I'm trying to write a conclusion to my earlier post about being proud of playing tennis to explain why the pride is new for me. The advice, obviously, is nothing new: "live life to the fullest 'cause you never know when you'll die" would be trite if it weren't such good advice and if tragedy didn't regularly remind us that we need to follow it. I suppose part of my typical difficulty comes from the fact that it is easier to write about personal misfortune than personal good fortune. I want to write that the cabin had mice and lots of insects, the chimney flue didn't completely work and that it rained all weekend, all of which is true, but those issues didn't make the company or the champagne any less wonderful. Coming across as boastful about my life really concerns me, but, as I've mentioned before, while boasting of good fortune may be annoying, experiencing good fortune while claiming it is bad is insufferable. My life is not perfect and I never intend to portray it that way, but I hope that I am wise enough to show some gratitude for how very good it is.
While I was in graduate school, my mother annually wrote about the parties I threw in the family Christmas letter. This disturbed me because I worked hard as a graduate student, and I didn't want family friends to think that I partied all the time. The year she listened to me and wrote about my graduate work instead of my parties, the letter ended up devoid of any me-ness. What makes me different is not that I worked hard and had ample set-backs as a graduate student (and as a professor and as a mother), but that I threw fantastic theme parties while in graduate school. While in Colorado last week, I watched my father fight with computer programs until the wee hours as he tried to assemble data to his client's changing specs. He was frustrated, achy and having trouble focusing, yet he dropped his work to take me to multiple specialty grocery stores to make sure we had serrano ham and cabrales blue cheese for his grandson's Colorado debut tapas party. It's the good humored food enthusiast refilling wine glasses that people know, not the workaholic scientist, and I think that's a good thing.
When I spoke with my mother about this, she commented that everyone knows we work hard. I'm not so sure. I still remember the sting of one high school friend telling another, who was truly appalled that I had been selected for a prestigious scholarship, "Yeah, she may act like a blond ditz but she's actually really smart" and then repeating the conversation to me as if it were a compliment. My own (very pro-education) grandfather suggested, upon completion of my doctorate, that it was time I settled down and financially supported myself. At the time I was 34, married, living in a house I had purchased while single, and over ten years into the working world.* Friends here fail to understand that Dianthus does not sleep all the time. Many times when they see him asleep in his stroller, it is because he in inconsolable any other way, and while it is great that the stroller nearly always consoles him, I cannot accomplish anything else while taking him for walks**. I'm as guilty as other friends of thinking that when my father, who often works from home, answers the phone, he is available to talk. Despite my mother's suggestion, people don't know that we work hard.
I'm just beginning to convince myself, however, that it is not the hard work that is worth talking about. My uncle died suddenly nine years ago. I'm sure he was a fine geologist, but I'll always remember him as the guy who sent my father a rock for a Christmas ornament, a man would swing me round long after I was too big too swing, and someone who would take a day of his limited vacation to take his niece and nephew to an amusement park. When he died, a great family friend commented that it further supported my father's philosophy (which stunned me, as I had no idea my father espoused any philosophy enough for others to be able to repeat it). That friend visited my parents in China, somehow convincing my father to sing karaoke (much Jack Daniels was apparently involved), danced at his daughter's wedding and helped pick champagne for my wedding before he died much too young four years after my uncle.
I wrote a really good dissertation. Most semesters I teach too much and most of the time I do it well. Dianthus cries and I deal with it. Yet, if I am remembered, it will be for balls and groundhog parties and wine tastings as a graduate student, taking off on vacation the moment that grades are in as a professor, and taking a two month old to the tennis courts and to a rodent-infested cabin for a champagne-drinking, pizza-eating weekend. And I'm okay with that. No, I'm more than okay. I'm proud of that.
*For accuracy sake, I should clarify that my parents had set aside money for my college education. When I received the prestigious scholarship, I was able to keep the money invested and later use it to buy my house. Thanks Mom and Dad!
**I am well aware that I have an easier than average child; but that still doesn't mean that spending long days with him is easy.
Image is from Dianthus's uncle, who could be known for authoring articles in high impact journals in genetics and geophysics in the same year, but will be better remembered for decorating images of his adorable nephew.