Back to the Working World

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This week I returned to work after a 5-year hiatus.

My husband and I decided that when I got pregnant I would quit work and stay home while he continued teaching. I had just begun teaching at a university and I loved my job, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited about taking a break to raise our child. Of course, it turned out to be nothing like a break. My husband would come home from work and I’d be standing on the front porch with a screaming baby in my arms. I looked like one of the back-up dancers from “Thriller,” except I wasn’t dancing. I was barely standing. I would hand our daughter over to my husband before he could even set down his bag.

“Honey, I’ve been at work all day,” he’d complain.

“Really? Do you have to carry your students around on your chest for three hours? Do they scream if you stop singing the Jack Johnson song? Do they poop on you?”

He knew it was a no-win situation.

“At least let me change my clothes first.”

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? I had dried spit-up caked on the back of my T-shirt, sweet potatoes crusted in my hair and a baby Q-tip stuck to my sweatpants. I had lost track of my only bra somewhere back in the third trimester.

To be honest, I thought that my husband had it easy. He taught college kids art for five hours a day. Very few cried or threw tantrums and, for the most part, they were potty trained. My husband wasn’t responsible for making sure his students were fed and bathed–granted, they probably weren’t, but that wasn’t his problem. I, however, was at home trying to make sure our baby survived another day in my incompetent care.

Shockingly, she has. And since kindergarten is just around the corner, I figured it was time to return to the workforce (actually, my mortgage company suggested it). An opportunity came around to teach at the same college where my husband works. I was lucky enough to pick up two courses and I made a personal vow that nothing in my life would fall by the wayside once I started. In addition to staying committed to my daughter and husband, I promised to keep up with my workouts, housework and friends.

So far, so good. Except that I’m having trouble getting dressed.

Dressing for the first day of class, I discovered that I possess very few clothes of the non-sweatpants variety. I dug deep into my closet looking for something other than Nike or denim and unearthed a couple of bridesmaid dresses and a bright red “power suit” my mom gave me in the mid-90s – shoulder pads and all. That just won’t do. I guess I’ll be signing my first paycheck over to The Gap.

Then there’s the problem of getting to class. On most days I have to clean up cat vomit, mobilize my daughter from her post-lunch TV coma and locate her inevitably misplaced toy-of-the-moment, then hand her off like a baton to my husband as he comes out of his class and I go into mine. It’s only the first week and I’ve already eaten a bowl of oatmeal balanced on my steering wheel and attempted to lock my front door by repeatedly pressing the “lock” button on my car key. Today, during my lecture, a Dora sticker dislodged itself from somewhere up inside my dress and floated softly to the ground. I don’t know how long she’d been up there, but I’d guess since last spring. My students politely pretended not to notice.

My daughter is still trying to figure what all the fuss is about.

“So are you going to school or are you teaching school?” she asked me on my first day.

“I’m teaching, honey.”

“Are you scared?”

“Not really.”

“Well, if you are scared, I can walk you to class.” She did. She marched right in, surveyed the room, and said, “So these are your students, huh?”

Today she gave me a hideous purple scarf to wear “in case I got cold.” When I tried to “forget” it, she chased me down yelling, “Mommy! Your scarf!” I reluctantly tied it around my neck.

In spite of my compromised fashion, the fact that caffeine has replaced the blood in my veins and that I’m logging a mere 5 hours of sleep per night-far below what my body and mind requires-I have to admit that when my exhausted body collapses onto the bed and my aching head hits that pillow, I smile and feel pretty satisfied.

I think I’m making this work thing work.

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