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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Future Shock
January 26, 2009 - 9:35pm

This week I’m planning my summer class, ordering books and sketching out the syllabus. I’ve also just put in a request for my fall schedule (courses already set, of course — this is now about times and rooms). I’m organizing a lecture for next fall, and I feel as if I’m already a little behind on that one. I’ve bought tickets for a trip to England this summer, and I’m looking ahead to the week in September when we’ll take my daughter to college and wondering how that will fit in with my teaching schedule. I have not yet bought any Christmas presents for next December, but I have a nagging sense that somewhere, someone already has.

It’s only the third week of my spring semester, but I already have the feeling that I’m a little bit behind. I’m actually not, as far the teaching goes — my reading is mostly done for the week, I’ve met with the workshop leader who’s working with one of my classes next week, and I’ll be returning a first batch of papers tomorrow (finished reading and marking them last night). But the need to plan ahead always has me slightly disoriented, as if I were living in two or three time zones at once. So even though this week’s work is well in hand, there’s future stuff looming, and it doesn’t all feel manageable. Don’t even talk to me about that essay that’s due at the end of the month.

I am reminded daily of how odd it is to be living in multiple time zones at once because my daughter’s in California right now, three time zones away. Phone calls and skype require some planning ahead — I may be ready to talk in the morning, but she’s still sound asleep. When she’s wide awake it’s 3 a.m. our time, and she knows better than to call us then. We try to find a window between 5 and 8 p.m. (our time) and hope for the best. But the need to plan within a time frame of hours is multiplied and complicated by the academic need for planning weeks, months, and even years ahead.

(An aside: have you ever talked on skype? Did you feel, as I did, that you were suddenly living in an episode of The Jetsons, without the jetpacks and the spandex outfits? We are, indeed, living in the future, but it’s not quite the future we envisioned.)

My disorientation as to time is affecting my daughter, too. She hasn’t even been gone three weeks, but since I’ve already planned our summer travels, I feel as if her time away is rapidly coming to an end. While the five months she has left stretch limitlessly ahead in her imagination, I’ve already filled that time, at least in my own mind, with due dates and deadlines. Does time grow short because I’ve grown old? (Don’t answer that.) Or do we all have to juggle the present and the future, and it’s just becoming harder for me?

I don’t read up much on parenting these days — no time! But when I did, in the brief snatches of time I had when my kids were younger, I remember being reminded to be “present” to “enjoy the moment,” with them. How do we do that when our jobs keep pushing us out of the present, forward into a future that may play out very differently from how we’re planning it now?


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