Where do you work?
Throughout my studies I struggled to find a place to study and write. When I first enrolled I was shown the shared office space for PhD students in my department and met a few of the others. Like at most unis, space was limited so a system was in place to share the desk space and facilities and I was asked what days I planned to come in.
The difficulty, of course, when studying with children is that study time doesn’t always (if ever) fall neatly into set timeslots. I know I have spoken before about designating specific times to work – but – the realities of life with children means that on those days the kids are sick (or they have left the lights on in the car and you have woken up to a flat battery, both events happen regularly in my household) work doesn’t get done during normal hours. As I type this it’s 1:18am and I have just fed my baby and am having a cup of tea sitting on the couch. I can type now because everyone is asleep (for now!)
While I might be somewhat of a techno phobe I can see the value of technology in helping students who don’t always work in normal locations at normal times like most of us who study with kids. One woman I spoke with during my research was a foster mother so along with her own children often had over ten kids in her care at one time. Her journey through higher education took her so long that she remembers the “invention” of computers and the internet and remarked at how having access to online resources revolutionised her postgraduate studies.
Now that technology allows us to work any time and any place it makes it hard to keep the boundaries between work and ‘play’.
Which brings me back to my original question -where do you work?
I have tried all the usual options. I had a desk set up in the playroom so that I could have the kids playing in sight while I was on the computer. That was actually one of my worst ideas. I have tried the kitchen table. I have done a lot of one-handed typing in bed while feeding babies (VERY s-l-o-w-l-y). I have typed in the car while one kid slept and another was playing hockey (I got the best parking spot right in front of the field where he was playing so I could watch and type). I have even sat in the baby jail (minus the baby, less distracting that way) and tried to work.
I have also resorted to lugging all of my stuff to the uni library when I could get the kids looked after. The problem with going to the library was that, honestly, by the time I had got everyone organised, made sure I had everything, drove there, parked, walked in, found a spot and sat down I often was so exhausted it took nearly all of my energy just to make a start.
The other really inconvenient truth is that thinking and writing doesn’t always happen easily just because the time is available. It’s one of the ironies of life that the best ideas come when it is impossible to write them down like, say, in the middle of changing a nappy. It’s always typical to find that your mind is sharp and switched on when you are lying with the kids shushing them to sleep and turning on a laptop or emitting any light would be the equivalent of punching yourself in the head and blaming your own fist (somewhere in my brain that makes sense but again, it is stupid o’clock so who knows!)
Just like Mums who study are not like your typical students, the places Mums study are not your typical places of study. I do think technology helps us to navigate this difficulty but it also adds extra pressure to work whenever you get a chance because it is now possible (so long as you have your smartphone/ipad with you, and let’s face it, that is most of us). It also means that instead of catching moments of peace and quiet when they come we are squeezing as much as we can into them. This is when the self-doubt can creep in.
Should I be doing some work?
Should I be giving the kids my attention now?
So I asked my boy if he was bothered that I didn’t watch the hockey (you know, like, from pitch-side outside of my own private viewing box). He just shrugged and said “Nah, ‘cos I wouldn’t watch you play hockey. You can’t even run, can you Mum?”
No dear, I can’t and I don’t have a real name either. I am just Mum.