Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Which I Advise Those Who Will Come After Me

I was naive going into this. I admit that. I thought that being the wife of a grad student would be simple. Sure, I anticipated a few changes. I knew that I would have to proofread the occasional paper. I knew that the hubby would usually have to study during our evening coffee dates, but I looked forward to this as a chance to catch up on all the classic literature I missed in college. I imagined myself hosting study parties at our apartment and feeding everyone blondies. (I make very good blondies.) I imagined everyone asking for my blondie recipe.

So far, no one has asked for my blondie recipe. 

I imagine that I am not the only person seeing her spouse through graduate school. In the spirit of solidarity, then, let me offer these five handy tips for surviving the long years ahead:

1. Learn the lingo. This is important. The hubby and I used to have conversations that went like this:

Hubby: ...and the anterior shakes on the Dutchman's joints appeared bilaterally spliced between the midsection and crossbeam, and, as Higgins notes, the brick facade is fundamentally unstable without the stretcher bond touchpointing the spall.
Me: Erm. Can you chop that mango for me?

But after a month or so we had this conversation, of which I am not proud:

Hubby: I'm free Saturday after I get back from field recordation and condition assessment for stabilization at the Watson-Price barn.
Me: The...meh? The what?
Hubby: I've been doing this for two weeks. Remember?
Me: Is that where you're trying to save the barn that they should totally just tear down because it's an eyesore?
Hubby: I'm getting the feeling that you're not particularly invested in my chosen field of study.
Me: Erm. Smoochies?

So I'm working on learning the lingo, because I like knowing what my husband's talking about. I know what a a jalousie window is and where to find it (trailer parks, mostly) and I know that lamb's tongue has nothing to do with soft fluffy animals. I'm still mostly quiet when he's talking about school, but now when I say "Erm" it's an educated erm.

2. Expect to cook a lot of dinners and do a lot of dishes and wash a lot of laundry. I imagine that spouseless grad students just let the dishes and laundry pile up until the end of the term, at which point they burn it all. I see no other option: there simply isn't time in the graduate schedule to allow for normal domestic activities. As the spouse, if you don't want to reside in a hovel you're going to have to take on a bit more than your fifty-percent share of the housework.

Your spouse will feel guilty about this. Every time he thanks you and apologizes for not being able to help, tell him it's your joy and you love being able to help him out. And then, at the end of the term, when exams are in the past and he's had his first good night's sleep in three months, he'll cook you a nice dinner. There will probably be candles. This makes all the laundry worthwhile.

3. There will not be much you can do to help. Get over it now. You can't do the reading and you can't take notes and you can't do the detailed architectural drawings (well, you can, but you will do them wrong). You will wake up at three in the morning and realize that your spouse hasn't come to bed yet because he's still trying to churn out a paper and you will want with every ounce of your being to take some of the load off his shoulders. You can't. You can't even format his footnotes for him because his program uses an incredibly counterintuitive style you've never heard of before.

I may be alone in the desire to format my husband's footnotes.

4. Grad student housing sucks. It's best to get over this quickly. You will dream of drapes. You will imagine all the colors you could paint your walls if you were allowed to paint. You will spend untold hours on Pinterest lusting after the floorplan you can't have. You will wish desperately for a puppy, but the only allowable pets have gills. You will fantasize about having closets with doors on them. You will think about someday, maybe, having neighbors who don't store their trash outside their front door. (Also pans full of grease.)

The day for drapes will come. For now, just be glad you have a door that locks.

5. Remember it will end. This is the hardest part--especially on this side of summer, when the hubby will have an internship 3,000 miles away. But I keep trusting that, as always, many years from now I'll look back on this time and be amazed that it went so quickly.

Well, maybe not quickly. But it sure can't last forever. Until then, I'll keep working on this blondie recipe. Because even if I don't get an honorary master's degree out of this, I will at least keep my family well fed. 


  1. Heh. I feel both of your pain, both as a grad student and the significant other of a grad student. We're in our last year, and I'd like to tell you that it's better on the other side, but neither of us has secured a job yet, so I'll get back to you on that. :)

  2. Okay...I'll bite. How about sharing that Blondie recipe of yours?

    I am a grad student, part-time, which is more than enough since I am 52 years old. I laughed reading your descriptions. My husband does the dishes for us, and helps out as he is able. Our 3 sons are grown (one in grad school himself) and are mostly out of the house.

  3. Hey Beth! Sounds like your hands are pretty full too, but thank heaven for helpful husbands!

    Here's the blondie recipe. Credit where due--I got this from Cook's Illustrated magazine. Very easy to whip up if you've only got a few minutes before you need to show up somewhere with an impressive dessert. And they NEVER last long--I've seen a group of four people devour a whole pan in one evening.

    1 cup pecans or walnuts
    1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
    2 large eggs, lightly beaten
    4 teaspoons vanilla extract (really)
    1/2 cup white chocolate chips
    1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

    1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on large rimmed baking sheet and bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer nuts to cutting board to cool; chop coarsely and set aside. (Or skip this step. I only do it if I have plenty of extra time on my hands.)
    2. While nuts toast, line 13 by 9-inch baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
    3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
    4. Whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate and nuts and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.
    5. Bake until top is shiny, cracked, and light golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes; do not overbake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into squares and serve.