Friday, October 11, 2013

The Having It All Project: Michelle Parrinello-Cason

It's another delightful BlogHer13 find! Michelle's academic approach to blogging at Balancing Jane means every post is well-argued from start to finish; a mini-PhD level defense in each piece. I really liked her recent post on the long-term effects of gym class, and love the perspective she brings to so many issues. She also writes at Something’s Developing, a blog about teaching remedial college English. Here's how Michelle is having it all. 

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I don’t know that there’s anything all that unique about any of the individual parts of my life, but I do think that my particular combination of labels puts me into a position to have some unique perspectives.

I am a wife, mother of a toddler, full time community college English instructor, part time PhD student in rhetoric and composition, blogger, feminist, and pop culture lover.

I also grew up in the country but now live in the city, grew up in poverty but am now middle class, and am a liberal living in a conservative state.

I think that my interests and experiences give me an unusual perspective on a range of issues and topics, things I usually try to navigate through a lens of rhetorical analysis (because if you’re going to go to school for 10 years to study something, you might as well use it, right?)

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
The number one thing that has helped me cope with chaos is to embrace the breakdowns.

For example, I know that the end of every school year is going to be too much to take. I’m finally done with coursework, but for the past several academic semesters, my own final papers in graduate classes have been due simultaneously with hundreds of papers to be graded for my students. The ends of school years are already hectic times (especially the fall semester, which coincides with the chaos of the holidays.) Every year, I had an emotional breakdown, moments of “I can’t do this” and “it’s all falling apart.”

Now I know that it’s going to happen. I even plan for it. I tell myself “you’re freaking out right now, and that’s okay, but you freak out every year, and you’re still here.”

My daughter was born in early December, so that year I had papers to grade, my own paper to finish for the one class I was taking, and a newborn. There was a point where I was wearing her sleeping in a sling while I graded papers without having slept for more than an hour in three days. That was not a fun moment, and if my every day were like that, I wouldn’t make it. But every day isn’t like that, and I have to keep that in mind in the moments that get to be too much.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I went to drop my daughter off at daycare on a routine day, and there was a note on the door. “Sorry. No AC. We’re closed.” They hadn’t called. I was supposed to be in my office in fifteen minutes (at the time I was working in student support services and had a 8-5 while adjuncting a few English classes). I have no family in town. All my friends also work and go to school. My husband was already at work an hour away. I panicked. I had pumped milk in bottles for daycare that she wouldn’t take from me. I had to figure out how to nurse her throughout the day and still figure out how to get enough milk for the next day since I’d have to throw out any milk she didn’t drink within 24 hours.

I ended up taking her to the office with me. I had to teach some classes later that day, and I had to take her to the first one. She was still a baby, and I hoped she would just sleep in her car seat while I lectured, but there was no such luck. She sat on my knee and imitated the sound of my teaching voice with increasing volume. The students loved it.

For my second class (where having her there would have been really disruptive to the day’s plan), a friend of mine drove over an hour to come sit with her.

It was an incredibly stressful day, but I was lucky to have amazing friends and an understanding work environment.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
There are a few women in my graduate program who I greatly admire. They manage to balance motherhood and scholarship with grace and poise, while I always feel like I’ve just stumbled into the room backwards with mashed food in my hair and bags under my eyes. They assure me that their put-togetherness is all just smoke and mirrors, so the lesson I take from them is to just keep faking it and eventually the act will become the reality.

All of my balancing role models have demonstrated the importance of having a strong support system, usually in their partners. I could absolutely not live the life I live without my husband. He is my partner in every sense of the word. We share our responsibilities equally and make all of our decisions together.

Because of that, the one thing that wouldn’t work for me (that I know works for other people) is a split shift where someone is always home with the kids but the partners work different shifts. I need that time every day to see my husband and talk to him about the mundane and the philosophical. It’s where we get the practical plans of our week nailed down, but it’s also where I feel the most loved and remember why all of this work is worth it.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
At 18, the only thing I could think about was getting out of my hometown. I thought I was going to go to school and study biology. I switched to English after my first semester at college. I never would have imagined that I would become an urbanite, and I (being the first in my family to even go to college) had no idea that graduate school was in my future. I didn’t label myself as a feminist at that age (though the principles were already rooted in my mind), and I definitely didn’t know that I would be meeting my husband two months later. (I turned 18 in June and met my husband on the first day of college).

I don’t know that the 18-year-old me would be shocked by any of these developments, though. I knew even then that I wanted my life to change radically from where it was, and I was pretty optimistic and open about how those changes might take place. I couldn’t have predicted it would look like this, but I think that my teenage self would be happy with the results.

Relate to what Michelle is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at


  1. I follow Michelle's blog via facebook. I'm also an academic mother to a mixed race daughter. Her blog resonates with me on so many levels!! Keep on blogging :)

  2. So thrilled to see you here, Michelle! I'm a fan of your blog, as another "academic blogging mom," and love this chance to get to know you better! We share so much in common and always love your perspective...

  3. Thank you for this interview. I follow Michelle's blog. Much wisdom there!