After several serious family illnesses, J and I realized that we might not be able to wait for ever to have the child that we both always planned to have – so we had one in the middle of my PhD program at Vanderbilt….and I changed my mind about school – no publish or perish for me! We moved back to East Texas, and I stayed home for a year with E, and J built houses with his brother. During this year, J’s mom was diagnosed with liver cancer and died when E was only 8 months old. This loss was a huge for J, since he felt like he lost his best support system for raising our daughter. His mom had just finished her BA several months before she died, which inspired both of us to plan for J to go to school as soon as possible.
During this time, our relationship changed, as I guess every set of new parents’ does. We ended up in conflict regularly – mostly over time and energy. E was at the center of our existence – as a couple and as individuals. For the seven previous years, however, we had been the focus of each others world. Suddenly, we had less time for each other AND less time for ourselves, not to mention less time for SLEEP, which led to stress and arguments. When E turned one, I went back to work and J started school. One of the worst weeks of my life was the one I spent looking for daycare for E – I cried for several days on a row. Luckily, I was offered an adjunct position in the History Department at the university which only required a few hours three days a week, and J offered to organize his classes around my teaching schedule. Over the course of the next five years, more and more things came between us. He juggled homework, classes, work-study and contract work, and I juggled E, constantly changing child-care, friends and family, and the constant struggle to make enough money to stay afloat. We scaled back, eliminated expenses and I worked as adjunct faculty, as a tutor, as a 7th grade history teacher, and eventually as an office assistant for a neurosurgeon – always working two or three of these jobs at the same time.
The worst time of this period was the semester I taught middle school. J was incredibly busy with school, activities, and work and had no extra time for anyone but E – none for friends, family, or really for me. I appear to be able to handle stress at home or stress at work, but not both. Teaching middle school was beyond my ability to cope. Plus, E cried every morning when I took her to the Early Childhood Lab, and then I cried on the way to the Middle School. I was still tutoring and teaching one class at night at the university, so we had more money (YAY) but NO TIME.
Within a month, I had given up tutoring, but was committed to the university for the entire semester. Full-time public school teaching is a 150% job, and one class at the university is considered 1/4 time, so my time was committed for about 70 hours a week just to work. So, I was busy in a classroom all day, and then had primary care of a demanding three year old and as well as responsibility for holding the house together. E did not like being at school all day, and wanted and needed love and attention in the evening, but I needed to take care of the evening chores, get us ready for the next day, and prepare for school – planning, grading, tests. The tension and stress led to argument after argument. I believed that if J would listen to me, he would understand that I felt like I was drowning and fix everything. Finally, I reached the point that I burst into tears every time I got in the car or had any down time because I was so lonely and overwhelmed. I really could not see any way to lessen my stress. I needed to keep my full time job as well as my class at the university because J only worked a few hours a week due to the demands of his classes. E was showing signs of stress, and I couldn’t find a way to spend more quality time with her, and details constantly felt like they were slipping through the cracks – the house was never clean, I was constantly juggling bills and other paperwork, and then there was teaching 7th grade. The overwhelming stress from the middle school – including busting a student with marijuana and having a student bring a gun to my class – made it impossible for me to sort through the other areas of my life that needed work. I set up counseling. The counselor walked me through the issues, and really enforced the idea that I was not going to make any progress without changing my work scene. So I resigned effective in January at the semester change, and went back to teaching Western Civ at the University and tutoring. Emily spent less time in daycare and more time playing, and everything was much more manageable – except for my relationship with J.
We tried counseling together, but it just ended up being a replay of our last fight, so I went alone. It was really good for me. I realized that I could not change J and his new priorities or regain the relationship that we had pre-E. I had to learn to be happy with the relationship we had – and I did. I never felt a need to get away for a child and husband free weekend, as many of my friends did because I just tried to be available when he was and made sure I had plenty of activities that I enjoyed, usually with E. When he was ready to graduate in 1995, we hit another hitch. While he was in school, J had not only found a major that he loved in archaeology, but one that required skills that he excelled at and a career that would actually be a vocation for him. To have this career, he needed to go on to graduate school somewhere other than Nac, and we would be facing financial struggle for another four or five years. I would have been starting over trying to piece together work in a new town without a support network. I just couldn’t do it. I told J that I would support him, but I needed to wait for him in here, where I had work, friends and a cheap place to live. He was devastated and resentful, but decided that we should move to Austin and both go to work – he hoped to find work in an archaeology or geography field. We moved in 1995, and we stayed in the area for the next six years. We had a variety of ups and downs during this time. Money was always tight and J was busy – out of town a lot, and then after I pushed for a move to Lexington where I was teaching, he spent 2 hours a day driving back and forth to Austin which was hard on him. In addition, both of us had some health issues and we always had car issues. Fortunately, after a couple of years, our budget worked, we settled into a routine, planted a garden, got a pool, took some vacations, made friends, got involved in the community, and I was really pretty happy.
After a few years at Parks and Wildlife, J was offered an amazing job working for a research company in the Woodlands, so we moved. I taught my classes in Lexington online from my study in the Woodlands until they could replace me and then went to work for Montgomery College. I was at home a lot more, got to see J at lunch every day, and we actually managed to reconnect romantically. After 9/11, his job, which was grant funded, began to unravel, and we re-evaluated our actual goals. He really needed a Master’s degree, our friends were in Nac, and his favorite archaeology professor had been diagnosed with cancer and needed a grad student to finish up some projects. We moved back to Nac. J did some part-time work for a semester, and then got a research assistantship doing GIS work for Forestry. I, unfortunately, tried my hand at teaching middle school again, which was an unmitigated disaster. The stresses from that job affected my health, stability, and my relationship with my daughter, who was going to a goth place in an effort to adjust to three schools in three years. During this time, the space shuttle Columbia blew up over Nac, and J spent weeks working 20-24 hours a day mapping for the recovery effort. Between the stress from my job, the changes in E, and J’s immersion in the shuttle recovery and the aftermath, tension ruled in our house in the spring of 2003. While I hated my job, I felt like it was too risky to quit, but J convinced me that I was not recognizing the cost to the entire family. I resigned at the end of the year and took a job at a small school outside Nac, taking E with me. This was the best move I have ever made – I was happy, E was happy and doing well in school, and J was incredibly relieved that we were both so much better. Shortly after this, Jeff took a full time job as tech support for Forestry and worked on his master’s at the same time. This took pressure off of our budget, and after a year or so, actually let Jeff devote a little more time to the family since he was not hurrying to finish his degree. Life was good.