With mother-in-law to the conference

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7:00 AM, Frankfurt airport. I am queueing at the check-in counter of Lufthansa airlines. My mother-in-law is standing next to me, humming the slowest version of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” I ever heard. My tired son, Sam, is sitting on one of her arms. On the other she holds an outsized wicker picnic basket covered with a tea towel. I am wearing a blazer, carry a large backpack, a laptop bag, a poster tube and a changing bag stuffed with diapers, wet towels, bottles of milk, changing clothes and God knows what else an eleven month old might need on a three hour flight and a four-day stay in Barcelona. I push an empty buggy in front of me.

I feel physically and mentally drained, I am sweaty of dragging the luggage and the buggy with Sam in it up and down the stairs of train stations. After a full week of long days in the lab and evenings behind my laptop (Yes, I had desperately, and unsuccessfully, tried to get a few more results to present before heading to this conference), I got up at 4.00 A.M. this morning to be at the airport in time.

Despite it having been so early with a stressful week behind me, consciousness had been upon me as soon as the alarm went off. Maybe I hadn’t been unconscious in the six hours before that anyway. During the night I had only worried about the conference; how on earth was all of this going to work out with Sam AND Granny… what if he screams like a suckling pig on the flight? What if he would get sick or doesn’t feel like spending time with Granny? What if he wakes up three times during the night before I have to give a talk? What if I don’t have access to a microwave to warm up his milk during the night? What if….? What if…?

I got out of bed and went to the bathroom.
“You are okay?” Martin asked looking concerned in my direction, while I chewed on a toothbrush. “You have been kicking around the whole night. I couldn’t sleep,” he added.
“I know. I am just so worried I forgot something for Sam. And then going on a trip with your mum…” I sighed.
“I would NEVER go on a trip with my mum!” Martin said jokingly to cheer me up.
“I bet she brings tons of soggy food.”
“Yep. And, a thermos flask with her famous filter coffee.”
“Condensed milk?”
“I think this is the worst idea my boss ever came up with…”
“I think so too,” Martin more sings than speaks.

“We still have money left in the gender pot. Bring Sam to Barcelona, will you?” My boss, Markus, had asked me six weeks ago.
“I don’t think it is a good idea. Sam doesn’t sleep much and he can only sit still while he eats a Pretzel… and there is only so much Pretzel you can stuff into a kid,” I had carefully tried to argue.
“There are child care facilities.”
“I am not sure he will stay a full day with someone he doesn’t know.”
“You can visit him during the breaks.” Goodbye meaningful conversations and clean clothes! And he will scream every time I leave….I visualised him pulling himself up on the white tablecloths with his chubby and greedy hands all across the buffet…
“The word ‘break’ got a totally different meaning, just now.”
“It is important to show young scientists there is space to be an academic and a mother.”
“But I have child care at home. I don’t need to bring him.”
“Please, try it once. Bring your partner or a grandparent along if you wish, as babysitter” Markus had said with begging eyes. I guess he was so keen on his idea because it would enable him to beef up the section “gender” in his follow-up grant proposal.

You Must Be Very Intelligent- the PhD delusionSo here I am with Sam and my mother-in-law, very slowly moving forward at check-in. Sam is wailing. I guess if I were him, I would wail too. Being woken up so early, dragged to an overcrowded airport, where you find yourself hanging with your nose over a picnic basket containing smelly cheese sandwiches, while a 65+ granny continuously hums the same tune too close to your ear. It sucks!
“You have got a hat for him?” Granny asks in her default judgemental tone.
“No. It is late spring and we are flying to Barcelona. I don’t think he needs a hat,” I say, moving one step closer to the counter.
“He’s got cold ears, though,” she says, irritated, and places the picnic basket into the buggy so she has a hand free to untie her own neckerchief and wraps it around Sam´s ears. He looks grumpy, lifts his chubby baby arms, rips the neckerchief off his head and throws it on the ground.
I struggle to suppress a smile and say: “I think his ears are warm enough.”

The stewardess scans our passports and prints our boarding passes. Secretly I hope Granny and Sam are sitting on the other side of the aisle, so I can have a nap, knowing that my chances are small. We get boarding passes for two seats next to each other and walk through security. Granny tries to negotiate her freshly brewed pancake soup and coffee through, but is clearly on the loosing track. Both her coffee and her soup fly into the large bin where they probably belong. Even if terrorists blow our airplane up, the security check wasn´t worthless.

This is such a different experience than the conference in Berlin I attended two months ago. I got to network and enjoyed to be freed from family obligations for a couple of nights and relished the first uninterrupted nights’ sleep since Sam was born.

Written by Karin Bodewits (Originally published in Labourjournal, 2017)

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