Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I need a wife

The last 6 weeks has been trying.  With a February 15 deadline for our book draft, my colleague, Troy Hicks, and I  worked overtime completing the manuscript that documented nearly 10 months worth of research.  In addition, I had to deal with the beginning of a new semester as leader of two programs and a university committee, as well as creating syllabi for my courses.  Not to mention preparing for two presentations at my first international conference this past week in Paris.

Thus, it is not surprising that I emailed myself more than a month ago with only the subject line of “you need a wife.”  I sent this to remind me to write a blog post because my mom, who visited for two days amidst this chaos, observed me trying to cook dinner after writing for 10 hours straight said, “You need a wife.”  I was in the process of trying to find a new babysitter and juggling the kids' activities in addition to work and regular house maintenance.

“I know,” I replied.

Her comment came on the heels of someone at work telling me as I ran from meeting to meeting with more frenzy than usual that I needed an “executive assistant.” 

“I know,” I replied.

But, I have neither a wife nor an assistant.

Post-tenure “bliss” is anything but. Even before I heard that my tenure had been granted, I was asked to take over leadership for the Adolescence Cluster, a group of 10 programs that work together to certify teachers of grades 7 – 12 across content areas. Shortly after receiving my tenure letter, I was asked to co-direct our new PhD program.  Both of these programs require organization and oversight this year as we implement changes, refine processes, and apply for state approvals.  Needless to say, my administrative duties have increased exponentially.  I was also asked to chair the university technology committee, and I've found this position particularly challenging.

This work came in tandem with the research and writing I have been doing related to digital reading.  With an accepted book contract and deadline looming, I worked overtime this past fall, and with data coming to my desk to be analyzed until the last week before Christmas, my “break” was not a vacation.  Exhilarating though it may be to add to the body of knowledge about literacy in the 21st century, the work is demanding, and this mama is tired.

I have virtually ignored friends, family, and coworkers as I worked toward a mid-February deadline, and with the past week focused on presentations at the international conference, I am ready to disconnect.  If only I had an assistant to answer email so I could.

All this being said, I have never felt more invigorated professionally, and I still feel connected deeply to my children and my family.  And though I admit that I need both an executive assistant and a wife, I believe that both my professional world and my family understand my dual personality.  During my visit to France, where I toured Versailles and other castles of generations past, I contemplated the roles of women throughout time, and it reminded me how far we have come in just a generation here in the US.  Last year I wrote an article about this topic for the 2013 reunion edition of the Bucknellian.  My mom, who represents a generation that made my life as a working mom possible, helped me in writing this piece.  It is through her model that I have come to be the woman that I am today – and through her generation that I am able to be what I am.  With gratitude to her – and to all women who paved the way:


Bucknell Women, A Generation Apart

I am the product of a Bucknell sandwich sign.  In the fall of 1969, when hazing of entering students was condoned by the university, my mom, like all first-year females on campus, adorned herself with the required skirt and hand-made "freshman” sign, complete with her name and phone number. My dad, a sophomore, spotted her. He liked what he saw; he wrote down her info; he built the courage to call her. Three years after their first date, they walked down the aisle of Rooke Chapel. Their story is romantically Bucknellian, and perhaps it is that romance that brought me to campus 25 years after my mom wore her sandwich sign.

Life as a Bucknell student was different for me than it was for my mom.  I didn't have a dress code or a curfew. I wasn't a "Sem-Gem," the term sarcastically given to women who were segregated, living "down the hill" in the former "Women's Seminary."  I was not required to eat separately from men, isolated in Larison Hall. For me, the kind of hazing that my mom experienced was not tolerated, and it certainly would not have been acceptable to single out women in such an overtly sexist way.  In fact, the term “freshman” had been censored; I was a first-year student. 

Like my mom, I met my husband in the fall of my first year at Bucknell. We hung in the same crowd; we became friends; eventually we became a couple. But we never dated, at least not in the same way my parents did. Our romance developed through group dinners, hall parties, and late night phone calls. “Dating” was not something we did in the late 90’s at Bucknell. 

For my mom and me, the lived experiences on campus were certainly different, but admittedly, we came from different worlds. My mom attended college as a fall-back plan. Her father had died when she was a young teenager, and she witnessed the struggles of her mother who needed to work to support her daughter. College for my mom was not a path to a career; it was insurance for her future, a future she fully expected to involve more traditional roles.

Perhaps sparked by the political turmoil of the late sixties, much of it fomented on college campuses, Bucknell policies changed in the fall of my mom's sophomore year - women and men were treated equally:  hazing was ended; hours and dress codes disappeared; co-residential housing began a new era of gender integration. These sweeping changes at Bucknell, along with evolving social mores and federal policies like Title IX and Roe V. Wade reflected an era where women began carving out new roles, roles that my mom as a teenager did not dream to hold.

A twenty something in an era of social unrest, my mom straddled traditional notions of womanhood with the emerging "we can have it all" mentality that would transform my generation. She began a career after graduating from Bucknell, and she continued to work after I was born. To my child's eyes, a professional mom was the norm, and though I didn't comprehend it at the time, my mom was enormously adept at balancing work and home.  She was the perfect model for me in "having it all."
My generation entered college with dreams of being anything and everything, and the knowledge that we could, and probably should, do it. For me there was never a question: I would work; my career would, in part, define me. But like my mom, I also wanted a family. Today I juggle the dual roles of mom and educator, and I contribute to the evolving conversation on "having it all." 

My female classmates are engineers, physical therapists, professors, designers, public administrators, accountants, corporate executives – and moms.  We focus our energy at demanding jobs, and then we work what some have called “the third shift” at home.  We feel empowered to “have it all,” yet at times we feel guilty that we want it. This tension is not new; women continue to struggle in ways our fathers, husbands, and brothers do not as we live the vision of the generation before us.


My mom and I were 25 years apart on Bucknell’s campus.  As I wrote this article, we chatted about our unique Bucknell experiences and our hopes for my son and my daughter, twins, who at age 5 are already learning expectations of gender both in the home and in society. Our mutual desire for my children's generation is that the responsibilities of occupational and familial roles are commonly respected, communally valued, and equally shared.  It is our hope that both my son and daughter live the progress made by the generations before.