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“Picture me/under a tree…”: On working and having a career

June 9th, 2008

Do you ever, those of you who are parents, wonder if you’re traumatizing your children? (If you’re not a parent, substitute “co-workers” or “pets” for “children.”)

I, myself, never wonder. Because I know it. I know that every single day I am trying, and failing, to not traumatize my children.

“I just know, before this is over, I’m gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy. Look at my eye twitchin’.”
— Donkey in “Shrek”

You know why? You know why, seriously? Because I take my kids to so. Many. G.D. Meetings. That is why. The meetings are going to force them into therapy. But not group therapy, I’m guessing, because that would remind them of a meeting and make them twitch.

This week, I have only two meetings, and the kids only have to go to one. That is a good week, my friends. Well, two meetings, and two work parties/functions (kids optional) cuz it’s the end of the year, and par-taaaaaaaaaaaay. (Oh, if only the students knew how hard the staff parties once they’re gone. Only children of teachers and school staff know. We party.) No, I forgot one other function. That’s three. Three parties, which I’m counting as “work” because they’re “work-related,” plus two meetings, plus rotary. Plus, you know. Work itself.

I like work and I know, I know, work = meetings, but damn.

So. Oftentimes these meetings fall around the hour that most people know as “dinner time.” That’s because Teachers Work Too Hard with students all day, so by the time you finish teaching, finish clean-up, grab a bite to eat (only you mostly skip the bite to eat because you’re Late for Meeting), it’s 5:30-6. My husband gets off work at 5 or 6. His meetings fall during work hours. Lucky him. What should I do? Leave the kids with the sitter for half an hour? Pawn them off on Nekkid Neighbors? Again? Drive them all the way to my mom’s and miss the meeting entirely by the time I drive back? No, that would be the smart thing to do and God knows I wouldn’t want to go that route.

That’s why they have to tag along with me, and sit quietly in a corner, coloring or writing stories (they actually do this, Internets. Is your mind blown? Since birth, pretty much, my kids have been capable of entertaining themselves and sitting quietly in a corner.) (Am of “children should be seen and not heard” school of thought.) (Husband is of “children should not be seen or heard” school of thought.) (That’s a pretty good school of thought, in my book.)

Poor kids.

And poor me — for a long while my daughter was fond of telling me how much she dislikes my working, “You don’t have to work,” and how she’d rather come straight home after school than go to the sitter’s. Why? At the sitter’s they don’t watch any television and they make her do her homework. And have a healthy snack — no cookies.

The horrors.

I finally told her, “Someday you and your brother are going off to college. To have your own lives. What am I supposed to do, bake cookies and hope you’ll stop by?” That got a giggle, and ended the comments.

Tonight, plans fell apart. We got an early dinner, nibbled in the car, went to meeting, no one there yet, okay, no meeting. Then late meeting. Meeting starts, husband and I had crossed signals for pick-up, both kids had had too many beverages. No husband to pick up kids. No husband in sight.

And too many beverages. You get where I’m going with this?

No bathrooms were open. Finally found a bathroom. I missed half the meeting while we were locating 1) custodian 2) bathroom 3) 2nd custodian 4) keys.

Poor, poor kids. Hockey God arrived. Poor, poor Hockey God. I was seriously ready to cry. Or throw a shoe. I’m thinking, I need a new system, cuz this one is not working. Is anyone taking me seriously, with all these potty breaks? With the chaos? With the children who are (usually are but were not tonight) coloring quietly or playing games in the corner? Who am I trying to kid? The kids?

I have been back to work outside-of-the-home pretty much full-time since December. It’s gone okay, but it hasn’t gone, you know. Super-okay. I’ll take what I can get. I like working. I like the paycheck, the grown-up interaction, doing something that’s satisfying and puts money into my Social Security. It was a volunteer job, at first, and now has turned into a (fingers crossed) real job. I don’t want to Dooce myself here, but I like my job, my co-workers, the students. I like the students a lot. It is gratifying work and excellent work and totally exhausting work, all at once. And yes, I know everyone thinks that teachers and school staff get all summer off! Three months! But those of you in the know know, we work most of June, sometimes into July, then go back in August. I work some from home and the field (computer stuff, community outreach stuff), so I won’t be off much. And yay, I’m going to start doing some professional development trainings, which I desperately need, and figuring out online classes and thinking about my master’s degree.

My master’s degree. I have wanted that for so long I can taste it.

I like the security of working, it’s a big draw for me. Even though my husband can support us, it’s been tight, a lot of the time, with just one income. It’s been more than tight, many months. I don’t like using credit cards, not being able to pay for a babysitter, having nothing in the kids’ college accounts.

I like buying flowers at the nursery. I like buying clothes that are not sweats and T-shirts. When you are supported by a spouse, no matter how kind, how level-headed, how fair that spouse is (and mine is) you still sometimes feel the need to justify yourself. For buying a new pair of shoes. For going to the eye doctor. For wanting a babysitter even though you’re not “working” and really? Do you need one? No, you don’t, do you.

Then you start worrying about the orthodontist bills and you realize — One income is not cutting it. And I’ll be 44 this month, for pete’s sake. When is this “career” supposed to sputter back to life?

You can talk all day long about how good women have it now, the equality, Hills running for president, the opportunities — if you are a woman you might find it harder to maintain the career, in between the pregnancies, the breast-feeding, the school music recitals. You might, possibly, okay I’m going way out on a branch here — not be taken quite as seriously in the workplace.

They might be looking at you like, Great, as soon as we hire her she’s going to get knocked up again. Even though you’re saying, “I’m 43. Done with babies. Done!” (Yeah, sure, they’re thinking.)

And I like pulling my own weight — my own unpregnant weight, make that, cuz when I’m pregnant, morning-sick, so sleepy that it’s all I can think about, I need the extra help. When I am not pregnant/giving birth/breast-feeding, I like taking care of business. I don’t like the unbalance that comes when my spouse is the only one bringing in cash.

I have a degree — I want to put it to use. I had a career — I want it back. I get too… undisciplined being at home. Too much my own boss. Too much of a bitch, to be completely honest here.

I find it tricky, negotiating work deals, basic work conversations, business meetings, the staff lunchroom, when I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always worked from home, writing and editing, but it’s not the same as having a workplace where I’m expected to dress up, watch my language, take part in the real world. And I am so goddamn competitive. I miss that crackle, when I’m at home. This is why women are tearing each other apart over whose class art project turned out better for the auction. Wondering if our nails are done more nicely than hers. Is she working out more than I am? She’s had one more baby than I have and she looks great. Bitch.

It’s a little hidden thing, isn’t it? Women are sometimes competitive, and if we don’t have a place to channel that we get a little kooky. What with the homemade fudge and the gorgeous roses (“Eggshells and Miracle Grow!” — Annette Bening in “American Beauty.”)

My real world at home involves watering the garden, tending to the roses, having another cup of coffee, taking bathroom breaks whenever I please. No discipline. Some people are able to be disciplined workers at home, and yes, I do get lots done at home, but I also am responsible for fixing the toilet, cleaning the toilet, mowing the lawn and providing snacks. I work in interstices. And I have no co-workers or boss saying, “Thanks. Excellent work.” I have no students saying, “I liked that book you gave me.”

(This has truly turned into the longest post I’ve ever written. Apologies.) Meeting over, and I head home, where my daughter sings me the new song she just wrote:

“Orange juice/
Iced tea/
Take a tinkle-winkle/
If you have to take a pee/
Picture me/
Under a tree/
Drinking iced tea/
Take a tinkle-winkle if you have to take a pee/
Capri Sun/
Chocolate milk/
Take a tinkle-winkle if you have to take a pee…”

Yeah, I think they’re fine. Maybe they won’t be traumatized, after all.


  1. Laura says

    Balancing all this stuff is so hard, no matter where you’re working…

    Cut yourself a tiny bit of slack and enjoy your day!

    June 10th, 2008 | #

  2. edj says

    They’ll be fine (at least you’re not dragging them all over the world!). I think we worry too much, trying to make it all perfect for our kids, not realizing that we are actually helping them learn to live in the real world, where not everything and everybody revolves around them (see your own dilemma, which I can totally relate to!).

    June 10th, 2008 | #

  3. edj says

    Forgot to say how much I love Wacky Girl’s poetry :)

    June 10th, 2008 | #

  4. Vixen says

    You are teaching them VALUABLE lessons. Like: meetings are best survived by sitting quietly and coloring (but LOOK like you are interested and taking notes) and how to survive multi-tasking madness. And most importantly how to find the guy with the bathroom keys when you really, really need to.

    I have always ‘had’ to work. Nanny got me for nine months, MacD got me for 1.5 years and Bear got me for six weeks before I had to go back to work. And look, Bear is by far the most well-adjusted of all my kids!

    June 10th, 2008 | #

  5. nan says

    Ooohhh, I hear you. I so hear you.

    June 11th, 2008 | #

  6. LIB says

    I think you came to the right conclusion in your last two sentences, “Yeah, I think they’re fine. Maybe they won’t be traumatized, after all.”

    You love them and you’re REAL. That’s the best kids can get from their mom!

    Loads of love!

    June 13th, 2008 | #

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