On April 16, 2013, at 8:41 p.m., I hung up the “cape.” You know the “cape.” It is the one that so many of my sister-friends wear, consciously or unconsciously, under their daily attire. Sometimes the “cape” comes in a variety of colors. Oftentimes, there is an “S” somewhere along the back representing one of their many “s/hero” identities.
On that Tuesday evening, I hung up my “working woman” cape and slipped into my “mommy” one (which really wasn’t a cape—just t-shirts and sweats accessorized by a number of baseball caps).
But, can I be honest? I struggled a bit.
I didn’t struggle because I wasn’t ready to welcome my new son, Kole, into this vast world. I certainly acknowledged that once he arrived, I couldn’t send him back. Nor did I struggle with the fact that it had been nearly ten years since I had done this mommy-thing—although, I think a number of salespersons got a good kick out of my seemingly antiquated questions about baby formula, car seats and strollers.
Rather, I was concerned about the great “cape escape” that I would have to perform so quickly—leaving my professional identity as an executive director of a multicultural center to embracing a more personal one, after having committed the last several years to crafting and building the first. Let me be clear. Out of all of my life accomplishments, being a mother is irreplaceable. My children are truly an extension of me (and every institution that I have been employed at and their respective mascots!).
But, I would be fibbing if I didn’t say that I wasn’t concerned about having to, at least for a few weeks, leave my work cape behind. I know what some of you may be thinking. This sister-friend should have been excited and looking forward to her son’s arrival (I was…see my story at the end). Instead, here she is contemplating some of the most challenging and contentious inquiries facing women (and some men) in the academy—1) can we truly achieve work/life balance; 2) can we truly decide when the “time is right” to grow our families (via marriage and/or partnerships, children, extended family members, pets, etc.); and, 3) can we truly be ourselves doing so? The latter, even as I have returned to work this month, continues to linger in my mind.
Since I entered higher education, first as an undergraduate student then full-time professional, and again later as a master’s and doctoral student, I worked hard to acquire the necessary skills that would allow me to be an informed practitioner. In addition, I was careful to craft and carve out a professional identity that at its core celebrated and welcomed integrity, hard work and even room for lifelong growth.
Like so many of my sister-friends in this higher education movement, we work long hours, sometimes because they are required but also because at the end of the day, we care about our institutions and students. Our desks, planners, phones and other electrical devices are filled with reminders and schedules that we can recite in our sleep. Sticky notes are our friends. And, our “mobile closets,” where we easily change into our “s/hero” attire, assume all kinds of verbal, visual and physical forms.
Certainly, I don’t know the precise and concise answers or solutions to the inquiries that I previously raised. However, as I slip back into my “working woman” cape (the mommy attire just gets tucked underneath), what I know for sure is that even in our absence from work, our institutions continue to function. Our students’ lives go on; and when a crisis unfolds (regardless of its magnitude), someone usually knows how to find us (thanks technology!). Further, the same folders and sticky notes that were on our desks prior to leaving are gladly waiting for us when we return.
I am also aware that it can be difficult to separate out and compartmentalize our many capes (or personal and professional identities). Sometimes, they aren’t removed and get tucked in; or, perhaps, they become interchangeable. Hence, my own experience welcoming Kole into the world, just as I was leaving campus (note: quick change out of the “working woman” cape) to pick up his brother from school (note: had to untuck the “mommy” one).
Later that evening, I was scheduled to bring remarks at one of our many multicultural graduation celebrations. I never made it back to campus. Instead, I had to detour to our university’s hospital.
For a few minutes, the “working woman” and “mommy” capes were one, as I was being cared for, hooked up to medicine drips and wheeled around the hospital. Recalling that I had a few more assignments to complete and sticky notes to address (prior to taking maternity leave), I was determined to work and send one last email (what would we do without Wi-Fi?)—even as the nurses said, “Ms. Haywood, you will need to put your phone away.” What they didn’t know was that my handheld tablet was just a few feet away!
Whether one cape or multiple capes, and the possession of many “s/hero” powers, we are who we are. Yes, we can wear capes emblazoned with “Dr. or Ms.,” but also those marked with “mother, wife, partner, daughter, sister, aunt or friend.” Our “mobile closets” move with us. And with time, we get better at the quick cape changes and soar even higher.
I welcome your commentary and feedback.
Davida L. Haywood, PhD serves as the executive director of the Student Life Multicultural Center at The Ohio State University. In between cape changes, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.