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.

1 comment:

Jane D said...

So um...I just want to say my heart swelled with compassion and respect for you, EE, when I read this post. You are brilliant yet humble about the pressures of academic life when you so honestly describe your feelings of shame over not doing enough at work OR at home. By this, I mean I can hear, within your post, some well-targeted irritation with the academy for creating and maintaining expectations for "success" in this field that are overwhelming for anyone not fortunate enough to be a robot. You've always been vocal about this, and I've always been grateful because you talk about it authentically. You name the shame that no one else will admit. For what it's worth, I think this kind of self-compassion you have is the common denominator for true "success." Whatever your field. I raise my cup of "tension tamer" tea to you! :)