Archive for April 30, 2012

Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about running around like a crazy woman, I discussed how parents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our children are not allowed enough time for unstructured play, or free play time. According to the author of Simplicity Parenting such lack of free time is harmful to our kids.

Why? Many reasons, but one that resonated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already created. Children playing structured sports (whether team or individual) must adapt to the rules. In unstructured play, however, children make up their own rules. They use their imagination. They are creative. They work with others to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of basketball. What will the rules be? What is acceptable behavior and play?

Today, I give a brief anecdote. Saturday, my oldest two children had t-ball games. They had team pictures hours before their games. My husband is coaching both teams so he had to be there early for both pictures. They came home after the pictures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morning. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bottles, diapers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sunscreen, I forgot that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depending on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me during the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the camera and the video camera and the baseball and softball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy loading and packing and getting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were taking team pictures at the fields with their daddy and I was packing and preparing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor crying uncontrollably. Not just crying, but screaming. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30-9:15 am, except when he was drinking his bottle, the little guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morning were the emotions going on–the feeling of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was trying hard not to forget anything.

I was running around the house like a crazy woman. I was not setting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And little Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impacting his little life.You see, even though I was having to do a lot of preparation for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his siblings’ schedules. He was the one missing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was begging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peaceful home. A home free of anxiety and tension. A home full of spontaneous moments.

When Elizabeth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older siblings. The same is true for Peyton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and experience a carefree day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent crying because no one was paying attention to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee running around and stinging all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached seeing this child so upset. I wanted more than anything to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop crying so that I can finish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to finish my tasks (due to a complicated schedule we created). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The schedules of his older siblings determined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger children must get more used to being carted around to practices and performances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Saturday. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speaking to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay attention to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learning lessons from my babes. What lesson have you learned lately?


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am currently reading Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school counselor and an educational consultant, has challenged me to re-think the way I parent my children. He has encouraged me to consider the ways my good intentions as a parent may have negative consequences on my child. This book is challenging, provocative, and inspiring.

Right now, Elizabeth is 6 years old. She is playing t-ball. Beginning next week, we will have practice or games 3 nights a week.

Peyton is 4 years old. He is playing t-ball. Elizabeth and Peyton are not on the same team. Shane (my husband) is the assistant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eating, breathing, sleeping, and thinking t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednesday when we have church. T-ball on many Saturdays. Several nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our children are engaging in activities (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chatting with other parents and getting to know adults and children in our small community. We like that our children feel good about themselves by playing and accomplishing something. We like to be Jesus to the community by serving them. We like being involved. We like our kids starting and finishing something.

But that’s not all. In the Winter, Elizabeth played basketball. In the Fall, Elizabeth and Peyton both played soccer. And through it all, we had a newborn baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our children by enrolling them in all these extracurricular activities?”

In the United States, parents are told the following dominant narrative: “You must enroll your children in as many activities as possible at very a young age. The more the better. Ballet. Dance. Swimming. Soccer. Summer camps. Team sports. Individual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the examples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started playing tennis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Barrymore and the Olsen twins began acting when they were young. I’m sure there are numerous other stories (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at something, start them early on the activity/task. Malcolm Gladwell even points out in Outliers that to become good at something, perfect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our children successful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just consider the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard about the book (it was quite controversial) and her “Chinese way of parenting.” The author–a law professor at Yale–spent countless hours every single day making sure her children had mastered the piano and violin. They practiced all the time–literally. Even on vacation. Everywhere. Every. Single. Day.

But Simplicity Parenting asks a simple question really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our children? What do they really gain through these activities? And what is the cost of this attitude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Especially on our children?

Throughout the book, he answers these questions, and in quite provocative terms. Put simply, he says that “less is more.” Seems simple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of schedules, television, screen time, clutter, toys, your day having a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, anticipation, sleep, food and eating, an ordinary day, and filtering out the adult world from your children, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have forgotten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our children need unstructured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it creates smarter and more imaginative, energetic, independent, creative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve problems, get along well with others, figure things out, and build a deep relationship with their parents and others.

Simplicity parenting is worth the try.

For those of you interested in learning more about the book, you might like to watch this informative four-minute video by the author.


Top 12: A New Series

I’m beginning a new series on this blog called “Top 12.” I like lists. They keep me organized. They work the way my mind works, and they fit with my personality. They also show me when I have accomplished something (or not!).

So, I’m beginning a Top 12 series of lists here. These series are going to be about random topics of interest to me. I thought about posting them on Tuesday and calling the series “Top 12 Tuesday.” I like alliteration (I am an English teacher after all.), and that way readers will know when they are coming. I’m not sure, though. I don’t want to be limited by “Tuesday” as the only day to post them. We’ll see.

I chose the number 12 rather than 10 because, well, 10 is so passe. But 12, it’s less boring. Also, when I was an athlete, back in those glory days of the past, I was #12. It’s my favorite number.

So, next week, I’ll write my first Top 12 post in what I hope to be one of many in this series.


Women, Mothers, and Tenure: Why Babies Complicate Academic Work

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to write about motherhood and academia. Many of you sensed the dilemma I was pushing against in that post. How can one be both a mother and an academic?

Women have traditionally been discriminated against in the academy (see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed for an overview):

  • Women receive tenure at a lesser rate than men.
  • Women are paid significantly less than men.
  • Women’s raises are significantly less than men’s raises are.
  • Women are more likely to quit their tenure-track jobs than men because of external factors.
  • Women are far more likely to volunteer their service to their department (or university) by filling labor-intensive but-not-really-related-to-tenure-and-promotion-and-prestige administrative positions that their male counterparts will not hold.

When you add a family to an already discriminated against gender, the results are even more staggering. A recent article by Mary Ann Mason titled, “Women, Tenure, and the Law,” finds that women with children are significantly less likely to achieve tenure than men or than women without children. So, whereas all women are discriminated against in terms of pay, women with children face even more discrimination. In short, Mason writes, “For women, a critical factor in tenure denial is their gender and family responsibilities.”

Women with children are also much more likely to become lecturers or adjuncts, positions that typically hold significantly less pay than tenure-track positions, are notorious for having poor working conditions, do not offer much job security, and are much less prestigious than tenure-track positions.

What’s more is the stress that tenure and promotion takes–probably on all women (and men, too), but especially on women with children. Not only are you having and raising children, cooking, doing laundry, waking up in the middle of the night for years, but you are also working to establish yourself in the field, write and publish, plan and design new courses, read as much as you can, and serve your department, university, and discipline. One history professor argues that women with children are “professionally inferior to men” during the child-bearing and child-rearing days because women are “simply unable to work as hard, as long, or as well as childless professors or academic fathers.” While I wouldn’t go so far to say women are “professionally inferior,” I do recognize that mothers, literally, cannot work as much as childless professors (men or women) or even academic fathers (who although they are parents, too, are not often the designated caretaker when it comes to their children. There was even a recent study about how when parents are home at the same time, the woman is still the primary parent–even when both people work. See this article for more information about differences between academic mothers and fathers).

Finally, women who are, or who are to become, mothers also face discrimination when they become pregnant. Perhaps it is this way in most jobs for women. I don’t know. But in the academy, motherhood carries with it a lot of baggage. And pregnancy is even seen, by some, as a liability. Pregnancy marks the body. Pregnancy marks the woman. People make assumptions about pregnant women. About mothers. About being a mother and an academic.

Again the dilemma.

What about me? I had one child as a graduate student. I was ABD (All But Dissertation) when my daughter Elizabeth was born. I wrote my dissertation during her first year of life (I still don’t know how I did that–a supportive family was a big part of that).

I went on the job market when she was 4 months old. She had just turned one when I took a tenure-track position.

Since being in academia, I’ve had two children on the tenure-track. Am I bold or what? Three kids. It’s unheard of in academia. At least if you’re a woman.

*Update (2 hours after original post): As I was driving home today, I was reflecting on this post, and I wanted to add one last comment. One of the things I hope for is that women in academia (and other jobs) can find mentors, others who have paved the way for newer faculty like me to succeed by getting tenure. I go up for tenure next year. Not only do I hope to get it, but I also hope that, one day, I can be one of these mentors.


I am a mother; I am an academic

I am an academic. I am a mother.

This is who I am.

“Mom” to Elizabeth, my affectionate, compassionate, smart, sensitive, and shy six- (and a half )year-old girl.

“Mommy” to Peyton Poe, my articulate, talkative, curious, rough-and-tumble four-year old thinker-boy.

“Momma” to Levi, my happy, accident-prone, I’ll-eat-anything-and-don’t-require-much-sleep, bald eight-month-old baby boy.

I am a mother. I am an academic. But academia makes it hard to be and do both.

Yet, this is who I am.

Which role comes first? Which role comes second? How do I balance motherhood, womanhood, and the academy? How can I be a great mom and a great scholar and teacher? These questions are on my mind every day.

In the next several blog posts, I will explore more about these issues. I hope you will join me.


Why I Like the End of the Semester

The last week of the semester is upon us at Baylor and at many colleges all over the country. Next week is finals week, and then comes graduation. And, then, the semester is over.

This time of year is one of my favorites. Yes, summer is coming and students and teachers alike will soon get a much needed break. We don’t have to come back until August. But what I like just as much as anticipating the summer hiatus is getting to see what my students have learned. This is the time of the semester when students submit their work, work that highlights what they have learned, accomplished, and achieved through my course. I enjoy looking through student  projects and reflecting on what we have done over the course of 16 weeks and all that we have accomplished together.

What is really exciting for me this semester is that I designed and taught a new course, “Writing in the Digital Age.” This course has exceeded my expectations, and I have really enjoyed the content and the students who enrolled in it. We have had a great semester together. Students created a professional blog and composed weekly blog posts on issues related to digital writing. They marketed themselves and their work through Facebook and Twitter. They researched a topic related to digital writing, such as podcasts in the classroom,e-books, digital marketing, and the SmartPen.

Students also created an audio or video Public Service Announcement. Alison created a video PSA on Lupus, and Ariadne composed a provocative PSA on body image.Other PSAs examined childhood literacy, hunger, and binge drinking.

The last project of the semester, which we are currently working on, asked students to locate a local small business and work with them to develop an  online presence–to market themselves digitally to their audience. Students built a Web site for their client and then created or updated their client’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week, we will have a celebration party where we will view the final web sites and celebrate with the clients. I have really enjoyed this project and plan to expand it as a semester-long project next time.

The end of the semester is exciting for students and teachers. Education, in all its embodiments, becomes evident.


Why I Created a Web Site

It is official. I have a Web site. This site has been many years in the making (at least in my mind planning it). Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time working with a variety of software programs (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, Netscape Composer–remember that one?). I have learned these programs. I have even taught students how to use them. I have drawn by hand what I wanted my site to look like, including where to place the images, texts, and links. But I have never officially created my own site. Now, I finally have. I bought my own domain name (karapoealexander was taken!??). I paid for a host, and I now have site (I use WordPress). Yea!

This site is intended for a variety of purposes and audiences.

One purpose of this site is to develop an online professional identity. An academic, a scholar, a teacher. Audiences who are interested in me as a professional perhaps want to see me blog about issues pertaining to my teaching or my scholarship. They may want to look at my CV and see my background. They may want to download a syllabus or sample assignments, which is perfectly fine. They might want to see a picture of me since they’ve never met me in person. This academic audience is professional, anti-religious (I assume), intellectual, and smart. I find them a bit intimidating.

A second purpose of this site is to connect with my students. model for students what it is like to have a professional online presence. I teach students majoring in Professional Writing, and in our courses we often discuss what it means to have a professional online presence. It was all well and good, except I didn’t have a Web site. Yet I was requiring them to have one. That didn’t go together. This site, then, is intended to not only show students that I have an online presence but also to model to them the numerous ways writers can use technology to write, blog, get jobs, find followers, and connect to various communities and audiences. I also created a Web site so that my students could come here for course materials. I have used Blackboard in the past, but I find this open access a bit more in line with my own pedagogy. I am glad to know that students will be utilizing this site.

The last–and perhaps main–purpose of this site is to write. I have blogged on and off since 2006, a year after my first child was born when I wanted to document her life. But I have not been a faithful blogger for a few years. In recent months, however, I have been reading more and more blogs, and what first motivated me to finally create a Web site was because I wanted to enter the conversations.

The conversations I am most interested in pertain to various aspects of my identity as a working mother, a female academic, a Christian, and a preacher’s wife. Most of what I blog about will be about these issues of motherhood, womanhood, academia, and faith. I recognize that my audiences are diverse and that some areas I write about will not always interest my readers. I do hope, however, that I can find my niche in the conversation.

I’m always interested in your comments and feedback, so feel free to leave comments or to subscribe to my social media using the icon buttons on the site.

And if you’re interested, you can find my previous blogs at:

http://karapoealexander.blogspot.com/

http://readinganew.blogspot.com/