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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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Mothering at Mid-Career: What Summer is For

No matter how long I live on the academic schedule, I still have some trouble adjusting to what summer is for. Is it for work? For vacation? For recharging, retooling, and gearing up for something new? The truth is, it's probably all of the above -- but in moderation, something I'm still having trouble learning.

June 10, 2008
 

No matter how long I live on the academic schedule, I still have some trouble adjusting to what summer is for. Is it for work? For vacation? For recharging, retooling, and gearing up for something new? The truth is, it's probably all of the above -- but in moderation, something I'm still having trouble learning.

After I lose May, June rushes by in a flurry of "firsts" and "lasts," most of them geared to the children's schedules rather than mine. The first day over 95 F. (The first day over 100.) The first day we run the air conditioner. The day the pool opens. The last exams of the year. The last projects. The last concerts and performances. And, finally, the last days of school. That's the week we're in the midst of now, and this year those "lasts" are more meaningful, as both kids are graduating. Our son Nick will leave the school where he's spent his weekdays for seven years -- thanks to Virginia's public pre-K program, he started there when he was four years old. Unless he pursues a Ph.D. in the humanities he's likely never to spend as much time in the same school again. Nor will we: since his sister started there in kindergarten, we've been parents at the same elementary school for 13 years. As one friend says, we're finally graduating, too. And at the end of the week, our daughter Mariah graduates from high school, with all the attendant pomp and circumstance. Her first cap and gown (if we don't count the paper caps the kids wore for their pre-K "moving up ceremony"); her first diploma. And then next week starts the long haul of summer jobs and day camps and patched-together plans and, hiding just out of reach, a longed-for family vacation. But that's in July, and we're still working our way through June.

When people ask me if my school is "out" (or, worse, if I'm "off"), I tend to get a little cranky, this time of year. School's been out for over a month, but I still have things to do: papers to write, syllabi to plan, a dissertation draft to read, books to order (that one's getting more and more pressing). And the summer is when various things seem to heat up that had been on hold all year: my faculty learning community is just getting going; folks are exchanging e-mails about various campus initiatives; everyone's trying to gear up research projects that may have lain fallow for a while. Annual reports are due at the end of the month. So, yes, in the summer school is out, but it doesn't mean time off -- just, as the administrators now like to call it, "reassigned" time.

Reassignment is good, though. We all need a change -- I can see it in the kids, who can barely drag themselves out of bed for these last few days of school, so weary are they of the routines that energized them in September. I can see it in myself as well -- after almost a year of working on my own stuff, I'm ready for the new, for the group projects and the syllabi that will structure my days in the coming year. If I can just get through this week of "lasts" -- and if the heat breaks -- I'll be ready to greet the new rhythms of the summer.

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