Monday, May 7, 2012

Sleep or live? OK, I choose to live, more on motherhood and astrophysics.

We are now at 25 months since the birth of my daughter and I’m not dead yet.

Why did I put it that way?  FYI, if you don’t read to the end of this you’ll think I am truly miserable. Everyone is occasionally miserable, but that really isn’t the point at all.

Recently I had two back-to-back work trips. The first was a science conference in Spain and the second was a collaboration meeting of a small research team at Northwestern University in Chicago. Due to the consecutive trips, I did a fast turnaround to Europe. I spent 3 nights in Spain and lost one night to the flight over to Barcelona. I had just one good night’s sleep over those 4 nights and then returned to my 2-year-old in Maryland, packed again (her stuff and mine) and headed to Evanston, IL. I had decided not to leave my daughter for two weeks in a row (which would have been unfair to my husband too).

Inbetween the two trips, instead of sleeping, I had a late night out with my husband to reconnect (which was wonderful) and then off we were to Chicago the next day. The flight on Sunday was my daughter’s first with a plane ticket (kids have to have their own tickets at age two these days) and she did not sleep and did not hardly sit still the whole time. I got to spend Sunday afternoon/evening a bit tired but in the company of my brother/sister/in-laws, extremely cute baby nephew, my daughter and parents. We ate pizza and drank wine. I had only three nights there, but in what appears to be a tradition for our trips to Evanston, my daughter got up at least twice every night.

The flight back home was a bit miserable. There was a horrible security line at Midway (an hour of inching forward) during which for some time the only thing that kept my daughter from crying was holding her upside down which amused other people but made for an even more tired me. She was a nightmare on the flight and I was so tired I hardly cared. I missed most of the next day of work due to physical exhaustion.

You might think I was pretty stupid for having attempted all this.  Shouldn't I have just stayed home?

The trip to Spain was WONDERFUL. I would say 85% of the talks were excellent. The topics included ISM chemistry, cosmic ray acceleration and star formation processes. There were 70 people in attendance in what was described as an experiment to bring together normally distinct groups. On top of this, at every coffee break, lunch and dinner I met interesting people doing relevant research and/or working on projects related to my programmatic work. Since I was sans-child I also enjoyed the red wine and late night conversations. I will say I was FIGHTING the urge to just go back to my room and sleep but I was determined to participate fully. Again, instead of sleeping on the plane (which I don’t really do anyway) I watched FIVE movies. Heaven!

The NU trip involves my core research and about eight of my favorite collaborators. The conversations were about our papers about to be submitted and our next plans. We had pleasant lunches and a nice collaboration dinner. I got to do this and see my brother, parents and daughter every night.

 So that brings me back to a decision I recall making when my daughter was a couple weeks old. I was exhausted and all I wanted was sleep. My husband asked me to watch a movie with him. Why on earth would I remember, among all the moments I cannot recall, this particular conversation? Because I remember thinking: I’ve got a choice here: sleep or live.

I chose to live.

Two female astrophysicists backed me up recently on these sorts of decisions. One of my friends said she decided her life was crazy but she would both work hard and play hard. A colleague who is a mother told me that she suspected that my trip to NU was very “rich.” This was true. The cost was physical exhaustion, but in exchange for my family and the research I love, I will gladly pay.

Don’t worry, I crashed when I finally got home.