Sunday, September 07, 2008

Helluva week

Wow. I survived my first week of a PhD. And to cap it off, I think we found our church today. Which is a huge relief and a blessing. It's the one I knew I'd love - St. Gregory of Nyssa - but it turned out to be everything I need liturgically plus really kind, wonderful people, which ain't too common these days. You often get one or t'other but rarely both done well.

Plus they have a really developed theology around food, so their liturgy and outreach programs are both interesting to me professionally as well as meaningful to me personally. We loved the liturgy at Grace Cathedral, and we enjoyed the community at a couple of the Berkeley churches. But I think we're both kind of giddy after having such an experience this morning. It totally reminded me of the way I felt my first visit to All Saints (BH). That's a rare thing.

And John's already coming up with ways he'd improve it, which means he's invested. :) I tend to like to wait and learn a little more before passing judgment, but to each his own. I know that his nitpicking means he cares.

But otherwise, this week was rather...intense. If you've done a doctorate (or are doing one), you probably get it; if you've had a kid, you also get it. If you've done both, then I need to hear from you, because I need some serious support.

The strangest thing happened this week. Instead of falling headfirst into classes with my usual energy and excitement, I found myself kind of resenting that I had to be there. Instead of reading eagerly because the subjects just turn me on, I was dashing through books so that I could get back to what I really wanted. And instead of thinking how lucky I am to be spending most of my time studying something I really care about, I began to think it was boring and unimportant, and that I actually don't much care at all.

All of this because of one little girl.

Damn it. I kind of saw this coming. I wrote about it months ago, and some of you said to go with my gut that was telling me to quit then and there. Maybe I should have listened. Because now I'm really kind of stuck - I have a scholarship and health insurance that I'd lose (the latter is most inconvenient b/c of Maggie - why oh why don't we have universal healthcare for children??), and I moved my family up here where John doesn't have work, and oh yeah, I promised he could work on his dissertation instead of teaching. I mean, we invested a hell of a lot in this program for me, and they reciprocated. There's some responsibility there. And guilt.

Plus I'm trying to be the person that I thought I was...the person I've always been...which is a person who's kind of ambivalent about kids, but who loves school - loves learning, debating, writing, reading, and generally getting all smart about things. I am a perfect doctoral student candidate - I am exactly what you're supposed to be if you're thinking of doing this. And I pretty much know I will love teaching, and/or chaplaining or whatever I wind up doing with this degree.


I feel stupid admitting it. I feel disappointed in myself and definitely like I'm letting a lot of people down. But here's the rub: I love my baby more than school. Well, duh, I'm supposed to. But I mean, I think I might rather sit and watch her try to roll over for an hour than read a book about early liturgical documents. (maybe many of you feel that way - but you're not in my field)

Suddenly my life is so much simpler, and my interests are so ... well ... basic. I never thought I'd actually want to just stay home with a kid all day.

Then I met my kid.

So I guess what I'm wondering is if this is a phase. If this is something every working mom goes through on her way to rediscovering fulfillment in her job, redefining herself as "working mom." Does it pass? Will I actually want to leave the house one day?

It's scary...even when she's not being the ideal baby, I don't care. I still want to be with her. When I'm away from her my arms feel empty. My heart hurts. I need her, physically. And I can't stand missing anything she does.

It's funny. I ask myself if I will regret not getting a PhD in liturgy. And there are some things that I'd really think were cool to do - like helping write a new prayer book, or perhaps teaching - that might go by the wayside if I didn't do it. The PhD is kind of a means to an end - I first thought of trying it because I wanted to be a Dean of Religious Life and that requires a PhD (in anything). But it's in the field that's always been great fun and joy for me. So it's not like I didn't think I'd enjoy it. I'm shocked that I'm not enjoying it more.

In the grand scheme of "you only live once," I think about what I'd most regret, and I keep coming up with the answer that I'd regret missing my baby's first months. You know, the school will always be there, and all that (although the scholarship won't necessarily always be there, and that's a serious consideration). I don't get this time with her back; I don't get to do it again.

It would help if she weren't so gorram cute.

Anyway, I'm kind of miserable right now. Well, not right now, because I'm home with her right now. But I had such a time getting through class the other day without bawling. I managed because I went to the bathroom at break and cried my eyes out. And that was only 3 hours away from her, with her right there waiting when I walked out of class! What is wrong with me??

John keeps saying it's not that much time away from her. And he keeps reminding me why I'm doing this degree. And he's right. But he's also talked me into this many, many times. And I had to ask him, am I doing this for me? Or because he keeps talking me into it? And shouldn't I not need "talking into" if I really want this? And does he actually want it more than me?

He gets to stay home with her. Plus I think he's less connected to her - no, just differently so. I am actually, in some way, physically connected to her still, even though she's not inside anymore (and I am really physically connected still for several hours a day while feeding her!). So I'm not sure he really understands what I feel.

But you know, I really took this step in life with my eyes wide open - both steps, actually, the child and the degree - and I knew what I was getting into and I worked it out as perfectly as one could manage, really. I mean, how could this not be the right path, when everything went the way I'd hoped it would? And yet...

Well I don't have time to blog anymore. I really have to get back to reading. Sometimes I can do that with her on my lap, and that feels really complete and good. But a lot of the time she's just too wiggly, so I have to have her away from me, which she hates and I hate. And I have to go away to class, which we both hate as well. And I just don't know if I should sacrifice so much happiness. And then there's the matter of my subject not seeming all that great anymore. But that could be first-week nerves. Or it could be the paradigm shift of becoming a mommy. Which is a much more serious issue and I believe it deserves recognition.

Anyway I'd love to hear from you, and most of all ask for your prayers (perhaps more prayers than advice? Unless you've really been here - then please tell me how it felt for you). I don't even know if I have any options that are really that great. I mean, it's too soon to make any long-term decision about my degree, I think. Isn't it? Maybe a leave would be helpful; but it could screw us on the financial end. Or maybe sticking it out for a while is better; but then I'll miss whatever I miss in the next three months (which would be a helluva lot, from 3-6 months).

Stupid ordination process. If that hadn't gone all crappy I'd be in it right now, and quite honestly, I could have been really happy just with that. I already miss the priestly work. I was thinking at that church this morning how much I'd really love to just work at a parish like that (but who wouldn't? it's pretty unique), or do the little helps I was doing with the liturgy at ASBH. If only the ordination thing hadn't been so sour, maybe I never would have gone after the PhD. It's a bummer. There are actually a lot of things I could do without the PhD - besides being a priest, there's still college ministry of some sort, or there's writing liturgies on some level, or there's even writing my book about food spirituality. None of these requires the doctoral work.

But I'm in it now, and at one time I really thought it was what I wanted. And really what's changed isn't so much the field or degree itself, or the alternative careers. It's that I have Maggie now, and she's changed everything. She's changed how I see myself and what I care about. And she makes me want to find ways to be with her, to teach her, to show her the world. She makes me care less about esoteric knowledge (except to share it with her). She makes me see the world differently, and I want to see everything in this new way, with her, as if for the first time.

I don't know if I'm making any sense, and I know I sound pretty irresponsible. I'd be kind of horrified if my colleagues read this...but then, part of me doesn't care. Part of me has never cared what people think, which has been the basis of so much of this blog. What makes this blog what it is, why most people read it, is that I let myself bleed on here, I let other people see the real me, the woman who is not put together or very sane, who is often depressed and usually quite confused and sometimes pretty angry. Definitely not the best Christ-follower out there, not even close. A terrifically flawed human being.

But if there is one thing I have learned, it's that other people feel how I feel, in almost every situation. It's made my preaching better to know this. It's made me more empathetic. It's made me more sensitive and aware of the great universal love that's everywhere around me. And so I'm grateful for it - I'm grateful to be a person who can be raw in front of others, who can open up even when it's embarrassing or inappropriate. Who will even say things that might ruin her reputation or career. Because in the end, who really gives a rip? Maybe I'm trying to sabotage myself so I can stay home with my baby. It would be funnier if it weren't potentially true.

OK, now on to homework, really and truly. John has threatened to take the baby for a long walk so I have to be good so he'll keep her here. Otherwise I miss time with her on an at-home day, and that's really not fair.

Maybe this will all go away in a couple weeks. Maybe I'll be back in love with school again, in addition to the new great love of my life. I'll keep you posted. It's a lot to discern, and I am not feeling as close to God as I would like to in such a situation. Lots to pray about, and I feel a little cut off from my Mother in heaven. But then again, maybe I understand how She feels in a way that's more real and deeper than it could have been before. Maybe all this is teaching me something about God...and maybe She wouldn't mind if I did change my mind, even after all the blessings that were showered on me, because maybe she just wants me to smile.

I know that's how I feel about my baby.


JTB said...

hi there.

such a beautiful post. you're right; one of the things I love about your blog is that you do allow yourself to be risky and raw and open with things.

so, I've been there, only I was about halfway through the program when Clare was born--pretty invested at that point. also Clare was a June baby, so I gave myself the luxury of a whole summer of nothing but baby, not a single academic thought or action for 3 months. then, it was back to TA'ing full-time. it was hard to leave her and not just physically (though I recall one afternoon I got back late and my boobs were so rock-hard with milk that she nursed and THEN I pumped a full bag of breastmilk...from one side.) at that point generally when I was with her I resented having to concentrate on something else, and when I was away I missed her during those moments when my mind wasn't totally engaged and focused on the moment.

now that she's 2 it's a bit different. I absolutely can't get anything else done when I'm on mommy-time, and this summer we moved and childcare is only starting tomorrow. and I've found that I just really need the time to dwell on ideas and express myself--beyond the obvious requirement that if I do want a degree I have to finish a dissertation sometime and preferably in the near future. Not being able to do that consistently for the last couple months or so has driven me a bit batty. I don't remember feeling this, or at least definitely not so strongly, at the very beginning when she was a newbie.

So I think all in all my instinct is, what you're feeling is absolutely inevitable but not necessarily indication that you've misread your calling. Later...if you find you never do rekindle the excitement for school you once had, then reconsider. But it certainly rekindled itself for me, and I am quite giddy at the prospect of tomorrow's hours of uninterrupted dissertating--even while I am dreadfully anxious about Clare's transition into her new school and schedule...and at some point tomorrow, I'm going to miss the constant stream of toddler chatter and the imperious demands that "mommy go too" to wherever she is going. :(

on a mostly unrelated topic...I just finished a blog post about how I resent Palin's supermom image. in the comments there's a link to a NY Times article on "equally shared parenting" that's really fascinating, esp. since it sounds like you & J are doing the switch-off thing Brent and I did for Clare's first year. It's a long article but worth the read (as if you didn't have enough to read already!)

Stasi said...

Yes, All of You - go read JTB's blog entry on Palin. Very awesome.