grad school, parenthood, identity crisis. welcome to the rabbit hole.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

the time of our lives.

Growing up is funny, ain't it? Filled with lots of learning and growing and...learning and growing.

In high school I learned about poetry. The stage. Sharing and performance and reading. And poets. Oh, oh, the poets.

In college I learned about And the importance of protected sex. 

And now. Graduate school. Graduate school is this amazing combination of paralyzing insecurity and exciting ideas and one minute you're flying and the next falling but the best part, the best part...the best part is the friends.

Between the falling and the flying there's someone that's right there next to you falling and flying with you. 

I passed my preliminary exam today, so I'm officially a PhD candidate. (oh that reminds me gotta go change my email signature...brb....ok back.) And the best part, the best part...well. 

Aspen sent me a pie, a pie! From Pie in the Sky! From WOODS HOLE. Aspen sent me a PIE. from PIE IN THE SKY. 

When I opened the air mail box from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, I immediately then ran back to lab to grab my phone to inform Aspen that she had in fact, sent me a PIE, and throughout the lab I sang/squealed, PIE. ASPEN SENT ME A PIE. 

And Firas. Firas got me DIPPIN DOTS, because you know they are the MICROFLUIDICS OF ICE CREAM. And samosas. Because 90% of the time I talk about indian food. 

Pie. From PIE IN THE SKY. Dippin Dots. And samosas. 

Oh yeah, and friends. Those too. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

i hope you remember this

In the hot tub, Mikey asks Lena, What do you think you will remember about this time in twenty years.

I hope it is this. The endless joke telling. The laughter. Late summer nights. The five people on a three-person couch and the singing and the dancing and Lena, this is what it is liked to be loved unconditionally. To be accepted unconditionally. Lena this is true friendship and I wonder if you will remember this.

And for me, on the way home, after Lena has fallen asleep and the windows are down and I slowly turn the music up, up, up and it's Kendrick Lamar singing I love myself and I hope that I remember this. This unconditional self love. This acceptance. And this is the way home. However hard it gets however angry or sad or frustrated or scared, this is the way home, and even though it's been a long time, even if I've been away for a while, I have never forgotten the way home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the elusive "all"

My parents didn't watch a ton of TV when I was a kid, so unlike a lot of my friends I don't have these nostalgia moments about Tom Brokaw or David Letterman. What I have a lot of nostalgia for is the opening bars to NPR's 'All Things Considered' intro music, to 'I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.'

Yesterday on Fresh Air Terry Gross was interviewed by comedian Mark Maron, and she briefly discusses that she chose never to have children because she wanted to love her work and for her work to be her life.

And there's that trope again, that women have to choose between family and career, that it's impossible to have both, that we never can have it all.

I'm in graduate school. I love the project that is turning into my thesis project. Another student and I have dreams to start a company. We're thinking about ideas and names and sometimes it feels ridiculous and silly and other times incredibly real and serious. (Except I still really like the name 'Cuppa Bio' and Firas doesn't so idk.)

(Wait I can't let that go yet. Cuppa Bio??? That's like the best name ever. Cuppa Bio. Cuppa Bio. Like cup of bio? CUPPA BIO.)

Lena is seven. I have to run some ridiculous errand that takes me across town to a UPS hub. (Yay grad school!) Lena hovers at the counter, and is ridiculously chatty. For the first time in three years she brings up my ex: "I really miss that restaurant we used to go to with Alex." "The chinese buffet?" "Yeah, that one." I make orange chicken from Trader Joe's and over dinner we talk about whether or not evolution is 'easy,' and Fresh Air is on in the background. And giving my daughter Fresh Air? That's all. Sharing Terry Gross with Lena? That's having it all.

Our start up is a possibility, because I think we can do it. And Lena is so so so so fun. And I think this, this is having it all. This is it! This is all! You just have to have a kid when you're twenty and then everything will work out PERFECTLY. You love your work and be married to your work and have the best kid ever and that is having it all!


Except it's not. Because I don't have a partner. I love Lena and she loves me but every now and then, that's just not enough. I want to be loved loved. I still want to be loved.

I guess the crux there is the 'want,' right? It's not 'need.' It's just want. So still. Life is pretty sweet.

I used to think, "Let's just remove 'having it all' from our vocabularies." "Let's just be satisfied with what we have and not worry about living someone else's idea of what a perfect life looks like."

But I can see it. I can see this impact and I can see Lena and I can see it all and I want it. I want it all, I want it all so so so bad, and I don't even care. I don't care that it's a myth and that it's unattainable and that it doesn't exist and it's all in my head or it's all in someone else's head, I am going to have it all.

Work that I love, a kid that I love, and I'm going to be loved.

That's it. That's all.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

mother's day

I spend all day, every day, being constantly humbled. By science, because there is always something to learn, by people, who are so different from me and filled with so many ideas, and by Lena, because what is more humbling than a kid, who doesn't care what kind of day I've had, how I feel, she’s always there, there, there. Always Lena.

I am in an amazing place, and every day I recognize how grateful, how lucky, how blessed I am. And I am humble. So filled with gratitude, marveling at this life that I have stumbled in to.

Lena is an amazing kid. As a scientist, I get that this is 80% luck, 15% me not being an alcoholic while pregnant, and 5% prenatal vitamins. (Those are really accurate numbers btw because SCIENCE.) But today, Mother’s Day, I want a little credit.

We (women, mothers) so rarely take any credit. There is no time in the day to be selfish, to marvel and say I did that. Today I'm giving myself that gift. I'm letting myself say it.

Lena is amazing. She sits through Seders with grad students, and while reading the four questions, I hear one girl whisper to another, “She reads so well!” My heart swells with pride. We read together every night. I have filled our house with books, and reading is a joy. We share stories out loud each day so that Lena greets new words like new friends: open and excited to learn from them. Today I can think to myself, I did that. 

Lena is not fearless, but she’s brave. She tries things, and she conquers them. She jumps in the pool, she crosses the monkey bars. At the doctor she gets shots like a champ. The first time at the dentist she walked back to the procedure room without looking back. While I cook dinner with the windows open I hear her counting her pogo stick bounces. 99, 100. She catches fish and plays in the ocean. Today I think to myself, I did that.  (Ok---so I’m taking some liberties here. I hate fish and you could not pay me to touch one so I did not literally contribute to that aspect of Lena. But like, I try not to act like a baby in front of her and I encourage her to do different things so like metaphorically I did that. But eugh, fish. No thank you.)

I’m not sure I know what kindness looks like in a seven year old, but Lena is starting to be kind. She says nothing that she doesn't mean with her entire heart. She has never told me that she hates me, in anger. She’s never told me she likes Nana and Pops’ house better, even though she does. She doesn't complain when I tuck us into bed at 7:30, because the world is just too much for me. Lena does not sneer at the choices of other children, how they look, what they read, what they eat. Today I’m letting myself think, I did that. 

Lena is polite, smart, and funny. She wakes up happy. She doesn't complain when we have cereal for dinner. She greets challenges with a smile. She is kind. She is curious. She picks up frogs and worms and fish. She runs, she doesn't walk. She loves. Oh, oh oh, she loves, and she is loved and I did that. 

Ok, so I didn’t do all of it, humble, grateful, village etc etc etc. But today, Mother’s Day. I am being selfish. Today I’m letting myself say it: I’m a damn good mom.

But oh yeah, it’s mother’s day. So what about my mom?

Your daughter is trying her best. Your daughter is learning so much, what it means to be kind, what it means to be brave. Your daughter has been through some hard stuff, sure, some of it of her own doing, and she has made it through. Your daughter is a good mom, which makes you a great one.

I love you, Mom, the unsung hero of our family, the most selfless, the most generous. The one who gives and gives and gives, and who we do not give enough in return.

Happy Mother’s Day, Nana. You're the greatest.

Monday, March 30, 2015

scratching the surface

I don’t think I was drunk, but I could not have been sober. I keep waiting for all of the memories to come back, but they don’t. Instead I have to reach for them, screw my eyes tight and really reach, and I never do.

I met a bartender that in my past life was a busboy, and he says things that made me dig deep within myself to find my corresponding stories. Did I remember the bartender with the kids, the line cook with the lisp, the one with long hair that is at a new restaurant, that time he had a seizure in the kitchen and woke up with Mickey holding him. Mickey...which one was Mickey, oh he was the nice one, the tall one.

I don’t remember being drunk, but I hate being drunk. I get tipsy so easy so I even try to avoid that. But there was always beer, and harder, in styrofoam cups. For a while there was always red bull and vodka, so much red bull and vodka, the thought of which makes me want to puke, so I must have, once. Right?

Do I not remember, or did these things not happen?

Now on my way to pick up Lena I drive by restaurants that we used to have friends at. The owners have changed and I wonder if the bars are the same, remember the time we took a bottle of tequila and drove off. Remember the laughing, filling our styrofoam cups with margaritas, drive away, laughing.

I couldn’t have been sober, so I must have been drunk.


Lena has been gone one day, and my days are empty, without structure, without purpose.

Was this my life before her?

This is not to say that people without kids have no purpose, but I have found so much purpose with Lena. I think this is a reflection on me. I’m a little weak, on my own. I lack direction and motivation. This must be how I floated through a year not sure whether I was drunk or sober, most likely somewhere in between.

And maybe I would have found something to hold on to---poetry, writing. Maybe science. I hope science. And yeah, so I cheated. I didn’t have to find something to hold on to, find something to ground me. I’ll never know if I would have been strong enough to find it myself. Instead, it was handed to me. Wiped clean and swaddled in blankets, Lena.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


I thought I broke my headphones today but I didn't, and I am very happy about that.

Sometimes lab is really hard and life is really hard and it feels like everyone wants so much from me even if it's just a biography and a picture of my daughter and these things are so overwhelming and anxiety inducing that I don't know what to do. My happy place is alone in my bed asleep but that doesn't work, that's called 'depression.' My new happy place is just learning. I'm isolating a bunch of bacteria for myself and it's wonderfully calming. Streaking them onto plate, noting colors and shapes, when colonies appear. Science! Life! The unknown!

Yesterday [two days ago, actually, I wrote this yesterday] I extracted DNA and PCR'ed up the 16S region and sent if off for sequencing and today [yesterday] I waited for results and got them. I can name these cells (babies) that I isolated (found), grew (raised), and save them. I'm not using our fancy label maker because anxiety attack, so I'm hand labeling my tubes, and with each label, each date and initial, it feels like I am labeling my anxieties: naming them, acknowledging them, putting them away.

I really am so happy that I didn't break my headphones, but with the news today I can't be happy about that, because of the news.

How does the news impact the delicate ones. It is hard to let myself be anxious and weird. Hard to let myself be silly over little things. Even harder when the news is the news.

There is so much outrage, so much anger, so much sadness and pain in the world. I want to not listen, but that is the definition of privilege. But it is hard to listen. It is hard to feel all of these things on top of the little things.

Headphones. Music. Drowning out the world. Drowning. Drowning. DROWNING.

Here. Listen to this song. Listen. Just listen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

i wouldn't want to do this without you

I have a friend that tells the most amazing stories. She's a little scatter-brained and kind of quirky about a few things, like she doesn't let her kids drink out of water fountains, and the weirdest things happen to her.

A few weeks ago she was working late at night and heard something in her fireplace, and it turns out there's a squirrel stuck in her fireplace. Instead of calling animal control, she decides to build an obstacle course/barricade a path to the door with couch cushions in order to shuttle the squirrel out. It worked, but her telling this story was so. amazing.

Today, it turns out her husband's grandfather is in the hospital because he was in a car accident. He's 95, and he really shouldn't be driving. She was telling me how her mother-in-law was telling her about the accident, (another car hit him) and that the other car was a big truck painted in camouflage. "So my mother-in-law thinks that he might not have seen the car, and I said, but it's not camouflaged to the ROAD, that's not how camouflage WORKS." She had me cracking up during gymnastics. I could not stop laughing, and I'm sure all the other parents thought I was insane.

I had a really demoralizing week. My project has hit a tough spot, I'm in a rut, a local minima. I talked with Aspen about it, and she said, "Think about something else to do, what else are you interested in?" and I, no lie, could not think of one thing. I've been so up this project's butt, that I could not think of one other thing that I was interested in, one other problem, one other question, the tiniest of experiments to do that could get me out of this rut. I went home early, and at 6:30, propped Lena up in bed with a movie and turned off the lights and just shut out the world.

I got a little bit out of my rut today---laughing about the "camo" truck helped. I also flipped through a textbook just to get some ideas, found a relevant paper to read. Then we got an offer for a play date and heels watching from some other friends.

Paul and Amy, have I talked about them here? They are going to get their own tag today because they are going to be a key part in this grad school thing. Paul and Amy both did grad school at UNC, Paul in my dad's lab. They left, did post docs, got TT faculty positions, and then came back here. Paul is now doing a project in my dad's lab. They're trying to clone in some mutation into yeast together and it's super cute.

So we go over to their house, and they ask how I am, because everyone always does, and I was just like, you know what? I'll be completely honest. I have no self-esteem right now, everyone else is smarter than me and I have forgotten how to have any sort of original thought.

And they walked me through it.

I told them an experiment I wanted to do, and they said, that's great, why haven't you done it? I said, because no one told me it was a good idea. Paul says, you can't need validation. Amy says, Paul needs so much validation. Paul says, that's true, but you still need to do the experiment.

It continues like this---I ask them a problem that Aspen has been thinking about, and Paul thinks it's doable. So I'm going to try it. Paul also expressed into words what my project needs: an assay. I don't have a good assay. He gave me a bunch of ideas about assays. I texted Aspen about her project idea and that I was going to try it tomorrow. She said, that's awesome.

This week I: cried, felt stupid, felt like I couldn't do this, went to bed at 6:30, wanted to give up.
Today I: came up with a new idea, got a couple ideas for assays, figured out what my next steps are going to be, started some cultures for a new experiment, got inspired, excited, ready to face the world again, also laughed hilariously at Belichick: "I handled the balls, we all handled the balls."


How do we do this without friends? Luckily, thankfully, I will never have to find out.