Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Evolution of a mama

Yesterday I sat in the sunshine having a picnic with my nearly two year old. Today I'm sitting in the sun alone, at university parks, reading about philosophy of microbiology. On days like these, when the sun is shining and my night wasn't disturbed, and nobody is ill and all my deadlines are more than 24 hours away, I feel like I'm winning, like I'm having it all. Unfortunately, for every day like this I have about a months worth of frazzled, perma-late, failing to keep up.
Ive been succeeding in siphoning off less and less time for writing this blog since my maternity leave ended, and with a real job looming on the horizon (it had to happen some day) I don't know how much longer I can get away with writing it at all. In between my research, my teaching, keeping up with emails, organising book reviews, ordering the groceries, chasing my toddler, performing occasional cpr on my floundering marriage, sporadically aspiring to a social life and, well, sleeping, there isn't much time for eating or breathing, let alone keeping an online diary. If I could somehow work out how to channel my guilt into a more positive energy I'd have enough to power a small country.

I didn't want to do this. When I started writing this blog it was partly because I wanted to be able to set an example to younger women out there that motherhood can be combined with academia, that there were choices that could be made to preserve a life of reason amongst all the nappies and throw-up. But here I am tapping out the same old depressing exhausted message you hear from mothers everywhere...I'm so tired, it's so hard, bleurgh. Well I suppose all those voices failed to stop me from reproducing anyway, and I'm so glad, and the last thing I would ever want to do is put anyone off, because producing my bear is by far and away the best, bravest, cleverest thing I ever did. And yet, I'm so tired, it's so hard, bleurgh.
Well this month I'm taking action, as I've been lucky enough to be admitted onto a course that oxford uni sponsors for female grad students and post docs. 'Springboard' involves four day-long workshops, spread out over two months, with a workbook along-side. It's a combination of self-help questionnaires and careers advice, designed especially for women at a junior level of academia. There are about 30 of us taking it this term, lots and lots of young phd students from various subjects, but also a few of us older types, a couple of mothers. We spend the day going through our workbook exercises in pairs, muching biscuits, listening to guest speakers share their experiences, and generally airing our different sources of angst together.

I'm two sessions in, and it's been inspirational. The first day I got my first sense that perhaps my calcified grin was a bit pasted-on when tears kept inexplicably jumping from my eyes every time anyone said the word 'guilt'. I honestly couldn't really understand what was wrong with my eyes until a few days later. It had been an incredibly tense month, with job interviews and talks and not much time to keep the home fires burning. 
Another session on, and I'm realising how incredibly powerful it is to talk about things like values with a stranger, to hear a kind but un-invested lady mirror your own worries back to you with some objective advice. I've become so unused to giving any attention to me, to myself, that it is transformational. The ladies I've met are a diverse bunch but one thing they have in common is hearts of lions. You have to be something of a steely character to make it as far as a phd, especially when you're rocking two X chromosomes. There is much adversity, much angst and much guilt on the way....we all feel we are failing in one way or another, but the truth is that we're some of the most courageous, talented, inspirational humans on the planet.

I'm not going to stop writing my blog, not yet. Maybe when my grown up job starts next year I won't be able to justify it any more, but for now, it's doing me the world of good to inflict my thoughts on the world (and it's not like you can't just stop reading if you want to, right?!) Hopefully there will be more strength than misery over the coming months and I will succeed in giving someone out there some inspiration rather than despair. Us ladies are diamond-hard, mind-reading, miracle-creating ninjas, but we sometimes need to remind each other of it.

1 comment:

Peter Godfrey-Smith said...

Ellen, I hope you keep your blog going. PGS