A few months ago I wrote about the intersection of first days and last days and the odd, comforting, uncertainty of being in-between. When the academic year began, I did not know what to expect. Beginning my fifth year of teaching, I was juggling three different courses and embarking on a job search. I was writing about the pitfalls of looking for a non-academic job and I was working on my blog. I hardly knew how fall semester would end.
And it ended amazingly. Even though I felt like I was managing a series of fire drills, I was lucky to land an interview for a position I really wanted, and later in the semester that organization offered me a job. Halfway into the year and my “last days” story was coming together.
Except that I have one more semester.
Our family trip to Disney World during the second week of January could not have come at a better time. I needed the distraction from impending chaos. After we settled in from a week of Disney magic, I faced a new round of first days: first day of my last semester teaching (at least for a little while) AND first day at my new job (where I’ll work part time hours until May).
My first days were exciting and anticlimactic. The professor me kicked off two classes and met fifty new students. And the next day, the policy analyst me trekked to my new job where I met new colleagues. On my second day of teaching, I settled in to my new routine and tied up as many loose ends as I could. On my second day of the new job, I arranged meeting after meeting with new colleagues, bathing my organs in coffee, scratching notes in a little black notebook, frantically trying to keep up with email messages.
The week ended and all I wanted to do was sleep.
When the adrenaline from a week of meal planning, household maintenance, navigating a new commute, and endless evening in-boxing finally faded, I passed out on the living room couch watching Mad Men on Netflix, sleeping for three hours before even considering a move from my couch to my bed.
I can face fifteen more weeks like this one, feeling wound so tightly with little space to breathe. It was a week of feeling so capable and sure of myself one day and inundated the next. Mostly, though, I felt on my own. The kids bookended my working hours with sweet cuddles in the early morning hours and complete frenzy over dinner. I barely had a full conversation with my husband about anything. Any words we did exchange were about the kids behavior or our impending new car purchase (also happening this week). These feelings of isolation will pass as I adjust to a new schedule, new routes, new information.
I cannot fathom facing fifteen weeks of feeling mediocre at everything I do, though. A seasoned colleague once told me that balancing parenthood (motherhood specifically) and academia would make me “pretty terrible at everything.” I rejected the notion out of hand but now I feel the weight of this idea–that I’ll be pulled in many directions at least for a few months and something has to give. Or worse, that I can’t hide the frayed edges.
Yet in a week of chaotic days, we had so many bright spots. Our perennial late sleepers miraculously awoke thirty minutes earlier each day, allowing for extra quality time in the morning and avoiding our usual mornings of prodding/begging/rushing out of the door. We ate real food for dinner every night because of my meticulous meal planning. I even squeezed in thirty minutes of exercise while I waited during ballet carpool at the JCC.
Sure the house is covered in dust and the laundry hampers are overflowing. Sure, my kids are stir-crazy and seem to have forgotten their manners. Every day. All the time. Sure, I didn’t know we were out of hoisin sauce for my plan on Wednesday, and had to make not one but two stops to find a jar on the way home. Sure, I mistimed my commute home on Friday and called in another mom to cover my youngest at preschool. It was not a perfect week, but what week is, really?
I’ve tried to put into the words the excitement I am feeling over this new opportunity. I’ve tried to put into words the jitters I have about my teaching. And no words came. I tried to blog about how I was feeling the night before classes started and then the night before the job started. And I couldn’t.
I just feel proud and nervous. There is no more elaborate way to say those things.
And even though it’s too early to tell, I also feel some relief. This professional move marks a new chapter in my life, and it’s a huge personal transition for my family. Two years ago I was finishing my dissertation, hoping I could find a position that tapped into my research and teaching skills for good work. I might feel nervous but those nerves will dissipate over time. And I might feel proud but I feel pretty proud most of the time.
Really, I just feel supremely lucky for any long, awesome, exhausting week of firsts and lasts. Because if my weeks were short, awful and easy, life would be pretty boring.