This is what is different.

Today is the end of my second week back to work. Now that the holidays are over and everyone is back in the office, I’m being asked regularly how it is to be back, how we’re managing, what life is like as a working mother.

I’ll tell you:

There’s all the normal day-to-day stuff from before: waking up with an alarm, making coffee, hunting for parking, endless meetings, trying to avoid ordering take out at the end of a long day, wanting to watch another episode of something but giving into sleep instead.

Add to that a layer of baby activities: nursing before getting out of bed, changing two diapers in the hour before work, keeping the baby entertained while trying to make coffee so that Nicolas and I are both a little more awake before I leave, rushing home to happy snuggles and more nursing, hoping the baby doesn’t fall asleep for the night an hour after I walk in the door.

Also add the angst of separation. And the weirdness and frustration of needing to fit 2-3 pumping sessions into an already busy work day. And half a dozen photos or video of the cuteness (and crying) happening at home. And the constant calculation of whether anything extra – a doctor’s appointment, stopping for groceries, a workout – is worth the extra time away from the baby.

It’s amazing how quickly your priorities change. I was told this would be the case, but I didn’t understand it until I experienced it.

We’re in an incredibly fortunate situation: I like my job, and my salary is enough that Nicolas can be home – full time and indefinitely. We don’t have to bundle the baby and all of his accouterments off to daycare in the morning. Nicolas is great with the baby and also isn’t subject to the sort of cabin fever that would be killing me right about now. Pumping is easy for me. My employer is supportive of families and has a very flexible leave policy. I get to work from home one day/week.

It’s hard to be back. But it’s also good to be back. And there’s not a damned thing that will get between me and the door at the end of the workday now that there’s a sweet little boy who needs his mama waiting at the other end of my commute.

2013 Resolutions in Review

Now that it’s firmly 2014, let’s look back on last year’s resolutions:

1. No pants in public.
DONE. For a while, I took daily photos of my tights to prove that I was toughing it out through the Chicago winter. Then I got bored with that, and then the weather got nice, and not wearing pants didn’t seem like that much of a challenge. Then it got effing cold again, and I resumed the countdown to the end of the #yearofnopants. There were days when I desperately just wanted to throw on jeans, and there was at least one occasion of layering yoga pants over tights under a dress because I was freezing and didn’t have any other clothes available to me (thanks, unseasonably cold and rainy May weather), and there were several times when I ran errands immediately after a workout and so didn’t change out of my running kit, but I made it from Jan 1 – Jan 1 without leaving the house in pants of any non-workout type. I suspect that I will wear pants every day for the next week, and then I’ll go back to wearing skirts most of the time.

2. One really big race: either the Chicago Marathon or a triathlon.
NOPE. But I did do 7 half marathons and a 5K, and destroyed my PR at both distances, and did my first true destination race. I also plateaued halfway through the year, making each subsequent race an exercise in discomfort and frustration. I wish I’d done better, but have accepted that I didn’t.

3. Ride a goddamned motorcycle.
NOPE. No matter how often I ask the internet, no one wants to give me a motorcycle ride. Maybe this year I’ll just man up and take my colleague’s motorcycle class.

4. Get out of debt.
NOPE. But I did make progress, and committed to monthly financial accountability, and feel good about the progress that I’ve made.

5. Leave the country at least once.
DONE. Karen and I went to the Bahamas in February, and Nicolas and I went to Canada for the afternoon in May.

6. Run 1,000 miles and bike 2,000 miles.
NOPE. I ran 783.66 miles and biked 1030.84 miles. The running distance wasn’t unreasonable considering the number of races I did, but between sickness and injury, I had to cut way back in the last 3 months of the year. Had I biked as much all year as I did in the last 3 months of the year, I would have made the distance in spades, but I didn’t, and so am happy with the distances I did log. In 2014, I’d like to do more of both, but I’ll be happy with whatever ‘more’ ends up meaning.

7. Figure out this career stuff.
DONE. Well, sort of. I spent a lot of the year wracked with work/life balance angst, a lot of which resulted from a loathsome commute. I made and continue to make my peace with it, and am resolved to stay where I am for at least another year or two – which is further out than I’ve ever felt like I’ve been ready to commit to any job in a while.

8. Keep living with my heart wide open.
ONGOING. Much of the year required trusting my gut and doing my best to say yes to whatever the universe decided to send my way. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the work.

9. Be more like Leslie. Always.
ONGOING. Forever.

“And besides, feelings are totally full of shit.”

I woke up last Sunday adorned with the previous night’s glow sticks and feeling like someone had dropped a load of bricks on my chest. Such is the weight and effect of running into one’s own unhappiness.

The last two months have been endlessly stressful: holidays, moving to Chicago, moving out of our apartment, moving into my Unnamed Hippie House (which I’ve decided is its name, by the way), my uncle’s death, drunk people drama, sickness, job hunting, job interviews, the beginning of the semester, winding down a job, and living apart. It’s all fucking hard! Hard, hard, hard.

I’m a person who thrives in chaos, so times like these usually see me rising to the occasion. Five years ago, we launched Moodle at the beginning of the semester while I was also a full time doctoral student and a new gyne instructor – so I was essentially working two very demanding full-time jobs while taking on an emotionally and physically challenging part-time job while also maintaining a relationship and starting to focus on losing weight after four months away from the gym (and my bike) with a broken arm. Literally the day before Shane moved to DC, I had unexpected minor surgery after receiving scary lab results from an abnormal Pap and also got an estimate of $2400 to make the necessary repairs to my car so that I could move to join him – while also gearing up for the beginning of the semester and actively job-hunting. I’m not alone in my experience of shit stacking up in impossible ways, or of being able to put my head down and knock through it all to come out on the other side smarter and stronger.

But in and around the stress and stressors of the last two months, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The time and space and distance have allowed issues to rise to the surface that I’ve been ignoring or just haven’t been brave enough to face. And one of those is my unhappiness, a thread of pain through so many aspects of my life.

It’s no secret that I’ve been profoundly unhappy in my career in the last few years. In job interviews, I’ve spun it as “a series of right turns” – from instructional technology support at Illinois to reference librarianship at GW to web development at UM. From a position of authority and trust to the bottom rung of a soul-deadening bureaucracy to manual labor, working in a call center, finding ways of stretching 5-8 hours of work to fill 40, and then ending up in a position where I’m challenged and respected, but which is still tangential to any of the goals I can loosely define for myself.

I’ve been tremendously lonely in my relationships. I’ve focused my energies on my marriage to the detriment of my relationships with others – perhaps appropriately so, but still a stark thing to realize. I’ve been trying to change this in the last few months, but I know I have a long way to go.

I’ve tried to direct this loneliness and frustration into positive channels: running, the garden, cooking, blogging, teaching, and connecting with friends online. What I haven’t realized until recently is the extent to which my loneliness and frustration has been self-reinforcing. I’m lonely, so I go running alone. I like running alone, so I opt to continue with this solitary activity, even though it could be a great opportunity to meet other people and build relationships around running. Shane is often busy with hobbies or friends, and I respond by soaking up the much-desired solo time, which then leads me to support (rather than complain about) more time dedicated to hobbies, which then leads to more time alone.

Which leads me to this place: waking up on a Sunday morning feeling crippled by sadness. Grinding away on the track to meet a training goal but also to focus my mind on something other than the intractability of my feelings. Struggling to remember happiness, or to picture what happiness might look like. Knowing that the easy answer is more meds, or changing the meds, but being unwilling to accept that as an answer YET AGAIN.

I want to be happy.
I don’t know how to be happy.
I don’t know what has to change in my life for me to be happy.
I’m afraid of my own unhappiness.

Posts and Pages in WordPress

I spent a couple of hours yesterday puzzling over a WordPress mystery: how exactly a static page could, without being told to do so, display a series of posts.  I found several ways to make it happen with custom templates, custom functions, and custom fields – but of course, none of these were what was happening on my site.  I was told to “perturb the environment” in an attempt to break the behavior, but with no luck.

That is, until this morning, when the combination of a quick email and a file changed to “THE BLOG 2: Electric Boogaloo” caused me to notice a feature whose existence I had been searching for all afternoon:

Can I tell you how dumb I felt? Pretty dumb. But also pretty smart! as I’d figured out and tested several other ways, one of which being the way we’re going to actually implement this feature.

So, in case you’re interested, this is how you make a static page display posts:

  1. First, create the page you wish to have display your post content.
  2. From the WordPress admin screen, select Pages then Add New. Create and publish your page.
  3. From the WordPress admin screen, click on Settings then Reading.
  4. By default, the Your latest posts will be selected.  This will result in your posts being displayed on your homepage, which is standard blog behavior.
  5. If you would, instead, like your posts to be displayed on a particular page on your site – replacing the content of that page, select A static page, then select the page you’d like to use from the drop-down menu.
  6. Specify the number of posts you would like your page to display, then scroll to the bottom and Save Changes.
  7. Et voila, a page of posts!

Tired Eating

Tired ... But Not Too Tired To Eat Ice Cream
Photo by dmhergert

I started a new job this week. This new job, as it happens, requires a lot of hands on time with WordPress, so if you stop by this site and things look weird, it’s likely because I’m testing something here before putting it on an Important Library Server Or Something.

So yeah, this new job. I’m busy. A lot busier than I’ve been at work – with few small exceptions – since leaving GW two years ago. I have a lot to think about and work on, I attend a fair amount of meetings, and by the time I get home, I am zonked. Like, ready to go to bed at 7:30 zonked. Like, so much for a solid workout routine (missed 2 days each in January and February, then 2 days THIS WEEK SO FAR) and so much for making dinner. I apologize that I haven’t blogged, but honestly, my meals have looked like this:

Monday dinner: crackers, havarti, carrots and ranch dressing, roasted squash, hot chocolate. Most of this was consumed while Shane was working out, as I could NOT wait until 7-8 when he was done.
Tuesday dinner: Shane was at the shop, so I had post-workout carrots, crackers, string cheese, toasted tortilla, steamed carrots (yes, carrots x2) and ranch dressing. BIG bowl of ice cream after teaching.
Wednesday dinner: We used our buy-one-get-one coupons for Chipotle for burrito bowls full of carnitas and other good stuff. I ate half of mine, saved the rest for lunch, and ate a bunch of chips instead.
Thursday dinner: grocery store takeout (chicken tenders, pasta salad, small piece of chicken parmesan), crackers, carrots, pepparkakor.

Here’s hoping that next week brings more energy and less stress, especially since I’ll have my on campus teaching behind me and a full ten days until I have to teach again. Man, I’m tired. And hungry.

Rob Brezny gets me

I started my new job on Monday, and so far I feel really good about things! I already have responsibilities, meetings on the calendar, projects to work on – such a change from my last job, where I spent a year feeling totally stagnant. For maybe the first time since leaving Illinois, I feel like I really want to be here, and that’s a really good thing.

As a result, yesterday’s Free Will Astrology really rang true:

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): In his parody music video, “Sickest Buddhist,” comedian Arj Barker invokes a hip hop sensibility as he brags about his spiritual prowess. Noting how skilled he is when it comes to mastering his teacher’s instructions, he says, “The instructor just told us to do a 45-minute meditation / but I nailed it in 10.” I expect you will have a similar facility in the coming week, Capricorn: Tasks that might be challenging for others may seem like child’s play to you. I bet you’ll be able to sort quickly through complications that might normally take days to untangle.

Thoughts on a Snow Day

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s set aside the fact that the amount of snow that we received overnight definitely did not live up to the excessive hype of [insert clever nickname for the snowstorm].  I agree: school should not be cancelled for 6″ of snow in the upper Midwest.  The upper Midwest should be prepared to handle 6″ of snow.

What I take issue with, however, is the University’s rationale for NOT canceling classes for inclement weather.  To wit: “We basically never cancel classes because we’re a residential school,” [University spokeswoman Kelly] Cunningham said. “People can get here.”

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?  In 2010, there were 58,089 enrolled students and 40,712 staff members (including grad students employed by the University).  11,000 students, or 27% of the student body, live in campus housing.  Another 8% live in Greek houses or cooperative housing.  By those numbers, 35% of the student body lives on or immediately adjacent to campus.  The remaining 37,757 students – 65% of the student body – lives off campus.

So if 37,757 students and 40,712 faculty and staff members live off campus, then who are the “residential” “people” who “can get here”?  20% of the campus population.

What about the rest of us? The 41% of the campus population who are employed by the University must “make a reasonable effort to report to work as scheduled, using good judgement about the risk of travel”, to quote an email I received yesterday. If you’re unable to get to campus, you can take a vacation day, paid time off, or unpaid time off, depending on where and for whom you work.

The unspoken message here is that the University is far more concerned with the happiness and safety of those who live on campus – again, 20% of the population – than that of the 78,470 individuals who commute for work, school, or both.  Those of us in that second camp can obviously afford to absorb a day of pay if we choose comfort and safety over driving to work or taking the bus in bad weather.  And I think that’s ridiculous.