A few weeks ago, my mother caught three milkweed caterpillars. She placed them in a glass dome and kept them so Emmie could watch them transform into butterflies. By the time we went to retrieve them, they had turned into green, gold-flecked chrysalides (I just looked that up - the plural for chrysalis).
Two days ago, one of the chrysalis turned brown. You could see dark lines inside, the stripes of the wings. When we woke up yesterday, he has emerged as a beautiful monarch butterfly! Soon after, one of his friends did, too.
When Bruce got home from work, we released the two butterflies. Emmie's face was lit with fascination and delight as they took off into the sky. Actually, we were all pretty amazed. It was a special moment.
While that miracle of nature has been occurring, I have been grappling with my own changes. A few weeks ago, my seasonal employment ended at the purse store. It was a welcome conclusion for many reasons. I liked the job, but retail has a dark side. I looked forward to the four classes I had lined up for the fall.
As I predicted in another post, it turned out that only two of my classes are going through. Two got cancelled. That's a major financial hit to our family. To put it more specifically, it is over 10% of our annual income lost. It means I'll be making 40% of what I hoped I'd be making in the last half of the year. What if you got a 60% reduction in pay? What would that mean to your family?
The worst part is, one of my classes won't pay out until the end of September. The other one doesn't even start until October, so for over a month, I won't be contributing anything monetarily. By the time I start getting paid for the other class at the end of October, we will be so far behind, we'll be playing the pathetic game of catch-up.
I'm sick of this. I know that we made choices when we decided to have children. I love staying home with Emmie, but at the same time, I feel miserable knowing that I'm not doing enough to help our family pay the bills. These night classes just don't fill up all the time. Since I'm not available to teach during the day, my predicament is so much more precarious. Every time a class gets cancelled, I feel like a loser. Plain and simple. I feel like I failed.
I read a blog post a while back from The Penny Hoarder, "How to Save Money When You're Living Paycheck t0 Paycheck." I followed his advice, attempting to do anything I could to make more money. I started filling out surveys. Turns out, they don't pay "$3-$4 each for 20 minutes of your time." You earn points that you can accumulate and exchange for gift cards or PayPal certificates. The surveys are annoying and repetitive. Some of them don't give you points at all. You start to take them, and if the survey gods deem you inappropriate for their needs, they kick you off. If you do manage to complete one, I've factored that it pays anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per survey. I've taken more than 5 surveys and have only made about $1.60 so far. At this rate, I'll have to spend about 21 more hours to qualify for a $20 gift card. This mom just doesn't have that kind of time.
Another thing I've done is become a secret shopper. So far, I've visited one store. I had to interact with 4 employees, finding lame excuses to talk to them and analyze their answers. It was awkward and discouraging. I wanted those employees to follow procedure so they could be scored well. When they didn't greet me at the door, I paused weirdly in the entrance, thinking to myself, "Come on, come on! Greet me, already!" I had to spend at least 20 minutes in the store and purchase one item (for which I'll be reimbursed up to $1). Can you imagine talking to an employee in every department of a store about various products and then only spending a $1 on an unrelated item? I must've looked so obvious! I went home and filled out a six-page survey, complete with required paragraph descriptions for every employee and their service. I'm waiting on my $16 check to come in the mail ($15 for the shop and $1 purchase reimbursement). At least I got a free glue stick out of it!
Neither of these methods looks like it'll catapult us to easy living.
I've applied for several other jobs this summer as well. One was to be a college aptitude test tutor. They wanted applicants who have scored in the top 10% themselves. I'll tell you what, the people who were in the 90th percentile on the ACTs or SATs probably don't need to work as a tutor! If you didn't have adequate scores, you could take their sample test. If you did well on that, you would record a short video of you pretending to tutor someone. If they liked your video, you would go to their orientation meeting where you would practice some skills and get judged. If you did well in orientation, then they might call you for an actual interview, which is where you'd learn the specifics of the job and how much it'll pay. Talk about jumping through hoops. After learning all that, I stopped the process.
I also applied to be an adjunct at a new school opening up in the area. I heard nothing for about a month, and then got an email to the tune of, "Sorry I haven't contacted you sooner. I got your CV, and you look like an excellent match. Can you come in tomorrow? School starts next week." What! We emailed back and forth, and the interviewer revealed that if all went well, I should be prepared to get hired on the spot and fill out paperwork. I've never heard of an interview happening like that.
There were red flags everywhere. The school was in a sketchier section of town. When I arrived, the walls of the former-bank building were bare and the halls empty. Only a paper sign hung over the door to indicate the name of the school. The interviewer read me handwritten questions out of a spiral-bound notebook. It was like a couple people got together and decided to play College in an abandoned building. After a few minutes, the interviewer nodded and said, "Okay! I like you. I'd like you to take this Tuesday-Thursday night class that starts a week from today. Faculty orientation will be this Saturday morning."
She couldn't tell me how much it would pay. It was determined by HR, and I would get my surprise contract, with any luck, at Orientation. After I accepted the job and re-arranged my schedule to attend. She couldn't tell me when the semester ended. She had no books for me, no sample syllabus. She couldn't even tell me what days I'd get paid.
There was no way I was agreeing to that.
It was actually a painful struggle for me. How could I turn down a job when we're in such financial uncertainty? But I had no idea how much money I was even turning down! And if they were that unorganized, how could I even be sure I would get paid at all? It was too vague, too sloppy. Something in the pit of my stomach told me something wasn't right.
I'm tired of being an adjunct. That interview was the tipping point in a series of dissatisfying career occurrences. At the beginning of the summer, I emailed my boss to schedule a meeting. I wanted to discuss my "career path." I wanted to discuss what moves to make to get better classes, possibly a full-time position some day. I thought I could speak to him honestly about my professional future. This guy is my former professor at my alma mater, also my current place of employment. I have a picture in a photo album of him with his arm around me, both of us beaming at my graduation. I've house-sat for him, had beers with him, gone out to dinner. Until now, I considered him a kind of mentor, and a little bit a friend.
Weeks would go by without him responding to me. He told me to pick a day to meet, so I did. He didn't write me back for two months. In August, he emailed me, apologizing and giving me excuses for his poor communication and our missed meeting. He wanted to try again. We scheduled another time.
The week of our meeting, I emailed him to confirm. He confirmed. I couldn't find a sitter, so Bruce took a half-day at work. He knew how important this meeting was to me. Emmie and I drove Bruce to work, and drove back to pick him up. Then I went to the coffee shop where my boss and I were supposed to meet. I was a couple of minutes early. I got an iced tea and sat down to wait. You know where this is going. Minutes went by. It turned into half an hour. I knew it - he wasn't coming. I emailed him some dumb email, stating that I was waiting, and if he needed to reschedule, he could call me on my cell. Eventually, I left.
I went home and sobbed until my head felt like it would explode.
I was mortified. This was the last straw! I felt so insignificant, so worthless. My boss stood me up. I was so meaningless to him that our meeting wasn't worth attending. He emailed me several hours later, apologizing again and giving some insufficient excuse - he just forgot.
I'm not going to rehash this all, but when I became a college instructor, I once felt so important. I was helping shape people's futures! I was giving them knowledge! Now all I feel is pathetic. The school doesn't value me enough to pay me well or give me any type of security. My boss doesn't even respect me enough to respond to my emails or meet me when he says he's going to.
In my heart, I'm done. It's going to take a lot to revive that old valiant, proud spirit. I've been defeated. I'll still teach as an adjunct until my kids are old enough to go to school. The flexibility is a blessing and a curse because when my classes do go through, the schedule allows me to be home with my kid. But I won't love it like I used to. I'll just be going through the motions, knowing that my this "career" is going nowhere and me with it.
It's time for a change. The other job I applied for was at a small, yet renowned local museum. I haven't mentioned this previously, but before I was married, I completed a certification program in Museum Studies from a prestigious Chicago university. I got a little volunteer experience when I was living in the city, but nothing more. However, I have always dreamed of working in a museum. I love them, even more than I love higher education. My relationship with museums extends all the way back to childhood. Museums are places where anyone can learn, usually in interesting ways that appeal to various senses.
Why I didn't pursue a museum career from the start? Quite simply, I didn't know how. I knew I was good at English and I loved it, too, so that's the route I took. Back in my late teens, I didn't even know you could major in Museum Studies. I majored in what was familiar and accessible, English, and added on what I thought was something more practical, Communications. Ha! Recently, I saw this clip from The Simpsons, that satiric animated take on society, which pains my already-injured esteem:
I don't want to feel this downhearted about my career choices anymore. So when I saw the job posting for the museum, I applied, even though it isn't the best fit for our family. The job is during the day, and we have no childcare for Emmie. But I didn't care. I wanted to see if I could even get an interview, maybe make a good impression for the future. I did get one, and it was wonderful. I sat and talked with the Executive Director about local history, architecture, and historic preservation: all subjects I am infatuated with. It was a joyful half hour.
The day after the horrible adjunct interview, the Executive Director of the museum called and offered me the job! I was so flattered that I accepted without hesitation. My heart was singing again.
Except, what will Emmie do? I don't feel ready to leave her with someone else, even though it will only be 2 days a week. However, this is a dream come true. It's an opportunity that I would regret passing up. I'm going to be able to network with so many people; who knows where this could lead me? I made it quite clear in the interview that I was seeking to grow in the museum field. Perhaps this could my shot to find a career that makes me proud, that can fulfill the achiever in me.
It's time to start making decisions for me. We've been researching childcare, and it looks like after that cost, I will be taking home less than $20 a day. If it was a job that I didn't feel good about, I wouldn't leave my daughter for so little. But I'm am really hoping this will be the starting point for a new direction for me. I'm giving myself a chance.
Yesterday, as we watched the butterflies emerge and take flight, part of me was thinking about my own transformation on the horizon.