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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Balance
February 8, 2010 - 9:07pm

When I first started taking yoga classes, some years ago, I used to joke that of the three things yoga requires (and cultivates) — balance, strength, and flexibility — I was only good at balance. This was ironic, since in my personal and professional life I felt reasonably strong and probably way too flexible — and thus, unbalanced. But there it was: I could stay standing throughout a Tree pose, hold Chair for a while, shift my weight properly for Triangle. In yoga if not in my life, I was balanced.

This past Christmas Nick got a Wii Fit. He'd had the basic game system for a while but the balance board and the fitness exercises sounded both healthy and fun, so we splurged. About two weeks after we got the system, Nick noticed that my name turned up in the rankings of many of his favorite exercises. "I think you're using it more than I am, Mom!"

Guilty as charged. It's been hard this year to get to the gym very often — or at all — and our tae kwon do class only meets twice a week now instead of three times (not that we often made it all three times anyway). After a summer spent walking almost four miles a day, I was feeling a bit puffy and lethargic. Twenty minutes of Wii Fit in the morning made me feel as if at least I'd moved my limbs a bit before I settled into my computer chair for the rest of the day. It's not much, but it's something.

The Wii Fit, though, measures my balance. "You're a little shaky," the helpful trainer remarks. "Do you find that it's harder to hold a pose when you're tired?" No, I want to spit back at her, I find it harder to hold a pose with you nagging me! But I readjust and try again. While I can still hold Tree pose, I do wobble a bit as it continues. In fact, I've learned that I lean a bit more to the left than the right in most exercises. Or so the Wii Fit tells me. Well, it makes sense — I am a humanities professor after all, once nicknamed "Libby the Liberal" by the somewhat more conservative business partner of a friend. Some things never change.

The Wii Fit tests my memory and balance, my agility and peripheral vision. Depending on the day, I get a different pair of tests most mornings. When they are balance tests I groan inwardly. "The Dual Balance test isn't your forte, is it?" the screen asks me. Worse are the "judgment" test (avoiding moving blocks on the screen) and "agility." "Do you often find yourself blocking out things in your environment?" Why, yes, I do — that's how I get my job done!

I agree with Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Inside Higher Ed's new career columnist, that balance is a myth. I don't worry too much about how long I can hold Tree pose, and I realize that during the semester I cook fewer of the meals, attend fewer of my son's events, than I might like. But that doesn't stop me from striving for something like balance, or maybe something like equanimity. Lately Nick and I have been playing a little Wii Tennis, so he doesn't feel I've completely usurped his toy. And my balance is getting a little better, shaky though it may still be.


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