The new buzz in the circle of buzzing I inhabit is babies, which, for an academic, is a strange thing. The general impression I have had for the past many years regarding babies is cute, not for me, you know, but how cute! And now suddenly, I have friends with babies, and friends who want babies, and friends who surprise themselves with angry, jealous responses when they hear of other people getting pregnant, the end result of which, is babies.
Why academics have few children is open for interpretation, discussion, and malignment. For me, I frequently think of a quote from Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie White Oleander: "I was used to having time to think," says the Pfeiffer character, an artist of some talent.
That's a big part of it, the needing of time to think. That's certainly a trademark of the academic life. We need time to think, to create, to write, to invent. It's how our brains are wired, it's what we're interested in, it's what we think we were made for, and unfortunately, it's not something that lends itself to scheduling all that well. Sure, it's all very well and good to say, "I will write ten pages a day." And maybe some people set out those ambitious goals and accomplish them, but to loosely quote Anne Lamott, we hate those people and would like to shoot them.
This is all just to say, we need a lot of free time. We are a group of people who can justify calling reading for four hours work. It is genuinely necessary for the advancement of our careers and our writing lives. (No writing life = no career = no money to take care of imaginary future babies).
Consider now throwing a baby into the mix, a baby who requires all sort of scheduled events - feedings, burpings, diapering, school district planning - and it becomes clear why academics find it a tough row to hoe. All that scheduled time leaves little time for our livelihood, that thing that pays for babies in the first place.
Not that having a baby is any harder for us than anyone else. That's where we just have to get over ourselves. I realize that. The reality is that our jobs lend themselves to babying more than a lot of other jobs as we a) as a group, tend to have more forward-thinking, equal partners in our husbands, and b) have a fairly flexible schedule of actual "need-to-be-there time." Most of our work is done at home, scheduled at our own leisure and discipline and inspiration. But still, when a writer/artist/academic is in the position of having to abandon the infrequent day of mad writing inspiration to soothe a crying, needful infant, it is difficult to make the right choice after years of pursuing that creative moment.
Certainly babies are the most creative moment, extended over many years. But how to make that transition and balance? How to give enough to both lives and inhabit them both successfully and lovingly?
Babies. It's all the buzz. Everyone wants one. Even us academics. After a set of non-toxic dry-erase markers, it's this season's latest accessory.