Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The stages of spring break

Age 7: Spring break meant one thing--a week at home. I was at home a lot due to severe asthma and allergies and I felt angry that I had to take a break from school, a place I loved.  I planned my days around doing as much homework as possible and working ahead in my math workbook. That way, if I got sick again I wouldn't fall behind.

Age 10: Spring break stretched ahead glowing with opportunities. Would I build a fort in the woods first? Or finish the last of my new puzzles? Would I work through the latest BabySitters Club book? It seemed like ANY choice ahead of me hummed with the promise of fun. No way would I waste a minute of my week!

Age 14: Spring break loomed before me with every second scheduled. If I planned carefully, I could make enough money to get me closer to the big goals (car, college). I babysat for one family who worked opposite shifts and, therefore, stayed nearly around the clock so the parents could sleep. I scheduled in a few extra jobs with a family on the weekend. I worked 46 hours that week and felt so proud of myself when I deposited my hard-earned money.

Age 19: Scrubbing dishes. As an undergraduate at Purdue I had hoped to have some time during spring break to head home and visit the family but who could turn down the extra shifts at the dining hall? As a student worker, I had to take advantage of the scheduling and maximize my place with the managers. If I worked hard, I might earn enough for books next semester.

Age 23 The master's projects will get done before I finish planning our wedding. What kind of an idiot schedules a wedding right after finishing a year of graduate work AND after accepting a summer research gig (transcribing hours and hours) and a few adjunct classes...there's simply not enough time to do all of this!

Age 27: Spring break? What spring break? I'm teaching and researching here. I don't have time to worry about this. Go away. I'm analyzing data. GO AWAY. I don't have time for this. Graduation is looming. Dissertation is screaming. I need every second to keep my head above water.

Present day: SPRING BREAK! A week where I can work in blue jeans and old concert t-shirts with my hair in pigtails and my feet snuggled in slippers. A week where I can finally "catch up" on all of my work.

Oh the magic of spring break: whether as a kid or as a seasoned faculty member, it seems I have always planned my spring breaks as extra time for activities or for work. The idea of "catching up" on all of my work during spring break has been with me since early March. "Catch up"...

...yeah, right. As faculty we plan our "breaks" around more work -- a trend I've been following since an early age. I always have incredibly lofty goals, too. "Finish article and submit," "grade xyz," "reorganize tenure files," "prepare annual report," "clean out closet," "volunteer," and "analyze 3 boxes worth of data" for example (items on my list this year).

Sometimes I wish  my more realistic mental faculties would recognize the need to also get away from the computer, the files, the constant nagging feeling of the tenure clock (as much as possible) and focus on a few strategies to actually get SOME kind of "break." My strategy for this, heavily encouraged by a really TOUGH semester (and a husband who remarked he would like to throw my blackberry out the window...I think he was joking...) is to:
A). Read some ridiculously frivolous novels on my nook (I selected two: first, Water for Elephants which is entertaining and completely without academic merit. Second, Tina Fey's BossyPants which simply looks fun).
B). Garden. I started seeds a few weeks ago and several things needed planting. I am a country kid at heart and now spend every morning of my break tending, planting, tilling, and sweating in the Louisiana heat to foster growth in my little plants. 
C). Meaningless time. To feel like I'm on break, each morning the husband and I have coffee together at Cafe DuMonde, PJs, or Starbucks. Nothing fancy--just an hour or so of completely unscheduled, non-work time. This has meant the most to me this week. It is mentally calming.
D). Prioritize. I can't do everything on my "catch up" list, so I'll focus on what must get done. I won't over exert. I'll take breaks and enjoy time away from the computer.

After two and a half days of Spring Break, I can claim that my strategies have made this a MUCH more relaxing break...and a surprisingly productive one, too. I worked on a research project this morning, drafted a treasurer's report for an organization, and now, I'm off to finish Water for Elephants and break away from the computer for a few hours.

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