Thursday, September 15, 2016

Musings and Identity

The title of this blog (Tales of a Scientist Mom, for my LJ friends where this gets crossposted to) ended up being more prophetic than I could have imagined. Even when I started it, unemployed, a mom, living in Michigan and unsure if I would find anything relevant to my career interests, I knew what to call myself.

Scientist Mom.

Not Mom Scientist, and I do believe the order is relevant here. A scientist first, mom second. Everything I teach my children I do with science in mind. Even with toys and clothes I prefer there to be a STEM flair of some kind, like a recent splurge on a toy laboratory set for Kaylee, who played with great gusto as soon as it arrived. Watching her imagine, with the beakers and eye droppers and test tubes, playing a scientist, mixing her 'chemicals' of different colored water, made me so proud.

When I read 'Rosie Revere Engineer' I cry every time Great Great Aunt Rose tells Rosie that trying and failing is when you learn the most as an engineer. That while Rosie's invention didn't succeed fully, it did almost and she just needed to keep trying. Target's latest line of kids clothing, Cat and Jack, begs for a direct infusion of money from my bank account with their awesome selection of shirts for boys but especially for girls. Shirts for girls that bear the words "Future President", pictures of dinosaurs in non-primary colors, "Yay Science" and GeNiUs spelled out with the periodic table of elements attract me like a fly to honey. They are things I want my girls to know, to wear proudly. They can be anything they set their minds toward.

I brought these things into their lives because I desperately wanted them to know that being smart and successful is something to strive for. I want to instill confidence before their peers might try and tear it down. Before teachers who aren't so up to date with their teaching methods ask why they're even bothering to try in the special math and science programs (happened to me). I want to prepare them to face the things I faced, to build them a mountain of success so when people try and take stabs at the base they don't crumble from a loss of foundation.

Leading up to my first day back to work I hemmed and hawed. Was I doing the right thing? Kaylee had gotten the benefit of a whole year of me being home before I worked again. Hazel was only getting 4 months. I knew Kaylee would be fine, but Hazel? She was still a baby. Would she eat? Would I miss out on those special moments? But I really wanted this job.  I told my fears to Eric and bless him he understood. He hugged me and told me it would be okay. And that there wasn't a right answer or any platitude that could ease my anxiety.

But I went anyway.  The allure of the laboratory was too strong.

Hazel did fine. She didn't eat, which I expected, but I kept pumping for her anyway. And I watched and learned new methodology, new types of microbiological testing. Then, unlike my last job, I was trusted to go it alone and work independently. What a difference. And with the constant work they have, I often leave knowing that there's more for me to do the next day. There's no time to sit and be bored or distracted.  If I have ADD, it does not affect me negatively in such an environment. When I'm at work I'm focused and I don't feel as though I need to be medicated. Or worry that the only way I'll succeed is if I achieve a diagnosis and prescription or therapy.

As I sat in the lab this week, slowly, methodically, innoculating black agar plates with samples of water that may have Legionella, I realized I was happy. As I looked at my nitrile gloved hands I realized that I loved that I could go home and tell Kaylee that I was a scientist and really mean it and say it with truth in my voice, rather than doubt of a stay at home mom who has once worked in a lab.

It was an empowering feeling.  I AM a scientist. Full stop. No qualifications needed on the statement. It feels good to say.

I'm a scientist.

I'm a microbiologist.

I'm also a mom.

I needed to have this facet of my identity restored.

And I'm working just enough, I think. I'm away for about six hours a day. A full third of that is commute. I don't have to get up early, we can wake up at our natural rhythm (around 7:30am) and snuggle in bed without feeling rushed. We get ready for school (if it's a school day).  I drop Kaylee off and can check in with her teacher.

My commute is my chill time. I listen to public radio and catch up on current events, or drive in silence, which sometimes soothes my introvert soul. Then at work I throw myself into my tasks. Maybe it's sampling the clean room, or taking all of the Legionella tests for the day and churning them out. Lunch with my coworkers, who are lovely and friendly. Pumping by myself, a short introvert recharge while I daydream about my baby snuggles from the morning and the gummy smiles Hazel greets me with when I come to pick her up. Then its finishing up lab work and writing reports if I need to and cleaning up my space. Then home, another quiet moment in the car while I listen to Terri Gross and Fresh Air on NPR until I reach the dead zone where neither coverage from the two different stations are good enough for continuous listening.

And then I'm picking up my girls and I can be on point and focused. I'm not yelling or frustrated or burnt out from too much extrovert 4 year old and a needy baby. I can breathe and give them the attention they deserve from me.

I'm a better mom. I feel it in my core. And that makes this all worthwhile.

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