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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Thanksgiving Week
November 24, 2008 - 8:56pm

Thanksgiving week offers a welcome break from the treadmill of the semester, which always seems to speed up just before it comes crashing to a halt. One day last week I spent 13 hours on campus, then returned less than 12 hours later. Feeling somewhat sorry for myself, I posted this information on my facebook page — and had almost immediate commiseration from colleagues on both coasts who found themselves in the same straits. Both are also mothers.

Usually I try not to pull long days on campus. While I certainly don’t come close to the imaginary “three hours a week” professor, I can usually leave before 5:00 p.m. — especially on the days I come in before 8:00 a.m., which is most of them. While on campus I teach my classes, hold office hours, grade, prepare, attend and sometimes organize committee meetings — all the things faculty members do. I try not to do too much work at home, though I do end up doing most of my grading there. I also try not to count the hours I spend at work — there’s nothing all that magical about forty hours, after all, and I figure the weeks when I spend much more time on campus should be balanced by the weeks when I spend much less. In other words, the thirteen hour day felt like an anomaly. I am the faculty sponsor for a student organization, and student organizations often meet in the evenings to accommodate their schedules. I just try not to meet that often, as my own energy and attention levels after the dinner hour drop off significantly. And, of course, evenings can be prime family time, especially these days when they are not taken up by battles over bathtime.

But my colleagues who commiserated seemed not to think our long days were anomalous. One said “welcome to my life.” The other had put in two long days (12+ hours on campus) in a row. Sometimes we do that, of course, but I wonder who is well served by repeated long days? I remember Virginia Woolf’s words in A Room of One’s Own — “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I take her words metaphorically: we do all things better if we are well cared for, and long days are rarely a marker of good care. But, this being Thanksgiving week, I should also take them literally: truly, a good meal can make a big difference.

How do we care for ourselves? On my own long day, I actually had two very pleasant meals with colleagues. While they were both clearly business meals — one a chat about pedagogy with the coordinator of a program I’m involved with, the other a meeting with my department chair — in both cases we made sure to eat well and give ourselves a little time to unwind. I may heat up a frozen pizza for lunch at my desk on a teaching day, but then I’ll also try to get home in plenty of time for dinner. It’s still, in other words, all about balance.

This week I’ll do more cooking than I do in any normal month; I’ll catch up on some grading, and send out the revisions to a recently-accepted article, the fruit of last year’s sabbatical. Nest week I may find myself putting in another long day, but with any luck there’ll be a turkey sandwich or leftover pumpkin pie to compensate. I wish the same for my colleagues, and for all of you as well.


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