Friday, August 24, 2012

The Mother and the Scholar

Everyone warned me that life would change when I had a baby.  They said it would never be the same.  It's true; I took on a new role and identity.  However, if you look closely, you'll see that I am still the same person, just growing.

Reconciling who I "was" and my role as a mother has been a tough balancing act.  Before I had Eliot, a large part of my identity was wrapped up in my attempts at becoming a scholar, or a professional student, you could say.  I read, wrote, taught, and took a lot of classes.  During my Master's degree program, I probably wrote (and heavily revised) about 500 pages (or more).  About 120 of those pages made up my thesis.  From there, I moved on to my doctorate classes.  I took all of the coursework and some extra classes in a year and a half.  Then I had Eliot.

In January 2011, I had two classes, the comprehensive exam, and the dissertation standing between me and my doctorate.  I was relieved to take one sub-term off of school so that Eliot was two months old when I stepped back into the education game.  It was hard.  I would do school work while nursing or holding him over my shoulder.  I learned to type with one hand.  I made it through with the support of my husband and many sleepless nights.  Sometimes I would get Eliot to sleep at nine and work until he woke up for his first feeding at eleven.  And then do the same thing until he woke again at one.  And so on.  I was used to it, though, from my Master's degree program and have since gotten very lazy because Eliot sleeps through the night--and I do too.
Holding a sleeping baby while grading

As an online English instructor, I have a lot of students returning to college after a sizable break.  These students have "real world" problems that my residential freshmen (when I was a grad assistant) often did not.  Instead, these returning students have full-time jobs, unconventional schedules, children, and other commitments.  Before I had Eliot, I didn't understand what they were going through all the way.  Now, though, I do.  I mean, my struggles with writing my dissertation while arguing with Eliot about why we can't watch "choo choo" on my laptop at the same time are nothing compared to what many of my students overcome, but I get it.  My little glimpse of trying to balance it all is enough to understand.

I don't write as much or what I want to write like I did back then.  I don't read what I want to read as much either.  Currently, I have the Bible and New Stories from the South (the 2010 edition.  HA!) next to my bed.  If I'm lucky, I'll read a short story in the morning before I start working or researching until Eliot wakes up.  However, that part of me, the attempt at becoming a scholar, is still there.

Part of achieving this balance was my decision to go easy on myself.  I plowed through undergrad in three years.  I went straight on to my M.A.  Then I took a lot of classes in a short period of time for my doctorate, never taking a summer off.  If the price of my sanity was taking my time through the dissertation (like, taking a year and half or two opposed to trying to finish it in six months), that was fine.  I didn't need to hurt my head or burn out over unrealistic deadlines that I was pushing on myself.  For the first time in my college career, I needed to give myself a break.  I'll still probably finish this running-in-circles project before I'm 27 anyway.

Then there are times that I feel that I am not fully filling my role as a mother.  Eliot will probably never understand that a literature review must be continually updated with new research.  He won't get why my laptop can't always play cool movies or why I get angry when he exits out of a student's paper.  He will not comprehend that I actually would rather be playing cars with him on the rug than trying to figure out which learning styles instrument best suits my study.  One day, though, I think he'll appreciate that I tried to be the best for him and also the best for my personal dreams, educational aspirations, and career goals.  I hope that inspires him, too, knowing that if his mother was able to balance it somehow, then he certainly can do whatever he hopes to with the support of his parents.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Water in Chesapeake

We've been back in Lynchburg since Monday, but I've felt so busy!  Getting the house filled with food again, our weekly meetings, Eliot's playdate, Chris's dissertation meetings...  Today when Eliot napped, I fell asleep right next to him for about thirty minutes.

We had a good visit in Chesapeake with a beach trip, seeing my grandma, a family dinner, and a visit to the aquarium.  It is hard to believe that September is a little over a week away, so I'm trying to savor all of these nice days. 

I was so happy to get to see my grandma in a good place.  It is hard to really get her to understand things.  It has been that way for a while.  I'm pretty sure she never understood what I was doing in college or that I have a job or most details of my life.  Then she'd start talking bad about people (always saying they should work more) when she simply didn't understand the big picture.

So, it is kind of the same, but worse in that she gets stuck on something and can't get away from it.  However, it is better too because she is so care-free that she doesn't seem bothered by anything.  We had a conversation like this:

Memaw:  Do you have a dog.
Me:  Yes, we have two little dogs.
Memaw:  Do you still have that big, white dog?
Me:  No, I think you mean Chelse's dog, Arlington.
Memaw:  Are you looking after Chelse's dog for her?
Me:  No, her dog is at her house.

If she wants to think that I have a big, white dog, that is fine with me.  I just want her to feel safe and happy.  And she does!

During our trip, we tried to get in the water as much as possible.  Beach time with Kimmy.  Pool time with the cousins, Kimmy, and Josh.  And then the day we left, the pool was so cold!  I think it might be nearing the end of water for me.  Kimmy and I also brushed up on our drawing skills and drew all of the inner scouts on my parents' driveway.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was taking Eliot to the aquarium.  It was rainy and nasty out, so all of the tourists were gathering at the aquarium to look at fish.  Chris and I had been planning to buy a membership (it is just the price of two admissions), so we got to cut everyone in line after a nice man shared his umbrella with me.  Last time we went, Eliot was nine months old and indifferent.  A year later, he was so excited to see the fish, turtles, seals, and sharks!  Very enthusiastic about rays, Eliot would have dived right into the tank if I let him.
I can't wait to go back when it isn't as crowded and just sit and watch the fish.

Chris has been training hard for the half marathon coming up, so I went with him to the park to ride my bike as he ran.  We went for nine miles!  Usually I bring Eliot, but he can't handle that long of a bike ride (we stick to four miles), so my mom watched him at her house.  I felt so tired and sore, yet I am not allowed to complain since Chris ran forever.

So, we're back in town just to leave again in a week for Chris's race.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Every year as summer ends, I begin to panic.  I am full of dread.  As everyone starts talking about school beginning again, I don't want to go back to high school.  Not at all. 

I have back-to-school dreams, but not college dreams.  High school dreams.  In these dreams, I always get confused about my schedule, forget my homework, get in fights with teachers, and can't find a seat in the lunch room.  I didn't enjoy high school.  Commercials for back-to-school sales would start in July and I felt like my summer joy was being robbed.  As I walked into school on the first day in the fall, I'd have lofty ideas and plans for doing well in the classes I wasn't good at and thus hated (math and science. bleh), but it didn't quite work out how I planned.  When I graduated from high school, I was ready to get out, start over in college, and take classes in subjects that interested me:  literature.

Then I realize that I don't have to go back to high school for another year or start some job that I don't want to.  I am in college as I work on this dissertation and I have been working all summer at the job I will continue to have in the fall--nothing is changing.  There are actually few things in life that I truly dread.  Confusing customer service phone calls.  Weeding.  Going to the grocery store.  Long drives on 460 when the baby isn't amused.  Not having time to clean.  These things are nothing to complain about.  Not at all. 

As the weather grows a little cooler, I am thankful that I am making progress with my dissertation.  I am thankful that I love my job.  I am thankful to be working with students and faculty members--did I mention that I have been working at the university for five years now?  I am thankful that I have pretty much nothing to dread.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Things Slowly Coming Together

Maybe it is because it is growing closer to fall, but I think our difficult summer might be ending.  I hope so.  Yesterday, I found out some great news that has eased me out of many of my worries.  I learn over and over again not to take life for granted.

In attempts to enjoy the remains of summer, we headed to the lake with Elizabeth, Stephanie, and baby Azriel yesterday.  It may be Shark Week on tv, but not in our waters!

We stayed up late talking with Elizabeth and then Eliot had a little trouble sleeping, so our Wednesday routine was thrown off.  In fact, started acting sleepy around 10:30 am and passed out at 11:30 am, meaning we missed our weekly playgroup, but I'd rather him rest than be a terror elsewhere.

I'm slowly getting Eliot's fall wardrobe together, which makes me so stoked about the seasons changing.  It's kind of ridiculous how excited I get to dress my boy--I love getting him clothes more than myself.  I picked up two button-downs and a thermal from Children's Place on sale.  I also got his fall jacket off of ebay.  Actually, I had seen the same jacket from Gap online last year, but it was too expensive.  Now I get to see him wear last season's jacket for nearly half the price.  All I have left is maybe another thermal or two (to go under his short-sleeved button-downs from summer), a couple pairs of pants, a hoodie, maybe a couple of sweaters, and eventually a peacoat.

Tomorrow, we're heading down to Chesapeake again for Chris to hopefully catch some waves--maybe the last waves of the summer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dear Eliot: 19 Months

Dear Eliot,

I don't really remember what life was like without you around.  What in the world did your dad and I do with all of that extra time?  Well, we were busy taking a lot of classes and working two jobs, but, man, things must have been different back then.  I'm so glad to have you with us.

Every morning, we get out of bed and go in the bathroom.  You say, "Teeth!  Teeth!"  You are excited to brush your teeth!  So, I set you on the counter and you say, "Mmm!  Mmm!"  You are excited to eat toothpaste!  I get your brush ready for you and you suck alll of the toothpaste off.  OK.  Round two.  I put more on and convince you to actually brush.  I help some, but you do a lot of it yourself.  You are working hard on getting all of your teeth in.  Right now, you are teething and all four canines are coming at once.  You're doing a good job (just slightly fussy and not wanting to eat much) and at least one on the bottom has broken through.  As always, your teething schedule is a little late, but that really isn't a big deal and we know what to expect.

You have become such a comedian.  You love to make other people laugh.  If your dad is laughing at something on tv, you laugh too--and I like to think that you really get the joke.  Sometimes you'll notice us laugh at something you do and you'll keep doing it over and over to keep the laughter coming.  Last night, you were spinning in circles and saying, "Dub-dub" over and over (we're not sure what "dub-dub" means yet, but you say it a lot when you are full of yourself).  Then you fell into the tv stand.  Oops.  One time in a restaurant, you were looking at a couple next to us.  This always worries me because one time when you were about five months old, a couple got very offended when you were looking at them (and you were just looking).  Anyway, this couple thought you were cute and they waved.  Then you did this thing....  You scrunched your eyes closed and started swaying; the lady called you Elvis.  We were puzzled and laughed so hard.  And you got it.  And kept doing it over and over.  I literally cried from laughing so hard.  We couldn't get you to stop!

Can I say that you seem like such a baby genius to me?  You've been unlocking and playing with our phones for a while.  This month, though, you completely mastered the ipad.  You even know which apps to go into and how to work all of your games.  We can set you up with the ipad and leave you alone for what seems like forever and just monitor you to make sure you don't send any e-mails.

By far, your favorite movie is Cars.  You still love Yo Gabba Gabba (which you call Gabba) and get excited when I saw we are going to watch it, but every day, you come to me with the tv remote and ask, "Car?  Car?"  Some kids carry security blankets or their favorite stuffed animal all around.  You carry toy cars.

This past month, you threw your first tantrum in public.  We were grocery shopping when you of the cart.  Big mistake.  I let you down and you found a ball (a tomato).  Well, we weren't about the start throwing a tomato in the grocery store, so you threw a fit.  I had to sack-of-potatoes carry you to the car while your dad paid and you screamedddd.  And everyone stared.  I just kept going.  When we got in the parking lot, a lady joked that you were going to become a singer, which made me so happy.  At least someone didn't think I was a crazy lady without any control over her kid.  Yeah, I have control.  If I carry you under my arm, you can't get away.  That's about the extent of my control over you.  We're working on discipline and learning to follow the rules, but that's the thing:  you are learning.  You are learning what it means to listen.  You are learning to communicate properly (not crazily) when you want something.  And you are learning that you can't always get your way.  At least, I hope that you are learning those things because that display was crazy and I hope that it never happens again--but I know it will. 

I have always loved sharing everything with you, but you are at the age where you are really taking everything in.  We hit the beach hard this summer, and I think you really enjoyed it.  Gone are the days when you were afraid of the waves.  Instead, with our help, you swim right into them and get upset when it is time to go on shore.  However, you love digging for sandfiddlers and throwing sand.  You have gotten a really nice tan--way better than mine--and look like such a beach baby with your thick, blonde hair.  Your dad recently bought a longboard and a big part of why I encouraged him to get it was for you.  In a couple of years, I bet you'll be riding it with him.  Then when you grow older, you'll take that longboard out yourself.

Back home in Lynchburg, I love exploring with you in the woods.  On a walk, we came upon a turtle.  You stared and pointed, trying so hard to say "turtle".  You are so observant, always taking the world in.  We love exploring together.

I am really amazed by how well you are growing socially.  This is something that I worried about a lot because I didn't really have many "mom friends" for a while.  However, going to our weekly mom's group with a handful of younger babies and then socializing with friends' older kids, your older cousins, and new friends at parks has helped you engage with other little people.  When you are around babies, often try to hug them, give them toys, feed them, and call them "bah-buh" (baby).  Then with older kids, you know you can keep up.  You follow them around and mimic them.  You climb all the same equipment (stuff that is really probably too big for you).  Once, a big boy tackled you (probably on accident), and you got right up like it was nothing and kept running with the group while the boy cried for his mom.  You are tough!

You change so much so fast that it doesn't even make sense.  One day, you are terrified of something.  The next day, you embrace it.  We took you to a petting zoo, and I was so excited for you to name all of the animals and touch them.  You weren't having it.  You were scared and I couldn't get you to warm up to them.  Less than a week later, we went to the Safari Park in Natural Bridge.  These animals are bigger, scarier, and demanding food.  You loved it!  Not only were you so excited to feed the buffalo, but at the petting zoo, you were practically taming lions (or baby goats).  Exaggerations aside, you literally ran up to a giant python because you apparently love snakes.  And that is crazy.

You keep on growing and growing.  At your 18-month appointment, you weighed a little over 22 pounds (skinny!) and were 34.5 inches (90th percentile!).  That is an inch and a half away from three feet....  People used to joke that you were half my size.  Now you are more than half of my height.

Eliot, we think the world of you.  You keep growing more and more fun.  You're sweet, handsome, kind, and so funny.  I love every day with you and can't wait to see what next adventure we'll have together.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Hard Summer, Toddler Portraits, and an 80th Birthday

It has been a trying summer with lots of up and downs for my family.  I keep thinking that if we can just make it out of the season and into fall, we'll be OK; however, things keep coming up.  In the process, other troubling events smooth out, which I am thankful for.  We've all endured a lot of emotion, loss, pain, and some redemption this summer, so no matter how stressed or on edge I feel, I keep in mind that I'm not in this alone.  Instead, the rest of my family is having the same experiences; at different points, we each have been closer to the issue at hand, so we all just need to learn to support and lean on each other.

When I was in high school, my heart would go into a panic whenever the house phone rang.  Our family endured a lot of death in a short period of time, and I was always expecting the worst.  And it kept coming and always on holidays.  I feel like we've gotten wrapped up in a similar pattern that I hope stops soon.

I haven't written about everything that has happened.  While I am generally reasonably transparent on here, not all of the "events" are mine in full to disclose.  I recently learned more troubling news that has gotten me down.  However, I will say that my grandmother was successfully moved to a great assisted living community, one that she surprisingly seems to really love even though she before had out-right refused to even consider one.  Through some medication adjustments, the doctors were able to help her reach some form of stability amidst her delusions (thinking that people were trying to kill her, she had been in a desert for five years, she just got out of jail, she was the Queen of England, and so on).  At one point, we all worried that she was going to end up institutionalized for the rest of her life, but she was stable and grounded in reality (and not violent) enough to make the move.  Plus, her boyfriend is at the same assisted living place.  And he has made a great recovery with brain cancer!  See, I told you a lot has been going on with our family since the beginning of the summer!

I'm not saying the summer has been all bad.  We've had a lot of good times as a result of the hard, like our vacation to Myrtle Beach, lots of family time with both sides, and visiting friends.

This week, we spent a lot of time with the other side of the family--Christopher's.  His mom has been in town helping his sister get settled into her new apartment.  His mom had fun playing with Eliot at the park and also watched Eliot so Chris and I could see the new Batman movie.  Maybe I'll write about that later.
Eliot is really blessed to have two sets of grandparents that think the world of him.

Today, I took Eliot's 18-month portraits.  A little late, but two days before he turns 19 months, so still in time!  It is hard to catch shots of Eliot smiling.  He just doesn't smile for the camera; instead, he does this model face thing.  We tried something a little different today, though.  We let Eliot look at the iPad.  Instant smiles.

Just because I am always measuring time in photos, I looked back at Eliot's one year portraits.  Man, I didn't even notice how much he was changing.  Six months makes such a difference and goes so fast!

Can you believe that difference?  Good thing the kid finally grew some hair.

And for extra fun, here he is a year ago at six months.

For dinner, the whole Robinson family (us, his parents and sister, his aunt and uncle, and his cousins) headed over to Chris's grandma's assisted living place for her 80th birthday.  We got to eat out on their patio, so Eliot had plenty of room to run and play.  I got an instagram shot of all of the grandkids (and great-grandkid) with Glenna.  Although her Alzheimer's is progressing, I think she is doing great physically--I mean, the lady broke her hip and had it replaced just six weeks ago or so (did I mention this summer has been crazy?).  Chris's dad has been very dedicated to helping the best he can.  He has been coming to Lynchburg almost every weekend since then, taking her to doctor's appointments, and just sitting with her.  We hope to get some more answers about what we can do to further help her mind soon.

Things aren't always easy.  You take the bad with the good and try your best to make the bad better.  One thing is for sure:  we aren't alone in any of this and have family on all sides loving and caring for each other.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Our Many Beach Visits and Christopher's New Board

I kind of hate sand (most of the time).  And I hate getting sunburnt.  And our beach umbrellas often blow away.

However, I love watching Eliot play along the shore, swim RIGHT into the water, and open his mouth for salt water.

And I love seeing Chris get so excited to feel the salt on his skin and dive into the waves.

This weekend, we spent a few days in Chesapeake.  We met Kimmy, Lara, and Kimmy's brother at Sandbridge for some beach time.  Lara followed Eliot up and down the shore as he chased a seagull.  Then we took him in the water as Chris let my surfboard finally find the ocean again.  Eliot wasn't scared at all this time.  We swam way out with him and Lara (who is much taller than me) would hold him up over the waves.  With me, he got a few facefulls of waves, but he didn't mind.

The next day, Kimmy, Chris, Eliot, and I met Lesley, Aspen, Melissa, Bart, Ryan, Ben, and alllll the kids at the oceanfront.  What a big group!  We all had fun splashing in the water, giving one another's kids food, and wrangling up the little ones from time to time when they'd make a mad dash for the water or run down the beach alone.  The water felt amazing--and I learned the next day that it was 80 degrees!

On our last full day in Chesapeake, we kind of splurged.  I got my surfboard from a used shop for my 14th birthday.  It was great for a first board for a teenaged girl, but it doesn't work well for Chris and the small waves of Virginia Beach.  He has been telling me since we met that he wanted a longboard--and a wooden one would be the stuff of dreams.  Since he made such an effort on my little board and I could tell that he really, really wanted to surf, I looked on Craig's List.  Surely, some people would be selling their boards at the end of the season.  I found a couple, but we decided to check out the used shop first.  Of course, there were no used longboards to be found, but then I saw the most beautiful board I have seen in my life--and it was just $50 more than the board off of Craig's List.  I told Chris to get it.  He is always hesitant to spend money (which is a good thing), but we had the cash.  He said it'd be his birthday and Christmas presents, so he snagged it.  Plus, to me, it's like you get one surfboard and you take care of it.  This is the one he will hopefully have for a long, long time and will let Eliot use when he grows older.  Not to mention that the thing is so long (nine feet) that he and Eliot can ride it together in a couple of years.

We weren't planning to go back to the beach that day since we had work to do, but how could we not?  We loaded Eliot up yet again and Chris took to the waves.  He did great and got up twice despite the waves being choppy and small.  Plus, we didn't stay but an hour or so.  I'm very proud of Chris's efforts and I know he will love that board for many, many years.  Maybe I'll get a new board some day....  It'll probably be a while because it will be many years down the road before we can surf together.  Someday, just maybe someday, perhaps we'll both be surfing on longboards, each with a little Robinson holding on tight up front.

 Chris might try to get in one last beach trip early tomorrow morning before we head back to the mountains.  We have had much more beach time this year than any other year before.  Yet, somehow, it never feels like enough.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Turtles and Countless Grains of Sand

I always think Eliot just has a runny nose because he is teething--and then I catch whatever it is and feel really bad that I downplayed his discomfort.  However, I do think his canines are coming in at the same time, making it even worse on him.

We've had some fun over the past few days and then the little guy got sick.  So, we've been trying not to push him too much.

We went for a walk at Blackwater Creek where we found a turtle!  I love watching the look of amazement on Eliot's face when we come across something new.  When we made it to the water eventually, Eliot got lucky again and train came by.
Watching that train
I let go of some of my tidy tendencies and allowed Eliot to get really, really dirty playing in the water and sand.  Ah.