9 to 5 by Sharon O’Donnell

Going back to a regular job after 22 years of working out of my house as a freelance writer and PR consultant and doing some part-time writing teaching in the schools — has been challenging. I enjoy the job as a fourth grade teaching assistant, but I find that the main drawback is simply not having the time that I used to have to do things like cleaning the house and taking my youngest son to basketball and saxophone practices. I also haven’t had time to focus on my writing at all because after a long day at work, I need to relax some after doing all the mom stuff when I get home.

This job appealed to me because it would be working with fourth graders, just as I did when I did week-long writing residencies in over 25 schools from 2000 to 2010. I knew also that with two sons in college (a senior and a sophomore) and one in 7th grade, that it was time to focus on me more than I had been doing. They were all at a place in their lives that I felt was a good time for me to step away from the role of ‘mom’ during the day. I can’t explain it, but I just felt I needed a broader perspective on life in general. My middle son’s struggles with severe anxiety a few years ago are well-documented on my earlier posts here; I wrote about how his struggles consumed me for those years, and it was a dark time in our lives. Somehow it seemed, in my mind at least, that going to work outside the house to a job with regular hours would help me to further step away from that dark time, as if it would put some distance between ‘then’ and ‘now’. This middle son is doing very well now and excelling academically and above all — is happy. My oldest son is graduating from college in December, has an accounting internship currently, and is lining up one for the spring semester, along with studying for the GMAT to get into a Masters of Accounting program. And the 7th grader is just at that time in life when he, for the first time, seems to want some independence from me, and I think this job is a good way to give it to him. For a couple of hours in the afternoon, he is on his own, and hopefully, he will learn to be a better time manager and to be more responsible as he fills the time.

I still want to have that second book published. I have two waiting in my computer — waiting for a publisher who doesn’t require an author to have thousands of Twitter followers before considering publication. I’m exhausted from trying to market my writing — and I need a break from it and the computer. I need to rediscover the passion that I used to have for the art of writing — the process, the expression, the highs, the satisfaction of my words resonating with someone else. And I’m finding it as the fourth graders I’m working with discover it for the first time.

Sure, I wish my nights were my own when I get home from work. I wish I could do whatever I wanted to do instead of going to the grocery store, helping with 7th grade homework (or God forbid a project), doing laundry, cleaning, going to practices, making dinner, etc. My husband and youngest son have got to learn that doing laundry does not mean pulling the clothes out of the dryer and leaving them in a heap on the floor; my husband used to know that, but it seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. He is very busy with demanding work at the energy consulting company he owns, so I know laundry is not first on his priority list either.

By nature, I am a night owl, and I used to stay up writing until 2 in the morning, get up at 6 with my youngest son, and then sometimes go back to bed from 8 to 9. Obviously, I can’t do that any longer. I go to bed around 10 or 10:30 so that I can get up at 6 and not be dragging the whole day. Our nights are usually busy, so there is not a lot of down time during the week. After three weekends of attending college football games with my family, this weekend I skipped going to the game because I needed some time to catch up on errands and things around the house.

Another reason this job appealed to me was that I’d be on the same school calendar as my 7th-grader. His school and my school are both year-round schools, and we are both on Track 3. This means that in 3 weeks, we both ‘track out’, and I will have several weeks off with him, allowing us to do some things together, possibly with he, my husband, and I to take a vacation.

Yet, there is still some guilt. Since my son and I are in school at the same time, I will miss the parent assembly his grade has for the students on honor roll. My son made all A’s and B’s first quarter, but this time I will miss the assembly — the only assembly I’ve ever missed for any of my sons. And I used to take my 88-year-old mother out to eat or to doctors’ appointments, but when I’m tracked in, I can’t do this any longer. I feel like I’ve abandoned her, although I do have two sisters and a brother who also take her places. But still . . .

And yes, I feel badly about leaving our dog at home by himself. Luckily, my husband is in business for himself and his office is nearby, so he can often come home during the day to let Fenway (our dog) outside. But the day time was my time to bond with Fenway because when my husband is home at nights and on weekends, Fenway is his shadow; the two of them have been inseparable since Fenway was a puppy. Week days were when he followed ME around. So, I’m looking forward to tracking out.

No, the 9 to 5 world is not perfect (or 8:15 to 4:15 in my case). But the world I lived in before wasn’t perfect either. I think sometimes it’s beneficial to step foot into a different world to keep growing as a person. Besides, it’s only 3 weeks until track-out!