I hate cancelling meetings with work colleagues, but it’s happened twice with the same guy, and on top of that he’s a busy man at the university.
I felt really bad about it. I know people understand the situation, but I still feel there’s a problem when my life falls apart if the babysitter is not available and my partner can’t take E. either. My life has definitely changed. Recently I teased my partner about this, saying that the most important things in my life, after E. and himself, are the childminder, the babysitter and the pressure cooker.
If you’re teaching it’s even worse. I’ve never yet been in a situation where I had to attend a seminar with a baby or toddler. However, I have taken E. to informal meetings; it really wasn’t a big deal. For me, the most embarrassing thing was that people kept being distracted from the presentation by E . I felt that it was unfair to the person standing there and talking about voluntary jobs in Latin America; but eventually people seemed to get used to our toddler’s presence and everything went well.
I think the problem is that some people get distracted easily when they see a toddler running around. When my friends come to my place for coffee with their little ones we’re perfectly able to criticise our partners, talk about our professional futures and anything else while looking after and sometimes even feeding five toddlers.
I’m in favour of integrating children into the workplace and getting used to have them around at meetings or even seminars if you’re confident that they aren’t going to make difficulties. If you’re lecturing it’s more difficult, but I think there are always different options depending on the child and the students.
Yesterday, when I had to reschedule my meeting with my colleague, I was tempted to ask him, ‘Would you mind meeting for a coffee at the toddler group or at a nearby soft play area instead?’ – but I didn’t dare. More to the point, it strikes me that there are no such places on campus, for instance a cafe where you can bring your children and they have a safe space to play.
So I rescheduled my meeting, feeling quite bad about it. I guess next time I should have the courage to propose something different. I don’t want to cancel meetings just because the babysitter is ill and my partner isn’t available, especially if these meetings are informal. I would like instead to be able to suggest a place where I can take my son and he can play while I talk to my busy colleague about future collaboration projects. But most of all, I would like to do this without feeling like a complete freak.