Kamilah Kashanie (KK): It’s the StoryCorps podcast from NPR. I’m Kamilah Kashanie.
All season, we’ve been bringing you stories from people who went through some kind of change in their lives, showing us it’s possible to start again, or reconnect, and adapt. So, for our last story, we’ll hear from two women who do that like it’s their job. Because it actually is their job.
They spend weeks at a time in the most remote parts of the world studying the impact of climate change. Doctors Zoe Courville and Lora Koenig first met in the middle of an ice sheet in Greenland. But they came to StoryCorps to talk about a different kind of adjustment they had to make — when they became parents.
LORA KOENIG (LK) : I remember the first time my son said, “Mom, are you taking your big bag or your little bag?” And that was his question of, how long are you going to be gone for?
ZOE COURVILLE (ZC) : Yeah.
LK: I had gotten my first grant. I went to the field. I cried the whole plane ride when I left. And I missed his first Christmas. But when I got back, he snuggled right in.
ZC: I had my son in 2011. So you were the pioneer, and I had to ask you a lot of questions. The biggest question I had was if your son remembered you when you came back after being gone.
LK: When you asked me that, I remember thinking I didn’t necessarily have good advice. We’re scientists. We want data. And we don’t have that.
ZC: When I did get back home, my son didn’t recognize me. He sort of recoiled when I went to go have my imagined moment of us running into each other’s arms. You know, I wondered if I had done the right thing.
ZC: I had one instance that I still sort of struggle with. Someone I respect as a scientist immensely — unsolicited, he said to me, “you know, I was in the field a lot. And I was always grateful that my wife stayed home with the kids because kids need their mothers.” He very pointedly wanted to let me know that he felt that that was very important. But, kids also need their fathers. And you don’t hear that a lot.
LK: Yeah. I think I’m a better scientist because I’m a mother because I work harder in the field. If I’m away from my children, there is an extra weight that I have to do even better.
ZC: Just recently, I wanted to do an extra trip to the South Pole. And the way I had phrased it to my husband was, you know, ‘honey, they might need someone to go to the South Pole to drill some ice cores’. And my son actually piped up and he said, “Mommy, you can do that.” And so there was a moment where I felt like things would be okay. That my son actually understands what I do is important and is kind of proud of me.
KK: That was Dr. Zoe Courville and Dr. Lora Koenig in 2017. After their story aired, Zoe got a bunch of messages from people asking for advice on work-life balance. Something most of us have been dealing with over the last year and change while working from home during the pandemic.
So we asked Zoe to share some of her words of wisdom. Like if your coworkers, family or friends offer to help, it’s okay to accept it.
ZC: And you can even ask for help if you need it, which I will admit is harder than accepting help. And maybe the most important thing is to remember that it’s okay if things aren’t going well and that you’re not alone in that.
KK: Zoe started a Parent of the Year contest at her lab, where all the parents would share their failures with each other.
ZC: My son hid in our dog’s crate to get out of spelling worksheets for the day. I didn’t even notice that he was missing for a good 40 minutes. And then I had another coworker who got locked out of his house by his two year old. This was a way for us all to laugh together and to realize we weren’t alone and really just doing our best.
KK: The last thing Zoe said, is that kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. And over this last year, I think a lot of us have learned that we’re a lot more resilient than we thought we were too.
This story was produced by Kelly Moffitt, and edited by Kerrie Hillman. It was facilitated by Camila Kerwin. Our executive editor is Jasmyn Morris. Our technical director is Jarrett Floyd.
That’s all for this episode and this season of the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Kamilah Kashanie. Catch you next season.