Double Ugh

Puke. Lots of puke. From my son. After my daughter had it the end of last week.

What does this mean?

Well, when my daughter was ill I rescheduled my meeting with my Dean and a meeting with a new colleague and a meeting with HR all to this week. It wasn’t ideal, but it was quite manageable. Yay extra time with a cuddly baby! (silver linings, right?)

Well, at the end of today my son threw up at school. But you see, tomorrow I really NEED to be on campus. Their doing faculty head shots and the President is doing his State of the University address and they’re introducing all the new faculty. Kiiiiiinddaaa a big deal.

But you see my husband just started his job last week – and supposedly he doesn’t get sick time until he’s worked there for 30 days…so…that’s complicating. A bit of a pickle really.

So instead of thinking about what to wear for my head shot and formal introduction to my future academic community (no pressure)….I’m scrambling trying to figure out if my husband can stay home without costing his job (though he realllllly hates the idea so soon into the school year and after starting a week late), or….if we should have my mom drive out leaving her house at 4:30am tomorrow.

Neither is a great solution.

Or…should I see if I can miss the fanfare? Seems…really frustrating. And unprofessional.

Double Ugh.

The end is always the hardest…and seems to drag on and on…

This article really speaks to me.

Especially as I’m trying to wrap up my revisions…9 days later than I said I’d have them wrapped up. In fairness, I’ve been a bit busy with Important Life things. Like finding daycare for my kids and sorting out our apartment and…did I mention my office remodel isn’t done yet? And the computers promised by the university have supposedly been ordered but no one knows exactly where they are? And that we requested keys for me over a week ago and it was supposed to take “2 days” but still no word on that either?

It’s starting to feel a bit like a circus…

But back to the article – #17. I’ll go ahead and lay it out there – I went to see a counselor back in June. So in the middle of my 4 month final push. I took a few assessment thingys that don’t officially “diagnose” me, but basically I scored the highest possible for anxiety and moderately high for depression. The depression one surprised me. I knew I was anxious and having trouble controlling it – I didn’t realize I actually qualified for depression. If I’d wanted to, I could have started medication but…they say it takes a month to start helping and it has the possibility of exacerbating your symptoms. 2 months out from when I was supposed to defend…it didn’t sound wise. My hope is that after things “settle down” a bit (they will…right?), I can re-assess and see where my needs are at.

Unexpected twists and turns

Ah the twists and turns of Life. The unexpected boons and banes of our brief, uncertain existence.

Folks, my husband done got a job!

We thought, him being a school teacher, that the start of the school year meant his prospects for full-time employment were none for this academic year. He planned on being the stay-at-home Dad and subbing when he could – I have no class Fridays so was going to see if I could work from home if he had a subbing gig.

Turns out – it ain’t over ’til it’s over, and sometimes not even then.

They interviewed him for a middle school social studies (his preference!) position the afternoon of the first day of classes. And he started a week later.

Life is bizarre sometimes.

He’s happier. I could see it as soon as he came home from that interview – the hope. And when he landed it for sure – he a weight was off his shoulders.

And I tell you, it is pretty damn nice to be able to go buy groceries now without cringing at the bill (we coupon and make good choices and use a list, but still).

But. Now the kids are in full-time daycare. The baby for the first time. The boy at yet another school, in his growing list of schools.

It’s a transition. Transitions are hard.

And while my husband is clearly happier with this arrangement, and I feel that should make me happy…the truth is…I am not happy.

I hate surprises. Especially the life-altering variety. And while my son needs the social interaction of a child care setting – I’m not keen on the daycare center we chose. Nearly ever center in our reasonable radius had no room in their baby rooms. And we wanted both kids to go to the same school. Which left us with 3 centers to choose from. All more or less identical. We chose what seemed the best of the 3, but…I don’t know.

So far. I am unhappy.

Money isn’t everything

But boy, does it feel like it sometimes. Here’s the thing about my new job. I love the location, the school size, the department, the job description – with an emphasis on teaching, and the benefits are pretty great. The pay? Not so much. I knew that going in. They warned me the salary was “embarrassingly low” – and it did give me pause. No lie. But in the end I thought all the other things balanced it out.

And I was never supposed to be our only source of income.

But here we are. Staring down the start of the school year – and my husband did not get a job. Bad luck probably, and not having any connections yet with the school districts. But shoot. It’s going to be hard.

And then I read a recent article that said roughly 1/3 of Americans are on some form of government assistance. So I took a look.

Y’all. We qualify for WIC and SNAP. Food stamps. I just took a job that requires a PhD, and the salary is so low that my family of 4 qualifies for government assistance.

What. The. Hell.

But hey, that should help a bit. I’m not too proud to take it. Now, would I qualify if I was a single person, or even a couple? No. We’re right near the edge for a Family of Four. But still. It just seems…wrong. That a job that requires a PhD, could pay so little that my family of 4 (a very regular family size I think), qualifies for government assistance.

I don’t even know what to think.

Maybe this whole thing is a big mistake?

Revisions

Another reason to move well after one defends – you might be less distracted when it comes time to finish those revisions. I’ve had a week now, and despite my best intentions…I’m almost done revising one of three substantive chapters.

It doesn’t help that we’ve all taken turns with a cold, my husband decided to take his turn twice, and I’m being eaten by a mystery bug that leaves me with itchy bites all over. We even had a pest “expert” out today and he was stumped. He thought it seemed like bed bugs, but could find no evidence of such little devils on my bed or in our suitcases. If he doesn’t know, I’m not sure how we’ll figure it out. Seriously contemplating getting rid of our bed and buying a new one. At least we could shop a Labor Day Sale…

How do you do it!?

I despise this question. Strongly.

Maybe it’s meant as a compliment? But whenever I hear the level of incredulity makes me want to smack people.

Honestly. How do I do it? I just do. When  you have a kids, you learn quickly how to roll up your sleeves and suffer through anything. Labor teaches that right away. Pregnancy too, if you ask me. Because you’re quite stuck and you have no other option but to keep moving forward.

And that applies to all aspects of my life. Just keep. Moving. Forward. It won’t always be pleasant or pretty. But, that’s life. As long as you keep moving, you should wind up alright.

Whirlwind

In the last 2 weeks I have moved to a New State and successfully defended my dissertation, in that order. Which means I moved, and then flew back for roughly 48 hours to Old State, defended, and am now back “home”. It was stressful, and chaotic, and I do not recommend it. It worked out fine, I passed and all’s well that ends well I suppose. But if you can at all manage to defend and then move, I think that would work better.

Truthfully, I recommend defending no later than May, so that you can have the whole summer to scheme and plan and move and explore your new surroundings.

But, Life. And all that, I suppose.

Onto revisions and then starting my new life as a Professor. For real this time.

You will feel like a Social Pariah

The thing about being a mom while completing your PhD is…you may well feel like a social pariah. Or maybe not. In fact, I hope you do not. But I certainly did.

Until recently, I had a collection of “mommy friends” who had kids roughly the same age as my own. It was great! We could bond over similar phases our kids were going through, swap war stories, offer advice. If we were talking about our kids – it was fantastic. But as soon as conversation would drift toward work…it got awkward fast. Maybe I just happened to be with women who were intimidated by someone getting their PhD. Maybe I’m a bad explainer of my work. All I know is it would get really uncomfortable. And I felt so completely misunderstood. And like I had to hide my intelligence, or lose my friends.

No one wants that.

On the other hand, I have my friends in my department. Colleagues sure, and a handful of people I think of as friends. And we can talk about the “work” stuff – no problem! Except…they often would go out for happy hours and drinks (weekly events) to do what graduate students do and I would hurry off to daycare to get my son and head home to do dinner and bedtime rituals. So I missed out on most social opportunities. I’d go about once a semester. Which was fun, but – definitely made me a bit of an outcast in the group.

And that might be similar to other “working” moms. I imagine it is. But I don’t know many other “working” moms (I mean working out of the home) with kids my age, in my area. (so picky, I know). In my department, exactly 0 other women students were pregnant during the same 5 years I worked on my degree. And I was pregnant twice. A small handful of students were already parents – but their kids were already a bit older. So while we could certainly relate on the “parent” issues – we weren’t in the same place. And they hadn’t had to deal with a department that wouldn’t grant maternity leave.

And they were mostly male.

So maybe it was just me. Maybe I’m just difficult. All I know is that I wound up feeling like I had one foot in three different worlds, and never fully belonged to any of them. I was a “working” parent, but also a graduate student, but also a “stay-at-home” parent at times, but also none of these things. Like a rolling stone. If I may.

The present

So far I’ve mostly posted Basic Advice. And my manifesto, but I’m not sure that counts. Then I wrote an entire post on the current stresses in my life and it got eaten by my web browser because I left it open too long and something happened to my login, but I didn’t find that out until after I hit publish and some little pop up came up that said “are you sure?” and I clicked it without thinking much beyond a snarky “duh, that’s why I said publish!” and *poof!*

Post gone.

I used to wonder about other blog authors who would write similar stories. Why bother? Right? I mean, what do you care what’s going on behind-the-scenes? Right? You’re here to read about the transition from PhD student to Junior Faculty. Not read about imaginary posts that could have been.

Well. I write because it’s cathartic. And I needed you to know. Plus. Irony. I wrote an ENTIRE post about how stressed out I am and how I have too many things. All the things. And then. That post gets eaten?! Bad Form Internets. Bad Form.

So, back to the present.

I’m actually in a better place than I was. That was a week ago, so I took some time to get over my “loss” and move on. We’re moving to our New State in just over a week. But, it looks like our plan is in place and our equipment is rented and my husband is boxing our things at a good steady clip. I have packed exactly one box, and that may be the entirety of my assistance in the matter.

The perks of an unemployed husband.

There’s a stress: still no job for him in the New State. We really thought he’d get one – he’s a teacher too (of the secondary variety), but alas. So far no bites. If he gets no job, then he’ll stay home with the kiddos. Daycare for those two would cost roughly half my salary, so that’s just not an option. If he DOES get a job in the next 3ish weeks, then we’ll have to suddenly decide on daycare, post haste.

So, more stress.

My dissertation seems to have come together, and now mostly has copy-editing issues. My husband asked me how it felt.

Honestly?

Numb.

I have no emotion to spare over it I guess. I’m too stressed and exhausted and delirious and disbelieving.

That last bit may be the crux of the issue. A part of me still can’t believe this is happening at all. A part of me seriously doubted I would ever actually finish the degree – let alone land a tenure-track job. And a tt job in a New State we wanted to live in!? Landed on my first academic interview ever?!

It’s unheard of. So you’ll have to excuse me if I still wonder from time to time if this is, in fact, just a dream…

The Basic Advice – Maternity Benefits

Find out about your department and university’s maternity/family policies. Find as much detail as you can. Print it out. Document where you found it. Leave no stone unturned.

Why?

Well, if you’re at a school like mine, not many people will know anything about a maternity policy for graduate students.

You see, my university does, in fact, have such a policy guaranteeing 6 weeks paid leave to a student with an RA or TA. This is a University-wide policy, which means legally, no department can “opt out” or tell a student trying to use the policy that they simply “cannot fund it.” However, this did happen to me.

When I tried to find information out from HR – they didn’t know anything about the policy either.

You see, when I researched my school’s maternity policies before starting my degree, I just found the information about the policy on the university websites. I found that a) such a policy existed, and b) I would be qualified to use it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to use it for political reasons. Or because the people who in theory should help me, would know nothing about it.

So I’d suggest calling HR and graduate representative groups and talking with your financial office person and anyone else with actual authority over your life and pay, if this is something you plan on pursuing. Maybe you have a Fellowship so it doesn’t matter (smart! Do that! If you can at all swing it, do that!). Maybe you have a partner making enough money it doesn’t matter. Also a fine plan.

For me, it mattered. I needed my benefit for my health insurance because, oh that’s right, I was having a baby. A rather spendy health event here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

And when I brought up the maternity policy to my advisor (when I was 8 weeks pregnant) I was met with strong resistance. First, my advisor and director were both shocked that such a policy even existed. Doubtful, even that I was speaking the truth. They needed hard evidence to see that it was, in fact, a real thing. Even still, I was strongly encouraged to “take the semester off” – which amounts to me paying out of pocket for 1 credit of continuing enrollment (side note: get yourself qualified as “in state” as soon as you can upon arriving at your grad school), paying the full premium for my health insurance (normally paid by my department as part of my RA or TA), and forgoing my stipend (not a huge chunk of money, but was necessary to pay our bills – soon to increase exponentially with the addition of a child).

To say this was stressful is an understatement.

It was incredibly infuriating to be met with resistance from both my advisor and my director; to have both of them suggest that I’d be mentally unable to perform my duties so soon after birth anyway; and to have both of them so blatantly ignore and deny a benefit I was legally supposed to have. Could I have sued? Yes. I sure as hell could have. Could I have forced the issue at the Dean level? Oh yes, I could have. I talked to a Vice Dean anonymously and she was furious. I just had to say the word and she’d have twisted their arms into giving me my maternity benefits as they were supposed to.

But to what end?

This is where being a graduate student can put you in a horrible in-between status that leaves you with tricky options. You’re not really a student, but not really an employee either. You’re in between, so HR doesn’t know how to help you. Typical student support venues are not for you. And you have the awful conundrum of needing your advisor (and potentially your director, an eminent researcher in your field) to give you a good letter of recommendation at the end of this whole PhD gig. Not only do you need a positive working relationship for the remainder of your degree – you need them to sign off on helping you get a job. It’s a terrible position of powerlessness to be a pregnant graduate student, when your department pulls this shit. And I’m quite sure my story is not in isolation.

In the end, my husband took a better-paying soul-sucking job so that we could do as my department wished. I didn’t sue. I didn’t force the issue. I paid for 1 credit, my health insurance, and took no stipend the semester my son was born.

And then they had the audacity to expect me to continue working on my degree toward the end of that semester, because it would be “good for me.”

The outrage is not describable, I can tell you that. And the thought of leaving and starting new in a different department occurred to me more than once. But remember, I was already 3 semesters, all my course work, and one milestone in. Escalating commitment. Plus, I couldn’t be sure another department wouldn’t be as bad or worse. Remember also, this was the advisor who initially told me she’d be supportive when I told her my plan to have a child while completing my degree.

So, my advice to you, is if you will need to take advantage of any family leave or maternity policies: get crystal clarity on what the policies are. Educate your department and mentor about such policies before you are pregnant. Make it quite clear that you plan on using these benefits. And hire a frickin’ lawyer. Don’t let them back you into the corner in the first place, where your only option is to acquiesce. Start out on the offensive, and hopefully it’ll go better for you than it did for me.

And finally – if your story is (unfortunately) more like mine – try to find a way to appreciate the time off with your new baby anyway. It’s hard when it wasn’t it on your terms. I let that fact steal some of the enjoyment of that time for me. I regret that a bit.