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The Summertime Hustle (a blog post written while hiding)

How is your pandemic parenting going? "The Faculty Parent" series chronicles the highs and lows of juggling parenting, teaching, research, and writing in uncertain times.

I’m writing this post remotely, but not from some tropical vacation locale. Nope. I’m tucked up in a spare bedroom of my parents' house typing furiously in the hope that I can get my thoughts down before one of my children bursts in begging me to play. I want to play. I want to take them to the pool and teach them to blow bubbles out of their noses. I want to be the relaxed and responsive parent that I never seem able to be during the academic year (theirs and mine). I also want to spend this time pursuing other aspirational endeavors. I want to reconnect with long dormant research agendas, finish new course preps and redesigns, all while keeping my inbox to a manageable size. I want to refresh, deepen, and form new connections in the communities where I live and work, grabbing all those coffees and attending the local meetings that are hard to squeeze into the schedule. But here I am, ferreted away in the most secluded corner of my parents’ house like a sullen teen, hoping to squeeze in as much creative and intellectual labor as possible before being hit by a water balloon.

While summers, especially for those with young children, have always been characterized by competing interests, this summer feels especially fraught. Our ongoing cultural shift from a restrictive pandemic logic to an “acceptable risk” mindset means that, for our crew and many others, family travel feels newly possible (though worries persist). Of course, many of us “traveled” in years 1 & 2 of the pandemic, but those trips were mostly needs driven; e.g. leaving dense urban areas during a surge, moving into a family member’s or friend’s house in order to start a “pod,” fully relocating your household where your kinship networks exist, etc. Now that vaccines are available for all ages (woo-hoo!) and travel restrictions have largely relaxed, the decision-making process re: summer has undergone another shift. One result, for those newly willing/able to travel, is a backlog of overdue visits. In other words, visiting Grandma and Pops this year is obligatory. At risk of sounding ungrateful, the urgency around post-pandemic family reunions means another set of logistical demands on the limited resources of summer.

Further complicating the travel + childcare + summertime work calculus, in the part of Essex county where I live, many of the principal providers of full day summer camps are still operating with COVID-cautious enrollment caps that create systemic ripple effects on the local childcare infrastructure. A concrete example: Montclair YMCA’s day camp options were completely enrolled within days of summer registration opening in February! Families who waited to firm up their summer travel dates until (gasp!) April or May were out of luck. What remains for the slowpokes? Largely part-time camp option, typically 3-4 hours a day of care, available for purchase to the tune of hundreds of dollars per week.

The summer camp scramble did not begin with COVID19, but the pandemic has pushed resource scarcity into new dimensions. Even before COVID, I was spreadsheeting summer camp options for my two kids (8 and 3) well before school was out, but now it feels like there’s no cost- or time- efficient way to patchwork together a summer’s worth of working hours, family time, and reliable (hopefully also enriching and fun) childcare. As a result, one approach I’ve taken this summer involves visiting parents/grandparents with the explicit expectations that I will be working remotely, stashed away in a back bedroom or attic during the day, while they provide care. I’ll strive to be a mother and/or daughter only when the virtual whistle blows at 5.

Is an arrangement like this sustainable? Am I “on vacation” or am I “on the clock”? Should I be more available to my children, or should I maximize the time I have with free-to-me babysitters? And what happens when I exhaust everyone’s patience by being neither here nor there? Even as I fully recognize how privileged I am to have the option of a flexible schedule this summer, I’m also nervous about the long-term effects that working from anywhere/everywhere may have on both my professional and my family life. Is this the “future of work” we would choose, if we had the choice? What other options can we imagine and how to those compare to the options we have?

References and Further Reading:

Round-up of Rutgers’ K-12 Summer Programs for Next Year’s Spreadsheet:

BIG IMPORTANT NOTE: While editing this post, SCOTUS issued a decision reversing the reproductive health protections ensured by Roe v. Wade for 50 years. This decision will have immediate and long-term effects on campus life and reproductive decision making. Below are a few articles that have already been published on the intersection between academia and the decision to reverse Roe.


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