Repetition

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 8.30.53 AM

The leaves are starting to gently fall and in one week the weather has turned from mild and sunny to crisp and windy.

The shops all have school supplies proudly on display and my mom-friends are sharing about the joys and sorrows of dropping off their children at school for the first time.

My inbox is loaded with emails around ‘welcome events’ for new students and families arriving in Oxford.

It’s already that time again…the start of a new academic year.

I rejoice with Mandy in her recent post about her family’s exciting move and the adventures ahead of them in life after graduate school.  Many of the adventures and challenges will be the same, and many will be new and surprising.  (Don’t worry, she won’t stop sharing all about it on here!)  While part of me rejoices, part of me is a bit jealous as I step back, take a deep breath and step into another year on this journey.  Do you feel a bit like this?  Excited for friends who have moved on?  Excited for what this new year brings to you?  A bit hesitant to put yourself out there and connect with new faces for another year?  A bit ready for the grad wife life to come to an end?

I recently read a beautiful little book called The Quotidian Mysteries: Life, Liturgy and Women’s Work.  One bit from the book that has stuck with me is, “it is not in romance but routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest.”

Not in the romance but routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest…ahhh motherhood….ahh the PhD process….ahh the ‘seemingly’ endless grad wife journey.  As I reflect on the idea of yet another year, I find myself thankful for the transformations that happen through this repetitive cycle of grad school.  Just as Mandy shared on Tuesday, I know that I am being changed and transformed (hopefully for the better) when I embrace the routine and rhythm of this grad wife life.

As this fall semester rolls in, I hope you can welcome it with courage and patience.  Another semester, another chapter, another meal to cook to encourage your graduate partner, another new face to welcome into your life.  Even though it seems quite simple, I hope you can find profound, beautiful transformation in the repetition.

-M.C.

Advertisements

REPOST: Another day in the library

Let me paint you a picture:

  • Dishes piled sky high in the sink.
  • Toddler who wants your full attention all day long.
  • Lots of emails in your inbox concerning an exciting project that you are contributing to that need to be answered sooner rather than later.
  • A shiny new book that arrived two weeks ago from Amazon, and still hasn’t been cracked.
  • Laundry overflowing in the hampers, and lack of clean laundry for all.
  • Pouring, I mean pouring rain outside. Nowhere to go but inside.
  • A list of creative toddler rainy day games with every single one crossed off…at least twice.
  • Dinner to prepare…then cook.
  • A phone call or two that needs to happen.

And then … (You can’t deny that you’ve done this too) … a picture pops into your weary, discombobulated mind: A picture of your husband. Alone. At the library. The quiet library. Researching. Reading about his interests, his passions. Quietly strolling through (in our case) the ancient adorned halls of the Oxford Bodleian library. Smiling, thinking deep, intellectual, powerful thoughts…alone. And I can’t help picture a smoking pipe in there as well. Or maybe your picture involves your spouse off doing fascinating field work in some exotic place…or doing a med school residency with a new rotation full of exciting, interesting new people teaching him/her life-saving skills.

Now, while I wish I could say the idea of my husband being in such a wonderful setting just raises my spirits and encourages me to get through the day, I have to be honest: it makes me a bit jealous and indignant at times.  When that picture comes to my mind at times, my first thought sometimes is not “oh how nice”, but rather, “oh how unfair“.

Yep.

It happens to the best of us. It has happened quite a few times to me lately, and I want to share some pointers if this starts happening to you.

1) Talk about it! The second that envy and jealousy start to creep up in your heart, share it with your spouse. Do not let these things fester and do not let silly, unrealistic pictures of his academic lifestyle continue to grow in your head.

2) Don’t jump to conclusions! He is not off playing Angry Birds! (And if he is, check out ML’s amazing post from last week). He is working his booty off for a degree that half the time he can’t even remember caring this deeply about to begin with. He is not off reading Bill Bryson with a pipe and a latte. He is knee deep in research and EndNote and endless PDFs and sometimes it feels more like a prison to him than an opportunity.

3) Be realistic! They don’t say “It isn’t meant to be easy” for nothing. Graduate school is hard work. Hard, hard work. And trying to balance that work on top of family and other commitments can sometimes be a lot to manage.

In short, I just want to say that for me, I have realized that maybe one in every five days of working in the library is relaxing and exciting for my husband. I feel like the other four are more like an isolating 9-6 office job that he has to keep pushing through, all alone, in order to get closer to an exciting, but far off finish line. And when he gets home he is usually needing encouragement from me (or an honest conversation about where I am at), not a whiney and jealous spiel about how hard my day seemed.

When these thoughts come, take a deep breath. Try to be thankful for the work that both of you have been given to do during this season: playing marbles for the 30th some odd time, singing Old McDonald again, scheduling conference calls while your kids are sleeping, or researching Lorentz’s views on relativity theory.

Cut them some slack.

This is a season.

Talk about it openly.

And know you are not alone in feeling this way every now and then!

-M.C.

REPOST: Once Upon a Time, I Was A Planner

-written by ML, a current graduate wife

When it comes to short term things I’m pretty spontaneous, but in life I’m a planner. I might decide when I wake up to go to a museum that day, but I want to know where I’ll be at this time next year. Needless to say not knowing where we’ll be next month is really taking its toll.

I didn’t freak out around October when the other wives started to, “I can roll with not knowing until January” I said. But… it’s May! Not just May, the middle of May! Not all of the jobs my husband applied for are academic. I didn’t think about it at the time, but that means while others secured their faculty and postdoc positions last winter, we’re just now getting emails saying his application wasn’t discarded with the first round and in a few months they’ll have a short list.

But, but, but, we need to know if we should renew our lease for another year soon. What if we renew and then have to move? What if we don’t and move in with someone while we wait and then he doesn’t get any of them? What if we pay for a move to crash in someone’s basement and then have to move to a totally different area for a job?  What will we do financially?

This has done something interesting to my planner mind. This has caused me to plan and stress out about five hypothetical situations, ready to put into action the one we’ll need: If we move there we’ll be poorer than we are now, but if we move there we will need a second car, but if we move there I won’t be able to find work…

I bought guards for teeth grinding. I stopped going to department social events because I just can’t tell the same people over and over “No, we still don’t know, just like we didn’t know last week, just like we didn’t know the week before.”

We have a back-up plan, but even that is stressful when you don’t know if or when you’ll need it and that you probably won’t be happy doing it. I’ve written before about how we don’t like it here, yet the prospect of a term job here has helped quell my panic attacks to one per week when I think about the things I’ll miss when (if?) we leave. It helps to talk about it to each other. We haven’t solved anything yet but bouncing ideas off each other instead of bottling it up helps. Telling my parents not to ask me about it every single day helped.  Getting caught up in a book helps.

I don’t have any insightful answers to this. I don’t have an “it all worked out” ending yet. It’s not an easy life we chose, but given the option I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

As a graduate wife, how do you deal with uncertainty? If you’re a planner, how do you deal with not being able to plan ahead?

REPOST: Believing in Him

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 9.07.43 AM

Image found here

For some reason the other morning I found myself reflecting upon the people in my life who’ve ‘believed in me’ throughout the years.

I thought of my Mom and her never-ending encouragement over art projects or creative ideas, or for listening to my class president candidate speech for the hundred and fiftieth time.  I also pictured my little brothers cheering me on before my seventh grade cheerleader audition.  (Yes, one of them even would take pictures of me with his newly beloved Polaroid camera as I practiced my toe-touches).  Or my Dad for all the times he said, “Baby, you don’t need to be worried about (fill in the blank), you can do anything, you can stand on your head for two weeks if you have to.”  Not sure of that logic but it always sounded encouraging…especially when I had two weeks left to finish an exhausting thesis project and no more belief in myself.

I thought about our family friend Lisa and how she trusted me with her kids as their first babysitter when I was still a kid myself.  I gained so much courage from being trusted in and believed in by her and her children.

I thought of my friend Katherine and how she believed in me during college and trusted me with a platform to use some of my creative gifts and thus gave me a chance to blossom and shine in what I was created to do.

I reflected on my first employer Doug and how I truly wouldn’t be who I am today if not for his belief in me and the opportunities he offered me by hiring me to help him start a non-profit.  I never dreamed of doing some of the large-scale events I was able to do for him.  He had tremendous faith in me, and I was given a chance to really flourish.

I then started to think of my husband.  I could picture faces of people who I knew had believed in him and shaped him along the way.  His mother, his old boss, his camp counselor, his master’s thesis advisor, and then….you guessed it…my face came to mind.  (At least I hope he has felt me believing in him). And then the incredible challenge and joy of getting to ‘believe in him’ really hit me.  We as grad wives have a profound mission of encouraging and believing in our husbands during this season of grad school.  If we aren’t there for them, encouraging them, supporting them, cheering them on, who is?  If we aren’t the ones offering to take Polaroid pictures to make sure toes are pointed, then who will?

I realized that maybe some of the darker/harder days over the past few terms could have been helped if I had just believed in my husband better. Not just in my head, but in my heart and in my actions towards him.  I started to think through opportunities to show how much I believe in him and how much I trust him. In the world of PhDs confidence among students is rarely encountered (as many of you know), and I began to think about how I could remind and encourage that confidence in him.  I started thinking about how people ‘believed’ me into flourishing…believed in me enough for me to shine…and how I could do that for him.

I read a quote recently about the bestest of friends being the ones who don’t necessarily have all the answers to offer you, but are the ones willing to sit through hard times with you, the ones willing to reach out and touch your pain, and the ones walking beside you in it.  I realize that maybe that is what ‘believing in him’ looks like right now.  Not trying to ‘believe’ in him in my way…micromanaging his work or our timetables, but trying to simply walk alongside him.  Letting him know all along that I trust him and support him and am on his team.  Believing in him enough so that he can believe in himself.

What do you think?  How have you lived out your support and ‘belief’ in your husband?  How do you do it?

-M.C.

REPOST: Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?

Once Upon a Time, I Was A Planner

-written by ML, a current graduate wife

When it comes to short term things I’m pretty spontaneous, but in life I’m a planner. I might decide when I wake up to go to a museum that day, but I want to know where I’ll be at this time next year. Needless to say not knowing where we’ll be next month is really taking its toll.

I didn’t freak out around October when the other wives started to, “I can roll with not knowing until January” I said. But… it’s May! Not just May, the middle of May! Not all of the jobs my husband applied for are academic. I didn’t think about it at the time, but that means while others secured their faculty and postdoc positions last winter, we’re just now getting emails saying his application wasn’t discarded with the first round and in a few months they’ll have a short list.

But, but, but, we need to know if we should renew our lease for another year soon. What if we renew and then have to move? What if we don’t and move in with someone while we wait and then he doesn’t get any of them? What if we pay for a move to crash in someone’s basement and then have to move to a totally different area for a job?  What will we do financially?

This has done something interesting to my planner mind. This has caused me to plan and stress out about five hypothetical situations, ready to put into action the one we’ll need: If we move there we’ll be poorer than we are now, but if we move there we will need a second car, but if we move there I won’t be able to find work…

I bought guards for teeth grinding. I stopped going to department social events because I just can’t tell the same people over and over “No, we still don’t know, just like we didn’t know last week, just like we didn’t know the week before.”

We have a back-up plan, but even that is stressful when you don’t know if or when you’ll need it and that you probably won’t be happy doing it. I’ve written before about how we don’t like it here, yet the prospect of a term job here has helped quell my panic attacks to one per week when I think about the things I’ll miss when (if?) we leave. It helps to talk about it to each other. We haven’t solved anything yet but bouncing ideas off each other instead of bottling it up helps. Telling my parents not to ask me about it every single day helped.  Getting caught up in a book helps.

I don’t have any insightful answers to this. I don’t have an “it all worked out” ending yet. It’s not an easy life we chose, but given the option I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

As a graduate wife, how do you deal with uncertainty? If you’re a planner, how do you deal with not being able to plan ahead?

Believing in Him

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 9.07.43 AM

Image found here

For some reason the other morning I found myself reflecting upon the people in my life who’ve ‘believed in me’ throughout the years.

I thought of my Mom and her never-ending encouragement over art projects or creative ideas, or for listening to my class president candidate speech for the hundred and fiftieth time.  I also pictured my little brothers cheering me on before my seventh grade cheerleader audition.  (Yes, one of them even would take pictures of me with his newly beloved Polaroid camera as I practiced my toe-touches).  Or my Dad for all the times he said, “Baby, you don’t need to be worried about (fill in the blank), you can do anything, you can stand on your head for two weeks if you have to.”  Not sure of that logic but it always sounded encouraging…especially when I had two weeks left to finish an exhausting thesis project and no more belief in myself.

I thought about our family friend Lisa and how she trusted me with her kids as their first babysitter when I was still a kid myself.  I gained so much courage from being trusted in and believed in by her and her children.

I thought of my friend Katherine and how she believed in me during college and trusted me with a platform to use some of my creative gifts and thus gave me a chance to blossom and shine in what I was created to do.

I reflected on my first employer Doug and how I truly wouldn’t be who I am today if not for his belief in me and the opportunities he offered me by hiring me to help him start a non-profit.  I never dreamed of doing some of the large-scale events I was able to do for him.  He had tremendous faith in me, and I was given a chance to really flourish.

I then started to think of my husband.  I could picture faces of people who I knew had believed in him and shaped him along the way.  His mother, his old boss, his camp counselor, his master’s thesis advisor, and then….you guessed it…my face came to mind.  (At least I hope he has felt me believing in him). And then the incredible challenge and joy of getting to ‘believe in him’ really hit me.  We as grad wives have a profound mission of encouraging and believing in our husbands during this season of grad school.  If we aren’t there for them, encouraging them, supporting them, cheering them on, who is?  If we aren’t the ones offering to take Polaroid pictures to make sure toes are pointed, then who will?

I realized that maybe some of the darker/harder days over the past few terms could have been helped if I had just believed in my husband better. Not just in my head, but in my heart and in my actions towards him.  I started to think through opportunities to show how much I believe in him and how much I trust him. In the world of PhDs confidence among students is rarely encountered (as many of you know), and I began to think about how I could remind and encourage that confidence in him.  I started thinking about how people ‘believed’ me into flourishing…believed in me enough for me to shine…and how I could do that for him.

I read a quote recently about the bestest of friends being the ones who don’t necessarily have all the answers to offer you, but are the ones willing to sit through hard times with you, the ones willing to reach out and touch your pain, and the ones walking beside you in it.  I realize that maybe that is what ‘believing in him’ looks like right now.  Not trying to ‘believe’ in him in my way…micromanaging his work or our timetables, but trying to simply walk alongside him.  Letting him know all along that I trust him and support him and am on his team.  Believing in him enough so that he can believe in himself.

What do you think?  How have you lived out your support and ‘belief’ in your husband?  How do you do it?

-M.C.