel like I am an anomaly of sorts, just a shadow of the academic I could have been, but, hopefully, not a shadowy mother, oh, no!

In fact, as a closing note, the committee member I write about in my first paragraph remarked in my defense that she would never forget my comprehensive exams' orals. I was pregnant at the time and she reminded us (the committee is the very same, six years later) that she had remarked then that I was like a "super woman" -- having it all, a baby and a Ph.D. In the end, I fear, I may have be forced to keep the babies and never use the PhD to become an academic, but it's not only because I am a mother... it's a long ongoing story, and you'll have to read the archives and keep on reading the blog to know how it'll "end"! I guess that getting the Ph.D. was just the beginning of my struggles with the fact that I am a "Mama, PhD"

P.S. I have just realized one small advantage for not having been published in the book -- maintaining my semi-anonymity in this blog. :-)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Testing colors

This is a color visibility test for tomorrow's post -- watch this space!! :-)

Lots of tests today, no? This is definitely lots of fun. ;-)

And since you've been so patient with me -- I have suddenly become "the angry resentful Ph.D. holding Brazilian mama" haven't I? (Or maybe "The Woman with the Endless Chips on her Shoulder" [tomorrow's post has a bit to do with that too ;-)

So, because of that, you deserve a nice photo, taken by my friend Ana Paula with her great Nikon camera and lens, at my request -- I love dragonflies!

This is a Test of the Expand/Collapse Element

So, tomorrow is a momentous day here in this old blog...

I will have the honor of posting...

[click on Show if you want to read the rest -- that is, if this works, since it's just a test! :-) ]


So, as I was saying, I will post a text that was submitted for publication, but didn't make it. But you'll be able to read it all here! Together with my thoughts on the book where it could have been published, but wasn't. Well, thankfully it can still be published in the blog, right? And it's a bit long, that's why I want to implement this Show and Hide feature. All thanks to Annie, at BlogU. Let's hope it works!

Edited to add: IT WORKED!! Thanks Annie, you're a genius!! I need to put a button in my sidebar advertising your great blog! It's an amazing resource and I'm glad I was finally able to use something! (can you tell I'm over-excited?)


You know... little things like what I'm going to share right now just make me hate academia more and more. It's just a wretched little field whose "pop stars" are as out of reach as the rich and famous actual pop stars out there. The rest of us are just stupid folks who misguidedly decided to pursue an academic degree.

A field in which people with Ph.D.s are so DESPERATE that they have to compete against each other to get into paltry adjunct jobs. Gah...

Anyway, following yesterday's quick conversation with K (I wrote a post, didn't post it yet because it's still unfinished) I decided to be a bit proactive today and I wrote a nice email to a big shot person in my field whose name I cited countless times in my dissertation and who lives and works here in the area. My otherwise use-less advisor had previously discouraged me from contacting this person, and maybe he was onto something -- useful at last, too bad I went ahead and tried. The response was that he gets countless emails like mine and that he cannot meet or talk or check my dissertation out. Of course! Why should he? Academics are paid only do do their own work and, maybe, help out a bit with their advisees, only if it's going to further their own name and fame.

I do have a happier story about another academic who responded with a lovely email, but I'm pretty sure that this other academic is an EXCEPTION to the rule.

Why bother? Even if I published a book with my dissertation people still wouldn't read it because academic discussions are irrelevant in the real world and those involved in them sometimes aren't serious enough to do real research and check out what other people have to say. This person -- whose sweeping claims parts of my dissertation totally unmask and almost unprove -- suggested I publish papers instead (and then, I suspect, he might still not read them).

I just cannot stomach sending countless emails to department chairs of all universities and colleges in this area (and there are plenty of them) offering my newly minted Ph.D. expertise just to receive responses like this one. It would be just too devastating.

Yeah, I'm overly sensitive. I know that. But why would I deliberately hurt myself this way? Just so MAYBE someone can come forward and offer me an ill-paying adjunct position? Is it even worth it?

Never mind!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Can't I Keep All of my FOUR Names?

OK, so I have this serious, down, whiny post almost ready, but I've decided to post this instead. I'm still whiny in here, though. Sorry about that. I guess the bitterness has been carried on ;-).

I just learned a few days ago that one of my brothers-in-law, "K3" for the purposes of this blog, is having trouble with his citizenship application because his name is too long.

Yes... I didn't know that in this country people are FORCED to HAVE ONLY THREE NAMES!

Only one of them a surname or last name. That's not the case with my sons, BTW, their middle name is NOT a "given name" -- it's my family's last name! (Same thing with my three nephews, actually).

They claim, my in-laws said, talking about my BIL's case, it's because of filling forms, or something. You cannot have too big of a name. Whatever.

And now, only now, I get it why people have to hyphenate last names if they want to keep their last names!!

In Brazil, like in many other countries (I suspect), people usually have their father's and their mother's last names (in Brazil the father's last name comes LAST, not first like in Hispanic countries -- sorry for generalizing that, it may be different in some places) and when women get married they can either keep the old name, drop any names they like, and/or just ADD the husband's last name to their name.

I opted for the last option, so I have ONE given name, Lilian, my mom's family's last name, my dad's + my husband's last name. Four names total. I actually didn't want to change my name, but I thought I wanted to have the same surnames as my children one day.

In addition, some people have "double" first names (and they often do get called by both names, so it is a BIG issue when these poor kids go to school in this country and their names get simply chopped off unceremoniously). Some common double girl names: Ana Paula, Ane Elise, Maria Júlia, Maria Clara; boy names: João Vitor, Paulo César, etc. (more girls are called by both names than boys).

There's even a children's book about this problem of an immigrant child rebelling against having her name literally changed by her teacher: My Name is Maria Isabel (here's a great review). I've been meaning to buy this book and give it to my son's good friend Maria Julia, whose name has become simply MARIA in school and I think it's SO SAD!!!! Because names are part of our cultural identity, of our selves, and her name is Maria Julia, not just Maria. Why can't the teachers be more sensitive? I wanted to give every child of immigrants that book and have them take it to their teachers!!

OK, back to the situation I'm writing about... so, my mother-in-law, who first told me about this, said that my father-in-law was upset because his son, who has a short first name and had been given his dad's name as a second name (not really a typical "double name" in this case) plus his mom's and dad's last names -- but he had to DROP his dad's first name as a second name to become a citizen.

My jaw dropped, literally, when I heard that. And I understand why my father-in-law would be sad.

But I have a plan, I'm going to ask around and find out if I can hyphenate my two "middle surnames" -- my mom's and my dad's. I hope that's possible. Well, I have five years to figure that out! ;-)

In the mean time, do you think I should begin an advocacy group for the children and adults whose name are being changed because of cultural insensitivity???

Or even a movement to change that requirement, allowing for parents to give BOTH their last names to a child? (well, THAT would be too much, I guess ;-) and one can still do it anyway, it's just that people wouldn't really know that the "middle" name is actually a surname.

So, what do you think? I'm sure Alice would have some thoughts on this issue? It would make a GREAT essay to contribute to Multilingual Living, wouldn't it?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ways in Which Having a Ph.D. is Advantageous

Thanks Articulate Dad! Your comment was precisely what I needed to hear! And to think that I was drawn into blogging precisely by the Invisible Adjunct's blog. Of course your experience (and hers and other people's) is what has been keeping me away from applications to be an adjunct. And now that I come think of it, one of the main problems my unpleasant discussion with K the other day was my argument that I was going through a phase, the "Ph.D. Blues," and that it would pass. And he would become angry with me saying that I have been negatively influenced by my online interactions (or even online sources like the articles in the Chronicle that Invisible Adjunct linked to trying to talk people out of graduate school) in my negative view of academia.

Today, as I went through my day I began to reflect on the advantages of having worked towards a Ph.D. and finally finished it. I think I have nailed the main one:

Nothing in the world seems too difficult. Any tasks, no matter how hard, can be tackled and resolved if one is persistent enough.

And, surprisingly, I was thinking of home renovations, of how K loves to read about something and then go ahead and do it (of course anyone can do that, but those of us who have struggled and won the battle to get to our degrees have really figured out how to solve problems). I was thinking that we could actually do pretty much anything around the house, even replacing the roof. The only difference between us and the trained professional is how quickly they accomplish their tasks.

another "advantage" is the awareness that in fact, we know so little about so many things! And the process of getting this degree involves being able to know where and/or how to find the answers we need

OK, I'm sure I have many other ideas on this subject, but I'm sleeping sitting up in my chair right now...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Women's Soccer and Beach Volleyball...

Those of you who have been watching men's gymnastics in the Olympic games may have seen that the Brazilian guy, one of the favorites to medal in solo, fell seated at the end of his last pass and lost his chance to medal.

My friend Prisca just asked me asked if I was watching the women's soccer match this morning, and I have to sadly report that I was!! I was so distressed to see that we (by we I mean the Brazilian team :-) lost once more to the American team, just like in Athens in 2004.

Now this evening Brazil will play the U.S. in the men's beach volleyball's final. Is it too much to hope we get to win? Doesn't the U.S. already have enough medals? ;-) Just kidding, let the best one win -- that is relative, tough because the Brazilian women's soccer team was clearly superior -- but they didn't score a goal. I guess that may be the reason some people don't enjoy soccer -- 90 minutes of a tied game (0 X 0) and then only in the 30 supplementary minutes one team scoring, of course by skill but also by chance. Soccer is tough, I agree...

in another note, I have to tell you that although I haven't had much time to follow the Olympic game broadcasts, the coverage has improved dramatically from 1996, 2000, and 2004 (games that I barely watched, really), to this year, thanks in part to the fact that NBC now owns Telemundo and other channels. If we had MSNBC and Oxygen we would have been able to watch almost everything. Good to know. In 4 years I may get the full cable lineup for the Olympics like I did back in 00 (much to my frustration).

The Tale of a Hole (and Water too)

(Apologies for the various edits to the post. I'm adding one more, this time to the content since I forgot an important detail in the story! That's what happens when we write a whole post in 30 minutes, while the "baby" was still sleeping -- problem is, he woke up and I didn't proofread, not that I ever do :-))

Once upon a time there was a tiny hole. Or maybe, we should say that once upon a time there was a tree, and the tree had many knots. One day, that tree was cut down and became a wooden plank. This knotty plank was used to build a roof, and asphalt shingles were placed upon it, as well as a protective and cozy felt covering. Many years passed and those shingles began to wear off. The soft felt covering began thinning out and rip, and water began to come it. The plank must have been excited to absorb all that water again, and the knot too. However... the knot ended up forming a small hole because there was just so much nice water coming in.

The hole was small, but the water was sneaky and made its way to the drywall ceiling underneath by dripping slowly through the hole. The water enjoyed that porous material very much and happily soaked through it. Once that ceiling began to sag, the people from that house put a blue dishpan on top of the ceiling. The water was not that thrilled, but the hole was still happy and continued to expand. Even fixing the shingles didn't keep the water from coming in. The pan got so full that it toppled, so the water began to pool in the lowest spots of that ceiling and just happily soak into that thirsty sheetrock.

Some years (?) later a new family moved into the house, and when they decided to renovate the kitchen, they needed to paint the ceiling. The woman was very picky and wanted to dust the ceiling with a wet cloth before her husband painted it. That's when she saw the dark spots, and the tiny bubbles forming under the paint. "What is that?" She said to her husband, "I think it's mildew!!" She exclaimed, "Yikes!" He climbed a ladder and began to touch the surface, and poke his finger at it (he is much less picky, and would have just painted over it, most probably). Meanwhile she quickly climbed into the attic to have an overhead view. That's when she saw the man's finger poking right through that frazzled drywall! She also saw the blue tipped dishpan, but she didn't look inside since it was a few feet away. She missed the opportunity of being totally freaked out by the fact that it would have been full of water.

The man noticed that a whole section of the kitchen ceiling was sagging, but he thought that maybe only that place with the old mildew/mold could be fixed, so he carefully cut a small square hole. And he called his friend, the one who installs drywall. The friend said he'd come take a look on the next day, a Friday, when the family would be away in Massachusetts. On Monday, the day of the family's return, while they were driving home, the man told the woman about this horrible nightmare he'd had that very night. He had dreamed that water had come in through every single wall of the house and that now everything was horribly moldy and the house had to be completely redone. He panicked and called a good friend who does construction to see what could be done. Good thing it was just a dream, he remarked to his wife, but a really scary one! She nodded in understanding.

You cannot imagine that man's face when the family arrived home that evening and a whole piece, wall to wall, in the kitchen ceiling had been ripped off!! The drywall friend had come on Friday and had deemed that whole part of the ceiling as utterly dangerous. [note: I added that just to make sure you don't think the storm caused the damage] The blue dishpan was on the floor, with water in it, and it was only then that the woman told the man she already knew that there had been a dishpan up there in the attic. It turns out that there had been a really strong storm on Saturday, and water had come from the hole into the pan. Yes, from that hole, the one this story is about, it was only then that the family found out about its existence. They looked up and could see the light coming in through this tiny hole on the roof.

The man climbed quickly on the roof and found the hole! He started poking his finger through it and the whole knot came out, making it much bigger! Now his whole hand could be seen, and the blue sky too! Even the woman came out to take a look at it and take pictures because it was scary looking up and seeing the sky from inside your own kitchen! The man covered the hole with a tarp and called up his friend who had removed the drywall. He joked with the friend that we should have been warned of the ceiling removal before getting into the house and also mentioned the scary nightmare. The friend assured us that he would be able to quickly put the drywall back on the following Sunday and he so he did (of course we paid him what he asked, I should note).

What about the hole, however? Something had to be done! So the man called his construction friend (the same guy who had been married at a beach just a week earlier) who recommended this roof guy who did excellent work and didn't charge that much. Roof guy came in and gave an estimate while also explaining to the man that he could decide to do only the roof over the kitchen, but also pointed out many other flaws on that roof. The roof had been redone three times, and could no longer be patched any more. The man also called the family's realtor, and she also gave the phone number of another roof guy. With two estimates, the family made the tough decision of going ahead and replacing the roof even if that meant spending money that they didn't have. The prospect of snow falling on that defective roof and more happy holes filling with drippy water was not appealing to them, obviously.

So, on this bright Thursday morning, the roof is being removed with noisy shovels. And the funniest thing is that the littlest boy in the family has slept for over an hour even with all that racket. The man has gone to the home improvement store to pick up the new shingles, and the woman just carried her little boy outside to show him what is going on. So I guess this is the end of the story for that sneaky hole! And the woman is kind of glad that she was picky and found out about the hole before the kitchen ceiling came crashing through their brand new kitchen! It had been holding on only by the tapes on each side of the drywall, can you imagine how dangerous!

Bye bye, hole, may you never come back!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Many pictures will follow. I am actually glad that the desktop is not online yet and I got to have fun using only words to share this with you!

Addendum: Unhappily K misunderstood the amount of shingles that needed to be purchased and he needs to rent the store's truck again and do at least three more trips back and forth. Because of this confusion, he had decided to purchase a slightly more expensive type of shingle and this is going to cost us more than we anticipated! :-(

You know, I'm thinking of various things that I could do to make more money: from making and selling fresh salsa to the neighbors to buying more music tracks and offering my service to the Brazilian community as a musician for weddings. I certainly need to get more piano students, that's for sure. On a happy note, I have the perspective of a temporary job that may help us a bit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blame it on the Ph.D.

Right now, at least from my perspective, all that stands between getting to keep this house and having to sell it is me getting a job.

Yeah, that.

And why? You (and I too!) may ask, why am I not actively trying to find a job?

There are various reasons, such as the fact that I have a four year old with me at home and I would only feel comfortable sending him to school with his brother (if the school allowed it – they probably would), and even then, what would happened to them after school? (a friend has volunteered to watch them, but that would be a burden on her).

Those are valid points, but ones that can certainly be overcome. I would instead blame the non-existence of the job yet on two things:

1) My Ph.D. and my attitude towards it, particularly towards the fact that I just cannot do what I’ve been trained to do because it’s too competitive, there aren’t enough positions to go around.

2) My lack of stamina to go after things and my overwhelming fear of rejection, as well as the horrible and paralyzing anxiety that seizes me when I am sending academic job applications – I must say that I do not face these same feelings regarding other kinds of jobs, easier to apply.

OK, let’s get the second one out of the way by saying that I can probably work on it. Therapy would help (with that and many other “issues” in my life), but I obviously cannot afford it. One of the reasons that I am like that is that my parents used to do everything for me and I always had a hard time going after things on my own. All right, of course I could put some effort to go after things, even though it would be difficult.

The “Problem with the Ph.D.” is certainly something that I can work with my own head about, but which involves external things that are completely out of my control. Just thinking about this makes me so emotional! We had a horrible argument, K and I, when we were driving from Boston to his parents’ house last month, precisely because of this problem and how I feel about it. In a nutshell, I deeply resent having gotten a Ph.D. and not being able to put it to its intended use. My family needs income from me, and the fact that I have this degree is not helping one bit! It makes me feel utterly useless and defeated. I want to contribute; I want to do my part! I want us to be able to keep the house. All that we need is that I get a job that makes between 30-40K a year (we could actually get by penny-pinching with even 15-18K). But why, oh why do I have to feel bad about getting any stupid old job, just because I have a Ph.D.??? It makes me want not to have it in the first place!

(I am aware that this is really an exaggeration, a "drama queen" moment from my part, and that is one of the reasons why K was so upset with me in that bitterly unpleasant discussion that we had three weeks ago. I have this tendency to be whiny and negative, and of course I am happy that I finished, I care about what I researched very deeply [perhaps too deeply], and my research probably does contribute something... it is just that I have to keep plugging it, sharing it with other people, publishing, etc... so its contribution can be felt. And it is very difficult, nearly impossible, do keep doing that without the basics in life -- financial security, for example. I should have submitted three papers this summer. I had [maybe still have] the road open for publishing in an extremely relevant anthology -- but how can I find the energy, the time, to write when our lives are so chaotic right now?)

Regarding work, it was easier when I didn’t have residency and couldn't legally work, but now that I need work I actually can work! Such good timing, no? I should be happy, but, I’m despondent instead. Every day I wake up and think, “We do not have to put this house in the market! I can get a job!” and, in spite of that, I have not applied to adjuncting jobs (there was at least one opening, about an hour away) – the only job available, at this point, that would put the Ph.D. to use. I do have a very strong reason (or maybe rationalization) for not doing so – adjuncting is not going to bring in not even the 15-18K a year that we need, most probably. Isn’t it infuriating that the only thing I can do with this Ph.D. right now is being an adjunct? There’s the online gig, but that will only pay more when I can teach 2-3 classes at a time and I haven’t even taught one.

Going around in circles, again. What could I work with? I got an account in Monster, but I don’t even know where to look in there… Do I have experience? Well, I have taught for well over ten years, for 4.5 years in Brazil and 6 years here in the U.S., but does that count as experience for other kinds of jobs? Teaching is such a devalued profession!

What use can a Ph.D. have if it cannot help bring food to the table, money to pay the mortgage?

That’s why I often think that academia is this sneaky poison. Once it enters one’s veins it spoils a person forever. It’s this idealistic little world in which we think we are doing very important things (hahahaha), but, unless the research that we do leads to the development of technology, it is completely irrelevant “in real life.” In addition, hardly anybody cares about the humanities and languages anymore, universities are cutting the two year foreign language requirement (that’s the niche in which I am in, and my language/literature is hardly ever studied to begin with) and the emphasis has switched to technology and to the life-sciences. Everything seems to conspire against us, people with a Ph.D. in the pure humanities. And yet, literature and the arts, celebrate the beauty of everything that makes us human in the first place… and language continues to be a necessary tool to survive in the world. Why can’t they be valued?

What can I do? I don’t really care about the soul-searching “what do I want to do with the rest of my life” aspect of this question anymore, I just want to see money coming into our bank account, that’s all. I hate money (another complicated “issue” that has been slated to come up in blogging, but never does), but it’s a necessary evil. :-(

So, here you go. I don't know how to finish this post. I just assure you that cheerful things will follow, photos, videos, I promise.

Let me just share an anecdote then. We went to the dentist last month and the dental hygienist, a nice Romanian woman, was very interested in the fact that I have a Ph.D. She has a brother-in-law, if I'm not mistaken, who is a professor. She asked me what a professor makes and when I told her, she stared at me in disbelief and blurted out: "So brother-in-law was right! We didn't believe him when he told us how much he was making after he got the Ph.D. [I think he was a postdoc]. We thought he was lying." She then proceeded to tell me how much one makes as a dental hygienist with only two years of schooling -- 60K! Nice, huh? Yeah... cleaning other people's teeth and taking x-rays and notes for the dentist is not very appealing to me, but it sure can pay the bills!

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Day of First Grade

Edited on 9/1 to insert photos.
So, today was Kelvin's first day of first grade. He was very excited (that's an understatement, actually ;-) to go back to school. For many weeks now he had been saying "I can't wait until I go back to school!" I'm glad that he's so happy about it. May this excitement continue year after year because he has a looong journey ahead of him![I'll insert three photos after our desktop is installed again -- the study and family room have been emptied out for new carpeting to be put -- which will happen tomorrow afternoon. I haven't been able to upload any photos with my wireless connection, sorry! - DONE!]

Well, I was glad just to be there since last year I was home packing things for our move while K drove almost an hour to drop Kelvin off before heading to work on his first day of classes. He was so much younger last year! Good thing he had a fancy lunch then, because today it was just a simple dish of pasta, so unremarkable that I didn't even take a picture...

My handsome boy deserved to be photographed multiple times, though:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympics -- Older Women Rock! Moms in Sports Rock!

I was thrilled to see a 38 year old woman (a Romanian) win the marathon, and soon after Dara Torres, one of the alternate covers of Time magazine from two weeks ago (the front cover had LeBron J@mes, she was on the second cover) win her second silver medal in these games.

I can barely write, watching the 100m women's medley!! I wish the U.S. could win, particularly so that Dara Torres would get her first Olympic gold medal, but I think it's not going to happen (it didn't, Australia won, but they got silver).

I'm a tad critical of some of the comments that the NBC narrators made about Dara. They kept repeating that she was 41 years old. She had about four minutes between the medal ceremony for her silver medal and the beginning of the medley, and when she showed emotion upon receiving her medal one of them said that she shouldn't be doing that, that it was important to keep her focus. Why that? Why can't she be emotional and professional at the same time? (and she was, she was phenomenal in the race). Then, when she came out with the U.S. team, putting on her cap, they remarked -- she's chatting with them, "she's always so chatty" -- why does she have to be introspective like Phelps? Is "chatty" a negative quality? (I'm so riled up because I'm an extremely chatty person, as many of you have already noticed).

After the race the commentator said: "I can't get over it, DT was spectacular again" -- go and get over it already!

In the interview following the winning of the silver medal the interviewer remarked to Dara that her 2 year old daughter Tessa would not remember her wins in these games, and she asked what she'd like to tell Tessa about it: "I'll tell her 'you don't have to put an age limit to your dreams!' " Well said!!

The big question -- will Mich@el Phelps beat Spitz's record of 7 gold medals? Too bad it's a medley and he depends on others. Well, I'll wait until the race is over to publish this. This is a nerve racking! I'm taping for to Kelvin (yeah, we still have a VCR), who has been enjoying Phelps. WOW!!! They won! Glad I caught it on tape! 8 gold medals in one single Olympic. "This is just the kind of feat which may never be surpassed" "one of the greatest feats in Olympic history"... words from the NBC guys.

P.S. the weirdest thing has just happened (right before the men's medley)-- a Happy M3al commercial had a quirky Brazilian song as its background!! "Ela é minha menina" (it's two teams of boys in a soccer tournament, the losers get the meal and winner drops the trophy).

Oh, now, please don't ask me what I think of the coverage. For someone from another country like me, it's really really terrible. I don't get to see people from my country compete (only if they win gold, like last night on the 50m men's freestyle swimming!! YAY!!)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Update: Random Bullets Late Summer Edition

  • I thought our dear old camera was dead, but it turns out that the problem was that the battery was uncharged and the cable wasn't working. My dear husband K touched it for the first time last Thursday (the day before we left for MA) and then it came back to life!! Yay!! Now I can take pictures again! We had returned the cheap one K got me for my birthday anyway, and were camera-less, always forgetting to order a new camera online.
  • The desire to charge said camera caused a problem in the electric part of our car. Kelvin found this old DC to AC car adapter (something like this) and after they plugged it, the car charger, as well as the radio and CD player stopped working!! That meant that we did the trip to Massachusetts without music and DVD players, as well as cell phone chargers (and we had not taken our outlet pluggable chargers too...). Oh well. It made more lots of conversations and guessing games.
  • Two trips to Massachusetts, one for K's workshop, another to visit family, do not make me feel like we had any real vacation trips. Too bad, because these are the only summer trips (discounting the trip to Brazil) we're having!
  • The ongoing mess and unfinished rooms awaiting work from friends who are too busy to come for weeks on end is making me positively unhappy. And a bit, ok, a lot, whiny, and negative. Poor K can hardly stand me these days...
  • I hope to resume posting photos soon, now that our camera is working again. Maybe even to the completely neglected "Project 365+1" blog. Yeah, I can't stand unfinished projects. That's the only reason why I ever finished, defended and submitted my dissertation. I have confidence in myself that I will be able to catch up on THREE FULL MONTHS of a photo a day. You can laugh now.
  • I haven't been posting here much because I'm undergoing training to "teach" (it's a different kind of teaching, that's for sure) here. One good advantage: not being without affiliation. I may (or may not) write more about this as things unfold. Feel free to email, if I decide not to share more. (I don't know why I shouldn't, but still, I may not). Oh, I remembered why I'd feel uncomfortable blogging this -- it's unwise to blog about one's employer/employment.
  • Going to stores has gone obsolete for almost everything one needs. Really. (you already knew that, of course -- it was just me who was still trying to shop in stores). I think that there's nothing that cannot be bought much cheaper online. I may already have told you this, but I bought our new appliances online (built-in oven, dishwasher, smooth top range). Even the faucet for our bathroom is much cheaper online. Of course building materials such as tiles and other heavy stuff still have to be bought at the store...
  • This will have its own post later (hopefully), but I have to tell you that I'm the happiest camper, OK, cook, or, eater, around these parts because of our organic CSA share food. And the farmer's market. And the farm stand a mile from the house. And my lovely tomato garden. Yeah, I'm blissfully happy!! Yummy produce!! Local!! Organic (some of it)!! YEAH!!!
  • We, all right, K can't stop making calculations so we can decide whether it would be best selling the house now or keeping it for one year or more. There are pros and cons for both decisions. I'm still nervous to be spending money I don't have to do the renovations, though. The only consolation is that we wouldn't have it whether we were to keep or sell the house. These things need to be done whether we have the money or not, whether we want to keep the house or sell. Sorry for the circular thoughts.
  • Actually, and this does merit its own post, we've been wondering why can't we just decide that we want to live here, PERIOD, and try to find jobs around here. We're nearing forty, we have two kids, we're tired of not ever settling down. You already know all that. But we need real jobs, so we can have this very real (and costly) house. So, the doubt, the anguish, and the circular thoughts continue.
More to come, or so I hope. You can see how my mood is, can't you? Moody (bad joke).

Oh!! I almost forgot, will you please remind me (I'm already writing this to remind myself) to write about our semi-disastrous trip to the beach (Jersey shore) yesterday? And K's nightmare that has to do with the home renovations?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Guys in Suits: Father, Sons, Grandsons

Only the baby grandson is missing (the photos with him show everyone very clearly and I didn't want that. Besides, I didn't ask permission of my brother- and sister-in-law to post their son's picture online, so I won't do it ;-)...

anyway, isn't my father-in-law justifiably proud of his sons and his beautiful family? I'm glad to be part of it too! We had a lovely weekend, much too short, but better short and sweet than too long... K2 and his family arrived on Sunday the 3rd at 0:30 am, K4 from Brazil on Monday, and K3 with his wife and baby, on Tuesday, and we only got there on Thursday night. We didn't go earlier because we knew that it wouldn't be easy to entertain four boys 2-6 years old cooped up inside a two bedroom apartment! I hope I can soon be back with more photos and news...

P.S. This was the very first time I fiddled with a photo using Picasa... sharpening, a tiny touch of soft focus, a bit of saturation. Anything can look good with these tools, that's for sure! and I don't know why I hadn't used them before. Perhaps because I'm much too honest, I like "true to life" shots. Yeah... nowadays nearly everything is fake, so it's OK to make photos better. See, I'm trying to convince myself that it's OK to do this... I'm funny like that.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Beach Wedding

It was beautiful, unforgettable, really. The first (and probably only) beach wedding any of us had ever been to (at this beach). I took pictures with my friend's camera, but only after the ceremony was over, since, as usual, I played the flute and sang (a duet! with my husband! our first ever duet! I would have cried if I knew everyone could her us singing, but as it were, only the bride and groom, and the people closest to them could hear. The bride and groom didn't cry either, so that helped. We sang this song, if you're curious). I hope you like them. I can't wait to see those taken by the photographer. Oh, and it was last Sunday afternoon... from 5:30 pm on.

The cake table (poor cake started to melt a bit because it was too hot):The fruit table (traditional at Brazilian wedding receptions):
The favors:Bride and daughter:
Groom and son:
The whole family, drawn to the sea:
And my boys too:

We were all matching, so we tried, not very successfully, to take some family pictures:The photographer (a friend, not a professional) and the bride:
It was a little too confusing during the reception, and even the ceremony (children were playing and being noise, people were photographing and moving around), but it was still beautiful in spite of that!