A friend told me recently that when you and your spouse start taking separate vacations, “everyone knows there’s a problem.” I hadn’t really looked at it that way. But after fifteen years of the same cycles, with the same events occurring in closer and closer proximity, things start to wear on you. After a year of trying to manage work and kids and their schools and doctors’ appointments and bills and health insurance when you’re the only one in the house who is employed, things start to wear on you. One person can only manage so much for themselves, let alone three additional people.
A few weeks ago, a line was drawn in the sand. Feelings were shared in as non-accusatory a way as possible. Promises were made. Nothing has changed since then. But I don’t know how to manage that too.
There is a psychological mechanism that some people experience where they are incapable of accepting or internalizing their own accomplishments. This is especially common among visible minorities and women in graduate programs, as well as those in high-level professions — executives, tenure-track professors, and successful authors, musicians, and artists.
Essentially, a person cannot admit to him or herself that their success is due to personal achievement, telling themselves that it was luck or that they are a fraud. The person can experience anxiety and fear at being “discovered” and outed as an imposter.
I am deeply familiar with this fear — I worry almost every day that people will find out that I have no idea what I’m doing, even (or especially) after receiving praise or accolades.
For example, someone in the dean’s office during a recent training session regarding faculty reviews mentioned to me that a position similar to my current one would be opening. She mentioned that it wouldn’t be lateral, but required more responsibility, managed more people and duties, and that it would be a considerable raise in pay. I was convinced after our discussion that she only mentioned it because, like my boss, perhaps she is a carrot dangler; making empty promises just to make me feel like things are going to be okay.
I went ahead and applied for the position when I saw it appear in early October because I figured, what the hell, it’s worth a shot. I had not been in my current position for six months at that point and figured I might not even be eligible. Then, weeks went by and I never heard anything about it. I went about my currently way-overloaded schedule of managing social media, updating the web site, working on articles, reconciling the budget, reserving rooms and flights and hotels, reimbursing faculty for their vacations-masquerading-as-academic-conferences in Paris and Switzerland, planning events, and updating scholarships.
But then, Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from the director of that department, setting out a list of dates and times he’d like me to come in for a “brief, informal interview.” I committed to Friday morning at 9am where we ended up talking for almost an hour. It felt like it went really well. Except then I had this crushing guilt after. Like, had I exaggerated my skills or outright lied about what I could do? This is one of the largest departments in the entire university. How could I reasonably expect to manage that when I can’t stay on top of the faculty meeting minutes from my current department?
At four in the afternoon, he sent me another message, asking if I could come in for a second interview next Tuesday, to “have a conversation” with the full timers. During that earlier interview, he’d said he was going to speak with a few other applicants first and that maybe I’d hear back next week. So, he must’ve been impressed, right? I mean, barely five hours had passed before he was contacting me again.
Then I was back in my office and my colleague was clearly disappointed in me. I’d told her about the interview. I feel terrible. She’s looking down the same black hole she was facing this time last year when the person I replaced had just left without notice. She deserves a better position, better pay, and more recognition for what she does. She’s been there almost three years and knows the programs inside and out. What right do I have to try and sneak out after 7 or 8 months. Then there was more self doubt. Did my coworker think I was getting in over my head? That I’m not qualified for the position I have, let alone the one for which I’d interviewed?
If I’m offered this job, and I go to my boss and I tell him, what is he going to say? Is he going to flip out? “You promised me a year!” or something similar? I know he doesn’t doubt my abilities or else he wouldn’t leave me alone to do part of his job. Part of the reason I don’t feel terrible about applying for something else is because he has no commitment or loyalty to the department. He comes and goes when he pleases, cashes his giant paychecks, and has absolutely no sense of personal boundaries. Every time he comes into my office, I worry he’s going to dump emotionally on me for an hour or tell me something embarrassing about his family life, or maybe even hit on me.
That doesn’t help my coworker feel any better about the fact that she is going to have to take on some (most) of my duties if I leave. She knows the boss will just shift everything in her direction and the walls will start closing in again. Explaining to her that it’s a money and proximity thing isn’t going to make her immediate future any easier.
Reading the job description makes me a little bit nervous. Meeting with the director, who couldn’t be any different from the boss I have now (hands on vs absent, involved vs uninterested, professional vs pervert), makes me a lot nervous. Am I getting in over my head? Burning bridges? Biting off more than I can chew? It all really comes down to the fact that I’d be a fifteen-minute commute from work so if the kids’ dad needed to interview for a job and the girls were in some sort of childcare/after-school situation, I’d be capable of picking them up on time.
Maybe Tuesday during my second interview, everyone will figure out that I’m a fraud.
My toddler has been bitten twice in the past couple of weeks so hard that it left a bruise for days. I worried that she would be “that kid,” and now the poor thing is coming home with teeth marks on her arms and a note that she was provided “comfort and a cold pack.” What’s the expectation for your kid when it comes to stuff like that? How many more times does she get bitten (for no apparent reason, according to the daycare’s documentation) before you ask the other kid to be removed?
I’ve been promoted to a full-time management position at work. This was the end of my second week. A lot of the stuff I was doing as a grad assistant has come with me: social media, web maintenance and updates, some editing. But I’m also the main person in the charge of the entire department’s budget and it’s kind of scary. All those numbers and faculty salaries. And then seeing what I get paid to manage their money. It’s slightly depressing.
I like my boss, the guy who told me to apply for the position. He’s gruff and sarcastic but incredibly smart and, deep down, he does have a good heart. I don’t think he wants people to know it. When I was reconciling last month’s budget with the dean’s office yesterday, I noticed two line items for a total of $10k. Because we are operating under budget and are coming up to the end of the fiscal year, he gave that money back to the university so that other departments could still take care of the things they actually need covered but just don’t have the money for.
In other news, I feel kind of lonely at the moment. My one family member with a kid moved back to Indianapolis recently and sometimes I feel like I’m forever destined to walk in the door at home, start cleaning up after everyone, going to sleep, and starting it all over again.
Most days I’m leaving for work after dropping off the kindergartener at 8:15 and don’t get home until 6:15 or 6:30 in the evening. The kids’ dad quit his job as soon as I was offered this one and hasn’t done anything to look for another. It scares me. He said he needs “time off” and wants to “get back in shape” before trying to find any sort of personal training gigs. I think we all know that doesn’t happen overnight. I can’t bring it up without an argument. He snaps at me. My salary alone isn’t enough. I also found out he financed the rings he got for our last anniversary. I don’t know what I expected. I don’t know anything about jewelry so I have no idea what it cost. But I don’t want stuff we can’t afford when we pretty exclusively argue about money and have for a decade and a half.
I just found out that we got the last spot at the toddler’s learning center for big kids’ summer camp. This means the kindergartener will get to take tons of field trips, go swimming, work on her Spanish, and make new friends. Plus, it’s way more affordable than a lot of other options we’ve come across.
The only disappointment I have is that it isn’t closer to our house or at least accessible by train. Their other location — where Bea attended preschool across the street from our old apartment — has an opening for Ellie once she turns two, but they only do summer camp on the northwest side. Yesterday, amid all the construction traffic, it took me almost 30 minutes to drive the two miles to pick up the toddler. A bridge teardown isn’t expected to be done until December of *2016* and the water main repairs a block from us are going to take at least until the end of summer.
All those main streets are down to one lane and congestion is REALLY bad. Drivers are taking residential streets and alleys at high speeds, and it’s really hard walking Bea to or from school because everyone is trying to so hard to not let ANYONE GET IN FRONT OF THEM that they aren’t paying attention to pedestrians, even in crosswalks with school crossing guards.
I can feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders start to tense up before I even start the car. If there’s one thing I miss about Indianapolis (besides the people, of course), it’s the ample parking and ease of traveling by car (which is about the only way you CAN get anywhere). In Chicago, the train is practically the only way I want to commute since the bus is going to be stuck in the same junk my car would be.
I do hope Bea enjoys herself and relaxes, though. She is nervous about going to this location (she’ll be there for spring break) because her first two experiences were negative. I’m glad to learn that she’ll be busy with lots of activities and that it’s in our price range. Many parents in her school’s Facebook group are sharing where their kids are going, including a group that comes to her school, and hoping that classmates will be there as well. When I look this stuff up, it’s in the hundreds of dollars per week, for just a few hours a day. The kids are in elementary school longer than this place provides.
Today we sent the kindergartner to school, despite the fact that she had a temperature of 99 degrees. No one can afford to take off any more time from work as both children have been sick with some virus, bacteria, cold, flu, or stomach bug so frequently in the past two months. She also expressed that missing her field trip today would be nothing short of devastating. Although I don’t think what she has is contagious, but a mild infection brought on by sinus problems, she is under the weather and I feel pretty guilty about letting her go. I can’t just call and check on her or stop in and see how she’s doing. There was one small method of contact I’d been hoping for, but I was let down.
The parents of the kindergarten classrooms share a private Facebook page and there’s an unwritten rule that if you chaperoned an event, volunteered at a class party, or otherwise helped with an event, you will post photos for the 99% of parents who were unable to go. As has been the case every frigging time, the parent posting photos displayed her own child and that kid’s friends in a dozen different shots. I couldn’t even locate the top of my kid’s head.
This is, of course, an extremely petty thing to get upset about. The kid will be home in three hours and I will know if she is feeling sickly or well. If she is really unwell, someone will call. But at the events I have been able to attend, I take and subsequently post photos of every child I can locate. I try to do group shots, and ensure that each kid present is displayed. At their holiday party, I even added directly to the post that I tried my best to get a photo of each classmate. This was, perhaps, more a nudge to other parent volunteers that they consider doing the same thing.
I’m irritated with myself for being irritated by this tiny slight. But I also can’t help thinking how doing something like this, while a courtesy to others, should include as much detail as possible. The kids have had a lot of events in the past few months and every time someone shares images, I am guaranteed not to see my daughter anywhere. I don’t want to look at eight photos of your kid’s face. That’s what your Facebook page is for. If you’re going to post images of the children on a field trip, at least do as many parents as you can a favor and try to get their kids in the shot.
The fact that I have taken the time out of my day to type this makes me even more angry.
I don’t think I really noticed the difference between our family and our neighbors until I started associating with other parents from our neighborhood. At her preschool here, it was kind of all over the place; very diverse, lots of ethnicities and backgrounds. At the elementary school, I see a family driving a Lexus SUV on snowy days and their Tesla on the others. A boy in her classroom told me that his gift for the first night of Hanukkah was an iPad mini and he gets a different app for it the other seven nights. This a kindergartener. He’s five. A mom who came to help out with the kids’ holiday party was having a conversation with the teacher about how much her husband complained that all she wanted for Christmas was to hire a decorator to put up window coverings. It wasn’t the cost–which, from what I gathered, was going to be more than three months of our rent on the apartment we can barely afford–it was that she didn’t want something he could wrap up in a box for her to open. The teacher laughed, commiserated, and said she’s having her new husband pay to whitewash their floors as her gift. The rocks on their fingers flashed and sparkled as their hands waved in the air.
My kid has been invited to half a dozen birthday parties since school started at the beginning of September. She has gone ice skating, to an indoor bounce-house arena, and was dropped off for some sort of athletic party involving gymnastics teachers and rock climbing with experts. We’ve declined three of those six parties because we just can’t afford to keep bringing gifts for the kids. I’ve poked around a bit because, of course, she wants to have a similar party for herself next year. The cheapest I could find started at $350 for 1.5 hours for ten kids and did not include food. There are 26 kids in her classroom and we have been told that if you invite one, you should invite all of them.
Her school has raised something like $70,000-$100,000 through various activities, pledges, walks, sales, and movie nights since September. We haven’t participated in anything yet but I’ve already been made to feel guilty for not “being there for [my] daughter.” A lot of the moms don’t work. And if they do, they run their own businesses and work from home, so they’ll take off a morning or afternoon to chaperone of the kids’ five field trips in the past three months, or volunteer to be a room parent, or help out with their parties. The school-day activities have cost us somewhere around $250 for the field trips, a Halloween party, a holiday party, a Christmas gift for her teacher, presents for the other kids’ parties, and the tools required to complete different activities that are supposed to be just for fun. We had to fill out a form demonstrating our (lack of) income in order to not be charged an additional $100 fee just to register for school.
I did my first bit of volunteering this week. I went for an hour on Wednesday to help the kids build gingerbread houses, then went back Friday to help with the games for their holiday party. This was when I got to hear about the ladies’ Christmas lists. I was suddenly extremely conscious of my paint-splattered jeans (the only pair I have that fit at the moment), my fraying sweater, my splotchy skin, the two inches of dead ends on my hair. These women, all my age or older, looked like they have regular trips to spas and salons. I bet a couple of them have already started getting Botox and the others looked waxed, plucked, coiffed, colored, and micro-dermabrasion-ed to perfection on a frequent basis.
Everyone was polite and nice to me. If they were aware of our income disparity, they were certainly too polite to acknowledge it by treating me any differently than they would, say, the person making their coffee. In fact, I felt kind of like I was in a different environment with my more high-end customers from the coffee shop. It was awkward but not painful.
And it’s not like I think these people have picture-perfect lives. One of them, for all her expensive clothes and car, has a child who will probably end up a sociopath. The child is nasty, mean spirited, and spent all her holiday-market money on one toy for herself, despite being sent with instructions to buy for her siblings and parents. She screams at the other kids that she won’t be their friend one day, then screams if they avoid her. Her dad had to apologize in advance to Charlie, saying that she apparently stole something from one of the other kids and he didn’t know if it was our kid or not.
It wouldn’t matter where she goes to school. We’d have some sort of problem or another anywhere. But I hate that I can’t do for her the things she wants or keep up even with minor extracurricular activities due to cost.
To top it all off, she is being sent to work with a specialist for twenty minutes each day, three days a week, in order to “gain focus, skills, and confidence.” She apparently works too slow in class. At our parent-teacher conference, Mrs S said that other children are done with assignments and she’s barely a third of the way through. Her teacher seems to think she isn’t where she should be with letter/sound recognition and math. Math? MATH? Of course, they aren’t doing ACTUAL math in class, so the teacher has no idea Bea can sit down and fill out two pages of addition and subtraction work on her own. And, yes, she does need to learn to focus if she’s going to stay in that class room, plus she lacks confidence in her answers and won’t really volunteer in class. But shit. She’s five. Back in my day, I was like the only kid who could read in kindergarten. We were not being given all these tests and assessments to see where we were, academically.
There’s a reason this is the best school in the city and there’s a reason the kids who go here get accepted to the best high schools and colleges. I just don’t know if my kid is prepared to start all of this stuff so early. She’s loving and kind and artistic, plus she seems to have picked up arithmetic really quickly. But if, a couple years down the road, she’s still considered “behind,” we will start looking at other options.
My perfectly nice, albeit somewhat-clueless, neighbor directly south of this place has been complaining about “all the construction” going on across the street every time she sees me. Yet another tear-down of a perfectly reasonable three flat in order for someone to build a giant, million-dollar, single-family home. She then bemoans the fact that our house is going to be gutted and keeps asking me what the new landlord is going to do to it, how long construction will last, and what she’ll have to “deal with.” I have no idea. The landlord thinks he just did us a favor by cashing our checks for three months and then telling us to get lost.
I know one thing–everyone who knows the guy (he owns another building on this street) says he’s going to do the absolutely minimum possible to make as much cash off this place as he can. I know we’ll be priced out of it. A three bed a few doors down is currently on the market for over two grand a month. The place we’ll be moving to is only five bucks more than what we pay now and heat is paid, but it’s even more outdated, with a tiny kitchen and no dishwasher. And what we pay here is still almost $300 more than the previous tenants paid. Oh, yeah. I saw their rent check once.
I want to ask the nice-ish neighbor lady if she realizes the hypocrisy of her complaints, considering five years ago, she and her husband bought and razed the two three flats that were on the corner to build just two massive single-family homes. Between those two houses, five different kids are sent to private schools, and as many as six different families can no longer afford to live in this neighborhood.
Our public school claims enrollment is down, diversity isn’t what it used to be, and they are losing a significant amount of funds from CPS. Maybe if all the rich white people from Lincoln Park didn’t move over here to rip out all the apartments and then pay out a buttload more to send them to the Catholic school and $400-per-week elite preschool, more “diverse” families could afford to stay.
One of the great parts about my job is that I can set my own hours, as long as I’m getting my work done. Some aspects can be completed at home (editing, writing, outreach, emails), which works well for me because we don’t have (and cannot afford at the moment) after-school care for the kindergartner. I have to pick her up at 3:10 every day.
One of the annoying parts of my job is that no one bothers coming in until late–10, 11, noon–so they don’t see me plugging away at nine in the morning every day. Almost all the courses in this program are offered in the evenings, and a majority of the professors apparently live in and commute from Oak Park, so they straggle in whenever works for them.
Yesterday one of my co-workers remarked that she didn’t think I existed anymore since she hadn’t seen me “in forever.” I informed her that I am here every Friday, unlike all the other grad assistants, because I have a four-hour morning class on Tuesdays and have to leave right after to pick up my daughter. And since Charlie gets the kids on Mondays, I’m here as early as 8:30 until 5:30, then go straight to my other class until 9pm. I did not see her any of those days.
And Mr. FancyPants Important Man, who is too busy giving interviews about his latest project to meet with me, made a snide remark the other day that I’m an “earlybird,” which makes it hard for him to give me assignments. I snapped back that I have a cell and office phone, email, and access to all of those in a variety of ways.
I like my job and I do enjoy the people with whom I work. I edited and indexed a really interesting book on a subject I knew nothing about until that moment. I finished it in two weeks, which made me feel a pretty solid sense of accomplishment. I know in any job, we will work with human beings, all of whom have their own quirks and preferences. But I do not enjoy being made to feel as though I’m not doing as much as other people.
This is barely enough of an irritation to warrant so many paragraphs, but sometimes I find myself writing a very wordy status update on Facebook, then transfer and expound on it over here in order to save my friends the time and energy they would have to use up to read and comment on my huge posts.