Teaching is weird.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great; having those two months off during the summer is fantastic, and it’s enviable to people who don’t work in education. (It’s maybe the only enviable thing about the job, but hey, you take what you can get.) And I’m certainly not complaining about the time off: that time translates into lots of opportunities to sleep in, go running during earthly waking hours (during the working months I’m out there before the sun is up, which has its own sort of ethereal calm about it but also sorta makes me feel like a vampire — NO I MUST AVOID THE SUN), be a dad who’s actually present in his kids’ and his wife’s lives, check out some horrible daytime television.
Problem is, when I’m working, I have this routine, and over the summer, that routine is shattered. Not just shattered, but then stomped on by little toddler feet and flung at my face by little toddler hands and then not only do I have to deal with the shards of shattered routine embedded in my corneas, I also have to stop the toddler and the infant from swallowing the broken pieces and…
By the way, can you still call a three-year-old a toddler? It seems idiotic to do so, all of a sudden, since “toddlers” are named for their toddling, that wobbly, baby-goat stumbling gait that’s the hallmark of an uncoordinated, top-heavy biped learning to walk. But sprout #1 is well past wobbling. He can still lose his balance and go crashing into a table edge or fall down the last stairs, bouncing off like he’s made of rubber, but when it comes to walking, running, galloping, skipping… I mean, he’s mastered it. So he’s not toddling anymore, but what is he? Still too little to be a boy, I think. Is there a word for that? Fargo, the kid is going to be in preschool next year. Look, let’s just dial the clocks back a little bit…
Okay, enough of that sentimental diversion. (Seriously, though. Kids grow up FAST.) I was talking about routines and how over the summer my routine breaks down worse than my old Chevy Malibu (god rest its hunk-of-junk soul). I’m trying to find the routine for getting my writing done over the summer, because even though my 9-5 job is on a little hiatus, the writing dream NEVER SLEEPS, and its hungry maw must be fed a steady diet of word count, despair and whiskey.
Nice thing about doing my writing on and around the job is, there’s structure there. Typical work day: Wake up, exercise, get to work, do the teacher thing for four hours, break for lunch, write for about thirty minutes while pounding down a salad or a sandwich, do a lightning session of grading papers and planning the next day’s lessons, and write for another fifteen minutes or so before my last class of the day comes in. Patterns. Regularity. You can plan for that and the body adapts nicely to it, not unlike it adapts nicely to a bowl of raisin bran in the morning and a visit to the crapper in the afternoon. Easy to plan your day that way.
Over the summer, there’s no such luck. One day, my wife’s at work, so I’ve got the kids for nine hours, then a spot of cleaning and cooking in the evening, then it’s time for a glass of wine with a nice TV show in the evening, and then, whoops — it’s bedtime again. (Here my wife is rolling her eyes: “I still find time to get things done!” and that’s true, honey, you do. But you have superpowers, and I don’t, and it’s virtually impossible to maintain the focus needed to hold a narrative together when you’re constantly stopping to make sure the sprouts aren’t devouring a bucket full of chalk, or shaving the cats, or trying to feed your lunch to the dog, or taking markers apart to see how they work and then smearing the magic ink on their faces, or pretending to be dinosaurs and stomping all over creation and, again, eating everything in sight.) Next day, wife’s home, but we’re prepping for a yard sale. One minute we’re taking sprout #1 to Grandma’s house for the day, next minute we’re hauling stuff out of the garage, next minute we’re hauling stuff into the garage, a bit later on I’m off to the Home Depot to get some cleaning supplies, then it’s more sorting and prepping and cleaning and don’t forget changing sprout #2’s diaper and keeping her from sticking her fingers in it as you do so (her new favorite habit, and there go my wife’s eyes again because I think she actually cleaned more diapers today… again, she’s just better than me at handling that stuff promptly, whereas I’m maybe better at letting things be), then holy carp it’s time to put sprout #2 to bed and hey did we eat yet, no we probably should so it’s time to cook and whoops the sun is down, hey let’s go to bed. Which is a fine day, very productive and all, until I realize about 9pm SHARKNADO I forgot to write today.
Do you let it slip? Or do you gird your loins for battle and go in to do battle with the Word Monsters when all you really want to do is go to sleep to prepare yourself for the unpredictability that tomorrow will surely bring?
Problem is, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, momentum matters. I know that if I let the writing slip today, it’s twice as easy to let it slip again tomorrow (well, I missed one day this week, what’s one more — I can rest up and hit it properly next week), and so on and so forth until whatever dubious progress I’ve managed in this little endeavor is lying in a twisted heap at the bottom of the chasm, smoke pouring from its innards as I crawl toward the couch for a nap.
Anyway, I’m looking for that rhythm, that pattern that will let me get my writing done during these oddball summer months without feeling like I’m taking away time from the wife and kids. And yeah, I know these are totally first world problems, and I own that. But, privileged problems or no, when there are things throwing your life out of balance, I think it’s worth slowing down a little bit to see if you can work toward restoring that balance, rather than just riding it out. We humans, we seek the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, nothing worth having is easy.
So, the question: when your regular routine is thrown off, how do you make sure you get everything done? Technically I have more time than ever in my days now, but it feels like those hours just slip away.