I’ve been meaning to write a post on here for some time. My failure to do so is based partly on the chaotic nature of my schedule thus far, and also my own intimidation at following in Tristan’s footsteps. His posts are hilarious and, whether it’s a difference in outlook, experience, or expression, I don’t pretend that mine will compare to his! I thought y’all might be wondering how classes, commuting, research, etc. . . are going, though, so I’m going to give this blog thing a shot. In order to differentiate my post from Tristan’s, I’ll make it as boring and tedious as I possibly can ☺
The first week of classes was two weeks ago. Arriving two weeks before classes started proved to be a real blessing—it gave me a chance to get some prep done ahead of time and to get adjusted to London time. If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that the girls had a tough time adjusting to the time difference and, in many ways, Sawyer is still adjusting . . . more on that later, though. Anyway, back to the first day of classes, which turned out to be kind of traumatic. I teach on Tuesday (Shakespeare on Film) and Thursday (Images of Women in Lit: Wollstonecraft to Woolf), and have to attend British Life and Culture lectures on Monday. So, while I didn’t have to actually teach on the first day of class, I did have to show up for the BLC lecture and a faculty meeting. Getting out the door was tough. After being home with Sawyer everyday last semester, it was really hard to leave her for a full day of work away from home. (Later in the day, when one of my new colleagues overheard me saying it was tough to leave her, she thought I meant in California—can you imagine?!) The commute from home to work is about 25 minutes door-to-door. Not bad at all, really. It is especially not bad when it’s a dry commute (as far as rain is concerned, that is, not booze. If I were talking about booze, the inverse would of course be true. Nothing like a “wet” commute first thing in the morning to get me ready to teach). The commute was very, very wet on the first day of classes—it had been raining hard for several hours when I left for work at 7:45 am, so I was pelted with rain from above and below (in the form of standing puddles). I decided to wear pants that day (I should pause to say here that all of my pants are too long—some of them are WAY too long—which really pisses me off. I know that I’m not super tall or anything, but I refuse to believe that the average woman in America is, like, 5’9”. I mean, come on. Also, I should clarify that I mean pants in the American-sense of trousers and not pants in the English-sense of underwear. I may be a mom of three, but my “pants” aren’t that boring yet.) and they were quite literally soaked to the knee by the time I arrived at work. I also decided to wear a sweater which means that, when I entered the tube station, I instantaneously went from being cold and wet to sweaty and steamy. As you can imagine, this did real wonders for my (naturally curly . . . er, frizzy) hair. The fun didn’t stop there . . .
Once I got to work, there were more surprises waiting for me. First, I discovered that the classrooms are not equipped with DVDs or projectors; instead, we have to carry the equipment over to the classroom and set it up ourselves. The only reason this is a big deal is that I’m teaching Shakespeare on Film, which means I get to set up equipment every class session! Sigh. The second surprise (to all five faculty members) was that we have to create assignments for the British Life and Culture class (someone else lectures, we grade); this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except we found out ONE hour before the first class. Sigh again. Then, at lunchtime, my bottle of sparkling water exploded all over me and my computer. The only thing I had to clean it up with was a single tissue wadded up in my jacket pocket. Triple sigh. After lunch, I headed to the storage room to pump—this is where I was directed to go on the premise that no one ever uses it, so it’d be a quiet, private place to do my business…you see where this is going, right? Not just one, not two, but THREE of my colleagues walked in while I was pumping. And—the fun just keeps coming—one was a dude. (more on my adventures in breastpumping in a minute). I seriously wanted to cry at least five times that day and kept thinking about how Eli had handled his first day of school way better than I was handling mine. Luckily, being 34 and not 7, I was able to drown my sorrows in wine (and lots of it) once I got back home.
All of this happened on Monday, which made it a pretty rough start to the week. On Tuesday, though, I took my students to the rare books exhibit at the British Library and that pretty much made up for the hassle of Monday. They were palpably excited when they entered the Treasures of the British Library exhibit. It was wonderful to show them around the old manuscripts, which they were very impressed by. One of the most fun things about teaching here is getting to take my students on field trips around London. Last Thursday, I took my “Women in Lit” students to the National Portrait Gallery (my favorite gallery in London) in the second half of class (class is 3 1/2 hours long), so that we could actually look at some images of Victorian women! Woot! We just finished reading Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and so the students freaked out (I think that’s the most appropriate way to capture their reaction!) when they saw the portraits of Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Mary Shelley. In March, each class is taking a day trip outside of London: Shakespeare students are travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Women in Lit students are taking a trip to Bath and Dickens World (yes, I said “Dickens World”—it’s a Dickens-themed amusement park. Be sure to check out the link!). I’m bringing Tristan and the kids to all three of these day trips, which will make them even better! The students get a big kick out of the kids and the kids have fun seeing castles and cathedrals and just “old stuff” in general.
Two quick highlights of the day trips so far: 1) On our recent tour of Salisbury Cathedral, the guide was talking about the medieval architecture and Eli suggested that there should be a time period referred to as “mid-nice” as well as “mid-evil.” Clearly, he assumes that everyone living in medieval times was, in fact, evil. I’m not planning to disabuse him of that notion. 2) On our trip to Salisbury Cathedral, the guide mentioned that the ceiling was painted in Medieval times, but that the paintings were later painted over. A week later, when we visited the Canterbury Cathedral, Finley asked (on her own, without a reminder) if there used to be paintings on the ceiling. She was even brave enough to ask one of the Church guides, who was very impressed with her knowledge of Medieval architecture ☺ As a side note: I’ve got to say that I’ve been very impressed with the way the kids have adapted to being here so far. Although we’ve all definitely had our moments (like, for instance, on the way home from the Salisbury day trip, when Tristan and I argued the whole walk home about an un-topped up Oyster card, Finley cried because she was cold and tired, and Eli shouted at his backpack because Finley’s MobiGo somehow got turned on and Dora the Explorer’s voice was mocking him from behind), the kids have been troopers. Case in point: Finley hasn’t asked for macaroni-and-cheese (her most favorite dish EVER) once and neither child has asked about going to McDonalds, even though we pass one every single day on the way to and from Eli’s school. Also, and I realize I’m probably totally jinxing myself here, but neither kid has said, in a moment of anger or frustration, “I want to go home!” Several people have said to us, “you know the kids aren’t going to remember this, right?”—as though the effort we’re making is wasted because the kids are too young to store away every detail of the trip (and, as far as that goes, I made my first trip over here to study abroad in 1998. I was 21 years old and there’s a lot I don’t remember…although that may have more to do with the pub in the basement of my college than my age!). I realize the kids aren’t going to remember a lot about the trip, but I hope that by bringing them here we are encouraging them to be open-minded, adventurous, and easily adaptable. Hopefully when they are older, they’ll regard travelling and learning about new cultures as par for the course, rather than something unusual or something to be feared. Of course I’m going to totally eat my words when an 18-year old Finley runs away to Europe with a 40-year old Parisian. Ah, Finley.
Anyway, back to the breastpump. So, one of the challenges of being here is that I’m still breastfeeding Sawyer. Thankfully, she started solids the week before we came, so she does have another source of food. That said, in the two weeks before classes started I had to pump A LOT to build up a supply for my work days. Although we’ve travelled to England many times before, I’ve never been here while nursing a baby, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. (My good friend Charlie was very helpful here—she’s an anthropologist who studies attitudes about breastfeeding in England and France, so during our first lunch date I got the low down.) It turns out that everyone I’ve met so far is actually really relaxed about breastfeeding and pumping—a lot more relaxed than they are at home. In fact, when I asked the woman at the British Library help desk if there was a place I could pump (other than the bathroom) she very kindly suggested that I use the public lounge on the 3rd floor of the library. If that wasn’t suitable, she said I should feel free to pump anywhere I wanted—I should make it clear that she was not being sarcastic or rude, but was actually encouraging me to pump wherever I liked. Now, the thought of whipping out my pump and a copy of Of Woman Born in the middle of the Humanities 1 reading room is, I have to admit, a little appealing. It’s so somber and quiet in there—my breast pump would be sure to liven things up! However, I decided not to take the lovely woman’s advice and, instead, pumped in the bathroom, which actually wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. My employers here had the same carefree attitude and, while I don’t have to pump in the bathroom at work, my pumping space is far from private. So, I’m learning how to pump discreetly (something I actually didn’t think was possible) and am thinking of pulling this party trick out at the next CSUF faculty meeting (Just kidding, Sheryl.)
Oh, and the sleeping . . . after three kids, I’ve finally figured out that I’m doing something horribly wrong. Eli and Finley were both poor sleepers, but with two kids you can at least pretend that it’s a coincidence—with three, not so much. All of this is to say that Sawyer is decidedly NOT a good sleeper. She is now getting up about every 2 ½-3 hours and insists on being nursed before she’ll fall back to sleep. Interestingly, we put her in her bed when she’s awake and she puts herself to sleep (without any crying, I might add)—isn’t this supposed to be the magic trick? If you put them in bed awake they’ll sleep through the night, right? Well, she’s not and I’m tired. But, I think it might partly be because she’s teething . . . or because my children are sent to earth with instructions to torment me. Relentlessly.
As a final note, I’ve got to say that Tristan is kicking ass at being a stay-at-home dad. (Here, again, I’m diverging from the spirit of his posts. Not only am I not funny, but I’m also being sentimental. Don’t worry, I’m almost done . . . ) As I said before, it’s tough leaving the kids (especially Sawyer because she’s still so little and, well, let’s face it, Finley can be a bit difficult ☺ ) for long days at work (this last week I saw two Shakespeare plays, King Lear and As You Like It, with my class and was gone until about 11pm); it’s even harder to leave so that I can go to the library to do research. Once a week, Tristan’s been bearing the cold and the Tube with both girls (which you read about in the last post) to meet me for lunch and never complains about the amount of time I’m working. Wait, now that I write that I’m thinking maybe I should be offended instead of pleased . . . hmmm . . . anyway, he is ridiculously supportive of my work and for that I am very thankful. To borrow his words, life at the moment (even without sleep) is stunning.
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Postscript: After my sentimental tribute, Tristan is now “nanny-nanny boo-booing” me for writing such a long post. I guess I shouldn’t have mocked the length of his death march post.
Post-postscript: Although, to be fair, this is my FIRST post, Tristan.
Post-post-postscript: Be nice.