Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Doing the Hokey Pokey

I know I am supposed to be able to tell the difference, but I am not sure if I'm leaning in or leaning out. Leaning out from what, and into what? Leaning into my writing, leaning out of teaching? Leaning into my family, leaning out of the complex details of a home/work compromise? I don't know. I'm simply leaning in and out as I have done over the past fourteen years of my parenting life, as needed, doing the hokey pokey. Right hand in, right hand out. Left foot in, left foot out.

K.J. Dell'Antonia's new feature at Motherlode, "How I Do It" inspired me to really think about precisely how I do it - nay, how my entire family does it - and realistically evaluate my family and professional life as new pressures arrive on the horizon. I happen to have a very supportive husband, but even my supportive husband needs his early morning hours to work out and his evening hours to conduct meetings, so I tend to stick closer to home and deal with many of our kids' appointments. I work within three miles of my house and he works twenty miles away, so we make compromises based on geography and scheduling.

When I sold my book to HarperCollins earlier this year, I sincerely believed I could continue to function as both a teacher and a writer. I am a teacher. Ergo, I teach. I am a writer. Ergo, I write. How hard could it be to put those two lives into delineated boxes? I can teach 50% of the time and write 50% of the time. When I announced this brilliant plan to my employers and my family, I considered myself enlightened and brilliant. Easy, peasy.

But wait. What if my classes are spread all throughout the day, and I can't get away from school? My prep day is Wednesday, and in my experience, students ask me questions all day long, even if my door is closed. I can ask to consolidate my classes in certain hours of the day, but the school schedule is complicated...

Fine. I will leave campus, even for an hour or two, off to my local library. I love my local library. Coffee, fireplace, quiet...

But what about advisory? Even part time teachers have advisors - I already have four of them, three of whom will really need me next year, and I will be expected to take on two or three more.  I meet with them during my free periods, which will fall during my free periods, which are...well, I can figure that scheduling out later.

And what about faculty meetings and meetings for advisory? There goes Wednesday afternoon. Wednesdays are dedicated to two long meetings - talking about our advisees and meeting as a faculty to learn and discuss and debate. But that's only until 3:30 or 4, at which time I can return home and do the dump duty (our dump is only open two days a week) and clean up and make dinner, and once my younger kid is asleep, I can write. Except that my older kid needs me in the evening. That's when he talks to us about what upsets him and thrills him and motivates him. And then I get to sleep around ten.

Wait? Where did my writing time go? And how is my teenager going to get to and from his high school, about fifteen miles away from our house, without the benefit of public transportation? My husband works twelve-hour days, so where will dinner come from and who will make it? Who will deal with the laundry? Dog? Chickens? Rabbits? Gardens? Lunches? Dust bunnies? Toilets? How will it all get done?

I spent an entire week bound up in anxiety attacks at three A.M. and got out of bed for walks around my neighborhood at five A.M., but no matter how many times I re-arranged my priorities and rationalized my personal days, I was flummoxed. 50% + 50% = 100% Except when 50% really = 100% and 50% really =100% and I still have not figured my family and household and orthodontist and sports and transportation into the equation.

Finally, after a week of little sleep and a lot of nausea, I asked my amazing and supportive 21st century husband to weigh in. He'd been reluctant to tell me what to do, believing that I'd find my own balance (does he not KNOW me after twenty years?).

He told me what he'd do in my position, and when he was honest with me, my gut relaxed for the first time in weeks.

I was able to breathe because my gut knew what my brain did not - that I can NOT do everything, no matter how much I want to believe I can.

Two weeks ago, I announced my intention to take two years off from teaching. I cried. And cried. I can not imagine anyone else teaching my students and felt as if I had betrayed their trust. I teach my students for three years in a row, and they count on me to be there for them, to mentor them and prepare them for high school. However, I have only these two years to write and promote a book that I believe in. A book I hope will influence the education and well-being of parents and children around the world. I only get one grab at that brass ring, and I don't intend to squander that opportunity. After I have ushered that book from brain to paper to reader, I will return to the classroom, because I am a teacher, and that's what I do. In the meantime, I am at the top of the substitute teaching list at Crossroads, and I will be guest teaching at a couple of different schools next year.

Parents engage in the hokey pokey dance of parenting and career every day. We lean in when we have to and lean out when circumstances dictate. The leaning out is understood in the press as leaning out from professional life, but some lives are not so easily categorized. I lean in and out simultaneously, and in my leaning out and in, I keep my life in balance. At the moment, my feet are securely planted under this precariously balanced life, and that's the only way I can move forward.


  1. Good job, Jess! I always tell my husband to listen to his gut because it will never fail! Thanks for your openness. Your readers are here for you!