So, the proposal didn't work out.
I got the news the other day, a week after the email was sent. I was way behind on work email because of The Virus. The kids were watching Curious George/Bob the Builder/Toy Story (the last week has been a blur of anthropomorphic fun) and I took a deep breath and waded into the sixty unread emails in my work account. The first one I read was from the administrator who had helped me with the submission expressing her regret that it hadn't been funded.
My reaction surprised me. I wasn't upset, or even that disappointed. I thought something along the lines of "Huh", then went into the kitchen to switch the laundry over. I could say that my subdued reaction was the result of maturity and professionalism gained from a few years of work experience, but I think it had much more to do with the enormous amount of Other Things on my mind at the time--two sick kids and the resulting heaps of dirty sheets, clothes, and towels endlessly cycling through the laundry, two missed days of work, missed preschool, nonexistant sleep, the fact that we're still hitting a hundred degrees regularly in late September, I need to start thinking about my spring class soon, The Office season premier is coming up...
In truth, I feel lucky just to have professional disappointments at all. Struggling through the proposal process only to be turned down by the NSF means that I am in the game! Hundreds of good, smart, talented people all over the country got the EXACT SAME EMAIL I DID! It wasn't that long ago that I wondered if it was even possible for me to have a scientific career and still have the kind of home life I wanted. I agonized over applying for post-docs, tenure-tracks, research associates, feeling deep down each time that it wouldn't work out, that I'd be working all the time, that it would put too much strain on the family. But the thought of walking away hurt too. Academics had been my goal for years! I knew that still meant something. I am in a very good position now and I couldn't be happier with the balance I've been able to create (Old Testament-style stomach viruses that mess it all up not-withstanding).
And shortly after the proposal email, I got some great news too! An abstract I wrote was accepted to a conference in December. I will be going to San Francisco to present the paper, make professional contacts, and visit the Ghirardelli factory. And maybe meet some friends! I am very excited about all of it, though I think I've forgotten how to be anywhere by myself. My first thought when I booked my hotel three blocks from the conference center was "I can't walk three blocks ALL ALONE!" as if walking three blocks with three kids was somehow less intimidating than walking three blocks alone (it is!). I guess it's all in what you're used to! Something I am not used to? Earthquakes. We will address my seismophobia another time.
I will be resubmitting the proposal in May. All but one of the reviewers said that it was a good project and it would be great for my school in addition to my own career. Their advice was very constructive and specific and I'm confident I can make some improvements before the next round (we'll see how those changes are received!) (if the office of institutional advancement hasn't disowned me after last time!). There are other grants and opportunities that interest me in the meantime. But I'm not going to lie, I'm a little relieved to not be committed to full-time work the summer before Charlie starts kindergarten.