M and B will turn 1 next week. But this isn’t a birthday post. At least, not really. Not yet.
M & B will turn one, and I will start the countdown to the end of my official leave of absence from my life as Grad Student. I don’t talk about that part of my life here much, partially because I can’t talk about my specific research without risk of outing myself, and partially because for a long time, I’ve been ambivalent about being in grad school. Since the first year, actually. And I’m now in my 6th year. (It’s a PhD program. In the social sciences. Normative time in my program is 7 years. It’s not unheard of for people to take longer.) For those of you that know something about the world, here’s where I am: I’m ABD. For those that don’t, that basically means that I’m done taking classes and jumping through hoops in terms of exams, and all I have left (all I have, as if it’s so little) is to write my dissertation. I defended my dissertation prospectus (and you don’t just present, you DEFEND) when I was 9 weeks pregnant and feeling queasy - physically and emotionally. And I’ve done virtually no work on the project since then. I kept busy for a while, and the time after the initial defense is always a bit of a downtime, and then I went on bedrest, and then I delivered, and, well, you sort of know what I’ve been up to since then. I’m entitled to 3 quarters of leave. Unpaid leave, mind you. This is not the cushy land of generous maternity leave plans and universal health care. (Actually, going on leave meant that I lost my university health care, so it’s a good thing that I’m also covered on J’s plan, even if it is with the EvilHMO.)
Anyway. I took a leave of absence and threw myself into parenthood. I didn’t see any other way. Initially, I thought I’d take just part of the year as a leave, then return to school somewhat part-time to get my head back in the game. Except the babies wouldn’t take bottles. And childcare is expensive, and it’s not like I make any money as a grad student. And I didn’t really want to leave. And I didn’t really want to be back in school. So I’ve been home.
I never really envisioned myself as a full-time SAHM. I planned to be home much of the time, but somehow I thought I’d also be working (or, for now, in school) part-time. It seemed so ideal to be in school, actually, because I have a flexible schedule and can do my work in the morning, at night, on weekends, at home, on campus, at a coffee shop, wherever. In theory. Only I can’t. I can’t get anything done at home. Even when we had a sitter coming a few times a week (she’s on summer vacation, sob), that precious time was spent showering, or going grocery shopping alone, or at a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t have enough time or focus to do MORE.
Here’s the thing. I don’t particularly miss my research. I’ve been ambivalent about this program, and my schooling in general, for a long time. I’m not one of those people that just LOVES the thinking and theorizing and jargoning. I’ve stuck with it for varying reasons: I couldn’t judge the program based on the structured first-year curriculum; I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead; we moved for me to go to school, so how could I stop; I don’t want people to think I’m a quitter; and now, because I’ve invested so much time in it that it seems silly/lame/pathetic to just quit.
Mostly it’s just that last one, now. Most days I’m sure I don’t want to go into academia, professionally, and this isn’t a field where there are lots of industry jobs just waiting for me. So the degree is somewhat unnecessary. (Though for the kinds of jobs I might someday want, it might lend me a touch of credibility.) I’m no longer excited about my research topic (if I ever really was). The worst part right now is the feeling of limbo, which translates into guilt. If I’m reading blogs, I’m not keeping up with the journals or other academic discussions. If I’m home with the babies, I’m not taking part in colloquia. If I’m keeping the kids happy and healthy and the house running as well as can be expected (if not smoothly, than at least functionally), I’m not doing much else. I can’t. There just isn’t enough of me.
And so it goes. My leave of absence is coming to a close and I have to make this decision, and then stick with it. Come September, will I throw at least a portion of my brain power back into the academic arena, buck up and get to work, or will I say “to hell with this” and move on? I just don’t know.
I’m not sure I’ve even laid out the problem here, but it’ll have to do for now, since I have laundry to move to the dryer and dishes to wash.