Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Blues

Labor Day terrifies me.

Not because it’s a holiday thunk up by some lefties and their sympathizers* so we could have federally ordained day to grill, picnic and come home from a trip.  It’s scary because it sneaks up on you like a flash mob – not the good kind where people meet in a public venue and burst into a choreographic tribute to Baryshnikov, Travolta and the Peanuts gang.  I mean the very bad kind where very bad people sneak up on you and beat you up, leaving you unable to think straight, sleep or eat, and as jumpy as if you’d just consumed an quintuple espresso.  

Just like that, bam!  It’s the first day of school.

Sure I saw the TV commercials for back-to-school shopping in July.  Why would I have paid attention to those?  Then I was still shopping for flip-flops and a new figure-flattering swimsuit for my vacation.  I denied and denied, and now it’s upon me.

As a teacher this is shameful.  I’ve been on an academic schedule every year save one since I graduated from college.  I should be emotionally prepared, if not overjoyed right now.  At the start of the school year, if you throw open the curtains of a good teacher’s soul, you should see sunshine, birds chirping and unicorns dancing on rainbows, not a homeless man spewing profanities and pulling the newspapers back over his face. 

Truth be told, it’s performance anxiety.  Once I get back into the building and into the classroom everything’s fine, great even.  I love seeing beloved colleagues, old students and new, and the feeling of a clean slate.  I suddenly realize that I have not forgotten how to teach. While my systems might need tweaking, there’s no need to stress over completely reinventing the wheel. As I reenter the zone, where teaching flows, I remember that I’m pretty good at what I do. And then there are the perks! The joy of speaking to adults. Of using the toilet without an audience. Of having lunch with friends. Of regular alone time in the car to and from work.  Simple, yet huge pleasures.

And soon it's all normal.  By the end of Week One, it’s like there was no break at all. Summer is a distant memory.

Just six weeks ago, when summer term ended, I was terrified by the prospect of SAHM-hood.  But I got it down.  I followed my little manifesto ( reasonably well if I do say so myself.  Sure there were days we all cried.  Sure there were days I was certain someone would leave the house in an ambulance and/or in handcuffs.  Sure there were days that I longed to be at work, even on a those-students-couldn’t-find-their-butt-with- both-hands kind of day.  But the kids and I had a fun summer hanging out with our regulars at the park, and going on lots of playdates and outings.  We had a great family vacation.  I started this blog which I love writing.  This summer, I felt like I had it figured out.

Now it’s a return to the advanced-level Motherhood Shuffle, to coming home from work, and after the reunion hugs, being plunged into dinner and bath and bed rituals, to stuffing 4 more slices into a pie that’s already bursting.   What’s going to give?  What will I be doing a mediocre, if not downright craptastic job at?

It cannot and will not be my children, so unfortunately work takes a hit.   I simply do not have the time to prep that I used to.  I used to be a pretty stellar well-prepared teacher.  Now (imagine this being said with an intonation somewhere between Scarlet O’Hara and Jesse Jackson), I depend on the powers of improvisation, the luck of divine inspiration and the immediacy of desperation.  Most often, I’m lucky.  I wipe my brow and say to myself, “Fooled ‘em again.” But sometimes I’m not.  And when you’re teaching something you’ve been doing your whole life, something that is like your religion, it feels awful. I console myself by saying I was doing 110% before, so now giving 85%, which is pretty good, will have to do. Still, it is no fun to feel like you have a chronic case of half-ass.  It’s no fun to be constantly questioning my perfomance.  I make peace with myself, but the doubts resurface. 

This Labor Day, as my firstborn, Riley, begins preschool, a milestone which thrills and awes me, I turn a new corner in the land of “How-Am-I-Gonna?”.  How do I get three people out the door and to two different places without being ridiculously late to work?  How do I meet Riley’s needs as a preschooler, as well as Aria’s as she becomes a full-fledged toddler?  Today I don’t know.  But very soon I will.  It might not always be pretty, but I’ll get there.  Just as I answered the How-am-I-gonnas of bringing home two newborns (and getting them to this point), I’ll figure this one out, as I will many more to come.  Such is motherhood, until somehow, someday, you touch down on the pleasant, sunny shores of “How-Did-I-Ever?”.

*I heart lefties and their sympathizers!


  1. i love your blog! even though in CA school starts before labor day (?!), the end of summer is as traumatic as its beginning. the routines change and the kids get cranky, not knowing what's coming next and what to expect and it sucks! then in august (for me) it's back to normal, up and at 'em at an ungodly hour, preparing healthy meals and giving admonitory lectures about appropriate school behavior.

    this year J started middle school and i'm back to two drop-offs in the morning and i'm not loving it at all. Z's school starts at 7.50 and J's at 9, so we have an hour to kill in between, which means i am by definition, *always* late to work. i don't know who came up with the idea of a 9.00 school start, but s/he will owe me a ton of money in lost revenue after 3 years of this nonsense.

    you're right that something has to give when juggling career and family, and how could it not be career? you're not being half-ass, you're not a fraud (that's my nomenclature for the feeling you describe) -- you have priorities that sometimes conflict and you make choices about how to resolve those conflicts in the most humane way possible. in a way, it's a structural inequity that those of us who choose to have families have to make these faustian bargains, but since we weren't born in france i guess we have to make do. i'm hopeful that it will all work out in the end, but i'm not sure, and that troubles me sometimes. ugh!


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