Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time Stands Still

My kid is sick. Nothing zooms priorities into place, and puts the rest of the world on hold, like watching your daughter briefly struggle to breathe. We have a nebulizer and medicine from Christmas break's pneumonia scare, so we made it through the night OK (in that I awoke every time she coughed and failed to get her to use the breathing machine at 2am, not that I blame the sleepy, exhausted little one, but she did eventually sleep), and we're off to see the doctor this afternoon.

She's been coughing at night, but last night right after falling asleep, it sounded worse and then turned into a fit. Immediately, classes were cancelled, computers were turned off, brain functions stopped, and all efforts of both parents went into the love and comfort of our precious little one. The pull on your hormones is awesome (as in a lot of AWE) and exhausting. Your focus becomes so singular. We are so very, very blessed that she's never been really sick, never had a hospital or ER visit, and had so few small illnesses. I don't know if I could handle it. Bless all of you who have nursed a sick child, for it is the most all-encompassing and life-force-giving activity I know.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Old Literature, Interrupted

This afternoon, I was reading a book (The Sense of an Ending) that is set in mondern-day England. The section I read today ended with a mention of the narrator using Google Earth to search for a childhood home. While this was not out of place in the story, it took me out of the book for a moment. Current technology, to me, rarely fits into my escapist fiction.

To me, literature is old. In high school, I didn't have progressive teachers or trendy syllabi, so I think the most modern author I read was Faulkner. In college, despite my love of English classes, I only took two: one honors seminar on Nabokov and a British Literature class (i.e. Shakespeare & Austen). After college, I went crazy reading current novels. I was rather shocked to learn that novelists who are still alive can still write really well. Who knew?

Still, even with my more contemporary taste, I crave books to take me outside my world. I escape into the worlds I read about. As such, I find it disconcerting to be reminded of everyday things, like technology. I mean, as much time as I spend daily on my computer, I don't want to read a book about a person perusing Facebook several times a day.

As a sidenote, movies rarely embrace technology basics either. Items like cell phones - especially smart phones - would solve movie problems too quickly, so now they have to establish reasons to not have phones (lost, out of range, etc.) in order to continue that world. And for some reason, we all accept that characters don't have the same tools that we do to navigate their worlds.

I guess I'm saying that maybe the mention of Google Earth threw me because I've never read of such a contemporary technology being used by a character. But then again, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth regularly uses the Internet, but that wasn't so disruptive because her character was a techie. I accept those.

Am I being weird here? Does this bother you too?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What I'm Worth

I'm experiencing a business conundrum that has become a metaphor for my life. I agreed to do a freelance project for much less (read: more than half) of my usual fee. The agreement was that the project was quite easy (mostly website research), the hours were light but regular, and that it would transition within a month or two to a higher-paying writing project. I happily agreed to this and am glad I did. But now, as I skip movie-watching with my husband or shower time during the currently brief toddler naps, it's got me really wondering: is that minimal (but still nice) amount of pay per hour worth it? What is my time worth?

In the past few years I've been freelancing, the matter of my fee has been a tricky one. When I first started, I charged fees based on how things were in D.C., where I had just moved from. That changed quickly: turns out small-town SC companies don't expect to pay that. My largest freelancing client just tells me what I'll make per project, without discussion. I can take it or leave it, and am usually happy to take it. Other clients have vacillated within a rather standard range, with fee variations based on whether I'm proofing, editing or writing original material, and how much time it will actually take.

On the other hand, my most time-consuming job pays absolutely zero dollars an hour. As a mother, I work long, tiring hours that require 100% brain function, can't be done while watching TV (excluding Nick Jr. breaks), and will get me put in jail - or her in the hospital - if done poorly or against the rules. I have become accustomed to the idea that I make no money, most of the time.

So when an offer comes up for a little money, it's hard not to say: "Yes! I'll do it! Your small offering is more than I would otherwise make (i.e. zero)." But...but I've come to realize that my free time, while earning me nothing, is actually worth a heck of a lot. Free time equals sanity, a good marriage, a clean(ish) house. That's worth a lot, right? Last night, I watched a movie curled up on the couch with my husband, and I did not have my computer in my lap: it was glorious. Over Christmas holidays, I spent most of Sylvia's naptimes napping myself (with her, which is decadent), which kept me from being so sleepy in the evenings when friends came over. I even splurged on brunch with friends and shopping trips while she was at preschool.

As many stay-at-home moms likely know - especially those of us who left well-paying jobs for mothering gigs - I often feel guilty about not contributing much to the family income. So I feel like money, any amount of money, should be acceptable to earn during my few toddler-free hours. My husband would be unhappy if he never saw me, or only saw me as a stressed-out lunatic (harkening back to some of those grad school days), but he's willing to give up a few nights of couple-time a week for me to earn some bucks. And beyond the money, I like using my brain, feeling a part of the world, and just, well, working. I enjoy it. I feel valuable beyond my ability to mother and cook. But to what end is this money, and this feeling of work, worth the stress on myself and my family?

As a product of all this self-reflection, I'm proud of myself for recently negotiating a fee to consult on a new class. I stood up for what I thought I should make per hour, and how many hours I really thought this would take, and after some discussion, I was given what I asked. Women are notoriously bad at this kind of negotation, thus we tend to make less money than men. I myself have been part of the wanting-to-please types who don't negotiate well. But I feel that all the interal conflicts I spoke about above came to play in my firm belief that I Am Worth This: I know now what my time is worth. I know what people have paid and will pay me. I also know how great it feels to stay at home with my daugther, to watch her learn and grow, and to spend relaxing hours with my husband and our family and friends. And I know these hours are worth a lot more than working hours, in the grand scheme of things.

So if you want me to work, you need to pay me for it. I may make zero dollars for most of my day's work, but it's the most valuable job in the world. Future employers better be able to negotiate against that.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking a Breath

I graduated in mid-December. That was immediately followed by a blur of cooking, hosting guests, feasting, cleaning, organizing, toddler-entertaining, napping, writing cards and trying to do a few things to make it feel like vacation. I then took on a freelance writing project, which was fun but filled up my free hours. Then my free hours went out the window when Sylvia toyed with giving up her nap (egads, that means two hours less per day of work time for me, plus a crankier kid).

Now, though, the writing project is over. I'm working on a research project, but it's not too time consuming. I've crossed off (or soon will) most of my "to do" list for this vacation (believe it or not, you can now fit two cars in our two-car garage). I still have to put together my new syllabus, but since I've taught this course twice before, it shouldn't be too challenging.

So that means, folks, that I may actually have some calm around here. I'm currently not feeling stressed about anything: a weird, light feeling that I hardly recognize. I am really enjoying spending time with my daughter, and giving her my full attention (which she is certainly demanding these days). I am motivated to do more house projects and get back into a routine.

Yes, I'd like more freelance work to pay the bills and feed the brain. But for now, it feels great to be relieved of the burden of school and deadlines, the constant lingering of things to do that aren't for me. If Sylvia returns to napping (it looks like she will at least do so a few times a week), I may actually have some "just me" time. How novel.

Now...what to do with it?