Koyaanisqatsi purports to be a Hopi term meaning “Life out of Balance” and if so it accurately describes my life.  My days are fueled by a stomach churning inner core of anxiety that endlessly runs a subliminal script telling me that I’m late, inadequate and short changing someone. No matter what there is not enough. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough me.

At school on a Sunday, writing a test for the 7th graders and a lesson plan for the 8th grade I remind myself that I need to look up science fair projects that use pinewood derby cars for my son whose project description is due on the 23rd.  I glance at the time because I promised my daughter I’d run by Goodwill on the way home to look for items that fit into Homecoming Week’s spirit dress up days. And I try to mentally run through my recent bank debits to make sure I have enough money to stop at the store and buy toilet paper, top ramen, hot dogs and dog food.  Whatever I get needs to last until Friday, the long awaited payday.

Goodwill sports a “Now Hiring” sign outside the door and again I weigh the pros and cons of trying to find another job – not at Goodwill as they don’t have night shifts- but somewhere.  We need the money as there is never a month when we don’t run out before payday and it’s been impossible to save on my meager salary, most of which goes towards our inadequate health insurance before it ever hits the bank. We are always one emergency away from disaster. A second job could help repair the air conditioning that went out in the car (I had thought about just waiting it out as the weather is cooling but realized that the fan no longer works which will make heating and defrosting difficult this winter). It could help pay for gravel for the driveway and fill the propane tank before we need to turn on the heat. It could update the kids’ cold weather wardrobes as they’ve all out grown last years pants, sweaters and jackets.

But as it is I’m away from home from 5:45 AM to about 6 or 6:30 PM every weekday and I often spend about half of Sunday at school.  I never feel finished at school – there’s the science fair (which we are just starting this year) to plan, the STEM  initiative to work on, the intensive reading training to incorporate into science class to improve content literacy, the endless lesson plans, grading and documentation of how I differentiate for learners with different abilities.  I care deeply about making a difference in my students’ lives but often feel its an impossible goal.

And when I get home my kids await with their own unmet needs – they have homework they need help with, they want to talk about a difficult situation with a friend or teacher at school, they feel resentful that so much of the daily animal and house care is left to them (and I feel irritated and burdened when I come home and its undone).  They and the animals vie for attention and I again feel inadequate as I try to sort out the necessities from the wants.  Is it enough to feed and house and rush through homework help when their deeper emotional needs are only briefly touched upon? I doubt it.

I arrived home, picking up the laundry my daughter has done at our relatives on the way, we’ve put away the few bags of groceries I was able to purchase at the store, fed the animals and hauled water (we haven’t had significant rain for weeks so we don’t have running water) and I’ve ducked into my room to write this post that has been percolating in my mind amidst my fractured thoughts for the past few weeks.  I feel starved of solitude and ‘me’ time but I leave the door open, knowing that my son will be popping in to discuss his science fair project.  I try to remember what I want to say and start writing. My phone beeps. It’s a text message from my oldest daughter, away at college.  She asks, “Can you look over my resume and tell me if I need to change anything, please?”  I close my eyes briefly and text back, “Sure, send it on”  while channeling the conscious mantra I use to counteract the debilitating subliminal script, “It is what it is. It is what it is.” And I keep on keeping on.

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8 Responses to Koyaanisqatsi

  1. Katharine says:

    No words of wisdom but a huge hug. You amaze me, your kids amaze me, and I wish I could do more to help. Hugs again!

  2. Laurie says:

    As a single mom of 2 adopted from China I am happy to have found your blog. You and your children have been through more than I will ever be in my lifetime. Be proud of who you are and that you valued yourself enough to get a teaching degree. I know how hard it is to start a new job and career. It is rough and really sucks at times. Then the guilt about leaving your kids. But like I say I do what I have to do. Have you looked into subsidized housing? Where I live we have what is called Omaha Housing Authority. The program is for low income people. Just in my neighborhood alone we have many OHA houses. You would pay very little each month. Of course you would have to pay the utilities,but if something breaks it is fixed for you. All of the homes have running water and are in clean condition. Do you qualify for food stamps and Medicaid? I see you have insurance,but your kids would qualify for medicaid and you can stay on the schools insurance. If you qualified your son could get his allergy shots and all of his meds covered and you do not need to pay for the co pays and office visits. Just some thoughts as I have also been through some rough times lately,but do not qualify for anything b/c I make too much. Please take care of yourself. What state are u from?

  3. Marcia says:

    I found your blog via Frugal Trenches. I have to say, you make me tired, and I thought I was tired.

    I agree with the above that your work hours are too long. Simply too long. I think part of that may be being new? (Haven’t gotten too far back in the blog.) I know that in our elementary school, the long-timer teachers tend to spend much less time (leaving at 4 pm) than the newer teachers. Some stay until 5:30 pm. Being a teacher is certainly a lot of work.

    I think that maybe as times goes on, you’ll get into more of a groove. And perhaps your hours will become more reasonable. I cannot imagine doing all that and single parenting – the closest I’ve come to that is when my spouse travels. (And it’s not fun at all!)

  4. I so so understand, it’s exhausting isn’t it? There’s a mental, emotional and physical exhaustion (spiritual too) when you just don’t consistently know you’ll have enough – enough financial resources, but also enough of you left. I often wonder if what isn’t “spent” is used in the right way. I wish there was some sort of clock that said “you have 9% energy left” and then I could decide how best to use it! 😉

    And yet, there is also so very much hidden, beautiful joy. Joy I know I wouldn’t have had the skills to tap into had this been easier. It has, beyond anything else, gravitated me like a strong magnetic pull, to know what is kind, lovely, beautiful and joyous. All those now found in little things, little accomplishments, little moments that I know would have whisked by if life were easier. And those smiles our children give, well they keep one going and going and going. The ultimate reusable battery.

    I still think of you often and hope for you an easier time for you all. You should feel proud of becoming a teacher. I have no doubt you are helping more than one. x

  5. Julie says:

    This is beautifully written and so accurately captures the life of a single mom. Nearly every day I find myself stretched to the limits emotionally and financially, thinking “just one more thing and I’m going to break”. And then a child calls from school (an hour away from work) saying they’re sick and need a ride home, or the car breaks down and it’s a 2 hour wait for AAA, or I’m going through the grocery line and realize I don’t have enough money, or an employee calls in sick and I have to cover their shift and miss a school function, and on and on. But you don’t actually break – even when you think you can’t manage one more thing, stuff keeps coming, and somehow you manage to roll with it :). It’s a tough way to live, day after day, and it certainly takes a toll.

    It’s hard to understand how you do it, given that you’re living without so many of the conveniences most people take for granted. But then I’ve had many people say to me “I don’t know how you do it”, and I think, “I really don’t either, but I just do it. It’s not like there’s another option!” and I’m sure it’s the same for you. Anyway, thanks for sharing your life and being honest about the struggles; it’s obviously hard for someone who hasn’t been there to understand.

    Also, in my opinion, your kids have done amazingly well through all of this, and certainly don’t seem like whiners and complainers. They are human kids who would like to have their mom around more, as do most kids with working mothers, and what kid doesn’t complain occasionally about doing chores around the house? It would be weird if they didn’t :). I also think teachers are ridiculously underpaid in some areas, and the amount of work required to do just an adequate job, let alone a good job, is certainly not fairly compensated. Congratulations to you for caring about your students and your job, and putting in the time needed to create a successful learning experience for them. Sorry that it has to take such a toll on your own life, though! As you imply, it should get better once you’re not new and preparing these lessons for the first time, and I do hope it gets easier as time goes on.

  6. Consuelo says:

    Hi. I am a very long time reader of your blog and almost never comment. I am not sure of all of the details but I did want to say that I do not know a single public school teacher (even one with a long commute) who is putting in the kinds of hours you do. Frankly, the salary simply does not justify the hours you are working. One possible solution to the exhaustion/constant work/lack of time for self and kids you describe might be to consciously cut back on your work hours–decide for example that you will simply depart school each day by, say, 4 p.m. and will not work on the weekends unless faced with a true emergency…preparing for class is not an emergency. Where I live, public school teachers generally leave school by 3:30 p.m. with rare exceptions. As for your kids’ resentment about chores at home and lack of time for yourself, I would sit them down for a frank conversation and make it clear to them that the family’s survival depends on your working AND their helping out after school. Tell them you will not tolerate any more whining and complaining as everyone in the household needs to contribute. They wanted animals therefore it makes sense for them to feed and water them before and after school. My husband and I have seven kids and although our circumstances have never been as dire as yours, I have found that by about age 7 children can understand the importance and fairness of everyone pitching in. I would tell them that unreasonable complaining will be met with more chores. I get the impression that your health is not nearly as good as it should be for a woman your age–all of you need to think hard about what it would mean if you became disabled or worse. The children must understand and respect the fact that from time to time you need to take care of you and that this is good for them too. For you, this might mean a 15 minute walk each day when you get home–this costs nothing and would be very good for both mental and physical health. If chores are done, the kids could accompany you and everyone would benefit. It is a huge mistake, in my opinion, to raise kids who are not considerate of their parent(s), yet I see this all the time. Then, when the kids are older the parents are stunned by the inconsiderate and selfish behavior exhibited by the children as adults. So, now is the time to: limit work hours to just what is absolutely necessary; insist on better and consistent assistance from your children; and, take at least a few minutes (10 to 15) each day for yourself. No one really benefits from a martyr complex although many moms fall into this pattern for reasons that escape me. I’ve honestly never seen it end well for anyone involved.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Our school has a new principal who is busy rescuing us from the slide towards becoming a failing school. That has created a lot of work for everyone, plus I am involved in the science fair planning, and the STEM initiative. And I think I have more to do as a newer teacher with 2 preps.

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