Libby Gruner is an English professor at mid-career who started her family in graduate school. She lives in Richmond with her husband and two children, whose 7-year age gap means that she will be the parent of a teenager for quite a while yet.
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April 15, 2013
Almost five years ago I wrote my first blog post for Inside Higher Ed. At the time I had a daughter about to graduate from high school, and a son just finishing elementary school. While my child care needs were vastly different from those of my colleagues with children in pre-school, still in many ways I planned my days and my semesters around my children’s schedules. In that first post, I noted the many things I no longer needed as an academic parent—“a lactation room, on-site daycare, or reduced work hours to be with an infant . . .. a referral to a good nanny, or a preschool that's open in the summer, or help installing a carseat.”
April 1, 2013
The last few weeks of the semester have a feeling of both desperation and joy about them. Joy comes for me at the approach of spring—the cherry tree outside my office window just bloomed, so I know it’s really here now. But there’s desperation at the amount of work that remains to be done. My students are tired. Some are sick—I have received emails from the hospital emergency room, the doctor’s office, the dorm room, requesting extra time for papers due to illness or explaining an absence from class. Some are just experiencing the normal stresses of the end of the semester—the realization that, yes, all those papers really are due all at once, and the reading really does need to be done before class.
March 18, 2013
During childbirth, the most painful stage of labor is known as transition. As one website puts it, “this is a physically demanding and draining time and you may feel exhausted, frustrated, impatient, and overwhelmed.” Transition comes just before the baby is born, but it can go on for a while and in the moment it often feels more painful than productive.
March 11, 2013
Last month I made the last payment on my daughter’s college tuition. She’ll graduate, debt-free, in two months (knock wood). And last week, to make me feel even older, my son got his learner’s permit. When his sister got hers, he was still in elementary school and I had a lot less grey in my hair. (Not that I’m making any claims about cause and effect — she’s a terrific driver.)
March 4, 2013
Twice a week for the last month or so I have driven to an anonymous looking glass and brick building. Automatic doors slide open to admit me and I mount the stairs to a large open space filled with machines, tables, and various exercise implements. It’s not a regular gym; I’m here for physical therapy. After some months of mysterious, on-again, off-again (mostly on-again) pain in my left arm and shoulder, I received a diagnosis of “frozen shoulder” and a prescription for a course of physical therapy, so I now join athletes, post-operative patients, and a number of other folks who look a lot like me as we go through our various paces, trying to rehabilitate shoulders, knees, and ankles.
February 18, 2013
If the liberal arts college really is Downton Abbey, as I somewhat facetiously suggested last week, then I think we’re in trouble. It’s been clear all season that despite paying some lip service to progressivism, the series’ ideological commitments are conservative: the preservation of the stately manor is the pre-eminent goal of the family and of the story.
February 11, 2013
This semester I find myself engaged in a television serial for the first time in a long time, and I think it’s no accident that it’s the same semester that I’m teaching Victorian literature again for the first time in a long time. The pleasures of the serial are well established, and the Victorian novel originated many of them: the multi-strand narrative with many characters, intertwining narratives of class mobility and courtship, love, death, and striving.
January 28, 2013
Last week a document circulated among some of my far-flung colleagues — maybe some of you saw it? Titled “Learning Outcomes are Corrosive,” by Frank Furedi, it was linked approvingly by folks in the humanities, many of them friends of mine. Its final sentence may be the one I most resonate with, as it expresses the kind of optimistic idealism about humanistic education that I think many of us share: “students should be treated as grown-ups who can be allowed to embark on a journey of discovery instead of directed to a predetermined destination.”
January 21, 2013
I’m writing this on Inauguration Day. Although I missed hearing the speech live, I did catch a stream of it a little later on, and I was struck by how, in a relatively short speech, the President managed to remind us of the needs of those who have too often been left out of “we, the people” — women who do not earn equal pay, homosexuals who do not enjoy equal rights, immigrants who are not afforded equal protection. It was a liberal speech in the best sense of the word, a speech open to possibility and progress, and while I could, as always, wish it had gone farther, I was glad I had a chance to read and hear it.
January 14, 2013
It’s the first day of my new semester, and as always I am scrambling just a bit. Two syllabi done, one almost so. And I put my daughter on the plane this morning to return for her last semester of college. While college is cyclical for me, it’s linear for her, which is tough for me to grasp after all these years. Looking over her commencement weekend schedule during the break, she commented, “There’s always been more school. It’s weird to think there won’t be.”