Deviating from the Script

It’s been a really interesting week.

Last week, when I wrote, I was on the brink of exhaustion and frustrated with myself for lack of self-care, struggling with prioritizing time for all of the priorities in my life.  Frankly, for people who follow this blog or who know me in person, this is nothing new.  My life has been variations on this theme pretty much since my mother passed away, which will be twenty years ago this Tuesday.  (Before that, she was good at making sure that I didn’t overcommit–something that frustrated me to no end, but in retrospect, I can see the intention behind her trying to make sure I had time to eat and rest instead of doing the 8-10 different activities I wanted to pursue.)

Anyways, after last week’s blog post, and because I’m really committed to my new year’s resolution of self-care, I decided that I needed to flip the script a bit.  I went to get a pedicure and largely took the weekend off (including a much needed Sunday afternoon nap).

Pretty toes and an hour off can do wonders in changing one's perspective

Pretty toes and an hour off can do wonders in changing one’s perspective

And, just that simple shift actually shifted my perspective in other ways this week.  Thursday, a co-authored manuscript of mine was rejected after a recent submission.  My co-author was pretty upset and, honestly, it has been a rough streak in terms of recent submissions, but I found myself strangely at peace.  I found myself thinking that, although rejection is never pleasant, I really enjoy writing (this after spending 4 hours revising another manuscript the day prior so really, if I were not going to like writing it would be on Thursday), and I would write (perhaps for publication, perhaps not), even if I was not an academic.  And then, I thought, what would be the worst case scenario? Not being granted tenure? Sure, that would be terrible, given that I pretty much feel like I was born to be an academic and I LOVE MY JOB, but you know what? I love teaching too and I’d be happy for the chance to return to a middle school classroom.  Stressing about this rejection wasn’t going to change the editors’ decision nor was it going to make an already long day any easier.  So, I let it go and I focused on being present to how blessed I am to be doing this work that I love, in spite of what the future might (or might not bring).

Later that evening, as I was teaching my class (this lecture is one during which I am always pressed for time because I try to cram a semester’s worth of literacy theory into a single lecture), a student made a comment that necessitated discussion, taking away precious time that was already scarce.  This, on top of the fact that our jigsaw reading activity had taken more time than planned started to make me stressed.  I ended up rushing the lecture, to the disappointment of some students, but for the benefit of the overall class.  Normally, I would still be beating myself up for this, almost 24 hours later.  But, in uncharacteristic acceptance, I realized that I made the choice that had to be made and that the semester still has 13 weeks ahead to help cover some other foundational topics.  I also realized that I can’t please every student every session, which is again a deviation from my people-pleasing script, but it’s a conclusion that after 15 years in teaching, I need to come to accept.

And, then there was today.  I woke up, after yesterday’s grueling back-to-back lecture day, hoping to get a lot accomplished (or at least to get in a nap), with only a couple of volunteer duties on the calendar for my son’s school.  But, between discussion board post responses, feedback on exit slips, and the volunteer duties which took MUCH longer than expected, I ended up not having accomplished a whole lot (and certainly not having taken a nap) by 2:15pm.  And, I found myself in a conundrum since I was at school when my son was getting out of school–should I sneak off campus, giving me a few more hours to finish the work I needed to d0, or should I take my son home early? Luckily, my friend Andrea was with me, and said, “Why don’t you ask Nate [my son] what he wants to do?” I thought for a second about the lecture I had to record and the responses I still had left and the 2 meetings I had scheduled over the weekend that I wasn’t really prepared for and on and on and on and I realized that, it will all get done, so maybe I should see if my son wanted to spend the afternoon with me or with his friends at daycare.

I went over to Nate’s classroom and asked if he’d rather come home early or go to daycare.  He looked at me with a bit of a puzzled look (that basically translated into, “Seriously, Mom? I can’t believe you’re asking me this.”) and said simply, “I’d rather go home early, thanks.” And that was that.  Instead of working, we spent the next two hours hanging out together, getting some errands done and just being around each other, prompting him to say, “Mom, you really are the best mom ever.  I’m so glad that you’re my mom.”

Those words brought me back to my own childhood and afternoons spent at daycare when my mom had to work.  I remembered how much I loved just spending time with her and how, now that she’s been gone for so long, all I would like is the opportunity to tell her that she was the best mom ever and that I am glad that she was my mom.  So, this weekend, when I go to leave flowers at my mother’s gravesite, I will do so in peace, knowing that in deviating from the script of overachievement and always having to get my work done first, I am honoring myself and my mom.  I’ve found, for the both of us, peace and relief from trying so hard to do it all.


The Struggle: Starting a New Semester

My last two days went something like this:

Thursday–Woke up committed to self-care in the face of back-to-back afternoon/ evening classes with a commute.  Went to coffee with some mom friends. Got myself lunch & packed dinner. Took a nap. Then took off for class #1 feeling good.  Taught from 2-4:30, got to campus, found parking, ate dinner, spent the time in-between classes answering exit slips.  Got to my 7pm class and actually felt okay. My good friend and colleague noted how relaxed and refreshed I looked.  Kept my energy up. Ended right at 9:30.

And then I hit the wall.

It took me 20 minutes to pack up. I forgot the add procedures for the extra students I let into my course. I felt a super wave of exhaustion and knew I still had to get myself home.  I got on the freeway, just in time to miss the freeway closure (that I had forgotten about because I’m no longer used to teaching the 7-9:45 pm shift)–whew, and got home around 10:15 where I proceeded to “wrap-things up” for 45 more minutes so I could go to sleep in piece.  Oh, but only after I had to pause at the bench in the hallway and make my husband get my stuff from the trunk because I had zero energy to drag my crampy, baby-bellied self up a flight of stairs (but I had the energy to work for 45 more minutes). I had trouble falling asleep and when I did, an uncertain amount of time later, I was awakened (far too early) by my fantastically adorable and wonderful almost 9-year old son, coming in somewhere around 4am with a tentative, “Mom?” and then a more certain, “Mom! I’m so glad you’re home! I missed you so much!” and wanting to cuddle in an already crowded bed.  But, I mean, seriously, how many more of these cuddle moments will I have, so I made room for the boy who told me all about his day then promptly fell back asleep (and my husband slept through this entire thing) while I went back into tossing-turning purgatory until about 5:45 when the alarms went off and the boy and the man got out of bed giving me a precious half an hour to semi-rest before dragging myself out of the bed (notice the dragging).

Friday: Got up (did I mention it was 6:15 am), ate breakfast, dropped off my son at school, stayed to do my duties at PTA treasurer and to volunteer checking off weekly homework in his class before heading to work. Got to work, dropped off my adds, checked-in with my new mom friend and colleague before realizing I was late for a SIX HOUR FRIDAY MEETING (which went the entire 6 hours) then had to go back to my office to “wrap [more] things up” from my class the previous night before. Left a nearly empty parking lot at 5:45 pm (commuter university parking lots at 5:45 pm are a lonely place) to commute home only to realize that I had forgotten a couple more e-mails and getting twitter notifications all along the way.

This weekend, I should probably work on a[nother] revision of a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few months; I’ve got to find some stickers for an activity on Monday to replace a pack that mysteriously disappeared; I need to keep up with discussion board posts & compose a weekly e-mail for Monday and I have to revise a proposal for curricular innovation that is due in a couple of weeks. I should probably also work on getting the props ready for the Super Mario Bros. obstacle course that I’m setting up for my son’s birthday party in a few weeks, but that can probably wait for another couple of weeks.

Conclusion: My self-care skills are weak.  The spirit is willing but the workaholic nature in me is strong. But, blogging is about the journey, not about having it all figured out.  I need to look at the last two days and figure out how to not make the rest of my semester into a perpetual cycle of these last two days.  I just don’t know.  But, I suspect that it starts with food, water and sleep (Wow, how low I’ve sunken on Maslow’s hierarchy).  Going to work on that now.  See y’all next week.

Keeping Balance

I read an interesting article this morning called “Coming Out as Academic Mothers” written by Sarah Birken and Jessica Borelli, two mothers, one of whom is a 3rd year post-doc who opted to work half-time to spend more time with her children and the other who is an assistant professor with 3 children under 5 at a liberal arts college.  It was timely, in that I’m 22-weeks pregnant and about to re-enter the world of infant motherhood (I’m a mother thrice already of adopted twin girls who came to me at 15 and are now 25 and my biological son who is almost 9).  While I’ve been a mother (and an infant mother) before, I’ve never done so on the tenure track.  Still, seeing the article really helped me to reflect and think proactively, something that I’m trying hard to do before the May arrival of our little girl (I didn’t ACTUALLY plan to have a post-semester baby, it just worked out that way, really).


I have to start by saying that I am probably in the most fortunate academic setting that one could be in as an expectant mother.  My dean and colleagues have offered nothing but support for me and understanding of whatever choices I make in relation to the time I need to bond with my new child and take care of myself before and after her birth.  However, until reading the article this morning, I didn’t realize that so much more of the struggle I’m facing is not (really) about the external pressures of academia, but about balancing my own ambitions and expectations as an academic with my ambitions and expectations as a mother.

And, let me tell you, that’s a journey.

In their piece, Birken & Borelli talk about 3 norms of American society (taken from Robert Drago’s Striking A Balance: Work, Family, Life): the motherhood norm, the ideal-worker norm and the individualism norm.  While life and motherhood have taught me a lot about how it takes a village to raise a child, countering the individualism norm and causing me to seek help and support in that area, I still really struggle with both the motherhood and ideal-worker norm, partly because my own personal identity is so wrapped up both in being an amazing (Pinterest worthy, PTA treasurer, classroom volunteer, cooking wholesome meals, helping with homework but still fun and caring) mom and being a contributing member of an academic community (through teaching, service AND research, all of which I genuinely love).

While I really appreciated Birken & Borelli’s perspectives, a lot of their advice didn’t get to the heart of what I know is my issue in being an academic and a mother.  Being a mother and an academic both give me life.  They are roles that I cherish, relish and find to be a privilege each day.  But, what often gets lost and what I hope to struggle through in this blog, in this year, and on this journey, is finding myself (and time for myself) in the balance of motherhood and academia.

When I had my son, almost 9 years ago, I was still adjusting to being a new mother of teenagers as my daughters came to our family just 7 months before I became pregnant the first time.  I didn’t really know how to mother 3 children with their various needs and very different life stages while also balancing a full time job as a teacher.  I got sucked into all 3 of the norms that Birken & Borelli mention, trying to do it all myself while maintaining full-time (sometimes more than full-time) work, and got really sick, almost losing everything that I had worked so hard to achieve.

From this healthier place and the journey of these past 10 years of parenting, I know that as easy as it will be to lose myself in the demands of family and work, I’ve got to make sure to take time for my two new year’s resolutions: blogging (which represents time to reflect in writing) and self-care (which reminds me to honor who I am as an individual so that I can also give my best to all I do for others).  And that can only happen by reaching out, taking time and accepting my own limitations.  I know it’s going to be a step-by-step, day-by-day (maybe even moment-by-moment) journey, but I also know the rewards will be great, not only for myself but with the difference I seek to make in all my roles in the world.

What Does It Mean to Speak Freely?

It’s been a hard week, in terms of thinking clearly and speaking freely–hard in that I’ve had to wrestle with a lot that is not immediately apparent for me which is generally unusual.  Don’t get me wrong, I think deeply about issues of free speech and free expression (and violence, actually) all the time, but usually my position is pretty clear from the start.  This week has been different because of the shooting in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters which at this point has resulted in the deaths of 12 initial victims and the 2 gunman allegedly responsible for the attacks.

As I’m sure many who are reading this blog already know, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical paper/ magazine that for years has faced criticism for their brand of irreverent satire that truly holds nothing sacred.  The entire editorial staff was gathered for a weekly meeting when two gunman burst in and began shooting, targeting the chief editor and several prominent cartoonists and staff members.  Additionally, two police officers were killed, including Officer Ahmed Merabet, a French Muslim officer who died defending the adopted country and the intellectual freedom that at many times scorned or mocked his own faith.

I’ve come to clarity around several things: 1) I never believe that violence is the appropriate response to oppression (I know this may seem idealistic, but I stand behind this stance–it’s fundamental to who I am) and 2) I believe it’s important to protect the rights of artists and journalists, even those with whom I don’t agree (I really appreciated Krista Tippett’s perspectives on the shooting and the prospective implications and probably couldn’t have said this better myself).  But even after a lot of reading, and several in-person and on-line discussions with people I really respect, I am still struggling with what it means to speak freely which has led me to this point:  3) There’s a huge responsibility that we take when we publicize our words, beliefs and images and there are implication to those words, beliefs and images that we don’t control.

(As an academic, this also reminds me of the publicity surrounding the dismissal of Professor Steven Salaita for comments made in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on twitter.  While some feel that Salaita was responsible for his own undoing with his words, many others feel that the use of his comments, taken out of context and cherry-picked, as grounds for his dismissal prior to even assuming his new professorship were a huge set-back to academic freedom.  The New York Times and Salaita himself discuss the devastating impact of the University of Illinois which, while not deadly, were clearly destructive.)

So, with this responsibility and the unforeseeable consequences, particularly for those of us that, in many ways, live by the pen, what do we do? As an individual, I can pledge to live by compassion, practice non-violence, and engage in conversations that move our world forward, but as a scholar, as someone whose words are developing weight, I am struggling to know my truth in order to speak it.  I am struggling, in a situation where there are many clear victims and some that are more obscure, to know where to stand and how to advocate.  I am struggling, alone and with others, through the complexity that is our global society, to find what it is I have to say.

But, maybe if we engaged more in this type of struggle before we spoke, it would allow us to speak more freely.

Consistency in the Journey: A 52-week Blog Resolution

It’s a new year and time to make “resolutions” that will help us prosper and work towards important goals.

So, why not a self-initiated blogging challenge?

I really enjoyed my time writing for the 30-day blogging challenge earlier this year and I realized that this will be an important year for me to chronicle, from the final decision on my retention, to my Spring semester preparing for a new baby (who, if on time, will arrive JUST after the end of the term in May) while teaching a full load and working on papers and presentations, to the transition to being an academic with a 9-year old, a new baby in the house (not to mention a husband and dog and two adult daughters who live in another part of the state) and expectations to continue on a solid research, teaching and service trajectory.

2015 is going to be quite a year.

Cloud cuckoo plank with a stack of mess behind it.  This is where I may end up at some point on this 52-week journey.

Cloud cuckoo plank with a stack of mess behind it. This is where I may end up at some point on this 52-week journey.

So, I’ve resolved to document this journey with a blog a week (although these blogs will likely be divided between my food blog (which I haven’t updated since September because of pregnancy taste buds which I worry will color my reviews) and this one.  Hopefully, this will help me to keep honest and consistent in the journey and will contribute to my community, both those who know me personally, and those who want to know more about my transition back to infant motherhood while navigating assistant professorship.  I’ve put “schedule blogging” (and self-care time, which is my other resolution) into my google calendar with reminders and those of you who know and see me regularly can feel free to keep me accountable too.  No progress without accountability.

I hope you’ll come along on the journey with me.  See you along the way!