My husband and I are in what I grant is an enviable situation for two PhD's who are married to each other. For starters, we have each other and two children who delight (and torment) us as no other beings can. We also have two full-time jobs. In the same discipline. At two neighboring institutions. In the same town. He has tenure, I do not (yet). We appear to have the two-body problem solved.
EXCEPT that we do not. A two-body problem solved means only that there will be other issues to resolve. This is the equation of 2 jobs + 2 kids = 2 much.
Last spring, in fact exactly one year ago, I started the following journal. This is the only entry. Read further, and you can see why:
12:50pm Arrive in lecture room for two sections of ANTH 100 that I teach back-to-back. This morning, I arrived on campus around 9:20 after dropping off my daughter, Beanie, at preschool. My husband, whom I shall dub StraightMan for the purposes of blogging about, had dropped off our son, Bubbie, at day care. I spent about 45 minutes reading over the chapter of my book manuscript that I currently am reworking from my dissertation. I have some ideas. Then I turned my attention to preparing for my ANTH 100 and ANTH 105 lectures, printing hardcopies of the slides, then handwriting notes about points to emphasize or additional examples that might be relevant. I responded to e-mail, then ate lunch while I browsed for references on rapid ethnographic assessment and other research methods for a potential project that I have been approached about joining.
2:55pm I am supposed to meet a colleague who is borrowing my copy of “Ongka’s Big Moka” for his 5pm class. While waiting, chat with students in his class. I answer a question about a class that I will teach in the fall. Which reminds me that I want to revise the syllabus.
3:05pm Arrive back for office hours. Realize that I left the DVD of “Nanook of the North” at home because I was watching it, taking notes, and preparing my lecture for ANTH 105 (between 8:30 and 10:30pm) the previous day. Each lecture involves a mini-research project b/c anthropologist though I am, I actually do not have a thorough knowledge of the culture, history, and contemporary dilemmas of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Canela of Brazil, the !Kung San / Bushmen, and the Eskimos. I had some of my best teaching evaluation numbers the last time I taught this, but highly critical, relentless self-exploiter that I am, I decided to change the reading assignments, the films, and the general approach to the course to make it, to my mind, more engaging. What is the sound of my own hand clapping? Hint: It sounds like self-flagellation.
So, I walk up the hill to my car. In the parking lot, I chat with another self-flagellating colleague. Even the 10 minutes spent in casual conversation feel like a luxury. It is this Comrade who inspires me to log my time, as he does. By logging his time, he has come to realize that his goal of spending 15 hours a week on his research is not close to being met. It is the second full week of March, and he tells me that since the semester started, he has logged 15 hours total on his research. I express similar frustration about writing – or more like not writing – my book manuscript. Gentle reader, have I mentioned that I have a contract? With a publisher? That I have a reduction from four courses to three courses totaling more than 125 students? So, the reduction is not a reduction at all, but a reorganization. Hence, the manuscript looks like a series of files, started, but not finished, on the desktop of my Mac, and a few yellow sticky notes reminding me what I was thinking, in the event I ever should have an opportunity to reopen one of said files. It looks like this because that is all I have.
I go home, get the film and a bar of chocolate to fortify myself for my ANTH 105 class at 5pm. Note to self: Eat better, and exercise. I return to my office, realize that I need to make copies of today’s handout. I make the copies, then come back to the office (I am holding office hours) and start writing this for yuks, I suppose. I recall that Comrade and I chatted about how we feel like we spend most of our time just keeping up or just covering what we must – namely, caring for young children at home and teaching. I begin to realize that “teaching” is a gloss for all kinds of activities including, but not limited to reading and taking notes on the articles that I have assigned to the students, composing notes and/or PowerPoint slides for lectures, performing the lectures themselves, listening thoughtfully to students during their presentations and discussions, offering feedback on their comments (including constructively correcting their mis-readings of the material so as not to discourage the students), mediating disagreements that arise between particular students during discussion, attempting to draw into the discussion other students who do not participate, talking to students before and after classes about their various concerns (especially absences past and anticipated, the reasons for them, and how they might “make up” missed work or receive extra credit), answering e-mails and phone calls from students, talking with students during office hours about their grades or their plans for next semester or for graduation, designing assignments that are at once meaningful and doable and gradable, skimming the anthropology journals to which I subscribe (American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Medical Anthropology Quarterly) to present fresh not canned knowledge, browsing other electronic journals for the same, checking book reviews to see what fits the criteria of (a) what I want to read that (b) I can assign in a class that I am planning for (i) next semester and (ii) the semester after that and (iii) sometime in the future. There is still more to teaching than this, but that is all I have time for because now it is…
4:50pm Time to make the donuts. That is, go back to the lecture room where I previously taught back-to-back sections of ANTH 100, and knock them dead in ANTH 105. The topic this week: The Western fascination with Eskimos, and the film “Nanook of the North.” I produced a PowerPoint presentation of 30 slides, then cut then back to 17 because although the class is 2 ½ hours, I still need to review for the upcoming exam, screen about 45 minutes of the film itself, and leave open time for discussion.
9:35am Arrive on campus, start my computer while I hang up my coat, and deliberately do not log on to my e-mail. New strategy: Check e-mail around 10pm at night, answer student questions immediately, answer other e-mail requiring quick response immediately (like the ones I am exchanging with a colleague whom I will call Tick – short for Tenure Clock – about a workshop that we are organizing for a fall conference – the deadline for the proposal is April), answer one or two more from the day or two before that did not require immediate response. Then do not log onto e-mail until I have put in 45 minutes of work on my book manuscript the next day. I steal time from myself.
Last night I got home around 7:45pm – my class ended shortly before 7:30pm, then I got straight into the car and drove home to be there for bedtime with the kids. StraightMan is there, as he always is. Thankfully. I saw Bubbie for a total of like15 minutes yesterday – I resent that about Wednesday. Beanie jumped up and down to see me – I snuggled with her and we read part of a story before we turned off the light. Downstairs, StraightMan puts my supper, which he cooked, in the microwave before he leaves – as faculty adviser for a student group, he attends their meetings diligently, if sometimes wishing he did not have to do it. We are a two-body problem apparently solved – two tenure-track jobs (in the same discipline) at two institutions in the same place. Lucky, but frankly, not always feeling so. It is early March, however, and we both still feel snowed under, at least metaphorically. There just never seems to be an end to the to-do list. StraightMan and I occasionally debate whether or not such items as “article” or “research” should appear on that list because they always get pushed to the bottom, like stones or cement blocks weighting down a body in the water that somebody does not want found. We always conclude, however, that we must keep such items on our lists because not to have them appear will be even worse. I eat dinner alone, absorbing the stillness of the house. The computer in our kitchen is on, I look at newspaper headlines as a way to disengage from the rest of my day. I read an unbelievably sad and unbelievably stunning piece in The Washington Post Sunday Magazine that a friend had mentioned – about parents whose children die after they have been forgotten in a car seat. The point of the piece is that this is not really a crime, but a terrible, most egregious error that reveals the shortcomings we all share as modern humans. The fault lies in our brains and in our five-point-harness carseats and in our need for said carseats and the driving around that we all do.
That parent could be me. I once arrived at home thinking that Bubbie had been there all day – I forgot to pick him up from day care. I speeded all the way up Maple Street because it was 20 minutes past the time I should have been there. It was terrible – I felt this terrible love and this terrible fear as I scooped up Bubbie and promised that I would never, ever forget to get him. He just wiggled out of my arms and picked up his stuffed cat and waited, I suppose, for me to compose myself. I hate that I did not forget the classes that I needed to prep for the next day or the assignments that required grading or the committee meeting that it was my responsibility to attend that afternoon.