Back in January, when I told people that I would simultaneously teach out my contract and start a new position outside of academia, it sounded simple to me even though I know it was an extremely complex arrangement. Most friends told me I was crazy to juggle two jobs besides everyday life. And as the semester progressed and I learned the rhythm of the new job while managing the demands of my two college classes, things were surprisingly manageable.
Weeks passed and on campus, the student papers started pouring in and at the new job, the demands for quick review of testimony for public hearings picked up. The kids sensed my constant distraction during family time: they stopped sleeping through the night and my little daughter started throwing exhausting temper tantrums during the day. Suddenly the work hours in the day just weren’t enough, especially because our sleeping hours were so frequently interrupted.
It snowed. It snowed more in one short month that it snows all winter in many places. Snow made everything scarce in our world: parking, traffic, space, patience. Snow piled up made for traffic everywhere and I started to run a razor thin margin picking up my girls at the end of the day. No matter what I did, every day for weeks I carefully sprinted through an icy parking lot around snow drifts taller than my house to make sure I squeezed through the preschool door before 5:29pm.
We saw audible after audible called on our schedules. A school sick call and a sick day. Dentist appointments and well child visits scheduled months ago that were somehow impossible to reschedule. The conference I agreed to attend back in October that came out of nowhere at the end of February. The out town trip to Washington DC for a family Bat Mitzvah in March. New expectations of face time in my new position that my college teaching position never demanded. Feeling out how to manage the needs of my students while simultaneously devoting time to my new job. Three email accounts constantly pinging with messages.
Every minute of every day for almost four straight months I have been barreling from one thing to the next. It would be enough if I was overextended at work, but my husband has also been up to his eyeballs in an enormous work project that went live at the start of April. Because we were out of our faces working all the time, things felt like they were constantly coming apart at the seams.
I started stripping back anything that wasn’t relevant to family, work or sleep to reserve the time after dinner for the inboxing for the next day’s job. At night when I logged the day’s events in my journal, I found myself beginning every day with “busy” and I hated it.
All lives have busy. Busy is relative. What is busy to me might not be busy to you. Sometimes busy is the crushing weight of many small things to do. Sometimes busy is the impending anxiety of one large task that takes over everything. More often busy is the balance of acute and immediate demands layered over the long term pressures of work and life.
But for us, busy became the new normal, and we clawed our way from one day to the next, prioritizing and re-prioritizing the day to make it through.
I tried all semester to document where I was with my work but because I have been burning the candle at both ends, I started post after post and left them to languish in the drafts folder. I could not find the time to put together a coherent thought to share with anyone else. I managed to write about my mother’s birthday and pined for an extra twenty minutes to polish one of many blog drafts with titles like “the calm before the tectonic shift” and “idling” and “we made it to the middle” and “fighting our way back to normal” and “the change of seasons.” These reflections are a great road map for territory I hope I won’t traverse again (at least not for a little while).
Spring semester classes ended and not a moment too soon. I muddled through the presentations and the grading and the administrative stuff you do when you are closing up shop. And on a sunny day in May, I went to commencement. Commencement day for my students felt like commencement day for me, too. The end of something and also the beginning of something.
With the last four months in the rearview, I am not giving myself (or my husband) nearly enough credit. It would be easy to list the things that went wrong but too many things went right to even indulge the negativity. We managed to be out of town as a family, I went to a conference, we planned and executed our daughter’s birthday, no one has gone to ballet or swim class without their necessary attire, and we haven’t forgotten a lunch (though we did forget a snack one day–and never heard the end of it). No library books lost, and I read at least one book for book club. I registered the kids for summer camp and got coverage for their school vacation. We even found a place to take a much-needed vacation right after school ends for the kids. All in all, life around here is pretty normal except for the unrelenting flow of work.
If I had a dollar for every person that asked me how I was “doing it all” over the last four months, I’d have a nice little kitty to spend on vacation this summer. There is no magic pill, no special potion. We just overextended ourselves, and what I fear has happened is that we have all adjusted to feeling stretched. What we’ve been doing for these weeks is an unsustainable arrangement that is rapidly reaching its logical conclusion.
As one chapter ends and another begins, all I can do is thank the people who cheered me on during this home stretch of the hardest professional work I’ve balanced. I can finally look up and take a humble little victory lap.