Monday, 9 October 2017

Why I left academia, Part 3, or: I do not know how single parents do it

I guess I should go on surf trips more often. I was in Costa Rica with my husband, 2 yr old son, and some old friends, renting a little cabina near a beach. Ryder was having a rough go of it: the howler monkeys terrified him (“can we find some quieter monkeys?”), he got attacked by fire ants, a wasp stung him on the boy parts while he was playing naked because it was so hot, and then a scorpion had the audacity to hide under a dustpan and sting his foot when he went to play with it (I give him all the best toys). 
One afternoon I was sitting in the hammock while the guys went surfing, and Ryder was bulldozing pebbles. I had received a weird email from UMass Boston that asked me to go to their job application website to check the status of my application. Being very used to rejection, I logged into the site to see what they had to say - at least they were kind enough to actually reject me. Many jobs I had applied to just never said anything. 
Weirdly, the message said that I was being invited for an on-campus interview for a faculty position in the School for the Environment, and would I please let them know my availability. I was suddenly glad they made me go to the bother of logging into their site, so I actually believed the message. 
Finally, I had been able to apply for another job in an interdisciplinary environmental science department, where I didn’t have to pretend to be an expert in a particular discipline, and my weird mishmash of a background had apparently gotten some traction. I felt like a million dollars, and started envisioning myself wearing professorly sweaters as I strolled confidently around campus in the crisp New England fall. 
UMass Boston: So pretty in the snow
A month later, I was at the interview. The weather was about as dreary as it comes - 40 degrees and raining - and the campus was not exactly going to win any architectural or landscaping awards. The upside was that the buildings were all connected by glass “hamster tubes” so one didn’t have to go out into the elements to get around. Plus, it was right on the Bay and it was in Boston - a pretty vibrant and exciting part of the country from what I could tell, and the people were great. I had so much fun at the interview.
My husband was shocked when I was offered the job. He has a permanent-as-they-come research position at UC San Diego, and the idea of once again somehow living apart – as we had in Australia – was not appealing. However, since he is grant-supported, and not part of the teaching faculty, his job is theoretically portable. He went to his supervisors with the news of my job offer to ask their advice, while I went to my mentors including my PhD advisor as well. All of the academics we spoke to agreed: I had to take the position if I wanted to succeed in academia; we could, they trusted, work out our personal lives, but too many years adjuncting was apparently the kiss of death for hopes of joining the tenure track.
So, I went. We decided at first that my son and I would live in Boston during the teaching semesters, and come back to San Diego during breaks; my husband would visit when he could, but because of some changes at his University regarding employees working from afar, his visits would be relatively short and sparse. We would also pursue options for him to transfer his grants or obtain new funding through UMass Boston, but we knew early on that this would not be as easy as I had thought during my job search. 
The new building on campus that would house my shiny new lab and office wasn’t yet open when I started my position in Fall of 2014, so I was given part of a cubicle in a room with no windows when I first arrived. This didn’t exactly make my heart swell with excitement for my new position; it also made it difficult for me to spend the semester setting up my lab, which had been the original plan, and the reason I had no classes to teach that semester. I spent October in Boston, and then retreated to San Diego, where I had more space to work and life logistics were easier. I wrote proposals and resurrected projects, and prepped all new material for my class in the spring. When I got back to Boston in January, I felt excited and ready to roll.
Just one of the many blizzards we enjoyed in 2015 (inches)
Ryder and I moved into a furnished 2-story duplex in Cambridgeport. We were a few blocks from Trader Joes, Rite Aid and Whole Foods, as well as the Charles River, with a backyard and a kind landlord who lived two doors down and kept an eye out for us (and cleared our snow!). We were half a mile from the Central Square Redline T stop. I was excited to commute by train, pop into the city to see sights, and do my shopping on foot. I had never lived an urban lifestyle, and was amped. 
Then that winter broke all of Boston’s records for snowfall and cold. One day we bundled up to walk to Rite Aid for Lucky Charms (as you do). Ryder had to pee when we got there; unfortunately I was too slow getting him into the restroom and undressed from his layers, and he lost it and ended up peeing all over the back of his snowpants. I knew it was too cold for him to get home without the pants, but worried the wet clothes would freeze against his skin when we got out into the intense cold. A couple plastic bags from the checker later, and I had sandwiched the wet parts of the pants between layers of bags and then put his jacket on to hold it all together. I was clearly killing it at this Boston-living thing.
A relatively mild day at the T
To get to work, I had to bundle Ryder in snowpants, jacket, boots, hat, and gloves, and then dress myself quickly and get us and the jogging stroller out of the door (thanks to friend Rachel for alerting me that small-wheel strollers are ridiculous in snow). I was born in Boston when my mom was a grad student at Harvard. A favorite story I used to make her tell me over and over was about just this: bundling me up in a million layers, getting outside to stroller to daycare, but forgetting to strap me in - when the stroller stopped short on a chunk of ice, baby me flew out and rolled down the sidewalk. All the layers meant that when my mom ran up to me, horrified, I was just laughing.
When the temperatures dropped below 15F, I would put a plastic rain cover over the stroller to keep Ryder a little bit warmer on our way to daycare. After the second blizzard, people stopped bothering the clear their sidewalks properly, so we had to walk in the street to get to the T, praying no cars slid into us. When we got to the T, we would have to fight to get on. Often, multiple full trains would pass before we could shove our way in. I learned to be rude and pushy. When we got to our stop, we would bundle up again and walk another ½ mile to the UMass Boston Early Learning Center. I would drop Ryder off, removing his outer layers to place in his outside cubby, and then bring his special blanket and elephant into the inside cubby. After that, I walked another ½ mile to my office. It was great exercise, but the whole evolution took a long time. 
Checking out the shiny new building that housed my lab & office
Before I knew it, and before I felt like I’d accomplished what I needed, it would be time to leave to reverse the trek. In the evenings, after Ryder went to sleep, I knew that I should work again to make up lost time, but I was pregnant with my daughter and too exhausted. Usually, I would just go to bed when he did, snuggling together in my queen bed because neither of us wanted to sleep in separate rooms.
One day I got food poisoning. I started feeling weird on the way home, and by the time we got to the apartment, it took every ounce of energy to get Ryder dinner and to bed. I then spent the entire night puking. In the morning, I called a cab, hauled Ryder’s carseat into it, and had them take us to the hospital. A few bags of IV fluid, some anti-emetics, and something that knocked me out for a few hours did the trick. When I woke up after being knocked out, Ryder was sitting in his carseat in the hospital room, coloring and eating animal crackers. I just about died from love and gratefulness for him being so good and patient, and also immediately had a thousand visions of all the ways he could have been harmed while I was asleep and no one was caring for him. 
Spring came, and life got easier. Instead of snow on the sidewalks, there were pink drifts of cherry blossoms. One day we emerged from the T station at our stop on our way home, and it wasn’t dark. We celebrated by going out for an impromptu dinner, complete with fancy desert.

And then it was time for summer back in San Diego. It was a bit of a break, and I felt like I caught up on work a little – my husband helped with the preschool commute, I wasn’t teaching, and I worked at home most days, so I had much more time. At the end of summer, I ballooned into a whale and a few weeks later my daughter was born. We remained in San Diego that fall on maternity leave. I kept up with some work, but I also did take a real break to enjoy her, knowing she’s my last baby.

1 comment:

  1. This part i remember! What a bummer winter picked that year to drive everybody to FL. Impressive that you persevered! Ellen