It has been quiet over here, I know. That’s a symptom, as usual, of things not being quiet elsewhere and so my not having enough time and energy to spare for blogging. For the past couple of weeks it seems we haven’t had two straight days in which at least one member of my family hasn’t been home sick. When it’s the kids, that means extra pressure on the usual efforts to juggle schedules (and, of course, time spent giving them all the TLC we can muster). When it’s me, as it was (conveniently?) over the weekend, that means a fair amount of deferred maintenance on everything from class prep to grocery shopping. However, tonight things are looking up–I am mostly better, and my daughter is well (well enough, even, to get to her singing lesson, which we had to cancel two weeks running — ironically, this week her teacher wasn’t well, but she soldiered on so Maddie wouldn’t be three weeks behind). Only my poor son is still feeling pretty lousy, but at least he was sitting up and even eating a bit by the end of the day, so maybe he’s turning a corner, though I know it doesn’t seem that way to him right now because he mostly still can’t breathe.
One of the books I’m prepping for class this week is Gaudy Night–I find myself very sympathetic, on this reading, with poor Mrs. Goodwin who keeps having to leave work to tend to her sickly son. It is reassuring to think (or at least believe) that my own professionalism and suitability for my job isn’t being called into question the way Mrs. Goodwin’s is because I’ve had to cancel some office hours and miss a meeting or two! On the other hand, it hasn’t gotten conspicuously easier, in the intervening century, to find a really happy balance between the demands of work and the demands of family. Although it would be nice, once in a while, to take a real sick day and not actually do (or worry about) any work, I feel very fortunate that in this electronic age much of my work can be done from wherever, and whenever. My husband and I have also, for many years, been able to arrange to teach on alternate days, so that cancelling an actual class meeting is a rarity for both of us. It’s interesting to reflect on the complex triage we’ve developed. Classes trump meetings, meetings trump office hours, specific appointments trump office hours, office hours alone just get rescheduled, class prep gets done one way or another in the interstices, and research and writing … well, you can see how much non-essential writing I’ve been able to do in the past week! It’s notable that for both of us actually making it to class is so clearly the top priority. I have learned that students don’t usually much mind a cancelled class here or there, but we put a lot of thought and planning into our courses and for us, a missed hour can throw off a whole sequence (though I have also learned that it’s easy to overestimate how much that really matters). We are still clearly convinced that there’s real value-added in our physical presence and face-to-face engagement with our students. Just call us “the enforcers.”
Anyway, since I have little of intellectual substance of my own to offer right now, how fortunate that the new issue of Open Letters Monthly is fresh and full of goodies! By the time you’ve read every piece there from top to bottom, surely I’ll actually have finished a book or otherwise come up with something to say. And there’s lots of other good stuff around on teh internets, from proposals to remake the humanities PhD to discussions about the ethics of live-tweeting conferences to posts on Argentinian literary doom. Happy reading–and wish me luck.
It’s not often I read something that makes me think thank goodness I’m not teaching full-time anymore because I miss it so acutely, but this is a reminder of just how difficult it can be to juggle priorities where family (elderly and sick parents in my case) are concerned. It also recalls to mind the day that one of my male colleagues brought his young son to work with him when the lad was not too poorly but not well enough to be in school. Everyone commented on how good it was to see the father taking responsibility for a change. Had it been a woman it would have been , this is what happens when you employ young women in academia. Things have changed a little, but not much.
Oh I remember how difficult it was when my son was younger! Alas, one of the things we never worked out well was division of labour when it came to childcare. Because my husband had an office job, his trumped mine all the time, as I mostly could rearrange things. Except lectures, so very very occasionally he would come home for an hour and a half so I could deliver one. I used to try to get hold of my parents, although they could be elusive too. What it boils down to, is that it is always difficult to get work done when kids are ill (and inevitably we catch it sometimes). It’s one of the things that frustrates me about the culture of visibility that reigns in a lot of working environments. I don’t know why we bothered to create a virtual world of communications when we still insist everyone has to be in the office all the time. Do hope you all feel much better, very soon.
Thank you both for the support and encouragement! Alex, your comment about aging parents adds another dimension — I often imagine (naively, perhaps!) that if we lived closer to our extended families some of these challenges would be easier because once in a while we could lean on them–it seems less improper to ask a relative to tend to your sick child than a friend, somehow. Since we don’t, we can’t. A related issue is that we aren’t able to help when our families might need it, and though I know that is a whole further set of obligations and potential stresses, I’m sad to think that there may well be times when we really wish we could be there but can’t.
Litlove, I sympathize with the issue of regular vs. ‘flexible’ work–I have colleagues who struggle with this because their spouses have jobs that are more like 9-5 office commitments. Our work is flexible, yes, but only up to a point! So we don’t have that particular are of contention as we both understand how academic life works and we do very well, overall, at the division of labor. It simplifies things (if it also complicates them in some ways) that my husband’s university is over an hour’s drive out of Halifax. So on his teaching days, he’s entirely out of reach, but on my teaching days he mostly works at home. Who deals with what when, then, pretty much resolves itself.
OLM is impressive this month. That long piece on D’Annunzio – there are not many places that publish pieces like that any more. Although I admit I would have preferred if the ratio of life-to-literature had been reversed.
Good luck with the balancing. That the classroom is still the priority – this is what keeps me optimistic about higher education.