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The Second Shift: The Second Time Around

Renowned sociologist and author of several books (see the first paragraph, below), Arlie Hochschild has for the past twenty years studied various aspects of the work/family dilemma.  It was she who coined the term “second shift” to describe the extra labor women in the workforce do at home.  Now that Dr. Hochschild is a grandmother, she is experiencing the second shift…the second time around.  We thank her for sharing her ideas and feelings with  MotherU.

When Melinda and Jennifer asked me to contribute to “MotherU”a word on becoming a grandma, I began to realize how hard it can be to write about blessings. Social problems are my thing: dilemmas in getting men to do housework (The Second Shift), long hours at work (The Time Bind), long distances from children (Global Woman)–one problem after another. It’s a far more delicate matter to write about blessings. But I think about them.

Maybe it’s that at age 66, I am taking the time to feel the awe that these blessings deserve. Often, driving my car here or there, I count them. My husband Adam and I have two grown sons (Blessing l) who live in the same city (Blessing 2). Our oldest son, David married Cynthia (Blessing 3) and had Rosa (Blessing 4), and we get to take care of her two days a week while Cynthia works as a physician caring for the city’s poor (Blessings 5, 6 and 7). Like other people of my generation, I very much resist growing old, and the only thing our culture tells us to do about it is to stay young. So the joy I feel at this age has come as a great surprise. Until, that is, I meet another new grandmother and feel as if I’d joined a secret club.

Only in my case, I’ve joined it with Adam. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I teach two classes at U.C. Berkeley, hold office hours and attend meetings; and I prep my lectures on weekends. Adam writes and teaches too. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we share the second shift the second time around, and somehow this time, the whole thing is far more relaxed.

At eight months old, Rosa, plump, alert, and jolly, wobbles around the living room coffee table on her tip toes, looking around to see what’s new in the house. Rosa has already learned from her mother, who is Chinese-American, the Chinese word for kiss and dog and fish and milk. And thinking to teach her a few English words, the other day I sat her on my lap to look out the window at birds twittering around the bird feeder in a nearby apple tree. Rosa stared, transfixed, then pointed her finger and said “Baa!” Chinese word for bird? No. The birds disappeared, but when they came back, she said it again, “Baa.”

Baa means bird” I told Adam, all excited. But a while later, while he was holding Rosa in front of our living room fish tank. Rosa pointed her finger and again: “Baa!” Well, okay, we thought, maybe “Baa” means “interesting-moving-creatures.” Wobbling around the coffee table a while later, though, Rosa pointed her pudgy finger straight at a small, framed Indian miniature print of Mughal polo players. “Baa!

At that point, Adam– always one to poke fun at academic pomposity–said, “Rosa is clearly referring to ‘Baa’ in the general hermaneutical sense.

Whatever “Baa” means to Rosa, the laughs, the slow-frame time of Tuesdays and Thursdays, the world gliding around to the moves of a pudgy out-held finger, sounds matching up to sights – all this in my later life means the world to me. It’s fantastically, well, “Baa!

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