Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Inherent Risk, or What I Know about Investment

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Inherent Risk, or What I Know about Investment

Article excerpt

On Balancing a Career, Child, and Creative Writing

"BACK IN OUR DAY, OUR CHILDREN WERE THE CENTER OF OUR lives," Mother said. "It seems like it's so different for your generation. You just keep doing what you were doing before the baby arrived. It's amazing to me."

This was the third week of the spring semester, eight months after Callie's birth. I was in the backseat of my parents' car, next to the baby, on the way to my office. I'd just described my upcoming spring schedule as my father drove us over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, through the heart of the city, past the boisterous neighborhood of my single days, through the working-class residential neighborhoods I'd never visited, and onto the San Francisco State University campus. My parents were going to spend the day taking care of their grandchild. I would teach late into the evening.

After eleven years living away from California, I'd been back in the Bay Area for four years and hoped I could be there for good. That spring, I was under review for tenure and promotion. New baby or not, I needed to perform. Mondays and Tuesdays that semester, I'd teach my full load of three creative-writing seminars that lasted three hours each. I would meet with students about their theses and writing projects, schedule advising meetings, wait in my office during the institutionally required office hours, attend committee meetings about college-wide paper use and office-supply rations, and sit through departmental meetings about how to manage budget cuts and curriculum changes. I'd leave for campus at 8 a.m. Monday and arrive home around n p.m., and I'd be back out of the house from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Then, with papers to grade and classes to prep, I'd board a plane to give lectures at colleges across the country. First there would be Fort Kent, Maine; then Pittsburgh; then Cedar Rapids, Iowa; then Austin, Texas. Between cities, I'd come home, teach Monday and Tuesday, then get back on the road again.

I traveled two to three times a month for these gigs. The salary I made teaching and the extra money I made as a visiting writer supported us.

My husband, Ray, couldn't accompany Callie and me on our trips or take long hours away from writing to watch the baby while I was teaching. When we'd met, Ray was working on the first draft of his dissertation. He'd take bits of time away from writing and teaching adjunct classes to court me, but then he'd get right back to work. When we were dating, I made him sandwiches and stockpiled lasagnas in his freezer so he could focus. I wanted him to concentrate on completing his Ph.D., not on making lunches. Once, we took a three-day road trip to the Centrum writers' conference in Port Townsend, Washington, where I was scheduled to teach a workshop. It was our first vacation together, his only vacation for ages, but once he dropped me off, he drove thirteen hours straight home so he could return to his dissertation.

After we were married, and I was, to borrow a coinage shared with me by a transplant from the Ozarks, "with squirrel," Ray and I decided he would stop teaching adjunct courses so he could focus on finishing the dissertation and thus be more immediately in the position to land a properly paying job. Our growing family would need two secure incomes but, for now, completing his dissertation had to be his full-time job or the years he'd already invested at the University of Chicago would be, in a substantial way, for naught.

The big worry was who would take care of our child while I worked and Ray wrote. My parents were only visiting for two more weeks. Once the semester started in earnest, we'd be on our own. Most day-care centers' hours didn't align with our quirky schedules. Quality nannies in the Bay Area cost between $3,000 and $4,000 a month, a salary far surpassing what Ray made as an adjunct lecturer and approaching my post-tax income. It would be prohibitively expensive to arrange aroundthe-clock home child care. …

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