Standing around in parks

Generalizations about Britain: the food is too sweet and too salty, while the playgrounds are full of bullies. Still, there’s many things I’ll miss when we leave in a week and a half: crumpets, puddles, cathedrals, ladybugs, take-out tikka, bike-ability, nutella, some of the playground climbing structures, and Ben. What I’ll get in exchange: fish tacos, friends, and home. Even though that second list is shorter, it is far weightier — except for the weight of Ben on the first list. Ben will stay in Britain 8 more weeks, while Sophie and I return to California without him.

So I’ll return to being a single-parent, but also to having good friends & neighbors & colleagues that I’m really looking forward to seeing. There’s been a solitude to this summer, if that’s the right word for being constantly with a two-year-old and constantly out in public, but without anyone to truly talk to, at least no one to talk to till Ben comes home and has to bear the burden of all my day’s loneliness.

“Standing around in parks,” a British acquaintance declared the other day. I am finally getting to the point where I can have decent conversations with Brits, now, just before we leave. This particular woman was wondering, aloud, whether, when she goes back to work, she can put on her resume that she has spent the last two years of her life standing around in parks.

On facebook, my academic friends post about the tribulations of trying to manage their own research and writing. M is no longer friends with her introduction. B has too many projects going at once, but just got inspired by his writing group. J just signed a contract with Harvard University Press. A’s book is coming out in the fall, and he’s already working on 3 good new projects, while also designing the most pedagogically-interesting introductory history course that I’ve heard of in a while (and he entered grad school after me!). M and B and F also post on facebook frequently in self-flagellation for their own procrastination, worried about just having frittered away an hour of precious summer writing-time, worried about not getting work done on chapter eight. I read all this and think, I spent my summer standing around in parks.

“Don’t trivialize the playground,” a wise old women’s-studies professor told me. I’m trying not to. I did finish my epilogue this summer, and re-friend my intro, and get my manuscript in good enough shape to send off to a university press. I didn’t yet write the conference papers that I’ll give next year, but I did get my classes into good shape, maybe even great shape, so I have high hopes for the fall. I really shouldn’t engage in the self-flagellation of the self-managing academic. But I’m worried about the fast-approaching school year, and about the past month, in which, while Sophie naps, I have read novels, instead of rushing to academic work. I worry about the past month, which I spent standing around in parks.

For all my complaining, I’m going to miss standing around in parks. Sometimes I wonder whether I find more bullies in Britain only because Sophie and I spend so much more time in public parks here.

I’m going to miss the crumpets and ladybugs when we return to our home level of busy-ness.


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