Change I can believe in

Very often, especially in the mornings when I’m sandwiched between two softly snoring children and don’t want to leave just yet, I find myself wondering about what kind of adults they are going to be. I wonder what profession they’ll choose, who they’ll end up with, what kind of parents they’ll be. I find my mind wandering 10 even 15 years down the road and hoping that none of my parenting decisions today will come to bite me in the ass!

However, I don’t do that for myself – it’s strange. I don’t wonder what MY life will be 10 or 15 years down the road. I don’t wonder what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be living, what part of my body is going to break down first – nothing. It’s as if I imagine that my time for change is done – like now, the only change I can anticipate is the kind that results in hot flashes and osteoporosis – and that’s kind of sad. There’s so many things that I still want to do – professionally and personally. I want to learn to play the guitar and I want to travel to Africa and I want to start a neuroprosthetics program at my school and I want to write this book I’ve been tossing about involving time travel and mathematical models and aliens and perhaps a zombie or two. In short – a lot of things that actually don’t have anything to do with my kids at all!

I have a friend who, after 20 years, is going back to school to be a nurse – and that’s amazing to me. I’m so proud of her! When did I become the “status quo” person? The entire first half of my life was all about change, I changed schools and changed cities and even changed countries. So I associated change with a shift in my geographical location and not so much in personality or opinions or ideas. Displacement related change was not the rate-limiting step of my childhood! In graduate school the rate of change slowed down but I still changed projects and changed apartments and got married – huge change! But all that time I spent in one city, in one academic institution – a very novel experience for me.

I think I got used to this academic inertia. For the very first time in my life I actually stayed in one place for longer than 5 years. And 5 years turned into 10 and 10 into 12 until finally, after 14 years of graduate school and post-doc and two kids – another colossal change – I finally bit the bullet and got a “real” job which required us to move. It’s been 7 years since I moved to this job and this city and I love what I do and where I live but I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling kind of antsy! I’m feeling like I need to try new things, seek out new challenges, expand my horizons before I become someone who is comfortable with inertia.

So…..I’m going on sabbatical to Switzerland! And I’m taking my kids with me! Am I scared – umm…only shit-less!! I’m traveling to a country where I don’t speak the language, to stay for three months in an apartment the size of a post-it note, with a 7 and 10 year old – so yeah, I’m a little nervous! But if not now, then when, and if not me, then who, and if not embrace change, then what kind of life do I want to lead.

Also, after teaching for 7 straight years I’m now going to be immersing myself in just pure research – I can’t wait! It’s going to take a while for those muscles to stretch and get limber but what better place to do it than Switzerland – surrounded by cheese and chocolate! In the words of that famous Scottish poet:

I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with all those wee knives.

-Billy Connolly

Last summer I visited the university where I’m going to be working and met all these lovely people so it’s a little less nerve wracking! And after only staying for a week, I am ready to stereotype the Swiss- they are nice!! Like pharmaceutic-ally assisted nice!! Otherwise there’s no way you can maintain this level of niceness. So either they are all on happy drugs or else they are blowing off steam on select days like National Kick-a-Puppy Day, or National Un-Recycle Day, or National Slam The Door And Throw A Tantrum Day!!

Some more quick observations about the Swiss – they start conversations by apologizing for their poor English – in flawless English, and then proceed to speak equally flawlessly for the rest of the conversation! In contrast, I was “danke”ing and “bitte”ing and “auf weidershen”ing in an accent that can be only kindly described as that of a bad James Bond villain!! Also, in addition to designing a pocket knife that can disarm a nuclear device, open a wine bottle, and take care of a hangnail – Swiss fountains by law must have fresh drinking water!! And if the don’t, they must have a sign stating that you cannot drink the water! Frickin ingenious!! I’m going to start calling things like this ingenieSwiss now!

Anyway, when I first discussed my plan to sabbatical abroad with Dave he was less than thrilled, but more because I didn’t have much of a plan other than – “I want to go to Switzerland to do research and take our children with me“!! But we spent a lot of time talking and came up with a plan that we’re both comfortable with…or at least both equally uncomfortable with – ahh, the power of compromise. The kids are going to divide their time between home and Europe, however we’ll be apart for the better part of 3 months – and that’s my anniversary present to him 😉 – you’re welcome honey! Enjoy my absence!

I suggested Dave tell his company that he too wants to take some time off to accompany me but, and I quote, “If my company can do without me for 3 months, they can do without me forever!” So I know that one change I’m not ready for is quitting academia to go into industry – no opportunity for sabbaticals? You must be joking!

For the Weekly Writing Challenge

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13 comments

  1. I’m both jealous and excited for you after reading this. And here’s a slightly different perspective: I’ve got several friends whose parents took them on long trips around the world (most were academics, but some also worked overseas in other capacities). All of those friends ended up going multiple times during youth, and then returning for longer stints of their own once grown. This tells me that: 1) this probably won’t be the only long adventure you’ll get to take to Europe with your kids; 2) their parents were probably more than a little nervous on that first trip – who wouldn’t be?; and 3) you’re giving them a priceless gift – you’re expanding their world for the first time, and hopefully giving them a taste for living even larger further down the line. What an awesome mom! Have fun with your research 🙂

    • Thank you Anna! I appreciate the vote of confidence! I’ve had to keep chanting the mantra “it’s only for 2 months, it’s only for 2 months…” to my kids. But I think they are going to have fun and learn a lot so, yes, I’m excited! I hope it does foster a love of travel and curiosity about the world that carries into adulthood so your insight is fantastic!

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