Thursday, August 25, 2011

Separation Anxiety

When I went back to work 6 weeks after Asha was born, I was relieved!!! This was the first time in 6 weeks that I had taken a shower before 7pm, the first time in 6 weeks that I got into a quiet car and turned on my own music, the first time in 6 weeks that I was getting adult interaction during the day. You get the picture!!!! Of course it helped that this was also the last week of classes, the next week was exam week and then I would get another 4 weeks at home with her.

When I went back to work 4 weeks later, I felt much worse. This would be a whole semester and I would leave her home every day. By this point she was about 2.5 months old and over the worst of her colic. She was starting to smile and focus on us more and it was much more difficult leaving her. I thought about her all the time I was at school and called about 5-6 times during the day to check on her. Gregg was just starting to get irritated when my parents arrived and they were only too happy to fill me in on all her gestures, sounds, bowel movements etc. every time I called. Shortly after they left, school was done for the semester and I did not have to irritate Gregg for long.

The last few nights have been very difficult for us. We phased out Asha’s middle of the night bottle because it was clear she did not need it. She was drinking a maximum of 4oz at night and then spent another 45 minutes pulling our hair, smiling, examining our teeth etc. She just wanted to play. She has not had a night bottle in the last 4 nights and while she still wakes at least twice, she has stayed up only 15-30 minutes each time. However, I find myself waking up at 4am and unable to go back to sleep. This is very bad because we go to bed around 11pm, we get up with her twice and so waking and staying awake at 4am means I get almost no sleep. I wondered why this kept happening even when I was exhausted. Then it occurred to me – this is separation anxiety. I do not want to leave Asha home on Monday. She is now 10 months. She is crawling, standing, saying mama. She loves me to sit on the floor so she can crawl over me and around me to grab toys I hide. She loves playing hide-and-seek. She loves grabbing my leg, pulling herself up and hanging on while I take mini-steps. She is making new sounds all the time – testing different inflections with the same word. I will miss all this while I am at work.

I have never even considered being a stay-at-home mom (and not just for financial reasons). I love my job and love adult company and interaction. But now I know why they make this decision. I do not want to miss her milestones. I miss her company. It is getting more difficult to leave her as she grows because I love her company and her personality. Oh well!!! I am trying to console myself with the thought that when she reaches an age when she will not want my company, I will feel glad I kept my job!!!!     

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Year is Here!!!!

While most people see January 1st as New Year’s Day, any teacher’s New Year is the first day of the fall semester. New Year has always been bittersweet for me. It lacks the unreflective delight with which I treat Thanksgiving. The New Year always makes me look back as much as forward – assessing the past year, its successes and failures and all that I did not accomplish or did accomplish. I have the same attitude to the new school year. I usually become aware of it through an increasingly tight knot in my stomach. This knot first manifests itself around the beginning of August and makes its way from my stomach to my throat by the back of my throat. It is the stress of the new school year – easing back into a life flooded with emails, grading, teaching, committees, etc. It is the thought of the time you squandered during the summer. I taught summer school this year and started a syllabus for a new course. However, the syllabus is incomplete and I have to finish it and submit it during the first couple of weeks of the semester. Even the small things seem insurmountable – for instance, I need to sew buttons and hems on a number of my skirts and shirts and I need it done before the end of next week. I had all summer to do it but….here we are.

In today’s world, teaching is not a 9am-5pm job. Students email you at all hours of the day and expect a response accordingly. Activities have to be held after school. Most importantly, any and all research has to be done after school. Increasing class sizes do not help. This semester, I have some 175 students in my classes total. That is a lot of grading (no TAs or RAs). Teaching political theory makes it worse because you cannot have multiple choice exams in that subject. Grading 175 papers and 175 essays 3 times in the semester takes up an enormous amount of time. Everything is increasing – students, advisees, grading, committee work etc. Yet, without the research, all these things become boring, mundane and outdated. To be frank, the time to do research is so limited during the semester. Whoever thinks that teachers work part-time for 9 months out of the year never taught a day in their life.
The academic New Year is here and I am going to make a few resolutions here (publicly) in the hopes it will help me to keep them. Some of these I am really good at, others not so much. So here goes:

1. Answer all emails within a 24-hour period
2. Complete all grading within 2 weeks of receiving the exams
3. Get the syllabus for a new class completed and turned in by the end of September
4. Read 5 dystopias for my dystopia project
5. Use fall break for making quizzes for each class and uploading them online

If anyone has any other new year suggestions/resolutions they make for the academic year, please feel free to share. How do you feel about the start of the academic year?

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Being a teacher, I wonder if anyone has ever heard those comments: “Oh, you only work 9 months out of the year.” Or, “you only teach 3-4 hours per day? What do you do the rest of the time?” “You are so lucky to get 3 months off during the summer.” I mean, haven’t the Republicans been saying that the crazy debt we are in is because of teachers unions who extract a lot more money and benefits than is necessary for a job where we stop working at 2-3pm and get 3 months of “vacation”? This is the perception of my profession. This always drives me crazy.

There are two types of exhaustion – physical and mental. I always find myself mentally exhausted at the end of 3 continuous hours of teaching. (Physically exhausted too but that is only because I pace through all 3 hours of class). Anyone who has taught a class knows that a teacher cannot space out mentally for even one minute. That is the minute when someone says or does something stupid. Three hours of total focus is mentally exhausting. At the end of a day like that, I can spend time with Asha and she actually proves to be relaxing. She is physically exhausting to be around but not mentally exhausting (unless she is having a cranky spell which are, thankfully, infrequent).

Problem is that this summer I have spent each second around Asha. She is physically exhausting but not mentally so. However, I get no “mind work” when I am around her. She has learnt to stand and so if my laptop is on, she spends all her time slapping it, pressing random keys and deleting it. If I try to read, she grabs the book and crumples the pages. I do not watch TV around her. So, it can mean hours of grabbing objects and naming them (“ball”, “dog”, “table”) and reading baby board books. At the end of a whole day of this, I am happy to read some fiction and fall into bed. But then I spend all night making lists of things I have to do – syllabi, school prep etc.

I prefer mental exhaustion (without physical exhaustion) to the other way round. At least I feel productive. After watching Asha, I should feel productive and like a good mom, but I do not. I feel like I should not spend time thinking of the other things on my to-do list. I feel I should get more done. I am neither concentrating on her nor on my work. UGGGGHHHHH!!!! Balance is so difficult.

This brings me back to my irritation at those who think of teaching as a 9-month profession. It is not!!! I get paid to work over the summer. Research, proposing a new course to submit to the department, summer teaching, prepping a new course and committee work. This has to be done over the summer. And I have done none of it. During the school year, it is not merely teaching and office hours. We also have committee work, grading, answering interminable (and often inexplicable) emails, research, advising etc etc. The budget crisis is making things worse. Class sizes are larger (I have over 175 students next semester and equivalent grading), the number of advisees keep increasing, the number of committees keep increasing and research time and conference time and money keep decreasing. I guess we are just lucky to have jobs at all. But in two weeks, school starts again. I will have all the mental exhaustion I need then. And I will miss Asha like crazy. It will be more difficult leaving her at home now since she has started crawling, standing and saying mama and baba in the last few months. If I lack balance now, how will I achieve balance then?

This is the problem – everyone has to balance all aspects of their lives. Some are better at it than others. I am not good at it. I either do one thing or another. I am a multi-tasker but find myself unable to do that with Asha. I want to be a good teacher, a good academic, a good mom, a good wife and have some free time to be a well-rounded person. I am coming to the conclusion that this is impossible with a 9-month-old. Maybe it makes sense to wait till she is a little older to impose these expectations on myself. I like balance. I like routine. I like checking things off my to-do list. Asha, unfortunately, does not like any of these things. Oh well. How do other moms balance?