Family. One of dictionary.com’s definitions of family reads: a group of people who may be blood relations who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together. I am leaving for a theatre in higher education conference in three days, at which point I am reuniting with an extended family of educators with common interests and goals. I look forward to this conference every year with great anticipation.
There is this wonderful sense of camaraderie we enjoy about teaching theatre and working with young artists. I get to attend workshops, panels and seminars about how I can become a stronger educator as well as how I can structure my path toward tenure and beyond. I always come back from these conferences excited and raring to start a new academic adventure. I have also structured the visit around seeing my own family and giving my son a chance to spend time with his cousins, aunt, uncle and grandparents. When I return from this trip, I begin my orientation at a new academic institution and prepare to immerse my self in yet another family, one where I hope to make new friends and prepare for the year ahead. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am able to have so many fulfilling and deep connections and the opportunities for so many more. So why am I so anxious? Although I look forward to all these events, I struggle with the nuances of negotiating delicate familial relations. Will my panel be well received? Am I prepared enough or did I spend too much time at the beach with my son last month? Will my son feel abandoned when I leave him to get to know his extended family while I go off to the conference? Does my family feel I am too involved with my career and should be with my son? When I return, will I be able to concentrate on the orientation while my son is with a new babysitter? How will he adjust to the new daycare, and next month – the new preschool as well? What if he is sick and I need to leave orientation? What kind of tone will that set with my new colleagues about what kind of professional I am and will be? Will that be the best thing to do? From the outside, it sometimes seems we (academic moms) are masters of scheduling, parenting and career but from the inside it seems every moment is wracked with doubt and panic over each small decision.
Almost every year there is a panel at this theatre conference on being a parent as well as an educator and how these roles can prove both challenging as well as rewarding. We share stories, offer advice and generally commiserate on feeling the pull from both directions at every given moment. This year the panel was not accepted and I am crushed at the loss. Why is it that in academia the subject of family is so neglected? How can scholars not see the relevance of meeting at least once in a room to discuss an experience that is so relevant to so many of us? Interestingly enough, although the omission of this valuable discussion is tragic, and the aforementioned anxiety is still afoot, I am nevertheless excited for the next two weeks. Our communities may not be as supportive as we hope, but as many folks in the liberal arts have come to understand, family can sometimes be more challenging than supportive – at first. Although we may not all share common interests, we do have common goals. These goals cannot help but unite our little communities, blood or otherwise, in the end.
Sometimes a family just needs a little more time to grow.