Thursday, December 2, 2010

Work: On sacrifices and sensitivity

My part-time schedule has made me the Boo Radley of the English Department.

I'm a phantom, slipping out quietly while all of those around me go about their middle of the day business, no longer in meetings where I would have been vital last year, not even copied onto e-mails I might have been sending last year.  Stripped of my own classroom due to my part-time status, I spend prep periods in the windowless department office where the motion-sensored lights shut off so frequently that I've mostly given up trying to keep them on and have learned to make due with the one lonely fluorescent panel that acknowledges me.  Yesterday a co-worker ran into my cave to use the crusty office microwave; she startled when the lights went up and she saw me hunched over a pile of essays in the corner, cringing  from the sudden glare.  Boo.

In the classroom, though, I'm still there.  In fact, I'm feeling better than ever about my teaching because I'm not hassled by building politics or harried by five classes worth of planning and grading.  This makes it easier to live with the fact that I'm feeling vaporized in every other aspect of my career.  The decision to go part-time was not made in the interest of advancement; it was made in the interest of my family and my sanity.

My family is happy with the change.  And yet my sanity is tested.

My latest grievance is with world's lack of consideration for working parents.  I've long resented the lack of story hours and organized parent-child activities outside of working hours, and when Big E started school the stakes grew.  She may not have known that they were missing out on a mommy and me music class, but it's hard not to notice that all the other kids had a mother to wave to at the school Halloween Parade. 

The tipping point, though, came recently.  After I expressed some concern about Little E's lack of coloring skills and her teachers seconded it, I set out to address the issue.  This meant that, after some calling around and a fruitless doctor's appointment, I actually needed to speak with someone in the building where I work.

To admit that there might be any obstacle --no matter how small-- between my sweet daughter and whatever she might possibly want out of the world was excruciating, so the conversation would have been difficult no matter what.  That she spent most of our time together reading from a list of pre-schools attended by current kindergartners and suggesting that though she wasn't terribly familiar with any of them they would all be good alternatives to Little E's current school, which she said diplomatically, was not one they typically recommended, did not help. 

The common denominator in the list of acceptable schools?  They were all part-time programs whose exorbitant rates and unaccommodating hours made them impossible for our family.  I could have pointed out her insensitivity or the fact that Big E spent four years in the same program and is now the strongest reader in her class, instead I added this to the sagging sack of guilt I'd been carrying around since I'd spoken to Little E's teachers.  Drank Diet Coke while pregnant, once accidentally went through the car wash with her window slightly open, sent her to daycare for two and a half years...

My frustration over this issue is probably compounded by my concerns about Little E.  But if someone who works less than five hours a day feels the pinch, what about someone who works ten?

If only some noble-hearted Atticus Finch type could take up the cause...

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