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A Day In The Life Of An Academic Mom

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Sather Gate at the University of California, Berkeley.
Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

Blogger Tania Lombrozo is an academic — and a mom. Here, she gives a window into what that's like day-to-day.

6:00 a.m. I'm yanked from sleep by the little one calling from her room. "Mommy! Is it time to wake up yet? Can I get up now? Pleeeeeeaaaase?" The answer is "no," but I get up anyway.

7:00 a.m. The little one wants oatmeal. The big one wants cereal. I just want coffee. I feed the kids, unload the dishwasher, assemble lunches and backpacks and sweaters and water bottles, brush teeth and hair. I am an octopus, all limbs in motion. Is that letter of reference due today?

8:00 a.m. My husband is taking the children to school; I go for a short run. Did my older daughter remember to take her violin to school? Did we forget the sunscreen (again)?

9:00 a.m. I'm finally in my office, a glorious hour of uninterrupted work time ahead. My glorious hour is quickly lost to email. Questions from students, questions from colleagues, questions from strangers, forms that need signatures and additions and approvals. The letter of reference is not due today. But what about that grant report?

10:00 a.m. I'm in a committee meeting. We're doing something terribly important, but I've forgotten what it is. I should review my lecture slides. We make a little progress. Did I RSVP for the birthday party on Saturday? I agree to write up part of a report. I need to buy a good present for a 6-year-old.

11:00 a.m. I'm meeting with a PhD student. And then another. I eat a hasty lunch while we talk. We review ongoing projects, we rejoice over beautiful data, we puzzle over surprises. This is fun. We analyze data and design new experiments. Did I print out that paper I need to review? Did I reschedule the pediatric dentist?

12:00 p.m. I'm teaching, lecturing, guiding, discussing. From the front of the class I can pretend rapt attention, a sea of engaged learners. (From the back I would see the screens on social media, the barely-concealed smartphones.)

1:00 p.m. Still teaching. I finish my lecture. I finish discussion. The class is dismissed. My phone vibrates. Panic. Not one of the kids' schools. Relief. I let it go to voicemail.

2:00 p.m. Office hours for my undergraduate lecture course. I settle into some writing. I'm interrupted by an earnest student with a page full of questions. I remember why the relevant experiment is so cool, I explain with poetic mastery, with passion, with unmatched clarity. My eloquence is breathtaking, the scribbles on the whiteboard are a thing of beauty. The student is unmoved, remains confused. I like this student. The second student is grumpy and indignant — upset about a grade. The grade is appropriate. I do not like this student. There is no third student. The grant report is not due today. But what about the fellowship application? I answer some emails. Was the little one supposed to take a favorite book to school today, or is that tomorrow? I add the committee report to my to-do list.

3:00 p.m. I'm meeting with a postdoctoral researcher in my lab. We discuss the peer reviews we've just received for a paper we submitted to an academic journal. Reviewer 1 is lovely; Reviewer 2 is sensible; Reviewer 3 is insane. (It's usually Reviewer 2 who is insane.) We devise a strategy to revise the paper, we check in on the other 2,000 projects we're trying to complete, we run out of time. I need to check the kids again for lice. Do we have a plan for dinner?

4:00 p.m. I ignore my escalating email and return to the paper I'm writing. Forty-five splendid minutes speed by; it's time to pick up the kids. I didn't write the fellowship application. It's due tomorrow. Did we figure out a plan for dinner?

5:00 p.m. I retrieve two bouncy kids, joyful until they start bickering in the back seat of the car. I forgot to respond to that email. They can't agree on a song to sing. I didn't post next week's readings to the course website. Now they're best friends, enchanted by the wild turkeys we just spotted. We all sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," the kids take turns choosing farm animals. I've figured out the right way to run that experiment — I should email my student tonight. We arrive home. Is tonight a bath night?

6:00 p.m. My husband has cooked Mexican food. I eat bites between filling water cups, asking questions, advocating beans and broccoli. I should book my flight for that conference. We talk about our days. Is it a bath night? We negotiate dessert. Where's bunny?

7:00 p.m. It is a bath night. I'm ready to go to sleep. We dry wet kids, find pajamas, brush, cuddle, read, sing, coax into bed. Where's bunny?

8:00 p.m. The kids are wakeful in bed. We find bunny; the little one is in raptures. We find teddy; the older one is appeased. I keep my ears to the ground as we collect laundry, clear dishes, prep lunches, clean floors, find the little one's favorite book to take to school tomorrow. Can I sleep yet? The little one needs to pee; her sister wants more water.

9:00 p.m. The kids are finally asleep. I email my student the experiment idea. I book my conference travel. I open the document with the paper I'm working on. Can I sleep yet? I close it again. We didn't check the kids for lice. I update my to-do list. I need to write that committee report. I get ready for bed.

10:00 p.m. In bed, I read fiction to clear my mind. Can I sleep yet? I turn out the lights. I need to RSVP for that party. I try to go to sleep. I need to write that report. I sleep.

2:00 a.m. The little one is yelling. Do I have to get out of bed? She's wriggled out of her blankets. I cover her and rub her back. Can I sleep yet? She goes back to sleep.

5:00 a.m. That periodic thumping noise is the 6-year-old practicing handstands against the wall of her room. Really? I send her back to bed.

6:00 a.m. I'm yanked from sleep by the little one calling from her room. "Mommy! Is it time to wake up yet?" We need to remember that book for school. I struggle out of bed. Is the fellowship application due today? A new day begins.


Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo