Don’t call us, we’ll call you

January 6, 2014

This is not a beach.

I wrote this in October or November of 2012. I held off posting it, thinking I would refine it some more. But more than a year later, that’s clearly not happening. What a trip to revisit that very memorable afternoon with my (mouthy) two-and-a-half-year-old — I hope you enjoy it too!

“Sorry, I don’t see a ocean.”

“Yeah, I turned down the wrong street,” I explained. “Let’s try this way.”

“Nope. Sorry. I don’t see a ocean. Where’s our aventure?”

I had promised Addison an adventure to see the ocean and so far, every street was a dead end. I’m not sure why she kept apologizing; I was the one who dashed out of the house without directions, thinking that a quick glance at the map would get us there, because how hard could it be to find the beach from an unfamiliar part of L.A. You just go as far to the left as possible, right?

“I don’t see a ocean. But I DO have a plan to get us to da ocean. Let me write sumfing, with a pen. Give me dat pen.”

As entertaining as it might have been to see this “plan” to get us to the ocean, I know better than to pass a pen to the two-year-old in the back seat. Instead I kept meandering our way through construction zones in Playa Vista, as Addison barked out directions from behind: “Careful, mom! ‘Top, ‘top. Sumfing in the road. This road bumpy . . . bump, bump, bump.” I’m pretty sure I managed to hit every torn-up road within a 5-mile radius, and Addison let me know about it. Along the way, we passed a small playground and I debated whether I could make the tiny park seem sooo fun that she would forget all about our promised beach adventure. But who am I kidding?

Finally making my way out of a literal maze of closed roads, I saw a green sign: Marina del Rey. There’s water there! I remember having lunch there once! Knowing this was not exactly the ocean experience she had in mind, I set to work making it seem like exactly the adventure I’d been planning all along.

“Look, there’s boats! So many boats! You know what a lot of boats mean?”

“This is not a beach,” she said matter-of-factly, after a dismissive glance at the boats.

“A lot of boats means there’s water nearby! So exciting! We’re almost there . . . ”

“This is not a beach.”

As we drove down the street, Addison was on the lookout for a beach while I was willing to settle for a free parking space. (Why is there no free parking in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area?) Reaching yet another dead-end, an apartment building on one side and the U.S. Coast Guard station on the other, I had to act quickly to salvage this “aventure.” Enthusiasm is the key with toddlers, right?

“Oooh, look at these fancy apartments! Aren’t they so pretty? Very contemporary.” (Very contemporary? Seriously?)

“This not a beach,” she repeated, her intensity slowly rising.

“Let’s hurry and get out! We can watch the Coast Guard boat take off! Hurry! We don’t want to miss the boat launch!!”

I tried to hurry her across the small parking lot–all the while pretending that I was in no way illegally parked and had a legitimate interest in million-dollar condos–and over to the rocky bank overlooking the inlet (which, in case you were wondering, is not a beach) as if the Coast Guard boat pushing out to sea was the most interesting thing she would ever see.

“Wow, look at the boat! They’re honking the horn! Honk-honk!”

“This NOT a beach.”

Apparently, Coast Guard boats, even honking ones, do not defuse the righteous indignation of a toddler, who, promised a beach and an expansive ocean view, is instead led to a 10-foot wide strip of gravel in a parking lot. Duly noted.

“Oh, look, there’s rocks! There’s tons of rocks,” I said, on to the next idea. “There’s rocks EVERYWHERE. Should we throw some rocks into the water?”

If I had thought this through ahead of time, I would have realized what a ridiculous idea that was. She’s two and a half years old. Her arm is about 18 inches long. And the water was at least 30 feet away, down a sloping embankment. You do the math.

But then the strangest thing happened. This three-foot-tall bundle of ferocious energy, who feels free to hiss, growl, slap, kick, and flail at the slightest provocation, like a sock getting twisted or someone sitting too close to her, turned to me and cheerfully said, “Okay!” She bent down, her saggy diaper thrust into the air, and picked up a small rock. She heaved it as far as she could, a slight grunt underscoring the effort.

“That didn’t work,” she said calmly, noticing that the rock landed just inches away from her foot.

So she picked up another rock, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

And then another.

“That didn’t really work.” Addison crouched down this time, looking for just the right rock. She hefted one, holding it a moment. She dropped it. And picked up a larger rock. “Maybe I need a BIG rock.”

She threw the big rock, maybe three feet in front of her.

“That didn’t really work.”

I suggested maybe she needed to move closer, as if 10 steps would make a difference. She moved closer, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

This continued for at least four minutes. She tried small, medium, and large rocks. She tried going slightly up the embankment and slightly down the embankment. She tried different arm positions, underhand, overhand. What she did not do was huff or puff, whine or cry. Her usual intensity and tenacity that hover right on the edge of frustration and meltdown were, for FOUR WHOLE minutes, replaced by a calm and methodical persistence. Finally, she turned to me.

“You try, mama.”

Thank the good Lord that my feeble arm could still manage to get a rock 30 feet down into the water. For several more minutes, Addison brought me rocks of various shapes and sizes, and we watched to see which produced the biggest splashes. About two awkward throws after I thought I might have irreparably injured my neck, I finally convinced her that it was time to go.

I wish I could explain exactly why two weeks later I am still thinking of this “adventure.” There was something so ridiculous and profound about it, simultaneously mundane and exciting. I mean, for starters, my baby girl, the one who runs in for a hug only to change directions 1.5 seconds in, the one who veers off course 90% of the time so that much-anticipated expressions of affection come out something like “I love . . . What’s dat? It’s shiny. I want dat! I LOVE it! Gimme it!”, the one who has the teeny-tiniest attention span for anything that isn’t strictly forbidden, focused on something productive for FOUR minutes. And that something was, let’s be honest, kinda boring and lame. There was no possible way she was getting a rock into that water; she was lucky to get a rock one-tenth of the way. But all her “That didn’t really work”s were so calm and focused. There was no whiny (lazy?) self-doubt like when she so often comes to us and says, “I CAN’T do it,” mostly because she is unwilling to sit down for three seconds together and try.

This is perhaps reading too much into the situation (and probably also vain), but for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe I could see a little of my calm persistence in her. The ability to be patient and persistent, to recognize my limitations but still keep gently pushing back, has been everything to me. Trying to finish my Master’s thesis felt a little like having an 18-inch arm, while faced with a 30-foot distance. There had been neck surgeries and emergency surgery and bedrest and itching and sleepless nights and postpartum depression, and my thesis seemed a million miles away, completely out of reach. But I would not give up. I tried working in one-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison for walks. I tried working in three-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison to a babysitter. I tried working in bed on my trusty, sideways laptop. I rented a desktop and worked sitting up, with frequent breaks for amateur neck massages. All the time, I seemed no closer to finishing. There was a lot of “That didn’t work.”

I cleared out full days to devote to writing, and sat on the couch for ten hours at a time, barely attending to any bodily needs. I started working evenings at the lab when only a couple of hard-cores would be there. I started working all day Saturdays at the lab; if my car was not the last one in the parking structure, I vowed to stay later the next week. I brought snacks, meals, and pillows. I would work an hour and lay down to ease the tension in my neck and back. Another hour, and then walk a lap (okay, half a lap) around the empty second floor of the JFSB. When I needed a boost, I would persuade Neal to bring me dinner and a two-foot-tall visitor, who would do her darndest to wreak havoc on every keyboard in the room before her ten minutes expired. But no matter how many times my advisor hinted that I needed to be done, or my Grandma asked anxiously for a status report, or the university sent me certified letters warning that all my hard work expired in months, I was unruffled. I just kept plugging away. Moving up and down the bank. Trying different size rocks, different arm positions, different approaches. Vain or not, I want her to learn that from me.

There’s something I want to learn from her too. I want to learn that moment where you turn back. Back to someone bigger, taller, stronger. Someone who has been standing behind you all the time, even though you didn’t know it or believe it or want to believe it. Someone who has been observing; appreciating each of your focused, little efforts. Someone who knows the best place for that rock to land and how to get it there. Someone who is waiting, always waiting, to show you. Someone who will wait forever. I want to learn how to hand over that rock. To stop gripping it so tightly, as if everything depends on my hand, my arm, my strength. I want to learn those words, “You try.”


October 20, 2011

Thesis Thursday: Acknowledgments

Filed under: Incarceration research, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 12:00 pm

I know you thought Thesis Thursday was over since I finally graduated, but alas, there’s still plenty of thesis-related work in my life.  A couple of papers still to be finished and submitted, a book in the works, and a conference presentation next month (the presentation is for this paper and thus the reward is that I’m going to Disneyworld!  Huzzah!).  Despite these loose ends and new projects, I have been taking a pretty extended break from all things incarceration-related.  But before too much time lapsed, I wanted to post my thesis acknowledgments page.  Really, I wished I had more space because there are so many people, especially some of you ever-encouraging blog readers, that helped me keep on trucking and git ‘er done.  So consider yourself acknowledged!

I entered graduate school with very specific plans for my thesis research and the fact that I was able to accomplish precisely what I set out to do is a testament to the assistance and dedication of so many people.  First and foremost, I thank Dr. Randy Day, who believed in me and my ideas (even when they took longer than expected to come to fruition) enough to connect me with all the right people to make this project a reality.  I also thank my committee members, Drs. Bahr, Israelsen, and Ward, who were always encouraging even while offering constructive criticism.  I express appreciation to Dr. Justin Dyer who is undoubtedly one of the best people I have ever worked with from both a professional and personal standpoint, and his wife Aislin who offered practical assistance and friendship when this research took me to an unfamiliar city.  I thank all the University of Illinois undergrads I was able to work with, but especially Brandon Lesch who will no doubt remain a lifelong friend.

I thank so many friends and family, especially my parents and grandparents.  It’s impossible to overstate how much support they offered, from babysitting to editing to dinners, not to mention unending love.  I thank Kirsten Allen because only a true friend would format statistical tables for me.  I also thank my baby girl, Addison, not because she helped with this thesis (she mostly hindered it—in wonderful ways, of course), but because she will always be the most important legacy of my grad school years.  Most especially, I thank Neal, my partner in this—not everyone would move cross-country and go into jails with me—and everything.

Most of all, I thank the men I met in the jail who shared their experiences with me, especially those 12 I spent so much time with.  They are the reasons I persisted even when life threw some curveballs—I never stopped wanting to tell their amazing, heart-breaking, beautiful stories.  I suspect I never will.  They were all seeking a better life.  I pray they found it.

June 15, 2011

Remember how I’ve been itching to travel lately . . .

And by lately, I mean at least since I was born.  Well, I’ve decided to let this blogger pick up the tab for my next trip to Paris.  And by next, I mean my first.  I’ve never won a contest of any kind before, so it seems like it’s my time.

Truth be told, I already feel like I’ve won the lottery because I managed to get four busy professors’ schedules to align for 2 hours next week so I can defend my thesis.  They are literally the ONLY two hours in which they are all going to be available and in Provo until October.  Not only did I find that minuscule window of opportunity, but I also procured the necessary signatures to make this all happen (although one was via a top-secret, emergency procedure that will not be named).  They don’t tell you this when you start grad school, but they should: it is at least as hard to get the required signatures as it is to write your thesis/dissertation.  But that’s all forgotten now because I have a lot of breathing room from now until Thursday the 23rd at 3:00 pm.  Huzzah!

Today I’ve turned that breathing room into doing laundry while watching Anne of Avonlea (and yes, I did watch it on VHS . . . I’m old school like that) and then an actual date night (most of our dates take place at 4:00 pm when our usual babysitter can watch Addison and even though it shouldn’t make much of a difference, there’s something exciting about leaving the house at 7:30 — every once in a while anyway; most of the time I’m happy to be in my PJs then) [also, did you observe the length of that parenthetical as well as the variety of punctuation within it?  I’m beginning to think this whole paragraph is bordering on the ridiculous], thanks to Kamille’s (a sister from my ward) kind offer to babysit.  We hit up the dollar theater and saw The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  I liked it more than expected . . . it was funny, sweet, and thought-provoking, a nice combination.

It’s been a good couple of days in my world.

June 8, 2011

Feeling low? This should help . . .

Filed under: Incarceration research, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 11:59 am

I finished my thesis this afternoon.  Yay. (Monty Python cheer).  Just a day (and two years) later than planned, not too bad.  I sent it to my advisor about 6:00 . . . and by 6:15, I could feel the adrenaline subsiding and holy crap, I was TIRED!  As I’ve been working these 12-hour days for the last couple of weeks, I thought I was doing okay: eating healthier than usual and getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night (although I’m always better off with 9 to 10 hours).  But I had to be at the lab A LOT because I don’t have all the analysis software at home and it’s entirely clear that I was not made for spending full-time hours out of bed.  I woke up about 3:00 am just sick.  Sick.sick.sick.

I’m definitely not in much of a blogging mood (but don’t worry, the requests for pictures or videos of Addison have been duly noted), but I had to pass along this video that definitely made this middle-of-the-night illness more bearable:

Now that’s just good for the soul.

May 31, 2011

Clean ALL the things!

Filed under: Incarceration research, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 4:50 am

After I finished my paper last Tuesday, I took a bit more inspiration from this comic and did this:

It had to be done really.  Household cleanliness is definitely one of the things that has suffered with the great-thesis-push-of-2011.  It was getting to the point that even I was uncomfortable with Addison eating off the floor.  In case you don’t know, that’s like really, really dirty.

So Wednesday, I deep cleaned the kitchen counters/stove/sink and the bathroom mirror and counter.  If that doesn’t sound like a nearly all-day project, then clearly, you’re not thinking filthy enough.  By the time we hit 3:00, I was at this stage:

But I pressed on and spent Thursday tackling one of the most massive piles of laundry ever seen in these parts:

By Friday, I was about ready to pass out, but the kitchen floor was still crying out for help: Get these sticky mounds of hardened jam off me! (I told you, things had gotten bad.)  I got down on my hands and knees with a scrub brush and about 30 rags and made that floor sparkle.  [By the way, it seems there may be two types of people in this world: those who think that standing upright and mopping will do the job and those who don’t.  I was raised by the second type — if your knees and knuckles aren’t scraped up by the end, you aren’t doing it right!  This has forever been a source of conflict in Neal’s and my marriage.]  But man, look at that floor:

And the rest:

The bathroom floor and shower were still waiting for some attention, but come Saturday, it was time to get back to my thesis work.  I was at the lab until 11:00 pm . . . on a Saturday . . . on Memorial Day weekend.  Needless to say, campus was absolutely deserted.  I tend to like things quiet when I’m on campus, but it was a little too quiet, even for me — I definitely started imagining someone was going to jump out of the shadows and accost me at any moment.  But I made a lot of progress and had a breakthrough in my qualitative data analysis.  No doubt I’ll explain more about that later, but for now, I’m on a deadline.  The goal is to have a completed draft of my thesis in one week.  I’m going to be basically done with my thesis in seven. more. days.*  Git ‘er done.

*I may have to revise that deadline . . . sadly, little Addison got sick today and changing 17 dirty diapers and feeding her clear liquids kind of cut into my work time.  Oh, but she actually cuddled on my lap for almost ten minutes at one time, so illness definitely has its upside!

May 21, 2011

Dilemmas, dilemmas

First off, I was taught to spell the word “dileMNa.”  Some people have told me that I was simply misspelling that word for years, but since I’m a lot like this lady, a compulsive dictionary-checker who never writes a word I’m not certain I know how to spell, that is very unlikely.  And so I’m thankful to Neal’s sister Robin, a fellow “dilemna”-speller, for pointing out that there are many of us, now able to commiserate via the internet!  But rest assured that I’ve adapted to the dileMMa spelling, so that’s not one of my dilemmas at the moment.

The dilemma I am facing now is of the thesis-variety.  I’ve been contemplating whether I even have the energy to explain.  After about four days of trying, I have concluded that indeed I do not have the energy to explain my thesis dilemma.  It involves the (often unnecessary) split between qualitative and quantitative researchers (I consider myself a mixed methods researcher, but my philosophy of science is definitely more aligned with qualitative researchers) and the fact that qualitative data analysis is maybe 200 times more time-consuming than quantitative data analysis.

The other dilemma is how much I’ve been itching for some travel lately.  I am contemplating all sorts of wild trips, including the ca-rrrrazy cross-country roady I first discussed here.  Since travel is not easy for me physically, I thought my desires would kind of recede as I got older.  But in almost two years, I’ve only been to three states (CA, NV, and CO) — and I can tell from the twitch I’ve developed whenever I use Google Maps, that just isn’t enough.  But I do have a plan . . . I always have a plan!  If I can get a paper finished and submitted in 7 days, then I will have a reason to go to a conference in Florida later this year (and Disneyworld, of course).  Hopefully I can swing by another state or two!  Ready, go!

Also, in my opinion,  it really wouldn’t be the worst thing if tomorrow set off the beginning of the end of the world.  But just in case, you better check out these fantastic pictures first . . .

This is just a teaser . . . you know you wanna see the rest.

April 24, 2011

All messed up . . .

Filed under: Incarceration research, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 10:54 am

My sleep, that is.  For the last week, I have gone to bed sometime between 10:30 and 11:30 pm (pretty good, right?) — and not been able to sleep until 4:00 or 5:00 am.  What the?!!  The only decent night I’ve had was last night when, I’m not gonna lie, I doped myself up on sleeping pills.

Even though I’ve battled insomnia since childhood, I somehow thought that parenthood had helped me turn the corner.  I’m not talking about some kind of magic . . . but rather, being so freaking worn out that I couldn’t possibly lie awake for hours.  Guess not (and lest someone make the connection that the last time I wrote about such disordered sleep, it was on account of being pregnant . . . um, no.  Definitely no.).

Surprisingly, though, I’ve been able to make these late night vigils more effective than usual.  I was inspired by a Facebook post from my friend Jen (who moved to Arizona today — boo) about how she had to get her daughter some water at 4:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so she took a take-home final.  At 4:00 am!  Usually the best I can muster is blog surfing, but this week, I wrote another section of my thesis and finished gathering my literature.  If all goes according to plan, I will write my lit review on Monday/Tuesday and send my completed prospectus to my advisor on Wednesday.  Obviously, it’s not all going to go according to my plan (if it did, I would not be a fourth-year Master’s student, would I?), but I’m pretty confident I’ll get the prospectus done sometime this week.  [And in case, you’re wondering where that leaves me in the whole scheme of thesis-writing, I will have three sections done (intro, lit review, and methods) and three to go (quantitative results, qualitative results, and discussion)].  Actually, I’m pretty pleased with where things stand on the thesis-front; I’ve got momentum . . . and I haven’t had momentum since like 2008.

May is going to be a big month for me — I can just feel it.  Besides the thesis, I want to submit a paper to a conference, deadline May 27.  And hopefully, I’ll finally wrap up the draft of the paper that will not die (unexpected delays on account of some missing data that I should have noticed a long time ago — official Doh! moment-of-the-week).  My productive May will be made possible by Neal finally getting his wish and officially becoming a stay-at-home dad (no work or school), at least for a couple of months.  Here we go . . .

January 5, 2009

Are you kidding…it’s 2009?

Filed under: Incarceration research, Miscarriage, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 3:41 am

So the last month and a half is kind of a crazy, messy blur in my head.  Oh well, I’m sure someone would have told me if something really important slipped by me.

So a resolution for the new year: must blog more.  And this is more than a hobby goal because when I work on my thesis, I usually add a post.  And when I don’t work on my thesis…you get the idea.  There has been far too little working on my thesis considering I’m halfway through my second year now.

Good luck to me in 2009.

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