A New Yorker cartoon shows us a car careening down the street; from the rear, we can make out the silhouettes of a mother and three children in their car-seats; a ball is being thrown up in the air; and on the back of the car, a bumper sticker reads ‘I’d rather be working.’ Parents and non-parents alike chuckle; kids are a pain in the ass, aren’t they? So bothersome, that we’d rather return to the workplace, and its sundry oppressions, its dreaded co-workers, its bosses and meetings, its resident bullies and clowns. Yes sir, taking care of kids is no walk in the park, and certainly not even a leisurely drive around the block. We’d rather be dealing with the Dilbertian stupidities of our fellow sufferers in employment than engaging with the exhausting follies of our offspring. (Once this hilarity recedes, some misgivings set in. We see that old pernicious classification at play, the one that says ‘work’ happens in the ‘workplace’ and not at ‘home’, the one that renders the labor of stay-at-home parents invisible. It’s a categorization that has been internalized by the caretakers themselves, of course. ‘Are you working today?; No, I’m staying at home to look after the kids.’)
I was reminded of this cartoon yesterday as I made some tentative inquiries yesterday at Brooklyn College about suspending my sabbatical in the spring semester and returning to teaching duties. (I would return to my sabbatical either in the fall of 2014 or the spring of 2015.) My first mention of this to a colleague–and a fellow parent–prompted a guffaw and the rejoinder, ‘You’d rather be back at work, right?’ Other reactions were more incredulous. Why would you want to suspend a sabbatical and return to teaching? Why would you want to return to grading, meetings, committee work and dealing with university administrators?
Well, for one thing, I’ve been home-bound too long. I was on paternity leave in the spring semester with no teaching duties and spent most days of the week attending to my daughter and taking care of college administrative work–from home. Over the summer, I’ve been a full-time caretaker, a situation that has only changed in the past couple of weeks with the addition of a babysitter for a couple of hours a day and even more recently, some daycare. I’ve become infected with a version of cabin fever, and as I noted in a post a while ago, I do miss teaching.
Curing myself means leaving home, heading to a library or two, and consequently, seeking more time at the daycare center for my daughter. But daycare is expensive, very expensive; the bills for it can easily rise to a staggering twenty thousand dollars a year. And my sabbatical entails a twenty percent pay cut. (This is still a radical improvement from the situation of a few years ago, when the sabbatical meant a fifty percent decrease.) That’s not great news in a city like New York.
So, perhaps a return to teaching and a full-time salary is on the cards. Perhaps next year, with some savings in the bank, I’ll try the sabbatical again. Decisions, decisions.