Last week I wrote how my wife, Ellen, and I met in the graduate dorm at Caltech, got married, managed to complete our PhDs on the same month and land a pair of jobs. This year, the difficulties (and pleasures!) of simultaneous young kids and young careers.
After advancing from postdocs to real jobs at UMd (Ellen) and Goddard (Neil), it was time to have kids. That sounds easy since people have been doing it since the beginning of time, but the difficulty was combining it with teaching, starting research, starting groups, publishing, traveling to conferences, tenure clock, …. Plus major rebuilding of a large dilapidated Victorian house we bought in College Park.
Job one --- arranging child support. We were lucky in several ways. Two decent salaries and a large house allowed us to hire a live-in nanny to take care of the kids when they were infants. We had the same person live with us for 6 years and become part of the family. Second luck, Ellen's mother moved in with us after the nanny left and helped with the kids and cooking. She still lives with us now, 15 years later. Third luck, Goddard day care was excellent for pre-school through kindergarten.
There was only one way to get ahead with careers: evening and weekend work. We devised a plan where Ellen worked Saturdays and me on Sundays. Still do it. The downside was that there were few times when the whole family was together. We each did kid activities one day per week, but seldom all 4 of us. The upside was that the quiet day in the office on the weekend was when the serious research took place.
We decided from day-one to live in College Park, near work. Ellen could bike to UMd and I had a 10 minute drive to Goddard. It was not the obvious choice because the school system in Prince George's county is not as good as neighboring counties. However, we were able to get the children into magnet schools (French immersion) and have a decent education. Neither became drug addicts, so I guess it worked out :)
Travel was rough, but essential in young careers. The worst trip was when I went to Australia on a balloon campaign. It was with Marvin Leventhal's Bell-Sandia-Goddard balloon instrument. After a month in the field, we launched on a leaky balloon and had a crash landing that burned the payload. We then rebuilt it (renamed "Phoenix") and flew again. When I wrote to Ellen that we would stay another month, leaving her with one-year-old Tommy, she vowed to kill Marvin on our return. He wisely stayed far from our house when we finally got back.
Summary --- it was really tough raising a family with two scientist parents. Probably more so for Ellen who had teaching and tenure to contend with. However, it was also a total joy. There were always interesting things happening around the house and neat topics to talk about. When we occasionally had the whole family together for a mountain vacation or a day of boating and crabbing, it was a special memory.
Labels: family, two-body problem