Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Little Bit about Little Bits

So some quick news updates: saw the primary care doctor and were relieved to be told that the original doctor we saw told us a completely incorrect diagnosis, and that what we thought was the rash spreading was really just an allergic reaction to the medicine which we were given to... uh... clear up the rash. Go ahead and figure that one out.

And I promise, that is the last rash-related update, at least for a while.

The real substance of this post is my recent thoughts about How I Will Manage To Teach With Two Children Including One Toddler and One Newborn. This topic has been occupying quite a bit of my mind lately. I have also been considering the fact that whenever something seems impossible (something that I must do, that is), it is because I am approaching it with some sort of inflexibility. When I discover the inflexibility and make it flex, often the problem dissolves, or at least becomes manageable.

The inflexibility I discovered here is that I prefer to have large chunks of time to do my work. I would rather sit down and do a week's worth of grading in one uninterrupted day than do little pieces of work here and there. However, with a nursing newborn (happy three-weeks-old, my sweet little N!) there is no such thing as a large chunk of time in which to do anything at all (including, as I discover, showering, eating, washing dishes, folding laundry, or going outside). In fact, Norah is nursing right now, and I am very pleased to discover that if I prop her head on my left elbow (she is in the sling), I can still type, although it is slightly more taxing on my forearm muscles than normal typing is. But what can I say? I suffer for my art.

But moving on with the discussion: there are no large chunks of time in my day. I suspect that my love of large chunks of time comes from a bit of nostalgia on my part for the time in my life when I was writing my thesis. I would sit down with an enormous pile of articles, a highlighter, some notepaper, and, like ten hours of uninterrupted time. And I would just absorb knowledge until I had to stop to eat or sleep. I even had a neat little desk just for my own use, in a fluorescent-lit office where no one ever was during the hours that I kept. It was kind of fantastic.

But that was then, and this is now, and raising a family rules out the large-chunks-of-time method. So I have thought a lot and prayed a little, and I am coming to an idea of using "little bits" of time. Because as much as I can never find six straight hours in which to do my work, I can certainly cobble together ten minutes here, fifteen there, maybe even 45 minutes or an hour somewhere else. So I have to start thinking of my work in these terms -- as small, discrete chunks of effort.

This approach will have some challenges; mainly, I have to conceive of my work in these little-bit increments, and keep my mind organized in that way. This might not seem like that big of a deal, but I have found that my postpartum mind resists organization like a college freshman resists commitment (zing!). So I have to maybe make written lists every day of all the little bits I must do.

But I think the advantages might outweigh the challenges. For instance, if I keep up a steady stream of "little bits" of work, my workload might stay manageable so that I don't have to do marathon grading sessions, which do wear me out, even if they are my mode-of-choice. So it could keep me from procrastinating and make me a better worker overall, against my will. Also (and this is a big one) doing my work in tiny piece will force me to let go of my perfectionistic, all-or-nothing approach to my paid work, which sometimes freezes me with anxiety -- if I feel like I can't get all the way through a big task, I don't even want to start it, out of fear of some far-off, nebulous thing, somewhat related to failure and somewhat related to Being Mediocre. I am not really sure what that fear-feeling is all about, but the moral of the story is that working in little bits will make me have to live with ambiguity and unfinished-ness while I work toward completing a task. I will not be the wunderkind that can complete all her work in one hour; nor will I be the most efficient, most streamlined worker in history. But perhaps I will be able to meet my benchmarks while still raising two happy healthy kids and having time for B as well. Living with ambiguity like this will be a spiritual exercise; I am chafing at the idea of it even now. But I feel like it will be good for me. I am interested to see what kind of fruits will come of it, through the veil of my kicking and screaming. What I need most is the grace to give in to the new schedule, the new set of goals, the new way of being, and to let go of my old ideas about What Should Be.

I am trying "little bits" out starting today, when I am beginning to prepare my course calendar and syllabus for posting tomorrow. I am giving myself a pass to only do a little because N has been feeding NONSTOP today, and I mean that literally. My longest stretch of putting her down (which I squandered by doing dishes! Curses!) was maybe 20 minutes, at about 11am. Since then she has been eating, eating, pausing to eat, eating to regain her strength after so much eating... you get the point. It is just what these newborns do. At any rate, she is definitely my daughter. There is hardly any point in life where I couldn't sit down to a meal. ;D

My table is messy and loud but it is weighed down with food and love and riches. :)

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