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Babies or No Babies – That is the Question!

Tonight, I am reflecting on babies. Having babies. Not having babies. The right number of babies. The right mix of boy babies to girl babies. In America, we are absolutely fixated on all things baby. If a married couple doesn’t have any babies we ask them why. Or we simply ask them, when will they have babies? If someone has too many babies we put them on TV and make them superstars, regardless of their personal character, because hell, they had a bunch of babies. If we have two babies that are the same sex, people ask us when we will try for a baby of the other sex, because clearly we cannot be happy until we have at least one of each. If we are a “one and done” couple, people ask us when we will try for our second baby, as if having one baby is not an acceptable scenario. As soon as you share with people the most intimate of information, that you are pregnant, people want to know all the deets: Have you picked out names? Will you find out the sex? When are you due? Are you having a home birth or a hospital birth? Are you using a doula? (By the way…bad idea). Who’s your doctor? What is your birth plan? Will your husband cut the cord? Who else will be in the room with you? AAAAAAHHHHHH??? Why not just ask me if you can stick your head up inside my girlie parts and monitor the changes in my cervix for the next nine months?

Having a baby, or not having a baby, is such a deeply personal decision, and the fact that we, as a culture, seem to view having babies as the natural and expected step to take soon after marrying is passé, cliché, and cray cray! In this modern world of powerful women, strong women, working women, it is no wonder that women are choosing to wait and have babies well into their thirties, or not have babies at all, for all sorts of reasons. By the way, all of these reasons are valid whether anyone else thinks so or not! Education, career, travel, or simply wanting to be single, or a married couple without kids, are all absolutely valid and important reasons to forego having babies.

I have two dear female friends, who both made the conscious decision to never have children. Both married wonderful guys. Both are educated women with good careers. Both were in a great position to have babies, with stable incomes, job security, and good marriages. Both went through years of people asking them when they would have children, and undoubtedly both dealt with the varied reactions from people when revealing the ever so shocking truth that indeed they were not planning on having children. I have to admit, there was a part of me that wondered why they were not drawn to the allure of having babies. Like everyone else, I wanted to ask them why they were making this decision. But also, as their friend, I understood that it was completely their choice and perhaps it was the best choice for them. Then I had two babies and I started to completely understand the reluctance to jump into the world of parenthood. Being a parent is hard work and not to be entered into lightly. There, I said it. It’s true, and it doesn’t mean I don’t love being a mother. It just means we shouldn’t assume every woman wants to do this with her life.

Here’s the twist: Both couples did have babies after about a decade of marriage. One couple was in their mid thirties, the other both forty. I don’t know all the details of why they changed their minds. They have hinted at things such as worry of regret if they never had a child, feeling as if this was their last chance, getting over the fear of having a baby, and having an unexpected desire to have a baby appear as if dropped by a stork into their lives. One of the couples just had their first baby last week. They sent us a picture of their brand new, blissful little family in the hospital the day after he was born, baby resting happily on his mama’s chest while dad leans in and snaps their first family selfie. It was adorable and peaceful, and for a moment I remembered the joy of feeling that new little person sleeping peacefully on my chest. I had a visceral reaction to the memory of my son in my arms the night he was born, his little fuzzy head tucked up under my chin. For one fleeting moment I considered what it would be like to have another baby, maybe a girl this time (we have two boys, I mean, come on, we HAVE to try for a girl, right?). Then I came back to reality, to the memories of sleepless nights, endless ear infections, poop, puke, teething, crying, snotty noses, story time at the library, the first day of day care, more puke, more ear infections, potty training, tantrums, changing pissed on sheets at 3 am, endless pediatrician appointments, poop in the pants, poop running down the leg, poop everywhere but in the potty…and…fuck that. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, we are happy with our two perfect sons. We don’t need a girl. We aren’t having another. And anyone who decides not to have a child, we totally get it. Believe me…we do.

We love our boys more than words can say. I enjoyed them as babies, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But that was my path. It may not be someone else’s. Make babies, don’t make babies…it’s up to you. Just know that if you DO make babies, it’s your job to care for those babies no matter what. They aren’t cute accessories – they are loud, messy bags of bodily fluids with real needs, physical and emotional. They are a huge joy, yes, but they are also a huge responsibility. They are game changers.

The little game changers at 3 1/2 and 14 months.

The little game changers at 3 1/2 and 14 months.  The small one still wasn’t sleeping through the night. It sucked.  Good thing he was so damn cute.

So no matter how cute a little baby girl in a dress and a bow on her head might seem in my wildest dreams, this is one mama who is all babied out. Two boys it is! And I am totally ok with that.

 

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A Home at the End of My Comfort Zone

It is often said that home is where the heart is. That usually means wherever your family is, or your lover, your spouse, your children – that is your warm cocoon of comfort. We have all heard it said in a romantic movie, “It doesn’t matter where I am as long as I am with you.” It is a beautiful idea, that the people you surround yourself with are what make a place your home. But what if you still feel like a fish out of water in the city that contains them? What if being home, the place that should be the most comfortable place of all, is actually outside of your comfort zone?

I grew up in Rochester, NY. It is green. It has four distinct seasons. There are plenty of rolling, glacial hills and babbling brooks. The Christmases of my youth consisted of cutting down our own Christmas tree in a snowy field, cheeks rosy from the cold, hot chocolate by a crackling fire, and waking up to a gleaming white landscape of snow on Christmas morning before sliding across the floor in footed pajamas to the stockings hung by the chimney with care.   It was caroling through a snowy neighborhood, bundled up, watching the moonlight and the Christmas lights glint off the icicles hanging from neighbors’ gutters. It was the Hallmark version of Christmas we see in holiday themed movies, and quite frankly it was exactly how the holidays are supposed to be as far as this NY native is concerned.

My Christmas photo from 1978, I think.  Now THAT is what Christmas looks like.

My Christmas photo from 1978, I think. Now THAT is what Christmas looks like.

As we rapidly approach the holidays, department stores already decorated in green and red and gold, commercials showing images of snowy streets lined with anxious shoppers rushing for last minute gifts, I cannot help but compare the Christmases of my youth with those of my sons’ youth, happening in our pink and tan desert home. Here, there is no snow. There are no pine trees wrapped in sweaters of snow, pointed snowcaps on their tops. It isn’t even cold. The days are sunny, warm, and dry. Christmas lights get strung on stately Saguaro cacti, some of which wear Santa caps courtesy of particularly festive residents. Lights spiral up the long, skinny trunks of palm trees, carrying their holiday glow high above the rooftops. For this upstate New York girl, the only way I can describe this holiday scene is, well… ridiculous. This is not the way Christmas is supposed to be! Where’s the cold? The snow? The crackling fires and cups of hot cocoa? Why am I sweating in my jeans and short-sleeved shirt in mid-November? Why am I still wearing flip-flops? It just ain’t right.

January 1978, outside my grandparents' house with my dad.  Winter in Rochester.  Oh yeah.

January 1978, outside my grandparents’ house with my dad. Winter in Rochester. Oh yeah.

Even without the holiday hum-drum, I often reflect on how much I have had to adapt to living life in this southwestern desert, a place so unlike my original home. If I had been told twenty years ago that I would someday be living in a place where snakes slithered across my back patio, tarantulas climbed up my exterior walls, bobcats and coyotes roamed my yard, and scorpions found their way into my home I think I would have passed out cold. I would have said there is no way in hell I could survive in a place like that. I was not a lover of insects, arthropods, reptiles, or large, predatory mammals. I don’t think I ever saw a snake in the flesh until I was a senior in college, struggling through geology field camp in the wilds of Montana. The wildest animal I ever encountered in my Rochester childhood was a field mouse that found its way into our screened in back porch, and I screamed bloody murder and climbed up onto a chair like a cartoon character. But here, in the desert, I am surrounded by critters I never would have dreamed would be part of my daily life. Poisonous arachnids, arthropods, insects, and reptiles. Predatory felines. Howling canines. For some, this is all part of life, part of being a true desert dweller, someone who has the desert in their bones, in their heart, in their soul. For them I imagine that Christmastime outdoor picnics and wearing sandals year-round is absolutely the way it is supposed to be. For me, it is just nuts.

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THIS is what winter is supposed to look like, folks. No flip flops allowed.

My soul is constantly being called back to the rolling green hummocky topography of that four-seasoned home that seeped into my bones and took hold forty years ago, especially in November, after more than six months of heat and no snowy white Christmas in sight. The desert still feels foreign to me, even though I have lived in Tucson, Arizona for thirteen years. I think that qualifies me as a Tucsonan (even New Yorkers will concede that you are a New Yorker if you have lived there for a decade). As a Tucsonan, I have grown accustomed to snakes on my patio, scorpions behind my toilet, javelinas in my driveway, and coyotes waking me at night with their howling and yelping. Instead of scared retreat at the site of a snake I take its picture and marvel at its beauty. I follow my curious desert-souled sons when they call me outside to show me a tarantula they have found, or a long line of huge red ants carrying dead flower petals to their underground holes. We crouch in the sand and examine these critters that I never pictured as part of my everyday life. I have found a way to adapt, survive, and thrive in this place, a place so unlike the one that was the backdrop of my formative years. And somehow I have found things to love about this peculiar place. The purple-pink sunsets, the bare-rocky mountains, and wildlife of all shapes and sizes, including a morning hello from a long, slithery snake.

King snake on our back patio.  Good morning!

King snake on our back patio. Good morning Tucson!

It is amazing what we can do when home has to be where love, family, and life take us. Even when they take us far from where we began.  Far from the home that lives in our memories and our souls. My soul might always long for the landscape of my youth, but I wouldn’t choose that over the home I have built with my family here in this most unusual of places.

So yeah, home is where the heart is. It might be strange. It might be beyond your comfort zone. And it might just be exactly where you are supposed to be, for now. Maybe even forever.

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Phashionable PhDs

Today a student in my class came to my office to turn in a homework assignment. Out of the blue she said to me, “This has nothing to do with the class, but can I just say I really like the way you dress!” It got me thinking about all of the attention being paid lately to how appearance affects being a female academic. First, it was the sexy PhD Halloween costume and associated comments by actual women PhDs. Have you seen this costume? I am a woman with a PhD and I can say with complete confidence, women with PhDs, even sexy ones, wouldn’t wear that. And why does the costume look like a bad high school graduation robe? When you get a PhD you are regaled with a hood – where’s the hood?

Next came the piece on theguardian.com by Francesca Stavrakopoulou entitled Female Academics: Don’t power dress, forget heels – and no flowing hair allowed. In the piece Francesca, who is a female academic, discusses how female academics get more attention paid to their appearance than male academics, and that dressing too feminine can be thought to detract from the likelihood that people will take you seriously. My question is this: why do we take male academics who don’t brush their hair, have questionable hygiene habits, and wear mismatched clothing from 1989 seriously but have trouble taking a woman in a fashionable dress and heels seriously? Francesca says another female academic once told her that she shouldn’t wear her hair down, but should tie it back so people could concentrate better on what she was saying. As if by wearing your hair down, as a woman, you are inviting people to ignore your scientific contribution, check out of the conversation, and instead blankly stare at your silky mane admiringly. How lame does this woman think academics are that they would be distracted from science by a woman’s hair? The same guys who cannot be bothered to find a pair of socks that match, or buy a new and stylish jacket once in a while, or clean the egg yolk off their ties, are somehow completely incapacitated intellectually by a lady’s long locks? Wow. That is some bullshit right there. Francesca, you keep right on being your beautiful self.  Those who care about your work will pay attention, regardless of the length of your hair or the height of your heels.

I, for one, believe everyone should be able to dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable, confident, and attractive, and that depends on the individual’s idea of what is comfortable and what looks good on them. We don’t all agree on what looks best, which is why it is so wonderful that in this country we are free to choose what we want to wear and shop for our own clothes. But the idea that there is a right or a wrong way to dress as a female academic, with no such boundary conditions for men, is ludicrous. (I do think there are inappropriate clothing choices for the workplace that everyone should avoid, such as ultra miniskirts, tube tops, and sheer blouses without proper undergarments – apparently Kim Kardashian didn’t get the memo…oh wait…she doesn’t have a job).

My point is that, just like my uterus, my birth control method, and whether or not I want to get married and have kids, what I wear is MY choice, and personally I dress in a way that reflects my individual style. I wear what I like to wear. I like to look put together. I enjoy following fashion trends and trying the latest styles. I like getting my hair did and having a pretty mani/pedi once in a while. This doesn’t make me less of a scientist, or a professional. It is just part of who I am. A part that I suppressed for a long time because I thought geologists didn’t dress girly.

Last week I found an adorable navy blue, scallop edged romper at TJMaxx for twenty bucks. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. It was comfortable and cute, and could be dressed up for work or down for weekend. I loved it, and snapped it up, imagining which shoes I would pair it with for work the following week. The day I decided to wear it, I put it on with a fitted black blazer, sapphire studs, and leopard print pumps. It was a great little outfit and I felt pretty amazing in it. As I was walking out of my closet I stopped in front of my full-length mirror one more time and actually had a moment when I thought, “Should I be wearing this to work? Is it too girly? Is it too casual?” I stood in front of that mirror, wasting time worrying about what someone at work might think about the outfit. I actually took it off for a few minutes, throwing on a more conservative, mid-calf length dress instead. Then I got pissed. Why was I even worrying about this? It wasn’t like I had on a slutty, inappropriate outfit. And casual…half the men in my department wear a uniform of jeans and Tevas to work.  I looked polished and professional, even if I was wearing a romper. It wasn’t neon pink or made out of crushed velvet.  It wasn’t low cut, my ass cheeks weren’t hanging out, and it wasn’t too tight. What the fuck was I worried about?

In the end I put that cute little romper back on, with my leopard heels and black blazer, and strutted (oh yes, one must strut in such a get up) out my front door feeling like a million bucks. And here’s the reality – my clothing choices should be the least of anyone’s concerns, and nobody I know really gives a flying fuck what I wear except me. So I better choose something that makes me feel good.

Incidentally, I got more compliments from female students and friends that day than I had in a long time. The outfit was a hit! And you know what? I LOVE that. First, it feels great to have someone tell you that you look adorable (especially at 40, am I right?). Second, if I can garner some attention from young women who might see me, a female scientist, looking stylish and think that is cool, then I am all for it. Maybe as more women become confident in dressing how they choose, young women will start to realize hey, I can be girly and stylish and pay attention to my appearance and STILL be a professional and a scientist. The image of the female scientist will change, and it must change. Girls want to be girls, and that shouldn’t stop them from wanting to be a scientist, or from believing they will be taken seriously in a male dominated field. I shouldn’t be an anomaly, an oddity, or someone who even gets any attention for her appearance. Women dressing like women shouldn’t be cause for concern. It should be celebrated!

And now it is time to plan tomorrow’s outfit. Skinnies and tall boots? A flowy dress and chunky sandals? No matter what I choose, I will feel great, and get a ton of kick ass science done, too.

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Mountain Woman Excerpt Featured on FindingEcstasy

The fabulous author Rebecca Pillsbury’s latest blog post features an excerpt from my memoir, The Making of a Mountain Woman: Lessons From the Tibetan Plateau, which will be out in 2015.  As part of her feature, which she calls Voices of Inspiration, Rebecca asked me some thoughtful and interesting interview questions.  You can read all of my interview responses, and see an exclusive excerpt from my memoir, by clicking the link below:

http://findingecstasy.com/voices-inspiration-jess-kapp/

This is the very first time I have shared any of my memoir.  It is a very small sneak peek, but one I hope you will enjoy!  Don’t forget to check out Rebecca’s blog and book while you’re at it! She is one to watch.

As always, I say to you, do what you love, find your passion, and push past your comfort zone.  Amazing things can happen when you go where you never thought you could go.

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Those Who Cannot Do, Teach? I Think Not!

There’s a bit of a hubbub happening over the most recent Time Magazine cover featuring the headline, Rotten Apples – It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher. Wait, it gets better…Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found a Way to Change That. The story is all about the war on teacher tenure. Whoa. Seriously? The WAR on teacher tenure. Check out this cover, showing a gavel about to smash the most universally recognized symbol for teachers, an apple.

Time magazine cover, November 3, 2014 issue.

Time magazine cover, November 3, 2014 issue.

OK, I get it. I live in the world of academia. I completely understand, and have witnessed first hand, how tenure sometimes acts as a way for bad teachers to hang around and get paid, sometimes pretty well, for doing a poor job in the classroom. But this is not the norm. As a teacher, I understand how teachers might be offended by this cover. Yes, there are absolutely bad teachers out there. I have seen some of them in action and it is disturbing. But I have also seen the best of the best, and when you see a passionate teacher at work, it is magic. Why aren’t we raging about how good teachers are often underpaid, underappreciated, and not tenured? At my university, many of the best teachers I have ever seen are lecturers like me – not eligible for tenure. Sometimes the best cannot get tenured but we don’t see a magazine cover about that! Why aren’t we waging a war against the outdated publish or perish route to tenure? Why aren’t we waging a war against cuts to education budgets? Why aren’t we waging a war against ignorant plans that cut taxes to create jobs (which doesn’t work) thereby reducing the amount of available money for public schools? (e.g., read about Kansas) Instead we want to wage war against teachers having job security because a few of them might not deserve it. Wait…does this not happen in other professions? Are all CEO’s, athletes, actors, and tech millionaires exemplary in their professions, fully deserving of their job security and high salaries? Come on. There are plenty of highly paid folks out there who are impossible to get rid of even though they may not be doing a great job. Teachers don’t get paid millions (most don’t even break six figures) for doing a less than stellar job, but lots of others do.  Where’s the outrage over that?

Have you ever heard the expression, “Those who cannot do, teach?” Can I just say in response to this expression, What. The. Fuck. Are you fucking kidding me with this bullshit? I am a teacher. I teach. I don’t stand at the front of a room droning on and on about a topic that I think is utterly fascinating but my students find mind-numbingly boring, expecting that my words of wisdom are penetrating their young minds and settling in like gospel never to be forgotten. I teach. I think deeply about how to reach students, engage them, and guide them through their own thought process. Teaching has long been thought of in THIS country as a fall back career, one that people do not because it is particularly challenging, but because they have nothing else to do or are incapable of doing the truly important stuff like, oh, I don’t know, being in business or law or medicine or entertainment or fashion or sports, or being a tech millionaire, or whatever other industry seems more significant than guiding our children through their formative years and helping them become productive members of society. You see where I am going with this?  And people think teachers are not good enough to DO. Does anyone besides a teacher really knows what a day in the life of a teacher is like? It isn’t just about teaching. It’s comforting, motivating, disciplining (appropriately, so parents don’t flip out), listening, managing, herding, inspiring, facilitating, creating, innovating, cleaning up blood and barf and snot, and maybe, if you’re lucky, teaching. If that ain’t doing I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I know about what it means to be a teacher. Before I was a university lecturer, I taught high school math and science at a charter school in Tucson that served a neighborhood characterized by high rates of crime, poverty, gang activity, and drug activity. I had students held at gunpoint on their way into school, students who came to school with bruises from the previous night’s beating, high school students at a sixth grade level in math, students with disabilities who had never been diagnosed and couldn’t get the help they needed, students who spoke English as a second language and could barely understand what was being said in the classrooms, students who were pregnant at 13, bright students who refused to take books home to study because the gangs would beat them up if they were seen walking with a textbook, and the list goes on. I learned something very important from these students – education is not always the primary concern for a kid coming to school. Sometimes they are just happy to escape what’s going on at home. And sometimes, as a teacher, I found myself dealing with stuff other than teaching them algebra or chemistry. But when it came to the job of teaching, I tried to make the material accessible and interesting to this unique group of kids. No matter what anyone says, if they have not been a teacher, they have no idea what it really is to be a teacher. It is draining. And hard. And exhausting. It requires you to wear many hats. It is not just about teaching.  I guarantee that every teacher in America is working well beyond their salaried hours to come up with interesting ways of delivering material to a classroom full of diverse learners, yet teachers don’t get overtime pay. Teachers are spending evenings and weekends thinking about how best to help your children grow, learn, and succeed. And they are often fighting an uphill battle against ideas and beliefs drilled into kids’ heads by their parents that go against the scientific principles they are trying to teach. They not only have to figure out how to facilitate learning, they have to care for the feelings and physical well being of children that are not their own. All while being paid some of the lowest salaries in this country. Can you think of a harder gig?

So I ask you, does the saying, “Those who cannot do, teach,” make any sense? I think not. Instead I would say, those who cannot teach, do. Because whatever it is that people DO that isn’t teaching, it doesn’t compare to the depth of commitment it takes putting so much time and energy and care into the development of other people’s kids. Fostering the educational growth of kids – is there anything more profound than that?

Now that I teach college my life is simpler. The students I work with are legally adults, and I don’t often deal with their personal or emotional issues. On occasion I do, but it is a different situation dealing with adults than with children. Now I have the luxury of primarily focusing on the teaching, on how best to guide students through the process of critical thinking. I know that not all teachers out there are deeply invested in providing the absolute best educational experience for their students. There are some bad apples running classrooms all over the country, no doubt. But I firmly believe that by and large, people who teach do it because they love the idea of being a part of helping children grow into the exceptional adults they all have the potential to be. At the college level, those of us who chose teaching over research chose it because we love our subjects and want to bring our enthusiasm for learning our subjects to the masses. We want to share our knowledge in new and innovative ways. We teach. We are teachers. We are not bad apples. Please don’t let the few and far between be the driving force of a war. Don’t let bad teachers be this decade’s WMD’s – yes, they exist, but are they really so prevalent that we need to go to war?

We all have a favorite teacher from our past. What were the qualities of your favorite teacher? Chances are, he or she was an extremely good apple just trying to do the impossibly complex job of teaching. Let’s focus on the bright, red, shiny apples for a change, and thank them for DOING one of the hardest jobs in the world.   Those who cannot do, teach? Fuck that. Hey tech millionaire waging war against tenure – how about spending one day in a classroom of 25 other-people’s kids before deciding to wage war against any teacher? How about doing it for $30K a year? No? Doesn’t sound like fun?  How about standing up in front of a lecture hall of 500 students, 98% of whom don’t want to be in the class, and getting them pumped up about learning?  No?  Why not?  Sound difficult?

It IS difficult, and it isn’t always fun. It won’t make you rich. But I cannot think of anything more rewarding. Not even being a tech millionaire.

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The Writer’s Blog Tour – Amazing Women Authors

I was invited to participate in a writer’s blog tour by the lovely and talented writer, Rebecca Pillsbury!  She has a new memoir out now called Finding Ecstasy, which I will be featuring here very soon.  You can read all about the book on her webpage here, and her blog tour interview answers here. Thank you for nominating me to participate, Rebecca! I am honored, and so glad we connected.

Rebecca Pillsbury, author of Finding Ecstasy.

Rebecca Pillsbury, author of Finding Ecstasy.

My Writer’s Blog Tour Interview (Jess Kapp)

What am I currently working on?

I am currently focused on putting the finishing edits on my memoir, The Making of a Mountain Woman, which will be out in 2015.  I also spend a lot of time writing pieces for this blog, and have started a collection of short stories, one of which recently won a writing award and can be downloaded on this site.  All three projects are quite different – the memoir is obviously non-fiction and strongly focused on adventure, pushing out of your comfort zone, and finding out who you really are.  The blog posts are often in this same vein, but also address issues of motherhood, women in science, and womanhood in general. The short stories are completely different, in that they are fiction, and center on issues related to women in mid-life and all of the complicated things related to such an interesting and often tumultuous time.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

There are a lot of memoirs out there right now.  I love memoirs!   Many of them revolve around a problem, past or present, and how the author was affected by, and ultimately dealt with, the problem.  My story came out of a completely serendipitous opportunity to immerse myself in an adventure beyond my comfort zone.  It is a reflection of how that experience utterly changed me as a person.  It is also different in that I wrote the book more than a decade after these life changing experiences, and was able to reflect on my journey with older, wiser, more appreciative eyes.  I recognized what a poignant journey that was for me, and give reverence to how much I actually accomplished.  As a woman with a PhD in a male dominated science field, I bring a different perspective on what it is to be a strong, independent woman, and hopefully can inspire young women who are interested in stepping out of their comfort zone, in science or adventuring or anything else, to go for it!

 Why do I write what I do?

I love how Rebecca said it feels like she doesn’t have a choice in what she writes – I completely agree!  The memoir was just waiting to be written. I journaled every day in Tibet, and those memories just sat in a drawer next to my bed for years.  When I would tell these stories, show photos, share reflections with people, they would inevitably tell me the stories needed to be out there.  I just never felt like I was ready until I had time to really internalize what those adventures meant to me, beyond just fun, outrageous, dangerous, embarrassing adventures that made for good storytelling.  In terms of the fiction and the blog, I write about what I know, what I feel, and what I care about.  I write about things that set up shop in my brain and filter into the deepest crevices of my consciousness – things that I am thinking deeply about.  I am compelled to write about these things, they just haunt me and have to come out.

How does my writing process work?

My short stories are usually inspired by a single line, an observation, or an event, that just strikes me as beautiful or important.  For instance, the beginning of Watermelon actually happened to me – being in a grocery store and having an older woman tell me I have great legs. That was so strange and gorgeous I just had to write about it, and all of the fictitious stuff in the story just grew from that one experience.  There are other nuggets of truth in the story, like the incident with the gladiolas, and they tied well together.  Those were both, “You can’t make this shit up,” moments that had to be memorialized.  We all have these little “slice of life” events happen to us, but for me, when they happen there is almost a heartbreaking beauty to them that makes them take hold inside me and beg to be written about.  Once I have an opening line for a story, honestly I just write what comes to me.  I imagine I am reading the story and picture where the story would go next.  Once I have a draft, I go back through it many times and rework it, until it feels right.  I probably read the stories more than I write them!  With the memoir, I followed the chronology of the mini adventures and tried to tie together all of the stories with the thread of my personal journey.  The blog is inspired by things I see and hear every day, and things I imagine other women are dealing with.  I want my work to be relatable, and I hope women will read my stuff and laugh, thinking yeah, I have been there!

Continuing the Tour

I nominate my dear high school friend, fellow blogger and adventurous woman Kim Brown, as well as author and afterlife expert, Roberta Grimes, to continue the tour.  These two women are very different, but both are fascinating women with amazing stories to tell.  Be sure to check out Kim and Roberta’s websites by clicking on their names!

Kim Brown 

Kim Brown, adventurous woman and blogger!

Kim Brown, adventurous woman and blogger!

Kim Brown was born in Rochester, NY, growing up on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence seaway.   Though Kim enjoyed boating from a young age she preferred the speed and excitement of a motorboat to sailing.  Then she met a boy who liked to sail, and the rest is history!  In 2011 Kim and her sailor husband Simon bought a sailboat, Selene, and started honing their sailing skills along the south coast of England, in one of the busiest waterways in the world, the Solent!  Kim’s latest adventure involved selling up and heading out on their new 56′ Oyster, Britican, to sail the world with their three year old daughter, Sienna.  Kim is a true adventurer, and keeps a regular blog on her website SailingBritican.com.

Roberta Grimes

Roberta Grimes, author and afterlife expert.

Roberta Grimes, author and afterlife expert.

Roberta Grimes is an incredibly diverse and fascinating author, as seen by her varied portfolio of published books.  After spending decades studying nearly 200 years of afterlife evidence, Roberta published two non-fiction books; The Fun of Dying: Find Out What Really Happens Next, and The Fun of Staying in Touch.  She has also written two mainstream fiction novels; My Thomas: A Novel of Martha Jefferson’s Life, and her latest, Rich and Famous.  The first is deeply rooted in American history while the second explores the complicated life of a young businesswoman in the 1980’s.  She has also published three books in her Letters From Love series.  Roberta is a business attorney, wife, mother, and grandmother, and in July of this year co-chaired a conference on the afterlife in Scottsdale, AZ, about which she was interviewed on local TV.

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It’s My Pity Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.

My life is, by all accounts, a good life. I’m healthy. I have a job, a husband, great kids, a home, and good friends. I really have nothing to complain about. But guess what? Sometimes I like to throw a good old-fashioned pity party and be bummed out about stuff. Sometimes life is tough and I just want to scream, “What About Me?” I try to be reasonable and understand that there are bigger problems going on around me and my needs are not, in the grand scheme of things, that important. But truthfully, I sometimes just don’t give a shit, and like a stubborn toddler I want everybody else to put me first, support me, and celebrate me. Is that really so much to ask?

Yesterday (Sunday) I attended an awards ceremony of the Society of Southwestern Authors, a lovely group of local writers who were kind enough to judge two of my short stories worthy of writing awards. While this is fairly small potatoes in the vast world of writing, I was tickled pink to be recognized and wanted to revel in this achievement for, oh I don’t know, a day? Maybe two? But the universe decided that now would be a great time for several shits to hit several fans and make it difficult for me to simply enjoy this small personal victory. First, my husband was assigned the very first time slot for a presentation at the Geological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, which just so happened to be the Sunday morning of the ceremony. He had to jet out of town on Saturday, leaving me to play single mom. Normally my mother would babysit, but it also just so happens that she had to be out of town this weekend caring for a family member going through a serious surgery. A couple of days before the ceremony I heard that the buyers for our old house backed out of the deal at the 11th hour. On top of all that, we spent the two days before my husband left town cleaning up rodent shit at our family cabin, and upon returning home had to retrieve my mother’s dog from her empty house and bring her home with us, thus adding to our already chaotic household. I imagined Saturday as a down day, with me in my pajamas, doing laundry, writing, and sipping coffee while my boys stared at cartoons, played their electronic devices, and largely left me alone. Instead, my older son invited a friend over, which turned into a five-hour play date, and then took off for a sleepover, leaving me alone with my jealous and needy six-year-old who wanted to have our own slumber party. So much for writing and sipping coffee.

And so the day came. Sunday. Awards ceremony day. My day. Only it wasn’t my day. I woke up early to a squeaking dog that had to be quickly whisked out of her crate to the backyard before she urinated on my carpet. Next, feed the young boy, fetch the older boy from his sleepover, get them both dressed, teeth brushed, get myself showered, get both dogs fed, watered and out to piss again (which is quite a feat with my mother’s dog, who insists on wandering around my yard for twenty minutes sniffing the ground and eating rabbit turds but refusing to do her business), and drive the kids to a friend’s house. Amidst all of the chaos I simply could not revel in the moment. How was I supposed to find a way to let it all go and enjoy my small victory? How could I think about my tiny joy when someone I love was facing surgery? How could I take it all in when I had to find a sitter for my kids, take care of two dogs, set up a time to show my supposed-to-be sold house, and somehow make myself presentable? I wanted to scream, “What about fucking me?” Although it was nobody’s fault that all of these things happened on the same weekend, I felt like my little success was completely drowned out in the big, important goings on of everyone else in my life. Yes, this sounds petty, and immature, and extremely silly of me. But there it is. Haven’t you ever felt this way? I think sometimes we all need our little successes to be sacred. We need our personal achievements, even if they are not Nobel Prize caliber, to be recognized, revered, and allowed to flourish unimpeded. It just doesn’t always happen that way.

Look, I have wonderful people in my life. They support and encourage me. They are proud of me. They love me. But sometimes it feels like I am support staff for everyone else’s needs and desires, and my stuff just has to come last. I know this is not always true. But I think we all feel this way sometimes, that our own stuff gets pushed aside because it seems less important than what’s going on around us. Because life happens, and shit doesn’t always go down the way we want it to. It is perfectly reasonable to need to be the most important person in your circle of people sometimes. Especially when you have accomplished something you are proud of, and worked hard for. I have a great life, but I can still feel invisible, unimportant, and overextended sometimes. We all do.

It’s my pity party and I will cry if I want to. And then I will get over it, and get on with my fabulously chaotic life.

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Midlife Crisis II – What Does Your Midlife Crisis Look Like?

Okay folks, I want to know…what does your midlife crisis look like? My last blog post was all about my midlife crisis, and the things I do to deal with the angst. I spoke of the power of writing about it, exposing my own insecurities with words and fictional characters. I spoke about running, something I have done since high school but only really fell in love with in my late thirties. I spoke of guitar playing, a challenge that is both frustrating and totally exhilarating. And I even sang the praises of red wine, a lovely crimson companion that helps me settle in at night and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I suspect that many of you out there have either experienced something like this or are going through it right now, and I want to hear about it! Did you discover a new hobby? Throw yourself into a new career? Have another kid (gasp!)? Get all cougar-y and take a younger lover? Maybe an older lover? Buy a revved up sports car? Take an amazing adventure? Start a deep and meaningful relationship with ice cream? Or maybe you just kept those feelings of angst at bay and went about your business, not really giving in to the midlife madness. Now that is a feat I would love to hear about.

Whatever way you dealt with it, I want to hear about it! Maybe your “crisis” wasn’t at mid life – that’s ok! I still want to hear about how you dealt with a tricky time in your life when perhaps you doubted your direction, your path, or your worth. I think it is inspirational to hear how people get past these feelings of self-doubt and move forward in some way, whether that be in a new direction or a familiar one.

Let’s get a dialogue going, instead of me doing all the talking. How about sharing some of your wisdom and perspective in the comments below! Any advice for those who have not yet come to the scary hilltop that is mid life? Anything you wish you had done differently, or would do if you could go back? Anything you are still planning on doing? If you want to share something anonymously, you can send me an email at jess@jesskapp.com and tell me you would like your story to be anonymous. I swear I will not reveal your identity if you don’t want me to. It is really scary to share, I know, but we all have something valuable to contribute to the conversation.

My younger readers, I am not trying to leave you out, and your comments are welcome too! Maybe those of you whose asses have yet to droop, faces have yet to wrinkle, and whose upper arms don’t flap like wings when you wave hello can chime in with your hopes and/or fears about where you will be at midlife. Or maybe you just want to tell us crazy older ladies to shut the hell up already and be thankful that we finally feel comfortable in our own skin and don’t give a crap what people think of us. Maybe you want to share what some of your fears and doubts are as a young woman who has not reached midlife yet. That would be fair. We forty somethings don’t have the market cornered on angst and anxiety.  Feel free to stir some shit up, girls!

Come on, ladies…get in on the convo. What does your midlife crisis look like? What might it look like? I bet it’s pretty. I bet it’s interesting. And I bet you aren’t the only one who’s been there, done that. Let’s rock the midlife crises like the strong, diverse women we are! Let’s make that midlife crisis our bitch and do something truly amazing with it.

And then, have a glass of wine, maybe a scoop of ice cream and be thankful for all of the wonderful adventures yet to come.

 

 

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Midlife Crisis #LikeAGirl – Writing, Running, Rocking, and Red Wine.

Since about my 39th birthday I have been in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I don’t think it’s commonplace for people to think of women as candidates for mid-life crises. Mid-life crisis is a term that has a negative aura around it for the sad cliché it evokes of a man in a convertible sports car with a new earring and a hot younger woman in the passenger seat. But I think women are just as likely, and more entitled, to experience mid-life insanity. Why? Because, in my opinion, it is more acceptable for men to take off, explore, work late, adventure, and separate from the family for extended periods of time throughout their lives than it is for women. Yes, some women do this. But for most of us mothers/wives/career women, we are the primary nurturers, career or not. Moms are expected to be around. Wives are expected to be around. And many of us moms choose to be around, forsaking the freedom of an adventurous life.  Is it any wonder we might get antsy?

After years of being around, caring for the kids, caring for the husband, working hard at gaining career recognition, and generally being a nurturer, there came a moment in time when every fiber of my being screamed, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” I was shaken. Even though I had a great job. Even though I had great kids. Even though I had a great husband, and a nice house, and lived in a warm, sunny place, I felt as if my life was mediocre and stagnant. I cannot explain why, I just did. For the first time in my life I felt entitled to pursue stuff just for me. Just. For. Me. The most momentous decision that resulted from this inner earthquake was the decision to write, for real. To get back to a core passion that had quietly lived inside me, like a hermit, for years, never daring to emerge lest it rock the boat. I had wanted to be a writer from a young age, and entered college with aspirations of being a reporter, while fostering my creative writing on the side. Writing is a compulsion. It is entwined with my cells. But I have always ignored it, believing that my path was clearly laid before me and all I needed to do was follow it to ensure success. But at 39, acutely aware of the “something’s missing” feeling taking hold of my guts, I decided it was time to revisit that old compulsion and give it the time and reverence it deserved. It was time to dust off the old writing skills, dig deep, and produce some shit I was proud of.

My first project was the memoir of my life changing trips to Tibet, and my transformation from sheltered suburban girl to full on mountain woman. I kept a journal every day when I was in Tibet, and a couple of years ago I re-read it with fresh, middle-aged eyes. I was astounded at how more than a decade of removal from those experiences gave me new perspective on what Tibet had meant to me as a woman and a person. I threw myself wholeheartedly into the writing of that book and am extremely proud of what I ended up with (p.s. – it’s coming out next year!).

My first trip to Tibet, 1999, getting to know a local. He wanted my sunglasses.  I obliged.

My first trip to Tibet, 1999, getting to know a local. I wanted a picture and he wanted my sunglasses. I obliged.

But perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered was my desire to write short stories. Fictional short stories seem to have taken root somewhere in my brain, and have been sprouting buds that need the light of day. I have always loved short stories. Now, at forty, I find that writing these stories allows me to explore the feelings, frustrations and frightening doubts that pop up in a woman’s mind in middle age. I don’t think many women talk about these feelings, because that would mean admitting that everything ain’t always peachy, even if you have a great job, a great man, and great kids. It is NOT CRAZY to have doubts about where your life is going, and if the path ahead is the one you want to travel forever and ever. It is not indulgent to pursue something solely for the purpose of feeling good about yourself, having fun, or just getting the hell out of your normal routine. Men do this shit all the time. Women need to. I am not ashamed to say hell yes I am having a mid-life crisis. It’s scary when you realize you are half way finished with your life and might want to do more, see more, BE more than you already are. I mean, shit, what the hell do you DO with that information!

Here’s what I am doing with that information. I am writing about it. I am writing about women in mid-life and all of the beautiful, complicated shit that entails. It doesn’t make me a bad person to explore these notions. It doesn’t mean I am unhappy, or unfaithful, or unstable. It means I am human. One of my stories will be published in a local magazine this year – it makes me giddy, and scared, and shy, and proud, all at the same time. It’s going to be out there for anyone to see. Well, shit. And, wow!

In addition to writing my heart out, I am also running, rocking out on guitar, and drinking a lot of red wine. That’s rocking a midlife crisis #LikeAGirl. Here’s to another forty years of living the hell out of this life. No convertible sports car necessary.  Cheers!

Lovin' on the guitar.

Lovin’ on the guitar.

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Gone Girl

Haven’t you ever just wanted to disappear? Be a gone girl? Just take off on a personal journey and not worry about anyone else but yourself? Or maybe it isn’t even as meaningful as taking a personal journey, but just get the hell outta Dodge and take a break from reality? I have a friend, an amazing woman, who recently decided to take off for Kashmir for several weeks because, well, she wanted to. While she was there she discovered some interesting pathways she could follow in her PhD research, which was an added bonus, but she was initially driven by her deep desire to experience this place that she felt a longing for, a connection to. This all sounds great, right? Here’s the rub – she is a mother of three and she caught some heat because of her decision. She didn’t go for very long, but she still experienced judgment and disapproval. It got me thinking about being a woman and a mother and an adventurer, and how those things sometimes have a hard time coexisting, especially when women are often quick to judge and criticize other women for their choices.

Back in the 90s I used to watch the sitcom Mad About You with the incredible Helen Hunt and hilarious Paul Reiser. They played an adorable married couple, Paul and Jaime Buchman, navigating life in NYC, marriage, careers, and all of the other things young married couples must navigate. In the last season of the show they had a baby. I will never forget the scene when, before the baby is born, it hits Jaime that she is going to be tied to this child in a way that Paul isn’t. She is spinning out a bit, ranting about how she doesn’t understand why Paul won’t be able to assume more of the responsibility, and why will she have to stay home more, work less, etc. His response is, “Because you’re the mommy.” She stops dead, her face drops, and she responds with heart racing, “Oh My God, I’m the mommy, I’M THE MOMMY!” Paul immediately rushes to her side to comfort her, but calmly affirms that yes, you are going to be the primary care giver because you will, in fact, be the mommy. This scene has stayed with me all these years because I remember feeling what she was feeling in that moment, that as a woman, if you have a child, like it or not you are the mommy! You are the one who will be expected to be the primary nurturer of the child. Yes, I know there are all sorts of modern families, and more and more families are non traditional, with moms working more and dads staying home, or two moms raising children together, or two dads, and all of that is absolutely fantastic! But the bottom line is, even with the changing landscape of what defines a family, women are still expected to be around more than men. If my friend’s husband had taken off to Kashmir for two weeks, nobody would have batted an eye. After all, she would have been the one home with the children, and isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

It turns out I have many more female friends who have never left their children for more than one or two overnights than female friends who have gone on an extended adventure sans offspring. For some of them it is simply lack of opportunity. For others, overwhelming guilt about the idea of leaving the kids for a few days, or a week, or more. And for others it is simply that with the limited amount of time off that they get, they don’t want to go somewhere without their families. There are all sorts of reasons it is hard to disconnect from our kids for more than a day or two, not the least of which is our desire to be the best moms we can be. Something definitely feels wrong about packing up and taking off for a week or two, and leaving our children in the hands of someone else. But when that someone else is their father (or other parent), it seems to me it should be perfectly okay to disconnect for a period of time to foster our own personal growth. That might be in the form of two nights away with our girlfriends. It could be two weeks in a country we have always wanted to see. In the world of geology, it could even be a month away doing fieldwork for our research. In my wildest fantasies it could be a week on a beach with a cocktail and a good book! None of these situations should cause anyone to brand a woman a bad mother. But the reality is, people are quick to judge, especially when you are a mom. I read an article recently about how modern American parenting is ruining modern American marriages. The idea is that we are so committed to our children’s every need and desire that we often forget ourselves. We give up opportunities to be alone, or be with our spouses, because we think we are bad parents if we don’t put our children above all else.

http://qz.com/273255/how-american-parenting-is-killing-the-american-marriage/

I would go a step further and say as women, we are more prone to sacrificing our own needs and desires to keep the kids, the spouse, the employer, and the family happy. If putting our kids on a pedestal is ruining modern marriages, couldn’t us putting everyone else but ourselves on a pedestal ruin the modern woman?

I have personal experience with this. My husband and I are both geologists. When we were graduate students we both did fieldwork in Tibet for months at a time. We disappeared, went off the grid for 100 days at a time, blissfully unplugging from our regular lives. At the time, we were not married, we did not have children, and the disappearing was part of our work, so it was never really questioned or judged. Actually, my mom questioned and judged it, mainly because she was terrified I was going to die out there and she would never see me again. She also questioned my choice to live in a tent with no running water for months at a time, as that seemed extremely unappealing to her. Whose kid was I who wanted to go for months without a shower? Surely not hers. Anyway, taking off was accepted as part of our lifestyle back then, and we were lucky to have the opportunities that we had to do this before the responsibilities of real life crept in. Now, the responsibilities of real life have crept in, set down roots and taken over like Kudzu. You might be thinking that we stopped going to places like Tibet for extended periods of time because we have kids and jobs, and that makes sense. In fact, I have stopped going anywhere for field research, mainly because my position doesn’t require me to do field research, but also because with two young children it has never seemed opportune for me to disappear for extended periods of time, and I know I would miss the little monsters terribly. However, my husband never stopped doing fieldwork. It was never even discussed as a possibility. He misses them when he travels, but doesn’t seem to worry that his absence will fuck them up monumentally. Shortly after our first son was born he was diagnosed with a type of pulmonary stenosis. It manifested as a murmur that the pediatrician picked up on during a routine check. His aorta was too narrow and his heart couldn’t pump the blood out efficiently. This caused a build up of pressure inside of his heart. They were hopeful that he would outgrow this issue, but we had to take him in for monitoring every couple of months. He had a limited amount of time in which this needed to resolve or they would perform open-heart surgery to expand the aorta. This was terrifying to me, a first time mother, with this tiny little baby who seemed to be in perfect health. All of this was happening right before the start of one of my husband’s field seasons. Our son was diagnosed with this problem in late February and Paul (hubby) was supposed to leave for Tibet in May. We talked about him canceling his field trip but in the end decided he should go. It was only six weeks of fieldwork (yes, that is considered short for us), and even if our son needed the surgery it would be at least six weeks on a wait list before the surgery could take place. So off Paul went, with my blessing, and home I stayed with my little baby boy, a brand new mom, facing the possibility that I would be told this precious little guy would need open-heart surgery. I never faulted Paul for going in the field – we made the decision together and if I had wanted him to stay home he would have stayed home. But what would have happened if I were the one who had to go into the field for research? What kind of mother would people have judged me to be if I took off while we were waiting to hear if our six month old needed open-heart surgery? I suspect I would have been labeled a horrible, heartless mother and shamed for the rest of my days. And I probably would have believed it.

To be fair, Paul is primarily a field geologist, and fieldwork is a necessary part of his work. It is also his passion, the main reason he got into geology in the first place. I never even considered that he would stop doing fieldwork, so it is not like I wanted him to stop and he refused. His fieldwork excursions are just part of our yearly experience. The reality of fieldwork lives inside our relationship like a permanent pillar. It isn’t going anywhere. On some level I am completely fine with this – I mean, I married a field geologist after all, and wouldn’t it be crazy to expect a field geologist to give up fieldwork? Yes, it would, at least for my husband who would probably lose him marbles if he couldn’t get into the field at least once a year and flex his mental (and physical) muscles. On another level, though, I wonder why it has never really come up that I don’t get to unplug every year, for several weeks at a time, from the daily realities of being a parent. Yes, when my husband does it, it is for work, so it is not like he is taking off on vacation. But if you were to ask him about fieldwork he would not describe it as strictly work. It is not as if he grudgingly goes because he has to. He chooses to keep fieldwork as a vital component of his research because he absolutely loves it. He tells me that he is calm, happy, and revitalized after a trip to Tibet, or South America, or Egypt, or Tajikistan, or any of the places he has visited for fieldwork. That sounds a lot like a vacation to me! I believe this revitalization he feels is only partly because of the rush of the work and of being in the field, but also in large part because he can spend several weeks not being a dad, and just being a geologist, a scientist, a man. Doesn’t that sound excellent?

I have been able to escape for ten days at a stretch, which is absolutely amazing and don’t knock it till you try it. Seriously. I highly recommend it. I am lucky that I have a mother who is happy to take our boys for ten days at a time so Paul and I can adventure together. On one of these trips we kayaked the NaPali coast of Kauai, one of the top 10 adventures in the world according to National Geographic magazine. On another trip, we spent ten days exploring Uganda and tracked mountain gorillas in the impenetrable forest, a mind-blowing, once in a lifetime adventure. I am thankful for these opportunities and don’t want to downplay their importance in my life. But not once have I ever considered leaving for two or three weeks without my husband, just me, to pursue a passion, do research, or just plain unplug from life. It just doesn’t seem like an option. In fact, the first time Paul and I were leaving our son to go on a trip together, I was talking with a great aunt of mine on the phone, and I told her about how excited I was for our first vacation away from the baby. Her response was, “Oh, how nice. My granddaughter would never dream of vacationing without the kids. The kids are part of the family, why would they go anywhere without them? Oh well, whatever works for you, I guess.” Her voice dripped with judgment and sarcasm. Why would they go anywhere without the kids? Because they are human, and need time alone together to foster their marital relationship, and kids are exhausting and we all need a break from them, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be something besides mommy sometimes…etc. I was dumbstruck and didn’t reply. I also have heard, many times, from friends and family, “How can you let Paul take off for weeks at a time and leave you alone with the kids? I couldn’t do it.” Well, some of it is that I am the type of person who likes a challenge, likes to be independent, and honestly CAN do it without him. Also, everyone needs time apart, and it really does make the heart grow fonder, which is great for our relationship. And finally, I married a field geologist and never considered that long stretches away would stop being a part of our lives. But I also never really considered that I, too, would need time away. I just assumed I would be at home and that would be just fine. Mostly it is. What isn’t fine is the assumption that I will be home, and that if I am not home I am neglectful. That sucks.

Now on to a different example, fellow geologists Paul and I went to graduate school with who are married with two kids, and both incorporate fieldwork into their lives. It didn’t start out that way. It began with the husband being the primary fieldworker, and the wife being the primary care giver, and resentment started to build. She had just as much need to be in the field as he did, but as is common, it was assumed she would be home with the kids. It just made more sense. Or did it? It wasn’t making sense for her, and she told her husband that she needed more time to do her work. They ended up keeping track of every day, every hour that each of them gets away from the kids, and making sure the other gets the exact same amount of time kid free. He tells us it is hard, and that he often gets much more time away from the kids, and finds himself facing quite a debt of time that he owes his wife. But ultimately, it works for them. It keeps any resentment from flourishing. Just last night Paul and I were out to dinner with friends and someone asked me if he was planning on going to Tibet next summer. I replied that he was done with Tibet fieldwork for a while, but he would be going to northern China, or Tajikistan, or somewhere else because a year cannot go by without some sort of fieldwork. My friend commented, “He owes you quite a bit of time away, doesn’t he?” This friend is a man, and I was a bit stunned, and grateful, to hear him say that. Hell yeah, he does owe me quite a bit of time away. I don’t think I can ever cash in, though, as I would end up missing a year or two of my kids’ lives. Even if I spread them out, I don’t have enough time off of work to make good on the cashing in of all my accrued away days. But we don’t keep track, and I don’t make plans to disappear, and that is my choice, but it is also my curse. It just doesn’t feel possible. It just doesn’t feel right. Because I’m the mommy. Oh. My. God. I’M THE MOMMY!

My friend who went to Kashmir told me it was one of the most wonderful experiences of her life. She went back not long after her first trip, for a couple of weeks, and again was given hell by many people for abandoning her kids. Both times her kids were home with their father, by the way, and were perfectly well cared for. She came home a happier, healthier human being, which I would argue benefits her kids. They may not know it now, but seeing their mom be independent and adventurous will influence how they expect their lives, and wives, to be. It is especially great for her daughter to have that kind of female role model in her life. If I could take off somewhere and spend two weeks doing nothing but writing I know I would come back a happier, healthier human being, which would also benefit my kids. I don’t think I know of one woman who would not benefit from being a gone girl at some point in their adult lives, making a conscious decision to disconnect from kids, spouses, and daily life to do something purely for themselves. Whether it be work related (doing research, writing, meeting new colleagues, marketing, networking), pursuing a passion, adventuring, or just plain taking a break, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting, needing, and expecting time to yourself beyond the occasional hour or two when dad takes the kids to the movies so you can stay home alone and paint your toenails. Don’t get me wrong, those little snippets of time are a delightful treat and we should expect them (not beg for them). But we should expect more, too. And if our spouses don’t have to go do fieldwork, or travel for work, they should also expect more. Men and women, moms and dads, we all need time away from reality to recharge our souls in one way or another. Lucky for men, it seems to be acceptable when they do it. But it should be acceptable for women too. It doesn’t have to be weeks, maybe just a few days will suffice. There are no rules. The point is, we all need to take a trip, take a break, and be able to do it guilt free. We shouldn’t shame a woman for going on an adventure without her kids, or her spouse. We should applaud her for knowing what she needs and going after it. We should support her for accepting that she will miss her children, but doing something outside her comfort zone anyway because she knows it will better her life in some way. Especially us ladies…we should support the other ladies in our lives who take these chances, not make them feel worse for doing so. I guarantee any woman who leaves her kids for more than a day or two feels guilt, misses them, and worries they will feel abandoned. Women worry about that stuff. We don’t need others telling us we should be guilty and that our kids are going to be fucked up for life because we chose to take a couple of weeks for ourselves. It doesn’t seem to fuck them up royally when daddy takes off for a few weeks to bang on rocks. I think they will survive if mommy does the same. Our kids may not know it, but their lives will probably benefit too, because mommy will come home with a big, happy smile plastered on her face, and maybe a healthy glow from some sun exposure that didn’t involve chasing her kids around the zoo all afternoon.

So get out there, girl. Get going, girl. If you need to do it, do it. If you want to see it, see it. Be gone, girl. Everyone will survive and be better for it. Including you.