Category Archives: Career

Going to Work

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So I decided to go to work this morning. Due to a growing lack (there’s an oxymoron) of patience with my full-time day (and night) job, there was a collective vote that I take a half-day off.

So after I successfully micro-managed my husband for an hour or so this morning (listing my agenda and instructions for his few hours of taking care of our children), I finally got out of the door (much to his relief).

I drove in the cold February rain to a great little coffee shop that I have not been to since the first year we lived in Nashville. Rumor has it that it is country pop star Taylor Swift’s favorite haunt, though I admit that I likely wouldn’t recognize her if she was sitting at the table beside me. I ordered a vanilla latte from the hippie-hipster barista and found a corner bar table with a high-backed chair to sink into my retreat. I opened my bag with a copy of the book I am plodding through for one of my book clubs and Ben’s laptop. Hmmm- what to do. I have an entire half day off from my children. I better make it count. Oh…the pressure….

The perfectionist in me kicks in. I should power through 100 pages of this book. I should write the thousands of stories that have flitted in and out of my consciousness the past month. I should be PRODUCTIVE. I am at work.

Nestled in this corner, I allow myself a few moments of voyeurism, eavesdropping on the twenty-something women sitting beside me. One is clearly writing lesson plans, hunched over a familiar template with boxes for objectives and guided practice directives and with a large Ziploc bag full of leveled readers at her side. The other is restlessly musing about what kind of job she hopes to secure in the future. “I think I could be happy doing lots of different things,” she sighs. I am reminded of my 22-year old self spending a Sunday morning at Onion Creek coffee shop in Houston, Texas pouring my heart and caffeine-driven soul into the 7th graders I was charged to save from the plague of educational inequity. I center for a moment on that transformative time in my life and smile, but I soon become annoyed by the woman’s valley-girl lilt and happily discover that my headphones are buried in the bottom of my purse (smashed under a baby Mum-mum cracker wrapper and a snot-covered Kleenex).

I try to stream Pandora but find that the wireless signal I am borrowing is too weak to sustain the music. I open Ben’s iTunes application and am excited to find that he has downloaded the new albums that he bought for me for Christmas. Perfect. I hook up my ears to my new favorite anthems from “The Head and the Heart” and hunker down with my thoughts. Here I sit in front of the computer. What to do? What to create? I must be sure to use this time wisely. I stave off the pressure by letting my curious eyes explore again. To my right is a guy sitting at a table alone, reading The Catcher in the Rye. He doesn’t look up much. He is deeply enthralled in the coming-of-age vortex of Holden Caulfield. At the other nearby table is a family having breakfast. I admire their cute little boy, who probably falls in between Ev and Lou in age as he bangs his Hot Wheels on the table and his parents try to gently quiet him, so as not to disturb the Salinger reader. I take pause to remember what I am retreating from and feel content to be present here but also happily aware of what waits for me the other 6 and 1/2 days of the week ahead.

And still I sit, struggling to dive in to the work I came to do. I romanticized the idea of packing a laptop up and “going to work” this Sunday morning, but here I perch pushing away the desire to “make it count” and create something to show for my time away from my children. I desire an intellectual charge, but also feel too restless to tune in. So my fingers hit Google and I explore a new writers’ group that I read about in Nashville. I discover that there is a memoir-writing workshop coming up in three weeks served up on the community education docket of a local college. It costs $80 and would take me away for a little more than half a Saturday. I’m tempted. Should I just pull out the credit card and enroll? But what if it ends up being a waste of time, a waste of funds, a waste of the guilt I will feel leaving my family on one of the few days we have to all four hang out together…?

And then I realize what I am really here doing this morning.  I am reclaiming aspects of my self that have faded into the background the past three years.  The teacher self, the writer self, the coffee-shop-sitting-musing self, the self that holds worth and importance independent of the mother-self.  Who knew that this kind of “work” would take deliberate planning and assigning of time, energy, and in some ways risk-taking?  These parts of me are not lost, but they do require deliberate cultivation in order to thrive.  Perhaps I’ve found my resolution for 2014.  Go to work.  Do the work. But let it be imperfect and spontaneous and ever-changing.  Let it be challenging and soothing and gratifying and unnerving and revitalizing all at once.

And let go of the guilt… even though I must admit I am even feeling guilty monopolizing this cafe table as people swirl around me carrying their steaming cappuccinos and looking for a spot to land.  My instinct is to serve, to sacrifice, to move aside so others can thrive.  “I am doing important work here,” I want to look up and say.  And I so I repeat that mantra to myself as I begin to believe it.

Snippets & Quips – May 11th

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State of the Union:  It’s been a gorgeous week in Nashville.  Temperatures have been mimicking a Minnesota summer and the sun has been shining bright.  We have all been frolicking outside as much as we can!  On the downside… after a several month hiatus from teething terrors, they are officially back in full swing.  Poor Ev is extra irritable as he gnaws on his fingers and points to his aching mouth in distress.  I am going through a fair amount of Tylenol and patience this week, as we all await those pearly whites to break through his red swollen gums.

I am thankful… for our Nashville friends and neighbors.  We have met so many truly wonderful people here that have become our local family.  Since our “backup nanny” is out of town this week, I’ve needed to lean on them to help with babysitting on my work days.  Everett spent Wednesday morning at my friend Jess’ house and Chris and Katie took him to the zoo this morning with their boys.  And our downstairs neighbors, Amanda and Brad, are going to watch Ev tonight, so Ben and I can go out on a date.  We are so lucky to have dear friends who love our little guy and so generously offer us their time and energy.

I am learning… how to really listen to Everett. He is getting better at communicating his needs everyday, even if he doesn’t have any words yet.  If I really wait, watch, and listen closely to him–I can usually figure out what he is “telling” me.  It is exciting to start to see his thoughts and wishes come to the surface.

I wonder… how Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage will influence the politics around this important civil rights issue.  I am proud of our president for taking a risk during an election year and hopeful that words carry power that will ultimately lead to action.

On my mind: Career questing again.  I just can’t see to let it rest.  While I am perfectly content with being a full-time mama, I am wondering what path I will pick up in the next five years when my kids are in school.  Will I go back to teaching AP English classes to high school students?  Will I capitalize on my master’s degree and take on a coaching or specialist role?  Or will I find an entirely new way to put my knowledge, skills, and passion to use? College-level teaching?  Administration and policy?  Back to school?  I am content with riding on the pause button on my professional track, but I do see myself at a sort of crossroads. If I am going to give something new a try, it seems like this natural break is the time to do it.

On my heart: Mother’s Day is on Sunday, so I am conjuring up good memories of my mom and missing her dearly.  I yearn to share my own motherhood joys with her and have the chance to tell her all of the ways her own mothering has nurtured my own.  I want to tell her than when Everett holds his mouth just right and subtly bites his lip, I see an exact copy of a facial expression that she used to wear when she was concentrating on a task.  I want to tell her that I give Everett a “binky” on his nose like she used to do to me… a light little tap on the nose while saying “binky” in a sing-song tone.  I’m not sure where this little gesture of affection originated (or why it was called a “binky”), but I remember what it meant:  it was a nonverbal way of saying, “I adore you.”

Weekly Reader: Not much reading has happened this week, I confess.  My nights have been busy and late, ending with me collapsing in bed rather than curling up with a book.  While I was out and about doing fun stuff like running with my friend Jess and hitting up the wine bar with my friend Amanda, I am aiming for more book time next week.

What’s Cooking: a black beans and quinoa recipe recommended by my friend Kerri, our go-to meal of Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Kale, and cilantro hummus that Ben made.

“Ev”Capades: Everett is finally using sign language!  I was very close to giving up, feeling like he was just not going to be a kid who uses signs…but alas–just like all my mom friends said, he started using his chubby little fingers to communicate with me!  He is pretty consistently signing “more” and “all done” at mealtime, as well as using the “more” sign for when he wants to eat.  Now if only we can get the “please” and “thank you” signs going, I’ll be happy!  The boy must show some manners with these new expressions of demand!

Happy Highlights: We had a wonderful long weekend visit with the Hart Family.  It was so great to be reunited with our dear friends after almost a year and to show them our happy little livelihood down South.  Their daughter Annie is simply a doll and entertained Everett with her spunk and charm.  We listened to music in Centennial Park, tried out the new splash park downtown, hit up Local Taco for a meal, and enjoyed a zoo excursion.  We also reveled in just hanging out after the kids went to bed–cooking, drinking wine, and having great conversation.  We are so thankful they made the journey to see us!

Looking Ahead: Ben and I are going on a date tonight!  We are going to a small music venue to see Eric Hutchinson, our new favorite singer/songwriter.  The weekend also boasts our Saturday morning farmer’s market ritual, a pot luck with friends, and no work for Ben until Monday!

Sporting his long hippie hair at Cumberland Park!

Fun at the Splash Park!

Annie & Everett- buddies at the Nashville Zoo!

Being “Part-Time” and Other Excuses

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Confession: I just tried to log in to my own blog and failed, because I had forgotten the password. Sad story–with a moral that calls for reclaiming priorities and balance.

I have a million excuses for why I haven’t written since November, but I vow not to launch into a cathartic rant detailing the strata of stressors that have kept me away from this reflection post.  However, I do feel the need to play a quick game of “catch-up”, so that I can bring this blog back to good standing.  And if I’m honest- this post probably will be cathartic for me, but I will try not to rant as I write about just one layer of my life these past five months: my part-time job–the primary conflict this protagonist has faced in the story of new roles and new pursuits in Nashville.

“Part-Time”–as difficult for me as parting the Red Sea!

In early November, I began working as a part-time Reading Specialist at a brand new charter school in South Nashville.  The opportunity more or less fell in my lap and the perceived flexibility of the job tempted me on to the slippery precipice of part-time teaching.  The deal seemed even sweeter when I was able to hire a wonderful babysitter for Everett–a college freshman with a class schedule that allowed her to come watch Everett in our home the two mornings that I would work each week.  It seemed perfect–I got to get out of my sweatpants and use my academic brain for a few hours each week and Everett could still maintain the regimented nap schedule that he (umm-I mean I) was so addicted to.  I felt a little nervous taking this step at first…after all–I had very deliberately made the decision that I wanted to take a “break” after 9 years of teaching to be a stay-at-home mom and that’s what I truly wanted to do when we moved to Nashville…wasn’t it?  By accepting this part-time job, I was also accepting that I was not 1oo% sure about my goals, my roles, my desires.  Was being a stay-at-home mom enough for me?  Did I need to teach in order to preserve the “self” I knew?  So to answer these questions, I began working from 9 to noon on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I don’t have the energy now to bore you with the details of how this job pursuit has turned out, so I will just gloss the experience with some lessons that I have learned along the way.  And like any good meditative musing on self, these lessons come in pairs and often in paradox:

Lesson #1.  It was therapeutic to be forced to get out of my workout clothes, take a shower, and don professional attire at least two days a week.

AND….

Lesson #2.  Many days, it was very stressful to make myself and my house presentable.

After many a long sleepless night due to teething, snot, or God only knows…all I wanted to do was stay in a sports bra and boycott anyone–especially the young, sweet 18-year old I’ve entrusted with my child–from entering the squalor of dirty dishes and laundry that mounted.  Because to do so would let out my secret: I am not the perfect mom, but I expect you to be the perfect babysitter for my perfect son while I am away.  (OK- so I don’t really place these kinds of expectations on my nanny nor do I think Everett is the Messiah, but it was really really hard at first to hand over control when it came to caring for Ev- even if it was only for 8 hours a week.)

Lesson #3.  It was rewarding to work in a high-need school, to re-claim my Teach For America roots and fight the Achievement Gap, to put my Master’s degree to the test diagnosing and remediating reading deficiencies…

AND….

Lesson #4.  It was incredibly frustrating to be a marginal presence both in the building and in the lives of these struggling 5th grade readers.  I was only willing to sacrifice two mornings a week away from Everett…and these kids needed and deserved so much more than I could give.

Lesson #5.  Working for a new start-up charter school was inspiring and important work…and this different school structure lent itself well to the creation of flexible part-time positions for stay-at-home moms that wanted to dip their toes back in the water.

AND….

Lesson #6.  Working for a brand new school led to many frustrations that I won’t detail here…and at this point in my life, there are compromises and sacrifices I’m just not willing to make.

While I have certainly endured many aggravations and stressors throughout my career, I found myself taking it so much more personally when I felt my time was wasted or that I wasn’t valued.  This wasn’t “just a job” anymore.  It was precious time spent away from my son.  And when I looked at it this way, the headaches just weren’t worth it.

Lesson #7.  Part-time teaching is probably not something I can do…at least the “part-time” part.

Surprise, surprise–I still don’t know how to set limits.  While I was only working 2 mornings a week, I still found myself planning, analyzing data, scouring resources, etc. for countless more hours each day such that I was spending the little time I had with Ben in the evenings burdened with “homework”.

AND….

Lesson #8.  Being a Part-time mom left me wishing and seeking…

Ultimately, I wanted those hours back.  I wanted the time with Everett, but also with myself.  I wanted more time for the little but important things that I had embraced since becoming a mom…updating Everett’s baby book, cooking and baking and finding new healthy meals for both Ben and Everett to try, using the jogging stroller for what it was intended for…(umm-RUNNING), reading, playgroups, and of course….THIS BLOG.

The Conclusion: I am seeing this job through until the end of the school year (May 24th, but who’s counting?)  After that, I will resume my full-time work as a stay-at-home mom while also keeping an open mind and eye for other opportunities and ways to give and be my best self.  These may include other career endeavors or may not…I am looking forward to whatever unfolds.  I do not regret the last five months or that I tried on part-time work for size.  This get-up just didn’t fit…and in the process of pulling at the seams and adjusting the hemlines, I learned an awful lot about myself.

Who wants to write lesson plans when you can hang out with these silly guys?