From Legos, to staff meetings, and back again

I think a lot about work-life balance. I have to, what with working full time and raising a son with no familial support system. And last week, I failed miserable at the balancing act.

My library is currently conducting a search for a high level position, for which I am on the search committee. This work has proven itself to be both eye opening (academic libraries are doing some really cool things!) and eye crossing (reading dozens of cover letters and CV’s makes my head spin!) but one thing is consistent: it is time consuming.

Last week, we had a marathon of Skype interviews with a short list of candidates. These interviews were actually invigorating, and I felt myself growing attached to my fellow committee members as we passed around chocolate and notes, made inside jokes and funny faces. Then Friday rolled around. I came home from work about 30 minutes early to try to chill out before I went to pick up my son. I was exhausted, and my husband had a prior commitment, so I was on deck to put Mr Boogers to bed.

Within 5 minutes of walking in the door, I had changed into jeans and sprawled on the couch to close my eyes, and my husband walked in. “I’m throwing some chicken nuggets in the oven so Mr Boogers can have dinner early and we can make it to the Christmas Parade by 6.” After searching through a confused brain, my stomach sank as I remembered:

I. Forgot. The. Freaking. Christmas. Parade.

My son loves that parade. We’re in a tiny town, so it consists of firetrucks, ambulances, police cars, tractors, marching bands, and livestock. This is basically his dream world, and Santa comes at the end and throws candy at you, so he basically lives for it. And I forgot all about it because I hadn’t been tuned in to him for most of the week. My husband picked up a lot of slack for me, and when I was around, my head wasn’t in the game. So the last thing on my radar was what, to me, is a minor yearly annoyance, but to my son, is the annual start of the Christmas season.

Christmas Parade
Not my town, but looks VERY similar
Credit: Tommy Lee Kreger
[CC BY 2.0]

My husband ultimately took Mr Boogers to the parade while I hung back at home for some necessary downtime. Was it the tears? (Mine.) The anger? (Again, mine.) I don’t know, but he understood that it would be best for everyone if I got my down time and calmed the F down. But this incident has me thinking about working mothers in general, especially single working mothers, or those who have uninvolved partners.

I often tell people that parenthood has made me the ultimate multitasker. In the mornings, I can brush my teeth while going to the bathroom and getting a (almost) 5 year old to put some dang pants on for school. But parenthood has also forced me to learn how to switch gears quickly, if not always gracefully. How often have I left a faculty meeting, after discussing the pedagogical implications of a new policy or program, to pick up my son from preschool and play with Legos and eat Goldfish crackers? It’s hard to make those transitions, and I find myself not fully present while I’m on the rug building a combo house-tractor trailer with my son. I’m either rehashing a conversation in my head, or mentally organizing next steps for a certain decision, often with my journal close at hand to jot down notes.

I want to stop doing this. Soon, my son will come home from school and not want me to get down on the floor to play with him, so I need to enjoy it now. But I also enjoy my work, and derive great pleasure in mapping out an implementation plan for a new initiative, or brainstorming wild ideas for my students, or even helping lead my organization into a better future. What is the solution here?

I’ve decided it’s to add more hours to the day. That seems reasonable, right?

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