Post 46.

Choices. You have to live with them, both the good and the bad ones. What you decide is a good or bad choice only comes with hindsight, and hindsight isn’t neutral. Rather, it the voice from the present that assesses the past, coding it in ways that make sense in the now, ways that may not make the same kind of sense later on. In this, the struggle is to honour those choices for what they say about who you were, what you valued, what you had to learn. The struggle is also to be realistic about what you can ‘fix’ or what you can do to shift the trajectory your choices set you on.

I guess it’s a struggle to think about the past while not dwelling in it, to think about the present as it empowers you to mediate the past and future, and to think about the future while recognizing that you can only get so far, so fast.

I think about this a lot as I’ve been assessing my trajectory as an academic and trying to understand exactly how I found myself here today. I could say I spent too much time in my early years doing outreach and activism, but what passions and lessons and connections would that ‘too much’ be dishonoring? Here I am now with all this past activism in hand, a baby to give time to in the present and tenure ahead. Sometimes, I wish I had just gotten my book out so that I wouldn’t be caught in the work-family balance as I am now, sometimes I know that things unfold as they should. It’s rare in my life for me to think that where I am isn’t exactly where I’m supposed to be. And, really, I’ve got the myriad of voices in my head with all sides of the argument.

The voice of the wonderful woman who told me yesterday that what you do represents how you become yourself, and that your path can’t be devalued. She also told me to be careful of wanting it all because maybe some things have to give and, in the end, looking at one’s mortality, you have to know that you kept to the things that most mattered. There is the voice of the US Professor who said to me, yesterday as well, “send me a publishable version of something you have written in two days from now (!), I want to see what peer reviewed journals we can send it to”, just because – completely out of the blue – he’s invested in me getting tenure on time too. He said he’s seen my story amongst too many ‘women of colour’ academics who spend the early years on political work, the middle years on children and the later years two steps behind their male and childless peers who pushed ahead while they didn’t.

Then there’s that overall lesson I learned about not knowing the reasons things happen until you do. When my dad was kidnapped in 2006 (something I’m saying publicly for the first time here), he escaped by hiding and running through the forest throughout the night. At some point, he came to a house, virtually by itself at the edge of the trees and he called out to those inside, saying his name and that he was a kidnap victim and asking for help. The man who came outside, answered by saying his name in return, with familiarity and in surprise. They had known each other for three months in 1963 when my dad worked in the Treasury. I’ve never forgotten that story. Did they meet for that short period, forty years before, so that on that dark night of terror my dad would almost miraculously find, in that first person that he met, someone who already knew his name?

This is why you can’t second guess your choices. You never know when you will find out why they make sense, you never know when you’ll come to value exactly that thing you chose to do at that time, you simply cannot foretell why you will come to honour your past and your passions and the simple ups and downs of mistakes and successes.

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I push ahead, try to stay focused rather than feel overwhelmed, and figure out how to manage, though I’m really really tired, as if I could work as I used to. I guess that whether my past choices were right or not is irrelevant. All that counts is the decisions that I make now. The rest I just have to trust and let unfold. Who knows how I will have differently reassessed my choices forty years from now, when suddenly they may make total sense in ways i could have never anticipated.

Post 41.

Just yesterday I finally submitted a publication that was four years overdue. As with most articles sent to ‘top’ journals in your field, you hope for a revise and resubmit (and not outright rejection), and you hope the revisions are changes you can make without deeply doubting your writing, your work and your worth.

Why I am four years overdue is beyond me. My thesis passed with no corrections and I was offered a chance to go to Max Planck, by my examiner Steven Vertovec, to continue the work. But, by that time, I was already working at Gender Studies and I don’t know if I thought I could get the writing done while here or if I figured I had lots of time for post docs or if I thought my only option would be to give up my beloved job for a fellowship or if I was just out of the hyper-competitive academic loop and naively figured I’d be fine. At some level too, I had this commitment to the region, feminist movement and Institute’s teaching that I figured was where my heart was and where my feet should be.

Hindsight is typically associated with clarity, but looking back on the decisions I made, I actually feel a lot of confusion about whether they were right or wrong. Sometimes I think that I wasted a lot of time, answering emails and being on top of the job mostly, but also participating in meetings or workshops or feminist events or doing various media things from New Voices to my ‘If I was PM’ blogs or just giving too much time to teaching. Really, I should have made decisions about locking off the admin and activism, and I should have just been badmind about getting the writing done, even if I risked my bosses or my activist sistren and bredren thinking I wasn’t invested in institution or movement-building. I take a lot of personal responsibility for being clueless about the perish part of ‘publish or perish’ and for thinking that, because I gave so much to the Institute, the university would never fire me.

My past IGDS bosses would say that they warned me and I didn’t listen. But, I think that the messages were not so simple. I think now about the new me that seems to say no to attending virtually everything (mostly because of the baby) and there is no way that would have been okay then. In the early years I didn’t have the senority, autonomy or sense to set my own boundaries on what my department demanded – and I was still paying my dues and proving my commitment.

I actually never developed that sense, it’s just that one day I got a letter saying I was up for tenure and then sense suddenly set in like a big heavy meteor hitting the earth. And, I’m still putting the pieces together after the impact. On the one hand, I’m a lot wiser now about my job. The truth is that, regardless of how unpopular it makes you, you can’t sacrifice for your place of employment. In the end, they will want to know why you didn’t focus on your own work and, in our neo-liberal context, it will all come down to the individual decisions you made well or badly, regardless of the circumstances.

Looking at our regular meeting agendas on all the work the Institute was (and was supposed to be) doing, Jane Parpart, a development feminist who did a sojourn with us, would often remark that our own publishing was completely absent, and overtly absent from being factored into our work lives. She was right and keeping note of the kind of mixed messages I’ve gotten have helped me to remember not to fully blame myself. It’s not that I haven’t received excellent mentorship, it’s just that anywhere trying to achieve a huge amount will want you to be a team player, even if the writing that actually counts is a solitary activity.

On the other hand, my friend Nicola says that if I hadn’t been as much part of the women’s movement as I was or inventing games or building feminist consciousness amongst male and female students on the campus, I’d have looked back now and wished I hadn’t lost those fulfilling, energy and passion-filled years to publishing, after already ‘losing’ so much mobilising time to graduate school, even if I ended up with the right CV. So, I’m fighting to not devalue that time and work as well, just because it doesn’t meet the demands of academia. Yet, if academia is where I’m am, I can’t pretend there aren’t rules.

Sometimes, I feel its hard to win. Yesterday, someone asked if I wanted to help with the upcoming commonsense convois being hosted by the Lloyd Best Institute. I felt selfish saying I have to put any spare time to publishing, but I said no. Last week, domestic workers asked if I’d help at a Saturday workshop. Weekends I spend with the baby so I said no. I feel bad because the women who are organising, writing and leading in some way or another all did it with careers and children, and I feel lame that I don’t have time for more than work and Ziya. If these women could build institutions, write, run NGOs, raise children, engage in advocacy and more….shouldn’t I be able to also?

I find myself thinking about the complexities of hindsight, assessing decisions, figuring out how to value my actions, and realistically appreciating what the lessons are. I have to move in the right direction from wherever it is I now am, even if its two steps back from where I am supposed to be. So, yesterday, even as I finally sent off that article and sat down mulling about why it took me so long, I also have to try to just not look back and instead focus on what’s ahead.

Women in academia can easily fall off track once they become mothers – and the majority do – in fact they do worse that both single folks and married men. This week, I am checking out daycares, to find another day that I can spend at work instead of with Ziya, despite telling myself I’d make the sacrifice to give her three days and not just the weekend two. From January, she’s losing another day with me. I’m anguished about it, but really have no choice. That family-career dilemma is very very real. I only hope I don’t look back on decisions such as this with the kind of questioning and unease that hindsight now brings me. Having a career is hard and accepting you did your best is also not easy.

Post 38.

Out of the right window of the plane, the moon was full and radiant, and seemed to float at thirty three thousand feet, level with me. I read it as a good omen. I was on my way to my first American Anthropological Association meeting and felt a little overwhelmed by so many multiple panels, by my unfinished presentation and by the feeling of being out of the political anthropology loop. Also, this was only the second time that I left my baby for days at a time.

On the connection to Montreal, I realised I turned into one of those people in airports and other public places who smile giddily at other people’s babies as they project happy thoughts of their own missing ones onto these unsuspecting little persons. Last time I left her to go to London, I had to go through the trauma of being a breastfeeding mother away from her baby, unable to easily store her milk and in despair at the thought of dumping bags of such precious nourishment. So many people don’t understand it, they think if you can just make more why does it matter how much you throw away….I can’t explain it. I can just say what I felt and know its validity.

Here I am again. I don’t breastfeed as much so travel is less traumatic, but this time I’m hoping my milk doesn’t go dry after five days away. I don’t love breastfeeding as much as Ziya, but I’m not a neutral participant. My neighbor tells me she cried when she stopped producing milk. I get it.

Zi turned one on Tuesday, making me reflect on how much my life has changed and how much I have changed. We had a little cake and ice cream, just to say that moments of celebration are worth taking time for. The little party was low maintenance, low expectations, low effort – the kind of thing that stone and I would do. We are about the little gestures and the mundane moments that are special just because they are and because we are. It’s like getting married in the backyard. You don’t need much ado, you just need to be together, happy and willing to make each moment sacred.

I am now on my way back to Trinidad, about to fly in rain, my heart and hopes on getting home safe. Being away is such a mixed experience. Conferences are part of my job, but I feel a little guilty leaving Stone to manage for a week at a time without me, probably a few times a year. A whole network of people has to be organized for this travel to be possible. At conferences I can feel my brain working again though and remember parts of myself I hardly have energy for, the parts that get excited about theory, writing, reading, scholarship, ideas.

This time, I connected in a real way with other academic moms that I know and that was really good too. Moms who have to travel for weeks or months at a time to do fieldwork, moms who move to take up post docs, moms whose families go with them to new posts in new places. Moms who have partners to negotiate life with and children they have to raise and publications they have to write. Moms like me! All of them amazing and inspiring and encouraging in their own ways. Moms who remind me that our careers matter. Moms who got their books out somehow, pressing me to plan how I am going to get my book out, somehow, too.

I feel good. Rejuvenated intellectually. Supported academically. More focused. Stone seemed to survive. Ziya somehow slept eight hours straight last night. I was away just long enough to want to get back to them. I think that I might have stopped seriously producing milk. After a few days of expressing, suddenly there stopped being much. I’m a little sad about it, I loved those evening and morning breastfeeds, but life is about change and I know beautiful Ziya was given the best start I could give. Motherhood is clearly about just focusing on what happened, what worked and what was good, recognizing that what you can’t change, you just have to accept, reflect on and learn from.

I am excited to get back to my work again, just to prove to myself that I can meet my writing goals. Nothing inspires me like the need to focus. Forget the nation’s motto, discipline is my personal creed. So is gratefulness. So is love. I am on my way, not just back to Trinidad, but to revived ambitions and appreciation. I had a chance to connect to me. Funny how sometimes you have to go far just to find yourself. Funny how it’s in the midst of so many things to follow through on, that you can remember what makes you, you.

Post 37.

Today Ziya is one year old. I’m chuffed. She’s lively and happy, glowing and gorgeous. She makes jokes and can’t be easily fooled. She’s got her trademark skeptical look down cold, and she likes to do things for herself rather than having you show her or do it for her. She’s confident, communicative, generally unafraid and she’s clear on what she likes and doesn’t. She knows who is hers and loves to snuggle with us, clearly missing us even in her sleep. She’s growing in body and personality, and is suddenly all arms and legs, no longer just a baby.

My little amazing warrior of light. I smile all the time it seems and she smiles back with her whole genuine self. Sometimes, i wonder at the fact that I’ve never smiled so much in my life. She makes love spring fresh and full each day. Again and again, my heart runneth over.

I’ve become a person I never knew I could be, the kind of mother I only planned on becoming, without knowing if that was realistic or right or not. I’ve also become more confident, more clear and focused, more powerful, more grateful for life. That feeling of being a mother is both armor and vulnerability, spectacular and everyday. I had Zi basically because I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant, to make a baby and to breastfeed, because I have a woman’s body and potentiality. Now that I know, I’m aware I had no idea at all what was in this place, beyond where I could guess. Motherhood is everything I expected and nothing I could imagine. I know I never made a better decision in my life.

For the last few days, thinking about my virtually three days of labour and hours of birth, I’ve felt like it’s all surreal, like when you win an award or finish an exam or you are about to take off in a plane or when your dream comes true. I can’t believe it’s happening, and it’s hard to be calm and excited, live in this moment and live in them all, all at the same time.

Somehow, I’ve managed to combine work and marriage and motherhood. I’ve not done it perfectly, and whether its missing spending the majority of the week with Ziya or not getting out my publications at work or being too tired for enough quality time with Stone, I’ve had to learn as I often do that I can’t do it all well instantly and simultaneously. I keenly feel these ghost wings, but I’m coming to recognise, if only by necessity and for my sanity and self-acceptance, that I’m born to put one foot in front the next, not to fly. I still wish I had four arms, but when I let things go its because I’m adjusting to the reality of not being that goddess, recognising as women and mothers have to, that we are both divine and only human.

I couldn’t have survived this year without huge amounts of investment, understanding, advice and help from my mother, my research assistant, my boss, my husband, my friends near and far. So many people have helped to carry my cares and burdens, enabling me to continue to stride purposefully ahead. It takes a village to empower a mother to raise her child.

What have I learned? In a sense, no words, just love. To be a better person and to try harder, to reflect and repair, to appreciate and be amazed, to accept and to not abandon ambition, to do my best knowing that it might only be enough to keep the basics together and to continue to evaluate what the basics really are. I’ve learned that few things really are worth stress once my husband is home and my child is healthy and I work for the feminist revolution, the rest will have to unfold as I can shape it and as it should. Above all, I need to be healthy in mind, spirit and body, and even if it’s a work in progress, it’s important work. I need to know honesty, love, aspiration and acceptance to be able to be mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, worker, feminist, woman in all their inter-related moments and forms.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll write and perform poetry again, paint T-shirts again, edit video blogs again and all the other creative parts of life I don’t have time or energy for, I’ll exercise and fete and engage in more activism, but life is about stages and phases, and I’m rocking this one as much as I can.

She’s been her own person here on earth just one year. I’ve been that person who became a mother just one year ago. I’m full of joy for us both. I’m here and I’m loving it, learning from it and living it in full, as much as I can. I’m taking each day as it comes, as much as I can. I’m trying to balance the ups and downs, as much as I can. I’m letting Zi teach me, as much as she can. We’ve got so far to go, together. I’m open to what each of us brings, as much as we can.

Happy first birthday beautiful baby Zi.
May you continue to blossom and become the person you are meant to be.
I could not possibly love you more than I do
I wish all the goodness of the world for you

Post 36.

Cunt! Yesterday my class and I collectively shouted out this word, twice. Right after we shouted the word ‘vagina!’, twice.

No, this wasn’t some flaky exercise in faux feminist power, or scandalousness or boundary-pushing for its own sake. And, yes, this is the kind of thing that my tax dollars and our oil dollars might be spent on as long as students continue to register for my class.

It was an exercise in consciousness-raising, in revealing power in language, in thinking aloud about how our silences will not protect us. Truthfully, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I got students to do this, wondering the whole time why I hadn’t done this before.

The majority of students agreed to do this by a show of hands and of course who didn’t want to say vagina or cunt didn’t have to. One young woman who said the first but not the second, said that she saw it graffitied somewhere once, asked what it meant and was told by her mom never to use that word – and she hadn’t since. Another one, who joined in the second time, said to me after class that she had never said the word ‘cunt’ in her life…and here she was saying it twice in one day, now realising that if anyone ever called her that, she would not be intimidated as she might have been, knowing the word’s original possibilities.

And, in fact, cunt historically meant the very opposite of its current patriarchal associations with insult, debasement, stupidity, failure and obscenity. What is now the worst thing to call someone (man or woman, for different reasons) was once a word denoting and synonymed with the sacred, spiritual, powerful, knowledgeable, gutsy, cunning, wise, divine (meaning God-like), life-giving, heartfelt and sustaining. Those meanings were destroyed and replaced by the ones we take to be normal, natural and timeless today. The very word that is unmentionable because it is so shameful and dirty, especially for women, is the very word that describes our sex. Surely, this can’t be right.

As any good university educator, I backed up my lecture with a great article called, ‘Cuntspeak: Words from the Heart of Darkness’ which traces the etymology of the word cunt, showing the violence that left it bruised and pariah-like at the base of its ancient pedestal. This was a violence implicated with the silences around sexual violence, with the shame invested in women’s bodies, with the hold patriarchy and pornography have on women’s erotic power despite Caribbean hype about phat pum pum, ‘waan punane bad’ and punani power.

I had a few minutes before the feminist advocacy organisation, ASPIRE, was to address my class about reproductive health and rights, and it seemed like we could, if only for a few seconds, collectively articulate a naming, emotion and power that would be impossible outside of my allotted two hours in the vast chamber of the LRC. Besides all that, it was the kind of thing that I teach Women’s Studies to be able to do, just cus I can, just cus it’s fun.

Fun aside and teaching aside, it felt good for me too. I’ve always loved women in the sense of having a basic admiration, respect and solidarity with them. Women somehow end up being my greatest heroes even if they are my younger sisters or my over-worked bosses or my mother or my friends who all seem extra-ordinary in some way. I’ve understood the injustice of the shaming and silencing, and the sacredness that they replaced. I don’t believe in the human-like deity called God, but if I did, it’s obvious to me that God would have breasts, womb and a vagina, which create and sustain life, and certainly make females the closest to God’s image.

Yep, any God worth her salt has a cunt through which to birth life. Anything less is, well, Man.

The experience of giving birth brings all this home. The feeling of life emerging through your womb, that process of starting something that takes you to the point where you think you can’t go on any longer, the fact of us all as Woman-born leaves me without question that female bodies, wombs and vaginas are to be given the freedom from degredation which they are due.

As long as ‘cunt’ is both a curse and part of my body, it can be used against me. And nothing that is mine shall be cursed. Nothing that has created and birthed my child shall be used against me. Nothing that makes me both woman and mother shall be used to disempower. Nothing that was once sacred shall be used to silence and shame.

And nothing can stop me, woman, mother, feminist, Women’s Studies lecturer from encouraging my students to shout ‘cunt’ in class when I know nothing else may shake their biases and their socialisation and their fears. I’ve got the degrees to teach. I’ve given birth in the drive-way. I’m mother to a little girl growing up in a patriarchal world. I’m a feminist who understands I’ve got the erotic as power to draw on. And, I’ve got a class of 100 students willing to shout.

What can I say?
All together now.


Post 35.

Imperfectly. My friend Nicola asked another friend, mother of five children, how she did it all. How did she manage children, husband, self, sanity? Imperfectly, she answered, as relayed by Nicola. I’ve been coming to terms with that word since. Thinking about its meanings for me.

One the one hand, there’s the baby, spending quality time with her and enjoying it, making sure she eats enough and feels loved and cared for. On the other hand, there is my job and that thing i don’t do enough of, publishing.

of my days, the hours during the week are spent on office life, teaching, emails and who knows what else. the hours during the weekend are all about Zi, folding clothes, tidying and who knows what else. there are no more days nor hours left for writing. I’m a slow writer and i need hours to get my brain spinning and to set a thought in serious motion. I’ve tried to do it in the nights after i put Zi to bed, but there’s a few wake ups between 11pm and 6.30am, and anyway who can write in an exhausted two hours left at the end of the day? Somewhere, some woman can of course do it, and is of course doing it, and i’m here thinking about that standard i wish i could meet.

i’m behind and short on time, over-extended and not where i want to be. i keep thinking back to my ghost wings, dreaming of myself in sci-fi with four arms, each writing the four essays due by year end. my mummy academic friends say that i should accept i’m off the fast track and on the slow train. nicola says, just accept. i’m all about the details and what i make should reflect my capacity. but maybe now i can only do my best imperfectly?

the real wake up came in a conversation with a super-amazing colleague who somehow manages to head a programme, raise two children, organise a weekly newspaper column, supervise students and engage in outreach. she said her daughter, now at adolescence, is entering one of the most demanding periods of her schooling and that its really really really hard.

really? somewhere in mind, i thought that after a few years, it would get easier. i had a weird, linear progression of getting my act together mapped out in my head. it never occurred to me that there could be steps back just as there are ones forward. i never imagined that someone so amazing would still be feeling as i do now.

here is what she wrote to me: “I am so behind with deadlines and getting resentful that people just do not recognise how impossibly hard it is to make everything on time. The thing I am realising is the priority is the family, that’s the constant, and never to compromise on that. I don’t always get it right but I have let go a lot more. second comes my public intellectual work, specially the column and also the community gigs that we organise here. then academia. i am so tired of the grind gabby, and i think and feel that women studies gets caught up in it in ways it does not imaginatively try to renegotiate. u and i are similar this way but the difference may be u do not have tenure as yet. try to put blinkers on, focus on one or two pieces u want to write, do not bite off more than u can chew, don’t develop new courses right now, and try to breathe. the work will be better for it. it is disheartening to hear – though not altogether unsurprising – just how hard it is to do this, in a world that actually does not give a damn about much else beyond the publications…keep a strong head”.

knowing that it’s not only me was heartening, this woman said to me the words i wanted to say to her and her solidarity lifted me from panic to setting my mind on a way through to a resolution. but knowing that her words could still be mine ten years from now was terrifying. what a wake up.

i’ve re-read her words several times, glad beyond belief for women, friends and colleagues who share with me the imperfectness of their reality and who give me perfect advice about how to accept my own. i’m trying to do all these things: accept, focus, prioritize, breathe, let go, keep strong. i’m also trying to make balance, being present and being grateful my foundation because i know that today life is perfect and tomorrow that perfection might just be gone.

so, i’m reaching deep for words and maturity and spirit. and i’m heartened and terrified at the same time because somehow i’m doing it all…imperfectly.

Post 30.

What stress. Since Monday, Zi has had a fever. Stone and I were up all night keeping her cool, checking her temperature, bathing her early in the morning, wondering if 102 degrees was medium or high, and whether she should go to a doctor. My own doctor was saying to wait it out another day or two and not to worry too much. My mother, being the worrying sort, took matters into her own hands and pretty much declared on the third day that we should take Zi to another doctor near her. I showed up at the house to collect them and found the other grandmother (also a worrier) there as well. this was an unusual confluence of persons. When two grandmothers decide something, i observed, best to just do what they say.

so the three of them (afro-Trinidadian grandmother, indo-Trinidadian grandmother, dougla granddaughter) and i were there in the doctor’s office watching him drip blood from her arm for a dengue test. both of them felt better we had been to the doctor, i felt better they felt better and zi seemed none the better for the visit.

in the midst of the visit, the doctor asked if this was the first one and if i was planning to have more. he asked me, not anyone else. i said probably not, amidst noisy disagreeing sounds being emitted by both grandmothers who, as i’ve said, were not asked their opinion. why people feel the need to tell you how many children you should have is beyond me. i happen to find it intrusive and a bit offensive. I’m the person going through the pregnancy and birth, making economic, career, marriage and life sacrifices, and generally being the most affected by the choice of having children. reproduction is also my choice and no one else’s (except, perhaps, stone’s) and its certainly not my job as a woman to make others’ reproductive wishes come true. if you are not making the baby yourself, i think you should have nothing to say about if there should be a baby or how many.

it may seem just a harmless typical insistence of grandmothers and others. but people have also told me its “selfish” to only have one. it’s not “fair” and “nice” and its better for the baby to have a sibling. This insistence on the need for me, as a woman, to be selfless, giving, thoughtful – if necessary through personal sacrifice and possibly against my own desires or needs – for the sake of reproduction is self-negating, treats women’s bodies like communal or family (or children’s) property, and perpetuates the idea that women’s sexuality and fertility is linked to the happiness of others and the family, just as it is often linked to expectations of community, ‘race’, class and nation.

having one baby is something i can do while managing my career – which actually is quite cool and important to me. having two makes it all more difficult, not unmanageable, but not necessarily what i want for myself. it might happen, it might not. but i’d appreciate not being told what to do given that no one else has to inhabit my body or my life or deal with the setbacks to my publishing or the exhaustion or the breastpumping or the costs to my savings or the changes to my marriage. i think it should be a rule, no one tells women what to do with their bodies, sexuality, fertility or reproductive choice. that’s why it’s called choice. after all, at the centre this whole nexus of work, child and family is me.

in the midst of looking after zi at nights and going to the the doctor and staying home in the day, i’ve lost days of work. it might seem that i shouldn’t be thinking about this now, after all my baby’s health comes first – and is all that matters. but i am pressed to stay on top of my job as well as stay on top of my mothering responsibilities. with all its flexibility in terms of hours and ‘face time’ on the job, academia doesn’t give you the chance to fall behind. you publish or you perish. no one in appointments committee cares that your baby had a fever when this week you were supposed to get that journal article out. so, half of my brain is on Zi and half is on the downward slide of work getting done. and both halves are tired.

turns out from the tests that Zi has dengue. good thing for grandmothers huh. as much as i rant about their interventions and their excessive worry and their dramas, i am also be grateful that my baby is being looked after, and looked after her well, so that i can work. the flip side of family’s annoying investment in your reproductive choices is their amazing investment in the outcome of your reproductive choices.

her platelet count is high so far, which is good. the front of my mind is fully on her. yet, at the back are also the thousand of other things that need to be held together, including me.

Post 29.

I’ve been feeling really happy these last few days and I’m not sure why. I keep wondering if its being with Zi. I’m kind of in awe that one little being could create such an endorphin rush. it feels like being in love. there is air beneath my feet.

these days she’s smiles all the time with stone and i. and that first smile in the morning is addictive. it’s not just mimicry. i smile at her and she bubbles with pure, unmediated joy. too young still to say hello, not yet saying mama, but saying so much with her eyes and crinkled nose and grin back at me.

unlike many other babies, it took her more than five months to start smiling. she wasn’t a smiley baby. in fact, she has a serious screw-face when she’s ready. one i’m sure she’s going to be using on people when she’s an adult.

though she’s always smiling and laughing at home, when i take her out she gives friendly people the most deadpan look. like she’s still deciding whether to engage them at all. and if she does, its going to be on her terms. i didn’t really know babies could look skeptical. but she’s got this look which tells people that she may or may not want to interact with them, but she definitely doesn’t want to be touched. some babies smile and go off happily with everybody. not my child. she not smiling with you jes so. she not going anywhere with you at all. she doh play. a tiny tough crowd.

it’s not surprising. her dad is pretty anti-social though he’s super friendly to those he knows and loves. i’m friendly too, but i keep those close to me close and most others get a bit more arms length. i tell Zi she doesn’t have to smile with everybody – something my mother, an old school lady who believes in the power of relating to people with a bright smile – completely disagrees with. But, times have changed, and girlhood doesn’t have to be all cutesy anymore. i tell Ziya that her emotions are hers. feel what she wants. show what emotions she wants. and if anyone does anything to her she doesn’t like, i’m going to tell her what mariel brown’s mother told mariel-the-little-girl to shout. not ‘no!’, not ‘stop!’ but ‘ fuck off!’. lol. you have to raise girls for a tough world these days.

still, i get that first smile when she turns her head in the morning. i get her last smile while breastfeeding before bed. i see her smiling in her sleep. i don’t know if it’s these smiles, given only to us who have earned them, that are making me so happy. maybe its age, maybe its the whole combination of husband, baby, house, dogs, friends and job, which i work hard at and get back a lot from in return. maybe its that golden minute before something bad happens. maybe its just this precious, fleeting moment, where the everyday difficulties of life, are outshone by silver lining so luminescent that everything else is in shadow.

i teach in women’s studies that its important to value women, not because of what they do or how they look or how good they are at something, but simply because they are. i feel that way about Zi. i hear a lot from other parents about how early their baby is walking or how they just love brushing their teeth or combing their hair and, of course, how they’ve been sleeping through the whole night since four months old and never give trouble to eat. i try not to get into those kinda conversations that compare Zi to other babies, and what they’ve learned or how good they are or the things they do. who she is right now is her call. i value her just because she is and, as she grows into womanhood, that’s something i want her to know she deserves from others too.

From awards to meetings to movies, she goes everywhere with me, chilling, being herself, being with me. we have real fun and have managed to do it both on her terms and mine. i expect it to be more difficult the older and more active and wriggly she gets, so i’ve been enjoying it right through.

maybe that’s why i’m so happy. maybe its just the euphoria of living in the now, the unmatchable delight of giving and receiving so many smiles, the pleasure of watching life spring forth in front of me, the decision to feel such happiness rather than let fear of loss take away from each moment, each day. i’m appreciating her and me, just because we are. and somehow, inside and out, i’m smiling.

Post 27.

If i had the choice, i would have stayed home for the first year with Zi. Unfortunately, that’s not a state-ensured right – which of course it should be, especially in an oil-rich republic that could afford it. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford.

After my three months of maternity leave, i took two extra months of leave without pay. Then, I had to go back to the sphere of waged work. I think the year for caring is necessary, not only for the baby, but for the mothering woman who may be breastfeeding throughout day and night, who is likely to be exhausted and who probably has to organise – and possibly pay – someone else to take her place when she is not at home.

sometimes, i wish things were different for me. Zi is in great hands with either my mother, my helper or my husband, but I risk missing first steps or words or gestures while i’m busy earning the money to keep everyone paid and to know that i can look after my child almost regardless of what happens. this risk is not so different from what many working women, of all classes, face as mothers.

if i wasn’t working, life would be so much more relaxed, i’d spend more time playing and napping and playing music with Zi, we’d be at the beach every week, i’d exercise, cook more often, go for massages, have the energy to go out in the night and even give some attention to stone. i’d have time to read those baby books on the shelf. i’d definitely do an ‘If I was PM’ video blog, create a picture album for her first birthday or paint some t-shirts; small, enjoyable things that express my creativity. i’d even take my mom out somewhere she wants to go on the weekend, because i’d have the energy to leave the house and be nice. I’d be a mom with time and energy for my family and me, which is so much better for raising a baby.

but, that’s not to be.

it’s tough, really tough to hold together a full-time demanding job and a family, to budget and think about my savings, to drive to work and home in traffic and still take my baby out, to make time for sex and manage time without sleep, to plan and write publications, to see my friends and to make time for myself. those are just the basics, all the extras are not even on the list.

yet, sometimes, i’m also glad that i work. i feel good when my brain is thinking about theorising Indian girlhood or working through the meanings of an ‘Indian modernity’. i feel proud that i’m shaping my first well-funded research project, on women and politics, into something that will have great publications, action-research actually useful to women, and media elements that give something to the public. i feel like a power-house when i teach. not because of any sense of being an ‘authority’ but because i’ve created a course that takes my students on an adventure and its like watching them navigate the rapids of a river, and knowing there are going to be unique twists and turns along the way. and i’m so involved in these and other projects that i am happy not to be home, missing out on being here, at a stage in my career that’s quite cool.

of course, as with other academic women, i risk staying at this stage as it comes just when the phase of family comes in our life cycle. and, really, women with babies should get some time off the tenure track because of an institutional recognition that they can’t act like they are childless or men. there are changes to press for and, as i’ve said, it’s not easy.

i guess i’m reassured to know my brain, which i’ve heavily invested in, is as it should be. work enables me to fulfill parts of me mothering doesn’t involve. it’s also a sphere of my own, unrelated to Zi or Stone or my family. i work because its a necessity, but i am glad for it because it reminds me of my autonomy, enables me to not be overly focused on Zi, keeps me in dialogue with worlds i’m interested in and helps me feel powerful because, through work, i have a wider reach on the world.

so, despite the serious challenges of meeting both mothering and working duties, i’m thankful for the opportunity to keep in touch with the pre-baby workaholic gab. she’s was more driven than i am now and probably would have achieved more, but this gab is figuring out how to get the best of both worlds. and i’m probably going to be a better person because of it.

Post 26.

I had a great day today. Taught my third class in a course i love. today, i tried to convince my students to say ‘Woman the species’ instead of ‘Man the species’ when referring to us human beings. After all, every single one of us is woman-born. Or, alternatively, if they want to stick with ‘Man the species’ and will argue that it refers to women as well as men, then to think about phrases such as ‘Man the species breastfeeds for up to two years’. I like to see them thinking, not necessarily convinced by what i’m saying – which is good, skepticism is good – but also that look they get when you can see them figuring out what they really think. it’s a real privilege to be in the learning business. fun, fun, fun.

i then got home to baby that shakes with excitement when she sees me. like a rattle or like when dogs are so happy that, not just the tail, but the whole body wags and shimmies. makes me laugh. she tries to meet your eyes, crinkles her nose and gives a toothy grin, kicks the legs and bounces the arms around. and, truly, its only shak shak and zouk that also give me such a zestful homecoming welcome. its such a joy to walk through the door, tired as i might be.

she had a big bowl of oats (more oats!) for dinner with not a complaint. feeding a baby who is happy to eat is so fulfilling, but even more is the exchange you can have over a meal. Zi and i laugh – a lot. i sing the alphabet in ways she finds funny. she screams scandalously because she knows it makes me laugh. when each of us laughs, it makes the other laugh more. a good dinner is full of giggles.

then we sat to breastfeed which is something i always look forward to. it’s dark and quiet and snuggly. she looks in my eyes and i get to kiss her fingers. its magic and i will really miss breastfeeding when its done.

on nights like this, despite the lack of sleep and overdue deadlines, waiting emails and unpublished papers, its easy to feel really good. teaching what you love is a joy. mothering the baby you love is a joy. i feel like here is exactly where i am supposed to be.

there’s still a long night ahead of multiple wakings and a long day tomorrow where my aspirations will not match the time i have at work. i’d like to get out a bit more, especially to hike in a forest or by a waterfall, but haven’t yet. now none of my pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, immediate post-pregancy or mid-year post pregnancy clothes quite fit because i’m the smallest i’ve been since my pregnancy but larger than the size i was before. i’d love to spend a day at the movies, but maybe that’s just not for this year. and i’ve got way too many things on the go to really do them well.

what i mean is, there is all the usual ups and downs of life, love, work and family – all of which i’m managing with as much realism as i can. but, otherwise, there is no way else to say it. my life has passion (of the romantic and political kinds), fun (of the academic and with-friends kinds), love (of the family and life’s work kinds) and much more.

i feel lucky and really really really happy!