Mothering at Mid-Career: The Annual Report
Like most of my colleagues -- and many of you, no doubt -- I've just finished writing my annual report. While it's an exercise that used to frustrate and annoy me -- collating all those evaluations, printing out yet another copy of each syllabus, remembering which recommendations I wrote, and what the outcome was -- I've come to embrace the annual event as an opportunity to reflect and refocus. This year I thought it would be a relatively easy task -- after all, I've been on sabbatical all year and released from both teaching and service.
Like most of my colleagues -- and many of you, no doubt -- I've just finished writing my annual report. While it's an exercise that used to frustrate and annoy me -- collating all those evaluations, printing out yet another copy of each syllabus, remembering which recommendations I wrote, and what the outcome was -- I've come to embrace the annual event as an opportunity to reflect and refocus. This year I thought it would be a relatively easy task -- after all, I've been on sabbatical all year and released from both teaching and service. But to my surprise, I had material to report in those sections as well as the scholarship/creative activity one. There were the two theses I directed, for example, because both students wanted to work on material that I cover in my classes, and that no one else in the department really does. Besides, they'd both been my advisees since they were first-year students: didn't I owe them? Working with the two projects, one on Victorian literature and the other on children's literature, insured that I wouldn't stray too far from my teaching as the year went on.
I also discovered that service to the profession doesn't stop with a sabbatical -- so there were the committees I'd served on in my professional organizations, my service on a dissertation committee, and the manuscript and tenure reviews I'd done. And then there was the writing -- more than I'd remembered, even if my sabbatical project had progressed at a slightly slower rate than I'd like. I didn't, however, list in my review the 100+ books I've read -- mostly new work in my field of children's literature, though some fill-in-the-gaps reading as well.
As I compiled the report and mentally congratulated myself on my accomplishments, however, I also had to wonder: what if I filled out an annual report as a parent? Feeling guilty over years of turning down volunteer opportunities, for example, this year I agreed to edit the PTSA newsletter for my daughter's school. I did a few more classroom visits at my son's school than usual, too. I put well over 2000 miles on the car in two different college visit trips -- one before the applications were in, one after the acceptances. I did the pick-ups and drop-offs for both kids most of the year, too, picking up the slack that I'd dropped in the last few years. I read endless drafts of my daughter's multiple college essays -- one of them on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a book that's as important to her personally as it is to me professionally. And while my daughter was applying to college, my son was going through his own rite of passage, considering his options for middle school and applying to our public IB (international baccalaureate) program. I'm not sure which was harder, helping him with his essay or his sister with hers -- but both are happily looking forward to a future in the schools of their choice.
Thankfully, I'm not evaluated annually as a parent (though I think I did all right this year). But the practice of reviewing the year is helpful, not least for the connections I see between the two realms of my life. Mentoring graduating seniors, for example, gave me a glimpse of where my daughter may be in a few years herself. I'm sure having a daughter in college will bring its own insights into my students' lives, as well, just as having a son in middle school insures that I won't forget to think about the audience for the children's and young adult litearture I teach. The college visits, on the other hand, gave me an opportunity to peer in on other institutions, exploring curricula and programs that might inspire my own plans as I return to the classroom in the fall. Many of the books I read for my sabbatical project made their way onto my son's bookshelves, as he went through a fantasy reading spurt that neatly paralleled my own -- he also began recommending books to me. I can't quantify these connections, of course -- and I'm sure I'm far from the only faculty members who's found such connections to be enriching, both personally and professionally. Reviewing my sabbatical year has reminded me of what I already knew: I do my work best as professor and as parent when I can bring the two worlds together. I'm fortunate to be able to do so as often as I do.
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