Tuesday, December 14, 2004

what was i saying about balance?

Okay, last month it was balance. This month, we're calling that kind of work/life balance unemployment. Yes, you've got it. I am officially unemployed this Friday as soon as I turn in my final grades for the semester.

I was only offered two classes this semester and though that's just enough to get benefits, it's not really enough to pay the mortgage and childcare. I guess it's against college policy to offer adjunct faculty three classes for consecutive quarters because they don't want those freeway flyers to feel like they belong, but it would've been nice if they'd told me that ahead of time. I was under the impression that I'd be able to swing three clases most quarters. To their benefit, they did try to work with me and my schedule, but in order to pay for half time daycare, which is all I can attempt to afford on an adjunct salary position, I need all my classes in a row and around the same time.

That said, it wasn't a perfect situation, anyway. Teachers get the shaft in this country, and I'm thinking that community college instructors have it the worst. First of all, teaching is one of the most time consuming, hardest jobs I've ever had. If you're prepared, the actual teaching is the easiest part. It's fun, exciting, and there's a cool high you get from having twenty-four pairs of eyes on you. Maybe they call that a power trip? But that's only if you're prepared.

I spent at least 3-4 hours a night pumping out lesson plans that I'd hoped would be interesting, involving, and creative. Most of the time they were, but I've never seen that clock tick more slowly on the days the lessons didn't work.

And papers... Let's talk about them for one second. Being a writing instructor is like shooting yourself in the foot. First of all, each student turns in at least four papers over the quarter and to get anything said at all, they have to be about 3-5 pages long. Then, when they start feeling confident about themselves and get excited about a topic, they write longer papers. And then there are in-class essays and final in-class essay exams. There are enough papers in one class to keep an instructor busy all quarter. But then muliply that by three (if you're lucky enough (ha ha) to get three classes) and you're going to be a really busy teacher.

And did I mention broke? Teachers get paid a pittance of what most other professions get paid (except for architects, the career choice of B). A software developer gets paid a salary three times higher than a teacher's, and though I don't doubt the importance of or the money to be made off of a software developer and her skills, but who taught that SD to read? How would she be able to even read code if Mr. or Mrs. So and So didn't teach her?

Nobody cares, though. Teachers have been paid meager salaries for as long as they've existed and nothing has changed. Is it because they like to be martyrs? Is it because they love what they do so much that they don't care about the money? Ever?

Oh, and did I mention that teaching is so incredibly lonely? It is. Really. Especially as an adjunct faculty, because say you have a really great class or even a really, exceptionally bad class one day that makes you want to just cry in self-pity. Well, too bad for you, because you know what? Nobody on the faculty will give you the time of day for stuff like that. You had just better be very grateful that you had the opportunity to wallow in self-pity because you got a class and well, that's more than you should be able to hope for. There was one brilliantly lovely and cheerful full-time faculty member who was so helpful and sweet. Maybe it was because she wasn't tenured yet? And the Department Chair was also quite a lovely man, but the rest of the instructors would seriously walk out of the room if the only person they saw in it was an adjunct faculty member. Ewwww...

And my last whine is about the office space. About twenty of us shared a tiny, closet hole of an office. This was a hole with three desks and three chairs. That leaves at least 6, but mostly 7 of us to each share a chair. Comfy. Early on, a few of the instructors tapped (this was seriously the term that was used) each of the three desks and then raced to pin up photos of their kids and their calendars on the bulletin boards. Then they placed their fancy tissue boxes and staplers on the desks, taped their hours to the door and called the office theirs. I think they did this all in the first three minutes of the semester. I should have been faster, because when I tried to claim office hours, I found they were already taken. And when I ended up making my office hours at 7:30am (there were benefits to this... I always had extra prep time), I even found that if I were sitting at the desk closest to the door, which happened to be the nicest desk because I didn't have to have my back to the door, and it did have that fancy tissue box, they would inevitably come in and interrupt whatever I was doing.

"Um, are you sitting there?" She'd ask. (The three desk tappers were all women.)

"Um, yes," I'd reply. "I am. Is that okay?"

"Well, actually, that's my desk. See, my fancy tissue box is on it."

Sigh... I'd eventually get up because I didn't want to start a fight (okay, I actually did want to start a fight, but I thought it'd make a bad impression on the full-time faculty), but the whole situation was ludicrous. I hope they all get one class next quarter.

So I'm back on the job hunt and I seem to be heading right back where I came from, but with a new perspective. I miss it. I miss the challenges and the collegial, intellectual, stimulating environment. Maybe I was brain-washed at an early age. I miss technology. I miss the benefits.

And then once I go back full-time, which is what I'll have to do since B's salary just doesn't cover me only getting a part-time salary, I will miss my kids.

I miss them already.

Monday, October 18, 2004


I've finally done it.
I've achieved the ultimate. I've finally found work/life balance. But I had to quit my job to do it.

Last month after six years of 50-60 hour high stress weeks publishing content for software developers, I quit my job to teach at a local community college. I gave up my good salary, my stock options and awards, and my museum and zoo passes to teach three classes each morning and be finished with my day by 11am--just in time to have lunch with S and T and put them down for naps. And when they wake up, we play. It's glorious. We cook and color and dance around the kitchen and chase each other around the house. We scream and sing at the top of our lungs and make forts and feed T's dolls huge, ridiculous feasts.

Sometimes we're bored and that's heavenly, too, because it's a new emotion in our house. S and T have been in daycare for at least 50 hours a week since they were each four months old and boredom is not something they've ever experienced at home. Most of their toys are in practically brand new condition because they've never had time to play them after daycare (dinner, bath, obligatory story, and then bed so that Mommy can get back online and get some work done!) and the weekends were always incredibly hectic (cleaning, groceries, errands) and mostly spent in their carseats.

Ironically, since I am pulling a full load of classes, I do have a lot of papers to grade and lessons to plan at night. But just spending the time at home in the afternoons changes everything. I have so much more patience with the kids and they seem to have a lot more with me, too. There's a lot less whining in our house these days (from both parents and the short ones) and though the house is messy all the time (ah, so that's what happens when you're actually in your house), I am starting to develop this calm happiness that I haven't had since my maternity leave with T. I'm really enjoying my life. It sounds corny and cliche, but it truly is a new feeling. Why should we have to race around all the time, everyone trying to prove to their co-workers (and managers) that they're racing and getting more done than anyone else? I wasn't even enjoying my comfortable salary since I didn't have time to, anyway, and I mostly spent it on services that I didn't have time to do myself (housecleaning, online shopping, gardner, oh, and daycare, too. Mostly daycare.).

The other day, S started whining. It was a high-pitched, pathetic, repetitive moaning of the word 'bored.' "Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored..." I was surprised to hear him going on like that, but I was in the kitchen, stuffing all of the dishes into the washer and could only see the back of his head as he looked out the window. Every once in awhile, he'd put his face up to the window to see what kind of marks he could make on it. I got out a rag for him to clean off the glass when he was through, but since I make it a rule not to respond to whines, I ignored him for awhile. After a few minutes, I could see that he wasn't really trying very hard to get my attention so I peeked over to see what he was doing. He was smiling as he moaned and when he saw me, he stopped the whines.

"Hey Mommy, I'm pretending to be Conrad from The Cat in the Hat. I'm so bored and am looking for some fun that is funny. Wanna try it?"

So I sat down and started whining and moaning and groaning, too.

We like being bored.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

arts and craps

I drove to work today feeling like the lamest mom. Here's why. It's Spirit Week at S and T's preschool and here it's already Wednesday and I haven't been able to remember or get it together enough to send the kids in their spirit gear.  Quite frankly, my first reaction to Spirit Week was not kind. Don't toddlers and preschoolers have a lot of spirit as it is? Are they going to learn the "We've got spirit, yes we do!" cheer and do I really want my kids shouting this around the house? What does it even mean? But maybe I'm just trying to justify my negligent parenting.

Monday Silly Hat Day and Tuesday Hawaiian Day pass by without me even noticing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I didn't even get home from work until 11pm on Monday night so B did both drop-off and pick-up that day. S said it was okay because he just made a hat with his hands on Monday (okay, heart squeeze) and when I pick the kids up on Tuesday, S said "Hey look! I'm wearing the shirt that Aunt K and Uncle D brought me from Hawaii!" Pure accident, but B said that if nobody was upset, why feel guity about it. I was determined to make Wednesday Halloween Day spirited.

So I ask S what he wants to be for Halloween Day.

"How about an egg?" he asks. Would it be possible to make a stellar egg costume in the 20 spare minutes I'd have between pre-dinner Tuesday night and Wednesday morning? No.

"How about a super hero costume?" I suggest. "I could cut out a big red letter 'S' for your t-shirt and make you a cape."

"No, Mom...  I would really feel spirited in an egg costume. I just want to be an egg."

It doesn't matter, anyway. By the time I finish dishes, the laundry, and the report I needed to do for work, it was already 11:30 pm and I hadn't a stitch of creativity in me to get a costume together. Besides, T wakes up at about 4:45am and I panic at the thought of getting through my day without at least five hours of sleep.

The next morning, I pull out a tiny grass hula skirt that T got as a baby gift and then try to put it on over her little skort (which is, by the way, an item of clothing that as a semi-hip college co-ed, I once swore would never, ever, ever be something I owned. Does it matter if my daughter wears one? Apparently, skorts are a must-have in toddler wardrobes.). She wanted nothing to do with it. If I were a sane person, I would understand that no 1-year old would want to wear this silly skirt that would prevent her from running or crawling. So S puts it on his head like a crown and we desperately try to figure out a costume using it, but to no avail. Besides, the little plastic grasses keep poking him in the eyes. It was 7:15 and we had to be out the door in fifteen minutes. Time was a'ticking...

"Hey, what about this!" I pull out a bag of polar fleece that I'd bought years ago with the intention of making hats for friends for the holidays. Of course it never happened. "I'm going to make you a shark fin!"

"But I don't want to be a shark," S whines. "I'll scare myself."

"No, you'll love it. You'll be a nice shark."

So I quickly cut out a fin with the back of a coloring book (I had to tear the book apart, but it was mostly all colored, anyway.) and use it as a template to cut out two pieces of fleece to cover it. Then I super glue them all together. Bad, bad, bad. Not only does it not work, but it emits toxic fumes all over the place. I picture S all sleepy and snuggling up to his smelly, fleecy fin at naptime, innocently inhaling his super glue. Fuck.

So I throw it all away and start over. This time I sew the fabric around the cardboard with big sloppy stitches. And then I pin it to S's shirt just in time for him to jump in the car. It's actually not that bad, I think. Sort of cute. And I congratulate myself for getting it together.

"Where are my hand fins and sharp teeth?" S asks.

"Um, you just have a fin today, " I tell him. "But it's a mighty fine one and you'll swim so fast wtih it." He seems okay with the answer and practices making some shark faces. However, the fin sort of keeps flopping over so I have to add another safety pin.

"Are those okay," B asks hesitantly. Should preschoolers be wearing safety pins to school?

"They're called SAFETY pins," I say. They're supposed to be safe, right?"

"Sure," B says slowly, and then mutters "Super glue sniffing mama..." before kissing me goodbye.

S walks behind him with this fin still flopping with each step. He suddenly looks so little and I wonder if the fin will be okay and what the other kids are wearing. What if they have real costumes? What if they're all dressed up, or g-d forbid, there's someone dressed up as an egg? Then what will S think about his little fin?

B calls me later on in the morning from work. "S was so excited about his costume. He was showing everyone his fin."

"Really," I ask. "He really liked it? It didn't look too floppy and lame?"

"No, he really liked it. And now he and his friends all want to be sharks for Halloween."

I am ecstatic. He likes his fin. I didn't fail him. He will be well-adjusted afterall. He will not feel neglected and he isn't embarrassed by his mother (yet). And now I have to figure out how to make hand fins and sharp teeth, but thank goodness, I have until the end of October.



Monday, July 26, 2004

death and diving

S has been obsessed with death for the past month or so. I think it started with Finding Nemo, when Nemo's mother dies. There's no mourning as far as Nemo goes, since he's just a bitty piece of caviar at the point when his mom is presumably eaten by the barricuda, but after watching the DVD a few times, S turned to me and asked the inevitable.

"Where's Nemo's mommy?"

I knew that S had a pretty good idea, but given that we really do have to fast forward past the scary parts, and this includes the barricuda attack, I asked him what he thought happened to Nemo's mom.

"She got eaten by the barricuda so I guess she dived."

B and I looked at each other and grinned, but we didn't have the heart to correct him. I mean, why should he, just four years old, have to deal with the realities of death just yet if he didn't have to?

Then about a week later, S got stung by a bee at the park and the darn thing just died in his palm. He and his friend, Claire, had been playing in the bushes, and I guess they discovered a bee hive because within seconds, they were both shrieking. We couldn't figure out what happened at first because they were just standing there howling, but not fighting. S screamed bloody murder because it hurt, but later he also said he was trying to wake up the bee. I tried to explain that sometimes bees die when they sting you, thus launching us into the talk about death.

"So when will the bee wake up?"
"Does everyone die?"
"Will you die?"
and then...
"Will I die?"

Death creeps me out, too, but I assumed the all-knowing, all-calming mother voice, which apparently I have not perfected. The drive home consisted of our little boy crying pathetically from his carseat, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die..." while nothing we said could console him.

Friday, April 30, 2004

why alone is not really alone anymore

B and I spent the past weekend in Portland. Alone. We left the kids with my parents for our first time away together (and alone) in about two years. On the drive down, B reminded me that we actually were alone for a short bit while I was in labor with T, but I reminded him back that 1.) that was no vacation—birthing a second child while your parents watch the first does not count as time alone together, even if you are alone and 2.) we were only alone in the hospital for less than ten minutes total before T showed up. My birthday was Sunday, so we were celebrating that, but also we wanted to re-celebrate our anniversary earlier this month that neither of us did a thing for on the actual day.

B and I were so excited about this trip that we made too many plans. Since we were kidless, we were only going to do things we couldn't do with the kids. We were definitely going to spend a significant amount of time at Powell's bookstore, eat sushi (as much as we try to convince them of the virtues of our favorite food, the kids really do not like sushi), sleep late (this means sleep later than 7am, which is actually very, very late by our children's standards. We are pathetically grateful if they wake up past 6am.), get pedicures (yes, B was willing to do this with me because it was my birthday weekend and it wouldn't have been as much fun if he just watched), and shop for clothes for the both of us since we never get a chance except for shopping online, which is truly not a satisfying shopping experience. But seriously, we'd been talking about this one night away for weeks and it became habit to say, "Oh, when we go on our trip, we'll definitely do this or that…"

But then the weirdest thing happened. The minute we dropped the kids off at my parents' house, we both got into very bad moods. I'd sort of thought we'd feel free and happy and suddenly young and unencumbered. We'd turn the music up and drive away quickly. But, no… We felt sad. The car was very, very quiet and I was still at the stage at the beginning of a trip where you just think about everything you forgot, which in this case was aspirin, sunglasses, book (I was planning on reading during our very relaxing and romantic trip?), jacket, nice shoes to go with the dress I brought for dinner, etc. And every time I said, "Hey, did you remember to bring the…," B would just glare at me. It was not a very romantic beginning.

But then he did the nicest thing. He turned around and drove back to our house and I got everything on my list, plus checked to make sure the coffeepot was off, the iron was off (I didn't even use the iron that morning), all doors and windows were locked and then found that the bathroom window had been left unlocked, so I locked it and felt fulfilled. I swear that I'm developing Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. Sad for me.

And we started over. Nobody mentioned the fact that we left the camera at home. We plugged in the new iPod that B bought me for my birthday to play through the car stereo (with the broken CD player) and ooohed and ahhhed at how good the sound was and how cute Macs are, and I think we flirted a lot, too, but I'm not sure since it had been so long. And we finished conversation after conversation. It was such a satisfying 24 hours. We ate late, slept late, walked, brunched, went to thrift stores to try on clothes much cooler than us, and then mourned the fact that we ended up at the Gap. We actually read the entire newspaper, had coffee, fooled around, and basically hung out together in a way that made us both realize how much we liked each other..

And then at 3pm the next day, we were so ready to go home.

It wasn't that we weren't having a really great time. It's just it was all so calm and quiet. Where was all the chaos we were always complaining about? We started talking about how cute the kids were, and cute things they did and how much they looked like us (but cuter) and how smart they were, and then we realized we just missed them like crazy. So we drove home, talking about them all the way—about how much we liked being parents and how great it was to be their parents and how cool they were and will be when they grow up. And how cool we were as parents and how lame it was that we cared about how cool we were and how cool it was that we could admit it. It was basically a love fest. We love us.

The minute we got home, the chaos stated up again. T reached out for me and clung to my hip until she passed out in her crib. S talked nonstop about how fun his weekend was and "Mommy, watch this" and "Hey Daddy, look at this!" and it was overwhelming and noisy and crazy wonderful to be home.

Though, I guess next time, we'd probably be able to make it two nights…

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

the coolest Wiggle and why i have no social life

It is very hard to make new friends once you're a parent.
That's the conclusion B and I have made about our lives. Maybe it's an excuse, maybe not. But we've been fairly friendly in our past and have had fairly active social lives. We liked hanging out with old friends and meeting new people. We liked being around people and we liked having plans. And it was easy for us to find interesting, fun things to do whenever we really wanted. There were always parties to go to and bars to hang out at and bands to go hear and play in, and wherever we went there were a lot of people there to talk to.

Not any more.
When our son was born, we tried to haul him around like a large accessory. We took him and all of his baggage to parties and restaurants. We napped him in his stroller and set up his portacrib in a various number of host's bedrooms. We “wore” him to streetfairs, museums, openings, and on hikes. We pictured ourselves as having this modern, carefree life and sharing it with our new son, who would also be modern and carefree. He would be adaptable and easygoing. And social.

Ha ha!

S turned out to be a slave to schedules (as most babies are, we found out) and would basically make our life miserable if he didn't sleep in his own crib from noon until 2pm and 7pm until 6am each day. As soon as noon hit, he’d begin screaming wherever we were. Once in a museum, a woman suggested that we try taking him home to bed. (Gasp!) We tried to plan roadtrips around his nap so that he'd sleep in the car, but he acted as if that nap didn't even count. So we finally gave into our small prince whom we had basically accepted would rule our lives until he was 18. We stopped going out.

Since most of our friends didn’t have kids yet, we figured we would just have to make some new friends who had kids and would be in similar situations. This wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

First of all, we couldn’t really find a good place to meet these other parents. B and I both work full-time so we couldn’t go to daytime playdates or playgroups during the week. Also, almost every single one of my friends or neighbors with kids stayed home with them and they weren’t interested in hanging out on the weekends or in the evenings because those times were usually reserved for “family time,” when both parents were home at once. As for working parents, I befriended a few of the mothers of S’s friends at daycare and actually made some really close friends. But truthfully, we were all way too busy to really get together too often. Everyone was playing catch up on the weekends and there was only a little bit of time for playdates. So basically, we saw our friends once or twice a month.

This changed when T was born. Not only did we have to factor in one nap, but now we had T’s two naps. She’d go down at 10am, S would go down at noon and then T would wake up, and then S would wake up at about 2pm just in time for T’s second nap. Our entire day was taken up with napping. And then when the kids napped, we did chores and errands. We had a clean house, napped childred, but were stir-crazy. We were tempted to go back to the baby accessory route, but T turned out to be a schedule slave, too. Go figure.

Okay, so the timing was difficult, but a good thing happened after T was born (of course, one of the many good things that came with delightful, chubby little T, but you know what I mean.). Our friends started having babies! Woohoo! We were ecstatic. B and I couldn’t wait for them to get settled with their routines so that we could get together, especially since our friends still thought their babies were portable sleepers. They’d be able to come to our house, put the baby down for bed in the portacrib and we could hang out like old times while the kiddies all slept. Ha ha. Apparently, B and I are the slow ones because our friends caught on to the routine problem much more quickly than we did. So now that our friends had their own babies, we saw them even less often.

And you know what? It doesn’t even matter because I found out recently that after three and a half years of being a mother, I’m practically socially unacceptable these days, anyway. Recently some old college friends came to visit and they stayed with us. B and I were so excited! We would get the kids down, break open the beer and reminisce of days long ago. That day, though, T hadn’t slept well with all of the excitement of having guests. (And you know, we’d been pretty lax about the routine thing, too. Maybe it had been our subconscious way of showing our friends what mellow parents we were.) She pretty much woke up every thirty minutes from 8pm until 10pm. I could see the lights flashing in sync to her yowls on the monitor and though we feel comfortable about letting our kids cry it out for a certain amount of time, I could tell our friends were nervous about T waking up their baby. They kept glancing at the monitor from the room their two-year old was sleeping in, and the whole conversation centered on sleeping, getting no sleep, crying, and the desire for sleep. That is, whatever part of the conversation I could hear, because I was suddenly unable to really track an adult conversation. I kept thinking about sleep—T’s sleep and whether or not I would ever get some. (Remember when getting some had nothing to do with sleep?) I found myself thinking about The Wiggles and their Hot Potato song. Then I wondered why Murray was still the coolest in the band, even though he only played air guitar. My college girlfriend was upstairs patting her son back to sleep. The guys were trying to talk about real music—something none of us had listened to for quite a while now. No beer was drunk.

And then at 10:01pm our friends looked at each other and then at us and then she said, “You know, all this talk about sleep is making me sleepy. I think we’re going to call it a night.” And instead of being disappointed, I was grateful that they understood, because at this point in my life, I’d take my pillow over a buzz anyday. So we said goodnight, knowing that we’d all be up at 5am to watch cartoons together.

Friday, April 02, 2004

what i do

I was in a meeting with a contributor today, and after looking at the photos of my kids on my desk, she said, “Wow, I don’t know you do it. I can barely get myself up and dressed for work, let alone two kids.”

It’s not as if I exactly excel in the morning relay race. My sweater has a “snail trail” of snot from one-year old T’s ever-present daycare nose and 3 and half-year old S went to school wearing his baby sister’s socks (the heal left an uncomfortable bump just at the ball of each foot that he complained about, but what could we do since all of his socks were still in the mountainous heap of a laundry pile in the basement?). Not to mention the fact that after seeing his sister get a morning bottle (Yes, I know we should be weaning her to a cup now that she’s had her first birthday. Our pediatrician would just die.), S begged, pleaded, whined, and fussed for a bottle, too. “I’m feeling little today, Mommy,” he told me. So to be able to finally get into the shower, I gave him a bottle, too. (Okay, now our pediatrician would really freak.) In my defense, I did see a late night Dr. Phil episode where he encouraged parents to choose their battles carefully, but just never lose the ones they’ve chosen. So maybe a one-time bottle relapse wasn’t that big a deal? And wasn’t I acknowledging and listening to his feelings by giving him one? I was grateful to hear him say, “Wow, it’s really hard to drink much this way,” and then a little more worried to hear him say quietly, “but it’s really, really nice.”

The weekends are a bit mellower. On Saturday, we took the kids to the park and taught S how to climb a tree. (Okay, we hoisted him three feet up into the tree and held onto him while he yelled out, “I’m taller than everybody in the whole world!” But he was proud of himself and talked about it for the rest of the day. And later on, after the kids were in their jammies and had their baths and their teeth brushed, the four of us crowded into S’s small twin bed and read stories and giggled and sang the Itsy Bitsy spider umpteen times for T because she loved it and because each time she smiled, we could get a glimpse of her new front tooth, I looked around at my family squirming and squished into this tiny bed and thought that I had everything I really needed just right there.