Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Random Bits of Emotional Musings and Existential Crises

I've been wanting to post a bit more about our trip to grad school city and the host of emotional reactions - both good and a little tough - that attended our trip.

First off, seeing our friends who are still in the area even after we finished school (and who will be there for years) was so wonderful and it brought home a bit the old truism that school friends are made far more easily than colleague or "grown up" friends. The Dutchman and I have moved around quite a bit over the past couple of years and in my past three teaching situations I was on the fringes of a department and university (i.e., as a VAP and an adjunct). I was happy to have these positions (god knows!) but socially it was a real low point - I naturally wasn't a part of the culture of the department, never went to meetings, and my office was usually off in a different building, etc. The school where I'm at now is slightly different because I made an effort of introducing myself to the colleagues in my field here and it's been nice.

But being back "home" for a few days reminded us of how much we loved being with our friends, who are all in either gone on to academic jobs or other professions in the area but with whom we still have a lot of fun. We don't gripe about the difficulty of grad school and dissertating (as we were wont to do before), instead, we talk about our work, our careers, etc. and still have an amazing connection. Even though most of us "survived" grad school together, that's not even remotely the only thing we have in common. All in all, I guess I realized that I didn't have to go back in time to a nostalgic, sometimes gruelling, past in order to enjoy these friendships. They have continued to develop long after grad school is over and they've survived the intervening geographical distance very well. This is great because I know we'll always have them, but it's tough, because - dammit - I want them all the time!

This brings me to my second emotional musing, which was also brought into sharp relief through this trip: babies. We made the rounds to see all our friends and two of the couples had new (2 months) and new-ish (7 months) babies that we'd never seen before. They were fantastic, lovely little nippers and it was just a giant ball of fun to hang out with all of them - with the adults drinking margaritas and beer, eating velveeta and salsa "cheese" dip, and helping our friends' 4 year old put together a dinosaur puzzle while trying to keep my margarita glass out of grabbing range of the baby I was holding. It was a wonderful time.

Just before we left for our trip last week, we heard that some of our closest friends, one of the Dutch couples we're going to Tuscany with this summer, are expecting a baby in November. This is one of the Dutchman's closest and oldest friends - they got married a month after we did. We were completely overjoyed for them, but after we got off the phone with them, we both cried.

Pretty early on in this last hiring season I knew that I wouldn't have a fourth job market in me - at least not now. As time went on and the options naturally began to narrow, we sat down and gave some serious thought to what we would do if no job offers were forthcoming this year. We knew we could count on a 3-year contract here that would pay very well, but would not be renewable. So, we decided that if the Dream Academy didn't come through, we would stay here for the next few years and start trying to have a family in a few months. It felt good to have a game plan in any event - I stopped trying to think about the implications of my actually getting the job and then *taking* the job. When I did get the job I was overjoyed personally and professionally - in the back of my mind has been the nagging issue that we will be living apart very soon, but to be honest, the happiness of being able to begin my career outweighs that on most days.

But when we heard about our friends and saw all the babies, I remembered in a very visceral, emotional way that another part of that game plan was also being put on hold indefinitely - having a family. Now, intellectually I know that I'm still young, I have lots of time, and that it's much better for me to start my career now rather than divert it in a significant way. With my new job I have options and security and the opportunity to teach and conduct research in my own field. Staying here with a 3-year contract means teaching a lot of courses I'm not really trained to teach and hitting a brick wall in the near future.

The trip last week combined with the news from our friends hit both of us very hard with the realization that we can't start a family right now. Ironically, almost right at the moment we both decided that we wanted to try for a baby (literally in January), I got offered the job a week or so later. [*cue Alanis Morrissette's "Ironic"*] Hopefully we can in the near future, but it could take years for us to live together again - it could also take one year. Who knows? Either way, we're not able to do it now and it saddens us both.

Why couldn't one of us have wanted to be a real estate agent? Or something we could do just about anywhere??


Hilaire said...

Oh, ouch. I'm so sorry. Sometimes I wonder why we choose this life at all.

I don't have anything useful to say. Just - big hugs to you.

squadratomagico said...

MedievalWoman, I'm sorry you have to put one wonderful thing on hold in order to pursue another wonderful thing. It does seem terribly unfair that academics have to make choices like these. If I may offer a bit of unsolicited advice, however, I'd say that if having children is an experience you really want to have, something you will feel deprived about if you don't do it... then you should do it no matter what your living situation. Maybe not the first year, but within the first few.

I myself am happily childless, but I have friends whom I simply cannot imagine seeing go through life without kids. It's just who they are: it's as if they didn't choose to want kids, the longing chose them. If you are one of those people, you have to seize that longing and honor it. Who knows -- you may end up with a position close to the Dutchman sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, you have to welcome into your life the experiences you want to have, no matter how difficult they may be on some levels. I always have found that embracing my own deepest desires somehow works out in the end.

Good luck!

medieval woman said...

Thanks, guys, for your support. Hilaire, I always love hugs from you! And S, thanks for your thoughts - I think that at some point we might be making some big decisions about our careers vs. family. But you're right - I don't want to sacrifice my option to have children. It can be put on hold for now in the hopes that we can be together in the next couple of years!