Fifteen years ago, I part-time mommy-tracked myself. I was so overly besotted with love and affection for my newborn son, I couldn’t imagine anything else would ever matter again. I never fully quite work. I have always done a certain amount of private teaching, academic teaching, free-lance fluting, and writing. And then one year, the institution where I had already been adjuncting for a number of years made me an offer I felt I couldn’t refuse: They would wrap my adjunct hours into a TA position, which would involve more teaching, and that TA position would pay the tuition for my doctoral work.
I had thought I might never get the opportunity to do doctoral work. When I was working my way through my undergraduate degree, having a doctorate was considered icing on the cake in academia. It was certainly not required to do most things. And, when I finished my graduate work, commuting to San Francisco from just outside Travis Air Force Base where my husband was stationed, the nearest school offering a doctorate in music was Stanford, which was a number of hours away. So I freelanced and built my private studio, working the long, hard hours it takes to make a freelance career work. I added in some college teaching, which led, upon our move to the east coast, to teaching at my alma mater, a small conservatory with a quickly growing reputation.
So, after some initial waffling, I jumped at the opportunity to earn my doctorate as a TA, and soon found myself in deep, completely over my head. To re-tally, I was teaching theory courses as before and now also three sections of 20th Century Listening, a laboratory course designed to accompany the third semester of the undergraduate History of Western Music course. Additionally, I was taking a full time load of coursework and lessons myself, and being called upon to collaborate with students and faculty on numerous performances. I was also managing my home studio, doing a tiny bit of freelancing, and oh yes, raising two kids with the help of my husband, who worked out of town and frequently traveled.
Exhaustion was the most likely cause of the autoimmune flareup that, long story short, led a rheumatologist to diagnose me with Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is now totally trendy to have because tennis superstar Venus Williams has it, but at the time, was completely unknown to me and almost everyone else in the world. I will never forget the rheumatologist’s nurse interviewing me extensively, and at the end of our time together, saying, “Honey, something has GOT to go.”
So I put the doctoral work on hold. After another semester or so of teaching at the conservatory, I decided to put academia on hold indefinitely. My flute studio had grown, and I needed time to learn how to properly balance my life – to manage Sjogren’s, that is. Even more disturbing to me than the fatigue, as a flutist, was the dry mouth that most of us with Sjogren’s suffer with daily. I had to learn properly gauge the med that controls that, and to effectively deal with dry mouth in rehearsals and performance. At one point, I thought my days as a performing flutist were over. I was wrong. I also thought I was done with academia. I was also wrong about that.
One of the bonuses of my husband retiring from his military band career and beginning his own freelance career is that he has more time on his hands. He can help with household management more, and that leaves me more able to work. Which is a good thing, because one thing that is NOT a bonus about my husband retiring from the military is the cut in pay. So, realizing I needed a quick way to add some more hours to my work load, I spoke with my former division coordinator, and he immediately welcomed me back.
I am a lucky girl. I am a hard worker, and I earned everything I have, but I’ll say it again, I am a lucky girl.
When my husband retired from the military, he took a day job. It turned out to be one of those jobs where people are treated like machines, their quality of life is not respected, and their health is of no concern to the company. There was very little moral support among the employees, and almost no support from the administration. The employees were expected to work inhumanly long hours, and were often scheduled for thirteen consecutive days before receiving a day off. My husband had no time to build his freelance career while working this job, and often turned down musical work because of the schedule. It was a poor fit, and so he took a leap of faith, and quit.
Fast forward to me, sitting in a meeting with my former coordinator. After asking about my family and my health, he said, “What sort of scheduling will work for you? I know your health situation, and I don’t want to overwhelm you with too many preps.”
I brushed off his concern, but later, I thought about that part of our conversation, and compared it to the treatment my husband and other employees received at his short-lived “day job”.
I worked, and will be once again working, with wonderful people, and while I’m grateful to be making up for some of our lost income, I am also excited to be back, and working at something that is my passion and with colleagues who share that passion. In my previous experiences at this school, from my fellow faculty, to division coordinators, chairs, deans, and administrators who served as mentors, I was treated as a human being with a right to a good quality of life. I think that’s all anyone can ask for from an institution, and it is certainly what people working minimum wage want. (That, and to make more money, so they can actually pay their bills and have some quality of life, and not have to get a second job.)
After my daughter was born, rehearsals I was involved in, and even flute juries, were scheduled to give me time to feed her. When it snowed and my children’s preschool was closed, the other faculty teaching on the same hall that morning and I collaborated to create a movie room, with snacks, pillows, and movies in an unused classroom, for the children of faculty who were unable to find a last-minute sitter. Once, on the day of flute juries, my son was ill with a stomach virus, and I couldn’t ask the sitter to come stay with him. I gave him a good dose of Immodium (or whatever it was that was appropriate to give to preschoolers for diarrhea), and another professor built him a “desk fort” in the jury room.) All of the flutists completed their juries with no idea there was a preschooler in the room. (One of the accompanists did spot him, because he was popping the desk part of the chairs up and was in her line of sight. She probably initially thought he was a poltergeist, but quickly realized what was going on, and gave him a friendly wave with her right hand as she turned the page.)
And now my children are older. And there is no reason for me to not go back to full time work. Between my studio, my freelancing, my pedagogical writing, and part-time academia, that’s where I’ll be this fall. Full time.
And I’m looking forward to it. And I’m also sad.
Sad because I will never need to help my beautiful daughter put on her Mary Jane’s for preschool again. Sad because I will never push my kids downtown in a stroller again, or join friends for play dates at the playground and try to have a complete conversation while being interrupted for snacks, pushes on the swing, or catches at the bottom of the slide.
I know it’s sappy, but I can’t help it. I took a mommy track option, and was able to keep my toe in the door of my career, simply because the people I work with are wonderful and supportive and respectful. And now that I stand on the other end of the mommy track, I look back at all the good, all the wonder, all the beauty of it, with tears in my eyes as I wave goodbye to my little children, who will never ever be little again.
And I turn and look ahead, to the tracks we’ll all make – my husband, my two children and me. I see them like little sled runner indentations in the snow, sometimes running parallel, and sometimes veering off independently, and maybe in little loops and curlicues here and there, but always coming back together, even for just a little while.