Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's in a commute?

I had to take 8 courses to major in history in college.  I took 5 of them with the same professor, primarily because he taught most of the American history courses that interested me and partly because he taught all of his classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which made for a nice, long-weekend schedule.  Somehow this professor, a VERY tenured professor, arranged to be on campus only two days a week.  Rumor had it that he needed this schedule because he had an extremely long commute - he lived an hour away.  I remember being amazed that someone would live an hour away from work, more than 50 miles one way. 

Now, of course, I live in NJ, where a 45 minute commute is typical and an hour drive is not uncommon.  My commute to NYC this morning took me two hours. As I climbed three stories out of the subway station and started the 4-block and 2-avenue walk to the school where I was teaching today, I recognized that in the two hours it had taken me to reach my Thursday destination, I could have commuted from my home to central PA, back to my undergraduate institution.  And I laughed at my naive college self who thought that my professor's hour-long drive was ridiculous.

After finishing my teaching at the school across town, I hopped on a bus to the West side, where my office is located.  I returned to my office today because I am scheduled to participate in an author conversation with the editor of Kappan magazine.  She has selected me as the featured author of the September issue, and I am about to be interviewed over the phone while webinar participants send questions electronically. I expect to leave the office by 5:15 or so, putting me back in my house around 7.  Considering I left at 6:45 this morning, I felt it was a relatively reasonable work day, one that would not be uncommon for many people.

As I walked from the bus stop to my office, trying desperately to remember everything I possibly can about the topic of the day's conversation, I calmed myself by noticing the beautiful day in NYC.  I glanced up at an apartment building just a few blocks from my office, and I thought about the travel I had accomplished that day.  "If I lived in that building," I thought, "how would my life be different?"

I would still have a 30 minute commute across town to the school where I am teaching this semester.  But I would have a ten minute walk to my office.  Would I come to my office every day?  If I did that, would I be wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life in the academe? Would my career make center stage in my life and the balance fall apart completely?  Is my commute, in fact, helping me keep the balance?

In some ways, though it is time consuming and exhausting, I like having the long commute because it keeps my job from becoming all consuming.  I can't be here everyday, and because of that, I can put more priorities on my family life and stress a little less about the job.  I don't mind working 12 or 16 hour days once or twice a week because I am able to see my kids for lunch, take them to school, or play in the park on some of the other days.  Unlike my college prof, however, I can be here two days in a row if I need to be, which allows me to have an active career and to prioritize tasks to be done on campus and those to be done from my office at home.

Perhaps tonight on my long trip home, which will include a walk, a subway, a train, and a drive, I'll continue to ponder how the travel, which once seemed insurmountable, helps me to have it all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Numbers aren't my thing

My colleagues and I have a vision for teacher education in NYC.  We want to prepare teachers who are ready to serve urban populations, who understand what it means to teach and learn in NYC classrooms.  Though we feel we have done an adequate job in the past, we know we could do better.  So this semester three of us are piloting a new program, one where we, the university faculty, accompany our students into real classrooms - where we all learn with real teachers who are working with real students.  This work is exciting, and it's also exhausting.  Coordinating with the school, recruiting teachers who are willing to have us visit their classrooms, collaborating with two other professors who are, in practice, teaching two different courses than I am - all of this work to achieve what, in theory and in hope, will be a better education of teachers, one that is interdisciplinary and based in the real world.

Luckily, I only have 13 students this semester to follow, to coach, and to assess.  I feel fortunate that this number is so small, particularly because the numbers for me to keep track of at home have increased beyond my expectations.

We decided to split our son and daughter into two different preschool classes.  Our reasoning had everything to do with them and nothing to do with us.  If I had thought about the effect separate classes would have on a twin mama... well, I wouldn't have reconsidered, but I would have better prepared myself for the start of school.

We received two class lists in August, one for "yellow" and one for "red."  I glanced at the names, looking for the few I recognized from last year.  For some reason it didn't hit me then.  It didn't hit me that there were 14 names on each page, 28 kids, each with two parents listed.  I started to realize that the numbers were not in my favor when I received an email from one of the moms on one of the lists.  I have no idea who sent the email, but I do remember she was organizing a park play date for the "red" class.  By the time I received the email, the class lists were "filed" somewhere on the growing mail pile, and I stared at the computer trying to recall which of my kids was in the "red" class.

I began to realize that splitting the kids was going to be harder than I had anticipated.  My mental math revealed that I would have to learn the routines of 2 classrooms, the personalities of 4 teachers, the names of 26 classmates, and the faces of 50 other parents (there's a set of twins in Megan's class, so I was spared the extra 2 parents).  For someone who has steered clear of numbers whenever possible, the stats are overwhelming.

My husband and I attended parent night and parent visitation, splitting the classrooms by gender, and this decision put me at an even greater disadvantage for my son's class during the parent tea, where I comfortably approached five or six parents I recognized from my daughter's "red" class.  As I looked around the room, I realized I recognized no one from the "yellow" class.  And I didn't have the energy to canvass tables searching for the potential 26 unknown moms or dads. 

The logistics of collecting the two of them in different classrooms also confused me for a bit.  The school is two stories, and I was not expecting the kids to be on different floors.  They are, and pick up is very structured.  Kids are released according to the parent line that waits outside the door and depending on their behavior in the closing circle. I realized quickly that I needed to be at the front of the "red" line in order to collect my daughter and scurry downstairs to collect my son in a timely manner.  I didn't make it the first day, and my son was playing quietly, alone, with his teachers downstairs.  The staff at the preschool is very supportive, and I'm sure my son did not think I had abandoned him, but I'm sure I added a few stress lines this week.

Fortunately, I have devised a plan, complete with labeled folders, for keeping track of everything.  Now if I can just figure out how to explain it to the various caregivers, school staff, and family members who will help me keep it all together so that I can attend to my 2 university teaching partners, 13 students, and unknown number of high school faculty who will help me accomplish an exciting adventure at work. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What a difference a day makes

I fully intended to write this week about going back to school, and particularly about the unanticipated complications of separating twins, but that will have to wait.  Today I need to describe what happened yesterday.

I am not consistent about carrying my cell phone to my bedroom, which I really need to do in case our babysitter calls out for the day.  If the phone is not by my bed, I won't get the message until my husband and/or I are ready to walk out the door to work.  Yesterday morning, my phone was on the nightstand.  This was, perhaps, the most fortuitous circumstance of my day.

Though I could weave an entertaining story about yesterday's events, in the interest of time (I have very little) and sanity (I have even less), I will let the story unfold through the events as they happened in real time.

Wednesday, the second day of the first week back at school

4:37AM    My brand new babysitter, who had spent the last few weeks learning the ropes and transitioning care from our former nanny so that my return to school would be seamless for the kids, sends me a text that says, "I'm not going to be able to come in today.  I'm sorry."

6:00AM    I wake up early, check the phone next to my bed to find the text from my sitter.  "Crap," I think. "It's the first week back at school."  My next thought is, "crap, I have cramps."  I whisper to my husband, still sleeping beside me, that the day is off to a great start.  Rather than taking another catnap until the kids wake up, I get out of bed and hit my computer, pounding out some work before I lose the rest of the day to unexpected child caring duties.

6:45AM    It dawns on me that the text is extremely vague and that I might need to find child care for Thursday and Friday, two days I must go into the city during this first week of classes.  Is she sick?  Was there a death in the family?  I text her to ask her to let me know, when she is able, what is wrong so I know whether to secure child care for upcoming days.  No response.

8:00AM   Begin morning routine of breakfast, etc.  Things run smoothly.  I call my mom to complain about losing my sitter during this first week of school.  I vent because she didn't give me a good reason.  Inside, I know something is majorly wrong because this nanny prided herself on never missing work, even when she was sick. 

8:30AM   I call chiropractor because daughter hasn't pooped in a week.  And because my back is hurting and I had to cancel my acupuncture appointment because my nanny called out without a good explanation.  I make appt. for 11:45

9:00AM  I turn on TV for kids while I finish some work.  They happily sit.  Daughter flits in and out of my office, but I manage to get some work done.

9:50AM  I take kids upstairs so I can change for gym workout.  I intend to leave by 10:15 so I can get a 45 minute workout before chiropractor appt.

10:22AM  I finally pull car out of driveway.

10:40AM   I get happily on the elliptical machine, after having dropped the kids in the gym day care. 

10:47AM  Gym babysitter appears on the floor in front of me.  "Your daughter had an accident."  I climb off the machine and change my kid's underwear and pants.

11:25AM   I check iPhone for email.  Invitation to speak at a conference in Indiana brightens my mood.

11:30AM   I leave gym for chiropractor.  Somehow I lose 5 minutes on the trip, and I arrive 5 minutes late.  Adjustment goes smoothly.  Back feels remarkably better.  Daughter leaves office smiling.

12:15PM   Kids buckled into seats.  I pick up phone to check for messages.  Still hoping to hear from sitter.  New email from sitter.  It says she is quitting and her last day is next Wednesday.  The message contains more information on why she needs to leave (her husband's promotion), but I can barely read it.  I'm trying not to hyperventilate in front of the kids.

12:17PM  Call husband.  I'm panicked.  He's cool.  We decide I will call him back after I get the kids home and feed them lunch.  I start driving, trying hard not to break down crying since I know from my NET therapy with chiropractor ( that my reaction to the situation could give my kids neck pain when they are thirty-something.  I pull it together and take care of my kids.
1:30PM  Kids in bed for nap.  Husband and I make plan of action - he will call one of the other girls we interviewed for the position a few months ago.  Daughter decides not to take a nap.  She is showing signs of pooping. I give her juice and water.  She spends the rest of the afternoon and evening running to the potty and squirting enough in her undies to require a change (at least 6 pairs). I spend in-between times repeatedly calling my mom to try to catch her and find out her schedule for the upcoming weeks and cleaning/setting up for the volunteer meeting that I am hosting at 7:30PM, one that has been planned for months.

3:15PM  Daughter waddles around room, and I take her to potty.  She sits on potty, passing a monster poop.  In the process, she arches up and shoots pee all over me.  I think that it is a fitting addition to this dreadful day.  I clean up mess on potty while she dances in the bathroom begging me to call Dr. Jenn and tell  her that she pooped.  I text the Dr. and change my clothes, putting my soiled ones in the Oxyclean bucket with all of my daughter's underwear.  I make a mental note to run a "personal stains" cycle on my wash tonight.

6:00PM  We have secured grandparents to cover the days I absolutely cannot stay home in the next few weeks.  Husband worries because girl has not returned his phone call.  He calls again.  He emails.

6:45PM  I realize I am in sweat shorts and crabby t-shirt and go to change for the volunteer meeting.  I help husband get kids in bed.

7:30PM  Volunteers begin to arrive for meeting.  Nanny girl calls husband back, and he has good conversation.  He begins calling references.

9:00PM  References have all given positive reviews.  Husband pokes head into volunteer meeting, and I tell him we will talk later.

10:00PM  Volunteers have departed, and I talk to husband.  We agree to hire nanny girl.  I head back downstairs to clean up from volunteer meeting.

10:40PM  I head to bed, ready for my alarm to ring at 5AM to head to the city for my first day of classes.  Crises seemingly averted.