Have you read that Tina Fey essay from the New Yorker, that’s making the rounds as an email attachment? It’s about that elusive work / life balance issue. She writes, compellingly, I think, that “[t]he topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam […] than it is to speak honestly about this topic.”
(pause to strap on tap shoes)
My life is fantastic! Most days, here’s what happens: we get up, as a family, around 7:20. My hubs goes downstairs to eat breakfast; Daughter and I join him after we have a bed snug, go to the bathroom (like girls, in a group), and I get her dressed. She chats up her dad, or her My Little Ponys, and I make her breakfast. After, she watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I make her lunch and pack her bag. I bring her to the bus stop and we play in the snow. I blow her kisses, and sometimes we wave at Dad as he drives past on the way to work.
I go home, make beds, clean up the breakfast messes, have a shower.
I work. I do some laundry. I work. I do some yoga. I go to Starbucks and work. I’m writing / researching about three hours a day. That’s pretty sweet.
I make something from scratch for dinner, and wait for Husband to bring daughter home. We hang out, eat supper, he baths her, I put her to bed. Unless I’m gone to yoga, in which case he does it all.
Sounds balanced and pretty much idyllic, right? Yeah. It’s totally an artificial, once-in-a-century, stars-aligned kind of thing. All this work / life balance is made possible by my ‘pre-tenure course release’–I’m not teaching a damn thing this semester. That’s 40% of my work life, just taken right off my plate.
Basically, that 40% is being used to salvage my family life, a family life that has been buckling under the increasing weight of my tenure application and all the work and stress and heavy expectation that goes along with being a junior faculty member. I have spent the better part of the last 18 months angry and stressed and anxious and insomniac and guilty and heartsore about being torn in twelve directions at once. When I came to grips, in September, with the idea that, unlike at daycare, junior kindergarden required me to pack my girl a lunch from home every day, I cried with frustration: I really didn’t feel I had it in me to make lunches, on top of everything else.
I love my job. Maybe it’s not writing and starring in 30 Rock, but I love it. I love the writing, and the teaching, and sometimes even the meetings (mostly the ones where I get to wield the whiteboard markers …). It’s just that, even with all my freedom and autonomy and benefits and salary and security and short commute, it’s still too much.
It’s too much. At least for now.
And so, when I handed in my grades in December, and contemplated all the free time that comes with not teaching again until September, I snuggled on the couch with my husband and squealed with excitement … about homemade spaghetti sauce, home made by me! About crawling into bed with my girl every morning so she can tell me her dreams while she sticks her bare feet against my belly. About waiting to have the house to myself so I could have the whole thing tidy and organized before 10am, instead of after 10pm. About him maybe getting to work on time more than once a month.
I’m writing a lot, but if I can be perfectly frank, it’s not my number one priority this term. I want to, as we say in yoga, align with my intention. My intention has always been to pursue my career passionately and competently, but within the boundaries of maintaining and nurturing my family, and me within it. It’s so very easy to lose sight of that in the race for tenure, where great is never good enough, and there’s always more you can do, always more you’ll be asked to do. Now that I’m home in my pyjamas scraping peanut butter off the baseboard while I wait for my Writing Coffee to finish brewing, I’m just a lot happier. I’m more patient. Less bitchy. More relaxed. Less … overscheduled.
I like how this feels. I wonder how I can keep this up once that 40% of my job I’m supposed to devote to teaching makes its way back into my life. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me, and while I want to give some of that back, mostly I just really miss them. I’ve been overwhelmed, and I have overwhelmed them, and I didn’t realize how I was suffocating until the life-giving air of time and simplicity blew back into my life. What happens in September?