One of the things I do when I'm not teaching or preparing for class, not grading or cooking or working on my research -- one of the things I do relatively rarely, in other words -- is knit. I like to knit. It satisfies on many levels. For one, it allows me to create something without requiring great effort -- I just follow the directions. I don't need to think very hard about it. It can be done while I am watching TV, or listening to the radio, or even (once) listening to a conference paper. Sometimes I get a Christmas gift out of it, or a warm scarf for myself. It's also a pleasure to see myself improve at something -- my knitting is better now than it was only a few months ago, though it's still not very good.
It may seem counter-intuitive to add an activity to an already busy life, but I think it can help maintain the work-family balance to have something to do that is neither, strictly, work nor family. Some of my friends garden, or do yoga; some are very politically involved, or volunteer in their kids' schools. I've done all of those things, but mostly, if I have a free minute, I knit. Many of us have little if any free time, and fit these activities into tiny interstices in our long days: knitting is both portable and easy to put down, two qualities that few other leisure activities (besides reading, which is both work and leisure) possess.
The other day I met a colleague in the hallway who noticed me wearing a knitted scarf and asked if I'd made it. I confessed that I had, and she said, "you must be some kind of supermom." Funny, I'd never associated my knitting with parenting. I didn't knit when the kids were little -- I didn't have the time or the energy then. And in fact I knit for others -- or for myself -- far more often than I do for my kids. They don't accessorize with scarves, which are my go-to project, and they're too big for me to force them to wear my creations anyway. Rather, I think of my knitting as taking away from them, at least sometimes, when I prefer to sit down with a quiet project rather than play a round of crazy eights or cook a multi-course meal for them.
Thankfully, at this stage of all of our lives, they don't need the kind of hands-on parenting that so consumed the early years. Rather, they need to know someone's around. Right now my daughter is in her room watching TV or working on her NaNoWriMo  novel or chatting on facebook with a friend in another city. My son is laboring over a social studies project that's due tomorrow. Neither one needs me right this minute, but I am here -- in case the computer crashes as Nick prints out his project (one such crisis has already passed this evening), or in case Mariah wants to make plans that involve one of the cars, or for no particular reason at all. Parenting right now is more about being present than being active -- and that does leave me some time to knit.
I don't miss the busy hands-on days. They were exhausting -- full of great pleasure but also long stretches of boredom sometimes punctuated by anxiety or outright panic (the first time the baby fell on her head; the first broken bone; the first emergency room visit). There's still room for panic these days, I know, but there's also a little more room for quiet contemplation -- and thus for knitting. Tomorrow I'll be back in the office, meeting with students, grading, and wondering whether I can find time to get back to some article revisins that are starting to feel urgent. But right now those can all wait while I knit one more row.