Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Take This Job And...

let someone else deal with it.

As some of you know, I had an unexpected interview in June. I chose not to take the job because...well, you can read the blog before this one to find out.

I wrote that I realized that working at Lincoln was like being in an abusive relationship. Well, today I finally got my last suitcase out of the house. The process was hilarious.

Last week I went in to gather all my things and found that my nameplate was off my office door already. So were my skeletons. When I went upstairs to my old office to get some final things, I found that someone had already thrown all of my stuff into boxes and set them in the hallway. I opened the door, expecting that someone had already moved in, but the room was empty; my personal area rug was missing.  "Fuck," I said.

I put all the things in my car and was getting ready to go the key return building when I learned that I had to complete a "sign out" sheet first. The secretary told me I had to collect signatures and turn it in before I could leave. So, I went to HR and asked for a sheet. That person told me I couldn't get a sheet until the secretary or department sent her another form. Of course, that would take a day to process, and she'd be on vacation the rest of the week, so I should just come back next week.

That's what I did today.

I went to HR and asked about my sheet. It wasn't there. I sat for 15 minutes waiting for a sheet to appear. From where, I have no idea. Once I had the sheet, I counted...12 signatures in 12 offices in 7 different buildings.  I started my stopwatch.

I was in Young Hall, so I started there. First, Student Accounts. Why? I don't know. I found the office and was mistaken for a student.

No. I'm quitting.   I held out my paper.

The person working looked so sad. "What did you teach?"


"How long!?"

Six years. 

"Oh, I'm so sorry you're leaving."

I finally made it to the right person. She sat me in a line of students...since it was student accounts. I waited about 10 minutes. She pulled me into her office and asked if I was there about financial help.

No. I'm quitting. And I handed her my paper.

She recognized my named. "Oh, no! My son's coming here next year and he needs you. I've heard so many good things about you."

I'm sorry. I tried. 

Without looking up any information, she signed my paper.

I went upstairs to Accounts Payable. "I just signed another one of these a few minutes ago," she said. Without looking up any information, she signed my paper.

I ran around the building not realizing there was a basement and finally found the Records Office. Someone signed my paper.

From there I went to Schweich Hall. The assistant recognized me. "I heard you were leaving."


"On to bigger and better things, then?"

Mostly just away from here. 


My next destination was the Purchasing Department. I had no idea where it was, so thought I could maybe walk there. Then I realized it's about a half mile away. I was already sweating, so I headed back to my office to get my department head's signature.

He was busy.

So, I hopped in my car to drive to the Purchasing Department. "Do you even have a Lincoln purchasing card?" he said.


He signed my paper.

I drove further and found the Police Department headquarters. In case you're wondering, it's a house. Just and old house. "Do you have Sonitrol?"


He signed my paper.

I thought I'd just drive on over to the Physical Plant to return all my keys. I had seven. But there was a road out, so I drove longer than I meant to. On the way I found a building labeled "Small Animal Research."  I had no idea.

I'd been to the physical plant before and had their keys, so the guy looked up my name and checked off all the keys I'd returned. By this time, I had some severe crotch sweat and I was thirsty.

I drove back to a parking spot and went back up to my office. My boss signed my paper. We shook hands.

I had to walk back to Young Hall to the Casheir's Office for one last signature and to turn in the paper.

I hit the stop watch. Two hours.

Now, I know that's not too exciting to read about, but I thought it would be a nice introduction to the part you really want to know...why I did it.  Well.

Like the Signature Scavenger Hunt, I found LU to be, well, strange. Most of you have asked or assumed that I'm quitting because of my students. That is the opposite of the truth. Yes, I post their obnoxiousness on facebook, but I've also posted the nice things. The only reason I worked there so long was the students.

I quit because I've worked my ass off for 6 years. I've given all of myself to the place. And they've given me nothing in return. It wasn't just a bad paycheck, but no one cared that I existed. For two years I worked on redesigning the Basic English sequence (a project I'd received 5 days before a semester began because the other professor threw her hands in the air and left) and had done a good job. My work was recognized by outside organizations. I went to conferences. Gave presentations. Helped others redesign their own courses.

I was told last fall that there would no longer be basic English courses. It was the president's decision. But. It's like I didn't even exist. (Just last week when I went in, I threw away 60 pounds of papers, of the research I'd done for that project.) Suddenly, all the work I'd done didn't matter anymore. Those classes wouldn't exist anymore.

I served on hiring committees. Department committees. I did the work of a tenured professor without being one. And I did it happily at the beginning. I wanted to prove myself. Earn my place. I know how those things work; I've played team sports. Rookies wash and carry equipment until they're deemed worthy. I schlepped more than my fair share in the department.

Then came a job opening in the department for a tenure track Composition Coordinator. I applied. I didn't get it. The person they offered it to turned it down. I could see at least another year of doing that job...the job I'd already been doing...for nothing. Again.

But still I was going to hang in there. Because I bought into all that "It'll make your CV look great" stuff that we all hear.

Then came that amazing job offer from the archaeology lab. Yes. The pay was insane (for me).  But more than that was how the boss made me feel. She made me feel more appreciated and worthy than LU had, well, ever.

Of course there are a million other secret details I can't tell you. And my point here is not to hate on LU but to tell you how sad the whole system is. How I was supposed to be satisfied that I had a job at all. How not having a PhD makes me unworthy. Like I said in the last blog, it was like someone telling me no one else could love me. That I was unlovable. That I should be happy that anyone wanted to be with me at all. No raises. No promotions. You should be happy you have a job, Christina.

You wonder what I'm going to do now. Won't it look bad on my CV to have a gap in my teaching? I don't know. I don't care. My students appreciated me more than the university, but it wasn't enough to sustain me.

What will I do now? Well, I've got some things going. I'm also going to teach a few classes at CMU here in Columbia. I'll be an adjunct again. Adjuncting isn't bad when you have something else going.

When I went to thank the VP today for all of her faith in me and support, she pulled up a new job on the LU website. It's a "Learning Specialist" (kind of like a tutor). The pay is more than what I was making as an instructor. "Please consider, " she said.

I ran into two former students today. One was working in the HR office. The other somewhere in the student accounts places. I went to her desk, told her the news. She looked teary eyed and came around to hug me.

"You're a perfect fit for these students, Christina. You're one of the best professors here."

I know. I was. 

So. There you have it. Higher Education.

And I will laugh in the faces of those who doubt me...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Job Offer

Not too many weeks ago a friend called to tell me he was quitting his job and that I should apply. Of course, like you, I wondered why I should apply to a job my friend didn't seem to want anymore. He gave me a solid explanation and told me I was a much better fit than he. I applied.

The job is in St. Louis. It's an archaeology lab position. The job pays 64% more than what I make at Lincoln. Don't worry, Lincoln is number 2 in the nation in shittiest pay, so I don't make a lot now. Mindy and I discussed what could possibly happen with Cyrus before I accepted an interview.

I drove there excited, hoping to move and to make all that money. Dreams of paying off my students loans within months clouded my windshield. I could pay off my car. Fuck. I could start paying back my parents for everything they've helped me with. Ever. Cyrus' medical bills could be paid in seconds. For me, it would've been like winning the lottery.

The interview was great. I liked everyone. The job looked like something I could do and would want to do. Hell, the building is about 7 blocks from Busch Stadium. I pictured myself getting off work and walking on over to a game. I'd already bookmarked some beautiful 3 bedroom houses on craigslist. That dark wood and all the light pouring in.

After the interview I drove to Broadway Oyster Bar. Fuck, I thought, I can come here and listen to music. Oh, the music I could hear all the time in a bigger city!

I got onto I-70 and drove off into the sunset. You all know the route. Those rolling hills and creeks. The evening fog rising. And I thought, if I was offered the job, I'd have to make that drive on the weekends to see Cyrus. And, what, I'd see him for a day or two before driving back? Back to a huge, beautiful, empty house. Back to a city where I'd know just a few people. In my 20s, the thought of being reborn in a new place was utterly intoxicating, but now, at 34, it just seems exhausting.

I picked up Cyrus from Speech Therapy where Mindy was. She asked how it went. "I think they like me," I said.

After Cyrus went to sleep that night, I cried. I cried so hard thinking about missing nearly a year of his life (until Mindy could move to St. Louis, too). I cried about leaving my rugby team. They're not just a team. They are my friends. They've been my support system for 7 years. Through Cyrus' birth. And our divorce. What would I do in St. Louis...roll around in a pile of money? I've been writing, too, for the first time in years. I'm enjoying becoming myself again. I just got sane. Cyrus has just started using the toilet and eating more.

I called my mom crying; that's not something I really do. The thought of moving, of leaving behind the cute little house I rent beside the horses. No. I couldn't do it. If they offered.

Later that night Cyrus woke up and came into my room. I took him back to his bed because he was still mostly asleep. I tucked him in and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Mom," he said. "Meow." I held my tears when I said, "I love you, too, Baby Kitty."

When the call about the job came a few days later, I told the boss, "I politely decline." I told her why because we'd discussed Cyrus during the interview. She was very understanding and said that I'd obviously made a lot of good decisions in my life and that this was just one more. Family is number one, she said.

So, here I am, still bitterly employed at a job where no one knows I exist. Actually, my students seem to be the only ones who care about me or my career. And I'll have to keep reminding myself that my job is not my life. My job gives me just enough money to eat and pay my pills.

I've learned some very important things already this summer:

1. Working at Lincoln is like being in an abusive relationship with someone who strives to make you feel like there's no one else out there who can ever love you.  That one night stand with another employer was enough to show me that there's so much more out there for me.

2. I'm still a writer

3. Cyrus's happiness is my priority

4. (but my own is very important, too)

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Birthday

It's been four years since you've all been blessed with the wonder that is Cyrus.
For me, it feels like a hundred years or just yesterday that this man was born. (If you'd like to revisit that blog, it's on this site)

This is still a hard day. I try not to think back to all the things that happened to Mindy and me before and after March 21st, 2010. But. I can't help it. Missed phone calls. Open cervix. A quick education. The death of two pets. Blood everywhere. Mindy's shaking body. A tiny baby in a cube. All those cords and machines making him work. Wondering every day if he'd live another.

The isolation we both felt from all of you. From the world. We were told to stay inside for a year because of his immune system. We did. In some ways, I'm still trying to come out.

But here he is, friends. Have you ever met a more compassionate person? The other day I was overcome with joy, with pure love for him, watching him kick a soccer ball in the yard. I scooped him up and told him I loved him, my voice cracked a little. And even though I was wearing sunglasses, he knew, "Mom, are you sad? Are you crying?"  I tried to explain that people cry when they're happy, too. He just screwed up his face in a frown and cried with me. Then he kissed, and kissed me.

That's how he wakes me up, too. He's still sleeping with us (judge all you want), so he rolls over in the morning, kisses my cheek (he does it with Mindy, too, of course) and says, "I love you, Mom."  When he's going to sleep at night he asks for kisses, "Mom, can I kiss you?" Sometimes he asks to hold my hand or says, "Mom, I wanna hug you."  If kids are crying in the grocery store, he stops what he's doing and turns to me, "Is she sad?" This is followed by minutes of talking it out with him. He likes to talk things out. He wants to understand everything there is. I try my best to facilitate.

He loves music, especially bluegrass. Banjos really do it for him. He also loves to sing and seems to know nearly every song, or at least parts of them.

This kid also loves to kick and throw balls. He's curious about things and learns new words quickly.

He is fucking amazing.

I know everyone says that about their kids. But, I don't feel like he's mine so much as I'm his. He is Cyrus the Great, Wonderful, and Powerful. I am just the person who shreds his cheese and drives him around. I don't mind, though. Because. Well. You've met him. Everyone who meets him falls in love.

But living in his shadow is hard, too. We're still slaves to the feeding tube, and he's wearing pull-ups; we're working hard on these two.  He has an appointment with a SLP and PT every week. He's also enrolled in adaptive gymnastics and horse riding. So, 4 appointments a week. Mindy and I try to divide them evenly, or at least divide all tasks evenly. Since she is the only legal parent, she has to do all the paperwork and fight with the insurance. Just recently they decided to stop paying for his food-that's 600$ a month-so she's been on the phone a lot lately.

Finally, though, it feels like I'm close to being just a regular parent. The first years I felt like a doctor, nurse, and all sorts of therapists. His life was appointments and schedules of feedings and beeping machines and hand sanitizer.

Today, don't just celebrate the birth of such a remarkable boy.  Celebrate all of the  love and support and hope and joy from family, friends, and strangers it took to keep him with us and raise him up.

Let's keep holding him up. I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than that.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Complex, Partial Parenting

Every-single-time it happens like this:  I'm driving. The sun is shining. The song on the radio is mediocre. I catch myself noticing small things; a leaf surfing the wind, some cows all facing the same direction, cars merging at the same, choreographed speed. And I smile. I start singing the mediocre song like it's my favorite. Despite all the loss in my life, I think of all the things I have that make me happy. I cry a little-the happy kind. My shoulders relax. I nod my head. Yes, world.

Then, within the next days, something horrible happens. This time it was a seizure. This time I startled awake at 4:24 a.m., reached for my phone, and saw 8 missed calls. There was a strange voicemail, "he's seizing. they're on their way to women's and children's.

Cyrus started having seizures just days after he was born. His sinewy, tiny red arm would move, like he was fist pumping at some cheesy rock concert. He was less than two pounds. He had seizures because, as the doctors say, "It's just what preemies do."  He had another seizure like that within the next months, right before he had eye surgery. Our little man was still only 38 weeks gestation when that happened. Since he left the NICU, he's had several, but they are a strange, glassy-eyed kind. He can still move around the room. Play a little bit. But he just stares and doesn't respond to his name. The last time he was in the hospital was August of 2012, for this very thing.

Not too long ago his school called to say he "checked out" while they were playing outside. When he finally came to he said, "I peed." 

Despite these seizures, he hasn't really been diagnosed with anything; it's frustrating as hell. Once doctors realize he's a 25 weeker, they just say, "Well..."  They've done that about his feeding tube. They treat us like we're idiots. They look and say, "Well, he is a 25 weeker."  Like, we should settle for the feeding tube because of that. Like, we should just be thankful he survived and shut up about everything else. He has random seizures of unknown origin..."Well, he was born at 25..."  We know. We cannot un-know all of that.

Don't get me wrong, here. We absolutely know how lucky we are to have such a bright, sweet, and funny child after his incredibly rough start. We know the statistics. We saw, with our own eyes, the tiny babies who came to the NICU. We were members of the babies who were weighed by grams and ounces club. ( I can't count the amount of condiment containers I've stared at in diners and thought, "he weighed as much as a full ketchup bottle." ) The parents we met one day and never saw again.

So, these seizures don't seem to have a real cause. They are unpredictable. But, every time we check out of the hospital, we get a paper that says, "Complex Partial Epilepsy." And we are given a sheet full of appointments with doctors. We are given a stern look and a talking-to about going to the appointments. We always do. They always shrug and tell us the tests are normal. The medicine should stay the same. And, of course, "Well, he is a..."

*     *     *

This is the first terrible thing that's happened to Cyrus since Mindy and I split up. I keep my phone on silent when I sleep, but, as I learned very early Sunday morning, I shouldn't do that anymore. Luckily, the universe told me to wake-up when I did.

I didn't see this seizure. Mindy says it was different. Bigger. Scarier. So, she called 911. They drove, with our seizing child, the speed limit. With no lights. He seized for 25 minutes. We just learned today, at check out, that they were very close to intubating him in the ER. I'll save my hatred for that group of medical workers for another time. I will tell you that Mindy had to request they give him oxygen on his non-hurried, thousands of dollars trip to the hospital.

The sad truth is simply: Mindy and I are excellent in hospitals together. We know what our roles are and swap them at the appropriate time. To the observer, it might look like an innate trait. We sort of sleep-walk our way through it. If you see us parenting in the hospital, best leave us alone. Never wake a sleep-walker.

It's not until we wake that we see the destruction.

*   *   *

Cyrus walked out of the hospital by himself, occasionally holding my hand or Steiny's. Then Mindy's. I drove my own car to Mindy's house where I tried to carry him inside. "I want to do it by myself," he said. He ran in and started playing with the cats and two tractors he'd left on the floor. Mindy went to the pharmacy to get his new prescription filled. Meanwhile, we played balloon ball. He tried to ride me like I was a horse. He told me to pretend to sleep. He grabbed the balloon and said, "run with me, Mom!"

Since it's Monday, it's Mindy's time to have him. I decided to leave. I hugged him. I hugged Mindy long and hard. We cried, of course. I told her that maybe one day we'll get a break.  And I looked down on the rug at our beautiful son. He was playing with a Thomas the Tank Engine train track. But mostly watching us. I went back to hug him again and cried a little harder. He looked up at me, "Mom, are you feeling sad?"  I told him I was. He hugged me and patted my back. Then he looked at me again, made an empathetic frown, and put his small finger tip against my eyelid. "Mom, do you have a tear?"