Friday, September 17, 2010

Pumpkin Bread From a Pumpkin and Why Grad Students Should Have Babies

Yesterday, my wonderful, fabulous department had a colloquium on balancing family and work, and it was great, full of both good policy information and terrific human interest stories. I was so into listening that I forgot that I said I would maybe say something about being a graduate student parent, so when I did stand up and blurt some crap out it was all random.

But what I really meant to say was that I love my life. I love teaching classes in my specialty. I love assistant directing a large public speaking class. I love writing my Planned Parenthood book.

And I love being a young hands-on mom to my fantastic kids.

Having kids in grad school was a great decision for me. Here's why:

1. Healthcare: At my university TAs with families pay $35 a month for healthcare, which includes NO COPAYS ever, free dental and vision, and $5 prescriptions. I had 2 kids for FREE. ANd all of their sick and well-baby visits? FREE. (Now that I am a faculty associate, I pay $65 a month for the same coverage. Still ridiculously awesome).

2. Babysitting: Our wonderful nanny was a former student of mine and though we could never take advantage of them because of Ben's non-grad student salary, the University has low-cost daycare options for students, and the campus women's center provide 4 free hours of babysitting a week to student families.

3. Time: Because grad students make carny wages, I never felt bad about flexing my time to be with my kids as close to full time as I possibly could.

4. Discipline: My babies grew up alongside my dissertation, and I became a very efficient and dedicated writer. I had no time to wait for my muse to strike. Instead, I had a set writing schedule dictated by nap hours, Ben's work schedule, and my babysitter's availability. I learned how to write everyday, as part of a careful routine, and this is invaluable to me now, as I juggle a book into my mix.

5. Partnership: Both Ben and I climbed our corporate ladders while balancing kids and careers. As we entered the jobs we hope to have for a long time, we came to them with good habits already formed, expecting to flex our hours together to spend the most time with Harry and Jack, helping each other out on our late nights and neatly dividing our household tasks. As our professional responsibilities grow, they do so within the boundaries we have carved for them-- we're never in danger of our jobs sucking away our home lives because we've grown with the need to juggle.

6. Potential: I am not on the tenure track, and I don't plan to be in the next 6 years. I plan to keep working the job I love and have more babies. The great thing? Is that I also plan to write books and publish essays and I know that the TT will still be there when my kids rely a little less on my physical presence.

In other words, having babies in grad school-- I had a 1 year old and a 3 year old when I finally got my diploma-- has allowed me to have my cake and eat it too.

And today?

That cake was pumpkin, with chocolate chips. I used this recipe, only instead of canned pumpkin, the boys and I pureed our own. We also added a large bag of chocolate chips (well, most of it. We had to, you know, test them first). And! Bonus! We toasted some pumpkin seeds, too!

Harry and Jack were really excited to use this pumpkin they lovingly picked out at the grocery store on Sunday. Jack couldn't even wait for me to wipe off his cream cheese mustache.

Once I hacked it apart, Harry dove in up to his elbows in pumpkin guts, and Jack hung back a bit.

Harry and I had harvested all the seeds and scraped off all the pulp before Jack reached one finger toward the shell.

After I cooked the pumpkin and sliced off all the meat, there was a minor blender mishap

But really, it didn't take long to go from giant pumpkin to neat little bowl of puree

and colander of seeds.

Also a huge freaking mess.

The bread was supposed to cook in 30 minutes, but it actually took 90. That's okay because it's amazing.

So are the muffins, which I made on the fly when I realized I only had one loaf pan and enough batter for 2 loaves of bread.

The seeds are fab, too.

My helpers lost interest along the way

We had a great day-- the gym, the library, the grocery store, some serious baking. Jack crapped his room (yes, you read that right), and everybody got crabby around 4:45, but that's par for the course around here. Excuse me. I've got to go get some more chocolate chip pumpkin deliciousness.


  1. You would die if you saw my kitchen messes when I'm done cooking. Die.

    I love that you've found a great balance. We loved having kids during college because, seriously, having them later is like a cake walk. Any ninconpoop can have a kid *after* completing undergrad, law school and working full time! You have to have balls to do it during. :)

  2. Sarah, where did you get your pumpkin bread recipe? I really want to do looks so yummy!

  3. It is SO nice to hear that you had a positive experience as a grad student parent. That has not been the case for many people in my program at my university--where there is much second-guessing of how "serious" or "committed" women are as soon as they get pregnant before finishing the dissertation. Certain faculty members are the exception, of course, but our department culture is not particularly supportive of grad students with families. Health care is wonderfully affordable (although not nearly as cushy as yours--we have co-pays and issues with claims being paid in a timely fashion). But affordable child care is unheard of and the one "nursing room" on campus is tucked away in a totally inconvenient location. My program all but openly frowned upon grad students having kids (one director of grad studies actually said as much to a friend of mine) funding was at issue when it coincided with maternity leave (with talk that people should have better timed their pregnancies so that baby would be born at the start of summer or winter break). The idea of having kids in grad school was so stressful to me in terms of time management, finances, and department culture that I couldn't imagine it. But I love hearing how you made it work in a way that lets your career and your kids thrive. You are very lucky, but you obviously worked hard to make it happen.

  4. I LOVE that you call that a "mess" in your kitchen. Love it! Looks like you guys had such a fun time! I'd love the recipe! Did it take all that extra time b/c you used fresh pumpkin?!

  5. Now that I've done it both ways, I definately think that it was easier to have a baby in grad school, for all the reasons you listed. Sure, money was tighter but I had SO much more time. I thought I was busy with the dissertation and clinicals.

    I love the picture of Harry with the book! He looks so put out :)

  6. As a grad student married to a surgical intern, I am definitely hearing you. Luckily, my department is immensely supportive as well - one of precious few perks of working at a Catholic university. That being said, too many of my female colleagues who have had children end up losing steam and not finishing. I don't think it's that they really wanted to end up as SAHMs, more that they found themselves in the role, didn't completely hate it, and decided to go with the flow.

    That flow won't do it for me. I'm so glad to hear of someone who's making it work. Kudos!

  7. Your kitchen looks better than ours does after making breakfast burritos... which is sad.

    And I wish we had better insurance. Instead, it is getting worse... Oh the joys of chances in preparation for the health insurance overhaul...

  8. My university was not nearly as supportive of families, but I'm still glad I had my kids in grad school. The flexibility was unbeatable and Ryan and I were able to split everything 50/50. I REALLY miss that part. Ryan has a "real job" now, and though he is totally hands on when he gets home (he takes over, really), it's not possible for him to rearrange his schedule at all. It made a huge difference when Wes was born. I was so lucky to have a supportive advisor and cheap childcare available (as a result of where we lived, not the university's support) that made it all possible and when we moved away from our cheap, awesome childcare, Ryan had a real job, so it was easier to pay for real childcare then. I do think a lot of women lose steam after having a baby and go on to not finish, but I know an equal number of men who went on an internship never to return to academics. The faculty in my department never questioned my committment to finishing, which I am so grateful for. Them believing in me was probably the main reason I DIDN'T quit, because especially once we moved it was really, really hard to finish. That should be a lesson to PhD supervisors everywhere!