It’s been four months since I last wrote. My youngest child was starting Kindergarten in September, and I accepted a job offer teaching Ethics at a nearby university. I figured I’d have so much free time on my hands with all four kids in school from 8-3 every day that I’d be bored and down if I didn’t find something meaningful to fill those hours in addition to jotting down my near-daily blog post, which I usually finish before the kids are even up. It sounded simple enough. To start: one undergraduate course with three 70-minute lectures weekly, office hours, grading, a 20-minute commute.
As with most things in life, nothing is as simple as it seems. This, for sure, was not. For starters, I hadn’t taught a course in 15 years, so the amount of re-reading and lecture-writing I had to do was monumental. I’m not talking about “Fifty Shades”! I was sitting in my kitchen at 5:30am morning after morning, slogging through Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Kant. It was like being in graduate school again–only worse because I’m dumber now!
Then, there was the issue of having 70 minutes worth of lecture material ready every other day. I had forgotten how many hours it takes to come up with that much to say. Add to all of this student meetings, writing 4 quizzes and a final exam, grading each and every quiz and exam for 40 students, not to mention 40 term papers, oh–and spending countless hours on the phone with university tech support trying to navigate Moodle (don’t ask)–and it turned out that other than exercising, grocery shopping, and a little cooking, I had no time for anything, including just being with my kids most evenings because I’d be locked away poring over upcoming reading assignments or writing lectures.
My kids resented it. And though I definitely embraced the challenge and felt, dare I say, empowered, I really missed my old life, which suddenly didn’t seem so empty after all. Most of all, though, I developed an overwhelming sense of dismay at my own limitations and at the heroics of the many working mothers I know, many of whom barely took time off when their kids were toddlers, let alone when they were in grade school full-time. I literally have no idea how they do it.
Forbes recently declared that the job of university professor is the “least stressful” of all professions. Talk about timing! The feedback received from actual professors was overwhelming. The author writes: “While I characterize their lives as full of unrestricted time, few deadlines and frequent, extended breaks, the commenters insist that most professors work upwards of 60 hours a week preparing lectures, correcting papers and doing research for required publications in journals and books. Most everyone says they never take the summer off, barely get a single day’s break for Christmas or New Year’s and work almost every night into the wee hours.” As a lecturer, I didn’t have quite these same demands, but I can tell you from my former professorial career that this is exactly right.
Rather early in the semester I realized that I was overwhelmed, and I sat down with the department chair and told him I needed to take the winter term off to regroup. Presumably eager not to lose a professor, he said to give it more time, that maybe I’d settle into a routine. I told him I doubted it, but that I’d report back at midterms. Well, I settled into a routine alright! When I confirmed my decision at midterms, he assured me that the next time I taught this course it would be far easier because I’d have much of it prepared already. That much is true, but I still felt like I was desperate for space and needed the semester off to reflect.
That’s what I’m doing right now. The kids went back to school last Thursday, and all day I felt completely giddy and grateful just to have the time to work out, shop for and cook a healthy dinner for my family, organize my office, reply to emails, and just BE without the looming pressure of an upcoming lecture or exam. When they all walked in from school, I had plenty of time and energy to work on homework, talk, cook, eat, and just hang and enjoy them, rather than holing up in my study getting ready for the next day. A stay-at-home mom’s workday really begins at 3pm, and it was such a pleasure to have the energy and presence of mind to start my shift focused and energized.
Do I sound bratty? I feel very privileged to have the luxury to stay at home, and I am thankful every day for my wonderful husband who makes it possible. Also, despite the frenzy, I found the work experience quite uplifting. I loved the part about having somewhere to be three days a week, the adult interaction, and the opportunity to teach others about my field of expertise. Then there were the students who inquired about majoring in philosophy, and the pure satisfaction of having helped 40 people down a path of thinking more deeply about things that really matter. The sad little monthly paycheck–what this society pays its teachers is the subject of a whole other rant!–didn’t really matter. It was the interaction and exchange that excited me, and stay-at-home moms often miss this in what is, frankly, their frequent state of isolation.
Gosh, it’s confusing. The verdict is surely not in. If only we could all be Gwyneth Paltrow. In any case, it’s great to be back to blogging, and thank you for taking the time to read this!