What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

clock2Writing has been part of my life since I could first use a pencil and left scraps of paper all over my grandmother’s house – my “notes” – when I visited.  She said that from the time I was about six years old, cleaning up after I had spent time with her was entertaining. She never wondered what was on my mind – I wrote everything down. I planned on being a writer all the way through college and graduate school when I realized that I needed a day job to pay the bills.  I resisted teaching for a long while because it was sort of my “family business” – Mom still teaches elementary school (finishing her 46th classroom!), my father was on the board of education for years, my uncle teaches law, another uncle was the vice-chancellor of a big university, and even my grandmother was assistant superintendent of schools in a system in Connecticut when I was little.  I didn’t want any part of it.  I tried advertising, public relations and even a computer firm until I finally caved in and got a doctorate in English education and started teaching writing on the college level.

As any woman knows, balancing the demands and rewards of work and family is no easy feat.  When our family moved to Japan, I was lucky enough to find part time work at Temple University where I could teach two courses a semester and still have plenty of time to not only be a participatory mother, but even volunteer in the kids’ schools and never miss an event.  Adjunct teaching isn’t for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have a husband with a steady job so my career didn’t have to be primary and I could focus on the kids.

Babies tend to do this funny thing: they grow.  A lot.  Quickly.  Though it seems like only seconds ago I walked down a street holding the hands of a toddler and a kindergartener, my current reality has one child graduating from middle school and the other graduating from elementary school.  Yep, in a few short months I will be the parent of a high schooler and middle schooler.

More often than not, the kids are busy after school these days and not home until close to dinner time.  I don’t always have to go with them to these activities because many of them are associated with the school and they have busing.  So that leads me to the question of what I’m going to do next.  It’s an interesting question for any woman at any time, but in Japan, where I’m a trailing spouse, sometimes the issues seem insurmountable.  I don’t speak or read the language, and most Japanese companies don’t want a foreigner working for them anyway.  In addition, with my children’s school schedules, I want to be able to take them to the US for a long summer holiday so they can reconnect with our extended family and American roots.  I can’t take just any full time job, so the Temple University position, for just two semesters a year, is ideal.

Luckily, as a writer I have a lot of other options too.  There are blog posts to read and write, contests to enter, and even English-language magazines for which to write.  I’ll do another posting on writing vs. editing and the challenges therein, but this leads me to another point – focus.  I can’t do everything.  I have to pick what it is that’s important to me and focus on those things, otherwise I’ll do many things and none of them very well or successfully.

So now it’s time to raise the bar and figure out what it is that will claim my focus going forward.  Teaching will hopefully be part of the equation, but what I choose to write and how I choose to organize my time in the next few months remains to be seen.

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that what I want to be when I grow up is not a static thing.  The idea of it can grow and change as I grow and change – emotionally, physically and even situationally.  That same grandmother who found my scraps of paper when I was little used to tell me, “when I stop learning, that’s how you’ll know I’m dead.” I subscribe to that theory. I’m not sure what exactly I want to be when I grow up, but figuring it out is a great journey

Time Management

Since starting back with teaching this fall, and the kids in two new schools, I’ve had to get used to a few new schedules.  I teach at the high school every day in the mornings and then also Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at Temple University.  After 4pm I like to block off for kid-stuff – shuttling them around and generally being with them.  Sometimes I have that time for myself  if the kids are busy, but generally my days are pretty scheduled.

I start each day around 5:30 with a run or a yoga session, so I’m in bed by 10:30 at the latest.

Here’s the interesting part: my writing efficiency has improved markedly.

Last year I used to regularly have three or four hours at a stretch in which I could write some fiction or other things.  Those long blocks of uninterrupted time are a thing of the past.  Now, if I find myself with a spare ninety minutes, I feel grateful.  And whereas in the past I would fritter away half the spare time on email, or facebook or some useless game, I can now be productive for almost all of those gifted ninety minutes.  My thought process is that I can never tell when I’ll get that time again – I had better use it while I have it.

Am I working hard? Absolutely.  But I’m happier than I’ve been in quite a while, and I also feel so much more productive in almost every area of my life than I used to when I didn’t work outside the home.

Please don’t get me wrong: working is not the be-all and end-all for every woman out there, and I have my share of crappy days, but it really is good for me – the whole thing is improving my outlook on life.

And now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go make the most of my evening time – a small girl on my couch would like a snuggle.  I’m almost never to busy for that request.