Category Archives: work-life (im)balance

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.




Leave a comment

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

Day 67

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to learn something new that I can apply to both my students and myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily gratitude, 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.

Leave a comment

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

Day 30

Today I am grateful for fellow mamas who believe that infamous mommy-wars are overrated and overblown by like-hungry social media sites, for 3 reasons 1) we all do the best we can, winging it as we go along 2) we all question whether that best is good enough 3) we are too busy sorting out our own mess to be able to deal with those of others. I had a play date with one such mama today and as always it was so freeing to be able to say “I don’t have a clue what I am doing” and be met with “I KNOW” instead of “Really?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily gratitude, not such a zen mama, work-life (im)balance

Lost and found

My relationship with my inner confidence is a rocky one. As a child I remember being super confident, in a “there is nothing I can’t do if I sent my mind to it” kind of way (the accent being on mind, my body cooperated less so and let’s just say I never excelled at sports :)). Somewhere along the way, this confidence sort of got lost, for a large part, and I am still figuring out the where/how/whens of it, what for myself what for my children so that I can hopefully help them become (and stay!) self-confident adults. So I have  ups and downs, days when I can feel I can move mountains and days when moving a couple of toys seems like a daunting task. This is also one of the reasons why I started running again last year, I wanted to feel the joy in accomplish something in small measurable steps and feel good about it.

A few weeks ago I felt like my self-confidence could definitely use a little boost and decided to run my very first race. Five kilometers. You hear the loud noise in the background? That is real runners laughing about me calling 5km a race. I set my expectations very low. I just wanted to finish it. I did not care about the time, I did not care whether I’d come last. I just wanted to cross the finish line where my husband and my children would wait for me (of course they would go with, I wanted them to be proud of me and I wanted Una to see that our hard work, as she accompanies me often on my runs on her bicycle, is sort of paying off). So if I have no expectations other than to finish, and I have been running 5km 3 times a week for the last 6 months, nothing can possibly go wrong, right?

I got lost during the race.

After the first 1km or so the runners naturally split into three groups. The first group of serious runners chasing the time of less than what, 18 min, 17 min? The second group running/walking/drinking/having fun, left behind. And the third group of inbetweeners, me included. The race was through a twisty, windy forest, with three tracks of 5, 10 and 15 km, and lots of arrows intended to point the way. Somewhere between 3.5 and 4km, somehow, at the point where I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, nor anyone behind me I took the wrong turn. And after running for 5 or so more minutes I realised that I am going south instead of north as I should be getting closer to the starting point. I continued running until my stopwatch showed that 30 minutes has expired and then stopped. I came across one of the race organising volunteers who told me that I have joined the 10km track and am about 4 km away from the finish. That is a whole lot of lost.

While I was waiting for Mark to get the kids into the car and drive around the forest to find me, I was standing there, wet and cold, disappointed and humiliated. The attempt to boost my self-confidence severely back fired.

Mark and the kids finally showed up and I got into the car. The day before Mark and I had a silly fight, I can’t even remember what it was about but we spent the morning  huffing and puffing and barely talking to each other. You see, we fight so rarely (and mostly when sleep deprived :)) that we don’t really know how to fight properly, if that makes sense. As we drove away I was sitting in the car, feeling a bit warmer but still trying to hold back tears when Una said softly “Mama, I am so proud of you. You did your best, you ran 5km like you wanted, so what if you did it on a different track?” And Nestor did what he does best, pulled one of his silly stunts and made me laugh.

Once home, a playdate afternoon was waiting for us with Una’s friend and his siblings, 5 kids in total, age 2-6. If you have ever been around 5 kids for a few hours you certainly know that the option of thinking about yourself is simply not there. But later that night, when everyone was in bed and I lay awake going through the morning again and again I realised that however embarrassing/humiliating/whateverelseIwasfeeling it is to get lost during your first race (and a 5km one at that) there is so much in that experience that I should be grateful for. A husband who will always come and get me, whenever and wherever I get lost. Even when we fight, always.  A daughter who believes in me and who shows me that a path different from the one I had in mind is a good one too, as long as I keep running. A son who makes it impossible for me not to be happy.

That is worth getting lost for. And I am not only talking about running.

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, not such a zen mama, Out of the mouths of babes, work-life (im)balance

Breathe, play, love

Since the beginning of this year I have been on a six-months long hiatus from work, a sabbatical of sorts, a leaning inside quest if you will. It may not have been a book-worthy one: there were no exotic travels, I rarely even left the town I live in; my Zen teacher’s surname starts with van der and the main male character in my story is still the same. But oh, how worthy has it been to me.

So what have I been doing these past months?

I have been breathing, literally and figuratively. After the whirlwind of the past few years, two children, two juggling careers and little sleep, I really needed to catch my breath. I have spent more time on the yoga mat abdominal breathing, deep throat breathing. I have been trying to regulate my breath so that I could run ever longer. I have learnt to use breath as an anchor to be mindful, stay present in the moment.

I have been playing, literally and figuratively. With the important people in my life, in random situations, with deep entrenched truths. On the floor, in the sandpit, in the kitchen, in my mini-garden. With paint, sand, flour and soil. With ideas of space, easiness and courage. I have learnt that with deep trust, courage of acceptance and a pinch of hope life in itself is a playground.

I have been loving. Not much to say here. I have learnt that love is not attention, is not effort, is not time. It comes before all of it. Before any doubts, fears and questions, in the very core of me. It just is. And this, perhaps, has been the biggest revelation of all.

1 Comment

Filed under Cherished moments, not such a zen mama, work-life (im)balance


I spent the last 16 hours with a two year old with a stomach bug. After the night of no sleep I spent the day changing his clothes either from the waist up or down. Or both, depending on the damage. I may or may not have gotten some of it on myself in the process.

Now I am off to lecture. Two things:

1. I hope that the lights in the lecture hall are dim enough and the distance between the board and the first row is sufficient.

2. I really wish I had been more sympathetic towards my lecturers when they looked wiped out and/or smelt funny.  

1 Comment

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