a multi-tasking semi-intellectual

I recently saw a bit by comedian Bill Cosby. “My wife and I were intellectuals,” he starts, “before we had children.” He continues describing the process of natural childbirth, in pretty hilarious detail. A friend of mine sent it to me – she is recently about to have her second child – and I thought “Oh, so true. That’s funny.”

Last night I was sitting outside Eleanor’s swimming lessons with Oliver and Alice. Tim is out of town for a few days, so it was three against one. While Eleanor swam Oliver was sitting on my lap, dropping applesauce all over my pants as he imitated the man he was watching stretch in the Fitness Center, which was directly across the hall from the pool, and Alice was holding onto my shoulder while practicing standing and taking steps all by herself. She was also holding a Wasa cracker, which she likes to bite, mash around in her mouth, and then spit out. (Why my kids were eating in these conditions is something we can talk about in another post.)

A friend, whose son is in Eleanor’s swim class, was telling me that they had just returned from a weekend to Gatlainburg, TN. While Oliver and Alice were using me as a jungle gym and napkin, I was telling our friend that Tim uses Gatlainburg as an example of how parks and protected areas – Gatlainburg boarders the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest – recruit resources to their boarders. It is an idea that is rooted in biological and physical sciences, but which TIm has started applying to his own social science research in new ways and it is phenomenon he’s written about in his own research in Tanzania. 

Brigit Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, describes in her book the phenomenon of “contaminated time”. “Even though men are doing more at home, women are seen as the default parent. or primarily responsible for the home sphere. Now you’re juggling work demands on top pf all the stuff you always had to do at home and we’ve ratcheted up what you’re expected to do as a parent and what that does is it completely pollutes your time, so that you may be in a moment that looks like leisure on the outside, but on the inside you’re just crashing around thinking ‘oh what have i got for dinner and oh i forgot i had carpool to drive and did i ever send that note and I’ve got to send that memo. work by psychologists that say that this is the peak of human experience. of being present in the moment.

Shortly after my description of Gaitlinburg and Tim’s research, swimming ended and it was a mad rush to get everyone dressed, buckled, and home for dinner. Then it was straight into the bath, then PJs and stories before several different tuck-ins and kisses. On any given day, regardless of whether Tim is home or not, my days are like this: filled. On any given day I am making space – often simultaneously – in my brain for: managing our family’s schedule, making sure that the right kid gets the right medication, tracking who needs a restock on diapers or milk or gluten-free pretzels at school, managing multiple work deadlines, arranging the babysitter for next week because we have tickets to see a play, tracking the date and when our car payment will come out of my checking account, trying to think of my next blog post on introducing solid foods, remembering to read for class and to respond to the TA about her draft email to the students, scheduling – or planning to schedule – a yoga class. And remembering to take a shower (which, believe me, is no small thing!).

It’s not that Tim doesn’t think about these things, or engage in these aspects of our life. It’s just that I do it 90% more often than he does (love you honey!), and with all that other stuff knocking around in my head there’s precious little space for intellectual thought anymore.

This idea Tim has, that parks are sources of disturbance and that they draw resources, and ultimately benefits, to their boundaries – often in many different ways – and thus to the people living on the edge of them, is a new idea. It’s a grand idea. A brilliant idea. One that Tim has had the time to nurture into its present (and fullest) form. It’s also one that I am now convinced I should get some modicum of credit for. 

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