The Trouble with Fieldwork and Kids

In the short time I began this blog, I have written several times on travel and kids – this is because I have been gone so much over the past 2 years. I just spent the last 5 weekends away, including one weekend with the kids on my own, one weekend with my husband sans kids, and three weekends in Southeast Asia on my own. Right now I am trying to juggle fieldwork plans for the summer, which involve another 4 weeks away. The majority of the time away involves work.

When I meet a new anthropologist/archaeologist and discover they have children, one of the first things out of my mouth is “how do you manage fieldwork with kids?” The last thing I want to do is peg myself as a mother before an academic (and I was an academic first, after all), but I have found that there is no simple solution to managing the needs of children and the needs of my work.

My research and my profession require some travel every year beyond the regular academic conferences most professors attend. I typically run an archaeological field school every few years, or work on one during the summers for extra pay. Excavation involves sharp tools and safety training for adults, so taking small, curious children is difficult if you cannot constantly supervise them (which, as archaeologists know, is really difficult).

As a result, I’ve either taken a family member (or family members) with me to digs or left my kids home alone. I will admit that taking my kids on digs, even with the help of family members, is not ideal. They don’t understand why mom is gone most of the day, physically exhausted at night, and consumed with her computer for most of the evening trying to finish up administrative work associated with fieldwork.

As most of us who have run or worked on field schools know, fieldwork does not stop when the excavation ceases at the end of the day. Budgets need to be reconciled, emails need to be answered, photographic and mapping data needs to be downloaded and backed up, equipment needs to be charged, blog posts need to be written, equipment needs to be unloaded and organized, excavation binders need to be double checked by staff, staff meetings and planning for the next day’s work needs to occur, and artifact bags need to be checked and stored. If there’s no cook on site, food needs to be bought, prepared, and served, and then the kitchen (or cooking area) needs to be cleaned up. These are just a few of the many tasks that take place at night on a field project.

As a field director, I am often so consumed with work on site that it is hard to squeeze in a Skype call or phone call (if we have internet or cell phone service). This is why it is so difficult to bring children into the field on an archaeological project, and why many of my friends have chosen to leave their children at home while on an excavation.

Ethnographic research with kiddos presents different challenges, as this blogger openly discusses. I am contemplating moving some of my research to Southeast Asia (possibly Nepal) after my trip to Nepal this past March, and this work will likely begin as a qualitative, ethnographic project. I am also entertaining the idea of spending some time teaching Japan to conduct research on the products discovered during my research at a Japanese American internment camp here in Idaho.

Unlike archaeological projects I run as an academic (which last between 4-8 weeks in the summers), this kind of research requires a substantial amount of time in the new place. Ethnographic research requires a long-term commitment to the site that is not transient or temporary in nature. Anthropologists often spend 18 months to 2 years doing fieldwork, and sometimes they continue to work at their site for their entire career. As someone who aspired to be an anthropological archaeologist and who attended a Ph.D. program that focused heavily on social and cultural anthropology, I highly value this approach. It takes lots of time to establish informants, social and professional networks, and to simply get what is going on around you in a new place. Enmeshing yourself in a new culture can also be compounded by language acquisition, which takes much time even if you have a good academic handle on the foreign language before taking off into the field.

This all brings me to back to the original intention of this post, which is to discuss the challenges of managing childcare in the field. My partner works full-time as a staff member at the university that employs me. To accommodate my work schedule, he takes his vacation leave to watch our children when I travel. There have been times when his vacation has run out, or he has work that simply cannot wait, so our family members have stepped in to help. We also have nannies who have watched our children, but it is cheaper (and easier coordination wise) for my husband or family members to take time off to watch our children.

I have yet to figure out how this situation will play out if I spend longer amounts of time in places like Southeast Asia, where I cannot come home for the weekend or easily bring a family member and children. The time zone alone  makes it difficult to call or Skype at a reasonable hour of the day. Whoever chooses to take care of our children will have them for the long haul of my fieldwork because it is simply too expensive to fly back and forth between Asia and Idaho. Our family members either work-full time or take care of elderly family members full-time, meaning that I would be on my own with the children if I took them for a long period of time to my fieldsite. While I believe experiencing other cultures and learning how to adapt to a new environment are incredibly valuable experiences for older children, my children are at the ages where they care more about the next meal or potty break than experiencing a new place.

There is no easy solution to dealing with having small children and doing fieldwork at the same time, but I will say that I have been impressed with granting agencies that provide budget lines for childcare. The Wenner-Gren Foundation is one of those agencies, which sponsors and funds high quality ethnographic and archaeological research to the lucky few who are granted their awards. Such a budget line is rarity, however, making it really difficult for parents to fund their childcare. This is especially true parents are doctoral students or  are taking sabbatical leave with reduced pay during the time in which they conduct their research. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I am hesitant to suggest it in a time of dwindling funding in academia. I also recognize that other professions present similar travel obstacles, and that I am simply lucky to have a job in this economic climate.

I am curious to know how other academic parents have managed to juggle fieldwork and children and would love posts (anonymous postings included) on this blog or via email (stacey.camp@gmail.com) if you are willing to share your story. Have you taken your child out of school to come with you for fieldwork? Have you enrolled your child in a foreign school while doing fieldwork? Was it easier to leave your children (or child) behind or keep them with you? What would you do differently?

Building Resilience

Let me begin this post with three events from my life this week that may initially seem completely and utterly unrelated.

Event 1

Earlier this week I received one of those reviews academics come to dread: the one that tears most of your writing to shreds and makes you momentarily question your value as a scholar. Luckily the review ended up being an r and r (revise and resubmit), but my initial reaction to the review was disappointment and sadness. This article has been seen by many eyes and been revised many times over, so I suppose I was not expecting a review quite like that.

Event 2

My 3 year old daughter is in gymnastics right now. She just started classes at the beginning of the year, and she adores her teachers (who are fabulous). The naive spectator in me watches her classes and sometimes ignorantly wonders why can’t they just learn to do a backflip or handstand right now. But then I look back on my years as a figure skater and remember that muscle memory and strength take time to build, that each little movement requires repetitive daily training for it to be perfected. Each adorable little jump over a foam hurdle, monkey swing on the parallel bars, or sit up on a beam is a building block that will help my daughter in later years should she decide to pursue gymnastics. Great athletes do not happen overnight, but rather through staying the course and committing to disciplined emotional and physical training.

Event 3

Later this week I found myself rummaging through a box of old figure skating VHS videos my mother sent me a few weeks ago. I have bronchitis again, and my medication is keeping me wide awake. I looked through the box for a video I knew existed but had not seen since the competition was held back in 1994. I popped it in my VHS player (yes, I still have one) and started watching it. This was my first USFSA competition, which in non-skating jargon means it was a more competitive event than the ones I had done prior to it. If you placed well at local USFSA competitions, you had a good chance of moving on to regionals and eventually nationals if you were truly talented. I was 14 years old, and very nervous. The first of my performances was nice, except that my axel jump was very weak and slow. Still, I managed to place 3rd in my group, and I was very proud of that.

The second performance, however, was a complete disaster. If you watch my body language, you can tell I could barely breathe when I stepped out on the ice. I saw my mother and grandmother through the glass window as I took my position to start my program, and from thereon the performance went downhill. It was my first time doing double jumps and axels in a “real” competition, and I let my nerves and emotions take over my body. My legs turned into jelly and I could no longer feel them by the end of the program. Figure skaters who have competed know what I am talking about. And despite the fact I spent the entire ride home from that competition crying about it (and forgetting that I placed third in the artistic skate), I learned a lot from that performance and kept competing for another 4 years.

So how are an r and r, my daughter’s gymnastics’ classes, and a failed figure skating competition related? Though I decided that jumping was not for me (I grew 3 inches during the time I was learning and working on my doubles and grew tired of injuries), I continued to skate and compete. When I look back at all my skating videos, there is a part of me that is surprised that I continued to put myself out there open for the world to judge and critique. That in and of itself is a feat to be admired. There were many mistakes and errors made in later competitions, practices, and tests, but I kept on skating.

The same goes for academia. I have had failures, harsh (and by harsh, I don’t mean “constructive criticism” or helpful) words thrown at my work or at me personally, and many teaching moments that were less than stellar. Katherine Mangan’s “Traits of the ‘Get it Done’ Personality: Laser Focus, Resilience, and True Grit” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 5, 2012) discusses some of the qualities that are necessary for enduring such experiences and succeeding in academia. The first and perhaps most pertinent to this blog post is resilience. One of the academics cited in the article compares the writing process to an athletic event:

A scholar who plugs away on a book month after month, refining a thesis and deepening her understanding of a complex topic, needs the same kind of determination that an avid soccer player displays in persevering through injuries and losses, says Angela L. Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.”

I put my daughter in gymnastics because my mother put me in figure skating at the age of 2. I loved it, and competed for the first time when I was 4. I stopped taking regular lessons at 6 when our local rink closed down, but got back into it when I was 11 (a little late in the sport of figure skating). I still skate and have coached little ones from time to time. Skating taught me the value of routine, discipline, and commitment of which Mangan’s article speaks. I spent many years getting up at 4am (as did my poor mother) heading to the ice rink, skating before school, getting dressed and eating breakfast in the car on the way to school, and then heading back to the rink after school.

I had a very limited amount of time to finish my homework, but because of this, there was no way of procrastinating – it simply had to be done in the short time frame allotted for it in my day. From skating, I learned discipline as well as understood how skills and talents are, for the most part, learned behaviors that take patience, time, and perseverance to perfect. This is a lesson I have taken with me in my academic career, and it became an even more important skill when a new time suck was introduced into my life: children. Skating taught me how to visualize positive longterm outcomes, even if they seemed light-years away. That is how I managed to finish my book – working on it day after day, devoting all the moments I could squeeze out of my day of teaching, other academic responsibilities, and parenting.

That brings me back to that r and r. As I watched video after video of my skating last night and my body age from 12 years old to 18, I witnessed an incredible change in both how I skated and how I handled myself. The pang of disappointment and failure seemed to lessen after skating for years – you can see me laughing off a close run-in with the boards of the rink or minor stumble as I neared 16 years of age, and I suppose the pang of rejection will lessen once I am a little more of a seasoned academic.

It Takes a Village: Travel for Fieldwork and Research and Academic Parenting

In a little over a month, I will be taking off for a week trip to Nepal and Thailand to help expand our program offerings through International Programs as well as to help with a program assessment at Chiang Mai in Thailand. I am thrilled about taking on the opportunity and excited to learn about new cultures and ways of seeing the world, but the decision to travel that far for 14 days is one that is hard to make for an academic parent.

Let me just preface this post by stating that I think I have one of the neatest jobs out there (and most privileged): my time is often my own, I don’t have people checking up on me all day or even during some weeks, I get to travel to new places and meet new cultures, and I spend most of my time learning something new for lecture preps or my research. It really cannot get any better than that, in my opinion.

But with these amazing benefits comes a lot of sacrifice, which usually involves time, money in my bank account, and distance.

In my field, many of us sacrifice our time, our families, and our relationships to carry out our research. This means leaving loved one behind for weeks, months, and sometimes years at a time.

When I first thought I wanted to become an anthropologist, I decided to apply for a grant that would allow me to spend 3 months traveling on my own throughout Ireland researching the intersection of heritage, museum management, and archaeology. I was only 21 at the time, and I had been Ireland the year before to work on an archaeological field school. The idea of doing independent research was both exhilarating and terrifying to me. My professors supported my project and provided me with the emotional support needed to apply for the grant and then carry out the funded project.

When I found myself in the middle of Dubin, jet lagged and exhausted, I wondered why I had decided to be this brave and take on the world all by myself. How would I make it all by myself for 3 months? How would I figure out rail and bus schedules, meet and interview new people, and deal with the loneliness that comes with being a foreigner (even in an English-speaking country!)? There was a rather steep learning curve, but with the help of friends (and fabulous informants I met in Ireland) I was able to feel at home in Ireland and get used to being on my own.

I made it on my own, and by the end of my trip I could envision spending another year or so in Ireland without being too homesick.

Today, I am an historical archaeologist, which means I run archaeological field projects on a fairly regular basis. I love the field part of archaeology, where I can be in the outdoors and away from technology for months at a time. I love the discovery of an artifact directly from the ground or as we screen dirt removed from an excavation unit. I love seeing students’ faces light up as they discover something that has not been used for over 100 years. I love working with my hands and feeling the sun on my back. There is nothing quite like it.

Now I am in charge of field projects, which means that I can hire staff members to help supervise work and train students and volunteers. But it still means I have to be on site daily and live at the field crew house, and that means I either find a nanny to travel with me or I leave home sans kids for long periods of time. Either choice places childcare on someone else’s shoulders. My children’s grandparents are a bit limited in terms of how long they can watch our kids, so sometimes they are able to travel with us and watch the children for free, whereas other times that is not an option. On other occasions, I have left my children at home with my husband and/or friends, who take off work to watch them.

Whatever happens, it means that someone has to watch the kids, and that someone either has to take time away from their job and not get paid or gets paid by us (e.g. our babysitters, which are expensive and should be given they have one of the hardest jobs on the planet). Unfortunately, nearly none of the grants (with the exception of Wenner-Gren) out there for my research allow a line for childcare expenses, so I have to put aside money for this expense during the academic year. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a single parent to try to do a research project, especially with the high cost of childcare.

When my children get older, I hope these field experiences will be full of fun and adventure for them, that they will actually have somewhat of a good time traveling and learning about past and present cultures. But for the time being, work usually means I am gone from them. I am so thankful for the sitters who have helped watch my children while I am gone for months on end, for my husband who has to figure out some way of bathing the kiddos and getting them to bed on his own every single night I am gone, and for the family members who took time out (sometimes a years worth of time!) of their busy schedules (whether due to work or family obligations) to care for my children with the same amount of love and compassion I have for them.

An academic parent truly needs a village to survive travel for fieldwork and research….

Writing through the Fog

One of the biggest and unexpected challenges I faced after having my first child was the compartmentalization of time and the pure exhaustion of surviving on little to no sleep for nearly a year. Now I feel like I am a pro at living on no sleep, as I have a 17 month old who still wakes up half the night needing attention and I’m just used to it at this point.

Before my first child arrived I had enjoyed years of uninterrupted sleep coupled with weekly outdoor hikes and daily trips to the gym. My time was my own, and, because of this, I felt refreshed and energized every time I sat down to write for the day.

Then baby #1 arrived, and my time became a precious commodity that I had to carefully manage. I could no longer sit down and have an entire day on the weekends to write. My days were now broken into small bits of time in which writing could get done, usually an hour or two at best. This was a far cry from that which I had become accustomed, where I would have a full 8 hour day ahead of me to write and spend as I please.

Once I had time to write I often felt too exhausted to type a sentence let alone an entire paragraph’s worth of a book chapter or article. I would sit and stare aimlessly at the computer screen wondering where to start. All of these compounding factors weighed on me. A few months after having baby #1, I struggled to envision ever writing a good piece of scholarship. How could I possibly concentrate and enjoy my work when my brain was half awake from sleep deprivation?

Some people call it “baby brain.” Many friends have described it as a fog, where everything around you is blurry and unclear. Even if the tenure clock stops for a year, most tenure track faculty do not have a “year” to sit around waiting for the words to come or an article to magically write itself. The pressure was on me to get things out of the door, and I knew that well. I knew I had to find a way to write through the exhaustion.

So how do you do it? Here are a few things that have helped me along the way:

  • Use maternity leave as maternity leave. The fog fades away if you rest and take care of yourself (to heal, to enjoy baby, to get in a schedule (feeding/sleep/play/etc.) with baby). 

With my first, I spent most of my maternity leave worrying how I would get back in the swing of things and start writing again. I thought I would never be able to write again because I was so consumed with my exhaustion and its impact on my memory.  Much to my surprise, I managed to write an article (now in a peer reviewed journal) when I was about 4 months postpartum. With my second, I took an even longer leave from writing my book – about 6 to 7 weeks total. When I returned to the project, I felt energized and refreshed despite having an infant who did not sleep very well.

  • Try to work on something related to writing and/or write every day, even if it is only for 15 minutes.

For me, it is very important to keep the project fresh in my memory, which means that I need to spend time on it daily. We can all find 15 minutes a day to Facebook, to call a friend, and to text, so we should be able to make at least 15 minutes a day for our writing. This could mean trying to write a certain section of the article, catching up on reading/background research for the article, or brainstorming the article’s layout. I’ve found that when I work on something daily, I more motivated and excited to return to it because I feel like I am making progress (even if it isn’t substantial progress).

  • Keep a writing journal and/or keep track of your activities.

I don’t keep a formal writing journal per se, but I do keep track of my progress in the document on which I am working. I note what I did in terms of working on the article each day that I write – I note what articles/books I read, what I need to read the next day, and what I wrote for the day. I reflect on where the project might be going (e.g. “I need to work on editing the introduction,” “I need to write a transition sentence between paragraphs on page 2,” “I don’t think I’ve read all the literature pertaining to subject x on page 4″). I leave very, very specific notes in my documents so that I know where I left off and what needs work. I have a difficult time getting started with my writing each day, and notes from the night or day before reminding me what I need to do and what I was working on help me get back on task quickly if I have been away from the document or project for a day or two.

  • Multi-task by combining play with work.

People who know me know that I am a big fan of multi-tasking. After having my son, I made sure I took long walks with him in the baby carrier and my toddler daughter in the stroller. I would take these walks to relax myself, and I would also use them to think about my writing since both children were fairly quiet during the walks. I would reflect on my writing as I exercised and enjoyed the sun.

During my walks with the kids, I would also make sure to do all the errands I needed to finish by the day’s end. I would use my walks to return library books, since we live close to campus. I bought groceries, went to the post office, checked my office mail, and jogged in the same trip.

  • Above all – cut yourself some slack – things WILL get better.

As I mentioned, I was very hard on myself after my first arrived and writing became an obstacle rather than something I enjoyed. You will not be able to perform at the level you did prior to kids when a baby first arrives, but eventually you will get back in the swing of things and be able to produce good scholarship. I only wish that someone told me it does get easier, and that your brain will eventually learn to operate on autopilot without the same amount of sleep you enjoyed prior to children.

Dealing with the Tenure Clock and Academic Parenthood

Today, one of the popular articles in my Facebook newsfeed was Alex Coe’s “Being Married Helps Professors Get Ahead, But Only If They’re Male” article in The Atlantic. According to the article, marriage helps speed up the process of tenure for men. The opposite is true for married women, however, who took approximately 2 years longer to get tenure.

The subject of male and female successes and failures on the tenure track is one that has interested me since I started contemplating graduate school. I recall reading Goldsmith, Komlos, and Gold’s The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career as I sent away graduate school applications left and right, hoping I would be one of the lucky people to be admitted into and then receive funding for a Ph.D. program in historical archaeology. The book both excited and terrified me; I was eager to embark on a career where learning and research consumed my life, but I also was nervous about how my ambitions would impact my life as someone who had recently married and as someone who wanted children in the future. I read that nearly 50% of all marriages failed when women were the ones in a graduate program, whereas marriages were generally more successful when husbands were the academic half of the couple.

So Coe’s article and the scholarship within it did not shock me, nor did the reasons given for the disparities between men and women. One of the reasons the article gives for the accelerated time to tenure for married men is that women are 2 times more likely to take parental leave (FMLA) than men. Part of this stems from universities’ policies where individuals can only take paternity leave if they are a single parent. Women, therefore, “take leave to support their partner’s career,” while men either face institutional barriers when attempting to do so or choose not to and allow their partner or wife to stay at home with a newborn.

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter in the fall of 2008, I found myself once mulling over data as I had done while applying to graduate programs. This time around I had a tenure track position, so I looked for scholarship that examined time to tenure, tenure success, and overall happiness for female academics who decided to have children early on the tenure track. I was not thrilled to find that the results were equally depressing.

University of California, Berkeley’s Dr. Mary Ann Mason and Dr. Marc Goulden’s work on female academics who had families was one of the first pieces of scholarship I read, and their findings were stark. While women who chose to have a baby early in their career found it difficult to obtain a job and/or attain tenure, the opposite was true for men; they found that married men who have small children were more successful at earning tenure than childless, single men. Of the women in humanities and the social science fields who did earn tenure, 62% of them were childless. Only 39% of tenured men in the same fields were childless. Equally bothersome is the fact Mason and Goulden found that the salary gap between male and female professors’ salaries widened between 1975 and 1998.

Mason and Goulden suggest a reinvention of the tenure track for assistant professors raising young children, such as offering “a part-time track for early child-raising years, with rights to full-time, and discount resume gaps, which indicate the candidate has been largely inactive for a few years.” In “Academic Motherhood: Managing Complex Roles in Research Universities,” Ward and Wolf-Wendel (2004) also suggest rearranging the tenure clock to allow for a temporary, part-time option. Ward and Wolf-Wendel recently published a book entitled “Academic Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family” that gets at the heart of the challenges of academic mothering, and once again they raise the issue of the multiple clocks academic mothers face. As they state, “The problem is the tenure clock and biological clock tick simultaneously….People can run out of time on both clocks.”

I love the idea of stopping the tenure clock to allow parents to go part-time for a year or two, but I have yet to see this concept take flight at universities and colleges. This would be very beneficial to someone like myself, who has to conduct archaeological fieldwork far away from my family and from my home, neither of which is feasible when I am pregnant or nursing a child. As a result, I’ve only been able to run one archaeological field season in 2010, and I will be running another this year. Travel to conferences has also been expensive, difficult, or impossible during pregnancies and/or with children, limiting my ability to network with other professionals. For women who need to do fieldwork in order to publish (and thus receive tenure), a part-time option would be ideal.

It’s not merely “women” who would benefit from part-time options. Part-time options would benefit any tenure track faculty member who has an infant or young child in their care, as most new parents find it hard to leave their little ones for an extended period of time. The burden placed upon the “left behind” partner who is in charge of an infant or small child while their spouse or partner is in the field is also heavy. Part-time options thus not only benefit the tenure track faculty member, but also the health and sanity of a family as a synergistic unit. Part-time options would similarly help faculty dealing with ailing family members or health problems.

With the number of women rising in college and graduate school and, in some fields, comprising as much as 70% of the graduates (see Scott Jaschik’s “Women Lead in Doctorates”), we must be willing to accept new ways of organizing the tenure track. That might involve setting up drop-in care for single mothers like Dr. Adrienne Pine, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University, whose decision to bring her sick child to the first day of her “Sex, Gender, Culture” course and nurse the thirsty child in front of students was chastised by the university and by many media outlets. It might mean adjusting the tenure-track to 8 or 9 years, with one’s teaching load (and salary) reduced to part-time after the arrival of a child. It might mean creating a sliding scale so faculty on the humanities/social sciences side of the university can afford full-time daycare without paying more than a month’s mortgage payment. I think many people are open to change, it just takes a university leader to sound the charge and try something new.

Dealing with Roadblocks, Changing Expectations

It was the winter of 2009 and I was excited to be back, if not only momentarily, to Stanford to submit my dissertation and be finished with my Ph.D. I was close to 20 weeks pregnant, and had been lucky enough to secure a tenure track position at the University of Idaho in 2008. This trip was a chance for me to say goodbye to friends I hadn’t seen upon rushing off to Idaho for my job, and I was eager to connect with people I knew I may not see for years to come.

The plane touched down in beautiful, sunny San Francisco, and, being pregnant, the first thing that crossed my mind was getting a rental car and eating. I gobbled down my food from my all-time favorite fast-food chain, In-n-Out, and then headed to my hotel across the Bay in my rental car. Just as I was nearing the entrance for a bridge, I felt the all too familiar urge to be sick that had begun a mere 7 weeks into my pregnancy. Unable to stop or pull over, I grabbed the In-n-Out box and hurled my food in it like I had done nearly everyday since the pregnancy test turned positive. It gave a whole new meaning to In-n-Out.

I had been looking forward to seeing friends, visiting museums, shopping, and dining at some of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area, but here I was, stuck in a hotel room laying on the bathroom floor with the lights off for nearly the entire trip. This trip would be the first of many where inevitably something child- or pregnancy-related would interfere with my plans and work.

Up until my pregnancy, I rarely experienced roadblocks on the level I experience in my work today.  When I found myself pregnant in the fall of 2008, I found myself frustrated with my health, with my pregnancy-induced exhaustion and nonstop morning sickness, and with the ice and snow that made walking and getting around campus and town difficult while pregnant.

When my daughter was born, I had additional health problems, and she had colic that lasted for months. In between my months of pain and her 3-month crying spree, I felt helpless, lost, and totally and utterly unproductive. I felt like a failure of a mother, and a failure of a professional.

I spent many a nights sleepless, looking at my daughter with a mix of amazement, awe, and regret for the life I once had. My life had changed, and I was now at the mercy of this tiny beautiful baby who would determine the course of my day for the rest of my life. I feared life with a child (or children for that matter) would never get easier, and that I would never be productive again. I imagine many moms experience this feeling with or without a job. Each time something came up and interfered with my plans, I found myself angry and resentful. Why was I trying to balance so many things when they could easily be thrown in my face with a pukey, feverish toddler? Why did this have to happen to ME?

Luckily I had colleagues who reassured me that things would get better, and they did.

But illness and sickness has plagued our house for over a year now, and while nothing is thankfully life threatening, it is hard to keep on track, stick with goals, and finish long-term projects when life is regularly interrupted and a full night’s sleep is a thing of years past.

In the fall of 2012, we only had one full week (Thanksgiving, I believe) where none of us were sick. During that time, I was teaching 3 classes, advising more than my normal load of students, following up on copyedits for my book, had a conference to attend, and had about a gazillion other things on my plate for research and service in my profession. There were things that absolutely had to get done, such as teaching and my copyedits. Lots of other things and commitments fell to the side or behind, and I found myself continually frustrated and upset that my work was suffering.

In the midst of cleaning up puke, puking myself, having a scratched cornea, dealing with downtime while sick or taking care of someone who is sick, and talking to trusted friends and colleagues about my frustrations, I realized that I shouldn’t expect my life to be smooth. In fact, I must have been on a lucky streak prior to having kids to have enjoyed such an easy path with few obstacles in my way.

So this year, 2013, I am readjusting my priorities and limiting my workload to one that I can both enjoy and handle. I am saying “no” to many offers and commitments this year, and taking on only that which I can get done in a reasonable rather than Herculean manner. I am going to try to learn to expect and anticipate roadblocks rather than be rocked to the core by them. And in my downtime, I will learn to take it easy, not stress over missed work or opportunities, and take care of my children and myself. If I fall behind on a project I will let it go or leave it behind if need be, as a colleague recommended. I will readjust my priorities and accept that things happen rather than mourn them with sorrow and regret. I will keep working on the projects that I love, and try to let go of abandoned projects and opportunities unseized.

As I am finishing up writing this blog, my daughter just puked after several days of a fever and my son being in the ER three nights ago. And so continues my journey of patience and readjusting my plans!

Organized Chaos, or My Life in Two Words

“Organized chaos” is the phrase I use to describe my life. Those who have been in my office at work will recognize the physical manifestation of that.

One of the things I have yet to figure out on the tenure track is how to balance the needs and demands of my research, writing, teaching, and personal life each and every week. Some weeks things lean towards the writing/research side, while other weeks become consumed with sickness and getting through the bare minimum in my professional life. In the summers and some parts of the academic year, my family life is put aside for travel, writing commitments require seclusion from them, and fieldwork must be completed. Nothing is ever in equilibrium.

In other words, I often feel that I am juggling many priorities, all of which are of equal importance to me. So far, the best strategy I have used to get through particularly rough weeks (professional and/or personal) is to come up with a list of things that absolutely positively have to get finished. That often means that other things are delayed, put aside, late or just plain forgotten. That also means that some things might just have to be cancelled or left behind, and apologies must be conveyed to the parties involved in or expecting those projects.

Because the demands of tenure are upon me and have been for the past 4.5 years, I have devised a list of priorities in my head of which I remind myself each and every week. I have spent a good deal of time thinking about my long term publication, grant, and research goals, which I place on my calendar. To make these goals actually happen, I spend an equally good amount of time planning my months, weeks, and days around accomplishing tasks.

For instance, when I was working on my book, I planned out what I would need to read and write each day of the week and each week so that I knew exactly what it would take to finish it. There were some obstacles that got in the way (such as having two children and getting sick on and off again), but I promised myself that I would work on it daily, even if only 5 or 10 minutes were devoted to it. It did get done, but it required every cell of my body to finish that manuscript, and I think Coca-Cola owes me some serious stock after I downed hundreds of sodas to stay awake writing and working on my book.

As life has it, a wrench often gets thrown in my plans. Kids get sick. I get sick. My husband gets sick. Our pets get sick. Students need advising. Grant reports need to be written. Grades need to be completed. Lecturers need to be hired in our department. A reference letter needs to be written. A grant application is due. Lectures need to prepped, revised, or revisited. Administrative forms need to be filled out. Just as find myself catching up with something, another demand needs to be met or something else crumbles at my feet (be it health or a project at work). There is always something needing to be done and someone needing something from me.

The end of one of the most challenging semesters health-wise is nearing, which is making me reflect upon how I structure my time. I always say “next” semester will be easier, less stressful, and less chaotic, but I do not set aside time to figure out how this will actually happen. Over the holiday break I intend to sit down and map out my time, allowing myself room for sickness, for exhaustion, and for breaks. I am hoping that in the coming years I can make peace with my schedule rather than finding myself frazzled, tattered, beaten down, and worn at the semester’s end, with the ultimate goal of coming to terms with and being less stressed about my life’s ebbs and flows.

Academic Conferences and Travel with Small Children

I will admit it outright; the last thing I want to do is take my kids to a conference. Conferences are a whirlwind of meetings, discussions, presentations, and networking opportunities. I find myself swept up in the chaos of them, so much so that I often forget to drink water or take a break for myself.

Unfortunately, I have had to travel with my children to conferences on a number of occasions. Sometimes my husband can’t watch them at home due to his work schedule or, more recently, a child is nursing and will not take a bottle. Thus, children get taken along for the ride of conference craziness.

This year, I have traveled to two conferences with children. The first was in Baltimore and the second was in San Francisco. My son was 6 months old when the Baltimore and still nursing very frequently. I brought my mother along for the trip, which made everything go fairly smoothly besides running out of a few meetings, sessions, and dinner-dates early due to my son needing to nurse. He did not take a bottle, which I first welcomed because I enjoy the special nursing relationship a mother can have with their child. However, now that I am nearly 16 months into our nursing relationship, I’ve realized that it is getting much more difficult to wean my son or limit our co-sleeping arrangement.

That brings me to my San Francisco conference, which involved a road trip from Idaho to San Francisco with my 1 year old, my 3 year old, and my mother because my son still nurses and does not take milk out of a cup. The trip was fraught with drama from the onset – we all contracted the norovirus for the third time this year (yuck) and the morning we were supposed to leave my daughter started throwing up with it. We waited for the virus to pass, then got on the road for San Francisco. Once we got there, my mom went two days without getting sick, and then caught the norovirus from the kids. That stunted my meetings and ability to attend conference sessions, but I did make my own session and a few other social meetings, so all in all we survived and had a fairly fine time in the city with a few bumps in the road.

I drove back to Idaho all by myself with both kids in tow. I admit the thought of that drive made my stomach turn, but I figured the worst that could happen is that we would take forever to get home and stay over in hotels for many days. Parts of the drive are difficult to navigate (especially at night when it is very dark and little lighting on the roads), remote, and, in some parts, very rough and treacherous. We made it back safely, though the trek threw my children’s sleep schedule off and they are still a bit wound up several days later thanks to spending nearly 4 days in a car.

Based on these experiences along with spending over a month in hotels this year on other work-related travel with my kids, I have some tips to share with others who embark on a similar journey. Please feel free to add to these lists in the comments section. I am curious to hear other tricks of the trade for parents who work and travel a lot with children!

Tips for Traveling on the Road with Kids

  • Bring lots of snacks – puffs, snack bars, dried fruit, water, goldfish crackers, and gatorade are all great little treats to keep everyone happy, including yourself.
  • Use a car DVD player if you can afford one, and make sure you know how to run it on Fastplay and/or you have a remote you can use to keep it running. Fastplay makes sure the DVD restarts automatically after it is over.
  • Bring a kid’s potty, especially if you want to get in and get out of a rest stop quickly. I was driving at night, and usually had one kid asleep when the other needed to go potty. This saves you the time and hassle of getting out of the car and/or waking the other child/ren if one of them needs to go to the bathroom.
  • Keep a bag of toys, pacis, snacks, diapers, wipes, toilet paper, small snack containers (the ones with the lids that don’t come off easily and spill the snack everywhere) filled with treats, and clothes up in the front of the car with you in case you need to hand something back to the kids.
  • If you are going a long distance and want to avoid stopping one million times, have a checklist of things you need to accomplish at each stop. For me, this has meant diaper change for baby, nursing for baby, potty reminder (and possible potty trip) for toddler, snack break, and a chance to stretch our legs if the rest stop is safe and well populated.
  • If you need to go to the bathroom and have several small children in tow, stop at a place that has grocery carts that fit into the store’s bathroom. Place one kid in the seat of the cart and the other(s) in the big portion of the cart, then use the restroom with all of them in it. Alternatively, bring a big stroller, but often those do not fit in the restroom.
  • Pack trashbags in the car AND in your luggage. You never know what will end up soiled, and you will want to pack at least 2 or 3 trash bags to keep the soiled laundry separate from the “dirty” but “non-soiled” laundry. I always pack a trashbag for my dirty clothes, anyhow, even if traveling alone.
  • Stop and stay the night at a hotel if you are tired or stressed to the point you need a break (if you can afford it). It is hard to travel with small children, and it is much safer for you to stay the night somewhere than to stay on the road while stressed out and tired. Take care of yourself first – you are the one driving.
  • Always pack a stroller or baby carrier unless your kids are absolutely too big to fit in it anymore. The bigger the stroller, the better. You will need this if you want to haul luggage yourself or avoid paying a bellman to help you bring your luggage to your hotel room.
  • Pack sippy cups and keep them in the car, even for the preschoolers who might be out of the sippy cup phase. This will prevent spills in the car.
  • Be careful not to keep heavy or dangerous toys in the car. If you stop suddenly, they could injure you or your children.
  • Keep an emergency kit in the car if you don’t already have one.
  • In case of car sickness, pack a “puke bucket,” towels, a change of clothes, and bottles of water to clean up the mess. Towels and water are always good things to keep in the car in case of any sort of mess….parents who have small children know what I am talking about.
  • For toddlers and preschoolers who are potty-trained during the day but not during periods of sleep, put them in a diaper on the trip. Some, like my daughter, will refuse to go in it, but if they by chance fall asleep in their carseat, this will prevent them from peeing in it.
  • Crying from what my dad used to call the “peanut gallery of the car” (aka the kids in the backseat) is probably inevitable at some point on the trip. Face it, we as adults get tired, frustrated, and exhausted being in a car, but it is not culturally acceptable for us to mope or cry at the wheel. Kids express their emotions in primal and authentic ways now foreign to us as such emotions have been “enculturated” out of us, so accept that crying will likely take place. Figure out a plan of action as to how you want to handle it. Will you pull over? Are you able to drive safely when you hear crying? What strategies will you use to calm yourself and your children? Will there be points in the drive where it is not safe to pull over? How will you handle that?

Tips for Staying in a Hotel Room with Kids

  • If you can afford it, stay in a hotel with refrigerators. Nothing is more miserable than paying $14.00 for a cup of milk at 10pm at night from room service because your toddler needs it and refuses to go to bed without it (and believe me, I speak from experience). Find out where the local grocery stores are located, and buy what you would normally eat as a family.
  • Better yet, stay in a hotel with kitchens. We love the Marriott Residence Inns franchise because they are relatively cheap (especially weekday rates), they have a great rewards program, they have rooms with kitchens, AND they always upgrade us for whatever reason. The last two stays at different Marriott Residence Inns we were upgraded to a town home and a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite – no extra charges. The have fabulous breakfasts that come with the room rate, too. And most of them offer free dinners during weeknights as well as free food throughout the day (bananas, muffins, apples, cookies). We can’t say enough good things about their franchise.
  • Ask the hotel if they have high chairs you can keep in your room. This is a lifesaver if you have a toddler or baby.
  • Sweet talk the people who work at the hotel’s front desk and maid service. Sometimes this will get you free snacks, free milk cartons, or other goodies you might need for kiddos.
  • In a similar vein, be courteous, thankful, and kind to everyone you encounter. Some people don’t like kids (heck, I didn’t “love” kids until I had some of my own), and you aren’t going to change that no matter how awesome your kids are. If you can swing it, give people who are helpful (at hotels or on planes or just at different points of your trip) small thank you gifts, such as a candy bar or a thank you note you’ve written in advance. People are more willing to help you if you are kind to begin with.
  • If the hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, ask to store milk and other perishables in the hotel’s fridge. The worst they can say is no.
  • Pack strategically. Think ahead when packing your stuff, especially if you are traveling alone with kids. What can you physically carry to an elevator with two small children (or more) in tow? What if there isn’t someone to help you? Some hotels have only one person working at the desk who cannot leave to assist you. When you arrive at the hotel, what will your kids absolutely positively need out of the suitcase (a comfort blanket, a snack, their toothbrush, their pjs?)? Pack those absolutely necessary items at the top of the suitcase so they are easily accessible.
  • Pack a portable DVD player and/or DVD player that connects to the TV in the hotel room (most will connect with a simple cable). That way, you avoid paying exorbitant fees for “Dora” or “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” on demand, which can run you at least $3.99 an episode!