‘My toddler ate my homework’, by Lilah Grace Canevaro


The working mother: a heroine, a martyr, a marvel. The academic mother: a lunatic. You start from the usual childcare/working hours trade-off, with its concomitant agonies of conscience, and you add to it a job that you can’t not bring home. You live in a schizophrenic blur of milk and marking, Pampers and papers, Lego and lexica. In class you’re as likely to recite ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ as irregular Greek verbs, and at baby bedtime ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ leads neatly into a lecture on gender dynamics in the ancient world. You started your latest article with a quotation from Daddy Pig, and are beginning to believe that a course on Humpty Dumpty and Classical Reception wouldn’t be a bad addition to your Department’s syllabus.

I am fairly new to both academia and motherhood, and am still finding my way in both (I frequently forget which floor my office is on, and still struggle with the poppers on my son’s vests). But here are a few tips for other parents who, for their sins, study.

First, recognise that parenthood and academia have a lot in common. Both involve teaching (‘in what year was the Battle of Actium?’ / ‘what did I tell you about hiding PlayDough down the back of the settee?’). Both involve administration (I am Treasurer for a Classics Society, and my son’s Social Secretary). Both involve research (I am currently reading about Homeric Epic and Potty Training). And both are prime examples of multi-tasking (teaching, admin, research / hanging out the washing while making sure your child doesn’t pull the tail of the neighbour’s cat or bury the car keys in the flower beds). Now is the time to Transfer those Skills like they’re going out of style.

Second, use for one the tools that the other provides. Naptime becomes research time – and woe betide the car alarm / barking dog / bin lorry that dares cut it short. Up at 4 in the morning? Schedule your classes for 9 – your students will hate you, but at least your brain will still be functioning. Story time is training for your next conference paper, so be sure to enunciate and project (your child may be entertained and/or startled).

Third, embrace the schizophrenia. Playgroup in the morning, lecture on Hellenistic poetry in the afternoon? Well that’s just an excuse to wear two different yet equally impressive outfits (and, if you’re lucky, only one will end up covered in Marmite). And if your child refuses to put you down long enough for you to go to that conference, remember – there is no better networking gambit than a cute kid in a waistcoat.

And finally, take your cue from your child. The other night I suggested to my son (still a few months shy of 2) that he pick out a couple of bedtime stories. He went to the bookcase and took down Incey Wincey Spider and a commentary on Aristotle’s Politics. Who am I to argue?

Dr Lilah Grace Canevaro, University of Edinburgh.

Lilah Grace is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Classics: find her at Edinburgh Classics Department. Her recent publications include:

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