Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Hobbies

I am an academic. I began school at five years old in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, continued through the 12th grade, on to college, law school, and finally graduate school. I did it all in 31 years. No great time record, unless you count fanny-to-seat time.

Working at a university, I spend a good deal of quality time with academics(teaching faculty and former faculty who have, like me, become administrators) and have learned a thing or two about the academic culture. One secret I want to break wide open is this: Many of my teaching faculty colleagues do not have hobbies. I'm serious. Really. They simply don't know what to do with themselves once they've turned of the laptop, put the research back on the shelf, and decided to stay in for the weekend. This is not a put-down, of course. Some of my best friends are faculty. But, it is a major concern of mine. Perhaps you have shivered considering the same calamity?

I knit, quilt on occasion, rubberstamp into the wee hours, design and sell jewelry, read good novels that I'll never teach, and, when my knee is feeling good, I take good walks out-of-doors. Friends have asked, "how did you develop your hobbies? I can't think of a thing to do. I don't even know that I've got any talent to do anything creative." My answer is always the same: "I don't know. I just do it."

The truth of the matter is quite different, I recognize, now that I put my mind to it. Though I spent lots of years pursuing my own intellectual interests, I remember something my mother always said to me when I was a girl and and begging her to play with me because I didn't want to take the required afternoon nap. She'd say, "Martha, you need to learn how to make your own fun." That is probably the seed of my hobbying.

As I grew and spent more and more hours in classes, I need to change the carpeting and wallpaper in my mind after a long day in class. I mean, I wanted a change of pace that required I use my hands and different portions of my brain. When I tired of reading 19th-century slave narratives and novels, I'd turn to my knitting needles or my beads. I'd find myself intrigued and even spellbound by the idea that I could make a fabric, or make something pretty that someone else would admire, desire, and even purchase. That I could produce small things of beauty was new and exciting to me.

More, I enjoyed, then, and continue to enjoy the textures, colors, patterns, and journeys of various fabrics. Beads offer stories of other cultures, other times. Semi-precious stones take me to quarries and mines around the world and I wonder about the work conditions for the workers, the real "costs" of creating a bead, and the ways this very bead may have been used over the years as it visited the workbenches of traders and craftspeople around the world before it got to me. Now, rubberstamping with abandon, I wonder who will receive the cards I make and that others buy.

There are times when I dream of being an artist. My beautiful and unique cards will be seen on Oprah and I won't be able to keep up with the sales. I'll have to sell the whole enterprise to Hallmark for multi-millions, and I will go back to my home a millionaire artist quietly creating more greeting card masterpieces.

Then, reality hits and I remember I need health insurance, a retirement plan, a vision plan, short- and long-term disability insurance, retirement contributions, and the list of my "needs" goes on and on. On top of it, I'm raising my daughter and she needs plenty as she grows so beautifully. My dreams of being an artist are so pleasant, and so on hold for now!

But, I've got hobbies. I can dream. I can use parts of my brain that thrive on texture, color, scent, sound, and possibilities anytime I choose to make my own fun.

So, to my academic friends (and anyone else who is sans a hobby) : GET A HOBBY! Take a break from the ordinary and do something extraordinary with your other talents. Dream for a little while.

I Joined Mom Bloggers Club!

Typically, I carry a book or a magazine into the office with me just in case I get a free moment to read during my lunch. I carried one in yesterday, but found myself remembering a newstory I heard on NPR on the evening of July 27 between my daughters questions about what I did all day. the story was about Mom Bloggers Club, an on-line community of moms who blog. I made a note to myself to get to that website and learn more as soon as possible. Well, I didn't get to it until last night at about 9:00 pm, but I finally got there.

What a wow!!! I joined immediately! I couldn't believe that there actually existed a site for mothers who blog through all stages and styles of motherhood - regardless. "What a gift," I thought! I spent three hours moving through the site, dipping into a group site here, reading a blog site there. I felt inspired, after all that dipping and web diving, to keep my blog going as strong as I can. The best part of the whole adventure was when sister-mom bloggers began to welcome me to the site and the groups I'd joined in friendly, brief e-mail messages. My lesson: Community is not so hard to find when you keep your ears open and your fingers on the keyboard!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Professional

This blog is supposed to be about motherhood. That's what the title says, most certainly. But, in my case, and I suspect this is true for many mothers, motherhood is set in a living and contantly changing context. Motherhood does not exist in a vacuum, but is one of the identities I juggle with many others.

I think the greatest challenge for me is being a professional, working Monday through Friday, nine-to-five, outside our home. Moms who work at home, and moms whose work is home, have similar concerns, but I don't know their experiences firsthand. I'll just talk about what I know.

I enjoy working and always have. The idea of being productive on a regular basis, giving my mind's best and being creative in different ways everyday has always been exhilarating to me. I enjoy the competition, the chance to shine, the evolution of challenging projects, the give and take of working with talented people on projects and programs that can and do make a difference in other persons' lives. I really enjoy working.

When I became an adoptive mom, I dove into that with the same enthusiasm. I wanted to write a book about the process, tell others, counsel folks who were on the fence about adoption, spread the good news about creating a family through adoption to single African American women, especially. Everything revolved around the joys of single adoptive motherhood. The beginning was an exciting time! I would do it all again, too.

But, as my child grew, I recognized that my job and joy as her mother was getting much more complicated. Am I living in the right community for a growing and active girl? How will I send her to school? Where will I send her to school? How do I surround her with the right boys and girls so she can make good friends? Dance? Soccer? T-ball? Computers? What about discipline? Motherhood was becoming more of a full-time job. Once she started to walk, I really had to begin planning ahead. It is not like I hadn't been doing that, but the experiences I wanted her to have took more of my energy and time than my job seemed to permit.

The conflict for me was between my own sense of professionalism, my desires for professional growth and development, and my desire to be a good, focused, smart, and planful mother who mothers with love and patience. How do I do it all? How do I do it all with one paycheck? How do I do it all without depending on babysitters all the time? I spent many sleepless nights worrying, talking with friends and relatives, praying, and hoping for the best. Mostly, though, I spent nights and days struggling to change my own expectations, my own sense of what was necessary and what wasn't. I labored (and am still laboring) to judge myself less harshly.

Being a mom and a professional requires grace. From a theological perspective, grace is freely given, unmerited favor and love from God.It is not something we deserve or earn, but something we are simply given. It is "the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them," according to The sort of mother I want to be requires more strength and more patience (with my daughter and myself) and more energy than I can muster in any single day. I want to give my best at work because that can bring me joy and recognition (maybe even a bigger salary!), and I want to be my best with my girl because that brings me joy and peace. I also want to be my best for me. Because I believe grace happens, I believe it is possible to have these things: a good job, a great family life, and the comforting knowledge that I am doing my best.

None of this is easy. It takes prayer and quiet listening. I am grateful that I am living during a time when even single women can enjoy motherhood. I couldn't do it unless I worked everyday. In my life, then, motherhood and professionalism go together like a hand and glove. What grace!