>As I mentioned in an earlier post, after I got back from the USA, I hadn’t been overseas since 2005. Before that, I travelled internationally about once a year, sometimes even twice. I often planned back-to-back conferences, and stayed on for a day or so to catch up with colleagues or carry out other research.
In 2002, I attended a conference in Vancouver and stopped over in the UK on the way home to visit my brother, who was living in Oxford. He’d been cheffing in England for many months. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever made. I’d brought a stash of sweet-cured salmon (from Granville Island) with me and we savoured every morsel. In between luxurious tastings, we hung the bag of salmon out my brother’s window. It was so cold, we almost had to wait for it to thaw when we brought it back in; I should point out that it didn’t last long at all.
|2002: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (Photo by Tseen)
Since I had E. in late 2006, my travelling became severely curtailed. I didn’t go away overnight for at least a year and a bit, and the recent USA trip was the longest I’ve been away for more than 2 nights since she was born. It was the first time I’d ever been away from G. since he was born in mid-2009.
Before having kids, I thought that parents became less travelled beings because of the demands of the children and the detrimental effect being away had on them. I’m lucky enough to have S. and my mother with whom to share childcare in our household, so I’ve never been a sole parent in charge of the kids for longer than maybe a day. While the load would fall to S. if I were away, it’s not an unworkable situation; similarly, I’ve realised the kids aren’t that affected by my being away for stints of a week or so (the USA trip was 1.5 weeks).
The biggest obstacle to my going away on conference or research trips is…me. I find it preferable to be a part of the kids’ routines than not. I’d been away quite a bit, pre-kids, so it’s not as if I’m normally leary of travelling away from home. It’s just that ‘home’ has acquired more emotional weight since the children arrived. There’s a complicated and demanding web of being there for them and, for the most part, I like it. I know this means I don’t advance my career as quickly as I could, and I’m not collaborating/networking as much as I could. Occasionally, I’ll worry about it. Then I ask myself whether I’d change the way I’m approaching things and, really, the answer is no.
I met a female academic recently who was encouraging me to get away from the home-front more often, as it would allow me to re-fresh my acquaintance with professional-me and my high level of functioning as a serious academic, etc. At the time, I was nodding along and thinking, “Yeah, I should. The kids and S. don’t mind, as long as it’s not TOO long…” When I got home, I swore I’d never, ever go away for so long again (yes, for all of 1.5 weeks).
It’s a polarised thing and I can’t shake it. When I’m away and doing what I do, it’s fantastic, fun and inspiring; just before I leave home and when I am freshly home, I can’t imagine going away and find myself wanting to remain in the domestic nest.
I have a male colleague who’s in the same kind of job as me. This year, I think he’s been on trips so often that I doubt if he was in Australia more than half a year. Many of the trips were international, and they were usually at least a week, sometimes three weeks. He has a young family, like me. His wife works part-time. He seems to work all the time. There’s no doubt that he’s a super performer, and he’ll go far in a very short span of time. He’s quite a political animal, and very ambitious. We’ve worked together on a couple of things now. Being in close contact with how he organises his time, and seeing what he prioritises, is interesting. His intense work habits contrast very strongly with mine. It’s probably not a good thing to extrapolate from the habits of an obvious workaholic (but here I go)…is this a male/female thing? To some extent, I feel that I shouldn’t go away too often or too long because putting the whole load on S. is unfair. Does my colleague not feel that? Or does he think what he does is more important? It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been ambivalent about my career ever since I finished my PhD (excellent timing).
Now that I may not be in an academic job anymore, this kind of anxiety about travelling is probably moot. There’s no doubt that my career has been compromised by having children. The time out of work during maternity leave (plus the time prepping to be on leave + catching up on return), making a real effort to keep regular hours (no all-nighters, no staying-late-at-the-office habits, no work on weekends if at all possible), not going away to as many conferences or taking research trips that are as extended (there’s a world of difference between doing basic requirement fieldwork or taking longer and having more thoughtful time)…all these things mean missed opportunities and a lower profile. There’s no getting around that. Granted, this is the way I’ve chosen to have kids and balance the work/domestic juggle. Other women in my school don’t seem to have had bumps in their career path at all from having a family, but it’s not about the comparisons, is it?