I may be somewhat scarce for the next wee bit, as we are settling into our new home in Rhode Island after our move from Atlanta. Fortunately, I have the pleasure of introducing our first guest blogger, Parisa Rinaldi. I’ve known Parisa for 5 years, since she was an undergraduate in my former lab. I think she and her husband go down in history as the most mature undergraduates ever! Needless to say she has gone on to do great work and is a brilliant geographic information systems analyst, a talented artist, and one of the most gentle souls I’ve ever known.
Stepping out of indecision: questions on the work/life dichotomy
by Parisa Rinaldi
It’s been months since my dear friend Nelle asked me to write a guest blog post. I have made so many excuses not to sit down and write that I am now embarrassed so much time has passed. I admire my friend greatly and admire all she has done as a woman, a scientist, a mother, a wife, an amazing human being… and I’ve felt comparatively inadequate to contribute to this conversation on academic motherhood. For one, all I have to prove that I am (or was) on an academic path is my master’s degree that I completed right on time for my daughter’s birth. Since then (a year and a half ago) I have struggled to reclaim my scholarly identity and have come to question myself on a number of different levels, which I think is only natural when you enter the realm of motherhood as unprepared as most of us do. But I’ve come to accept myself as a whole person, an artist even when I am not painting; an academic even when I am playing with my daughter; a mother no matter what I do. So with that conviction, I have decided it is alright for me to attempt blogging on thephDmommy.com
I have had this debate for a year and a half now of what do I do now that I have graduated, had a baby, moved internationally, spent a lot of time adjusting and getting sick and getting better… what do I do to feel intellectually and creatively fulfilled, feel like I’m giving enough love and attention to my baby, serve my community, and move forward towards my long-term goals. And are my long-term goals the same ones I wrote down before my daughter was born or did they change and is that ok? Should I see my life now as completely different and start on a new path, or should I just see this young mother stage as a special stage in life where things move a little slower and then I continue on the same path I’ve already been paving. What were my motivations in the first place and are they still legitimate? These are all the questions I have been playing with in my mind, and I think many young mothers have the same questions. My problem is, even though I know they can be paralyzing, I still find it hard to get out of the rhythm I have established and just move on… Make a decision and take a step towards it.
Maybe it is because you need time to answer all these questions – undistracted, Facebook-free, non-drowsy, consistent time. Time to read and research, time to write and reflect, time to work on a project and see it through, and time to share your thoughts with others. And if you don’t already have this time built into your schedule, it’s so hard to legitimize it. And then you have those moments where you read something and think “maybe I just need to sacrifice all of that for the moment because there’s nobody like a mother and how selfish of me to want to spend my time doing something else.” But that time can be necessary. And maybe it’s necessary outside the home. For a while I was waking up at 5am and getting myself some tea, reading a little, doing some exercise and getting to work on a design project before my husband had to start working. But my daughter knew I was right there at my desk and didn’t understand why I wasn’t with her. It was too difficult for me to keep from running to her when I heard her crying or saying “mami.” The result was I would only end up working for an hour at a time and how much can you accomplish in an hour? And then eventually, with a week of night-wakings and then getting sick, it got too hard to keep up the 5am schedule.
But regardless, baby steps do count, and over this year and a half of contemplation, job-searching, disappointing interviews, being content with full-time mommyhood, then job-searching again, I have made some progress. I am working on an album design for a CD my husband is producing, I’m coordinating a 10-day undergraduate seminar for Colombian Baha’i youth to take place in January, I’m teaching two neighborhood children’s classes and one at a public school, and I’ve just gotten in touch with a geography research group at the Universidad Nacional to collaborate on a promising project on participatory cartography in one of Colombia’s indigenous regions. I am convinced it’s possible to do all these things and be with Soraya most of the time. I just need to find the strength and discipline to follow through, the vision to see why all these things matter and where they are leading, and the support system to have that consistent alone time to do work that requires full focus. It’s comforting to know that Soraya will only grow and become more independent, and realizing that helps me enjoy the time I have with her even more.
During the time that I was waking up at 5am and getting work done early in the morning, even though it was for just an hour at a time, I felt like that hour gave me so much energy to be with my daughter and enjoy her. The other thing that helped was planning the week in advance and planning each day the night before, and deciding what things to accomplish that day. Something about checking off things you get done is so satisfying. Now that we’re recovering from being sick and stepping out of “survival mode,” I’m looking forward to getting some consistency, staying committed, and finding out how to boost our immune systems… All the time understanding that the pace we’re at now isn’t the pace we’ll be at forever, and it’s alright to have that diversity in your life.