My Lovely Bride turned 40 this summer, and it’s my turn soon. Throw in my children’s imminent return to school plus my having been an at-home dad for eight years – and you get my annual “What Am I Doing With My Life?” quandary. Whoopieeee!
Am I wasting my expensive education by not working for pay? Would full-time work wreak havoc on my family? It’s been a coupla years… could I hack it? Do I even want to be a reporter, or maybe I’m a better editor instead? Or should I turn my back on journalism and the industry’s unending, gut-wrenching change? Carla’s kindergarten teacher inspired me every time I volunteered last year, and every interaction with Eddie’s 3rd grade teacher convinced me I could do better. Maybe I should try teaching?
My Lovely Bride is always the one who puts it into perspective. This is the woman who wanted to write international peace treaties and interned one summer for Madeleine Albright. Now she’s a fundraiser for a hospital-university. She likes coaching a team of seven people as she matches up philanthropists with scientists to fund groundbreaking medical research.
Is it what she set out to do?
But one morning she said she’s figured out that three things about a job are important:
- It gives her a paycheck.
- It does more good than evil.
- It keeps her brain happy.
So, what about teaching, then? It would work with my children’s schedule, and I wouldn’t have to load them up with nonstop camps in summer and babysitters during the school year. But there’s more to it than calendar convenience.
As I volunteered in Carla’s class twice a month. Ms. G ran me ragged. Two and a half hours of cutting and stapling and folding and collating and opening snacks and leading craft activities. But every single time, Ms. G’s enthusiasm and skill made me want to be a teacher. Maybe a kindergarten teacher – another place to break the gender barrier, like being an at-home dad – or maybe at another grade level.
And last summer, I came up with Fun Camp. In an attempt to thwart boredom during the last week of summer vacation, I invited a dozen neighborhood kids to come over for two hours in that dead of the afternoon when there’s simply nothing to do. One day I borrowed a half-dozen computers and had Laptop Lane, where kids drew out a hat to choose websites from a school-approved list.
Another day we did science experiments, including making a geyser out of Mentos and Diet Coke. Build-Things-With-Sticks Day flopped, but we righted things the next day by scrapping my plans and going to a one-roller-coaster amusement park.
After that, my friend Sandra rubbed her hands together and said, “You know, we oughtta get you certified!”
“But then,” I retorted, “I just might be certifiable.”
Sooo… should I enroll in a midcareer transition-to-teacher program? Maybe I ought to try substitute teaching first? Sub jokes aside, I figure getting dropped into a strange class on a moment’s notice would be a really quick way to see if I really want to teach.
I’m such a perfectionist-defeatist, however, that I talk myself out of it before I even try.
Part of me wonders how I would ever keep my patience with a bunch of other people’s kids when I almost never manage it with my own. And I feel guilty for yelling at my own kids when they do stupid things (i.e., simultaneously age-appropriate and irritating), which I’ve reminded them a thousand times to do or not to do.
As for journalism, once upon a time I realized that I just might be a better editor than a reporter. When I reminded a writer that a compound sentence must be separated by a comma AND a conjunction, he told me “You sound just like my eighth-grade English teacher.”
I took it as a complement.
But there’s no glory in copy editing. Really, can you name a single famous editor? Maybe Anna Wintour or Tina Brown. Or E.B. White, whom you probably know better for “Charlotte’s Web” than for one of my favorite books, Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”
I’m not sure The Baltimore Sun would take me as a full-time reporter or editor – one editor I’ve written for is only about 30 and has more full-time experience than I do, as does any 28-year-old who’s been at a smaller paper since finishing college. Another Sun editor told me over lunch that I’d probably need to log a year or more at a small paper an hour away. (I didn’t like what she told me, but I know she was right.) The commute would kill me. And forget about feeding healthy food to my children or getting them to sports practices and doctor’s appointments without logistical headaches. I know dual-working-parent households pull this off all the time, but it strikes me as utter drudgery.
I’ve been thinking about calling up my local weekly and offering my services as a copy editor. It’s actually a decent paper, but tell me what community newspaper couldn’t use a little help on the editing desk. Any weekly seems to have the lede (that’s not misspelled, for you non-journo-types) buried in the sixth graf about half the time. I can fix that. Plus, I like doing layout, and I’m good at it.
I have moments of thinking I’m throwing my life away. And my education, too – I went to Columbia Journalism School! My former classmates are writing books and reporting from West Africa for The New York Times. I think a couple of them have even won Pulitzer Prizes by now.
I once got a job offer from The Philadelphia Inquirer!
The Philadelphia Inquirer!
This for the guy who was rejected for reporter jobs at The News-Record of Harrisonburg, Va. (circulation 29,000), The Winchester Star (circ. 23,000) and even my hometown newspaper, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va. (circ. 46,000), which wanted a minority candidate. I’m all for that, though it does cross me off the list.
The Inky offer came when I was finishing journalism school and trying to figure out how my wife would keep her job in New York and I would work in Philly. I took the train to the midpoint and wondered whether we could endure the commute. I concluded one thing: I cannot live in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Every now and then, for fantasy reading, I troll the website journalismjobs.com. I imagine myself as a fulltime reporter or an editor, except the jobs are an hour away and advertise hours from 9-6. Or night editor jobs from 3-11, which means I’d never see my children. And I’d be tired all the time.
I’ve been mulling all this for months, ever since my last paid article.
That was the month I got really fired up when I attended my first journalism conference since the Clinton administration. I worked up a couple story ideas and pitched them to no avail. (No, we don’t want your exposé about nursing home violations, one magazine told me. We get a lot of advertising from nursing homes. Journalists everywhere gagging in unison.) Maybe the weekly newspaper copy editing would lead somewhere. Or maybe it would just fit into my schedule needs (being available for the children outside school time) and commit occasional journalistic good.
Or maybe I should try teaching…
Or maybe I should revel in my at-home-dadness and spend September on the backyard renovation and luxuriate in house projects for a month…
Or maybe I should get off my duff and gin up some more freelancing…
Or actually put in some effort at becoming a better father…
Or figure out how to make a buck off this blog…