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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: snow day
December 9, 2009 - 9:21pm

We woke up this morning to a world caked in white — big draping sheets of snow hanging from our garage, soft blankets of white where our lawn furniture used to sit, and large puffy flakes falling down. My five-year old daughter’s eyes were wide with amazement, even though she’s seen snow before. I too feel that every year it’s a miracle, a revelation how quickly the landscape can transform. All city schools were closed, even the college where I teach (in an unprecedented move, the governor cancelled classes at all Wisconsin universities). Although I vow every spring not to waste one opportunity to ski, this week I’m in the midst of grading and have no time to spare. Next week I can ski, after my grades are in.

It's illustrative how people respond to acts of nature, changes out of our control. As a child growing up in Buffalo, NY, snow days were unequivocal gifts, magical reprieves from a school I hated. My sister, mother, and I stayed inside except for the occasional freezing trudge to the corner store for milk, bread, and eggs. We didn’t ski; in Buffalo, the snow was something to fear and respect, not a source of enjoyment. Although being cooped up inside made us fretful and bored, I was always grateful for a snow day. However, now I’m not very good with changes to my routine. One unplanned accident and my carefully constructed end-of-the-semester plans fall down like dominoes.

Today I fretted about rescheduling an exam, and spent most of the day grouchily grading essays. Coincidentally, my students’ essays were about the snow — or rather, Audrey Schulman’s wonderful novel, The Cage, about a failed expedition to the Arctic and the unlikely heroine who survives. Unlike most of the other self-conscious women travelers we’ve read about, the heroine of Schulman’s novel spends little time on interior reflection and instead becomes achingly aware of her physical body and the natural landscape as she fights for survival.

My students found the character’s amazing adventure and the descriptions of the pristine arctic beauty exhilarating. A couple of students emailed me photos of themselves reading the novel with their backs pressed against giant snow banks.

Finally this afternoon, I put down the remaining ungraded papers, closed my laptop, stepped into my cross-country skis and headed into the unplowed streets — past neighbors shoveling out their driveways, away from my messy house and unanswered emails. The snow was soft and a bit sticky and my legs were a felt stiff, but it was wonderful to be gliding. Snow is unpredictable; you really do have to drop everything the moment it arrives.


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