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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Shifting towers
January 8, 2013 - 7:23pm

Since moving to one of the most expensive housing markets in North America eight years ago, we’ve had to learn to cram ourselves into small living spaces.  Before our relocation, we lived in a 3-bedroom house with basement, deck, front porch, and backyard on a tree-lined street, which we traded in for high-density living--an 850 square-foot condo with a tiny balcony in an apartment complex.  We were two adults, two toddlers, and two cats sharing a cramped space. After a few years we scaled up a bit, but we are still pressed for room.

We’ve learned during our years of compact living that it’s necessary to shift things once in a while and gain a new perspective on our living space.  However, our adventures in moving furniture around require careful planning.  One day, while shifting boxes from one room to another to make room for a new piece of furniture, my husband said, “It’s just like Towers of Hanoi.”  To me this was yet another of his crazy family expressions, but once he explained what he meant and described the puzzle that involves moving stacked disks among pegs on a board, I remembered the game from my childhood and realized that this was indeed the perfect analogy for our lives. 

In order to make space in the den for a desk from my son’s room, we must first move shelves in my daughter’s room to allow space for a dresser, which makes space in my son’s room for the big shelf from the den that must be moved so that the desk will fit.  Each of the big pieces has to be moved one at a time.  And of course, as the rules of the game dictate, a big piece can never go on top of a small item, so there are baskets of papers, craft supplies, books, dolls, and other odds and ends which must all find temporary homes before the shuffling can begin. When we make these kinds of moves, we end up with blocked doors and hallways so that no one can safely navigate around the house until the job is done.

Everywhere we look in our day-to-day lives it’s the towers again and again.  It’s gotten so my husband and I will just look at each other, laugh, and say “Hanoi towers!” For example, dinner is over and it’s time to clean the kitchen.  But before the table can be cleared, we must make room for dishes on the counter.  This requires loading the dishwasher.  Oops, but first the dishwasher has to be unloaded of clean dishes to make way for the dirty ones.  Before that can happen, the dry dishes in the dish rack in the sink have to be put away to make room for some of the still dripping ones from the dishwasher.  Some of the draining dishes are still wet, though, which requires grabbing a clean dishtowel from the basket of laundry that has yet to be folded and put away. 

My academic tasks often begin with a long period of thinking and planning.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I envy the people I know who are doers — they never seem to have to back track in little steps before getting the big job done.  I’ll begin to write up a paper, and then realize I need to finish an analysis.  Before I can do that, though, I need to check a reference. I have to plan out my moves ahead of time, but I still take unnecessary steps, or forget about steps, before the job is complete. 

So my New Year’s resolution:  avoid playing Towers of Hanoi whenever possible.  Get things done and organized ahead of time.  Chronic tower playing seems to be the curse of a procrastinator like me.  But doing my best to purge the clutter ahead of time in my living spaces, as well as in my work life, will give me more flexibility and let me break away from those darned confining pegs.


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