I teach an introductory writing and ethics class at Mines that has a one-hour large lecture component to it. Once a week, for an hour, 325 first-year students gather in a giant room to listen to a lecture by one of my colleagues, or a guest speaker. I coordinate the course, so I usually introduce the speakers.
Because Addie was still recovering from croup yesterday and couldn't go to preschool, she came to work with me. She stood up in front of 325 "big kids," twirling and dancing and generally quite comfortable as the center of attention. I felt a little like throwing up the whole time, though. Somehow the intrusion of my home life into my work life makes me terribly nervous.
Why is this? I count almost everyone I work with as a friend, and all have been extremely supportive with regard to my family choices, covering for me while I was on family leaves, asking after the kids, offering kind support. And yet, I worry, at some deep, shameful, buried level that I will be judged for bringing my daughter to work. That I have somehow lost control of the important boundaries that separate work and family, that I will inconvenience someone who doesn't have children, that I will appear unprofessional. I feel sad and embarrassed even writing that, because I am not ashamed of my daughter, or of being a mother. And yet these feelings persist.
In other words, there is a huge schism between these feelings and my politics. I mean, I believe that workplaces need to be family-friendly, that it is good for my students to see a professional woman who is also a mother. I believe that one can do her job really well and also be a good mother. And I also believe that these are impossible tasks, and that there is not nearly enough support for them, for most families, in our society. I want to be visible in this way, to show others what can be done, and also what should be different.
But I was all sweaty palms and queasy stomach yesterday, while Addie twirled in the front of the large lecture hall, as she and I walked hand in hand to my office, while she sat drawing and watching movies at my desk. Have I simply inflated my own importance, in imagining that others care so much what I do with my time as to be worried about Addie's presence at work? Or is there really a threat to my reputation, my sense of professionalism? Will students view me differently? My colleagues? My boss?
It's probably all of these things, really. One of the program assistants here at work calls me "Little Mama" every time I come in the main office, while calling others (mostly men) by their titles and last names. She means it kindly, but it makes me cringe. Why don't I say something? While I was on family leave last semester, I chose to come back to work early, and agreed to take on extra projects during the leave because I worried how others would view my absence. I now regret the time I didn't spend with Nolie. Why did I do this? I stayed late last night to make up for the hours lost when Addie was here yesterday. When I got home, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. My kid was sick, and I should have been home with her.
Yeah, yeah. Work/parenting balance, yadda, yadda, yadda. All over the news, isn't it? Elizabeth Vargas and everything. But I think that's b.s. There's just no way to balance it. You just get pushed and pulled so that some days you do your job well and some days you're a good mom and very rarely do you feel like you excelled at both. The expectations are too freaking high, and no hot bath or pedicure or day at the mall can make that right.
Do I sound sour? Disgruntled? Dissatisfied? Critical? Maybe. There are times I feel all of those things. And there are just as many times I'm fine with the see-saw, fine with being just good enough at everything, not having to be perfect. Because the striving for perfection is hard, and it's boring. I get bored with my own incessant judgments, of that treadmill, and sometimes have to step off and be okay with the less-than-perfect.
"Where's your computer?" Eric asked last night, when I walked in the door at 7:30. "I left it at work," I said, throwing my hands up. "I figured working until 7:30 was enough."
He grinned, and hugged me. "Great," he said. "Great."