A few weeks ago, when the world was different, I began to write my second entry to this blog. With all the changes that have happened since then, the blog felt miniscule, irrelevant. It is only as we find the new rhythms of life in lockdown that I have begun to see how the subject I had chosen to write about is now more relevant to our lives than ever, as our work and home merge into a new co-existence.
In the middle of leading a seminar, I fiddle with a soft something in my pocket. Absent mindedly, I stroke the scratchy fabric without a thought. It is only once the seminar is finished, once I have left the university building and started my journey home, that I take the thing out of my pocket and discover a sparkly, squidgy piece of gold sponge. I recognise it as a thing that has been squished, stretched, placed on top of furniture or wrapped around body parts by my son for the last week or so. I don’t know where it came from or what it originally was, and it has ended up in my pocket and has hidden in there, allowing me to unthinkingly touch and take some comfort from it.
It brings to mind the phrase that has been scratching at me for a while, that you must ‘work like you don’t have children and parent as if you don’t work.’ This seems particularly evident in academia where over achievement, increased workload and high expectations appear to be sustained by many women with toddlers to teenagers. The phrase suggests that these are two completely separate things; you are two different people lurching from two different worlds. Yet the golden fabric in my pocket shows that this is untrue. These two worlds leak into each other.
When I began this writing, my thoughts were around the different ways we juggle every day, between these separate yet blurred worlds; between studying, working and family. How we flit between reading, school runs, writing, bedtimes, seminars and so on. Where half term breaks are only evident in the automatic response messages, followed up later in the day by a real reply. At the time I wondered, is this sustainable?
Fast forward to now and this fusion of worlds has never been more evident. Our zoom meetings are interrupted by toddlers, pets or passing partners in dressing gowns. We are permitted to see our supervisors’ spare rooms and kitchens. We are in each other’s living rooms. We have shown more of ourselves and seen each other as more.
In a way, this change has made the balancing act more visible, the leak between worlds becomes a deluge. The demands of our children are more present than ever as they are right there, in our zoom meeting, asking for crisps. But I think this could be a good thing. I hope that this is a change that never ‘goes back to normal.’ This new way of seeing each other might allow us, collectively, to celebrate adjustments that make studying, working and spending time with loved ones a little more sustainable.