Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Morehead, Kentucky in the US.
It’s SuperBowl Sunday. My husband is making food for tonight’s festivities; the kids are upstairs napping (or at least resting quietly). It rained most of the weekend, so we were essentially stuck in the house. It’s still too early in the semester for my students to have handed anything in for me to grade, but at the point where lectures are still pretty rote. I finished revising a paper this week, resubmitted, and realized I don’t have any other looming deadlines that desperately need to be met. While there are always thing that can be done, there was nothing pressing that needed doing.
I had nothing to do this weekend.
My kids are still young enough (or I live in a town small enough) that we’re not rushing around for sports teams and other activities all weekend. We did go grocery shopping (no small feat with two kids under the age of 5), played with play dough, drew pictures, read stories (my almost-5-year-old is desperate to read on her own), watched movies, danced, sang songs, and just chilled out. The kids created their own games and imaginary worlds. We folded clothes (I’m going to enjoy this short-lived phenomenon where my kids are excited to help fold laundry).
I played Bejeweled until I had a cramp in my arm. I took a nap.
These kinds of weekends, where my husband and I are both home with the kids and there are no looming deadlines or obligations hanging over us, causing us to rush, stress, and generally need a day-off from the weekend, are rare. For so many of us in academia, the weekend isn’t for resting but instead for getting everything done that you didn’t have time to do during the week. We grade, we research, we write, we answer email, we get administrative tasks done over the weekend. For every Thursday afternoon we’re seen at the store, there are countless unseen weekends in the office at home or at school working to try and keep our heads above water. Often those Thursdays at the store are so that we don’t have to try and do battle with the crowds and/or our kids on the weekend.
So that we can get more work done.
I don’t remember the last time I had a weekend where I did nothing (ok, very little). Sometime in October, I think. And I’m not even sure if I should count that weekend I’m thinking of because I was really sick and thus didn’t do anything. No, I’m talking about those weekends where you get to do something you enjoy and at the same time not feel guilty on Monday for avoiding/neglecting/setting aside your professional responsibilities. A time when you actually enjoyed yourself over the weekend.
There are conferences; deadlines for abstracts, revisions, and submissions; grading; open house weekends; recruiting trips and fairs; more faculty meetings and other administrative work; campus social events that we “have” to show up for; thesis defenses and the celebratory drink afterwards; on-campus interviews; grant application deadlines; dates for submitting progress reports towards tenure; class prep, but also beginning to choose your books for the next semester; scheduling meetings; curriculum meetings; professional development courses…This is, indeed, what we signed up for when we became academics and an academic couple. But the demands of the day bleed into those hours set aside for family, like evenings and weekends.
Of course, not all work is a chore; I finally finished a few guest blog posts I had been meaning to do for a while but just couldn’t find the time. I started to read a novel that is directly related to my work and research. But I was relaxed while doing them, unencumbered by the weight of having to do them, instead enjoying choosing to do them at my own pace. There is a difference.
I don’t foresee this happening much going forward. It will be a sprint from now until the semester ends, and then it’s conference season, traveling to see family, getting geared up for the fall semester, and then it all starts again.
Maybe I’ll be able to grab another weekend “off” sometime in July.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed