It happens every year around this time: I lose an entire month. I start looking forward to May in about February, which is at least two weeks longer than it should be. In the gray gloom of mid-semester, May seems an impossible promise, almost a full month of good weather and unscheduled days. Finals, honors theses, and graduation will fly by, leaving me with an empty desk and a computer file full of ideas. As an academic parent I especially to look forward to May, when I'm out of school but the kids aren't: I plan all kinds of unlikely projects for those open weeks. I'll finish my chapter and clean the basement! I'll re-organize my office and catch up on backlogged New Yorkers! I start to imagine my May as the vacation time my non-academic friends always seem to think it is.
And then May actually arrives, along with the pollen that turns campus walkways pale green and has me sneezing and coughing through departmental retirement parties and graduation events. I lose a few days to a cold or some other odd ailment that's waited for me to let my guard down. The kids' schedules ramp up, with standardized tests, long-term projects, concerts. There's prom and a new middle-school orientation; then I have a two-day workshop on campus myself. Suddenly May is two-thirds gone and my desk is no cleaner than it was in April.
This past year I've been on sabbatical so May was not quite the promise it often is. My days have been unscheduled all year, and in truth I'm craving a little more order around now. The two-day workshop was just what I needed: two days spent with like-minded colleagues working on real issues for our courses next fall. The workshop was even scheduled with the needs of academic parents in mind (we ended before school pick-up every day). Still, spending two days thinking about the fall made August seem closer than I'd like. I still have work to do on my sabbatical project, and while there's more than enough time to do it, I've gotten in the typical academic habit of thinking too far forward--if it's mid-May, it must be almost August! My time's up! I need a few minutes of deep-breathing just to remind myself that June and July are still ahead.
The kids' schedules keep me grounded in the here-and-now. If it's Monday, this must be the recital; Tuesday is orientation; Thursday is the final concert. My daughter's graduation looms and with it the end of my "free" days -- the kids have some plans for the summer, but without the regular routine of morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up I'll need to impose some schedules of my own. May is almost over, but the summer is still ahead: not "vacation," as my non-academic friends would have it; just a shift in the schedule, a shift in perspective. Even after fifteen years on the job, I need the reminder that May always brings: plans will shift, but the academic year marches on inexorably. May is a turning point, not an empty calendar.