Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hitting the Track?

One of the most surprising things for me about parenting has been the difficulty I've had distinguishing between what is right for our family and what society's expectations for our family are:  where do the two sync up?  When should I diverge from others' expectations to follow my own instincts?  Have there been times I've regretted not listening to the advice of others?  I don't know if I naively imagined myself immune to such pressures, or if I just misgauged their strength.  But whenever I'm faced with parenting dilemmas or the tug-of-war called being a working mom, there are a whole bunch of voices arguing with one another in my head, and they aren't all mine.

We seem to be handling the whole two-kid thing better now than we were last fall.  Nolie's schedule is set, and the daycare-work routine is more manageable.  Don't get me wrong--there are still moments of chaos.  With the house being on the market, we're having to be vigilant about messes, and we are needing to leave the house at a moment's notice for showings.  And there are the persistent crises:  one of the kids being sick, a daycare provider on vacation or closed at the last minute, a cat horking on the floor while both kids are crying to be fed.  But for the most part, we've reached a pleasant sort of stasis where things don't feel quite so hard.

Perhaps that's why I'm thinking more about my career again.  I'm an admitted change-junkie; I like things to be different and new every so often or I get a little bored and wanderlusty.  My job has been so fulfilling because it's defined by constant change.  Every semester brings a new group of students; every academic year brings new projects and new challenges.  I'm a good fit at the institution where I work, and the people I work with have been incredibly supportive; I count most of them as friends, not just colleagues or acquaintances.  I realize how unusual and special that is. 

I'm also really grateful that as crazy as things get sometimes (especially at the beginning of the week), I'm in a job that is really simpatico with being a mom of two young ones.  I can frequently set my own schedule from semester to semester, and the hours are flexible, so if Addie or Nolie is sick, it's not a deal-breaker to be home with them.  There are some drawbacks, of course.  Because I work 1-2 days from home and the work is project-driven, it is often difficult for me to isolate my work life from my home life.  I "time bind," as my old therapist was fond of saying.  Also, because I work from home, it is easier for me to put work things off when the pressures of my family become great.  This is just part of having two small kids.  And it's really difficult for me to miss class, so Eric has had to miss his fair share of work so that I can go teach when the kids are sick or at home.

And still.  I have ambitions.  I'm thinking more and more seriously about what it might mean to seek out a tenure-track job, either at Mines or elsewhere.  My thinking is this:  I'm getting more and more involved in research projects and grant work, thanks to my generous and inclusive tenure-track colleagues.  I have an idea for a book-length project that I think could get published.  I'm doing committee work like there was no tomorrow, and I'm also involved in administrative work.  All that in addition to teaching a 3-2 load.  So what is there to lose by trying for a tenure-track job?

Well, a lot.  Say I make the play for a tenure-track position at Mines.  In order to be a viable candidate, I'll also need to apply elsewhere.  Given the job market, this could mean applying for jobs in Tennessee.  Arizona.  Washington.  Who knows?  And if I'm not hired at Mines, I can't go back to my old job.  I'm done, I think.  So it could mean we'd have to move.  This would be tough; Eric makes good money and likes his work, and I don't know if I would like my new career.  How do you weight these options?

Then, there's the pressures of the tenure-track.  Five years after you start, a committee of people who may know my work only tenuously will decide on my future.  Again, an opportunity to get ass-canned and have to start all over.  I'm also afraid of returning to the stresses of "publish or perish," which reminds me of trying to get my dissertation done, and in how disappointed I was in the final product.

All of this risk, and I'll probably have to work more, too.  A lot fewer Fridays at home with the kids.  I'll have to be stricter about my time, and will feel the need to justify the hours I'm reading and writing as work (I think for folks who aren't academics, reading and writing qualifies as leisure.  I constantly feel the need to explain that it is, indeed, work.  Is part of what I do for a living).

But these are probably unlikely scenarios.  I think Mines probably wants to keep me, and I want to stay there.  And I know a lot more than I did as a grad student, so writing and publishing academic work doesn't seem quite so daunting now.  Being tenure-track pays better, too, and means less teaching so that one has time to research and write.

What the real concern is, and what all these little not-me voices in my head are discussing, is whether it's right for me to make such a choice when it will mean less time with my kids. 

"When you're on your deathbed and you look back at your life, will you wish you worked more, or spent more time with your kids?" says one.

"In just five years, Nolie will be in kindergarten.  Can't you wait?" says another.

"I can't believe you're letting other people raise your kids."

"We put too much pressure on moms in the U.S.  All over the world, kids are raised by multiple people, and turn out fine."

"Do you want quantity or quality?  You can't have both."

"It's good for your kids to see you work, to see you passionate about what you do."

"What about you?  Won't you always regret not taking the next career step?"

"You can hardly handle what's on your plate now; what makes you think you could take on more?"

"You can't cut it on the tenure-track.  Better to stay where you are."

"You're just ambitious.  Don't be ambitious for ambition's sake."

"You can do this.  You can do this.  Why aren't you doing it?"


You get the picture.  It's like All in the Family up there, everyone talking over everyone else.  I don't know what I want to do.  I need to take some time, do some research, see if I fit into other programs out there, test out the waters at Mines more.  Figure out if I can give up the time I have with my kids, figure out if I can't.  Either way, I want to act with intention, and not just proceed because it's the status quo.

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