August 1st was circled in red on many of our calendars- marking the time when our lives were no longer going to be our own for a while- student leader trainings, opening residence halls, scheduling classes, last minute facility needs, program planning, signing contracts, retreats, and visions of students and staff members danced in our heads each night we hit our pillows. For those of us who have families of our own (whether they consist of partners, pets, and/or children), this time can be particularly challenging. Here is a true life story to that point:
Wednesday, August 18th was the day after first-year student move in on the campus. My day began at 6am when I was awoken by a blood-curdling cry from little lungs. My alarm clock was about to go off, but I wasn’t fully awake- still dragging from the move-in day experience the day before. You see, I serve as the Director of Residence Life on my campus and move-in day is organized chaos.
So at 6am I sprung out of bed to the bathroom, where I saw a little body wrapped in a satin nightgown crying on the floor. “She fell off the potty”, I thought. “She must have hit the bathtub”. I scooped her up and did the once over her body, looking for any cuts or bruises. That is when I saw the blood. “She must have bit her tongue”, I thought to myself as I grabbed for a washcloth. As I wiped the blood away, I saw her pearly white teeth, pushed backwards in an unnatural position. I thought to myself, “Yep, this is going to be one of those days”. But why this day of all days? This is the First Day of School in so many ways!
As I held this little bundle of satin in my arms, hushing and comforting- another little body is asking for cereal. His ears are bothered by the crying . My partner is just waking up, assesses the situation and tells me I need to go to the ER. “Stop”, I think…. Having been at the ER for countless student incidents, I know that the ER won’t be the right choice, I need a dentist.
So I call my dentist. Of course, he is on vacation. I call the on-call dentist. The answering service picks up. No one can take such a young patient with a trauma injury this early in the morning. It is only 6:30am.
I haven’t mentioned that this is my partner’s first day of school. He’s a principal at a local school. He has kids showing up in about 2 hours. I also have an appointment with my son’s teacher at 8:30am- he starts Kindergarten this week. I have plans to take pictures of him (I am a programmer, after all) and dress him in a cute outfit near the front of the school. I teach my first first-year seminar class of the semester at 10am. As I search for a phone book, I put on Nickelodeon for my son to watch, and give my daughter ibuprofen for the pain. I look for a pediatric dentist in the phone book- there is only one. I call- answering service again- office doesn’t open until 7:30am. It is 7am. My partner is ready to head to the office.
I ask my partner if I he can take my son to work. He looks at me with disbelief. I decide I am just going to go to the pediatric dentist’s office and wait for them to open- hoping they take pity on a mother in distress. I throw on the most professional outfit I can find, a matte jersey top and black capris, pull my hair in a ponytail, brush my teeth, and wipe my face with a wet wipe. I don’t even change my daughter out of her satin nightdress. The ibruprofen is kicking in. I bribe her into the car with promises to play on my apple itouch (my current life saver- I can’t tell you how many times this has helped me avoid childcare). Miraculously, it works. I decide to leave my son with my partner. My partner asks, “So, what are you going to do about the kindergarten appointment? Don’t you have to go to work today?”. I don’t even answer as I head out the door.
15 minutes later I am sitting in a dentist office parking lot. The lights are on inside. I check the front door- it’s open. I carry my daughter inside. Swollen and crying- she can still manage to play on my itouch. How does she do that? Multi-tasker- like her momma.
The receptionist greets me with a smile. I want to hug her, she is very sweet. She tells us to sit down, fill out some paperwork, they will see us right away. I call my partner, let him know that we’ll be seen. I ask him to call my son’s kindergarten- re-schedule his appointment. He calls back; the appointment is at 11:30. I teach from 10-4, that’s great… It is now 8:45am. I call my office, a brief explanation- I’ll be in to teach at 10am.
9:15am and my daughter has been seen. 4 displaced front teeth and a lot of bruising, no broken facial bones. The dentist puts her teeth back in place, manually- no pain medication. Screams again. No solid food for 2 weeks, no sippy cups, no physical activity. I leave the office with a different child- her face is so swollen. The worst is over.. mantra playing in my head… “just make it to your class”.
I run home, change my daughter. I drive to my partner’s school- pick up my son. It is 9:50am. I bring both kids to my office. Plop them down with toys. I meet my first-year seminar class for the first time. They are a great group of students. Thank god I was organized enough to prepare my class session last week. I already made copies of everything- godsend!
I teach for an hour. Give the students a long lunch break 11-1. They love me for this. I love them for loving me for this. I take my kids to the kindergarten. We meet my son’s teacher for the first time. I forgot my camera! He is a grungy t-shirt and shorts. However, my son is happy- oblivious- ecstatic to meet his teacher, I still don’t have make-up on.
I take my son to day-care. Explain my daughter’s situation to the day-care center director. I leave her there too, reluctantly. Thank goodness she likes her day care teachers, she doesn’t hate me for leaving her.
I drive back to the University. I take a deep breath. I prepare a few handouts for my afternoon class session from 1-4. I teach. I smile. Everyone else thinks it is just the first day of school. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Class is dismissed at 4pm. Everyone is happy. It’s going to be a good semester. How did I do it? Was I here today? It was like an out of body experience.
You may be thinking I exaggerated this story. I didn’t. I can give you references and a the name of a great pediatric dentist. When I told folks I would write a blog, my intended title/subject was “Juggler or Superhero: is this really my title?” The content was supposed to be about balancing the roles of partner, parent, and student affairs professional. And I guess to some degree it still is about that. I wanted to find a way to hit home to folks that women in student affairs, especially those with families, have so many identities. We might want to compartmentalize, but it isn’t usually possible, and I would say it actually isn’t wise. In order to honor your multiple identities, you have to try to be present and available to all of them- all of the time. This is a tall order, but you have to own it. Let’s face it; life wasn’t made to be placed in pretty little boxes with bows on top- life looks more like how a 5 year old might wrap their mom’s birthday present; crinkly tissue paper and haphazard tape, but we love it just the same.
I would say the most important thing to ensuring you can honor all your identities is support. You have to work at a supportive institution, you have to have a supportive supervisor, you need a supportive partner. You have to support yourself. You have to let go of those things that don’t matter (make-up) and focus on things that matter. You have to give yourself credit. Use your superhero cape from time to time. Juggle. Multi-task. Know you may fail once in a while, but set up safety nets (plan ahead) for when you do. At the end of the day, our lives are made up of the choices we have made. No one made us have kids, or made up move up in our careers. We may have thought we needed these things, and maybe we did, but that was our choice. So, yes- this is really our job description. Own it and love it!
Raphaella Prange serves as the Assistant Dean of Students at Millikin University in Decatur, IL where she has been employed for 11 years. She is a graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, IN and received her Master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, IN. Raphaella currently serves as the Illinois SAIL for WISA. She is a member of Delta Gamma women’s fraternity. She is mother to Robert, 5 and Suzanne, 3. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org