The fear of judgment continues

Hi, my name is Crazy Grad Mama, and I’m an insecure parent

My latest mommy-guilt paranoia is about the food we pack for daycare.  We’ve taken an adventurous but lackadaisical approach to introducing solid food, one that’s based on offering Little Boy spoonfuls of leftover spaghetti, bites of avocado, crusts of PB&J, and even a small sliver of pizza.  At the time Little Boy started daycare, he’d been regularly eating one solid meal per day at dinnertime and was just starting on the concept of lunch.  I figured sending him one bowlful of something for lunch (plus plenty of Cheerios for snack time) would be plenty to begin with.  Applesauce one day, yogurt the next, maybe some puréed peas – I could handle this.

Except that after about a week, we were informed that he needed more food.  It’s his teachers’ job to give us feedback on this, of course, but there are a range of approaches to saying, “Hey, you need to pack more food because your kid is getting hungry in the afternoon,” and, well, they didn’t really hit the right one.  Cue me feeling like a crappy parent.

This also means coming up with twice as many packable baby meals per week.  But there’s a reason I’m not usually the family cook, and that reason is the fact that I can barely muster up the mental energy to care about cooking (much less meal planning) on a regular basis.

Half of Little Boy’s current easy-prep menu turns out to be unsuitable for packing – avocados and bananas turn brown, peanut butter is an allergy no-no.  He’s not far enough along in the art of self-feeding to assume that he’ll eat large quantities of finger food (indeed, his teachers report that he mostly plays with the Cheerios), so the random small bits of adult food we provide at home won’t be much good for satiating his hunger at daycare.

It’s starting to annoy my husband a little, I think.  The increasingly desperate look on my face when I realize that we’re going to have to send Little Boy with yogurt and applesauce again.  “His teachers are going to think we’re terrible parents,” I say.  “We can’t send him with the same thing every day.”

Someday, I might look back on these times and laugh that I was so worried about something that seems so irrelevant in the long run.  It’s not like I’m sending my kid to daycare with fried Twinkies and Pepsi.  And it’s such an easy issue to solve, once we hit a weekend when I’m not feeling quite so sick.  Fruits and vegetables are readily boiled / steamed / baked and puréed once you have them on hand.

The underlying insecurity, however, is not so easy to solve.  I have a tendency to assume that people are thinking the worst, especially when it comes to my mothering.  (For instance, I used to close the windows when Little Boy did tummy time, because he protested the indignity so strenuously that I worried others would hear the crying and be concerned.)  Right now, it really matters to me that the daycare teachers think well of us.  I don’t need to be the best at this, but I don’t want to be laughably far behind.

Decision roadblock #3: admitting it

This is the third in a series about the issues that have been preventing me from making a decision about what to do with my life.  My alternatives are: (1) quit grad school now, which I’m leaning against doing, (2) finish my PhD but look for jobs in industry, or (3) finish my PhD and apply for academic jobs.  Roadblock #1 was fundamentally about my fear of change.  Roadblock #2 was the concern that my dislike of academia is really a defense mechanism (see also this post).  Roadblock #3 is about talking to other people – and about admitting some things to myself.

I have always been a golden child when it comes to academics.  Great grades, positive feedback, and the kind of reference letters that get you in to any graduate school you choose.  The department where I chose to pursue my PhD helped me out in several ways that made it clear they really wanted me to attend.  They clearly had high expectations for me.

I have let them down.

There is a thing often spoken of in academia called “imposter syndrome,” in which a person who is in fact very accomplished believes that he or she is secretly a fraud.  I have seen it in others, including a friend who became quite unhappy after reading a year’s worth of grad school applications – she couldn’t understand how she could possibly have been considered good enough for admission compared to those people.  That’s not me.  I do believe I deserved admission; vain as it may sound, I had a pretty glowing resume then, and I am a smart and capable individual.

But my resume is faded and dusty.  I have managed to publish exactly zero peer-reviewed publications by a point when most of my peers have several, and publications are one of the primary ways your worth is measured in academia.  There are no more scholarships or fellowships or grants.  Every year, I have to fill out a survey for the department that asks for my accomplishments; every year, I grow more surprised that no one scolds me for having nothing to list.

As long as I hold any thought that I might consider an academic career path – i.e., taking some postdoctoral positions and eventually trying to find a professor job – then I have to maintain the facade that I have everything under control.  To admit otherwise would be to reveal that I’m maybe not very good at this, and that could sink my chances.  Even just admitting that I’m considering alternative career options could cut off my academic future.  It’s a very competitive field.  We used to have an annual career advice lunch for grad students in which the speaker’s advice could be summed up as, “Be awesome, and you will be awesome.”  I’m not awesome.  I’m not sure what I want to do next, and I can’t let anybody know.

Even worse than limiting my career choices, though, is how painful I know it will be to admit that I fell behind.  I can’t imagine how that conversation with my research advisor will go, except that I know I’ll burst into tears the minute I start trying to speak.  Surely he must be displeased with how slow I am; perhaps he regrets taking me on as a student.  Maybe he will give me ultimatums and deadlines that will make me stressed and terrified.

I have never (at least not with academic subjects) been in this place before, a place where despite all of my best efforts, I’m coming in last.  I suppose it has to happen to someone.  My first year running cross-country races in middle school, I was the third-from-last kid to cross the finish line.  It hurt my pride, but I was pretty realistic about my running abilities at the time, and so I quickly got over it.  Here, now, in graduate school – I know I could do this.  Except… I guess I can’t.

Deep breaths.

I have to do something.  I can’t continue acting like everything is coming along just fine.  For one, my thesis committee is bound to chastise me the next time we meet.  A year ago, I could already feel that I was skating on thin ice with no papers published.  I still don’t even have a reasonable draft of anything for them to read (not that they would have any useful advice, but that’s another story).

Today, one of the professors on my thesis committee asked how things were going.  I couldn’t muster up a perky “good!” or even a jaded “they’re going.”  And I am good at perky lies of that sort.  I have been practicing them since I was ten, when I needed to hide my real feelings from the adults because their intervention would only make the bullying worse.  Answer with enough positive enthusiasm and they’ll believe you.

I need to just do it.  Rip the Band-Aid off.  Tell my research advisor that I know he’s probably not happy with my progress.  Tell him that I feel responsible for finishing my dissertation to the best of my ability, but that I don’t know where I want to go from there.  It is going to be incredibly painful, but maybe there will be some relief in being able to stop pretending.

I am afraid.

Defense mechanism

Over on Tenure, She Wrote today, Rotem Ben-Shachar writes,

I wondered if her description of her lack of passion is a defense mechanism she uses as a reason to leave academia. […] The more we have at stake, the harder and more personally we take failure.

She is referring to her friend, a fellow PhD student who expresses like but not love for her (the friend’s) research.  The story is in the context of a broader message about implicit gender biases and how the stereotypes about men and women affect the ways that each group responds to setbacks.  She goes on:

So do we try to convince ourselves we are less invested in our work to protect ourselves from future disappointment? Is it easier to believe that we are simply not as passionate in our work rather than confront that fixed mindset of ours, that we simply don’t have the innate ability to do the work? And how do we truly decipher to what extent passion and to what extent self-defense mechanisms characterize our feelings toward our work?

THIS.  This is why the question of whether or not I might like my field of study again poses such an obstacle to deciding whether or not to leave academia.  I don’t like my research now, but have I really lost interest or have I simply spent years constructing a defense mechanism to protect myself against future failure?  After all, if I don’t like it, then won’t hurt so much to see the other students in my year graduate before me.  It won’t hurt so much if my committee tells me I haven’t made enough progress.  And it won’t hurt so much if I decide that I need a job where full-time means 40 hours a week instead of one where it means twice that.

This is why when a therapist says to me, “Are you listening to yourself?  You seem really unhappy in grad school,” I immediately start backing away from the suggestion to leave that I know is coming.  It’s not that simple.

A major commitment

Part of the Writing 101 assignment for today is to “commit to a writing practice.”  Specifically, they recommend taking at least 15 minutes every day for free writing.  No editing as you go, no stopping to re-read what you’ve written, just writing what comes to mind.  If you want to polish it up for a wider audience, you do that later.

This sounds like a really good idea.  When forced to do academic writing, I have found that the most important step is to just get something – anything – out on the page.  Large chunks of that rough draft will be crossed out and completely rewritten, but it’s somehow easier to write out a new paragraph when I have the old one physically in front of me.

At the moment, I’m not really interested in adopting a daily habit of pure free writing.  When it comes to just getting thoughts out of my head and into words, blogging has helped a lot, but I want to keep blogging as a fun hobby for now.  If I don’t have anything to say on a particular day, I don’t want to force it.

However, I do have something very big and very overwhelming that needs to be written: my PhD thesis.  What if I were to commit to 15 minutes of thesis writing every day, following the rules of free writing?  (Wait, isn’t there a book about this?)

No second-guessing my sentences, or worrying that a phrase is too cliché.

No pausing to look up citations.  No falling down the rabbit hole of reference after reference.

No messing about with formatting.

I could do all that later, once I’ve broken down the start-writing barrier.  Sources will have to be checked, graphs made, sections rearranged, and chances are that very few of my free-written words will make it into the final thesis.  But I have to start somewhere.

It’s a scary thing, making that kind of commitment.  I think I could maybe do 15 minutes a day – just sit down right when I arrive at the office and write – but officially declaring it a goal opens me to the possibility of failure.  If I don’t try, I can’t fail.  If I don’t try, I don’t have to face the guilt and stress and anxiety that comes with attempting to succeed.

But if I don’t try, I’ll never finish.  Maybe I’ll never finish anyway – although I’m leaning towards not quitting the program before graduating, I’m still undecided – but this is as good a time as any to try something new.

And so, as extraordinarily anxiety-inducing as it is, I make this commitment to myself before the entirety of the internet:

I will spend 15 minutes every weekday writing my thesis.  Just writing, no stopping to edit or thinking too hard about my words before they get to the page. 

To make this practical and feasible, I will allow myself exemptions on days with unusual circumstances.  If I have to stay home and take my son to the doctor, for instance, it’s OK that writing doesn’t get done.  Or if it’s the day before a major deadline and I’m feeling so stressed that I can’t concentrate on anything but the deadline – that’s OK too.  The key for me is to be consistent, not perfect.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Crap, that means I have to go do this today.  Ugh.  Wish me luck!

A navel-gazing free write

The context here is that I’ve signed up for WordPress’s “Writing 101.”  For the next four weeks, I’ll receive daily writing prompts (it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to find the time to post every day, and of course there are also lots of un-prompted posts that I want/need to write in the next month, but it sounded like fun).  Today’s assignment was to just write whatever for 20 minutes.  The result (with a little bit of cheating to check for spelling) is below.

Day 1.  20-minute free write.  I guess what’s on my mind right now is how worried I am that this Writing 101 thing will seem silly.  That it will mark me as a newbie (although duh, I am a newbie).  That I’ll look back years from now and think, “Wow, how could I ever have been caught up in that.”  But who cares?  It’s my blog, and I can do what I like.  I don’t need to write all the preemptively defensive statements that are going through my head – like how I’m not going to get so caught up in writing every single prompt that it makes me anxious, or how I’m just doing this because it sounded like fun.  I wanted to do this, and shouldn’t that be enough?

Come to think of it, I’m preemptively defensive a LOT.  I always feel the need to completely explain my decisions or new hobbies to my husband, to the point of countering objections that he hasn’t even made.  Why is this?  He and I have talked before about my fear of judgement, which seems to be a deep and constant theme in my personality, but which hurts him because he believes he would never judge me.  But I interpret every little thing as judgement.  And I HATE being misinterpreted by anyone, and he does misinterpret me sometimes.

I’m also very guarded when it comes to expressing enthusiasm about said new hobbies.  “I can’t let myself get ‘taken in’ by that,” I think.  “I mustn’t let anyone else think that I got sucked into a new world too quickly, because that’s foolish and shows a lack of critical thinking.”  I have a naturally-obsessive personality, and so I do have to be on guard against letting anything take over my life to quickly.  Somewhere along the way, though, I decided that other people would be judging any apparent over-interest (there’s that judgement thing again).  Where did this come from?  I don’t know.  My parents were always very supportive of my interests, buying me craft supplies and flute lessons and the like.  And while I had my fair share of unfinished projects, I wasn’t flaky about my interests – I still sew from time to time, and knit, and while I no longer play the flute, I stuck with it for nearly a decade.  I did get the message that all-consuming obsession was not OK, in the form of grumpy parents telling me to hurry up and go to sleep when I just wanted to finish making my pajamas for Christmas morning.  (They were very against letting me stay up late to finish things.  Particularly my father.  They blamed it on procrastination, but I think the real culprit was perfectionism.)

Today, I worry that my husband will be the grumpy one, if I spend so much time on a hobby that I don’t have the time he wants to spend watching TV together.  He has a valid point – spouse together time is important, for sure – but my mind has taken this and twisted it around to a place where I feel like I have to defend anything I choose to do.

Recovery mode

It’s been a rough week.  There was an important deadline at school, and then I had to present some results (results? what results? ha!) to my research advisor and some other folks.  I didn’t hit quite the same level of total freak-out that I have with deadlines in the past, but let’s be honest – that’s not a very high bar.  Instead, I just felt like I had a constant live wire of tension running through my body.  All I wanted was to snip the wire and relax, but I couldn’t.

Since school had to take priority, the house is a mess.  A real, there-is-so-much-cat-hair-on-this-rug-that-it’s-driving-me-nuts mess, not a “my house isn’t quite up to Martha Stewart levels” mess.  Worse, I feel as though I haven’t been able to give my son the attention he deserves.  His father has invented some adorable baby games this week, and I haven’t had the energy.

When a perpetual undercurrent of anxiety finally disappears, it leaves behind not elation but exhaustion.  So this morning, with all the deadlines past, all I really wanted to do was sleep.  When Little Boy went down for his nap, I gave myself permission to do the same.  I could’ve used the time to do some of those things I’d had to put off (like vacuuming), but I chose not to, knowing that I needed to go into “recovery mode” before I crashed.

If you’re not me, this might seem like a no-brainer, a completely obvious decision.  Why should you have to rationalize taking a break?  It’s tricky for me, however, because I can get stuck in recovery mode.  It’s all too easy for the lure of sleep or mindless web browsing to take over, and it becomes both a symptom and cause of depression.  I wind up lacking the energy to do anything, while deeply unhappy that I’m accomplishing nothing.

It’s a fine edge to balance – recharging time is necessary, but how much is too much?  I’ve noticed that having hobbies helps; if I actually do something I enjoy, rather than just lazing around, I am happier.

Of course, sometimes you just need a nap.  Or at the very least an extended period of pseudo-meditation, which is what happens when I lay down but don’t fall all the way to sleep. This morning’s decision was the right one: afterward, I felt refreshed and more prepared to tackle the rest of the day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for what will hopefully be a good night’s rest.

Shouldn’t have opened my mouth

Today I made a mistake.  In front of a bunch of people.

I said something that was incorrect.  It happens to everyone – logically, I know this, although I rarely observe it in my fellow students – and it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  It wasn’t even a misunderstanding of the subject matter, just a statement that betrayed a lack of knowledge of who is doing certain work.

A professor corrected me.  Emphatically, but with less of the pompous I-know-more-than-you attitude that some folks in academia relish.  I handled it remarkably well (for me), taking in her explanation and admitting my error with relative calm.

But I felt my cheeks flame with embarrassment.  Wanted to run away and hide.  Wanted to rush back to my office and stab my arm with scissors, truth be told.  I didn’t – and don’t worry, I don’t actually stab my arm with scissors in situations like this.  I just think about it.

I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, I need to speak up more often, to demonstrate how much I know about the field.  (Yeah, there’s definitely a vanity component to it: when I make mistakes like I did this morning, I blame it on going too far in my desire to “show off.”  But it’s also an expected part of academic culture.)  And if I don’t speak up, I might miss out on interesting conversations.

But speaking up means taking the risk of being thought an idiot.  Who was it who said, “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”?  (Google results credit both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, among others, suggesting the quote’s origin is likely apocryphal.)

So on the other hand, it’s hard to speak up when you’re expected to always be the expert.  I demand an unreasonable amount of perfection from myself, but so does my environment.  As my friend’s advisor tells her, “You’re always being judged.”

Evidently, this bothers some people less than it does me.

1500 words of grad school angst

I don’t think this round of therapy is going to work out.  This is my third attempt in as many years to find a therapist who can help me deal with grad school and my future (or lack thereof) in academia.  I’ll be going back for at least a fifth appointment, which is further than I’ve gotten in the past, but it doesn’t seem like we’re making any real progress.

I get the sense that he thinks my problems are much simpler than they really are (and that I’m just confusing him when I try to explain further).  It’s not just a matter of finding strategies to deal with a certain type of anxiety, and it isn’t that I’m stuck with a bad thesis topic.  In fact, there are so many pieces that I barely know how to sort it out myself.

This post is an attempt to do that – start sorting it out – and it’s taken several revisions to turn it into something that’s not a complete rambling mess.  (Maybe still a rambling mess, but not a complete one.)

For starters, there’s the issue of whether I like what I’m doing right now.  I think the answer to that is yeah, for the most part.  The problem-solving and the code-writing and the data analysis – I’m good at that stuff, and it’s an engaging intellectual challenge.  Plus life overall right now is pretty good, and that’s partially because of the flexibility grad school offers me.  I believe that’s why I haven’t left grad school already: I can’t easily thing of what I’d rather be doing on a day-to-day basis.  I’m also able, for reasonable periods of time, to block out all the career-related anxiety and just do stuff.  That works for a while.

But then there’s everything I don’t like.  It’s so hard to be interested in the scientific motivation behind all that fun problem-solving.  Every time I attend a conference, I hold out hope that maybe this time I’ll find someone to talk to who has interesting insights about my thesis topic and that will inspire me to really care about it again.  This never happens; everyone else is much too involved in their own tiny little nitpicky topics to offer useful commentary on mine, and I’m much too nervous about sounding like an idiot to talk to as many people as I should.

My thesis topic isn’t the problem, though.  It remains one of the least-uninteresting topics available – and in any case, I’m sure as heck not changing my thesis topic now!

Conference talks are mostly boring, colloquium speakers are mostly boring, and I gave up on journal club years ago.  (My lack of interest is a factor here, but frankly, most academics are terrible presenters.)  The literature is full of papers that don’t get to the point or (and this happens unfortunately often) don’t seem to have a point at all.

At the same time, I’ve been so … traumatized by grad school that I can’t watch popular documentaries about my field or read about it in the news.  Seeing a “hey, this is cool” article in my Facebook feed produces a burst of anxiety, even though I am by nature incredibly curious about everything else.  Sometimes I wonder if my “this is totally boring” reaction at school is actually a coping mechanism to avoid this anxiety.

Then there’s the issue of hope.  When I do have a string of good, productive days, you’d think I’d get somewhere, right?  Wrong.  My effort seems to fall into an abyss of nothingness.  I’m trying to dig a tunnel through stone with a plastic spoon.  It’s hard to sustain the hope that I can do this when the end never. seems. to. get. any. closer.

Is there anything else I like about where I’m at right now, besides the fact that it’s comfortable and familiar?  Yes: my fellow grad students.  They are more like me than any other group I’ve ever been a part of, and that is a very valuable thing.  And yet they seem so very much unlike me – they seem ready to jump through the hoops of an academic career because of course that’s what they want.  The things that bother me so very much about our program and the culture of our field just don’t bother them that much.  Am I too sensitive?

I will lose these friends anyway, soon, as we all start to graduate and they begin hopping across the globe to postdoctoral positions.  I am done hopping; more than the physical upheaval of repeated moves, I am done giving my whole life just to make it to the next step, where I will have to give even more to make it to the next step after that, and so on and so on.

At present, the cost of childcare and the needs of my own sanity, I am working 4-hour days, enough to fulfill my contractual 20 hours a week.  Increased efficiency and reduced time-wasting allow me to get nearly as much done in those 4 hours as I did in 7-8 hours per day pre-baby.  But even working 8 hours a day felt like getting away with something; the expectation is 12-14.  And I can understand the urge to spend more and more and more time on research.  Perhaps if I did, I would feel like I was getting somewhere.  Perhaps not.  Undoubtedly I would lose my current fragile hold on sanity.  I have been to that place of perpetual work before, and it is not a happy place.

I do very much feel like I’m acting the part of the good, productive grad student, and I live in fear of the day someone finally realizes that I’m not.  I can’t use the regular tips for combating this “imposter syndrome;” that advice all seems to assume that you really are productive and achieving but just don’t see it.  Me, I’ve yet to publish a single first-author paper in a program where three or four are required to graduate and six(!) give you a shot at a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship.

The fact of the matter is that there was a significant stretch of time when I really was just pretending to work.  I was so burnt out by my first project (the one that birthed the Paper From Hell) that I spent months appearing to work in my office but actually browsing the internet and reading blogs.  In retrospect, taking proper time off might have been a better idea, but I was terrified that if I stopped coming in to the office on a regular basis, I would never come back.

My pride tells me that I have to finish this PhD.  My fear tells me that I will likely be one of the last of my classmates to do so, that I will take a year longer to finish than the “good” grad students, pushing me into “it’s hard to find funding for you” territory.  I have always been the one in life who gets things done first and best, so this is a very hard situation to accept.  I already feel a wee bit like a charity case with my advisor, who took me on after my first advisor turned out to be hopelessly incompetent at research.  I know I’ll be a disappointment if/when I say that I don’t want to apply for postdoctoral positions, to him and to the department that thought I was promising enough for a fellowship in my first year.

“I want to do a good job at this thesis, but it stops there” – how are they going to react?  A little part of me is afraid to make my future departure from academia official because of the tiny chance that maybe if I can just really get back into it again, I’ll realize that I still like it.  The atmosphere is so competitive that to admit you’re not 100% into it essentially kills your opportunity to proceed.  You have to be fully ready to actually walk away when you admit you’re thinking about it.  Moreover, I’m not sure that I ever can really get back into it, so strong is the fear of sacrificing my sanity.  I very deliberately don’t think about research outside of work right now.

Could I apply for postdoc jobs just to keep up the front of interest?  Even my father tells me I should think about applying for academic positions, just in case (although he also tells me not to apply for any job I would never take).  I know how long those applications take – we’re talking weeks and months! – and is that really a good use of my time, time that I could be using instead to just finish the damn PhD?

Am I really ready to completely let go of the idea of an academic career?  I am supposed to love my research, love it so much that I just can’t help working on it for 14 hours a day, and I definitely, definitely don’t.  But I don’t know what else to do.  The judgement of others looms large in my mind – there will be those who think I left because I wasn’t smart enough, those who think it was some kind of stereotypically-female decision after having a baby (they are wrong: I felt this way long before Little Boy came along).

Whew.  I’ve temporarily exhausted the well of anxiety on this subject.  If you’ve stuck with me through this post – thanks for reading.  This is the great unsolved problem in my life, and I could use the support in figuring it out.

This is your brain on overthinking it

Continuing with the theme of extreme self-consciousness, this is how my mind spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon:

Oh my gosh I just commented on one of my favorite blogs and they commented back I’m so excited but oh no now my original comment seems kind of stupid and they don’t sound very happy maybe they thought it was rude or too matter-of-fact or just lame ugh why did I say anything maybe I shouldn’t comment any more but no I have to keep commenting so they know I’m not really rude I shouldn’t have included a quote that was dumb and it messed up the formatting I must seem like such a n00b …

… and so on.

Do normal people’s brains work like this?  Any suggestions on how to stop completely over-analyzing every little interaction?

Running strollers and the fear of judgment

On a recent morning, Little Boy and I were out for a run when he started to get fussy.  This wasn’t a huge surprise; his relationship with the running stroller can be described as grudging tolerance at best.  It was also a particularly windy day – I don’t know how much that affected him, but it was certainly making the run harder on me.

My first response to a disgruntled Little Boy is to stop, pop my head around the sun shade, reassure him of my presence, check that he’s comfortably positioned with sunglasses still on, do a quick sniff test, and then give him a kiss and resume running.  If the grump level continues to rise, I’ll unstrap him from the stroller for a hug; at that point, it’s time to turn around (if I haven’t already) and head for home.

The path we run on is a popular spot for joggers, walkers, and bicyclists of all ages, so we pass and get passed by numerous people on a typical day.  When I’m pushing a baby who has decided to be, as my husband calls him, Mr. Fuss E. Pants, I become extremely self-conscious.  What are these various people thinking of me?  What kind of judgment must they be passing on my mothering skills?

What a selfish mother.  Can’t she see that her baby’s upset?  How can she keep running like that?

Logically, this anxiety has no basis.  No one has ever actually said such things in my hearing, nor even given me an obvious dirty look.  I know that Little Boy will be fine; our runs by design avoid mealtime and naptime, and the need for a diaper change would be unmistakable.  After a certain point, the best strategy for taking care of him is to get back home – and the fastest way to do that is to keep running.

My husband has no such worry in this situation.  He automatically assumes that any observers are sympathetic (oh, poor Daddy instead of oh, poor baby).

So why am I so concerned?  I wish I could more easily let it go.  This type of anxiety is almost always unproductive, and it permeates other parts of my life as well.  If I could just say to myself, “I’m going to submit this paper and deal with what the referee says when it comes,” I might be closer to graduating than I am now.