Tuesday, 25 February 2014

One Quarter

Three months have passed now, since the walk and the football game and the pain and the baby. A quarter of a year. And here we are, husband a little greyer, extra lines round my eyes, settling in like the tiredness I wear like a cosy jumper. And the baby. Fatter and happier and louder and angrier and so much more of a person with every passing day. And as she becomes more of a person she begins to own all those aspects of herself, or so I tell myself as she SCREAMS in protest that she's tired or hungry or it's Tuesday, goddammit. But now she laughs too. And one came with the other, and I wouldn't dream of giving up the 'heh heh heh' sound for anything. 

I often wonder what I'll remember about these days- the ones that I think of as new infant, not newborn. Newborn was an amazing glowy haze. New infant, well, it's a bit rougher round the edges. Higher highs, lower lows and everything in between. She either sleeps all night (our personal record is 8.5 hours) or wakes every two. Often on consecutive nights. She can smile and charm or be full of rage and anger and there is nothing to be done with either but ride it out. This season is lukewarm tea, the faintly musty smell of fat folds that need constant treatment to stop rashes spiralling out of control. Big juicy smiles that go from ear to ear, the 'heh' sound of amusement as we expend untold energy on The Wheels on the Bus or making the little lion roar. And crying crying crying crying. Big fat tears falling as if her heart might break, soft wet cheeks squashed hard against mine.

I started going to a 'Mommy group', in spite of myself. In some ways, many of them are not my people. They are vegans and concerned about the chemicals in the swimming pool and talk about things that are made of hemp, and I sit guiltily munching a ham sandwich and putting chemicals on my baby's bum then wrapping them in plastic. But there is a spectrum and I am grateful for someone to share the tired look in my eye and to hear them complain that no one warned them that breast milk shoots out like a water gun and watch their babies pee all over them and for someone to say 'I'll watch her whilst you run to the bathroom/get a glass of water/step outside in the fresh air and breathe'. It's ok that we are all doing things differently, because the reality seems to be that no matter what principles and dogmas they may have started with, everyone is just getting by. And honestly, hearing that is the most reassuring thing in the world. Some days 'getting by' feels like a collosal victory.

Other days, we do a whole lot more than get by. We had a visitor from home, and we went to the Sunday Morning Farmers Market in Santa Monica. (Somewhat hilariously, husband over heard a SUPER hipster guy complaining that this was a 'sham farmer's market- it wasn't real at all.' I would be shocked if this guy has ever been near a farm in his life, in his $500 hobnail boots and red fedora in 80 degree heat.) I was worried about a day out with a baby who has taken to screeching loudly and often at weekends, but she adored it and I ate chicken and waffles with one hand and she sat in the shade and watched the little kids ride on the ponies and pet the goats, then switched to gazing at the leaves overhead and we chatted in the dappled sunlight. I could sense the future then: of mornings full of adventures and new foods and funny animals.

And that's where we are, a quarter of a year into owning a baby. Owning this baby. It's hard and it's not: no more and no less. I hate when people say 'it's worth it' because of course it is because the human race would have long since died out if it wasn't, and I never really know what they mean by that exactly. It's joyous, most of the time. And every one needs more joy in their lives. The cost for ours in less sleep, in long days with crying all round, but it seems a pretty reasonable price to pay.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Onwards and Upwards

I have 4 or 5 posts sitting in my draft folder, mocking me for never being able to finish an idea, for not being able to come up with anything coherent or even sensible to say. Life has been interesting the last few months. We came to LA on a 2 year contract. A Post-Doctoral fellowship, same as everyone who wants to stay in academia does in a desperate hope that maybe, eventually someone will give them a permanent position. Sadly recession means less funding, less permanence. We have friends who DREAM of a 2 year contract, who never have any stability. This contract is up in July, and husband decided the best next step was to undertake a clinical residency. Basically, learning to become a physicist who plans radiotherapy for patients, who understands and checks the MRI and CT machines to make sure they don't turn anyone into a superhero* by mistake. The idea behind this being that he could maybe, eventually get a job in a big research hospital, but when there wasn't as much research funding kicking around, he could up his clinical hours and not be without a job.

This works pretty well at UCLA, where most of the staff is part clinical, part research. The residency is a set 'thing', and husband applied to 14 places throughout the US in the hope that he could get a few interviews and maybe a job offer. He wasn't terribly confident, but was hoping that he at least had a shot at staying at UCLA, where he knows everyone and generally is pretty useful. He was offered 11 interviews. He turned down 5 (for being somewhere he didn't want to go or for getting back to him too late). This was a confidence boost to start with. He went to 6 places, including the east coast and midwest during the hideous snow storms they've had there.

He was away fairly consistently for 2 weeks. I have a whole new respect for single parents. 5 o'clock would come, and I'd try desperately not to cry as the realisation that no one was coming to help hit hard. My sister-in-law tells me that in Denmark they call 5pm the 'wolfing hour' as the babies howl to welcome the moon. This makes absolute sense to me. K loves to welcome that moon. The main thing is we coped, K and I. I may have eaten pasta and pesto 4 nights in a row, but everyone was fed and clean and breathing and no one bled much, so I am claiming these trips as an overwhelming win. The stress was slowly building though, and for reasons I never expected.

Husband got offered a job. Not just any job, but one at a seriously impressive university. In a place people are desperate to live. In a place he was was desperate to live. The thing with places like that is that they are expensive. As in, we couldn't afford to live there expensive. He was still travelling. He had 4 days til he was home and the university were hassling him for an answer immediately and it was shit. Then came another job offer. And another. In the end he was still on the road and 3 different universities were hassling him to know RIGHT NOW where he was going to accept and his boss here was scrambling desperately to put together something that would make him stay.

We discounted two of the offers. San Francisco was too expensive to live in on one salary, and nursery fees would negate any money I could earn by going back to work. Chicago was -18C on the day he visited, so even though we have lots of friends there it was out. This left good university (which I won't name because we'd still like to keep the option open to go there eventually!) and UCLA. He had managed to buy himself a few days grace before giving them an answer. This left us 2 hours after he came home to discuss it and decide on his future, where to live, how we saw the next few years panning out. 

We love LA, but it's not the most child friendly place in the world. X is in a small-ish town, with public transport and lots of parks, but still a city vibe. It would have been lovely. In the end though, the compromises and the risk were too much. We'd have to pile into a one bedroom apartment since we couldn't afford anything bigger. I started going to a new moms group and a yoga class and am meeting people. Nice people. The thought of trying to find them again and starting over when K was 7 months old was kind of daunting. There are SO MANY kids around her age in our apartment complex, and there is potential for her to have lots of friends (and maybe us too, who knows.)

The decision, made in two hours during naptime after 4 days away and 3 inteviews and snow delays and willthiseverend was to stay in LA. With no firm offer (but a lot of potential) from UCLA, he turned down the other university. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but now it's done (with a firm offer from UCLA and discussions of a job after the residency is finished) the relief is palpable. The system for interviewing is a nightmare. The universities generally don't offer any financial assistance for you travelling all over the country (two of husband's did, which was a massive relief) so the whole thing costs hundreds of dollars (thousands, if you attend all the interviews you are invited to.) They are supposed to wait until February 17th to offer places, so everyone does it at the same time. This didn't happen AT ALL and left him in a really crappy position of being expected to accept an offer with no information on his other options, and at some places without even knowing salary or benefit details (quite important when health insurance is so vital and some of these cities are insanely expensive.)

I'm so proud of him. He is brilliant, which he now can see a bit better since he was 'in demand.' He made a tough choice with no time to decide and when he was sleep deprived and exhausted. We're getting settled into our apartment for the long haul. This is an amazing feeling. We'll be here for another two and a half years, which makes it the longest I've lived anywhere since I left home for university, the weekend of my 18th birthday. K will have her own bedroom and stability and we won't have to move house with a baby or find a new local coffee shop. We're going to paint the walls and upgrade some of our super cheap Ikea furniture and generally settle in a little, let ourselves breathe a bit slower and calmer. It's exciting in a totally different way.

The day husband got a firm offer from UCLA, he sent me a message asking if I wanted to go on a road trip somewhere this holiday weekend**. Then if I wanted to go on a summer holiday to Austin, Texas while he was at a conference. Then asking about booking flights home to the UK for the spring***. I could feel his relief seeping into these texts- planning new adventures. Different ones from what we had expected, or maybe even hoped, but exciting ones none-the-less.

*I joke, but the actual result of not doing that job properly is hideous radiation burns and death. Scary stuff.
**Instead we are going to Home Depot to look at paint swatches because we left it too late to book anywhere and I really want to start re-finishing some crappy inherited furniture and good Lord I am now turning into my parents.
***UK, we will be IN YOU come the end of April. Once I have finished eating Marks and Spencers sandwiches and eating a packet (or 6) of Salt and Vinegar Squares, I am up for hanging out with EVERYONE. Especially since this time I will not be crippled by morning sickness and can drink all the wine. And whisky. And tequila.