Time as a Feminist Issue–Especially in Late August

We are in liminal space here, friends. Using the word “liminal” makes this space sound pretty cool, somewhat ethereal, a space I might just want to occupy. It’s also one of the words I have to look up every time I use it, and—like alterity, unpack, and deconstruct—is used amply by literature professors at academic conferences, especially when they want to show how smart they are.

What I should probably say, then, is that we are in an anxiety-ridden, soul-sucking, exhausting liminal space: that transitional time at the end of August when my husband and I are back at our teaching jobs, and my kids are still at home.

I suppose we should be used to this by now. My kids are in the eighth grade, so we’ve had a number of years where we scrambled for that one week between the start of our school year and the start of theirs. By scramble, I mean calling in favors from parents and friends, patching together our schedules so one of us can be home, and generally botching up our lives just to get through the week.

Or this year, not scheduling, botching, or patching anything whatsoever, so that on Monday morning, Ron asked me what I had arranged for the kids that day, and my response was “Nothing. You?”

They are almost old enough to make it an entire day without supervision. At thirteen, they are more a danger to each other than to themselves; and if they can manage to avoid fighting over who gets to watch what on the big TV, they might be okay. Our parenting strategy this week has included letting them stay up as late as they want, then sleep until noon, thus saving us a morning of trying to figure out supervision for them.

I’m sure the authors of Raising Kids God’s Way would see this as a successful technique, right?

On Tuesday night, when life seemed especially bifurcated between home and work, my boys and the students I teach, I read this article by Brigid Schulte about why “Time is a Feminist Issue.” She describes a life with which I am most familiar this week: when I’m trying to meet my sons’ basic needs, teach my classes, do the laundry, drive kids to practices, meet with overwhelmed students, talk to my husband, figure out the family schedule, and sleep.

She described this as “confetti time,” when women’s lives are so fragmented, so full of interruption, that even leisure time is “devoted to what others want to do . . . and make sure everyone else is happy doing it.” Which is why in the few moments I have some evenings, when I’d rather be sleeping, I watch TV shows with titles like “Call of the Wildman” or “North Woods Police.”

And the thing is, though Shulte was writing specifically about women who work outside the home, I think her idea about “confetti time” could apply to about every woman I know, who is trying to hold their lives together, and also the lives of their kids, their spouses, their parents, their friends; and whose lives are fractured and fragmented, so that even down time is subject to constant interruption.

As Shulte suggests, confetti time is almost always the provenance of women, and that men—especially those with privilege, power, prestige—have far more uninterrupted time in which to work and relax. Some would say that this is because of “God’s Design,” and that women are by their very nature built to handle the multiple interruptions they receive each day, so all is well. Men, designed by God to thrive in public spaces, need more time to do the important work of protecting and providing. (These assumptions about gender roles hold true even in places that are, for the most part, egalitarian: I’ve been asked countless times this week what I’m doing with my kids while I’m at work; I doubt my husband has received many similar inquiries.)

Shulte’s article narrates her own attempt to get away from confetti time, and to a place where her life is less fragmented, where she has more space for meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and meaningful rest. Hers is an endeavor I hope to take on this year, so that I can also escape the chaotic work and home life that often leaves me feeling scattered and exhausted.

And this week more than any other of the year, when I’m trying to do a million things and my kids have nothing to do. Still, I know we are running out of late August weeks when I will have to be in a million places at once. Things are changing, have already changed. Just last week, it seems, I was handing off Baby Benjamin to Ron in the hall outside my classroom. Was it really ten years ago today when I was picking up three-year-old Samuel in India? I swear that happened yesterday. SamandMe

Now, they only have five more years of school and five more late August weeks. Then they will be on their way to other things, to their own experiences as adults. They won’t need me to drive them places, or cook their food, or do their laundry, or arrange their rides.

Like I said, my friends, we are living in liminal space.


An Addendum: Our normal frenzy was intensified on Wednesday when I was in a car accident.  A college student who was probably frenzied as well ramming into my nice, newish Mazda, which rammed into a pickup. Down to one car and feeling a little more beat up, I had to call in even more favors, and others (fighting their own confettied time responded). That’s the thing about having amazing people in my life: I know I am not alone in my fragmentation, and that others will fragment their selves even further, just to help out a friend.