Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Priorities or Neuroses?

So I'm back at work for the semester.

It's my first day back at Macalester College in St Paul where I feel like I've won the lottery with my career. I kept tenure at the Midwestern Public University where I now teach only in the fall semesters, and that leaves the spring semesters open to pursuing other adventures. This past semester was my first one back at my 'real' job and the one thing that I walked away with was the knowledge at how simply satisfied I was there and how much I generally enjoy the students there as well as my colleagues, even after my experience with this elite college and its incredibly smart and motivated students. Maybe it is just the ability to have both that is so amazing.


So this semester I am teaching one course, an applied statistics course that is cross-listed with Math and is more fun than hard for both me and the students. It is my first time teaching it, so a new prep but still.

In addition, I'm auditing a course on behavioral economics with an eye to teach it in the future and working on three separate lines of research.

So here I am, the time between classes, getting started on some of this work and another adjunct gal walked into our shared office and we spent some time catching up. She is a former Manhattan investment-banker type whose entrepreneur husband made it big so they decided to move back to the land of reasonable real estate and nice people to procreate. Two kids later (one now 3 and one now 1) and she's interested in balancing life a bit more by adjuncting at her alma mater.

We quickly deposed each other about our schedules, where our kids are, what kinds of preschools we're considering, etc. and here's what I walked away with:

She has care (either a nanny or preschool) for her kids 8 hours/day, 5 days/week and she is teaching one class with zero research requirements.

This will be, nearly literally, the fifth semester that I have juggled our now three year old (he goes to Mother-of-Four's two days per week this semester) as well as the demands of a sometimes full, but always heavy, load of teaching, research and service.

What is my problem? Or are her priorities off?

It gets back to my obsessive pre-grieving. I view this time with Big -- this January until next September as, really, the last time in his life and mine where his time is still, really all mine. And I don't want to miss a thing.

Obviously, even at the expense of my own sanity.

What are all of your thoughts on the work life balance in conjunction with both maintaining sanity and in being present as fully as possible in our children's childhoods?


Liz said...

Hey -- we have nice people here (well at least in Brooklyn, I can't be as indignant about Manhattan even though it is E's birth place). Ridiculous real estate, yes, but nice people too!

xoxo from Brooklyn!

hw said...

I think it's impossible. And, I think that we always think we're not cutting it.

I once thought you could have both - have a wildly successful career and be supermom. Now that I have a career and have kids, I know that there would have to be more than 168 hours in a week to achieve that success. I think you can be good. Sometimes I think you can be great. But you'll always feel unsatisfied or that you're failing one thing or another.

But, really, I'm a pessimist with perfectionist tendencies.

giddings said...

My empirical results on Niceness in Brooklynites is based on quite a small sample (2) plus, you all aren't KNOWN for being nice like us Minnesotans now, are you?

MaMaMia said...

my thought: both the hardest and best time of my life

Polly said...

Work life balance? You mean, balance can/could/might be achieved?

Not happening for me.

I botch just about everything but childcare, which I do 75% of the time. Now if I go and calculate and find that the time I spend caring for one or both kids (&/or downstairs cousins) is any less than 75% of the time, the cause of the inequity will either be (a) my mathematical ineptitude, (b) my inability to judge time or priorities accurately, (c) the disproportionate amount of energy childcare feels like it takes up, or (d) all of the above.

Sigh. This whole work/life balance thing seems to be utterly chimerical. I'm trying to work on my outlook instead of my hours. Will send up a flare if/when I manage to lasso either one.

chumpy said...

I reckon I think about our family version of this every day.
Wifey relinquished a successful career to become full-time hands-on carer. I work full-time in a demanding job to bank roll us all. At times the grass is greener for both of us. Wifey regrets the sacrifice of her career. I miss out on being with our children. Feelings compounded by our respective roles being determined by the earning potential society attaches to my job.
We choose this as it means that one of us, at least, supports our children practically and emotionally as we expose them to the fullest range of childhood experience. We have four children: aged 8,4 and 2 year old twins. At times the skill of time management seems impossible; our lives are very full and very busy.
However, perhaps the biggest challenge for us two parents has been in finding satisfaction and fulfilment in our respective roles. Our physical and emotional comfort zones have been redefined over and over. Embracing this challenge has been a great source of fulfilment in itself.
Our choice to parent this way is fuelled and sustained by many different things- including childhood experience of emotionally or physically absent parents.
Perhaps it all depends on your definition of sanity or insanity: a well seasoned debate over the years!
Apologies for the lengthy comment- but one final point have you considered the importance of being around (and the impact of this on your availability for work) for the time he is at nursery/school?