Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “work”

It’s Toxic?

I blame Britney Spears.

At some point, and I think it is her fault, the word “toxic” entered our lexicon in a way that provided youth culture with a new way of finding things to be offensive.

“Toxic parenting,” “Toxic Masculinity,” “Toxic Social Media,” “Toxic Culture,” everything was “toxic” and, apparently, remains so.

I mean, I’m not saying that these things don’t exist. I’m a pretty staunch feminist. I am certain that toxic masculinity, for example, is very real. But, like anything else, there’s been an extremification or a bastardization of the term. It is worth less than it once was. And its definition lacks legitimacy anymore.

Let me get more to the point of what is really burnin’ my biscuits here…

I’m a teacher of teenagers. I have been for a really, really long time. And, in that time, I have noticed a severe cultural change in the way young people see and understand the world around them.

It is my contention that we are living in an amazing time where young people are activists, and are interested in justice. That’s great. In my humble opinion, though, it can delegitimize serious struggle to assert that slight inconveniences or hardships are, in fact, traumas.

Let me give you an example. A student takes a test after a 10th grade unit on poetry. The teacher’s unit of study was aimed at showing students how to analyze poetry and respond to it, thoughtfully, in writing. So, the test itself required students to demonstrate that they could analyze a poem they’d never seen before, but that was on-grade-level. The student fails the test, then asks the teacher, “what can I do to get my grade up?” That has become SUCH a common question lately. I am not sure I hear it daily, but I definitely hear it at least a few times every week. Now, let’s say that the teacher asks the student what he thinks went wrong on the test. The student says, “I’m just not good at understanding poetry.”

HMMMMMM…

If you’re NOT a teacher, I’d ask you how you’d respond to this. Would you tell him to retake the test a second time? Give him some extra lessons or support to help him understand poetry better then offer a retest? Would you offer an alternative assignment? Would you tell him he should have studied better? Or does something else come to mind?

In this hypothetical situation, let’s say the teacher says the the student, “Okay. I’m willing to hear you out. What can you do to demonstrate you’ve mastered the learning?” The student’s reply is then something along the lines of “I don’t know. I just need to get an ‘A’.”

NOW what do you do?

See, here is the thing — the kid in this scenario is not interested in learning. He could sincerely not care less about that. I mean, that’s not surprising; he’s a kid. But, what I can infer from this situation is that this kid just wants to find away AROUND his problem. He’s not interested in actually solving the problem itself which, in this case is having a weakness in a skill in English class.

15 years ago this wouldn’t have been a question. The teacher would have been like, “sorry. Guess you should have studied, paid attention, taken notes, asked more questions, etc.” and that would have been the end of the discussion. But, today, that attitude is “toxic.”

I’d love to know, for those of you who are not teachers, how you think you’d handle this particular situation. I’d also love to know how you think you’d fare in the education industry if you were to change jobs. I can say that I have DEEP respect for nurses and others in healthcare, for example. I could NOT do what they do. I would be terrible at it and I think they should all get a serious pay raise. And snacks. And, like, just whatever they want. JUST GIVE THEM WHATEVER THEY WANT.

And, if you’re interested in getting ME whatever I want, I would like better working conditions for teachers and a bunch of Andes candies ‘cuz those are the best.

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

Bleeding Out

When I decided to go by “Off Duty Mom,” it was through inspiration from my own mom who, in the evenings of my childhood, would sometimes pick up a book and lie in bed in an attempt to have just a bit of time to herself, declaring that she was “off duty.” As an adult, once I had children of my own, I realized the importance for moms to go “off duty” every now and then.

When not on duty as a mom, I’ve spent a few decades as a high school English teacher. There were days when I didn’t know which job — mom or teacher — was more rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, illuminating, and/or indicative of my very identity. Both jobs have had their ups and downs.

You may have heard through sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Washington Post, and, you know, everyone you personally know in education right now, that teachers are quitting in astronomical numbers. And, they’re not just quitting their jobs, but they’re quitting the entire profession and giving up on years of training, years of dreaming, and years of just KNOWING that being an educator was their “calling.” Something is happening and it is bad, people.

I first realized that my own mental health was in decline just before the pandemic forced me out of my classroom. I remember a conversation I had with an assistant principal where she and I talked off-the-record about morale being low in our building. This is something that can just “happen” from time to time, though, so at this point, the very fact that she just sort of listened to me, heard my concerns about general dissatisfaction, and tried to be supportive was enough for me. But then a dear friend and colleague of mine quit — perhaps not suddenly, but it did unfold fairly quickly — and on that very last day of his, my administrators came over our PA system to let us know that we ought to take our work home with us over the weekend of March 14, 2020 since schools would be closed come Monday.

As schools closed that spring, many districts across the country took vastly different approaches to how they’d handle serving their communities. “Fairness” was an issue of particular concern for a whole lot of schools all over, especially when it came to taking care of the needs of Special Education students. Some schools realized that Zoom-learning wouldn’t really allow for Individualized Education Programs to be met fully which can violate federal law, so that was pretty bad. In order to have “equity” or “fairness” for all students, some schools chose to push through and go all “CDC-be-damned” and stuff to stay open despite, like, several million people dying. Others decided to educate NOBODY because that, too, was “fair” in that everyone was being equally shafted.

During the multiple months that followed, this “fairness” and “equity” remained pretty buzzy. It isn’t for no reason, either. Teachers had a glimpse into students’ home lives and realized that tons of stuff we never even realized was happening behind those closed doors was causing barriers to student learning. Some kids showed up to classes online with their younger siblings on their laps, being primary caregivers AND full time students at once. Some teachers saw a variety of conditions of homes, relationships, boundaries (or lack thereof), supplies, wi-fi reliability, noise levels, and all kinds of trauma-in-the-making. Some kids went fully MIA for the entirety of the time of remote learning. One parent came to an online meeting regarding her son’s pending failure of a course that was a graduation requirement for him while she was actively moving a table from one room of her house to another — huffing and puffing and screaming at her family members while (sort of) talking with me about whether her child was going to get a diploma or not.

The truth was that kids were dealing with all kinds of shit and teachers had a front-row seat. Of course, teachers themselves also had more than they’d signed up for on their own plates. We had to reinvent our entire profession from scratch, learn technology new to most of us, and figure out how to do the non-academic parts of our job with pretty much no help from anyone. Who could even help if they wanted to, anyway?

Things were NOT “equitable” for kids. They had all kinds of levels of support, love, affection, kindness, peace, responsibility, expectation, money, and ability. We always knew this, but it was another thing to witness it.

What happened was that expectations for school systems rose and accountability for students fell. The general consensus was that kids’ differences in preparedness for school wasn’t their “fault” (and it, indeed was not), so we, as a system, had to level the playing field for them. Makes sense on paper. But, of course, the root issues causing these unfair circumstances weren’t going to change for the better and we weren’t attempting to (or able to) fix any of that, anyway. The only thing we could do was “do better” for kids.

I do NOT disagree that “doing better for kids” is both warranted and vital. But, it certainly is stressful.

Art installation titled “Can’t Help Myself” by Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Have you ever seen that art installation of the dying robot? Well, there was this robot that constantly leaked hydraulic fluid and was programmed to sweep it up to return to its own system. At first, as the story goes, the fluid leaked at a rate that was manageable for it to contain and return to itself. Over time, though, the moments of “rest” for the robot became fewer and farther between and it was eventually in a situation where it did nothing but clean up this leak literally at all times. The leak was never fixed. It just kept cleaning up, over and over, never able to stop the root cause but instead just in a perpetual cycle of futile efforts to save its own life.

That robot “died” after the spills and loss of fluid became greater than its physical ability to clean up the mess and carry on. I had heard later that the irony of it all was that it wasn’t even a hydraulically-powered machine. Though it was programmed to “believe” that it had to perform this task to save itself, it actually never needed the leaking fluid in the first place. And yet, it died anyway.

Such is the state of education.

When does stress just become unbearable?

I’ve heard the saying, of course, that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” and so, I’ve decided to take a brief hiatus from teaching. Attempting to sweep up all of my leaking hydraulic fluid has left me exhausted and physically unwell. I’ve had heart palpitations. Depression. Anxiety. Stomach all tied up in knots. Sleeping too much. Trouble sleeping at all. I’m on 6 different medications a day like an old lady and half of them are for issues related to stress. So, I get it. That mass exodus of teachers: I get it.

The system is bleeding out. Hemorrhaging, even. And, there are underpaid, undervalued people who are working to stanch that flow every day. In return for their efforts, they are asked to do more: improve test scores, attend more meetings that could have been emails, close the racial performance gap, provide trauma support, get yelled at by parents, have the public refer to them as “glorified babysitters,” shift effortlessly between online learning and in-person as needed, wear masks, get tested, get vaccinated, break up violent fights, prepare for a mass shooting at their workplace, differentiate instruction so that each individual student gets a unique and tailored educational experience, do paperwork nobody reads, give standardized tests, and, well, you know, I am just tired of listing things so I have to stop.

I might add, though, that to the other teacher-moms out there: I know that being a mother is also unforgiving, thankless, and just damn hard, too. And it is hard in ways nobody ever told you about. I mean, we all knew there’d be diapers. But, when you have to deal with bullying, or mental health problems in your kids, or talking about sex and consent, or online predators — well, that was just not what I was thinking about when I was pregnant and people were all, “It’s hard but you’ll love it!” I do NOT enjoy worrying about an adult pretending to be a 13-year old girl to get a kid to meet him “IRL.” Give me a thousand diapers instead, actually.

What’s the moral to the story here? Hell if I know. I wish I had a perky call-to-action to end this rant. Or, a positive “however” statement to make here. I do not.

How many more empty teacher desks will it take before crisis truly sets in?

The world is changing. I guess that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to read more about this nationwide teacher crisis, here are a few articles you might want to check out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/10/18/teachers-resign-pandemic/

https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-not-ok-even-though-we-need-them-to-be/2021/09

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/01/04/why-education-is-about-to-reach-a-crisis-of-epic-proportions/?sh=fcd302178c7b

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-01-06/more-teachers-than-ever-are-considering-leaving-the-profession

https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-are-quitting-and-companies-are-hot-to-hire-them-11643634181

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/09/05/we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-teacher-shortage/?sh=472c6924494c

https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/01/19/survey-finds-teacher-shortage-exacerbated-by-bans-on-classroom-discussions-of-race-and-gender.aspx

I Think I’m Supposed to Buy a Sportscar or Something

Eleven years ago, I was all, “hey, I should write stuff on the internet and people might care or whatever.” And, I blogged about Snoop Dogg and baby poop and wine and poetry and some people were like, “cool” and the rest of the world was like, “Off Duty Who, now?” and it’s all good either way. I probably don’t read your blog, either.

But, as my kids grew up a little, I lost myself a bit and I slipped slowly into some low-grade depression without even realizing it. I didn’t know that was what was happening to me because I’ve never lost my dark and (for some folks) off-putting sense of humor. I guess I figured that as long as I was (dryly) cracking myself up, I was probably ok. But, ya know, I really wasn’t.

When Off Duty Mom started, I was dabbling in a world where mommies all over were thinking about the honest truth about how hard this job was and I enjoyed sort of venting to the void. It was therapeutic. Ok, in retrospect, maybe letting the blog go was a catalyst for the depressive slide and wasn’t a result of it. Hmmm…gotta bring that one up with the therapist next session…

At any rate, I am reigniting the old flame of Off Duty Mom and inviting you all on my new adventure: the Midlife Crisis! It’s super fun! And is helped along the way greatly by sarcasm.

We’re all effed up in our own special little ways, right? But, please know that as you journey through life when life is most difficult, you are (cheesy and played-out as this sounds) NOT ALONE. So, take my hand and come with me and let’s explore the challenges of work, motherhood, aging, mental health, weird pop-culture references, and dark humor. Welcome back.

Grrrrrrrr…

Today I hate people.

Admittedly, most days I hate people.  I’m an introvert and I like quiet.  And, you know, NOT being around…people.

And, if this is your first time visiting this blog you might be surprised to know, given my general distaste for humanity, that I am a teacher.  Of teenagers.  Pretty much the worst people of all people.

I actually really seriously dislike children.  I mean, mine are cool, but yours suck.  No offense.

I kid only sort of.

On a serious note (for once), I actually tremendously love working with high school students.  I like talking with them.  I like helping them with their ridiculous dramatic bullshit.  I like talking to them about Star Wars.  I like watching them “get it” for the first time.  I seriously fucking love my job.  I am truly an introvert and I prefer quiet to parties, but my favorite thing of all of the things is discussing Hamlet with a group of hungry AP English Literature students.

But, today, I had to cover a 7th grade Math class.  Just let that sink in:  I hate numbers more than I hate people.  And, remember I hate children, but not teenagers.  Seventh graders are CHILDREN.  Don’t talk to me until you’ve made it at least one full day past your 14th birthday.  Even then, I don’t really want to talk to you for very long periods of time until about halfway through your freshman year of high school.

Seniors?  Give me all of the seniors all of the days.  Love ’em.  Lazy sons-a-bitches.  Those kids are my jaaaaam.

Sure, my piss-poor attitude today is colored by the fact that by 8:00 this morning, I had dealt with two students who were ethnically intimidating a Middle-Eastern refugee student and one student who told another to “eat balls.”  This week, I have been trying to stop a small group of boys in their attempt to mercilessly and evilly bully a weaker kid.  I’ve been failing at this miserably since the bullied kid is so bullied that he is too terrified to admit to the bullying so we can proceed with assistance for him.  I’m trying desperately to get a student scheduled into all of her appropriate classes for her junior and senior years because her parents do not speak English and they cannot advocate for her at school here.  So I do.  I’m trying to encourage a kid I’ve been mentoring for four years to finish all of the credit recovery programming he’s been working on so he can have enough credits to graduate in June.  He probably won’t make it.  I’ll be devastated when/if he ultimately drops out of high school.

I’ll go home today to a car with only three working tires.  My kids will need help with their homework.  I will have to cook dinner — from scratch because I am trying desperately not to pour a bunch of food additives, processed garbage and sugar into my family’s bodies.  I’ll care for my aging dog who was diagnosed yesterday with cataracts.  I’ll probably not get to the gym though I consider this a “gym day.” I’m not trying to get into a bikini or impress anyone, but I am trying to get stronger and healthier and today that will have to wait.

It is hard to be a working mom.

That’s it.  This is hard.  And I hate people.  And I’m tired.  And this is hard.  And I love it.  And hate it.  And…this is hard.

 

How to Land a Nanny Job

My family is now on its fourth nanny in just over two years.  They all parted with us on good terms.  And, one of those we hired knowing that she’d only be able to work for a few months.

The-nannyHowever, with such turnover in this time, I now fancy myself a nanny-hiring guru.

I have interviewed, background-checked, e-chatted and met with…um...lots of potential nannies in my day.

In the time I have been scrambling through dozens and dozens and dozens of applications, letters of interest and e-mails, I have come up with some pointers for people who are currently seeking employment in personal in-home childcare.

1.  BE HONEST.  Now, this seems like a no-brainer.  But, here’s the deal:  If you can only work 3 days a week, you need to be honest about that.  If you do not have experience with potty-training a toddler, you need to be honest about that.  In other lines of work, an employer will train you to do most things.  So, like, if you apply for a job at a grocery store but have never run a cash register before, it isn’t all that big of a deal.  They will show you how whether you have experience or not.  This is not the case with childcare.  Don’t know how to change a diaper and you’re applying for a job working for twin 1-year olds?  You’re screwed.

2.  LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.  If you do not feel passionate about being a part of a child’s growth; if you do not truly love teaching and playing; if you do not have a deep interest in helping a young person to form his earliest and most basic understanding of the universe around him, just don’t friggin’ apply.  I am talking to you, Girl-Who-Only-Wants-A-Nanny-Job-Because-She-Majored-In-Philosophy-At-The-Local-Community-College-And-No-One-Else-Will-Hire-Her.  You better be clear about your intentions.  There is no busy working parent out there who wants to start this process of nanny-finding all over again in six weeks when you land a better gig at the Shoe Mall.  Get on the bus or get away from the stop.  Apply for nanny jobs because you want to be a nanny.  Period.

3.  BE LITERATE.  When you apply for a job you have found online or through any other advertising avenue, make sure to present yourself as a learned person.  Even if you are merely responding to a posting on a childcare website, make sure to write a full response to the posting.  Use capital letters and full words and sentences.  Use proper punctuation.  Do not use slang.  Address the job poster by name if you know it.  Even consider writing a formally-formatted letter and including an updated resume that highlights your childcare experience.  Do not include a resume you have left over from four years ago when you were looking for a job at accounting firms.  And, when you speak with your potential employer on the phone, you must sound professional and well-spoken, too.  I don’t want you helping my kid with his spelling words if you can’t string a coherent sentence together.  My five-year old should not have better grammar than you do.

4.  BE ON TIME.  EXACTLY.  In the real world, you should always be 15 minutes early for an interview.  This is not the case for a nanny interview, particularly if it is at someone’s private residence.  You should be EXACTLY on time.  ON THE DOT.  If you are even one minute late, your potential employer will notice.  If you are early, you are inconveniencing the homeowner.  Most parents have a to-the-minute schedule that is followed.  And, even if they don’t, if a baby needs a diaper change right before your arrival, mom may look at the clock, see that it is 7:23 and believe that she still has seven minutes to get the baby changed and cleaned up before you arrive.  If you come-a-knockin’ at 7:25, she is now elbow-deep in poop, the dog is barking (and this makes the baby cry), and she can neither get to the door nor open it with her crap-hands.  Now she’s flustered.  And, this is the emotion she is going to start your interview with.  Not good.

5.  IT IS AS IT IS.  If you are using a service that connects job-seekers with job-posters, most nanny positions, you will notice, have details listed clearly about the job expectations.  You should be prepared to live with everything the job poster posts before you contact him or her to move forward.  If I posted that my job pays $11/hour, do not come to an interview and waste my time when you know you will refuse to accept anything lower than $15/hour.  If you cannot be at work until 9AM, do not send me an e-mail telling me that you would be perfect for my job, but only you can’t start at 6:30 AM.  If you can’t start at 6:30 AM, then you are NOT perfect for my job.  Look, there are plenty of candidates who can and will meet every one of my needs.  There are more potential nannies out there than there are nanny jobs.  I cannot be coaxed into hiring a less-than-ideal candidate when it is a fact that a truly ideal candidate is absolutely out there.

6.  JUMP IN.  If you are fortunate enough to be granted an interview at someone’s home, recognize that this is not for the purpose of talking with you about salary requirements and discussing your educational background.  This is a parent or guardian’s way of seeing how you interact with the kids.  If the kids don’t like you, you’re done.  So, jump in.  Hug and play.  High-fives are always good.  Even bring your favorite age-appropriate children’s book and ask the kids if they’d like to read with you.  If you see a dropped toy, pick it up.  If the kids are on the floor, but mom is on the couch, get on the floor.  Your real interview is with the little ones.  Smile.  Be fun.  Be energetic.  Ask the kids questions about their favorite games, toys, books and pets.  If you see a runny nose, go get a tissue.  This gives your potential employer a sample of the nanny you will be when he or she is not there.

7.  BE DEPENDABLE.  If you live in a state where cars must be inspected, make sure that you are up-to-date.  Have your car tuned-up and checked out before driving to a potential employer’s house.  Make sure it is clean.  If this is the vehicle in which you will be transporting children, you need to make sure it is dependable and clean to set parents’ minds at ease about allowing their babies to get into a potentially lethal weapon with you at the helm.  And, along with this idea, you should, again, be on time, dress conservatively (no baby tees, no minis, no shorty-short shorts, no stilettos, no overflowing boobage, etc.).  Look like a respectable person.  Drive a respectable (or at least well-cared-for) car.  Keep your driving record clean.  Get a background check through your police department and be ready to hand over the results to potential employers.

8.  TAKE CARE OF YOU.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t post hussy pictures of yourself on Instagram.  Don’t talk about keg stands on Facebook.  Don’t do anything that can get you arrested.  Eat well and let employers know that nutrition and fitness are important to you (as you will be in charge of their children’s well-being quite a bit).   Get in shape if you aren’t already.  I hate to think about discrimination, but if you don’t seem like you could run after my 2-year old and catch him, you’re no good to me.

9.  SEND A THANK-YOU NOTE AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW.  In any line of work, if you interview with someone face-to-face, you should send a handwritten thank-you immediately after your meeting.  It is classy.  E-mail is not the same thing, either.

10.  BE WILLING TO GO THE EXTRA MILE.  Every parent who is in a position to hire a nanny is doing so to alleviate some of the pressures that exist in trying to juggle things like career, family, volunteering, community engagement, school, etc.  The nanny who lands the job will ultimately be willing to do more than just sit and stare at kids all day.  Consider offering to do children’s laundry, prepare meals, do grocery shopping, vacuum, dust, walk the dog, etc.  Consider offering to help keep family mail, papers, records, schedules, etc. organized.  Referring to yourself as a “Nanny and House Manager” is helpful, too.  It might even land you some more money.

Of course, these ten rules don’t guarantee you a damn thing.  There are no guarantees in this world, of course.  But, I have found that candidates who are able to offer the “total package” really are in the minority overall.  While I mentioned that there are a gazillion nannies looking for jobs, you will absolutely stand out if you are professional, passionate, educated, driven, energetic, punctual, caring, classy, organized, clean, and healthy.

Happy job hunting!

Is it June yet?

Tgood teacheroday, I shall further my rant about teenagers.

In case, you haven’t caught up with my blog in a while, or…um…ever before, you might not know that I am a high school teacher and a proud momma of two little ones.  I have always said that I do not understand kids at all until they turn about 13.  Most other parents likely cringe at the thought of their children going through the teen years, but I honestly have no idea what to do or say to most 3-year olds.  I just don’t have that piece of DNA in me that makes me want to sit on the floor and play with Play Doh.

I “get” teenagers.  I don’t always like them.  But, I get them.

However…

It is nearly June.  And, if you have never taught you don’t know how much you just kinda want to get away from these kids by this point in the year.

I spent some time in a “real job” in an office.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  But, I have to say that I never wanted to get the fuck away from my coworkers with quite the same desperate passion as I truly want to get away from students after 9 months together.

Indeed.

Indeed.

My coworkers never complained that “someone farted.”  And, they never broke my box fan during a before-class wrestling match that involved a disagreement over a purple pen.  They also never surrounded my desk and yelled my name at me over and over again even though I was clearly talking with someone else.  Their parents never called me to scream at me, threatening to have me fired since they “pay my salary.”  I never broke up a fist fight between my coworkers.  My office was always air-conditioned.  I got an hour for lunch at my office (not the 12 minutes I end up with by the time I microwave leftovers, find something to drink, go down the hall to the lounge and sit down).  I could pee whenever I wanted.  I never had to repeat what I wanted others to do, like, a MILLION times.  My day started at a normal time, not 7:06.  No one ever threatened to slash my tires.  No one ever looked me in the face and said, “I am going to fucking kill you, bitch.”

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I 100%, without question love my work.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.  I did some soul searching while at that terrible office job.  I bought a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” in the hopes that it would tell me what to do with my life.  It didn’t help one damn bit.  But, I did end up back in a classroom and it was the best goddamn decision I have made in a very, very long time.

ftsMoms and dads may complain about their children.  This does not mean that they do not love them.

I happen to have 102 children.  I complain about them all the time.  But, I do still love them.

But, now it is your turn to deal with them for a few months.  Get me outta here.

In Need of a Chainsaw

I have realized that my life would be a hell of a lot easier if there were two of me.

Wow.  That seems so obvious.  I could be so efficient.  I could do twice as much laundry.

chainsaw post2Let’s be honest, though, if there were two of me, I’d probably just creep twice as much Pinterest and drink twice as much snobby craft beer.

But, what I started to come to understand is that on days when the going gets rough, I could really use a metaphysical chainsaw to slice myself into two beings:  one who will lovingly care for my kids and the other who will get a pedicure, shop for handbags and have a long lunch at a restaurant with tablecloths.

‘Cuz here’s the lowdown:  I love my kids.  I also love not being asked 43 times in a day about Super Mario Brothers and Thomas the Tank Engine.  Some days I feel a little run down.  And maybe I cry a little.  Or  a whole lot.  But, when I get a little time to myself, one of two things typically happens:  either I completely waste it by doing absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever, or I spend it wondering what my precious babies are doing, smiling longingly at every beautiful child who passes me at the mall.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her.  Let's practice being helpful.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her. Let’s practice being helpful.

So, it would really be great if there were two of me – not so I could be Supermom and start baking more or inventing cool crafts that involve pipecleaners and homemade slime – but so that one of me could chill the fuck out somewhere, maybe read a book, go tanning, or visit a friend, while the other joyfully absorbs the peace and tranquility radiating from the other’s blissful calm and is able to appreciate every fabulous moment with a couple of terrific little boys.

I decided when founding Off Duty Mom that I was going to be honest about the good, the bad and the ugly.  So, let me go ahead now and tell you where my chainsaw thoughts are coming from.

The other day, when I pulled my car into my garage after a long day of trying to educate the very unwilling youth of America, I turned off the ignition and just sat there.  For a good, solid five minutes or so.  I just sat.  I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car.  I didn’t want to go inside my house.  I knew that as soon as I did, two children would be bouncing and running and yelling and tossing toys everywhere.  My car was so quiet.  I had a very difficult time walking away from that quiet.

I felt pretty shitty.  The guilt was significant.  What kind of mother leaves her babies all day and then isn’t running into the house at the first chance that she gets to see and spend any quality time with them?

This gal.

And, I felt crapilicious about it.

A good mom, I told myself, is thrilled to come home and wrap her arms around her children.  And then I cried.

But, I pulled my shit together and came into the house.  My kids ran up to me and yelled, “Mommy!” and hugged and kissed me.  It felt so good.  But, it didn’t change the fact that I was so tired.  So.  Very.  Tired.

But yet, I played and I cooked and I sang and I rocked and I bathed and I brushed and I read.  It was lovely.  And exhausting after an already long day.

I thought again about how I’d love to split into two so that one of me could go get a massage.

Now, I have a pretty terrific husband who gives me time to do the things I need to do.  I have regular chiropractor appointments and stuff.  But, things would be a heck of a lot cooler with another “me” around, anyway.  And, since I am so lovable and adorable, I am sure my husband would agree that two of “me” would be pretty sweet.

chansaw postBut, I suppose that like money and time, if I had extra “me” around, I would probably just waste it.  That lazy bitch would probably just take naps, eat BBQ Pringles and watch SVU repeats all the damn time, anyway.

Ugh.

I wish someone would have warned me that parenting was going to be this hard.  Spread the word, people:  parenthood makes you think about chainsaws.

This has been a public service announcement sponsored by the marginally insane.  Thanks for listening.

Happiness, Snark and the “F” Word

I have spent about a decade and a half as a real, honest-to-goodness, working adult.  In that time, I have stayed in the same general field of education, but have worked in four very different positions in two very different school systems.

And I have complained about every job I have had.

And, of course, at a certain point, I do have to ask whether it is the job that sucks or whether it just might be me.

It is an awfully shitty moment when, as a grown-up, you realize that it isn’t everyone and everything else out there that needs to be fixed.  All the jobs in all the world can’t be awful.  Maybe it ain’t the JOBS that are the problem.

Crud.

So, what does one do when one is punched in the throat with the hot, sloppy mitts of Reality?

If “one” is “me,” then “one” makes inappropriate jokes, becomes sarcastic to a fault and hides behind the thin veil of snark and other condescention.

I don’t know about you, but I use humor as a defense mechanism.  The problem with this is that everyone just thinks, then, that I am a snotty bitch.  I, however, think that I am hilarious.  I think I know how Joan Rivers must feel.  If she can feel anything with all that plastic shit in her face.

 
See?  There I go again.

And, so I am left with trying to figure out a better coping skill here.  Throwing around ill-crafted jokery and f-bombs isn’t, in the end, really making me feel that much better.

I take that back.  It does make me feel better.  Plenty better, really.

But, it doesn’t make me HAPPY.  And, I wonder what happiness IS, even.  Not that I’ve never felt it, but I don’t know that I understand it in the way someone like John Stuart Mill or Martin Heidegger would have.

By the way, I am sure that my 200-level philosophy professor will come across this blog post one day and totally take back that “D” he gave me in 1996 because I referenced two dead guys above that I am sure he talked about in class.  Or something.  I don’t know.  I was probably hung over.

Anywho, I am now on the hunt.  I am in search of an explanation as to why I can’t settle my ass into a job, stay put for more than a handful of years, stop complaining about it, eventually retire and move to Tahiti already.  I constantly feel unsettled.  I feel as though I need to “find myself.”  Whatever the crap that means.  I question everyday what I am supposed to do with my life.  Then I make a lame joke about it all.

So, if you are working in a field or at a place that is just amazeballs, I would love to hear about it.  And, hear about when they’ll be interested in hiring a quirky misanthropic wannabe writer.  If you identify with feeling a little lost (despite being all grown up and being of an age when you are totally supposed to have your shit all figured out), let me know I am not alone.

In the mean time, I think there are some bad drivers I haven’t flicked off yet today, so I better hop to it.

Life in the Middle

I realized recently that I’d been living — for a long time — in the middle.

Perhaps the opposites of both “happy” and “sad” are, in both cases, numb, lifeless, middlehood.

I have had a job that is okay for about 4 years now.  It’s not good.  It’s not bad.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My days, otherwise, are not active.  They’re not entirely sedentary.  They’re somewhere in the middle.

My clothes, shoes, handbags and other girly things are not extravagant.  They’re not meager.  They’re somewhere in the middle.

I am not too fat.  I am not too skinny.  I am somewhere in the middle

I don’t get to read a whole lot.  Yet, I am not living totally booklessly.  I am somewhere in the middle.

My diet is not healthy.  It is not indulgent.  It is somewhere in the middle.

My weekends aren’t typically spent doing adventurous things.  They’re not spent entirely in front of the TV, either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My daily work is not terribly engaging.  It’s also not completely boring all of the time.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My home is neither large nor small.  It is somewhere in the middle.

I’ve not fully lived up to my intellectual potential.  I am also not exactly sitting around as an aimless high-school dropout.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I don’t get to spend most of my time with my children.  I don’t see them infrequently, either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

I’m not a bad cook.  I’m not a great cook, either.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I am sure I am not always the best example for my kids.  I am certain that I am far from the worst.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I don’t wake up each day excited for the possibilities it will bring.  I also don’t wake up and find it terrifying or exhausting to think about getting out of bed.  I am somewhere in the middle.

All of this has left me wondering whether I am really living my life well.  And, if I am not, when do I intend to start doing so?

Perhaps too many of us are afraid to take real risks because with the chance of experiencing very high “highs,” we have to risk experiencing very low “lows,” too.  My old job was like that.  There were tons of hills and valleys.  No — mountains and abysses.  Or, meteoric peaks and vortexes of darkness.

Yet here I am now living a life that is… tepid.

So, I am trying to dig in to my “bucket” list.  It is time to cross some things off, face some fears and start living life as a better me.

None of us gets a second chance, right?  There is but one lifetime for each of us.

I’d like to know what each of you has done lately that demonstrates that you’re living the best life you can live.  I know I am not alone it this middle ground.  Let us all gather strength to conquer a better existence together.

I’ll start:  last month, I faced one of my biggest fears.  I have spent my life absolutely embarrassingly terrified of boats.  I can swim.  I am not afraid of water.  But, I am afraid of getting sucked under an enormous body of water Titanic-style.  And, I am scared of being helpless and stranded away from land and civilization with no control over my whereabouts.  But, I got on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico in May and set out 5 miles away from shore to lay my godmother to rest in the beautiful waters off of Clearwater, Florida.  Never in a gazillion years would I have imagined that I could do that without becoming hysterical or needing prescription sedatives.  But, I did it.  I didn’t even cry once.  Or rely on pharmaceuticals for an easier go of it.  Now, I am not jumping up excitedly trying to clamor onto another boat anytime soon.  I am not miraculously cured of my baseless fear.  But, I faced it.

How have you made yourself proud lately?  Let us know.  Your comments are always welcome.

Tell us how you’re getting or staying out of the middle.

Should I Move to Australia?

Work sucks.

We all know it.

It turns out it sucks worst here in the United States, especially for women, and most especially for women with families, it seems.

“Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But, one of them isn’t the ‘Republic of here,'” said Bill Maher on the June 15, 2012 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

He went on to note that “in England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year. In Switzerland, you get 20. In Sweden, you get 25.”  Currently, I have “earned” 10 vacation days for the next year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013).  I have so few because I have had vacation days deducted from those “earnings” since I opted to take a maternity leave within the past work cycle.

But, it seems as though I was even lucky to have been afforded the privilege of taking unpaid maternity leave and being charged with sick, vacation and personal days in the process.  Many other new mothers don’t even get that.  And, I appear to be enormously fortunate and in the vast minority in the fact that I even get those 10 vacation days at all.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child.  If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e.,. each could take 6 weeks off; one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks).  There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (at least 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%). Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization.”

This has me wondering whether this is a convenient way for companies to legally discriminate in their practices.  Certainly, it cannot be a matter of official record, but if a company employs 55 people and feels as though it cannot “afford” to allow women time off to undergo a major medical experience, would it not be better served by hiring only men?

One might argue that times are tough and women can always refuse to accept a position with any company whose policies do not meld well with their personal beliefs, medical needs, or family interests.  In other words, we can just say to women, “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.”  Interestingly, men don’t have any equivalent I can see where they might be told something similar.

Here’s where it gets worse.  According to a report on Forbes.com in 2009, “more than half of U.S. companies employ fewer than 50 people.”  So, just going and finding somewhere else that jives better with your family needs doesn’t seem that possible all of the time, then.

How is the United States, a country that takes such pride in its focus on equity, social justice and civil rights, among the few who still treat women as second-class citizens who must choose between their personal and professional lives?  The following may be surprising.  Here are a few countries with longer maternity leave options for their workers:  Belarus, Cambodia, Chad, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

CHINA?!  Don’t they have some of the worst human rights policies on the planet?  And, yet, they mandate more maternity leave for women.

Recently, The New York Times reported:  “Canada and the United States may share a border, a language and much cultural affinity, but if women face broadly similar situations in terms of education and economic opportunity in the two countries, they are far apart in the area of gender equality, the experts said.”

It also reported that “last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.”

Craptacular.  So, if we survive (which we are less likely to do here than in a host of other industrialized nations), we are still subject to a lifetime of over-work and low pay.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office concluded that men statistically receive earning boosts after having children while women receive significant losses at the same lifepoints.  They also concluded that still after 20+ years of this pervading statistic, women still earn a mere 80% of men’s average salaries — 80 cents to every man’s dollar.

This all leaves the US as one of the worst places to be a working woman and mother who believes in equity and fairness and who values family time.

In 2011, Marie Claire reported that “a 2005 report by the World Economic Forum found [Sweden] to be the world’s ‘most advanced country’ for women, with greater levels of equality, power, health, and well-being among women than anywhere else. (The survey ranked the U.S. an abysmal 17th place — one above Costa Rica.)”  The article went on to note that “Sweden, which has a population of 9 million — around the same as the state of New Jersey — has a long history of female-friendly policies. The government gave women equal rights to inherit property way back in 1845; in 1901, it introduced the world’s first formalized maternity-leave program. In 1958, the Swedish Lutheran church changed its doctrine to permit women to become priests. And today, female politicians make up around half of the Swedish parliament.”  In the US, women make up just 17% of the Senate and just shy of 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Again, though, it doesn’t all just suck for women, though it sucks for us the worst.  But, it seems as though everyone in this country is getting shafted.  The Denver Post says, “Blue-collar workers get five days of paid leave after one year of service, and 23 percent of Americans get no paid vacation whatsoever, the 2006 statistics showed.”  NO. VACATION. WHATSOEVER.  Wha?

“Experts said the lack of vacation stems in part from an American obsession with work as a form of defining one’s identity,” The Denver Post article continued, “whereas European and Asian cultures enjoy longer vacations and define themselves by familial or national affiliations.”

So, again, I see a trend.  Americans must choose between family and work.  People just about everywhere else do not. Because they out-earn their female counterparts statistically by 20%, men often do not face such decisions in this country where women still do.

And, of the work we all do, Americans are working harder for their money, to boot.  An article on 20somethingfinance.com said in 2010:  “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.”

So, let me see if I have this straight:  women in the US work longer hours, for less money, less vacation time, less maternity leave time and fewer cultural perks than workers just about everywhere else on the globe?

Is it time to do something about this?  I’d love to hear what you think.

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