Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Academic and Mommy Wars Within

Absurdist Baby is exhausting. I just put him to bed. He's going through some phase of super-eating and turbo-playing and ten-minute naps. He's drooling all over his hand, which is always in his mouth. I expect to see molars daily, but nothing yet.

I'm supposed to be finishing up my grades, putting the quarter to bed and readying for a new one. But on days I don't go in to campus, like today, I'll spend the entire day without ever getting more than a few minutes, it seems, to myself. No time to compose myself, check in, figure out what I need to do. Not until now, when I'm bleary-eyed. It's a different way of living -- I spend a lot of time thinking and going over things in my head while I'm waking up or falling asleep, and am at my best when I know exactly what to do with a few spare minutes -- today, I graded some final projects when AB was asleep or happily occupied across the room. In fact, I got an impressive amount done. I'm proud of myself. But it never seems to be enough. I feel like I'm not holding up my end at work -- and I come home and feel like I'm not with AB enough. I watch out for him, but do I play with him enough? We have some games we play, but I feel like I haven't read enough books on child development to know what I should be doing with him to encourage the right things. He's very active, loves to run around. People say things to me like of course I've read all the books and am doing everything right. How stupid I feel that in reality I should really ask them which books I should be reading! I suppose children have grown up perfectly well without a bunch of theories. I know the best thing I can really do is be with him, really pay attention to who he is. I know a big part of it is, as Absurdist Lover reminds me, my low self-esteem. I think my neurosis about being a poor mom and a poor academic is exacerbated by systemic problems in the way both are viewed and structured, I want to tell him, but I rarely can put together such a cogent sentence. In fact, it's amazing my students learned anything at all.

A zillion years ago it seems now, I said I would post about my reaction to the whole parenting in academia debaucle of a couple weeks ago. And even with all this time, my thoughts are muddled. I don't struggle with my colleagues about my being a parent, at least not so far. No one has said I'm not holding up my end, yet. Instead, I am my biggest enemy. I constantly feel I'm not doing enough as I think about how this career is really made for people who don't have a lot of responsibilities at home. I have the example of the EE who dissertated dizzily, each day devoted to my goals of the day. I logged whole long mornings at the Corporation from 9 to 2, determined to pump out a few more pages, not going home until I'd met my goal. Now, I'm in a department that values research, but so far the place has been very lonely so I don't have faculty members provoking thought about my discipline in the hallways or anything (not that many of us do). Consumed with teaching and feeling my way around the place and its various tasks and ways, I haven't written a thing. My feeling of inadequacy is made worse when I read things by academics that suggest that some people either don't know what I'm dealing with here (between fuzzy brain, nursing, and an active child who goes to sleep late), can't imagine, or don't care. I always hate it when people claim that others can't understand because they haven't had the experience; this isn't always the case and it's dangerous to assume that because people have kids, they get how exhausting the double shift is about, or that because people don't, they can't or won't. But I feel like I practically have to depend on people's good graces here because I'm running scared. In fact, I'm barely keeping up in all parts of my life.

So when I read the whole academics and parenting thing, I just felt like many people missed the point. I'm not yet at the point where I'm most needed to pick up and chauffeur my child to different events, go to parent-teacher conferences or whatever. I feel marked. And I know so much of it is me. I feel like I have to work super-hard in order to not be marked as the faculty mother who doesn't hold up her end. I fear being seen as deficient, though I realize it's probably because I feel deficient; it may have zero to do with reality. I have to work super-hard in order to not be seen as the Mother of a Baby faculty member. I want to hold up my end beautifully, not be labeled a certain way or seen as deficient. There are so many things I want to do. I have to remember I can't do some of them. And I'm not good at that.

Oh dear lord. The cat just peed all over one of my bags. This cat that found us is having problems, throwing up what little she eats and being a little unsure on her feet. I really thought we had enough to worry about just now. Ha ha. I was wrong.

One lesson I have to relearn all the time and that AB is a great teacher for is this: be here now. Stop worrying. So taking that to heart, I'm going to eat ice cream, watch the ghosts of TV shows past, and maybe get in a little crafts time. Sorry, I'm not going to be grading any more final projects past midnight. I'm not. And I'm not feeling guilty about it either.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Random Non-Bullets of Crap in Which I Try to Talk Myself into Working

Yesterday, I was just about to write about my thoughts about being an academic and a (new) parent, but right at that moment, Absurdist Baby woke up from his nap. And now Absurdist Lover just looked in on me and now I'm staring at AB again through the gate that separates the kitchen/baby area from the computers. Clearly it's not going to happen today either.

I have grading to do. Revisions on one project and then another project. We're on the quarter system here, so I think this blah I-don't-want-to-do-work-and-can't-seem-to-fret-myself-into-a-good-panic-about-it feeling is just the usual mid-semester blues I'd be feeling if I were on the semester system. (Obviously, this means I'm totally out of sync with the rest of the academic world, most of which just started a couple weeks ago --and the honeymoon period is just ending for you and your students about now, meanwhile my students and I are staring at each other with wild eyes scrambling for the escape hatch.) I really need to do this grading today, which means asking Absurdist Lover to take care of AB. The truth is I just want to lie on the bed and stare at the ceiling -- especially because when I woke up, the baby was in bed. AL tells me that he woke up at 3am and was inconsolable (natch) and came to bed with us. Usually I don't sleep through such things. But I don't remember.

So I've got a case of the ughs. I need to work and don't want to.

I also need to call my grandmother today. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a while back and it's now in her spine. I found this out from my brother's away message on IM. Not only am I unhappy to hear that my grandmother has an inoperable (but slow-moving) cancer, but I'm not thrilled that I was only lucky to find out. Now she's in a special nursing facility where they are going to treat her ancillary problems in order to strengthen her so she can undergo more chemo. The last time I talked to her, she sounded a bit drugged up.

In happy news, we're moving to a cheaper place. We're ecstatic because this place we've got has some major problem with the water system. The water comes from a well and smells all sulfury, which I'm told is normal. But the plumbing in this place is totally substandard. There are leaks all over the place. The plumbing was better in the travel trailer. Seriously. Even I can look at the plumbing and tell you it's crap.

Maybe I should take a shower and get up and fake it. I surely shouldn't go on kvetching. Maybe I'll grade then take a shower as a bonus. AB is laughing hysterically. I want to catch some of his sweetness.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Promises, Promises

I've been wanting all weekend to write a post weighing in on being an academic and a parent -- a subject that exploded around the academic blog community last week -- but I got caught up in a classic academic parent problem: my time is not my own on the weekends and so I never had clear-headed time to post. I'm hoping to catch up on that soon, because I co-opted Profgrrrl's comments and clearly have more to say/explore.

In other news, I'm getting together with colleagues for lunch (yay! having lunch with people like I'm a person rather than a teaching drone!) today! And AL and I are also trying to move so that we can have more money per month and so get AB into daycare.

More blogging coming soon. I hope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Research Breakthrough and Quick Reflection on Childcare and Money Woes

So why didn't I write over the weekend? Well, because I had a complete breakthrough on the research front. I don't know what precipitated it -- I spend a lot of time just staring out into space (and watching recordings of old TV series, like Northern Exposure, which I recently finished and am now in mourning over), so I think it just came to me.

Let me explain. I wrote a weird dissertation, one that transgressed some field boundaries. Now, I think (and I think other people on my committee and who are familiar with my work think this too) that this transgression is actually the strength of my work. I've often thought that I don't have a single new thought in my head -- my plethora of ideas comes from putting things together from different places (read: fields, disciplines, worlds) and putting them together in strange ways. To answer a burning question over here, my brain naturally asks: well, what do these people over here have to say about that. This makes me a fairly weird researcher and thinker -- one who tends not to have an instinctive repulsion to things many of my colleagues do -- things like quantitative data. (Don't get me wrong: I don't think quantitative data is the end all and be all, but I do like to see patterns -- and that means getting away from purely case study or individual text analysis, which, by the way, I also do.) Sometimes I think I look more like a social science researcher than an English one. But I digress, one of the major problems with being this kind of thinker.

The fact is that my dissertation worked for my committee, but I fear it wouldn't work for a lot of other people. Who would publish that book? I can think of publishers interested in one chapter or another, but not the whole thing as is. And even though it's been two years since I finished, defended, and walked away from the dissertation, I haven't really wanted to re-enter the problems with my dissertation, not even to take parts out of it and publish those. Up until now, I thought I would publish the various pieces, figuring out which more-traditional book I wanted to try to publish as I went, if any at all considering that I don't need a book for tenure. Though I don't need a book for tenure, my department is full of research-driven people and I do need to have a fairly aggressive research agenda -- which is to say, I need a research agenda that goes beyond try to read something occasionally, which has been my agenda for the last year and a half since pregnancy/motherhood/poverty took over. So I've been feeling the pressure of needing some plan, any plan.

And that plan came to me over the weekend. I am going to revise my dissertation into a book. Maybe it won't get published and maybe it will, but I'm going to have to radically revise certain sections (basically switching out an entire chapter and doing a lot more research for another one) and then I can turn at least some of those pieces into articles on their way to being chapters. What makes my dissertation so hard is that it all builds out from the first chapter. Chapters 2-4 don't really build on one another, but they all build on Chapter 1, making it hard to conceive of an article built out of Chapter 4, for example, that would scrunch up the Chapter 1 stuff enough to make a coherent article. So mining the thing for articles has been fairly difficult. But when I do the additional research, I will approach them as separate pieces anyway, so I could make articles out of them on the way to integrating them/revising them into chapters. That's the theory anyway. Practice always changes everything anyway. But it's a plan. A plan that makes sense to me. A plan upon which I can build my professional development plan. On Monday and Tuesday, I managed to spend some time working on my professional development plan instead of just frantically grading. Of course, now I'm behind in my grading, but what else is new. I'm not going to get tenure for just doing my grading. I've got to make time for research. And a colleague of mine told me how easy it is to just lose the entire year as one adapts to the new teaching environment. So I've got to guard against that.

In other news, I don't teach Wednesdays so I get to be home and be Mom for the day. There's really no middle ground to be had between working and being at home, unless I ask Absurdist Lover to take care of him when I'm home, which seems so awful and unfair because he takes care of him when I'm gone and needs his alone time too. He doesn't want to be taking care of him all the time, but he is because we don't have money for daycare. We're in the process of getting my student loans consolidated for a lower monthly payment, then we're going to move out of this place into something cheaper, then we'll get AB into daycare of some kind and AL will be able to look for a job. (AB is a handful; nothing gets done except TV watching when taking care of him.) It's a slow road out of poverty into normalcy. It's weird to pretend to be middle class at work; in fact, it's nearly impossible considering I only have two nice pairs of pants and a few shirts. Climbing out of poverty with a baby is no picnic. We can't even begin to address the outstanding bills from the birth. Oy!

I can't think about that today. In the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara: I'll think about that tomorrow.