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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood after tenure: spa porn
February 17, 2010 - 9:24pm

I called in sick today for the first time in 18 years of teaching (not counting when I had emergency surgery). If I had an exam scheduled, or student reports, I would have crawled in to work, no matter how crappy I was feeling. As an academic with a relatively flexible schedule, I’ve always tried to get sick on my non-teaching days, or on holidays. But as I sat at my desk grading papers at a snail’s pace, getting increasingly bad-tempered, it hit me that I was feeling, well, sick. Yet the idea of cancelling classes horrifies me. I regard my syllabus as sacrosanct and besides there is something mortifying about admitting bodily weakness to students.

When I was growing up and didn’t feel that great, my mom would always tell me, “you can’t be sick; I have to go to work.” Of course, if I had been vomiting I’m sure she would have relented, but we were rarely ill. My mom had reasons to be phobic about illness; she had rheumatic fever as a child and was bedridden for over year; she had to relearn to walk. This made her formidable in her ability to withstand pain, but not particularly sympathetic to minor illnesses or discomfort. As a result, I was never sick. Honestly, I did not have a cold until I was 30. Until then I viewed others’ complaints about their ailments as exotic, puzzling, and whiny.
Being tired was a moral failing in my family as well and naps were verboten. My younger sister still refuses to take naps while I have had to train myself to regard naps (when possible) as a reasonable response to being tired.

For the past few months, as my work schedule has gotten more and more demanding, I find myself browsing yoga retreats and spas online: spa porn, it should be called. I fantasize about the quiet pale rooms, the prepared meals, and the calm voices of the instructors telling me to relax. I’m sure I’m not alone. According to a 2001 article published by the Families and Work Institute, middle-aged workers, professionals, and women feel more overworked than many other groups.

In a culture of overwork, taking a break seems an admission of weakness or laziness. Even our state-mandated “furloughs” do not translate into time off for faculty: they’re either unpaid days or days spent working at home. But today I slept in. Then I woke up and graded essays most of the day. It’s a start.


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