Reaching the limit

I’m a few months into my “writing up year” i.e. the fourth year of the full-time PhD process. The finish line is both tantalising in sight, but terrifyingly real and frustratingly not quite tangible. I am on track. I have a structure for my thesis and a lot of words written. I have a lot of data and research to work with – most of which I obtained in a frenzy of activity since returning from maternity leave last autumn (for instance, 10 interviews with translators plus a handful of interviews/meetings with other key individuals for my research… phew!). The PhD hangs over me a lot – constantly? – and interferes when I’m doing other stuff, like putting the baby to bed, making tea, and walking to playgroup.

I’m incredibly lucky to have a supportive family around me ensuring that I can do this. I get to the library, I get to these research meetings and interviews, conferences, trips abroad… some days the stress is HUGE, but some days I feel happy to be able to work on something I enjoy around all the utter busy-ness that is family life.

 

What’s working for me right now: 

Formal and informal childcare – it feels like we have more childcare than ever, and it’s more structured than ever. On the two days the youngest is in nursery, generally my mum collects the eldest from school to give me a full “working day”. On Fridays either my partner has a full day off with the kids (owing to his ongoing flexible working arrangements) or my mum takes the youngest while the eldest is at school. Since the summer I’ve committed to using a weekend day most weekends and a couple of hours on weekday evenings when I have the energy to keep up the momentum and get this damn thing done! We have a routine and we (I?) thrive on routine.

Living where we do – the eldest (the original “baby” of this blog’s title!) started school in September! She and we are happy with the school. The walk there is through the city’s biggest and most beautiful park. We’ve made friends locally, mostly via playgroups and other meet ups, but school too is ensuring we get to know people here and feel part of the community. I’ve also endeavoured to see “old” local friends when I can. Additionally, as made obvious above, we are massively benefiting from living near my parents! We feel settled here and like it was the right long-term decision for us.

Keeping everything ticking over – the kids (now aged 5 and nearly 2) are fed, clothed, bathed every day. I’m managing to get fed, clothed, showered every day as well! And every day the kids are read to, cuddled, chatted with, walked with outside, listened to, ignored a little (for the purposes of “independent play”, perhaps), wiped (oh so sticky), nagged at too. When we first moved out of London and my partner was still working/staying there 3-4 days a week, I roped in help from my parents as often as possible for the bathtime and bedtime routine (which, for those who don’t know, takes place at the “witching hour” when every participant is at their most tired and short-tempered!). But now, though he’s still away two nights a week, it’s fine getting on with it by myself – at least we’re mostly not all crying at once and everyone’s in the correct pyjamas and their own bed by the end of it.

Things I have limited brain capacity for right now:

Keeping the house tidy – I do the essentials including washing up, hoovering when there is a visible layer of crumbs under the dining table(!), but I simply cannot deep clean a bathroom or organise a bookshelf any time soon, and toys are left strewn on the floor overnight. Thankfully no one here thinks tidying is solely “my job”, and perhaps this level of mess and lack of motivation for tidying is true for anyone spending hours looking after small kids?! [She asks slovenly hopefully]

Planning for the (long-term) future – in the summer I briefly allowed myself to do my typical daydreaming/crossing my bridges before I get there, specifically in relation to job hunting, but I had to forcefully stop contemplating The Future in order to ensure I focus my mental energies on getting the PhD thesis done. No job or “what’s next” plan happens without the PhD being submitted and passed, so that’s all I need in my headspace right now. This has been a big challenge for me as it has required changing my usual thinking patterns! But career ideas and plotting how to get there was fuelling unneeded stress. (Frustratingly this has included putting off writing a journal article that I was massively keen to do, but again I shall leave that until after the PhD is submitted.)

Planning for the (short-term) future – My present inability to plan ahead for the Big Stuff also covers not thinking about whether we might move house within our city soon and other practical life plans… it seems such a bad use of my time and mental capacity to even contemplate this yet. Right now I cannot even bring myself to “plan” anything for Christmas – I’m hoping to delegate 90% of this to others, though Christmas is also a busy time at work for my partner, so we will see how it goes. There’s some guilt too, for instance my daughter’s birthday cake and special tea (with family) was purchased at the supermarket the same morning as it was planned!

And, finally – Updating this blog – time is extremely pressed right now, hence updates being even more sporadic than usual.

Advertisements

PhD, Babies(!), and Me – can it be done?

Okay, it was a little ambitious to plan to start the PhD again when Baby #2 was just 9 months old. I’d envisioned it would be fine, as Baby #1 was only 11 months old when I’d started in the first place, way back in 2013. I’d be a more experienced parent, I’d be more familiar with the PhD workload. The PhD in the first place was the light at the end of the tunnel of my first maternity leave. But of course having two children instead of one is rather a leap, and maybe those two months in age make a bigger difference than I’d realised.

I hadn’t countenanced having such a poor sleeper after a relatively good sleeper first time round. Baby #2 waking up at least twice a night until very recently (he is now 11 months old and waking either once or not til morning – major breakthrough!). I’m on my own with both children overnight most of the week now. On a good morning the kids wake as late as 06.30, but usually Baby #2 is awake by 05.45 these days. One way of coping for me is having early nights, which after tidying round once the kids are in bed leaves me with no discernible evenings to get any work done. It’s tiring. Enough to make me miserable sometimes. It’s usually okay, but leaves me feeling like I’m mostly muddling through.

Why did I think I could carry on full time? 

I panicked after my first supervision meeting after maternity leave. It didn’t sound to them as if I would be working ‘full time’.

But I had been super optimistic because I have more formal and informal childcare than ever! 

For the first couple of years, with only one child, we used a combination of: a flexible workhub nursery, babysitting swap, my partner’s flexible working arrangements, weekends, and family visits to ensure I had time to work on my PhD. It was a bit piecemeal, but I am well-organised and we made it work! It wasn’t conventional, but I got my work done.

img_20160902_111213

The complication of having two children – rather obviously – is that they both need to be elsewhere while I am studying. Child #1 attended our local state school nursery in London during my maternity leave (free to us as it was covered by the government’s universal education grant for over 3s). This was three hours a day, 5 days a week, term-time only. In practice, those three hours every morning became more like two hours when factoring in drop-off and pick-up. If I had not had Baby #2, those measly two hours a day might have been useful time. Especially coupled with evenings, weekends, and every other Friday when my partner is around.

img_20160908_092721

But finding a realistic solution for childcare needed to ensure Baby #2 was also out of the picture at the same time. I’d tried using naptimes first time round and, while they are a good bonus, they shouldn’t be relied upon because that way lies frustration! The logistics of where to put Baby #2 if using the same school nursery for the eldest became silly to think about – should the baby be at another childcare setting nearby, or maybe both children should go to one nursery or childminder?

The thing is, we were living in south-west London. A friend where we lived has two children the same age as ours who attend a private nursery, three days a week. Cost: £1600 per month. That’s another full wage. That’s paying out the month’s rent (if not more) again. For part time childcare. That’s unimaginable to anyone living elsewhere in the UK.

So one of the reasons we have moved cities is to find affordable childcare that works for us. We did our research as we knew already where we wanted to live, so we were happy enough to get on the waiting list for the nursery a few months in advance. Two days a week for the baby, three shorter days a week for the eldest (a term-time only class, mostly using the 15 hour education grant). Family on hand for occasional pick ups and wraparound care. Weekends and partner taking annual leave and flexi-time days off as before.

Copenhagen station, early morning

Copenhagen station, early morning

It has been a couple of months now since that first supervision meeting and I’ve been finding my feet. I am still studying full time. I’m working out what I can do when in this new set-up: when is best for reading, writing, transcribing, emailing… all those different tasks. I am happy that I am still on track, albeit knowing that there will be flexibility in the schedule in future if needs be. I’ve even had another trip to Denmark since restarting, which coincided with cutting down on breastfeeding the baby. Practical and physical considerations!

It’s tough having setbacks when there’s a gap in childcare – for instance, when the baby is too ill to attend nursery, or school term holidays when the eldest is not at nursery. But there are unexpected bonuses too: I’ve been able to use my occasional train commute to London to do work (1 and a half hours of uninterrupted reading or transcribing, for instance) unlike previous commutes to uni which were on buses and tubes and often with the child most of the way, so complete ‘dead time’ in terms of productivity!

Nearly at the end of the calendar year, Baby #2 is not far off turning one. Feeling positive.

Students and wifework – how a nanny got me thinking about what I do all day

I’m not sure of the best place to write this up, but I wanted to for posterity.

For four weeks in May this year, we had a student nanny living with us! It was a residential placement midway through her 3 year degree in Super Nannying, at no cost to us. The purpose was for her to have an extended period settling with a family, and I hope she learnt things from her time with us. She certainly slotted in really well to our family life and I learnt a few things, too. At the start of the placement Baby #2 was 4 months old. By the end of her stay, he was 5 months old – crawling already (!!!) – and, during the period of her stay, I feel we transitioned out of the newborn fuzziness stage to a more fully formed Family Of Four.

park

Wifework (ie. how many people it takes to run a household without anyone burning out!)

During the nanny’s stay, family life ran very smoothly. No one seemed worn out. Meals were planned at the start of the week which resulted in the whole week being clearly planned – in order to plan meals, we needed to know who was eating together and whether anyone would be out. The three year old was a delight as she had the full attention of another adult who was happy to potter around fulfilling her whims (reading, crafting, playing in the garden).

Wifework could just as easily be husbandwork except I’m the one on maternity leave, and even before and after that I am the “more-at-home” parent, and and and arguably still mostly falls to women in a conventional heterosexual household set-up regardless of who is working outside the home (the term was coined by author Susan Maushart). Wifework is shorthand for the tasks undertaken (usually by women) to keep a house ticking over, including but not limited to the laundry, the washing up, cooking, cleaning, tidying, grocery shopping, life admin like paying bills and posting letters, and – primarily, and destructively to the aforementioned chores – childcare (umbrella term for entertaining, feeding, cleaning the little ‘uns – a job in itself, if our temporary resident’s degree and future career is anything to go by!). Some of these activities can be combined with the essential overriding activity of childcare, that is, conducted with the “help” of small children at the expense of completing it promptly. For instance, cooking the evening meal: the nanny learnt on one extreme occasion that when enlisting the help of a three year old, it’s not a bad idea to start around 4pm to get tea on the table for 6pm!

Importantly, however, while the nanny took on the bulk of these tasks relating to the children, it did not mean my time was entirely my own. I was unable to delegate breastfeeding the baby, doing mine and my partner’s laundry, household admin, online shopping… but I was able to fit all this in around more pleasant “downtime” that I rarely get, such as reading blogs and magazines and just having a daytime lie down. Similarly, the nanny was able to prioritise the children’s needs for 11 hours a day and then have a full night’s sleep all on her own. As it’s her job, she gets the psychological bonus of knowing she is off duty at the end of the long working day. I am never off duty, which adds to the mental exhaustion.

The result was two adults at home keeping on top of things but not feeling burnt out. A third adult who came home from ten hours at the office to a relaxed, tidy household and almost none of his usual household chores left to complete. Then came the realisation of how much I actually do every day, even with a very involved partner who does the eldest’s bedtime routine and certainly doesn’t expect his tea on the table or clean clothes in his drawer (but is lucky enough to get that anyway!). All these activities take physical and mental effort and precious time. The fact this blog post took me until mid July to sit down and finish is certainly example enough. All these tasks combined with my many overnight wake ups, no wonder I still feel so tired!

 

Why taking my baby to a conference is different now

My “baby” is now nearly 2 and a half. Gulp. That is probably the main reason taking my “baby” to a conference is different now (so you can stop reading here if you like). In fact, I didn’t really take her along to the conference as such at all!

At Edinburgh station - travelling light!

At Edinburgh station – travelling light!

I attended a Nordic conference for research students and postgrads in Edinburgh in February. As I’ve said before, we don’t use a typical full-time nursery, so initially the plan was for me to travel and attend the conference alone while my partner took annual leave from work to take care of the toddler at home in London. But then a good friend with a little baby (3 months old!) decided she’d attend the conference as well as a delegate – inspired no doubt by my success when I attended a conference in another city with our (exclusively from-the-breast-fed) 4.5 month old! The conference in Edinburgh coincided with the holiday available to her husband, so the plan was for him to take the baby while she attended sessions. Our friends have more flexibility with their baby as they are mixed feeding (definition for non-parents: bottles of formula alongside breastfeeding) which meant the mum-delegate was able to attend the conference in longer stretches away from her baby.

Why taking my toddler to this conference was so different from my previous experience taking a little baby:

  • The journey was FUN! Well, fun might be overstating it, but the 4 and half hour train ride either side was pleasant enough. The four/six of us chatted and read and looked out at the view. We had snacks. We had toys. Two things stick in my mind about driving to the conference with a baby in 2013: 1) stopping and feeding in a dreary service station car park and worrying whether I was doing the right thing by going at all; and 2) missing the motorway junction for Norwich which meant a rather convoluted route to get back on track, which made us all stressy.

IMG_20150217_145609

  • I barely saw her! So in a way, I did attend the conference on my own. I attended all the sessions I wanted to. I could freely chat to people in the coffee breaks and at lunch. I tried to get the most out of the event for the benefit of my studies – that had to be the point of us spending time there. My partner and our friends got to see Edinburgh and pop to a museum, whereas I didn’t go out beyond the remit of the organised seminars and conference dinner. This time I wasn’t known by all as the person with the baby. I’d spent every break at the first conference breastfeeding ostentatiously(!) so – whether I liked it or not – I was soon identified as the delegate with a little baby. It was admittedly a good icebreaker and made me rather memorable, but this time being a speaker on the first panel with a slightly unusual format of presentation was the icebreaker, and I much preferred that!

IMG_20150220_094316

  • I felt more like me! Four and a bit months into first-time parenthood is not me. I was shell-shocked, sleep deprived, hadn’t had an academic conversation for months, let alone attended seminars or even read a book. I was still adjusting and – in hindsight – so far off feeling like myself. Sixteen months into a PhD is me. I felt happy with my presentation (very glad I went on first and got it out of the way!) and I was keen to talk to people and learn. I got to chat about research and meet new people and not constantly wave a baby in people’s faces. (I’m not sure I even got much better sleep though this time round as we stayed in dead central Edinburgh and I was only blessed with earplugs for our last night away!)

My two experiences of taking a child to a conference have been very different, mostly for practical reasons relating to her age and related needs. Given my experience this time, despite it being very positive, I probably wouldn’t drag my partner and child along to a conference again, even (or especially) in an exciting new place, because I’d get so little time to enjoy the visit with them! We spent the most time together on the journey and in the evenings. By extension, because I was with them (and our lovely friends, to be fair), I didn’t arrange to meet anyone else I know who lives in or near Edinburgh as there wasn’t a minute to spare. And I missed out on visiting a few places I probably would have gone to if I’d been kicking around on my own with time to fill. But I still attended a fantastic, welcoming conference and had a great trip as a little family with some good friends.

How I’m getting on, 15 months in

The final third of 2014 was rather intense in comparison with earlier months of my PhD. As well as chairing a meeting in Copenhagen for the translators’ network, I was preparing a portfolio of my research and project so far, and what I intend to do next. So now I have submitted two sample chapters (approx 20,000 words in total, ack!), chapter titles and abstracts for the remainder of the project, a proposed timeline of research for the next two years, and a bibliography.

The sample chapters were especially fascinating and challenging to write – it all seemed to tumble out of my brain from nowhere after months of reading. Meetings with my supervisors were extremely helpful and motivating – I gather from reading about the average PhD student experience this is not a given so I am cheered by my experience so far! I started writing the chapters in earnest in August and they were completed by mid December (although I’m still not one hundred percent happy with them, natch). All the while fitting in time for my partner to study when he wasn’t at work, playgroups and playdates (I hate that word… but what’s a good alternative?) with the toddler, being administrator for a local parenting website, and getting into my weight training at the gym. Looking back now, around fifteen months in, the first year of my PhD was used for important reading and to provide a foundation for my research, but also for finding my feet and our pattern as a family to enable me to do my work and still have someone looking after the child!

I can't always work like this!

I can’t always work like this!

A small change in 2015 which I hope will have a big impact is that we are upping our monthly hours at the nursery/workhub to give me more study time generally and also more flexibility. I still prefer to use it like a short workday (9.30-2.30, meaning the toddler gets lunch and a nap!), but occasionally need to extend the day so I can pop to uni, or have a few short ‘morning only’ bursts if working regularly rather than in longer stretches suits our plans that week.

Now for the upgrade meeting/viva in January (fingers crossed) and onto the next concrete stage of research!

Meet a Mum Who Studies

I did an interview for the fab new Australian blog and website Mums Who Study.

Here is a link to the full interview.

EDIT: That website has been rejigged, so in case the link breaks again so I am replicating the interview here for posterity:

Tell me about yourself and your family?

My partner and I have been together for ten years – we met in London during my first year of uni – and in 2012 we had a baby daughter. She has just turned two. My partner works full-time during the week and is also studying via distance learning (Open University) for his first degree. We still live in London.

What are you studying at the moment? Was there any particular reason why you chose this course?

I am studying a PhD in Scandinavian Translation Studies, looking at the market and dissemination of Danish literature in the UK. The PhD studentship is co-funded by my university and the Danish Arts Foundation, and its public engagement element has involved creating a network in consultation with literary translators of Danish into English.

I completed my MA in the same field in 2010 after studying part-time and working (almost) full-time, and I always knew I’d go back to do a PhD one day, if we were in some way financially able. I assumed this would be when I was retired! When this studentship was advertised I leapt at the chance! In some ways the timing was perfect – a year earlier and I would have been about to give birth so unable to take the position, a year later I might have settled into my job or already moved elsewhere in my career.

 What are some the things that motivate you to keep studying?

I enjoy the lifestyle and balance this offers our family. I know it would be impossible in most full-time jobs: I spend most of my time with my daughter and fit in my studies around her. When my partner and I first talked about having children, a really significant thing we agreed on was that we wanted the majority of her pre-school care to be done by one of us (in fact, we originally assumed it would be him as I was earning more at the time) or close family – idealistic I know! But we have somehow managed it. Ultimately, studying generally makes me happy, and that is so important.

What are the most challenging aspects?

I never feel like I’m doing enough. It’s an extra layer of stress I could do without! I snatch time here and there to read, write, or study – during her nap time occasionally, evenings if I have enough energy, and the more formal arrangements with nursery and family.

But I constantly compare myself to an imaginary ‘other’ who is childless and able to ‘properly’ study full-time. I generally don’t need to be at university very often, so I find it frustrating when meetings or events are announced at short notice or at awkward times meaning I have to scramble to arrange childcare. Often I have to opt out of attending entirely.

Who or what supports your study?

We use a mix of solutions, better get comfy while I list all these! We have a fantastic combined nursery and work hub relatively nearby where we pay for a set number of monthly hours (my partner’s Childcare Vouchers via his work salary cover the majority) and they give us the flexibility to book the hours where we need them.

 For example, most often I book a 5 hour slot every few days where my daughter plays in the nursery while I work in the open-plan office upstairs. I’ve used them on a couple of occasions when I need to attend university in person as well – dropped her off and picked her up a few hours later (this makes my commute so long I can’t even bear to compare it with a child-free commute!).

I do a weekly childcare swap with another mum – she’s self-employed and, like me, most of her time during the week is taken up with childcare duties – our children are the same age and we found each other through a local parenting network. We alternate between each of our homes where we each take an hour or so to work at our laptops in another room while the other mum takes care of the kids, then we swap, and after both of us have had our shift, we all have lunch together.

When my parents visit, my mum is a fantastic and enthusiastic granny who loves taking care of her first grandchild! The plan when I started my degree was for them to visit at least once a month, but this has had its ups and downs owing to some unforeseen health issues. We’re extremely grateful for their visits; it’s hard for most families I know who live in London as close family so often live elsewhere.

My partner has recently started ‘compressed hours’ under a flexible working agreement with his employer, it’s brilliant and I wish we’d thought of it sooner. He works the equivalent of 10 days’ hours in nine days. This has meant adding on an extra hour (in the morning) to each workday – so he’s in the office 7.30am-5.30pm (Written down that looks incredibly long! But his commute is only ten minutes and he gets lots of good coffee). On day 10 he has a day off, so now every other Friday he is able to take over childcare while I study. Finally, my partner and I take a weekend day each as ‘our’ day for studying, but recently having every second Friday back like this has meant we get more family time, too.

In what ways does your study impact your daughter?

She is too young to know any different! She recounts back to us ‘daddy goes to work’ and ‘mummy goes to work’. It was important to us to ensure the terminology was the same, when I go to my desk or leave the house because of my degree, she should know I am going to work, just like daddy. She’s amusingly aware that we often do ‘shifts’ looking after her, though, for example when my partner comes home and she waves ‘bye bye mummy’ even when I’m not going anywhere!

What would you say to other mums considering studying and what tips can you offer?

It Can Be Done!

In fact, I was in touch with another student parent via a local parenting website recently and here’s what I said to her: I never manage to get any work done if it’s just me and the toddler, so I try and fill our time with playgroups and meeting friends and then I don’t feel like I should be studying, though occasionally I’m able to use nap time when I have the energy.

My partner and I use a shared Google calendar so we can easily see what we both have on e.g. deadlines, time allocated to work, weekends we’re busy, might be worth setting up something similar if you don’t have it already? Don’t be afraid to take your kid to uni for non-classroom-based things, for instance I’ve taken my daughter to the university library if I’ve had to return/pick up books from the issue desk and it’s never been a problem.

How do they do it?

The toddler had her first ‘full’ day at nursery on Friday. 9.30 til 5.30 – as long as most people’s work days! Usually we stick to occasional 3-5 hour bursts while I use the workspace. My partner was at work – I did nursery drop-off, he did pick-up (in rush hour, unlucky him!). I was a bit nervous for her spending all day away… I shouldn’t have been, of course: she ran off to play when I dropped her off and didn’t seem that fussed when her dad arrived to collect her. I went to uni to use the library and have a supervision meeting. It was great, like being a ‘real’ student again, (or at least how I rose-tint it perhaps) spending a good stretch of time surrounded by books in a quiet library and being able to focus on what was discussed in our meeting – though the gear-change from breakfast and commute with a toddler to high-falutin’ academic discussion is somewhat huge!

It got me thinking about what being a full-time PhD student entails and how others perceive it. I’m not convinced some people take the ‘student’ part of my life very seriously, especially as I often upload/share photos of the time I spend keeping the toddler entertained. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the urge to upload a photo of me reading, writing notes, writing abstracts, sitting in the library!

IMG_20140914_113321

I’m also unsure of whether I’m ‘doing it right’. Some days I spent little or no time on PhD work. Most of my hours are spent on childcare. We have a set number of hours per month of formal childcare, plus the help of friends and family where possible. Some days when I potentially have some time to myself (nap time/evenings) I just don’t have the energy to do very much.

But then I wonder how full-time PhD students who don’t have caring responsibilities or part-time work organise their time, and I don’t know if I’m really doing so much less. Maybe they have hobbies that occupy some of their time. Maybe they stay up all night and sleep until midday if they want. Maybe they treat it like a job and go to the library for eight hours a day, only to spend most of those on Facebook and fit in a two hour lunch break. Maybe they treat it like a job and go to the library for eight hours a day, and write 2,000 words a day! Maybe they get time for beneficial side projects which enrich their studying – translation, for example, which I would love to pick up again… in a few years. I genuinely don’t know, and there probably isn’t a ‘typical’ PhD student anyway. I’m just always thinking about whether I could be fitting more in, we only have one fairly contented toddler to keep an eye on, after all!

A break from routine, and creating a new one

Oh, to live in a commune. Or at least with more family close by. For just over two weeks in August the toddler and I upped sticks and went to stay with my parents (my partner/toddler’s daddy came for weekends while still working in London). The routine worked beautifully and I’ve been doing lots of writing and assembling of thoughts, much more than during a regular fortnight. I even managed to get to the gym practically every other day, and see friends!

The routine we quickly established: we had breakfast together then I holed up with my laptop in the office room for some reading/writing/editing while the toddler went for a walk through the park with my mum (mormor to the toddler), and did other bits and pieces like play in the garden and “help” with the shopping. After lunch, my mum and the toddler napped (mormor is recovering from an op, though to be frank I often need a nap after a morning with the toddler!) while I did some more work or went to the gym. Occasionally we shifted things round a bit, for example one day we went to the city farm which was lovely. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for their time, especially as I’m sure it meant my dad (who’s self-employed) got much less done than usual.

Now I’m thoroughly, desperately trying to learn from this routine and see if I can do it alone.

Firstly, the longer stretches of time-with-laptop worked well for my productivity. We have a flexible arrangement with a nursery/workhub where I’ve regularly been booking 3 hours (e.g. 9.30-12.30) every few days, but I think I need the period of time to be longer. Once I’ve folded the buggy, made a cuppa, faffed a bit on Facebook and Twitter, that’s already *coughs* half an hour(?!) wasted. Factor in a few more distractions, and allowing for thoughts to percolate and sentences to be rewritten and articles to be reread, then the longer, the better. My theory behind heading home in the middle of the day was that the toddler would then nap, giving me more time to work, but in reality I was using this time to eat lunch, and really it made my “work day” far too fragmented.

Lastly, we saw a real change in her sleep – we’d had a nightmare few weeks of hours at bedtime with her screaming and “negotiating” with us until she finally conked out exhausted at 9pm. Of course by then I/my partner were equally exhausted and stressed and thoroughly unable to salvage the evening for any studying. While staying with my parents, the toddler’s daytime nap was much earlier in the afternoon and the bedtime routine was less dragged out (quick bath, books put away after reading, pyjamas on, into bed and no talking/negotiating!).

We’ve been back a few days and so far, so good.

Where do I study?

We just changed childcare provider, from a small crèche and workspace in Brixton to a slightly more established nursery and workhub in Wandsworth. Both are a similar distance away (we get there by bus), there were a few reasons we chose to change but I’d heartily recommend them both. As far as I know, these two are still the only flexible hotdesk/childcare places of their kind in South London, if not all of London. We only use this childcare arrangement a few hours a week (20 hours a month currently, to be precise) for practical and financial reasons, but it works very well, generally it’s for 3 hours in the morning so the baby gets a bit of a play, I get a bit of a break, and I get a solid few hours in front of my laptop. It has been nerve-wracking for a few weeks settling her into a new place, especially as, because it’s so sporadic, it will take her a lot longer to warm up to the new people and surroundings. But so far, so good. She gets better lunches than me when we’re there!

I still occasionally still relish the opportunity to work “on campus” at university, either in one of the libraries or a graduate workspace. Unfortunately in the last few months it has been very busy (end of term essays/exams for undergrads and taughts MAs) – on one occasion I actually couldn’t find anywhere to sit at all in the main library which was a bit of a shock! The atmosphere of being at university usually motivates me to make the most of my time, especially if I’m referring to a book I can’t or don’t want to borrow. It’s rare I can get the chance to be there for long at the moment though.

A room with a view (reflected, too)

A room with a view (reflected, too)

My desk! We’re very lucky that our attic bedroom is big enough for us to have a “proper” desk (uh, not pictured! My partner uses that one) as well this rather odd fitted dressing table, which was here when we moved in. Rather narcissistic to be sitting in front of a mirror the whole time, you may think, but quite a motivation when I catch my own eye after dossing around on Twitter instead of working, so I can give myself a stern look(!). Generally I use the attic desk space at weekends (while my partner is with the baby) and on the weekly occasions I do a childcare swap with another mum friend, where we take it in turns to use this desk while the other looks after both kids. It’s useful to have a space to pile up all my books and keep paperwork.

And finally, the sofa. From where I am reaching out to you right now! A particularly useful space for doing work in the evening, when I don’t want to hole up in the attic, and would rather have some dross on telly as background entertainment, or when the baby naps and I just fancy knocking up a few emails or the (sadly too rare!) blogpost.

What I miss out on

My previous post was rather upbeat and positive (how terribly unlike me, she scowls), so I just wanted a little strop about how having a baby (or any caring responsibilities) makes it harder to embrace all the academic opportunities I have in front of me.

A month or two ago a speaker visited my university to give a guest lecture on what looked to be a useful topic for my research. It was at 4pm on a weekday. Our paid childcare arrangement (flexible) could have taken the baby from, say, 3.30pm (to give me time to commute to uni), then my partner would have to travel from his place of work to pick her up. He finishes work at 5.30pm, and is awkwardly placed for a quick commute to the crèche, it would have taken about an hour. So pick up at 6.30pm, travel back home (45 minutes), but her bedtime is around 7pm and she’d need to eat beforehand. So many little factors and timings to consider for one short lecture which may or may not have been relevant. Pre-baby I could’ve dropped by and felt no great loss if it wasn’t “all that”, maybe mingled and chatted to people for a bit, and made the most of it. But post-baby it seemed like such a huge undertaking that I just couldn’t justify it.

This week I had planned to attend a two-day conference in another city. I’d booked train tickets (travelling up the day before), B&B accommodation, told the organisers my meal options for the delegate dinner, and even arranged to visit an old friend who lives in the area on the final night before travelling home. My mum was “booked in” to stay for the three days we needed childcare (while my partner was at work – he has no annual leave/holiday left to use this month). Then unfortunately my mum had to cancel for health reasons. We had just over a week’s notice – I remained optimistic and we talked through myriad other solutions, but ultimately there was no alternative, I had to cancel my trip.

There was a great fortnightly graduate discussion group at uni which started at 6pm. I attended a couple of times when we lived in the flat near the tube station; if my partner shifted his hours and got home at 5.15pm I could hand over the baby(!) and just about make it on time. I tried it once since moving further out and arrived at 6.20pm – disruptive (for a small informal discussion group) and pointless (missing most of the speaker’s paper so having little input or questions). Fortunately – well, depending on who’s looking at it! – my partner was off sick on the day of the final bumper discussion group of term, so as he was feeling okay that evening I was able to leave in good time (4.30pm) to arrive by the 6pm start time!

I try my best not to remain defeatist though. I emailed the speaker of the 4pm lecture who kindly sent the presentation slides – the slides gave me some great food for thought. I have met up with fellow students for coffee at uni to discuss our work on separate occasions when I already had childcare in place, it’s just unfortunate I was unable to maintain a regular dialogue with the discussion group. Conferences at this stage in my PhD are “nice to have” but not an essential, so no doubt in future I’ll be able to arrange a similar trip. It can just be very frustrating in the heat of the moment thinking “I wish I could do it all”!