Monday, March 21, 2005

home again, home again

I've just returned from one of those Big Deal National Conferences--in this case, noteworthy only for the inexplicable rudeness of several former grad-school colleagues I bumped into and the complete lack of anything resembling provocative discussion during my poorly attended panel. I knew it would be poorly attended; it was the kind of marginal topic that conference planners love to include but that no one finds sexy, especially not at that time of day. That was fine--in fact, I had cold feet about my topic and what might be seen as a provocative take on a touchy issue. But I was a little disappointed that even our session chair so clearly couldn't wait to get us out of there (Was she late for one of those "books'n'booze" freebies beloved by academics everywhere?). I thought there were some interesting connections among our papers, and to be honest, I didn't bother with much of the conference itself. It was held within driving distance of my family, and I spent most of my time with them. It's a conference I like, in general, but just couldn't really get into this time around. Anyway, this was my one shot at intellectual interchange, and I felt a bit let down that my fellow panelists were equally eager to check off their new CV line and split.

I got to see my fabulous niece--definitely worth the price of the ticket, even if my university weren't picking up the tab. She has a fashion sense all her own, and favors animal print (synthetic, of course!) separates mixed with psychedelic patterns and textured fabrics. She's the quintessential individual, and has been throughout her short life. She has more brains and personality than any ten or fifteen other kids around, and I'm not at all biased. My favorite story of late involves her examining her new Barbie (ethereally tutu-ed and with grotesquely shaded purple legs colored to resemble tights), saying to her mother, "But where's her belly?" Clearly the doll could not be a member of our family, with that wasp waist.

It's still a bit awkward; I've been an auntie for twice as long as I've been a mother, and in some ways the role is more natural to me. So my niece and I are still working out the delicate balance of our relationship now that it involves my own daughter, too. It's hard on all of us; my niece was so very central to my life, and her sibling and my daughter arrived in fairly short succession, messing the family dynamic up entirely. It's hard for me to tell her that I have to be more someone else's mother, and less her auntie. These are tough things to face at age four, or even at my advanced age.

Now I'm facing zillions of essay drafts, multiple conferences, and a dirty rabbit cage to contend with. I'm farming my daughter off on her grandmother, but still having a bit of trouble reconciling myself to the piles of work, the dirty house, and the long, long stretch to the semester's end.


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