In the last 6 weeks I have been away from my kids for 14 days. In that same time frame I have also been without a networked computer for 14 days. Guess which one makes me feel like a crack addict without her cocaine.
November is always a difficult month. Mid-semester woes give way to preparation for the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English, which is always held the week(end) before Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving following on the heels of the convention, I often do not see my students for three full weeks. This span is particularly difficult since it comes during a time when my students need much support in preparing their final projects. So each year I design my syllabus with November in mind, and I return from the convention and Thanksgiving exhausted, only to race to the end of the semester.
This year the convention took me to Orlando, and my increased national duties kept me away for an extended time. I tacked on two personal days of vacation with my mom, who I have not travelled with since before kids, and the trip in total kept me away from my kids for seven days. Since Disney does not provide wireless Internet, and charges a bundle for wired in-room access, I was also away from my email and the online community where my students post work and ask questions for seven days.
By day four I began to long for my kids. I had been dealing with the shakes that resulted from my network disconnect since day two.
I returned to life after the conference on Tuesday, spent the afternoon chauffeuring my kids and the evening sifting through email, prioritizing the Wednesday to-do list. My Facebook status pronounced that I had 500 email to read, skim or delete. By Tuesday night, I had the inboxes down to 75, all of which required more than a quick response. Wednesday I spent the majority of the day dealing with these tasks, and I had hoped to read the postings on the online forum from my students, some of whom had been waiting nearly two weeks for a response. I knew that if I did not finish my network responsibilities that day, they would wait until the following Monday because I was headed to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving, where again I would be without wireless access for my computer.
I did not finish the work that Wednesday, but I was able to spend “quality” time taking care of my kids over the Thanksgiving weekend. The holiday festivities, which include my husband’s annual Black Friday shopping trip with his mom, kept me occupied as Mama, and Dr. T did not have time to steal away to the wired PC located in my in-laws’ upstairs office. My mind, however, kept track of the responses I had not made and the work I needed to complete. After taking the kids to see Toy Story on Ice, I was thoroughly Disney-ed out and admittedly exhausted by re-entering the realm of MOM. Sunday was a day for rest – and laundry – and the work related tasks had to wait another day.
I finally responded to my students after the weekend, and I spent the week catching up and trying to get ahead, again. As I write this post, I’m on another airplane, travelling to another conference. Preparing the house to run smoothly while I’m gone is a challenge of its own. Arranging babysitter coverage, writing explanations for doctor’s visits that need to happen while I’m away, filling out forms for the preschool, reminding my husband to take money for the teachers' gifts… these are just some of the tasks I organized in preparation for my trip. Like the one I left for my trip to Orlando, a printout of the schedule for the next two days sits on the counter for everyone at home to follow.
In looking at my spring schedule, I realize I have three more conferences and a retreat, all of which will require days away from my kids. I’m okay with that even though I know I will miss them and even though I know it will make more pre-work for me. I’m okay with that, I should say, as long as I have access to the Internet at all of those venues. The hardest part, I think, is missing my kids because of my work and then returning home to my kids, only to be consumed still by my work. It’s neither the nights away from my kids nor the days without Internet that affect me so deeply. It’s the combo that gives me the shakes.