Last week we had the end of year staff dinner for the school I teach at. (Did you hear that? I love the sound of that. “The school I teach at.” I’m a real teacher now. The kids have to call me “Dr McIver.” I can’t even call myself Dr McIver without cracking up, so it could be an interesting year.)
Although I have 13 years tertiary teaching experience, I am new to teaching in schools, so I was the target of a lot of advice from my experienced colleagues – most of it on the topic of staying sane. “You must make sure that you go home and vent to Andrew on a regular basis. It’s vital.” Hearing his name mentioned, Andrew tuned in to the conversation, to find that it was all about keeping me from going completely postal. He was quick to put my co-workers right. “No, no. She is going to be vastly more sane now.”
Experienced teachers and teachers’ spouses all, they looked amused and sceptical. “He doesn’t get it,” they were clearly thinking. “No idea at all.”
Andrew is right, though. Regardless of the stresses and pressures of teaching, I am a much happier, more stable person with a regular workplace, colleagues, and social contact that doesn’t involve barbie dolls or lego. (Although, actually, there is some lego. But it’s definitely grown up lego.)
I am an extrovert. I get my energy, stability, sanity, and even my rationality, from interacting with people. Not just any people. I love my girls, and I love playing with them, but there is such a thing as too much pink. Too many stickers. Too many dolls. Even, and I hesitate to say this, too many teddy bears (something my friends never thought they’d hear me say).
I like to be able to talk politics – and explaining politics to kids, even our highly intelligent 7 year old, is painful, because so much of it is so incredibly inexplicable. “Why don’t they just help people?” “Why don’t they just stop polluting and use renewables?” “Why are they so mean?”
I like to be able to finish a sentence from time to time, without fending off cries of “Muuuuuuuuummmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, and I really, seriously, definitely need to be able to use different parts of my brain. I object to people characterising stay-at-home parenting as brainless. It is anything but. It requires a level of creativity, patience and ingenuity that demands every single braincell switched on and 100% focused. But for me, at least, it is an entirely different type of thinking to being at work.
With very young children there are few, if any, downtimes, apart from naps (and some kids never nap well). You can’t even go to the toilet in peace. Usually this is something I can manage at work. When I am not in parent-mode, I can focus intently on a cognitively demanding task. I can have whole meetings that don’t discuss bodily functions, and hardly anyone at work ever shouts out “I did a poo!”
While I do have to remember to keep myself fed at work (otherwise things go horribly, horribly wrong – trust me on this), I am not responsible for ensuring that anyone else eats enough to avoid becoming a cranky tanty-monster. And should a cranky tanty monster show up at work (it can happen), I have backup. I don’t have to deal with it alone.
I tried working from home for a while, and although I know it’s the ultimate ideal workspace for some, it doesn’t work for me. I need to be able to rampage out of my office. If I don’t have an office, but work out in the open with others, that’s even better (for me, at least – maybe not so much for the others!). If something distressing happens at work, I can always find a colleague to empathise, make me laugh, or tell me to “suck it up, princess!” Friends and colleagues keep me grounded, and prevent my head from getting stuck so deep inside my own navel that I resemble a klein bottle.