The Work-Family Balance in Theory and Practice

by Kieran Healy on July 4, 2005

Just back from a weekend in Sydney. The Australasian Association of Philosophy’s “annual conference”: started today. We went down a few days early and I fled back to Canberra this morning before the philosophers really got going. Laurie presents her paper later in the week, but this afternoon she was on a Career Workshop panel about balancing career and family. At _precisely_ the time she was doing this, I was back in Canberra, standing at the side of the road with a small baby, wondering what to do next. I had just locked myself out of our apartment. Apart from the baby — who responded to the crisis by repeatedly trying to walk out into the middle of the road — my inventory consisted of no car keys, no money, and only the vaguest notion of the first name of the agent for the property company who own a couple of units in this apartment complex, which doesn’t have a custodian. Cathy something? Or was that the name of the owner of the B&B in Sydney? The person who would assuredly have the relevant information to hand couldn’t be contacted, because she had her phone switched off, seeing as she was giving a talk about work/family responsibilities. Carolyn? Carmel? I’m pretty sure it’s a “C” name. Every other person in Canberra I’d be in a position to phone for assistance was out of town. They were all in Sydney, at the conference. Some of them were probably at the workshop.

Now that I’m back on the right side of the apartment door (the child is still alive, by the way), I can see just how this sequence will play out in the upcoming film version of my life. The director cuts back and forth. The baby has discovered where the dumpsters are and is making a beeline for the abandoned washing machine. The audience at the workshop chats sagely to one another about the domestic division of labor. The actor playing me picks an apartment door at random and knocks, hoping someone is at home. He gets ready to brandish the baby, in order to simultaneously signal his non-threatening nature and his desperate need for aid.

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07.20.05 at 4:29 am



Maria 07.04.05 at 7:25 am

So how did you get back into the apartment?

More importantly, who will play you in this movie? If only there was such a thing as a younger model of Clive Owen. How about Matthew Rhys? He speaks Welsh and his best mate is .


Maria 07.04.05 at 7:28 am

eh, oops. Meant to say Matthew Rhys’ VBF is Hornblower.


Matt 07.04.05 at 7:34 am

Were either space aliens or a Jesus-like figure involved in your safe return? That would make for a good story.


Mary Roush 07.04.05 at 7:41 am

Studies show that 98% of the time, it will be sufficient to brandish the baby in that situation, and you usually don’t actually have to shoot anyone . . .


abb1 07.04.05 at 8:21 am

What, no concierge? I guess the place resembles the Mad Max movies a lot more than I imagined.


bi 07.04.05 at 8:51 am

If you’re a left-anarchist or a right-anarchist or a right-libertarian, use your gun to perforate the windows.

If you’re an evil authoritarian, get men with guns to help you bang down the door.

If you’re a left-libertarian, take off your shoes and throw them at the window.

If you’re a religious fundamentalist… then just leave it all to Him.


Ray 07.04.05 at 9:39 am

If you’re a liberal, pass a law that says the police must be given a copy of all house keys, so that they can let people in at need.

If you’re a conservative, have ‘Cathy’ shipped out for ‘questioning’. If she has nothing to hide, why is she trying to confuse people about her name?


engels 07.04.05 at 10:28 am

If you’re a conservative point out that you chose to have a baby and need to take responsibility for locking yourself out. “Helping” would only create false incentives, and be an insult to your dignity.

If you’re a libertarian, set up an internet auction so everyone in the building can bid for the lowest price at which they’d be willing to assist. Perhaps they would accept the baby as part payment.


abb1 07.04.05 at 11:10 am

Perhaps they would accept the baby as part payment.

Yes, perhaps. I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.


Ben 07.04.05 at 12:47 pm

And here in Blighty we have just the things to serve with them – baby carrots, baby sweetcorn, baby pak choi etc etc


Daniel 07.04.05 at 3:13 pm

I bet I get Steve Buscemi or some other god-damned bit part geek playing me, while Quiggin is played by Brian Blessed. Never mind. In the film of my life I will be played by Ewan McGregor doing his Nick Lesson cockney accent from the film “Rogue Trader” and Kieran will be played by Sean Hughes with a prosthetic leg.


John Quiggin 07.04.05 at 4:21 pm

The climax of the film will come when the Prime Minister announces irrefutable evidence that Irish refugees are throwing their babies out of apartments.


James Wimberley 07.05.05 at 2:24 am

“Apart from the baby—who responded to the crisis by repeatedly trying to walk out into the middle of the road…” It’a a trivial logical impossibility for a baby to walk into the middle of the road; for an infant that walks is no longer a baby.


dsquared 07.05.05 at 4:24 am

Ahhhhh but (although I don’t really see why Kiearan would be so concerned about his baby being in a state of striving to walk into the middle of the road) it is possible to “try to walk” even if you are unable to walk.

I therefore claim the title King of the Pedant Hill until someone knocks me off it. I suspect that there will be a fruitful line of attack related to the vagueness of the concept “middle” as applied to roads.


Ray 07.05.05 at 4:29 am

If the baby is unable to walk, how does Kieran know that she was trying to walk into the middle of the road, and not, for example, trying to start her run-up for a long jump _over_ the road?


Tom Hudson 07.05.05 at 6:40 am

Hmm, maybe it’s dialect – in the US, an infant who can walk becomes a toddler, but is still a baby.


jet 07.05.05 at 8:50 am

Most people in this situation, after exhausting all other immediate means, will resort to breaking a window which is not the best choice. Most doors are framed with 2X4’s in which the dead bolt plate is inset. A swift kick will crack this, opening your door (preferrably the back door if you have one). Repairing the door frame is a much more minor repair than a broken window and gives you the oppurtunity to replace one side of the frame with steel, thus making it impossible to kick in the next time you lock yourself out (forcing you to break a window).


abb1 07.05.05 at 9:05 am

Whoa, can’t you call the police or firestation or something?


engels 07.05.05 at 9:07 am

I therefore claim the title King of the Pedant Hill

On Crooked Timber? That’s fighting talk

Since the baby hasn’t the faintest idea what a “road” or a “crossing” is, she can no more try to cross the road than she can try to solve an equation…


Brian 07.05.05 at 9:11 am

Since the baby hasn’t the faintest idea what a “road” or a “crossing” is, she can no more try to cross the road than she can try to solve an equation…

That seems rather strong to me. If the baby tries to eat the thing that happens to be in her hand, and what happens to be in her hand is a business card, then it seems she tries to eat a business card. And the mere fact that she lacks the concept of a business card doesn’t seem to tell against that conclusion.


engels 07.05.05 at 9:19 am

can’t you call the police or firestation or something?

Why do you hate freedom so much?


engels 07.05.05 at 9:49 am

Ok, you’re right, whether or not she has the concept of “road” is not important. I’ll accept that she can try to eat the road (because babies can eat stuff).

I think her command of the concept of “crossing” matters though. It depends how you are using the word “cross”. In a sense, a runaway shopping trolley can cross a road and in that same sense the baby can too. But in the usual sense in which someone is said to try to cross a road – being aware of the danger, checking for cars, etc (or recklessly failing to do these things) – the baby does not have the conceptual background to attempt this. Of course, Kieran is free to use the word in a loose, metaphorical sense, as when I say the cash machine is asking for my PIN…

I don’t think Kieran should issue a public retraction of what he said but a number of footnotes, clarifying the issue, are in order.


dsquared 07.05.05 at 9:52 am

Brian is currently KOPH and the status of the proposition “Kieran’s baby tried to walk into the middle of the hill” is currently true (correspondence theorists: Yeah yeah). I still think that there is lots to play for with sufficiently agile pedantry about “the middle of the road” and am formulating my next move.


engels 07.05.05 at 10:01 am

Whoops, completely ignored the actual post. I take it all back.


Alan 07.05.05 at 12:18 pm

It is my understanding that in certain places in Russia, if one were to brandish one’s baby for the neighbors, the neighbors, if they like the baby, get to keep it.

Right now, alas, the “in Soviet Russia” rejoinder is escaping me.


epist 07.05.05 at 1:59 pm

“In Soviet Russia, the baby brandishes YOU”.

Thank you, and drive safe…


Mary Kay 07.05.05 at 5:14 pm

When this happened to me, I was still using a cane. Unfortunately the people who remodeled this house put some sort of unbreakable glass in the back doors and windows. The cane didn’t even scratch them. What I did finally was take my computer out of my carry-on and use the wireless network to look up a 24hr locksmith (since it was the middle of the night) and then use my cellphone to call him. Thank ghu for modern technology and a wireless network that reaches the front porch.



Isabel 07.06.05 at 4:18 am

Why do you keep calling the baby “she”? Is it because “she” is being a bad pedestrian, just as one always assumes that a bad driver of undetermined sex is a “she”? Or are all babys “she” as boats, the United States and the Sun (most confusing for a Portuguese, shouldn’t it be obvious that the Sun is masculine and the Moon feminine?)?


Ray 07.06.05 at 9:05 am

Um, I seem to have been the first person to say ‘she’, and I’ve absolutely no idea why…


dsquared 07.07.05 at 1:47 am

Why do you keep calling the baby “she”?

I think I started it and I was assuming that Kieran was referring to his own daughter. Looking back at the text this isn’t actually stated though, good spot and new KOPH.


Isabel 07.07.05 at 2:44 am

Well now, after having exhausted all the acronym databases in the internet, I have to ask: what is KOPH???


Ray 07.07.05 at 3:25 am

King of Pedant Hill
see comment 14


Isabel 07.07.05 at 4:37 am

Oh, I obviously don’t deserve the title (QOPH), since I can’t keep track of what has been said 16 posts up the thread…


bi 07.07.05 at 6:45 am

Oh, darn. If you say “he”, then you’re being a sexist male chauvinist pig who uses the masculine to stand for the neuter in the English language. If you say “she”, then you’re questioning the abilities of female babies to cross the road.

Maybe we need a new title: QOFH. In the full form, after F there are the letters E, M, Z, and I.

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