Last Tuesday marked my fourth day home in over two months. I was researching over the summer in Europe. When I was not working, I was climbing up castle ruins or carrying groceries or creatively managing my children’s laundry with very modest facilities at my disposal. Unlike all of my other summer colleagues, I had elected to bring my children with me, so my summer was work intensive in both the professional and parental capacities.
Arriving home from our journey late in the evening Friday, we went straight to bed. But, the following day, I began again the task of laundering and grocery-ing, now made more mundane by the absence of castles to climb. It was a good thing that the jet lag woke me around 4am. For, I needed to buy juice boxes, sandwich bags, cookie treats, fruit, and so on for lunch the following week. I ran out in between loads, remembering also that we still needed to eat over the weekend. I bought Stouffers. Then, still between loads, I began the tedious task of labeling individual crayons, markers, glue sticks, safety scissors, tape roles, pencil packs, and the like. Somewhere in all that, I read an addendum to the supply list that said the kids needed headphones for their computer work. So, I threw another load in the washer and ran back to the store. About 5 pm, I began to feel really tired, but that is also when I discovered that the uniform pants I had purchased didn’t fit. I began scouring last year’s batch for a temporary fix. Then, I labeled the gym shirts, got the lasagna out of the oven, fed everyone, cleaned up, and readied the lot for bed. That was a Saturday.
Sunday, we woke up way too early, but this was also ok because I had to prepare for three classes of my own and a meeting that would take place on Monday. My throat began to hurt, so I took a zinc pill in the hopes that I would stave off any illness. Over the course of the day, I completed and posted my syllabi, printed course lists, gathered books from my shelves, and packed my rolling backpack. The kids were feeling a bit needy and nervous, so I paused several times to play with them and feed them (of course!) We even managed to go swimming. By nightfall, they were in bed, albeit restlessly. I, however, was in the kitchen signing school emergency forms, photo forms, and technology usage forms. I screwed up the phone numbers and signature lines twice because I could hardly see any longer.
Monday, I woke up closer to 5am again, which gave me time to run over my course material once more, pack lunches, prepare breakfast, shower, dry my hair (which I occasionally think about shaving altogether), wake up the kids, feed everyone, and rush out the door. I forgot to take a first-day-of-school photo of my oldest boy until we were in the parking lot. Happy to have a photo option on my phone, I caught a beautiful image of his shining eyes as he walked toward the building. I went directly to my own school so as to make it to my 8:30 start time. My mom, bless her, had watched my youngest child – whose first day was not until Tuesday. She had planned to pick up the oldest from his first day, but good fortune saw my afternoon meeting canceled in just enough time for me to run to my car and drive to the school to meet them all. I did not miss the first day pick up after all!
And, then, it was Tuesday, the first day of Kindergarten for my youngest child. This is one of those momentous events, or I guess it is supposed to be, when a mother of small children notices that her children really, truly are growing up. They are no longer tucked safely at home or in a preschool. They are in school and on that long-yet-surprisingly-quick trajectory toward independence. I was supposed to feel something other than exhaustion, I think. That morning, though, everything seemed rushed. We woke up a bit too late; I had forgotten to sign a form the previous day, which I was now too hastily scanning; I had not yet drawn the little cartoons that I place in the lunchboxes; breakfast sat on the table mostly uneaten. As we were fumbling toward the door, I yelled (a kind of nasty, irritable yell) for someone to take a picture of the boys – one of each alone, one of them together. I did not like the sound of my voice.
We made it into the room, decorated festively in primary colors, and then it happened. I saw my little guy standing in front of an apple cutout with his name on it. I saw my older son shepherding his little brother into his own former Kindergarten classroom. I saw a bunch of skinny legs sticking out of navy gym shorts while almost-babies struggled to carry and manage overweight backpacks. And suddenly, I was like a cartoon character with water shooting from my eye sockets. Everybody, especially the teacher, looked at me with a bit of alarm. This, of course, was not at all comforting to the kids who had just been told how wonderfully alright everything was going to be. Quite the mess, I sloppily bid my kids farewell and fled to my car.
But, by the time I got there, my tears had dried. The wind was cool on my cheeks, and I felt only relief. I had made it this far, and so had they. I had worked steadily through my pregnancies and my parenting – teaching, researching, publishing, advancing, and growing myself. I am not sure it would always have been my choice to work as I have, but I have worked as I have needed. And, I didn’t feel guilty. I have born the brunt of accusations that I have misplaced values and that I am overly ambitious. I have sometimes purchased prepared food. I keep the kids up too late occasionally when I am working, and I have never scrapbooked anything. I missed a parent night, and I did not even go to the post-drop off Wednesday coffee, donut, and Kleenex session for Kindergarten parents. I had to get home to start editing my new chapter.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.