A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
Summer is usually the time that I write more, but I’ve ended up using the past two and a half weeks just immersing myself in the healing power of Doing What I Want to Do.
This past academic year was rough. Extremely rough. I took six graduate classes in one year while teaching full-time. And I presented at three conferences. And then there were the two kids.
I don’t mean this to sound like I’m so Amazing Because I Do So Many Things. It was actually kind of stupid of me to over-commit myself to so many responsibilities. If I learned anything from this past year, it’s this: Although my mental breaking point has risen dramatically since I had the kids (surprise! surprise!), IT STILL EXISTS.
In mid-June, there I was. Dissolving into tears at a Saturday Morning Breakfast when a friend asked, “How are you doing?”
How am I doing?
Does it matter?
I’m dying inside.
I haven’t had more than thirty minutes to think about something besides responsibilities in over SEVEN MONTHS.
I don’t do anything besides chores, work, school, chores, work, school.
Well, yes, I exercise, but I get up at 4:00 a.m. just to do that.
I haven’t seen adult TV since April. Period.
I haven’t done anything creative, FOR ME, for ten months.
I think that’s what has hurt the most. I’ve been holding onto a list of Things to Do that is about 100 items deep, and every time I knock enough of the things off the list and edge closer to a moment when I can do something that I want to do, SOMETHING ELSE FOR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES ITS PLACE.
Well, that’s just motherhood, hon’. Get over it, part of me thinks. You can do something for yourself in fifteen more years.
And so the fight goes on.
This is the headspace of Mother of Two compared to Mother of One.
I truly don’t know how my mom survived being Mother of Five.
She didn’t drink. She had no vices that I could see. Her weapon was optimism.
I still don’t know.
So this is what burnout looks like.
Dusting off the ole’ PS 2 (purchased in 2001…) and playing Final Fantasy VII from the beginning, this time checking off the acquisition of each and every damn Enemy Skill, leveling up the characters beyond what they need, and grinding away at enemy fights with high AP.
Burnout is reveling in the complete obliteration of fake monsters, which you’ve already beat at least five times before, mind you, (even if it was years ago) that cower with your use of Beta or Bolt 3. It is actually mentally and physically enjoyable to watch yourself knock out Boss after Boss in a few major magic attacks–when you’ve spent the entire academic year grinding away, teaching the same classes over and over again, wondering if you’ve yet told that joke to this current roster of students.
Oh, they laughed, so nope, that joke was still new to them. But you are so very tired of yourself. You don’t find yourself clever or interesting anymore. Teaching has become a bit of an out-of-body experience where you actually–while verbally giving instruction–imagine a reality in which you are finally completely ALONE in a cabin, high in the mountains, with nothing but silent snow falling all around and six more books in the Wheel of Time series to read.
That’s what I’ve been coming back from over the last two weeks.
In mid-May, I came across this blog post about the level of burnout that working moms feel, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
However, it’s conclusion was this: Hey, Moms. Be vulnerable and let people know that you can’t do it all. Be real and don’t pretend that it’s all okay.
Um. Thanks. That’s not helpful.
I’m real all the time about how things are going. A month ago, an energetic co-worker saw me in the office’s kitchen and cheerfully asked how I was doing.
I said, “Running on fumes.”
“Awww, poor thing. Sorry to hear that.”
Which, yes, is somewhat nice to hear, but it doesn’t do much. And I’m certainly not expecting acquaintances to solve my burnout problems. I might also hear or “Eck, that sucks” or the murderously infuriating, “Well, this time goes fast, so don’t waste these moments!”
But it’s not helping to be vulnerable and real with people about the stress that I typically carry when I’m working full-time and taking care of two little ones.
That’s because the problems are systemic. When you live in a country that PITIFULLY supports parents, you end up with high levels of stress and burnout among working parents. (Not just working moms, hello.)
The 40-hour work week sucks for parents because you’re probably spending an additional 3-4 hours each day just caring for kids. And when you’re done with that, you just want to sleep. So really, between working and caring for kids, you’re putting in 60+ hours.
AND THEN HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.
Only it’s not the “weekend” anymore. It’s 24 waking hours of taking care of your kids, or at least keeping them safely occupied.
And if at any point in this post, you’ve had the thought, Oh please, move on, hon. This is your responsibility–You are proving my point.
Being real and being vulnerable about these issues doesn’t help because too often society says that parents (in particular, moms) should not only selflessly accept their responsibilities–they should revel in these most sacred of moments, when the children are small. Because that is what GOOD MOTHERS do. They find endless amounts of fulfillment and life satisfaction simply in seeing their children thrive.
If that’s what a good mother is, then I’m doomed to be a Mediocre Mom.
As much as I love my kids (and I really do), I cannot pretend that neglecting myself for months on end doesn’t have its consequences.
Right now, the consequence looks like this:
Of course, it truly does help when you hear your two-year-old says this:
Okay, truthfully, that’s not all I’ve been doing. I’ve definitely needed time to myself, but I am still very much me–and there’s part of me that just cannot be tamed, I guess.
We have finally filmed a video on knife sharpening for our YouTube cooking channel, which we have been planning to film for the past ten months. I’ve laid it out. It’s edited. It’s mixed and almost produced.
There’s also another project that I’ve been quietly working on, which I’ll debut in a few weeks, if not earlier.
More to come.
And, hey, thanks for reading and not judging.
Hopefully, I’m not scorched in the comments for “being real.”
I did something stupid.
For the past two months.
It started with the idea of taking advantage of my benefits as an instructor at my university. Because as a full-time faculty member, I get 100% tuition remission. Which sounds awesome. Except for the fact that when you’re teaching double the number of contact hours (18 hours) that most other faculty members in the university are required to teach (9 hours), you often work more than a full-time job just to stay ahead.
In March, while working with the eLearning department to create some recorded videos for my class using a lightboard, I learned that our university offered courses in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”
Not only that, I could get a graduate certificate in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”
I had already been looking at ways of taking classes in instructional design that wouldn’t cost me much money, but I hadn’t found any free options up until then. And I certainly didn’t know that the very university where I teach offered such classes.
And all of the classes were 100% online. I could do the work whenever I could fit it in my schedule.
It seemed like such a great idea.
And, I rationalized, It’s summer. Enrollment is projected to be pretty low. And I probably won’t be teaching the full 18 hours. So…
I signed up for two on-line classes.
Then, four days before our summer term started…
I was told that I wouldn’t, in fact, have any reduction in hours over the summer. One of my colleagues took an unexpected medical leave, leaving one course that needed to be filled. Instead of teaching two classes, I would be teaching three classes. And I would also be scheduled for tutoring.
During the same time frame as the classes that I would be taking.
A smart person would have dropped at least one of the classes.
Turns out, I’m not such a smart person sometimes.
I’m a bit of a maniac. Or a glutton for punishment, depending on how you look at it.
Well, I thought. Buckle up, everyone. Life is about to get bananas.
May and June were an absolute blur this year. Most of my days started at 4:15 a.m. (so I could run or do PiYo) and ended at 8:00 p.m., leaving my husband to put our older daughter to bed. But it’s still light out! I would hear her protest through my earplugs. (Yep. Still wearing those. Oh, and an eye mask. Because at 8:00, it’s still 90 minutes away from sunset in the summer.)
I worked on classes in small bursts whenever I had time throughout the day, which wasn’t that often or very predictable. Two of my very best friends came over on Saturdays/Sundays to watch the kids just so I could have some concentrated time to sit down and work on the class projects that required full, uninterrupted attention.
I also researched and wrote four proposals for conferences next year: MEXTESOL (1), Ohio TESOL (1), and TESOL International (2).
I also worked with a colleague on a paper that we’re submitting to an academic journal.
Sometimes, part of me thinks, Why? What are you doing? Just function in first gear for a while, for the love of God.
Then, the other, louder part of me says, There is no better time than now. Things are not going to get easier. Free classes in something that you’re way interested in? Lean in and be the badass that I know you are.
And so, I have been leaning in a whole lot this year.
The Final Boss of this summer was the last week of classes and my final exams. And not because of all the additional deadlines and grading that awaited me.
It was because of the fact that my husband traveled to Monterey, California (poor thing) to present at a radar conference. For the whole week.
You know what’s not so fun? Getting two young kids to school with lunches and diapers and sheets and sunscreen by 7:00 a.m. so you can be to work by 7:45.
I have to admit, it was my turn at this. He took care of the kids while I presented at TESOL 2018 in Chicago and was gone for four days. I remember when I came home, the look on his face that said, I need to go for a long drive by myself for a while.
But it didn’t make it any easier.
Especially when the toddler’s occasional morning poop explosion turned into a five-day streak of progressively more disgusting poop explosions at 6:00 a.m. that peaked in impressiveness (seemingly with the fullness of this month’s moon?).
Nothing quite like your toddler beaming with pride as he hands you his blanket that he’s been holding so tightly…
All covered in poop juice.
Here you go, Mama! You’re welcome!
But now, The Great Exhale has come.
I finished those two classes. (And I’ve started one more, to run another six weeks.)
I’m done teaching classes for this academic year. (It’s a full two months after all other faculty in the university have been dismissed for the summer… I’ll just leave that there.)
I turned in my final exams, submitted my grades, cleaned my desk, hugged my office mates, packed up my Erma Bombeck “You Can Write” mug, and rolled out of the parking lot, music blaring.
Quite honestly, I think I’ve stuck with teaching because of the summer break. As much as I fell in love with teaching ESL and learning from my students, the job really takes its toll on you.
Fall semester isn’t so bad. I can do four months back-to-back when I know Christmas break is around the corner.
I can do it if I take in one big, long breath.
But in the six-month stretch from January to July, I find myself (quite predictability, perhaps) gasping for breath by mid-May. I’m just sooo done. Done with the manic planning-everything-for-this-new-course-that-you-need-to-teach-just-days-before-a-term starts, pondering the next lesson, the next quiz/test, is everything copied for tomorrow, did I post the homework for that class, and what about that class, the student tracking, the student tracking, the student tracking. Emails about information missing from the student tracking. Emails about my plans to professionally develop myself. I must have goals for myself, after all. And they must be measurable and demonstrated. Performance reviews that leave me wondering if any of my exceptionally good work is recognized at all. (I could tell stories… But I’ll just leave this there.)
I think you get the point. Just sooo done.
And at that point, there’s still another six weeks to go.
To be clear, I am grateful that I have a job.
I’m even more grateful that I have the time off.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I know how vastly underpaid I am for my education and experience when I talk with my peers who are engineers or program managers, or even teachers in public schools. (Not private charter schools, though. That’s what happens when teachers aren’t unionized.)
Trade-offs, I guess.
So here we are. Another summer awaits me and I’ve got plans. Here are some of the things on my plate, each included to help me fill my cup before I have to go back and pour it all out again for next year’s students.
(Side Note: We saw WellRED Comedy–the three-man group who wrote Liberal Redneck Manifesto–when they came to Dayton. So worth the cost of tickets and babysitting. If you’ve never even heard of the Liberal Redneck video that started it all, you have got to check out Crowder’s video that went viral about the transgender bathrooms ridiculousness from several years ago.)
And with this new pen and tablet, I can do awesome things like this,
Imagine that sped up to take only five seconds total. Overlay it on an image.
So much I want to do.
Let it all begin.
…aren’t really weekends and holidays.
Today, when someone says to me, “Only one more day until the weekend,” I think, Nooo!!! It can’t be!!!
When I come in to work on Monday morning, sometimes I sing, “It’s the Most. Wonderful. Dayyyyy of the Weeeek!” (If you missed it, I go to work to “relax.”)
Not kidding. Ask my students.
When people describe their weekends using the words, Nothing much, or Pretty low-key, I think, You lucky dog, You.
When someone says, “Any big plans for the holiday,” I think, Yes, keeping my children alive and keeping myself sane until it’s time to go back to work where things are so much easier.
Where I can just do work without having to simultaneously mentally track a toddler’s location at any given moment.
Where I can do things like think. And eat while sitting down. And zone out.
Before I had kids, I never understood the “I never get to sit down to eat comment” that I would sometimes hear from mothers.
Just insist that your kids sit down so you can sit down, I would think. I would never let my kids dictate whether I can sit or stand.
Oh, sweet naive little Me.
It’s not that kids insist that you stand while they eat.
It’s more like, the toddler pushed his food off his tray. So you need to pick that up.
Or the older one slid into her chair at the table and managed to take the tablecloth with her. And there goes her plate. And she’s trying to pick up the food off the floor–and mashing it further into the carpet.
Or Surprise! The toddler decided now is a good time to poop.
Or. Or. Or.
A few weeks ago, one of the funniest tweets by parents published by Huffington Post was, “Every meal with my children is fifteen hours long.”
Amen, Girlfriend. Amen.
So it was just recently Memorial Day weekend, as you’ll recall.
How do I even explain to you how I was feeling by Sunday night, when I can usually see the light at the end of the tunnel…
By Sunday night, I found myself staring at a sink full of pots. My husband said, “Just go sit down. I’ve got this.”
In my head, I thought. No. Please. Seriously. Let me occupy myself with inanimate things that can’t cry to pull at me or give me sass or yell for me to wipe their butts after they’ve pooped.
But what I said was, “No. Please. Right now, I just really need to be away from kids. They are bringing me no joy right now.”
Until that point, I had taken both kids to church so Doug could stay home and do house repairs without interruptions. To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind this time because both kids go to the nursery and I sit in the luxury of unattached solitude in an air-conditioned space with the stability of the music and liturgy reminding that, Hey, it’s going to be okay.
After that, while the toddler napped and my husband got a head start on cooking for the weekly meal (that’s how we save time prepping meals in the week), I had taken the older one to a children’s museum for two hours of Run-Around Time, followed by a trip to Target (because the toddler needs new shoes), although the older one really didn’t want to go. And Mama, you could just drop me off at home first, How does that sound?
But I don’t wanna go!!!!!!
Then, because I couldn’t stomach the idea of sitting in their play room while the toddler turned into King Kong, attempting to bust down the baby gate, it was two hours outside in the hot humidity of May (!?!) while my kids played at the water table. The toddler–who is finicky about which sippy cup he’ll use to drink his milk versus which one he’ll use to drink water–was actually gulping cup after cup of (certainly) parasite-infested water directly from the same table that 24 hours earlier had been sitting in our garage, covered in garage dust and spider webs.
Gulp. Gulp. No problem drinking today, Mama!
Oh, sweet, sweet Lord.
The water table is actually a great idea. For about fifteen minutes. That’s about the longevity of both children being occupied by only the water table.
After fifteen minutes, the sphere of entertainment grows by about a foot every several minutes.
First, they’re wandering over to the mulch and bringing handfuls of it over to the water.
Then, they’re finding the broom in the garage and bringing it over to the mulch.
Because it needs to be swept?
Then, they’re pulling their tricycles and bikes over to the water table.
Why? Does there ever have to be a reason?
And maybe they’re even bringing the scooter, which belongs to the older child (although it’s the toddler who more frequently requests to use it) which means that one parent is hunched over the toddler on a scooter, carefully guiding it down the driveway while said toddler teethes on the rubbery handles, his slobber landing on his new toddler shoes. (The slobber, I’ve heard, helps break them in.)
And then the older child says, “Let’s play Little Red Riding Hood, Mama. You’re the Big Bad Wolf and Henry’s the grandma.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the Three Bears.”
Oh, that makes sense.
And then it’s time for dinner, but they’re covered in sweat and sunscreen and snot (?!?) and water table parasites. So it’s actually really Bath Time. So all their clothes come off in the laundry room and they’re running around the house naked or in just a diaper while you’re picking up the trail of shoes and towels and clothing they’ve left behind. So you’re trying to get everything straight into the washer–only, there’s already a finished load that needs to be dried and a dry load that needs to be folded. So you’re doing that. And then it hits you–
Oh my God, where did the toddler go?
And he’s rummaging through the diaper changing area, chewing on latex gloves with a smile on his face.
Death avoided again.
Then baths. Then dinner. Then dishes. Then vacuuming for the third time. Then laundry. And, oh yeah, I need to do my laundry.
Then bottle for the toddler, books for the older one.
I really can’t think of anything more exhausting and less holiday-like than spending 72 hours with my own young children.
Every holiday, in my head (and sometimes aloud), I think, Someday, holidays will be holidays again.
Until then, pass the parasites, I guess.
For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.
In 2014, that project was writing my first book.
In 2015, it was publishing my first book.
2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.
This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.
Not recipes. Think techniques.
For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”
This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)
But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).
Oh. And he detests social media.
So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)
I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”
Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”
“No seriously. He should have a channel.”
“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”
But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.
I don’t think we can put it off anymore.
So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.
But hey. That’s never stopped me before.
Also on the summer dockett:
And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.
And how about a baby on a motorcycle?
So hang on to your Harleys.
It’s going to be a busy summer.