09 November 2008

Motherhood and Work

I wrote the following in reply to the November 7 entry in Lisa Belkin's New York Times blog, "Motherlode":

I’m a college professor and, while I have a certain amount of flexibility when I’m not in class (even when it comes to scheduling the interminable meetings), once I’ve set my schedule for a semester, I have to be in class at the scheduled time: I see students for 45 hours per term, and those hours have to be non-negotiable.

Depending on the subject that semester and that day, I might be able to get a substitute who could discuss the topic in a meaningful way, but that eliminates the continuity with preceding and following classes. And even if they can, few of my colleagues have the time to prepare a three-hour class on, say, ecocriticism and Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, or on syntax and sentence diagramming, on top of their own schedules.

Sure, I could have avoided teaching Tuesdays this semester so I could stay home with The Offspring on Election Day and Veterans Day, but that doesn’t take care of the various holidays that fall on other days of the week.

Fortunately, The Mate works part time and is able to schedule commitments around both my schedule and our son’s.

When our son was young, the Mate found a group of (male) buddies also home with their kids. They guys are in arts, theater, things like that, with wives who have steady incomes and health insurance working in law, medicine, education.

I take your point about the title “motherlode,” and since I’m an English professor I do rather like it. But I’ve also heard way too many things about the presumed incompetence of fathers around their children. The mother of a friend asked who picked The Offspring up from school when he was in half-day preschool. “His dad.” — “But can he fix lunch?” One day in the park, a mom improvised with an empty yogurt container for a kid who needed a bathroom right away. “A dad would never have come up with that,” she commented afterward. I held my tongue, but with effort.

Thanks for your thoughts on motherhood and work. Even with a dad who’s more or less at home, I often feel as though I’m trying to keep several plates spinning in the air.