On Running and Chronic Illness–An Update

There are many reasons I decided to start trying to run. Notice how I phrased that—I am still such a novice that I can’t really say “I run” and am not even close to saying “I’m a runner” but I am almost 7 weeks into the C25K program and I’ll be the first to admit I am shocked at how much I love it.

Or to be more specific, I am pretty miserable during it, but I absolutely love how I feel when I am finished, physically and mentally. Each time, I feel stronger, I feel more confident, and I also cough up more junk than I ever have with any other aerobic activity, so I know it’s doing great things for my lungs.

Ostensibly, I first started training for a 5K because I signed up to do the MS Muckfest, a 5K obstacle course in the mud. I knew the actual running would be in fits and spurts as we moved through the obstacles, but I figured if I could run that amount, I’d be in good physical shape for the event. (I’m also combining it with strength training at the gym and Jillian Michaels’ Shred workout, to build up my core and arm strength.) The event is this Saturday, and while I have a couple weeks left in the C25K program, I definitely think it’s made a huge difference.

It’s hard, of course. The first week I almost laughed at the notion I could run more than a couple minutes without getting winded. Even though I’ve exercised regularly for years, my lungs burned the first few days. A couple more weeks in, I was logging longer running spurts but wondered when I could do a whole workout without getting a cramp from improper/poor oxygenation. I played around with when I took my inhalers and used my sinus spray, and looked for flatter routes so I could just focus on breathing—hills and speed can come in time.

Seven weeks in, I look forward to it. I still have such a long way to go but my goals are changing, too—I want to do a straight 5K event, but next summer, there is a 7-mile road race I’ve always thought looked fun. I am not fast and I am not graceful, but I now know if I keep plugging away, I will keep seeing improvement in my stamina and endurance. I cheered on runners at the Boston Marathon the other day, and was so inspired by their dedication and grace. I still can’t imagine actually running 26.2 miles (huge shout-out to my friend and inspiration, Audrey, who rocked Boston the other day and looked totally amazing when I saw her at the halfway point), but I can more easily understand why people do it.

The Muckfest was a good catalyst for running, part of it is also that running has always been something I just couldn’t do, and I hate that feeling. But it’s more than simply wanting to conquer something that has always challenged me. I explained it once to my husband as we finished a run together—that second wind they tell you about? It’s totally real. That feeling of just tying up my sneakers and taking off down the road? I have never felt more free.

A lifetime of illness, of surgeries, setbacks, crises, broken bones, etc., will shake your faith in your body. The disappointments tally up, and the sense of feeling hemmed in is profound. I am very confident in other aspects of my life, but my confidence in my body to do what I want and need it to, to depend on it, has always lagged behind. (With the major caveat of carrying a baby and keeping her safe—however rocky, my body did its job then).

So those are the reasons I started trying to run. The biggest reason I am planning on sticking with it? My three-year-old daughter. She watches us run and she puts on a headband and starts running around, too. She knows we signed up for an event and she asked to run a race of her own, and is now registered. (I am not sure which she’s more excited about—the actual running part, or the official race t-shirt she will get).

I don’t care if she ever runs a 5K, I don’t care what sport she ends up playing or if she’s ever the fastest or the first—I just want her to be confident, and to feel strong.

One and Only; One and Everything? (Or, Parenting after Infertility)

First there was Frank Bruni’s NYT essay on the gift of siblings, which was quoted, linked to and shared all over social media. It’s a lovely piece, and one that made me pause and really consider how much of my life experiences were and are shaped by having siblings, in my case, older brothers.

Bruno quotes writer Jeffrey Kluger, who observed that ““Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life.” That shared history and familiarity can be a tremendous gift, and source of comfort.

Next came Lauren Sandler’s Op-Ed on being an only child and being the parent of an only child, a precursor to the release of her new book, One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One. (It’s next up on my reading list.) In her article, Sandler takes on the misconceptions attributed to only children—that they are spoiled, selfish loners—as well as their parents, who must also be selfish, or care more about money or material goods than parents who have several children. She uses research to beat back these assumptions, and urges readers to consider the numbers:

“In hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits — including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings….only children are, in fact, no more self-involved than anyone else. It turns out brutal sibling rivalry isn’t necessary to beat the ego out of us; peers and classmates do the job.”

Lately, it seems like conversations about family dynamics and the decisions we make regarding family size are everywhere, and I find them cropping up all over the place in my own life, too. At two and half, my daughter is at the age where many of her classmates and friends now have younger siblings. All her cousins have siblings. Sweetly and innocently, she’s already asked me why she doesn’t have brothers or sisters. “Some families and bigger, and some are smaller,” I tell her. “What matters is that families love each other.”

When we’re in line at grocery stores, when I’m pushing her on the swings at the playground, or chatting with other moms, people ask me if she’s my first, if we’re going to have more. It’s a totally natural question, but if you’re parenting after infertility (and high-risk pregnancies) and/or parenting with chronic illness, it isn’t an easy or automatic question. It’s one I’ve been fielding since I was still pregnant with her. My response then was that I was focused on bringing this baby into the world safely, not future babies.

My response now echoes a similar sentiment. “We’re enjoying where we are right now.” After the long journey to get here, the fact that we have this happy, healthy little girl still blows our minds. Everyone responds to parenting after infertility in different ways. We never thought we’d be here, and some days it feels almost greedy or presumptuous or lacking in gratitude to assume lightning would strike twice like this. That might sound strange, but I wonder if some of you out there can relate.

What is a normal conversation for many other families, what is a natural progression in size for many families, is anything but for families with infertility or chronic illness (not that these are the only variables that make this complicated, of course—these are merely the ones that shape my perspective.) I wish this conversation was different for us, but that isn’t our reality. A few years ago, I wrote that the responsibility involved in making a decision like this—to embark on this high-risk road—was staggering. But really, the responsibility of being a parent in general is staggering, the competing considerations don’t get easier: We owe her the best of us, emotionally and physically. Siblings can be so enriching and wonderful. So are healthy (relatively speaking) parents.

It’s not an either-or situation, clearly, but what our responsibilities are to her as a toddler and young child and what she might want or need later are sometimes hard to navigate.

If she is an only child, I admit I sometimes worry about the misguided assumptions about only children as being spoiled or expecting the world to go their way, but I also know that her friends, relatives, and her experiences being in school, existing in groups, and generally learning to be social and empathetic. We’ve worked consciously to find a community, and communities within that larger community, where she will be supported and where she will feel connected to people beyond just the two of us. She calls her extended family and her gaggle of cousins “my people” and those bonds are incredibly important, and will be her shared history, too.

As I read Sandler’s essay and some related interviews with her, one thing that really struck me were all the negative labels attached to parents with only children—that their choices reflect selfishness or materialism, that they chose a small family so they wouldn’t have to deal with the chaos and inconveniences of more children, etc.

Maybe their choices reflect what is best for their individual family unit, and what allows everyone to thrive. Maybe it has always been their plan, their ideal social, economic, and philosophical situation. Maybe it isn’t their ideal choice, and the inability to have more children is a source of immense sadness. Whatever the reason, I don’t understand or appreciate the instinct to judge this choice, to assume negative motivations behind it, or to question the decisions parents make in terms of limiting their family size.

I know firsthand the many benefits of siblings. As a parent in a potential only-child family, I’m hopeful the benefits and opportunities of this path are enriching, too. I appreciate Sandler’s work and that she’s using research to speak back to these stereotypes—I wish she didn’t have to, though.

Living the Dream (Or, It Takes a Village)

Every now and then, like when it’s well past midnight and I’m setting my alarm for 4:45 so I can get some work done, or when we’re trading notes on how many loads of laundry and changes of clothes Norovirus necessitated, my husband and I will mutter “Living the dream,” and smile (smirk?) at each other.

Of course we always say it in jest, and because sometimes a little levity can make another pre-dawn computer session or raging case of toddler vomit a bit more manageable.

The thing is, though, we really are. Living the dream, that is—our particular notion of what a dream should look like, anyway, and all the lack of sleep and crazy juggling and contagious viruses and daily minutiae pale in the face of that.

I don’t like winter. The days are too dark, everyone is sicker more often, and this winter there are just too many variables to manage—teaching, side projects, book launch, merit review, household maintenance, chest PT, and of course, the really heavy stuff, like watching my father’s kidney failure progress and working on the logistics of a transplant and medically complex post-op care plans. I am tired, and I just want it to be spring.

The irony that spring represents hope and renewal is not lost on me. (But really, I’d be happy with weather warm enough for a trip to the playground, or possibly a nap.)

Anyway, as we claw our way through this snowbound February (and yes, it really is starting to stay lighter later on), I’ve taken to re-framing how I think about nineteen-hour days and the often overwhelming nature of the here and now.

Living the dream. We have a happy, healthy, joyful little girl. When she is at school, she is in a wonderful place where she is loved and where she is thriving. I get to spend so much time with her every day, a lot more time than I would in other professions, and I try not to take that for granted, ever. We go to the library and playspaces and gymnastics class, we do playgroups and playdates. We read books on the couch and hide treasures in her tent and I try to say yes to finger paints more often than not—“Just throw me in the tub right after, okay, Mama?” All the other stress and sadness and obligations of life fade away.

Part of this is because higher education is a bit more flexible schedule-wise, part of this is because I am willing to work late nights and early mornings, and a huge part of it is because I work for a wonderful institution with accommodating superiors and administrators. They support me and allow me to do what I enjoy with students I enjoy. There is room for professional growth, and innovation and initiative is rewarded with responsibility and recognition.

I have an agent and a publishing team who have been equally accommodating, and whose guidance has really helped my writing career. And lately (stay tuned) some incredible writing opportunities have come my way, things I wouldn’t have thought possible if I had sought them out myself, and all I can do is be grateful and give them my all.

My husband is almost two years into starting his own business, and while the hours are long for all of us, the benefits outweigh the (many) stresses. Seeing him get great press or expand his production facilities to meet increased demand is nice, of course. But knowing he is doing something he believes in, and something that while grueling, allows him the flexibility to come to her doctor appointments, drop her off at school, and be present in so many aspects of her daily life, is even better.

Along the way, we’ve been blessed personally and professionally with mentors and cheerleaders, those whose encouragement, advice, and enthusiasm have helped us to take risks and fight for the life we want.

Way back in the day, I wrote this post on how it takes a village when it comes to having chronic illness and raising children. And it absolutely does—when she’s sick or I’m sick or we’re both sick, we need helping hands. But unsurprisingly, my pre-child understanding of that village was a bit narrow.

The village stretches far beyond those who can help out when we’re sick, or watch our daughter so I can go to the hospital. It also includes the cheerleaders and the mentors, the bosses and the schedulers and the administrative staff, the professional colleagues who go out of their way, the doctors, nurse practitioners, and nurses who manage our conditions, my physical therapists, the daycare staff, and so many more. It’s the family and friends who are a constant, and those who understand when life gets complicated and we fall off the radar.

If I’ve learned anything in the months since we started looking for a living donor for my father and we’ve witnessed the amazing outpouring of support and sacrifice, it’s that the web of people who care is intricately linked and stretched out beyond our immediate circle, and beyond the circle beyond that circle, even.

I won’t deny this is a hard season we’re in, in every sense of the term. As is always the way, it seems like there are so many exciting things going on right when so many tough things are. I know things will get easier soon, when the book is launched and I’m feeling better and the work winds down a bit. I also know that things could get much harder before they begin to get easier. I can’t wait for spring, but the enormity of what could happen between now and then is hard to translate.

For now, I am keenly aware of all the scaffolding that exists that supports us and enables us to live this dream, in all its imperfections.

On 2013 (Or, Side by Side)

It was helpful to re-read my New Year’s post and its emphasis on being more present as I thought about how to approach this first post of 2013. Being present, being mindful, really, involves focusing on the actions and emotions of the moment.

Grief. Joy. Sadness. Happiness. Side by side.

A couple of years ago, once we were through initial trauma of my mother’s brain injury and could focus a bit more on issues of rehabilitation, the losses stretched out in ripples, and the fear and sadness also mixed with gratitude and anger. After so many years of struggle we were finally expecting a baby, and here I was, in my third trimester, on bed rest and fighting to keep that baby safe. I wanted my mother. I wanted my daughter to know her grandmother. I wanted her birth to be free from all this heartache and upheaval, not just for me or for her, but for all of us. I was angry that we wouldn’t be able to just have the joy.

But I didn’t realize then the heart and mind’s capacity for preservation and compartmentalization. I didn’t know that I could weep for mother’s situation and yet hold my daughter in my arms and feel pure, all-encompassing joy. That even when it felt like things were crashing down around us—mother in rehab, father in the hospital, maternity leave that ended early, sickness for baby, sickness for me, plus all the normal newborn, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation woes—I could feel so utterly content, that even as my hold on all the other moving parts of my life slipped through my fingers, I never felt more solid, stable, or sure.

Over the past two years, I’ve often thought about this dichotomy: How I’ve never been happier than I am when I am with my daughter, how this always-cheerful, adaptable, chatty, precocious little girl has changed us, changed everything. How I gain so much every day I get to be her mother, even as more and more slips away. How I’ve re-calibrated to an ever-shifting sense of normal, where I watch people I love suffer, where we all shed more tears than we used to. Guilt lingered—did the many tears I’ve shed somehow take away from my gratitude for her? Did the joy and the love somehow mean I didn’t appreciate the gravity of all the stresses around us? Could I feel both so completely and simultaneously and have each one be true, be real?

Yes. If there is anything I have absorbed from the past few years, it’s that.

I remember so clearly the day this fall we found out my father’s lone remaining kidney was indeed failing. I called my husband but couldn’t get all the words out to tell him, there simply wasn’t enough air. Heart-ache, I repeated the word in my head as I battled my way down busy Huntington Ave, the traffic lights blurry through hot tears. This is what it feels like when your heart aches.

I picked my daughter up from school later that same day and listened to her chatter away about her day and who and what she played with. We went to the library, where we played with trains and picked out books. She held my hand in the parking lot, and helped me empty the dishwasher. In the moment, in the middle of our normal activity, I found the air I needed. I laughed. Again and again the pieces threaded back together.

Watching my father deteriorate these past few months has been a series of chest-clenched moments, where I know what I see but don’t want to see it, where I can’t talk about it so most times, I don’t. I’ve been conscious of creating time where my parents can be with my daughter. No matter how terrible he feels, when he is with his grandchildren, when they run to him with their arms outstretched, when my daughter climbs onto his lap and says, “I love you so much,” nothing else exists for him but that moment.

Waiting for his transplant and watching him get worse and worse while at the same time, having so much hope and optimism that he will have a good outcome…again, we have grief and joy, sadness and hope, all mixed up.

I won’t say that the heart-bursting gratitude we have for our daughter, for this life we’re living with her, is sweeter or more appreciated because of all the difficult stuff that exists right along with it, because I can’t imagine feeling any less than this, regardless of what else might be going on. No one ever gets just the joy, that’s not how life works. But if we’re lucky, even with the sadness, we still get joy. We can feel both so completely and simultaneously and have each one be true, be real. Side by side, each a measure of love.

So that’s my hope for 2013. I don’t know how much of the tough stuff the year will bring, but I want to be mindful and fully present in the joy wherever we can find it, to not let it slip by without squeezing every ounce out of it.

Mother’s Day 2012

I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I have some updates I’ll post later this week, but today seemed like a great day to look at (Weekly) Grace in Small Things.

–My husband had to work today, so it was just my daughter and me. We did our usual morning eat-play-dress routine, and as we headed out to go to church and to do some visiting, the sun broke through the clouds and “My Girl” came on the radio. What more could a Mama ask for on Mother’s Day, really?

–Every stage is so much fun, but I particularly love the constant narration of daily activity phase we’re in right now. “I did it!” she says, standing up with a huge grin on her face after she completes a task. “All done now. Bye-bye!” she says, shoving her plate of food away from her. “I’m all set,” she says as she’s buckled into her car seat.

–Watching my daughter and all of her grandparents interact and seeing how much they love each other is great to witness. One of my favorite little things? When my daughter walks over to me with the phone in her hand, hits speaker and re-dial, and calls my mother to ask her to sing “Ba Ba Black Sheep.” Asking her who loves her and hearing her say their names? Amazing.

–I want my daughter to feel like part of a pack and that she is loved by and connected to more than just her father and me. She loves her eight cousins and when she asks for them by name, it takes me down the road a few years to sleepovers and bike rides and those all-important bonds you have with the people who have known you your entire life. She woke up and asked to call some of her cousins today. While I wouldn’t oblige her since it was 6:30am, it did make me smile.

–Lately, she likes to take both my cheeks in her hands and kiss my face noisily and earnestly. It makes me laugh, which makes her squeal with laughter and eggs her on, which makes her lean in and kiss me again with even more exaggeration, which makes both of us laugh harder. We just went through several rounds of this before bedtime. It doesn’t do much to settle her down, admittedly, but it’s hilarious and I know she’ll move on to something else soon enough; I don’t need to rush that.

Nineteen months into this, I still can’t believe I get to be someone’s mother, that I get to be her mother. She lights up corners of our world we didn’t even know existed.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who love, nurture, guide, and advocate for children out there.

(And, back to regularly scheduled posts this week. Promise.)

On the Working, Parenting, and Chronic Illness (Take 2)

Spring semester starts tomorrow.

My syllabi and rosters are printed, my lesson plans are set, my work clothes are ready and my bag is packed. A meticulously detailed schedule for completing my book revisions during the semester is open on a Stickie note on desktop, and my January Google calendar is updated with deadlines, reminders, Mother Goose Story time, playgroups, and meetings.

I spent last night making a huge batch of homemade chicken vegetable soup for lunch for my girl, and several dinners’ worth of a roasted vegetables/turkey/GF pasta dish for her, with extra to freeze.

I always start the new semester with such good intentions of getting it all done, of sticking to the very detailed schedule. I know going in it probably won’t happen, but I’m learning to prioritize so that the most important tasks get the best of me.

A few months ago I wrote a post on working, parenting, and chronic illness and promised a follow-up on the more practical aspects of getting it all done. The fact that it took me about three months to do so should tell you I don’t have a ton of credibility in that department right now, but here’s what I’ve been doing when I haven’t been blogging.

For the most basic stuff, let’s start with the fact I make lists—daily, weekly, and monthly. I can’t go to sleep without my to do list for the following day set.

It is really important to me that my daughter eat healthy, whole foods—no junk food, no processed food, no baby food—so I spend a lot of time on the weekends (Saturday or Sunday night, usually) making a bunch of different meals (homemade stock/soups, pastas, risotto, roasted vegetables, stir fry, etc.) I put a lot of them in the freezer so that if we don’t all eat together before her bedtime, or we’re out doing an activity and then we have to squeeze chest PT in right around dinnertime, I always have something healthy and flavorful for her. She adores spicy and sour foods, and her favorite right now is hummus—she loves it so much we’re going to try and make our own next weekend so we can add extra spice to it.

I take advantage of any available work time. For example, her naptime is automatically my work time, seven days a week. (Not housework time, but writing, editing, or evaluating student papers, etc.) She goes to bed around 7:30pm, so typically six nights a week I plan to work at least a few hours between her bedtime and mine.

I am a lot more flexible with my notions of when things should get done. Laundry? I fold it at 11pm, when I’ve closed my laptop and unwind with The Daily Show. If I happen to be home for an extra hour in the morning and know I will be busy late in the day, I’ll throw a bunch of chicken pieces in the oven while I make my morning coffee. (Not appetizing, but I might as well use the time while I have it.)

Like pretty much all of us, I multitask—but I’ve gotten a little better about having more discretion about what things are appropriate for that. Cleaning the kitchen or cooking dinner while returning a phone call is one thing. Trying to conduct an interview while juggling projectile vomit or doing a bottle feed never worked out that well for me.

For better or worse, I have a sort of tunnel vision, particularly during the academic year. I don’t expect free time, and I don’t want to squander any time, either. I usually know I will need to work at least one weekend night, and I am okay with it because it is more stressful for me to have things outstanding than it is to just get it done. This time when she is young won’t last forever, and I don’t want to miss any of it. When the deadlines and the course work and the chest PT and the appointments and the laundry and the scheduled-ness begins to feel like there is never a single moment to just be, I know that the hard stuff is temporary, too.

And well worth it. (What is that famous quote? “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it?” I’m a fan.)

But there are some things I am going to try to do better this semester. I mentioned wanting to be more presentin more aspects of my life. I am hoping to bring home less work from campus (physically and mentally) by using office hours more productively. I’m going to try going into campus much earlier in the morning to work on the book then, so I meet my revisions deadline. I am going to try and keep my laptop upstairs in my office more, so that when I finish at night I am truly done and whatever I am doing—talking with my husband, watching something on DVR, etc—gets my full attention. Little things, but hopefully things that will make me feel like I have more space to just be.

I know a lot of this is obvious stuff, but somehow putting it down gives me more accountability. What about you? What things do you do to manage working, parenting, and chronic illness? What strategies have helped you be more present, or helped you save time?

On New Year’s

Happy New Year!

I didn’t write a 2011-in-review post, but I do think my first post of 2012 will cover that anyway.

Just before New Year’s last year, I wrote that 2010 was the year of the baby, and all that entailed.

Looking back, I’d have to say that 2011 was the year of figuring out where to place everything else in my life, since my baby comes first.

I remember writing Bring It, 2011 , so vividly. I was sitting at our breakfast bar late at night, and I could see my reflection in the kitchen window as I hunched over my laptop. I was days away from starting my first full-time semester, though I’d gone back to work on a more flexible schedule a few weeks after she was born. I wrote how my biggest concern was figuring out how to balance it all—a young infant, a job, a book, health needs, family health needs, etc.

I wrote about working and chronic illness, and discussed another huge change in our lives—my husband’s company, The Well Fed Dog.

I savored every morningspent with my giggling, wriggling little baby, who quickly became a a signing, walking, talking, exploring, pointing, dancing, chair-climbing, fork-wielding toddler. No matter what else was going on, how many stresses and anxieties, obligations and expectations the year presented, as long as she was okay, nothing else mattered.

And as the year progressed, and after some successes and some misfires, I came to the conclusion that sometimes, balance isn’t possible and knowing how to prioritize is much more important than that ever-elusive notion of balance.

I’ve come a long way since that night a year ago when I was nervous about making all of this work. When I think about what I want for 2012—for my daughter, for myself, for my family, for the rest of the roles in my life—I want to be as present as possible.

Sure, I have more concrete goals: finish my book revisions by February 1; implement some new strategies in my courses; be more consistent in attending playdates and playgroups with my daughter; getting back to more regular group classes at the gym; keeping in better touch with friends, etc.

But the larger theme that ties all of those smaller threads together is being present. It is something I have done well with my daughter—each day, the time I spend with her is hers, whether we’re playing in her room, at music class, or at a playgroup. No laptop, no television, no scrolling through Facebook updates on my phone. The time with her is precious and hard-fought, and she deserves the best of me.

When I’m in the classroom my students are my focus, and when I read their work, I give it my full attention. I’ve started using the full screen option in the latest Word version, which blacks out my desktop and browser windows and allows me to look only at my words when I’m working on my book.

But now I want to focus on harnessing that in other areas of my life. I find myself doing work while getting my haircut, or glued to my laptop till midnight while my husband sits on the other couch watching “our” shows, answering my phone while sending e-mail, and other things less minor and more ridiculous. All of this is to say, it’s the next natural step in an effort towards the prioritization I wrote about in 2011—if I am going to do something, then I need to focus in on that one thing (or person, or interaction), and be fully present.

(And that means being more present in this blog space, too.)

On Working, Parenting, and Chronic Illness (Part 1)

This week, my spring semester ends.

And while in many ways it was a great semester (engaged, intellectually curious students, new assignments and experiments in the classroom that worked out well), I am profoundly relieved it is over.

I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts about work, parenting, and chronic illness for awhile now; a recent Boston Globe column on working from home only intensified this.

I knew back in December that finding balance would be my main challenge and while I might be self-aware enough to anticipate this, I wasn’t self-aware enough to actually do something about it in time.

During the academic year, I teach a full-time course load, plus other administrative and professional development projects and meetings. I’m also a writer with an impending deadline for an incredibly research-intensive beast of a book. Both are full-time responsibilities.

Like anything, there are compromises and trade-offs to this type of career path, one that is not a traditional office job. I work from home a couple days a week during the year, and work from home full time during summer months. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of working from home in an upcoming post, but the number one benefit of my current career is that it means more time with my daughter than I could ever have in an office job.

(Plus, the health insurance I provide for my family is awesome. Really and truly.)

After all, after working for almost five years and risking my life to have her, I don’t want to miss a thing. This was the promise I made to her and to myself when I went back to work: when I am with her, she gets all of me. No laptop, no hastily typed work e-mails, no frantic checking of the inbox for replies from editors or interviewees or students. I don’t want to be half-present with her and half-present with the other people in my life who need me.

She deserves more than that—and so do my students, and so does my book and all the people who have given me their time and insights during the writing/research process.

Some days (the best days), I am mainly with her. Other days, like when I am on campus, I make sure the mornings and the later afternoons and early evenings are all about her. Luckily, we have had family who have been able to help with watching her some of the time, and a wonderful caregiver some of the time, and the more flexible nature of my work demands means that most of the time, I spend a lot of time with her and make up what I need to do for work at other times in the day. I know we’re fortunate to have help, and I know not everyone does.

In terms of being with her and watching her grow from a precocious 4-month-old just starting to sit on her own to a chatty, giggly little girl who feeds herself and loves turning the pages of her books, in terms of being an active, engaged participant in her everyday life and routines, I have no regrets. I never felt my work took away from her, or took me too far away from her. In this way, my semester was a success.

But, a full-time workload plus a book plus daily chest PT (and all of the logistics of her health needs and doctor appointments) and everything else means that making up what I need to do was pretty challenging. For a lot of the semester, it meant staying up very, very late and getting up hours before my daughter woke up to get stuff done. It meant working almost every single Friday and Saturday night and during weekend mornings and naptimes. And all of that is clearly worth it, because it means I get to pick her up from her crib when she is all smiley and up from her nap, or take her to all her doctor appointments, or watch her devour her sweet potatoes or gluten-free snacks.

However, a schedule like that is not sustainable, not for healthy people and certainly not for people with chronic illness. (Oh, hey, and it goes against practically everything I’ve written about here and in my book, too.) It’s almost May, and the infection I caught at Christmas is still recycling itself through my lungs and upper respiratory tract and causing problems. By February, I started noticing my lung capacity was limited enough that I had a hard time walking through campus and talking at the same time. By March, my adrenals started acting up and some days, my arms and legs were so heavy and concrete-laden I needed a ride to and from work because I couldn’t get myself from my parking garage to my building on the other side of campus.

I realized a bit late in the game that all of this hard work would be for naught if it meant I was too sick to be what my daughter needs from me. Duh, right? My health affects her. What good are the carefully preserved hours with her if I can’t lift her, or take her places, or play games with her?

I’d like to say I had this huge revelation and made all sorts of drastic changes, but responsibilities are what they are. I did need to prioritize even further, though, and that meant letting go of some expectations of how much research and writing I could do during the semester. I don’t get up well before dawn anymore. I try not to schedule activities on both weekend days. I tell myself regularly (no really, I do—I find I have to repeat it to myself) “all you can do is what you can do” and what I can’t get done I leave behind me when I go to bed at night.

My husband, a fantastic father and a wonderful support system, now has a little more flexibility with his time since starting his own business, and that’s made a huge difference. (Even though he’s pulling very long hours himself, it’s amazing how much more time he has to see her now that he doesn’t have an hour-plus commute on the T every day and can walk to his nearby office.)

In the end, I made it. I made certain decisions that upheld certain priorities and I made it through. We made it. Since I don’t plan on ever having a baby and an enormous book due at the same time again, I do think life will be more manageable from here on in. This semester, my body paid some of the price but that means my daughter and my students did not. The beauty of teaching is that next semester, I can try it all over again and hope to do much better at this whole balance thing.

(And between now and then, I’ll finish that book. There’s nothing as clarifying as a deadline…right?)

I know so many of you out there have done this whole working-parenting-being sick juggling act much longer than I have. Any words of wisdom (or, moments of defeat) to share?

Morning Snapshots

One of my favorite things is the deliberate, languorous stretch of the newborn: their little bodies uncurl themselves s-s-l-l-o-o-w-w-l-ly, with chins jutting out, heads moving side to side as if to protest “No! I won’t rouse!” while their elbows push out and their tiny little knees bunch up.

This little ritual, usually precipitated by the lightest of feathery kisses on her soft cheek, was, for many months, the best way I could ever imagine starting our day.

Now, the ritual is louder, more active: I hear her laughter and squeals of delight and lay still, ears poised to catch the consonant-vowel combinations she so casually drops into her stream of babbling come through the monitor. I hear the distinct “thump” as she kicks the crib mattress and wonder what position I will find her in (we don’t like to repeat our geographic feats, you see.)

I walk softly into her room, undetected for a moment. She is usually busy chattering conspiratorially with her lovey, and when she looks up and sees me there, she is a wriggling, giggling, gasping bundle of exhilaration. No doubt about it, she is ready to start her day.

Those moments, when we meet eyes and she laughs and smiles and her arms thrash and her legs flail and if she could, she would bound out of her crib and into my arms completely by her own volition, are the best way I could ever imagine starting a day.

It hit me recently that this other routine of ours, this rhythm we found, also means the slow, lazy stretch of the newborn is no more. Never more.

I want to carve that image into my memory permanently, so it does not slip away the way time seems to these days. I don’t want to say this is bittersweet because there is no bitter. Just a wistfulness, and the exhortation that time must slow down. Not because I want her to stay a baby—knowing her sparkly self now, I cannot wait to see the person she becomes. But rather, because as I sometimes whisper in her ear at night when she curls up on my shoulder and settles in for a sleepy hug,

It is too good to go this fast.

I don’t want to miss a minute of it.