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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: The Cruellest Month?
April 18, 2011 - 10:44pm

Dean Dad seems to agree with T.S. Eliot that “April is the cruellest month.” He’s got a point: just as others are taking a break, enjoying the spring, planting some seeds or otherwise looking around and taking a deep breath, we are in what one of his commenters calls “the Iron Man triathlon of academic months.” As the semester winds down, there’s lots of grading, every time you turn around there’s a symposium or a colloquy to attend, graduation celebrations are just around the corner — and, oh, yeah, did you do your taxes yet?

So why do I enjoy it so much? Really, I shouldn’t. My son is on spring break; I’m here in the office planning a meeting, or a departmental event, or preparing for class. The chores are piled up at home—it’s time to switch out the winter wardrobe, which involves laundering and dry-cleaning and, yes, actually finding the spring stuff and wondering if it fits. Or if I cleaned it before I put it away last year. The house could use a good spring-cleaning, too; there are still piles of paper from when I finished the taxes and financial aid applications (early, for once!), and now that we’re no longer tracking mud in from outside I guess it really is time to clean the kitchen floor. All that long-deferred maintenance should probably get some attention, but just now I have no time or mental energy to get to it, so I’ll defer it for just a bit longer.

But it’s spring! And spring in central Virginia is glorious. The flowers come in waves: first crocuses and daffodils, then cherry, plum, and redbud trees followed closely by Bradford pears and dogwoods. The azaleas are coming out now, along with the tulips. And the weather, while still unpredictable, is still warmer and more welcoming than what we had last month (during our somewhat misnamed Spring Break).

I like the end of the semester—seeing how far students have come, helping them try to pull everything together in final papers, getting a little sense of closure. Last Friday I attended our annual Arts & Sciences Student symposium, at which students presented their research and creative projects that they’d spent the past year on. It was wonderful to see their work, to hear their talks, and to talk with them about their plans for the future. We’re also hosting accepted students right now, so I’m seeing both the excitement and promise of prospective students and the achievements of those about to graduate at the same time — a nice combination, if you ask me.

And the end of the spring semester brings with it, of course, the promise of summer and the change of gears that summer entails. My summer work—after a couple of weeks of intensive faculty development seminars — will be self-directed, and after a year of administrative work I’m looking forward to a couple of months of research. My especially guilty pleasure is that my son will still have almost two months of school after I’m done teaching, so I can spend long days in the office without having to plan for his days at all. I have a research project I want to dig into, and a conference to attend, and for once it feels like I may have time for it.

So, yes, it’s busy right now, with various holidays and holy days and anxious students and unfinished projects. But to me it feels more like a sprint than a marathon — it will end soon, and then comes the restorative breathing of summer. If this is the price I pay for that, I’m more than willing.

 

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