Thursday, 29 November 2012

Academic parenthood – a thing to keep quiet about?

Nowadays, the success of different universities, institutes, schools and departments is measured on the basis of peer reviewed articles produced and grants granted. All academics should be highly productive and many universities have set individual real or perceived targets for their staff. For example, they have to produce 1-3 high quality peer reviewed articles per year – not to mention the pressure to produce books.

As an academic without a permanent post, I manage my own work load and try to get in teaching, grants and other income, while trying to finish off the old projects and produce articles and get them pass peer review. Currently, I have deadlines for peer reviewed articles at the end of November, mid-January and end of February. Sadly, this ‘rumba’ slows down the writing up/editing my long-term project.

Nevertheless, when dealing with one of those publications, it occurred to me that people are not necessarily happy to admit that having children takes time and they have to put time and effort into ‘life’ instead of concentrating constantly on academic tasks and efficiently churning out articles and books. I recently got a slightly obscure e-mail that was rather wordy and could be interpreted in many different ways, while it was drumming how one deadline was really strict and people would be coming to me shortly. This was about seven weeks before the deadline and I was becoming concerned if I will manage to make the changes in the case they were to send the corrections in at the last minute. I was gathering from the message that either there may have been some time management issues behind the carefully worded message or my contribution did not cut the mustard.

After the ‘strict’ deadline had come and gone with no sign of any comments or further instructions, I finally contacted the people in question some weeks later (when I admittedly started to have more time to deal with any corrections). It turned out that one of the involved was on a maternity leave and another was about to become a parent. Thus, the obscureness of it all got its explanation – they were busy or were to becoming very busy being awake at odd hours with small babies. This made me wonder, if they were somewhat reluctant to reveal to their peers that they do not have time to do everything, but like to have families, and may have to reschedule promised timetables and schedules. It makes you think if there is a culture that makes it difficult to balance life and archaeology, since that leaves people less time to enjoy the time, when their children are small.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. I remember one academic – in a secure position though – leaving every day punctually and strictly around 4pm or 4.30pm in order to be with the children in the evening. I hope that with the current turbulent economic climate that sort of behaviour is not totally out of window.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Chosen his language

The interesting moment in any bilingual family rises when the child has clearly chosen his or hers language. Our Number One Son has chosen his father’s language, English. This was clear already earlier when he ignored the simple word pairs I tried to say in Finnish, and repeated them when I did repeat them in English. Now he has finally started to speak more – even fully sentences like ‘I want to wee’ – this is more noticeable

After putting all the effort in – even before the birth when I read a Moomin book to my bump – I feel a bit short-changed. However, I recognize that the children do have a right to choose their language. After all, English is the language he shares with his friends and his key worker and other nursery assistants. He will also be taught in English.

Now I have to adapt to the situation where I try to keep up passive, secondary language skills. I think it is important for Number One Son to grow up in an environment where he gets used to other languages and be in situations where he does not understand the others. This is often the experience of a Finn abroad, but comes as a shock to many English and Americans. It is so easy to be lulled in a fully monolingual environment, where the foreigners can most of the time fluently one’s language and converse in English in their company. For a Finn learning languages is a natural part of reaching to other people abroad. In England learning languages is not a norm. This attitude was shown even by our speech therapist.

If not anything else, our son is not scared by loud, rather self-confident Finnish mothers and fathers chatting with each other in Finnish. He can also see lovely Swedish and Norwegian cartoons from Finnish DVDs and ‘expand his horizons’.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Not the success expected

As parents we are bombarded with messages that suggest we give our children educational fun and support their development. Nevertheless, the good intentions and dreams of a happy, giggling child in a positive activity do not always turn out exactly as you wish. Recently, I took Number One Son on a rainy day to the Newark Museum, which I think is lovely, with a children’s play room, street-o-rama, a full-sized First World War trench and a small shop corner for children in a reconstructed cloth shop (or was it groceries). In my mind’s eye I saw my son happily climbing the stairs and running around the playroom. Sadly, the only thing way he wanted to run was out of the entrance door. I managed to show him the playroom and the shop corner, but with no success. He wanted to run out. He was much happier in the nearby Waterstone’s and ran around the book stands instead. The experience was improved more by a shop assistant offering Number One Son a Halloween sweet.

Even more recently we headed to the botanical gardens. Again, I had dreamt about a happy, giggling child running around and kicking the yellow autumn leaves. This time around he happily ran to the long water garden, but seeing that there were no fish in the water, he immediately sat back to his stroller I take still with me – just in case. He was crying about our ‘Vrmm Vrmm’ and was totally oblivious to the lovely sunny weather. He wanted away whereas I wanted to see the Pinetum. The only thing he got excited about were the cars on A6 driving by the Pinetum. Afterwards, he was excited about driving in a Sainsbury’s trolley, going for a car ride and seeing clown fish in a pet shop. Have I managed to bring up a retail junkie?!

If there are other children, does not necessarily help. He recently also declined to go to a play group. He was not happy about this particular group with the earlier lady who did not allow children to play and check the toys, but expected them to sit nicely in a ring – something Number One has never been too keen on. However, with new people running it, he was happily doing activities at least a little bit for some weeks. But this time he was much happier going to the rainy park and having a bit of a run. While mummy got wetter and wetter, since I had expected a nice indoors activity.

A more successful activity

What is common for these events was that he was sleepy and was woken up from a nap. However, the days are now short and he should be getting away from napping any way, but I cannot ignore the fact that I may have a better success rate, if I just let him to sleep and took him to the park afterwards. Or for a short walk in the dark to see the street lights on a walk way. Learning fun is not always as successful as expected.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Gender specific colours

When I was a child in Finland in what now begins to seem like prehistory, the primary colour connected with the female gender was red. The boys were dressed in blue – as they continue to be dressed. However, there has been a clear shift in female primary colours and most mothers of girls seem to be choosing pink. The shops with children’s clothing have ‘the dark side’ for the boys and the pink fluffiness for the girls.

It seems that unisex dressing is not big in UK. There are some white or yellow items for babies, but even the less gender specific green and brown tend to be present in girly lines with all kinds of laces, pink ribbons and bows attached. Boys seem to be left with increasingly grey and black choice – especially in the supermarket lines, which reflect a kind of manifestation of social deprivation apparent with the first glance of their racks. If you do not have much money, your son is going to look grim. The choice of blue is no problem, since it is my favourite colour anyway. I tend to buy it as an alternative for Number One Cousin as well on birthdays and such. I am sure all girls are well catered in the pink department.

Colours are important as symbols and markers. Just recently Cadbury trademarked a certain shade of purple in order to have exclusive use of the colour in their advertisements. However, how they are going to enforce the trademark outside confectionary industry is anybody’s guess. I can see that they may try to keep the shade reserved for them in T-shirts and merchandise, but they are not omnipresent nor do people often go around with colour maps. Shade is also a reflection in the viewer’s eye and it will be tricky to distinguish with shades at the first glance. Their colour-scheme is genderless, though.

In the past the colours were gender specific as well in certain situations. The skin of women was whitish in Etruscan wall paintings whereas the men were reddish brown skinned. The Roman Emperor wore purple and the imperial connection continued into the Byzantine period. During Medieval times men used widely bright colours and red was common as a colour of important male garments. Greyfriars and Blackfriars, Franciscans and Dominicans, were recognised by their cloak colours; however, these colours were common also in the cloaks of nuns. A garment exclusively connected to women is a wedding dress; its colour has changed through centuries, though. Now it is typically white, but in the 19th century, if there was a special dress, it tended to be black in Fennoscandia. So may be we have hope that the ‘pinkification’ of our everyday life is just a phase.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Guest blogger

I was recently approached by the What to Expect web pages in order to write a guest blog for their Word of Mom blog. They were after an original blog for one week in October, which I duly provided, although if you have been reading my entries recently you will recognize the themes. My blog is in the Toddler section with a professional photograph to go with it.

This is not related to the What to Expect When You’re Expecting movie campaign – something I was originally a bit worried about taking how blogging is used in different forms of advertising. Both the movie and the web pages have sprung from the famous American baby manual. Luckily, they manuals and the web pages run well into the Toddlerhood, since Number One Son is hardly a baby. Only eternally the my little bump knocking every time when in bed I tried to turn on my tummy or too far on my side when in the womb.

The baby manual has been followed with a full series of manuals and the said online community. I myself was using a manual when Number One Son was small but I think that apart from rooting a strong routine we did not succeed in implementing all the advice in The Baby Whisperer, used before us by Number One Aunt. Her experiences 9 months before us was important, as was all peer support and social life found in the local NCT coffee group and city centre parent and baby group. This is why I ended up in the local branch committee, since I feel the social local side is important – no matter if it is in the coffee group or in the Children’s Centre or group. Number One Son is still playing with other children met in these groups and will go to school with them.