Category Archives: Reluctant academic life

The Seesaw of Thirty Nine

Thirty nine is (in no particular order of importance):

  • Knowing that opportunities are fewer, every door no longer open yet having the courage to throw myself into the deep unknown.
  • Feeling wistful about leaving this town, our home for fifteen years, and being excited about all that awaits.
  • Enjoying what must be the mellowest years of parenting and being deeply aware how numbered the days are.
  • Knowing that I am much more than what I do, yet being terrified what losing one part of my identity will mean to me.
  • Asking big questions, being at peace with small answers.
  • Enormous privilege of being able to learn from those fresh and new to life (“it is good to be alive”, my son, age 5) and those with wisdom and softness of years (“it will come”, my mother, age 67).
  • Knowing that achievements are not all they are cranked up to be, yet feeling the need to achieve more.
  • Feeling connected with the world stronger and broader than ever before and deeper than ever being pained by its sorrows and horrors.
  • Having some greys and still being occasionally mistaken for a student instead of a lecturer.
  • Using three languages on a daily basis switching seamlessly between them and at the same time being unsettled not knowing what language I dream in, love in or what language that book that one day will come should be in.
  • Being anxious about starting all over again yet knowing that we do this every single day.

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Filed under Cherished moments, Life in Delft, not such a zen mama, Reluctant academic life, Uncategorized

Latest lessons learnt while travelling

{Hello, anyone out there? I am still alive and kicking despite the radio silence on here. I have a million stories written in my head, most of them half-finished, I will get to putting (some of) them on here. Or not.}

One of the stories lingering in my head is made up of many pieces, collected over the last year or so. As an academic, one of the (few) job perks is travelling to far and near places, scientific tourism as a colleague of my puts it. I have written that before becoming a mother I LOVED this perk. I got to see new places (without paying for it myself), attractive tourist destinations (Mexico – my very first transatlantic adventure, Rhodes – the conference rooms were quite empty, Lago Maggiore – oh, the beauty, Madrid – so full of life and vibe I did not want to come back), places less traveled and less exotic but so worth a visit (Tallinn, Heidelberg, Birmingham) and perhaps best of all, places I get to see old friends again (Montreal, Raleigh, Munich, Novi Sad). With the generous number of vacation days we get, it was never an issue to extend the stay for a couple of days and explore the place. Or even drag the family along and make a holiday out of it (Rhodes, Barcelona, the Baltic).

I have also written about how much this all has changed since becoming a mother. I have mostly written about emotional changes, but there were also behavioural ones. Never before had I asked to see someone’s superior or yelled like a lunatic at an airport official, waving the breast pump ice pack, all in front of my boss. I am still not sorry about that. Actually, I am sorry I did not yell louder.

These days, the travels are less frequent and shorter (by choice), there is less new (by the community inertia it is mostly in same places) and less eventful (I am less hormonal and likely to yell), but there are always aha-moments and new insights, that are probably always around but I oversee them in the “sameness” of my rich everyday life. I thought I would share a few, collected over the last year or so. They are rather random, mostly unrelated and I may or may not be proud of each one.

  • Letting be frees you. It really does. For years I have been fighting the sometimes overwhelming pain of being away from my children when travelling. I have been wishing it away, wishing to be able to compartmentalise better, to be more professional and less dramatic, to be able to, like my friends/colleagues/justaboutanygrownup, enjoy the luxury of travelling alone, sleeping for more than 15min or reading more than a paragraph at the time on the plane. It did not work. I did not get any “better” at any of it. I probably did phone Mark less frequently as time went on, somewhere along the line I must have realised that hey, he is exhausted from solo-parenting two small children and could probably use the time better (read sleep) than listen to my woe is me. So, as fighting it did not work, I thought I’d, wait for it, stop fighting. And instead of looking away from a mother with a small child in a metro and frantically searching for something important to read to take my mind of of, I have started doing the opposite, looking at the mother and child, perhaps smiling at them or even offering small help if appropriate (doing something however small for another person does wonders to our ego obsessed selves). And let the sharp pain in my chest wash over me, make me slow my step down for a second, and let it be.
  • No matter how unknown the place, how much concrete there is and how many red traffic lights and side streets to get lost, just keep running and a beautiful, green, open space will eventually appear. You may find a running path there, maybe even a river, but you’ll certainly find like-minded runners.
  • On one of the travels, I woke up feeling particularly sorry for myself. I grumbled inside that I had to work on a Sunday, I was missing my kids, I fretted how I would fit in since I get (way) too talkative after my second glass of wine (it was one of those posh, by invite only conferences where a bunch of old men discuss the future while wine starts flowing from noon). Then I went for a run, and saw the sun rise behind Lago Maggiore. I could use a ton of hashtags for it (and I think I did in my FB status) but it basically boils down to that that stepping off your soapbox, getting some perspective and realising you are so incredibly privileged and blessed should be done much more often. It is really good for you.
  • The world is still made for men (just in case my stance on this wasn’t clear from the above). Progress and all. Finding an article for a woman (stockings, nothing extravagant) in an airport emergency supplies shop proved impossible. There were emergency  ties, emergency shaving kits, emergency socks, emergency fragrances (male and female, but if we are honest, these are again emergency supplies for men). Schiphol, I am deeply disappointed, you should know better than that. World, so should you.
  • I like to think that I have grown in the past decade(s), from my obnoxious, all-knowing 18 year old self to a more emphatic person, more understanding of human weaknesses and mistakes (probably due to making many myself along the way), looking for good in people if you will. During my last work trip, however, I realised that I still, as much as back then if not more, get so much satisfaction from putting an asshole in his place.



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Filed under Mindfulness, not such a zen mama, Reluctant academic life, work-life (im)balance

Day 47

Today I am grateful for the courage of a colleague to stand up and talk in front of the whole group about personal challenges in an academic career. I am also proud for having initiated this movement in our group where such talks are welcome and appreciated.

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Filed under Daily gratitude, Reluctant academic life, work-life (im)balance

Day 44

Today I am grateful for the willingness of a colleague to stand in for me so that I didn’t have to lecture with this terrible cough. I have gotten used to the lack of compassion in my work environment so acts like this always pleasantly surprise me.

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Day 43

Today I am grateful for my doorzettingsvermogen to finish this paper off while being sick as a dog. I often dwell on what I don’t do well, maybe I should give myself a pat on the back for when I do something well instead.

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Day 36

Today I am grateful for deadlines that are not as dead as they initially seem. It means that I can actually sleep this horrible flu off tonight instead of having to work on the {bleep} paper. ***

***This is brought to you by Mark, I am clearly incapable of forming a cohesive thought. 

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Filed under Daily gratitude, Reluctant academic life