December is the season of failure for academic women. Writing deadlines succumb to deadlines to order next semester’s books, write the final exams, and alas, grade. Students whom you have encouraged to meet with you all semester suddenly take you up on it. Coffee dates “before the semester ends” emerge out of nowhere. And holiday get-togethers pepper the month when babysitters are so scarce they become just an abstraction.
It is just this time of the year when the holiday cards get sent (or don’t), when we finally get new, not homemade tinfoil, ornaments for the tree (or don’t), and when we are asked to bake something for the bakesale, bring a dessert to this gathering or that, and take care of all the things that keep us from showing up empty-handed when we see friends. And that does not even count shopping for the official presents.
Last year, I ran into a neighbour in the park. He has three kids, and I only have one, so I was imagining it was tough for him. Got all your shopping done? I asked him. No, he said, but he only has to get one gift, for his wife, so he wasn’t too worried. For a moment, I dreamed about having someone plan out, shop for, purchase, wrap, and mail all the gifts for my mom and dad, my kids, my grands and uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters and whoevers. I would buy just one gift, for the person who did all that for me. That better be a freaking awesome gift, I thought.
And then my thoughts returned to my own family. My in-laws, Husband’s seven nieces and nephews, his grandparents, they all deserve presents, or at least nice, handwritten cards. In our house, it’s not my job to get these gifts, and yet, Husband doesn’t do it either. It just doesn’t get done. Most years, cards don’t go out at all. And even though it’s not my job, I feel guilty about not doing it, because the world (specifically, gender norms) tells me it’s my job, even though Husband tells me it’s not. I hope they don’t think it’s my job, but I imagine that they must, at least a little.
If I get the grades done, and the course set up for next semester, and I meet with my students and have coffee here and there, make some social visits, get the tree, get and wrap the presents, get the gifts to my kin out the door, and cook up the holiday feast, and even if I get holiday cards done this year (ha!), I still will have failed to get it all done. Maybe I can make a fresh start on New Year’s Day.