July 19 2024

Two-Minute Reflections on Work/Home (Im)Balance

by Cassie Hillman Trentaz, Warner Pacific College

four stills of a draped woman carrying a jar on her shoulder and a basket in her hand

In one of my classes, I have a practice that I call “Two-Minute Reflections on Last Class” as a means of letting conversations from one class session leak into our conversations in the next. Here’s one that captures a bit of the essence of this tricky reality of work/home (im)balance:

Paying bills for a family of four on a single income,
keeping people fed, clean, warm and well,
raising little human beings, new to the world,
to be loved, to love, to be responsible, thoughtful, kind and attentive,
providing a sense of home, a ground underneath our feet
1,300 miles away from our closest family—
this is exhausting.

Daily log:

7:01 am—hit snooze (and again, and sometimes again)

7:30ish: get up and get dressed.

7:45ish: get baby up for a diaper change and morning feeding

8:10ish: get three year old up and fed, pump excess to maintain adequate milk supply

8:40ish: make coffee and breakfast for myself and reluctant-stay-at-home-dad partner and kiss everyone goodbye for the day

9:15-5:30 pm (ish): teach, grade, read, write, prepare for classes, participate in committees, strategize healthy institutional neighborhood engagement, administrate as department chair, pump (and pump again)

by 6:00 pm: arrive home, kiss everyone hello and relieve weary partner to disappear to get a break from the babies…unload the milk pumped during the day into bottles to feed G tomorrow and label them with feeding times…make lunches for tomorrow…feed G and hear about W’s day…pump excess to maintain adequate milk supply…make supper…call everyone to the table to eat…play (on good days if there are a few minutes)…pick up toys…diaper changes + pajama putting-on + teeth brushing + bedtime stories + G’s bedtime feeding = babies to bed…catch up for a few minutes with now partially refreshed partner…get myself to bed…wake up once or twice (sometimes even thrice) in the night for diaper changes, feedings, and other miscellaneous spontaneous reasons

7:01am: hit snooze

repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

The “days are long but the years are short during this season of life.”

I’m fiercely grateful for a lot of things: a partner that is in this with me, great health and monster immune systems all around in our little family, meaningful work, children who I really like—seriously, those pieces all feel like life is a miracle. But even for a person who is not a stranger in most ways to this geocultural land, who speaks the language, who can navigate most daily systems, who has most of the tools and resources I need to be well, holding a family together, doing world-repairing work on a single income 1,300 miles away from our nearest family is hard.

Some things are most definitely out of balance at the moment in regard to long-term sustainability. Here’s my current top three wishes to move toward equilibrium:

  1. I’d love to have a few moments of quiet with a cup of coffee in the morning.
  2. I’d love to be able to sit in the sun with my eyes closed for a minute without fearing the preschooler is a flight-risk.
  3. I’d love to be able to take a ten-minute shower without someone crying outside of the door (seriously people, pull it together for ten whole minutes).
  4. [Bonus: If we’re getting extravagant, I also wish there was a toddler safe stove (and that my child had a genius sense of taste and cooking skill). I’d settle for children who packed their own lunches.]

Most of these things have a fighting chance at “someday.” All of these are wishes of luxury.

I’m trying to practice presence. Sometimes, I’m a raging failure. Often, I’m successful. What I don’t want to do is wish later that I’d have been more present for my family now. What I don’t want to do is wish later that I’d been more attentive to my students’ learning and formation now.

So for now, the beginning of each semester (and sometimes each week) often feels like I’m taking a deep breath and diving into the pool, babies strapped to my back, hoping I’ve trained well enough to have the stamina for us all to make it the full length. Sometimes, by the end of the semester, I feel like I’m holding a punching bag sized “water weenie” while tripping down a long flight of stairs. But I’m still holding on, and holding on to something that isn’t such a bad cushion if I do land roughly at the end. For my current season of life, that’s not too bad.

Cassie Hillman Trentaz is an associate professor at Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her artist husband and their two preschool aged children and where she teaches within and across the areas of theology, ethics, church history, and religions of the world. Author of Theology in the Age of Global AIDS & HIV: Complicity and Possibility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), Trentaz is a teacher-activist-scholar and a partner-parent-neighbor nurturing connections across lines that often divide in the academy, religion, and society and cultivating porous spaces between the classroom and neighborhood.

Image: Four stills from the series, "Draped woman carrying a jar on her shoulder and a basket in her hand then placing them on the ground," by Eadweard Muybridge, 1830–1904 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons