Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spinning Wheel

I feel like since posting has been so sparse lately I should have a lot to say, but I don't, really. How about just a few bullet points to fill in the highlights?

[I have to interrupt myself to say that we're watching All the President's Men right now and looking at that newsroom full of papers and files is making me shudder! I'm so glad I live in the age of computers so I don't have to look at that sort of clutter all over my office mates' desks all the time. There's enough clutter in the 21st century as it is! Also, I can't imagine doing all of that research without the internet. Unbelievable that that was the US less than forty years ago.]

  • My dissertation committee approved my prospectus! For those not familiar with PhD program jargon, the prospectus is basically the plan for the dissertation: what I'm planning to write about, my plan to do the research, and the approximate timeline for completion. The great thing is, that's the last hurdle I had to jump. Now the only thing that can stop me from completing the PhD is my endless ability to procrastinate. It's nice that the only major block I have to overcome now is myself. The hard part is actually forcing myself to work now that there are no deadlines at all whatsoever (other than really, really distant ones, like the fact that if I'm not finished in some absurd time frame like 5 years I'll have to re-create my committee and effectively start the approval process all over again). Some friends and I have created a writing group that meets every two weeks. The sole purpose of the group is to keep the four of us on track. I'd start feeling lame if every two weeks I showed up and was like, "Still no progress to report and nothing for you guys to read. Sorry guys!" I think (I hope) that will help. Other than that, I'm trying to figure out a good routine so that I can do a bit of dissertation work every weekday.
  • I've really picked up the pace with my part-time jobs to try to bring in as much extra money as possible. With the wedding and honeymoon looming (just a little more than 9 months until my wedding day!) Penn and I agreed we need to be saving up as much money as possible right now. So in addition to my regular teaching assistantship I've been taking regular tutoring jobs (I'm going to be working 3-5 hours a week every week from now until early June) and I've been baby-sitting. I have a friend at school who has a one-year-old son. His wife works full-time "normal" hours (9-5) and he's like me: a researcher with a part-time, pretty flexible job, so he's doing the bulk of the daytime baby duty. He teaches Mondays, though, so I baby-sit on Monday afternoons while he's teaching. Apparently I've been so helpful that he and his wife now want me to come for a second block of time each week so that he can have some baby-free time to work on his own dissertation project. They pay me $20/hour (!!!) and I don't feel like I'm in a position to be turning down that kind of money for what is basically a fun and (mostly) easy job. Having said that, I'm not the one who had a baby while trying to dissertate, so I'm not going to compromise my own research agenda to watch his baby. Still, most weeks I have the time to help out and I'd like the extra cash so I'm baby-sitting as much as I reasonably can. I'm also going to be my cousin's full-time nanny this week while the regular nanny is off resting following a surgical procedure. So basically between my two baby-sitting charges I get to play mom all week this week. It's good practice, I guess!
  • I bought some amazingly, fantastically awesome plane tickets this week. First of all, Penn and I purchased the tickets for our honeymoon! We're going to New Zealand!!! We've been talking about wanting to go there for a while, and long before we even got engaged we had decided that we wanted to go there for our honeymoon. Last week tickets happened to drop to an amazingly low price, so we bought them on the spot. It feels like a wild, crazy thing to buy a plane ticket to freakin' New Zealand. As I told Penn, "We're really committed to doing this now!" Penn still has a lot of planning to do (he's in charge of planning the honeymoon since I'm at the wheel with wedding planning) but it's so incredibly exciting to have our plane tickets and know that in January we'll be in New Zealand for three weeks (or New Zealand for part of that time with a side trip to a South Pacific island for part of that time; that's still TBD). This is one of my dream must-do-before-I-die trips, so I can't wait to go. What a cool way to start our married life!
    Today I also bought a plane ticket to Missoula, Montana. Jen (my friend from college) is getting married there in August. I've never been to Montana before, so I'm excited to cross another state off my list. Unfortunately Penn can't come to Montana with me (he can't take too much time off work this year since he did that long Europe trip with me in November and he'll need to take three weeks off in January) but I think it will be a fun solo trip.
  • I biked sixteen miles yesterday! I had to stop at an Exxon around mile 9 to buy a granola bar because I was starving (note to self: prepare better next time!), and my time was pretty dismal--it took me just over two hours, not pushing myself at all--but when I finished I felt like I could have gone further. My goal is to do a 20 mile bike ride this season, and that definitely seems feasible.
  • Last weekend I saw my first presidential motorcade! I didn't actually see the president (too much window tinting) but it was absolutely, 100% him and his entourage. Pretty cool.
That's all I have to report, really. Things are very good. This is a weird position to be in, to be working on several long-term projects (my summer project, our wedding, my dissertation) that won't give me any visible payoff until several months from now at the earliest. It makes it hard to stay focused and to keep powering on when sometimes at night I get in bed and just feel like I spun my wheels in place all day. But I know logically that I am, in fact, making forward progress toward all kinds of worthwhile things, and that's a good feeling.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Today I baby-sat for my cousin's nine-month-old daughter. I'm helping her and her husband out for the next couple of weeks since their usual nanny had to have surgery and needs to rest before she can go back to carrying a baby up and down stairs. Anyway, today I took care of the baby for ten hours, from early in the morning until the evening. It was a really easy day, actually. The baby still naps in the morning and the afternoon so she slept for half of the hours I was baby-sitting. Of the time she was awake, she spent half of that time eating pureed vegetables and/or drinking her bottles, so there was really a grand total of only 2-3 hours that I actually had to entertain the baby (or, more accurately, watch her and provide cheerful running commentary to build her vocabulary as she amused herself by doing fascinating things like, say, intently examining the stitching on my jeans).
Anyway, I decided that since it was sunny and 70 degrees outside we'd go for a walk, so I strapped the baby into the stroller and packed up the diaper bag and off we went to the park to see if I could convincingly blend in with all the other moms and dads and nannies (wait, "caregivers"). Turns out I do blend in just fine. There are a few more things I want to do first, but I'm more and more positive all the time that I'm about as ready as I can be to handle this mom role. The thing that really struck me on our park adventure, though, was how much my cousin's neighborhood is pretty much exactly like Sesame Street. There are rows of brownstone houses with porches, so the neighborhood sort of looks like the set, first of all. More importantly, the "characters" are all there: old couples sitting together on park benches; young couples jogging and throwing balls for their dogs; Asian kids and black kids and white kids all playing together on the swing set; guys that look like wannabe rappers walking across the crosswalk with moms with blonde ponytails and designer diaper bags to pick up their kids from the same school; conversations in Spanish and English and Korean all drifting across the park. Seriously, the only thing missing was a puppet in the trash can on the corner. The United States is supposed to be this fabulous, diverse place, but rarely do I see real diversity like I see in that neighborhood. I'm sure it's not always ideal, but today it was city living at its finest. And while I suppose eventually I wouldn't mind living in a smaller town or Stepford Wife suburb where I can actually afford a single-family home, I love that my little cousin is growing up in a place where you run into people of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages on a seven-walk block to the park, and it makes me excited that (hopefully) for at least their early years my kids will be city kids, too, and will have the same experience. When I think about the things that are important to me when it comes to trying to mold decent people (and wow, what a daunting task), I'd much rather my kids recognize and feel comfortable with all types of human beings than have a big backyard or their own bedrooms. And I'm not saying you can't raise open-minded, worldly kids in white suburbia or rural Nebraska, but it takes much more effort on your part than just opening the front door and saying hello to the neighbors.

In other news, I'm trying not to make this the all-wedding-all-the-time blog, but I just wanted to note that my sister and Penn's sister both came to visit earlier this week and we went bridesmaid dress shopping! (My sister and Penn's sister are my bridal party; since he and I each have one sister and one brother we figured we'd save ourselves the hassle of having to pick our "favorite" friends and possibly hurt people's feelings and just make our siblings the wedding party). I realize that since the wedding is still more than nine months away it's a bit early to be shopping for bridemaid dresses, but it was the only time my sister-in-law-t0-be is planning to visit between now and the wedding so we had to strike while the iron was hot. The whole process was actually really easy. They both decided they looked best in the second dress they tried on, so we tried on a few others just for fun, but really the whole thing took a grand total of twenty minutes. Now we just have to hope the dresses that we ordered now can be adjusted to fit whatever figures they'll have in January!
I'm going shopping for my wedding dress in three weeks when my mom comes to visit. I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Traveling Down the Slope

Penn and I have been doing a lot of skiing this season. We bought Night Club passes that we can use on three of the mountains within a short drive from here (yes, the "mountains" are small enough here that you can light them for night skiing) so we've gotten into a routine of skiing on Sunday evenings. I really love skiing. It has always been my favorite sport-y activity. I never did it on a regular basis until this year, though. When I was a kid growing up near the Rockies we'd generally take a family ski trip once a year or so and go for 4-5 days. I actually got pretty good during that time. The nice thing about skiing is that it's like riding a bike: you don't forget how to do it no matter how much time goes by. So when I met Penn I was able to comfortably ski the intermediate slopes and I could occasionally be talked into trying an expert one. Over the past two winters we have done a lot of skiing. We took that week-long trip to Maine last year and then skied locally a couple of times. And this year we've been skiing once a week all season. I'm proud to say that I have improved noticeably over the past two seasons. I can now ski any trail on the mountains we frequent, including the double black diamonds (the advanced expert trails). True, I don't think an east coast double black is equivalent to the double blacks I've seen out west. I still don't know that I'd be brave enough to try one of those. For one thing, the runs here are much, much shorter. But here I can do any run as long as I can take my time. I've also been practicing moguls although I'm awful at them and can only do about four widely-spaced ones properly before my legs start burning (I don't know how those Olympians do it. They must have thighs of steel). Penn has even talked me into going into the terrain park a few times, and while I'm still not ready to attempt to get any real air, I've at least been riding over the jumps.
So I'm getting better at this activity and I love the time Penn and I spent skiing together every week. Yet every week when we have finished skiing and are on our way home I feel a bit melancholy because in my mind skiing has come to represent everything that will change over time. Every week now I find myself reflecting on the finiteness of our current lifestyle. First of all, skiing is something that I will not be able to do for my entire life. Most of my hobbies aren't particularly strenuous: reading, watching lives shows or music, walking the dog, and so on. Assuming I am lucky enough to live to 90 years old in good health, I'll still be able to do most of the things I like to do now. Skiing, though, is something that I will have to give up one of these days. I'll either get injured or my body will just get too old and weak to handle the physical stress. I realize that the day I will have to give up skiing is hopefully far, far in the future. My dad is in his mid-fifties and still skiing, after all. Still, it makes me a bit sad to think that there is a possibility that my body will give out on me before my spirit feels ready to quit the sport. (I suppose that's a really common fear that can be generalized beyond skiing, actually: that if you live long enough you inevitably reach a point where the spirit is willing but the body just can't keep up anymore.)
In a more immediate way, though, skiing has come to represent everything we will have to give up as we start our family. As we've been preparing to get married (before we were even formally engaged, in fact) Penn and I have been talking about family planning and what our ideal plan would entail. Let me preface this by stating clearly that I know, I KNOW you never get to experience your ideal when it comes to having children. To a large extent things will be out of our control once we start trying to conceive. Actually, things aren't even entirely in our control right now. We've been lucky that birth control has worked well for us, but while most of the reason we haven't gotten pregnant is because I have been a responsible pill popper, probably a small part of the reason we haven't had a surprise pregnancy has just been sheer luck. I get that. I also understand that we can't just decide that we want to get pregnant in, say, April and actually get pregnant in April. And I understand that even once we get pregnant there is no guarantee that we'll get a living, healthy child out of the ordeal. I realize that all of it is a big "Who knows?"
Of course I find the whole thing very scary because I like the semblance of control I pretend I have over my life, and I like having a plan. So, Penn and I have made a tentative plan, knowing full well that life may not conform to it. We're trying to balance all sorts of elements, but the driving force behind all of my decisions in the process has been this thought: "We are in a very lucky position in which we can make having children a choice. So why not attempt to make the most responsible choices possible?" It wouldn't be the end of the world to get pregnant right now. In fact, I honestly do feel more-or-less ready to handle that if it happens. But as long as the birth control is working, why not hope that it keeps working and make plans assuming that we'll actually get to choose when we would like to be parents? And make that choice in a responsible way? So, for instance, we're thinking about my age. I'll be 28 when we get married, and even if we get pregnant on our honeymoon (which is highly unlikely) I'll be 29 by the time the baby is born. One of the things I love most about Penn is how eager he is to be a father. He told me the other day that if it wouldn't be so frowned-upon by our families (my family, actually) he'd like us to start trying even before the wedding so that we're not wasting any time. [Incidentally, I would veto that idea even if I thought my family wouldn't care about me being a pregnant bride. I would like to drink champagne during my own wedding toast, thank you very much!] We'd love to be able to have more than one biological child. Again, I know we can't control it, and although we know how many children we'd like to try for I think we mostly need to focus on number one first and see how that goes. The point is, though, if we want the option of having more than one biological child, the responsible choice is to start trying to conceive sooner rather than later so that we can hopefully have more than one child before I age into the high-risk category. Sure, I know that women are having babies well into their 40s now (many women don't meet their partner until later in life so they have no other choice), but overall it is still safer and easier to have children earlier in life so, again, because we kind of have a choice in the matter it makes sense to choose to try to have a baby early in our marriage rather than waiting too long. It also makes sense to consider other factors: our finances, our living space, our careers. I am opposed to living with a baby in our current condo for an extended period of time. We just don't have the space. Sure, you can put a little baby in a bassinet in your bedroom and if we got rid of our futon we could put a baby care station of sorts in our current office/guest room. But it would be cramped and messy and it's just not something I would like to do in the long term if we have a choice. And right now it sort of does feel like we have a choice. That's my point, I guess: sometimes people have babies accidentally and they don't have a choice. They have to raise their infants in much, much, MUCH more difficult circumstances than a lovely condo in a nice neighborhood. If it came down to it and we have to stay here long term for some reason, of course I wouldn't put off having a baby for years just so the baby could have its own bedroom. That's silly. But since we're trying to make a responsible choice, why not wait to try to get pregnant until we think we're close to being able to move into a bigger space? On that note, why not wait to have a baby until I've finished my degree and am at a good point in my career to change gears and take a maternity break? All of these things come into play.
So, with all of these things and more in mind, the basic plan now is for me to go off birth control shortly after our wedding. And this is where it comes back to skiing for me. Next year we'll be on our honeymoon for three weeks right in the middle of the ski season, so there won't be much skiing, if any, next winter. Ideally by the winter after that I will be pregnant. And then we'll have kids, and while I'm all about the idea of getting a baby-sitter sometimes so Penn and I can have grown-up dates, I think that skiing won't be one of those date activities because skiing is already a really expensive activity when you're not also paying $50-$100 for a baby-sitter on top of it. Eventually we'll be able to ski with our children, and that's something I love imagining, but that is something that is very, very far in the future (and also very, very expensive so not likely to happen as often as it does now). All of that to say, I'm trying to be in the moment and enjoy this winter's skiing because it is definitely something I am going to have to give up for a while.
It's scary to think of all of the things we will sacrifice to have a family. But I think maybe everyone has to work through this point before having children, this point where you think "Our life is so nice right now, what if a baby screws it up?" Logically I know that a baby will enhance our life, not ruin it. Everything I've ever read about it and everyone I've ever talked to and all of my gut instincts tell me that I'm going to like being a mother and that the rewards will outweigh the difficulties and the sacrifices. I suppose it all comes back to making responsible decisions. I wouldn't responsibly be deciding to have a child if I didn't first work through this point of saying, "I am making this choice knowing what I will have to give up (if only temporarily) to do this." I'm not going to lie, it feels like a lot to give up: my toned body, extensive one-on-one time with Penn, the ability to make impromptu plans and take impromptu trips, sleeping in (sleeping, period), seeing our friends whenever we feel like it, being completely in charge of how I want to spend my time, a ton of other little things that I do now that I will be able to do again someday but not with young children. It's mostly a lot of little things, honestly, but they add up into this lifestyle that I have put together that I love. I think I'll love life as a parent, too, but that is still a big, huge unknown. And it's hard to give up a lifestyle that you already know you love for one that will hopefully be better but might not be as good (at least not at first) and certainly not as easy.
I don't want this to come across wrong. Fundamentally I am 100% positive that I want children, for many reasons (Why I Want Children is yet another entry, though). I have in no way, shape, or form changed my mind about wanting to be a mother. In fact, I've gradually become more and more excited about starting a family since I met Penn and realized he is supposed to be the father of my children. It's just that as it becomes less of a fantasy and more of a looming reality, I have to mentally prepare myself. And it turns out part of that preparation is doing a bit of mourning for the parts of my life I'm going to have to give up.
I feel lucky that I have this time to prepare myself, though. I think if I just patiently let myself work through some of the worries, by the time we actually take the plunge and go off the pill I'll feel more than ready. I'll probably be ridiculously impatient by then!