Thursday, May 31, 2007

Un-hyphenated

I am acutely aware of the many roles I play in my life, the many hats I wear: woman, wife, mother, professor, blogger. This whole business of questing for balance is based on an acknowledgment that different forces constantly assert differently-angled but nonetheless cumulative pulls and pushes on the (un)stable self. Right?

I have been trying to find--well, create, really--balance in my life, so that I am able to best enjoy all the good and least suffer the ill. I have done this, largely, by acknowledging my limited energies and by blunting some of my sharper ambitions. I have devoted the bulk of my energies and passions to my family. I have cut myself slack. I have lived in the hyphen: I am a wife-and-mother now, having been a wife-and-woman before that. I am still a woman-professor, but am now also a professor-mom. My house is cleanish, the renos advancing, if glacially; my marriage is maturing but remains a work in progress not yet perfected; I've managed to lose the baby weight and occasionally to read the Saturday paper in its entirety, even if this might take me until Thursday. The hyphen explains, the hyphen mitigates: the hyphen denotes multitasking. Twice the work, but spread over just one person.

I've been a 'good-enough professor.' I've been a 'good-enough' everything really.

As you know, I love my job. What I have really loved since becoming pregnant is the flexibility it has offered me in terms of scheduling, the freedom to work from home in my pajamas, the freedom to rearrange my work to suit my needs. Of course, this largely meant less work and less intensely. I'm a competitive, ambitious academic by nature: you kinda don't get to the professoriate without a strong drive and a will of steel. It's been hard for me to take naps on the floor of my office while pregnant, and hard for me to see my course evaluations dip in the semester since my return from mat leave ("It's hard to get hold of Professor Mimi"). Now that my summer research term has begun in earnest, and as the tenure clock suddenly seems to tick loudly than its biological counterpart ... I want more than good enough. I want to be un-hyphenated.

Isn't that a terrible thing to say? The pull of my research, my feeling that, really, I can do much better and much more work on this than I have been, yanks hard at me. I feel my own ambition returning. I like it. Pynchon can see it in my eyes, hear it in my voice as I rapid-fire the day's research at him over the cell phone as I march home through the park while listening to radio documentaries on the history of science and jotting down notes. "Sloooooow down! You're talking really fast." Because I'm excited. I'm in the zone, and I could lose myself there. When we started dating, just as I was finishing up my dissertation, Pychon gave me the nickname, 'Academimi'--he said my whole self changed when I got in that word space, and once, when he stopped by my office unexpectedly, I blinked up at him, and called him "Dude"--I forgot his name. That's what I get like when I'm working. I love the focus.

But how can I do this--the conferences, the intense, manic head-game of deeply researching a topic, the deeply interior process of thinking-by-writing--without throwing all the rest of it out of whack? How can I be a devoted mom, a fun and attractive wife, a contented woman and an accomplished professor, all at the same time? I can't create more hours in the day, nor do I have much left that I can really give up in the hours that I do have.

I feel the pull of the supermom stereotype. I don't want to be that person. But how can I reconcile this career drive and everything else that I want just as much?

13 comments:

Omaha Mama said...

Oh wow. I feel your pain. And your need for balance, and at times - for unbalance. I am not in academia, but being a public school teacher can also suck you in and you could put your whole life into just that title, teacher. Then you want to be a mom. And how do you do both? Can't do everything really well. Is it bad to just be good enough? I so get where you're coming from. And aren't we glad we have spouses who can pick up the parenting slack when we are putting more into the career. I hope you have a great summer and some fantastic research comes out of it. Good luck to you! (And just think what a great role model you are to your daughter. And how smart she will be. And independent. It's fantastic!)

slouching mom said...

Professor and mom.

Quite frankly, I can't imagine a more difficult combination. As you know; it's why you're struggling.

Being a professor can be 24/7. That's the problem, no? There aren't limits defined by anyone else. There's no set time when you should go home. And there's really no 'home,' because your work is as present there as anywhere else.

I don't know the answers, but I think you are very strong. If anyone can do it, I'd guess it'd be you.

Mad Hatter said...

When you figure it out, let me know. Two and a quarter years in and I am not waving but drowning.

NotSoSage said...

Step 1: Give up blogging.




hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!

No, please, please don't. But sometimes that's how I feel and yet sometimes I think it's what keeps me mindful.

Sigh.

Jenifer said...

I think if you figure it out you will be one popular woman with people begging for your secret answers.

I always had trouble with balance with working and was in career that could be, if you let it, a 24 hour a day job. The funny thing is now that I am home I still am having trouble balancing. How come it is 10pm and instead of folding the 3 baskets of laundry I am blogging.

I agree with Sage that blogging offers me a respite that nothing else compares to and it is also what is keeping me from other important stuff which is piling up.

Sorry no answers from me. I think with your supportive husband you will find a balance somehow.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

One of the reasons I do the job I do is that it's not that fun for me. I mean, it's fine. It pays well. But when I turn the computer off, I'm done -- I'm a mom again, full time. The work rarely pulls at me.

If you really want to be as dedicated as you describe, I'd say you're going to need one hell of a partner. And it sounds like Pynchon understands you perfectly!

Beck said...

I don't know. In fact, watching my mother struggle to maintain her career and raise her kids knocked all ambition out of me altogether. So that doesn't help you at all, does it.

nomotherearth said...

It's the struggle that I face daily. I'm with Ponderosa, in that I have a job that is just a job. It's over when the day is done. That's done wonders for me as a mom, but the career is uninspiring. I wonder why I do it at all instead of just staying at home, but the main reason is that I want to work. Now I'm considering going back to school full time and facing mountains of work WITH NO PAY. The whammy of all whammies. I'm not sure I should do it because what happens if I end up no better of - AND out of job?

Man, I'm no help, but wanted to let you know that you're not alone in wanting to be more ambitious. To be just me for whatever amount of time it takes to go wherever I'm going.

Mimi said...

Nomo -- I was thinking of you when I wrote this, about your search for a career rather than a job, and about Pynchon and his yearning, too. I have that drive, and the road to send it down, even ... but TIME and ENERGY ... that I feel I'm taking away from my family, and putting a burden on Pynchon. Yikes. School is a real leap, and full time! Good luck and best wishes with that.

And thanks everyone for being supportive. I do feel guilty talking like this, but it's how I feel. And none of us have the answers, I guess, and that makes the question even harder to ask ...

Bloor West Mama said...

I don't know what to say Mimi. It certainly is a very tough situation to be in. I wish you all the best in your decision making process.

Oh, The Joys said...

You ebb and flow, friend... ebb and flow.

Bon said...

in my house we were just talking about this. i'm looking toward going back to work f/tand we find ourselves already swamped, with not enough time to do things with O and talk to each other and fulfill our online lives and still keep the house and our postage-stamp lawn moderately in shape...and they're ALL important. i don't know. i don't know what gives...i suppose the house and the lawn but then all my OCDs kick in.

so if you do figure out how to get more hours in the day, can you send me an email, please? :)

ewe are here said...

This struggle is in my future, as I haven't returned to practicing law since I moved to the UK... I'm not sure where I'll end up career-wise, but I'll be watching how you and others handle it all...