Sunday, January 22, 2006

St. Bee-bee and the dissertation

Yes, my mother is visiting again, and yes, she is every bit the heroine of epic proportions she was back in October. And June. And March. And last January.

Of course, right now she’s screaming like a sailor at Jake Delhomme, but seriously, she should be sainted. After keeping D-luxe for 2 days over Christmas, I really thought she’d be done with us until he was, like, 18, but she just keeps coming back for more. It started when I called to ask her advice about being a “temporarily-single mom,” and asked her to hearken back to days of burnt sienna kitchen appliances when my sister and I were little and our dad traveled on business. She had good advice and reassurance, and even better, she had an offer to come up and help during Daddymatic’s absence.

To say that I was all over this like a cheap suit is an understatement. I love my son and we were fine for our virgin solo flight of a whopping 36 hours, but really, I shouldn’t be left alone at all—let alone in charge of someone else. I took reasonably good care of the child but ruined my own dinner, stayed up too late and didn’t manage to catch a shower for 3 days. And my child sleeps almost 14 hours a day—how sad is that?

So one of the things my mommy still does is boss me around. I don’t mind, because I now know that carrying, birthing and caring for a child make you feel like you should have a DARN TOOTIN' lot of input as to how they live their lives. So she decreed that while she is here, I am to take 2 hours per day to work on my dissertation, which has been on life support since oh, say, last January.

So at St. Bee-bee’s behest, I went to a coffee shop yesterday to try and do some work. Or at least make a plan as to how to start getting some work done. I brought the lapster, some highbrow academic articles, and latte money, set everything out, and instantly felt hopelessly lost. First, it was impossible to concentrate—the sun was so bright it obscured my computer screen, there were waaay too many pre-teens drinking smoothies to tune out hearing different voices repeat: “So I was all, like: whoa! And he’s all: whatever. And I’m all: Okay, right?” Secondly, I felt like it was difficult to bring myself to care about issues so distant from my current life situation. I study foreign accent and how it relates to international grad students’ identities, which of course is terribly important. But all I could think about is whether I could get the enhanced kind of soy milk at Wal-Mart and if I needed to wash more diapers. And when my son was going to start talking. And how long his afternoon nap had been.

Is this what I’ve become? So focused on my son and my role as his mother that I can’t even work on a project I’ve been planning, eating, sleeping and breathing for the last 3 ½ years? A project that just one year ago seemed really fascinating and worthwhile and now seems like nothing more than something to get out of the way so I can prove grad school wasn’t a huge waste of time.

I was so depressed that I left the coffee shop after a scant 45 minutes and indulged in one of my dirty little vices: country music. Not—lest you think better of me—the “country before country was cool” Pasty Cline kind of country, either. I just wanted to cry, and hey, if you can’t find something to cry about on a modern country station, you’re just not trying hard enough. Sure enough, I found something sadder than watching the Carolina Panthers lose their championship game and had a nice, cleansing cry. Then my little sister called, all a-flutter with news and wedding plans and stuff, and I was drawn back into the world where the articles I write, the fancy scholarship I read and the conferences I attend matter precisely jack squat. When I lay awake later that night thinking about it, I remembered that twelve and a half months ago, I decided that at the end of my life, I would not regret spending less time with school and more time with my family, and that maybe the letters M-O-M were the most important three letters to follow my name after all.

I still believe that. It’s easier some days than others, but I really do believe that.