Making the Time for What Counts
So, it’s just another TBT (Throw Back Thursday), right? Well, I have never really indulged the whole #tbt thing, but today I was feeling quite nostalgic. Part of my nostalgia (and sadness) was sparked by some recent posts by two friends, Marc Anthony Neal and David J. Leonard. These two men, who I admire on so many levels, posted some Facebook statuses over the past few days that really started me to thinking about my own life and balancing act between family and the academy. They were not just talking about family balance, but real-time and consequences and privilege. It really hit home.
I decided to write down my thoughts sooner than later on my blog for once, because I am at that moment of a “could be crisis,” where I have some choices to make. I am not going to get into details about the differences between men and women in the academy, the varying demands on our time, how these issues affect single parents or people of color in ways that are not always clear or transparent. I am not going to detail how race, class, or hetereosexism affect us all in the academy in very different ways. That would be too much work right now, at this late hour, I am just getting my thoughts onto the screen and wondering if I am making the right choices.
My entry into the academy was quick, constant, scary and fluid. I finished up that dissertation, got a post-doc, got married, had the first child during my first year of marriage. Post-doc ended and boom, a job (it really wasn’t that easy, but I am summing up to get a point across). This is what we all dream about, this was the way it is supposed to happen, right? I am not really complaining, but I am saying that time flies and that is the scary part. My first son was only 15 months old when we first moved to the Amherst area, he is now 8 years old and we are well on our way to being here for a decade. I have been in the game of archaeology for 20 years and I have had my share of ups and downs and doubts and stumbles, but the central question is now that I have tenure, does the pace ever slow down or do I just keep going and increase it to get over the next hurdle (and there are more, believe me)? I think about conversations I have had over the past few months, like: What is your next field site? Are you working on an article? When will your second book be out? Do you already have a contract? Will you start to be on those cable shows? What is your next big move? Makes my head hurt just to think about one or two of those questions on a cool summer night in July.
Then I ask myself a very simple question. Have I lost the ability to be there for my family when it counts? I am there just about every day to pick up children at 3:15 and attend special programs and events and run from ballet to basketball to track on weekends during the school year, but am I really present when I am there? What is on my mind? Am I checking emails or fielding calls quietly because there is some minor crisis or issue at work or with a student, etc.?
Note to self #1: I don’t make octopus shaped hot dogs anymore.
I remember how hard I tried to be everything to my little guy (when there was one). I wanted to know what he liked, if he was allergic to anything, or was he a picky eater, etc. Then I had a second one and she was such a small thing that I wanted to make sure all was perfect for her. Time passed and I realized that I had this thing down, but is it habit or is it that I am busier and I know how to fake it better? This week I have had some pretty sizable deadlines. Important things that had to get in. I spent almost 2 days (off and on of course) in front of my laptop fine tuning abstracts, making travel plans for the next trip to my field site, reading and carefully reviewing grant applications for a panel I am sitting on (due at the end of the week), in other words, I was busy – at home with the children, but busy. Am I really present for my children? The truth is, there is always something else to do, and someplace that I may need to be, and some meeting that is really politically important for me to attend and I am starting to get a little weary of it all.
Note to self #2: I don’t put chocolate chips or strawberry slices to make happy faces on pancakes anymore.
I worked so hard to get to this point, and that is the point. I have worked hard because that is the type of person I am. But, I do not want to look up and notice that there are no more diapers or car seats or children who want to cuddle, just much taller individuals who would have loved for me to be around a little more. I am not panicking, just taking stock of the situation at hand. I will admit, this is a bit of a rant and I am just probably in summer mode with children around me all day every day, but there is some real talk in between the nostalgia and the terror of missing out.
Note to self #3: I am really good at pinpointing details of each of my children’s likes and dislikes, from colors to music to food and snacks.
All is not lost, these days at home has made me smile in wonderment to see three children playing in harmony (most of the time). Playing on the slip and slide, the trampoline, with dolls and action figures, just running around in the back yard, more water games and then (as an afterthought) those electronic devices when they are a little bit tired. All in all, we are having a blast, and that may also be why I am thinking along these lines. This is not normal for us, for me. This week has been harder than most. In trying to have fun and just hang out, things fell behind, emails piled up and I forgot for a moment that the work never really stops, but my children, my small ones will also not stop, they will grow and need and learn and teach my husband and I that our presence (our real presence) is the most important thing we can do in this world, for the rest of our lives.