Monthly Archives: April 2012

Multitasking Mom

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When I was away on the left coast last week, I was out late in the evenings (talking about research, of course–what else does one do at conferences other than work?), up early (thanks to my routine-addled body, and because of course I wanted to do some work!), taking long runs (to think about my research!), and I was never, never, never tired. Miracle? Or just a case of not-momming?

(While I was gone, The Scientist, poor, poor man, was up late and early too, and everywhere in between, only rather than dealing with drinks, old friends, new friends, wonderful discussions, brilliant talks, and a bit of pool time, The Scientist was dealing with puke–the milky kind, the chunky kind, the now-we-have-wash-everything-we-own kind, the projectile-directly-into-dad’s-mouth kind. He was exhausted. Sorry, husband! But you do know I was working the whole time, right? If not, see above!).

Working outside of the home, working inside of the home, mothers are always too busy. One of my favorite email forwards ever (and rarely do I actually enjoy email forwards!) is the Mom Song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture–

Ah, momhood. Busy, busy, busy. So tiring. And while I couldn’t say working moms are necessarily busier (after all, we get a break from some of the busy momhood activities), there are definitely times when the two different kinds of busynesses of work and home smash into each other.  Such was the case for me this weekend, after I returned the conference, which (career related though it was) actually put me behind on the job front, which in turn brought my work into my weekend–when I should just be momming.

So, I decided, it was high time to cut down on my busyness and exhaustion and be a little French about it. What does Pamela Druckerman say in her book, Bringing up Bébé?–Yes: “French parents are very concerned about their kids. . . . They take reasonable precautions. But they aren’t panicked about their children’s well being.”

And the result? Druckerman tells us “French kids aren’t just more independent in their extracurricular activities. They also have more autonomy in their dealings with each other.”

Notes to self: Reasonable. Independence. Autonomy. No problem. I wasn’t going anywhere but my laptop–that is a reasonable precaution, to be home but set the kids free. The baby certainly needs independence in extracurricular activities. Why not toilet training? The big kids could learn autonomy in their dealing with each other by being left alone to do their own thing, and while I was teaching the kids all these crucial lessons (and therefore momming, really), I could have a little more time to do the things I needed to do.

So, yesterday morning, when The Scientist left to go play a little baseball (one feels one has to grant one’s husband who has done all the parenting for the last week or so a little playtime), I let go. I didn’t tell the kids what they could or could not do. I gave them, instead, a sense of independence and responsibility. And this was good for everyone–I could run a couple of loads of laundry while grading student papers, and the kids could have unstructured time. If I say so myself, I felt I was doing a great job of bringing up bébés and making working momhood really workable.

The result, you wonder? SUCCESS!! LL and Cool J played several rounds of Mille Bornes (see how French we are?), then went to work on putting together Baby MoFo’s new Cozy Coupe; Baby MoFo took off his clothes and diaper and found a green magic marker to occupy himself. And after the naked/marker fallout, Cool J dutifully grabbed himself a whole bunch of wipes (which handily were on the floor since Baby MoFo took them out, one at a time, until the box was empty, and then he filled the box with marshmallows. Such creativity!), cleaned all the pee off the floor (but I’m sure next time Baby MoFo will know where to go when he has the urge!), and LL took another bunch of wipes and began removing Baby MoFo’s self-engraved tattoos. Win-win-win!

The Congenial Academy

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“Whatever you do, do not be nice to anyone. No favors. No help. No collaboration.

If you want to get ahead, only think of yourself.”

The speaker at the panel was not, as you might imagine, Gordon Gekko. The conference was not on Wall Street. The theme was not–quite–“greed is good.” This was, instead, a roundtable at a conference on ethnic American literature, and the speaker was a distinguished professor of English. The room was packed, more than any other panel I attended at the conference, as finishing graduate students looking for jobs, tenure-track faculty hoping for T&P (tenure and promotion), and even tenured associate professors hoping to become full professors listened and asked question after question. The title of the panel was “How not to Perish.”

I’m pretty sure my friends who are not academics think we’re all a bunch of hippies, the men too lazy too shave, the women too feminist to shave, everyone sitting around, wedged between books upon books, some piled in corners, some stuffed into milk crates or Ikea furniture. All are frizzy haired and bejeweled in some kind of “native” chunky jewelery purchased at a conference in Africa or India or South America or New Mexico, all busy thinking of ways to satisfy their Marxist, or better yet, lefty pinko dreams (I take these adjectives directly from my the lips of a family member), all completely disconnected from the “real” cutthroat, demanding world, evident, of course, in their not grooming (my sister, Nancy Botwin, tells me I’m the lowest maintenance person she’s ever met). We fight a lot, one imagines–against oppressive regimes, bankers, Republicans. That kind of thing.

The failures to wax, thread, shave, visit the hair salon, or apply lipstick aside, academics don’t strike me as dreamy idealists who spend all day writing petitions that no one will ever read. I wish, frankly, that were the case. Instead, I cannot help but note that this advice given by Distinguished Professor is the norm in academia. You think Wall Street is cutthroat? I can one-up you, Wall Street. Minus, of course, your fancy salary (but don’t worry–I am writing a petition against yours, you lowdown capitalist pig! I’m going to circulate it to all the class theorists I know!). How many times have I heard DP’s words from the mouths of advisors and colleagues? World peace, yes, but departmental peace? The word on the academic street is this: Screw all you all. I will get to the top (tenure, promotion, that book contract) by stomping on your head (of frizzy undyed hair) with my kick-ass steel-bottomed Birkenstocks.

Ah, what a world.

Now wish me luck on the job market ’12!