The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Swimming my way out..

The fact that I haven't blogged in almost three weeks is a testimony to how truly crazy it has been around here.

Let me try to do a quick drive by of it all.

Marc went to Iowa for graduate school for a week. He had gone out of town for fun with a friend the week before, and doing this much parenting on my own in the first couple weeks of elementary school for V and grad school for me... it was just plain too much. SO much fell through the cracks. I somehow miraculously managed to pack my son a nutritious lunch every day; I somehow managed to get all of my own homework done... but not both of us. I accidentally left for school without my own lunch (or brought it and then completely forgot to stop to take time to eat it) on at least one occasion. Vinny accidentally went to school without his homework on Friday. I missed back to school night (which he still doesn't know... he thinks I went, and I feel terrible. He keeps telling me about stuff and saying, "Didn't you see that when you went to back to school night?" but it was my 2nd night of class at CSUN and I felt like I just couldn't afford to miss it).  In a nutshell... things fell apart.

Marc came back, and I went away. "Tag... you're it," is a pretty accurate description of our parenting style lately. We do a triangle game of tag between my mom, Marc, and I, but we get the job done, and my kids seem relatively healthy and happy, so I guess it is okay.

Honestly, me going away was probably the healthiest thing I could do. I was really on the verge of completely falling apart. I spent a couple of days in Palm Springs with friends who can really let me be me and it all be okay, and it really was wonderful.

We somehow survived another whirlwind week. Marc and I even managed to sit down to dinner together with our children on several occasions that week.

We threw together a pretty awesome party for T on Saturday, which really is much thanks to the awesome people at The Jump Around where we had her party. They pretty much did everything. I rushed to shop for presents on Friday night, but then we spent Saturday just getting food ready and watching her play with her presents. By the time we got to the party that night, I felt like my "work" as party host was over. I really got to have fun playing with my kid and talking to my family and friends. I may forever be spoiled on paying places to host my parties, because that was wonderful.

Life is as busy as ever, but we are adjusting.

Marc being in graduate school is not as bad as I thought it was going to be, mostly because he is too occupied to interrupt me, which sounds terrible, but really I mean it as a positive. Although Marc's job has always involved some work from home, his job has never been quite as demanding as mine. When I am NOT in the middle of grad school classes, spending quality time with my family in the evenings is not completely unattainable. I can make time to play with my kids, watch television and chat with my husband, and sometimes even do some things to take care of myself, like go to the gym and stuff like that.
While graduate school classes are in session, it is nearly impossible for me to do this type of stuff. I make time where I can, but there just plain is not a lot of it. I try to reserve the vast majority of my weekends for my family. I savor my weekends, truly. I mean -- this Sunday I even took a nap. How rare is that, right? Anyhow, last year, I know it was hard for Marc to understand that I cannot really focus on my homework and watch a tv show and carry on a conversation. I am the queen of multitasking, so he assumes I can handle it all (because I CAN grade papers, watch a tv show, and have an occasional conversation), but graduate school is possibly the first time in my life I have found completing college coursework honestly challenging, and I don't mean just in the amount of work. I actually cannot multitask this stuff very well.  This always makes me feel really bad when he is trying to have a conversation with me, and I am passively participating or just plain getting irritated.

So... beauty of Marc being in graduate school too is that our evenings have taken on a much different atmosphere. It is not unusual for us to sit silently for hours working side by side. Neither of us feels guilty for abandoning the other.

So life lately pretty much looks like this: We both work our butts off and are pretty much working every second that we are awake Monday through Friday, but we try to let it go (somewhat) and just be parents on the weekends. It is not ideal, but it is working, which is something.

At the beginning of this week, I was feeling just crazy overwhelmed. T's birthday left me with new toys all over the house and old toys to get rid of etc etc, and I didn't get any of my backlog done at all. I stayed at school way late just trying to sort through the massive piles of papers. I just gathered together the entire sea of trees and dumped it on one chair and started sorting into piles: to file, to do, to grade, to pass back, reuse, recycle. I took the "to do" pile home and attempted to cancel my gym date for the evening.

Me: Too stressed for gym.
Barb:  Perhaps you need to the gym Jacuzzi?
Me: Eh.....
Me: Short jog, long soak. See you there.

It actually turned out to be a very worthwhile trip. I know, logically, that exercise, relaxation, and my social circle, do actually help me to keep my head above water, but it is hard to make that add up in my head sometimes.  However... I think well while I run, and even better while I soak, so I came home with a much clearer perspective on the situation.

I reached out for help with the piles. A couple of students are coming tomorrow. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yea!!!  Plus, my pile sorting efforts were actually relatively effective. My desk at work is actually clear.  My lesson plans for Wednesday and Thursday are completely ready. I came up with a decent plan to get my grad school homework managed this week, and I am more than halfway through it. I may actually get to go and enjoy the food truck festival with my kids and my friends tomorrow night, without worrying terribly about everything I have to do.

Things are going to be okay. It really is all about priorities, and sometimes... friends, family, and mental health really do make all the other stuff work out better too.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grad School Parents

    So, my delightful children now officially have TWO parents in graduate school.  Joy.

    This is the one thing I wanted to avoid and never thought was going to happen. A year ago, I decided to go back for my Masters for many reasons, but honestly mostly to put off full repayment mode on my student loans.  My parents kind of hated the idea -- if you know me well, you might even remember that they planned an intervention to try to talk me out of it, which ended in me convincing them that I really needed to do this financially, and them convincing me to promise I would not let myself get signed up for any new responsibilities at all while I am in graduate school.

     During our post BA years, Marc and I had both talked about going back to school eventually, but I kind of knew that mine would be sooner rather than later. A masters degree translates much more directly to more money in the teaching world than it does in average ministry position. When I decided to go back, Marc made comments about going back "someday," but I made it quite clear that it would need to be after I finished, as we can't afford two sets of grad school loans, nor could we handle both of us bogged down by grad school homework.

      But things changed as life has a tendency to do. Marc got a new job at the Lutheran church where he grew up. We are really thrilled to be at this church. Their doctrine really lines up quite perfectly with where our hearts lie on many important issues, and we are very happy here overall. The only drawback is that Marc has always been considered a pastor in other churches we've been at, but in the Lutheran denomination, ministers are only considered pastors if they are ordained. Their ordination process is long and tedious. It requires   a Masters degree from a Lutheran seminary, an internship, etc.

      Now, you might be thinking, "What's in a name? Pastor.... Minister.... That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  Well, not exactly.  Not having the title of pastor limits what Marc can do in the Lutheran church, pretty significantly, so his potential for growth is very limited. More directly impacting us would be the fact that without the title of pastor, they will not report him as "clergy" to the government. This affects us financially pretty profoundly. Most pastors (except a few high profile exceptions) do not make much money, so they receive some tax breaks. It basically goes back to the days when most clergy lived in parsonages on church property. Since church property is tax exempt, this creates an unfair advantage for churches with parsonages. To even the score, pastors' housing costs are tax exempt regardless of where they live.  We have always benefitted from this tax exemption. It has allowed us to stay in a lower tax bracket and survive fairly comfortably.

      Well, no "clergy" title... no tax exemption. We will be in a much higher tax bracket by the time we file next April. This has the potential to really, really break us.

     We thought a lot about what to do, and Marc decided that it was best to just start the ordination process, especially since it is five years long. (Yes, you read that correctly... FIVE years).

      So, he filed the paper work, went through interviews, applied to graduate schools, etc. Somehow, he ended up at a seminary in Iowa. It is a long story, but it is basically a distance learning-hybrid program. He does have to travel to Iowa several times a year, but the majority of his classes will be distance learning.  His reading list is out of control. He has about five times the reading I have this semester.  (Not at all exaggerating).  This is going to make for a very interesting year. Graduate school has not been a walk in the park for me, and I am, and always have been, a very good student, but working full time, parenting, and keeping up with all the homework has been a huge challenge. The only reason I have gotten through is that I have been able to just tell Marc when I am overwhelmed that he needs to just completely take care of the kids at night and let me just work.  That is not going work any more.

      We have been down this "let's be students together" road before. We got married in college, so this is an old familiar dance. We know each other as students quite well. The difference between Marc studying and me studying is that I can have the television on, be chatting a friend on facebook, and still finish writing a research paper. Marc can barely focus if the water is running.

      I distinctly remember an incident when we were in college where we finished dinner, and I decided to   do the dishes before starting on my homework, so Marc could get started on a paper that was due the next day (yes, you read that correctly - that's just how he works). After a couple of minutes, he says, "Can you stop that?  I can't think."

      "Stop what? Doing the dishes?" I asked.

      "Yeah, it's too loud. I need to focus."

      Marc swears it will be different now, but even if he now does have the ability to focus with noise, he will still need time to do his work. Judging from the size of his reading list... a LOT of time. So, that means I will no longer be able to rely on him taking care of the kids while I get my work done. I really don't know what we are going to do.  I sense the kids are going to start going to bed much earlier, and we are going to start staying up much later. Our coffee budget is about to double.

      On the plus side, it is only one year. I will be finished in May, and after that it really will not matter than much.  But it is going to be an interesting year.  I started my fall classes last week and I already have quite a bit of homework due this Thursday. One would think I could use the long weekend to focus on getting it done, but my five week grades are due Tuesday, so I need to finish grading all my students' papers before I focus on my own. I couldn't rely on Marc this week to help if I wanted to; he is in Iowa.

      Marc has been gone a lot in general lately. He was at summer camp this summer, and at the national Lutheran youth gathering, and he went to Vegas with a friend, and now he is gone again. I am getting really used to being alone. Fortunately, I have some really great friends.   Friends who will do a "girls night in" at my house instead of a girls night out to celebrate the three day weekend. After putting the kids to bed last night, we caught up on my patio, enjoying the perfect weather, and it was just as good as any restaurant or lounge could have been.

     As much as I worry about how we will manage this next year, I am proud of Marc for rising to this challenge and facing it with so much confidence. It is going to be an interesting five years in general. The process involves things like a "cross cultural ministry" internship, and a term as a chaplain in a hospital, as well as his many classes. It is going to be a season of new experiences and challenges, including financial challenges, but at the end of five years, he will be ordained in a church that is a perfect fit for him, and for our family.