Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Finding One's Niche

They say that the goal to successfully uncovering your niche is by noticing a need in your surroundings and figuring out how to fill that need based on your own skills.  What they don’t tell you is that your niche may not come with everything you would hope.  You may need to compromise in order to do work that you love.

The needs in my community are endless, but what are the skills that I can offer?
I speak Polish, but there isn’t a need for anyone to learn Polish or to have things translated between Polish and English in my community.

I also speak Spanish, though not fluently and I am self-conscious about my limited vocabulary.  Still, there have been many opportunities when I was able to translate for random folks wherever I happened to be - at work, at court, at school, at the store.  In fact, I taught Spanish speakers English when I first got into ESL.  They were so basic in their level, that for the first 6 months or so, I actually taught in Spanish.  I also taught Americans Spanish for a summer.  That wasn't nearly as fulfilling as teaching English.  But then, I got greedy.

I loved the work, but not the pay.  On a fluke, I inquired about a teaching position at my local community college, which ended up being an interview, and voila!  A couple of years of doing what I love for more than twice the money followed.  But then, I found something else wrong with the arrangement.

I had to commute to another campus to teach, and I often had early morning classes followed by late evening classes.  My choices were to make the commute twice each day, or to lolligag all day long in between classes.  I chose the latter.  I still found fulfillment from teaching immigrants and older folks, but I wanted it all.  So when the opportunity to teach all of my classes at my local campus opened up, I didn't think twice.

It actually took me several years before I realized that I was now teaching a different segment of the population.  I already knew that it mattered who you taught and what you taught, because I had the opportunity halfway through my ESL teaching career to substitute teach linguistics at my alma mater for an old professor.  I hated the experience, even though the schedule was great and I had a corner office!  There was no appreciation from the students, and I wasn't nearly as competent in teaching linguistics (my major) as I was in teaching ESL.  I turned down the opportunity to teach there again the following semester.

Yet, I only made a partial discovery when I opted not to teach linguistics.  The part that terrified me was that I was still in a PhD program for linguistics with the intention of teaching it after graduation, and I had just had a first-hand glance at what it would be like and I didn't care for it one bit!  Which of course led to panic as to whether or not to finish the program and if no, then what would I do instead?

The part that I didn't fully appreciate until just recently was that it was not just the subject but the student population as well.  Yet by this time, I had been teaching more and more daytime intensive English classes due to the better schedule and pay.  Slowly, it dawned on me that my foreign ESL students, those here on student visas who usually didn't have to pay for their own tuition, were more interested in goofing off than in learning.  It was the rare student who truly showed an interest in self-improvement.  I had been duped!  I was teaching the fresh-out-of-high school students just like when I taught linguistics at my alma mater, and there wasn't much difference in their work habits, behavior, or attitude.

And that's when I came full circle to understanding that I simply cannot have it all.  It turns out that if I want my work to have meaning, to be fulfilling, then that work correlates with a schedule that isn't ideal for me, and that doesn't pay what I would hope.  On the other hand, the work that comes with the perfect schedule and decent pay just doesn't do it for me anymore.

This past semester, I had another great class.  About a year ago, I got the opportunity to start teaching more advanced ESL, which also came with a more secure schedule and better pay.  Nearly all of these students were fresh out of high school, and most of them still acted as if they weren’t fully grown.  But this semester, out of financial need, I agreed to teach a Saturday morning class.  

I lamented losing my weekend, but what I got in return was a class full of thoughtful students who took the content of the class seriously, whose behavior I didn’t have to constantly correct, and who showed pride in their work.  The majority of them were older students, working during the week and thus needing a Saturday class to accommodate their busy lives.

Currently, I am taking a sabbatical from teaching ESL.  For one thing, our international move is still up in the air and likely to happen in the next couple of months.  For another, I will need time to be home with our baby when s/he is born later this year.  So maybe this is as good a time as any to reflect on where my work-for-pay has taken me over the years, what turns I’ve taken, mistakes I’ve made, and experiences I’ve had.  

Perhaps it’s good that I can ruminate on what all of this means without having to make immediate decisions about it.  My life’s priorities have to be readjusted.  Either I want as much money as I can get, or I want as much fulfillment as I can get.  If I cannot have both, I must choose one.  Which one would it be?

Monday, May 20, 2013

We Still Do! (Vow Renewal / 10th Wedding Anniversary)

This past weekend Alex and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony during Mass.  In attendance were:  my parents, my brother, my sister and her new husband (married 3 days prior), Alex’s mom and her gentleman friend, Alex’s sister and her daughter and husband, our friends Courtney, Melissa, Yessenia, Liz (with her new baby Nick), and Erick, and a couple from our Marriage Encounter Circle.  

As we waited for Mass to start, Alex was encouraging the reader walking up with the processional to participate in Worldwide Marriage Encounter.  It was precious to hear my husband spreading good news about marriage.

Entrance procession at start of Mass
We walked in with the priests during the processional and sat at the front.  Fr. Kevin and Fr. Frank were co-celebrating, which was awesome!  The music director included all four of our requested hymns in the Mass:
Here I am Lord (by Dan Schutte) 
How Great Thou Art (by Stuart K. Hine) 
They'll Know We Are Christians (by Peter Scholtes)  
Lead Me, Lord (by John D. Becker) 
We chose these songs because they have had an impact on us and our faith journey.  We are at the service of the Master, and as a married couple, we are called to share Christ's love with the world, starting by modeling His love within our marriage.

The altar at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church

We got some awesome photos with the beautiful altar as the backdrop.  And just like 10 years ago, I continue to be 100% satisfied with my choice of wedding dress, which I wore to the renewal.  I cannot imagine a more beautiful dress or color!  

Alex wore his wedding vest, and I wore my wedding dress and shoes.
 For some reason, we hadn’t realized that we would actually be repeating the same vows we said on our wedding day.  There we were, standing up at the altar, holding hands and gazing into each others’ eyes as we made lofty promises that we already knew we could keep because we had kept them for the past 10 years!  Between the intense eye contact and the realization of how much more meaningful the vows were this time around, by the time it was my turn, I had to pause several times to soldier through the tears.  Fr. Kevin said “that’s one happy bride... do you know something we don’t?”  And of course he was hinting at our miracle baby, but not everyone knew yet.  

 There was a part of me that wanted to address the community and share some of the difficult things we’ve been through, and how through it all the Lord brought us closer and closer together.  I wanted them to know that it is possible to have a solid marriage, if you only include God in it the way He intended.  I wanted them to know that you will fight, disagree, be disappointed or even hurt, have to compromise, change your goals, and hold your tongue.  You won’t always like each other, but marriage – and love – is about a commitment. Alex and I promised each other that we would be there for each other no matter what, and we both believe each others’ promises.  If we didn’t believe, we’d have no trust, no foundation on which to build a solid marriage.

We brought up the gifts this time as well, just like at our original wedding.  Only this time, we weren’t in a tiny chapel with a mere 20 or so people, but in the main church with the entire parish community (at least those who go to the Saturday vigil mass) with us.  We loved being able to share with so many people the joy of our marital bliss, especially in a society that degrades marriage to an unpleasant rite of passage, generally temporary, and certainly self-serving.  

We had dinner with our families afterwards and spent some time at our favorite karaoke joint with a few close friends.  Then we went to our hotel room and opened up our unexpected but wonderfully thoughtful gifts and cards.  It truly felt like we had gotten married all over again!

I’m already thinking about the next time we renew our vows, with our child or children sitting in the pews, rooting us on.  This time, “Dino” was there and behaved quite well, but we won’t see her/him on pictures. Next time, we will :-)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Cost of Raising a Child, Really?

I recently came across an estimate of what I can expect to spend on a child in the first year.  The official guess?  Over $10,000.  Yeah, right.  Somebody’s sniffing glue.  Then again, let’s itemize some of the biggest expenses.

Nearly $7,000 of that estimate is in childcare costs.  I will be staying home with the baby, so while we will be losing my income, it’s always been a bit sporadic and unpredictable anyway.  And since we can swing it, then there is no one better to take care of our baby then one of us!

$864 in disposable diapers for the first year, so roughly $1,700 from birth through potty training.  $228 for the year if I use and wash my own cloth diapers, which should pretty much remain the same through potty training and a sibling.  Taking into account the fact that we’ve already purchased our diapers previously and used them with our foster daughter, we only have to purchase a few more prefolds and covers that got lost along the way.  It won’t be more than about $100.

Roughly $630 for 6 months worth of formula, compared to zero for exclusive breastfeeding.  If I can help it, I will tap into my magical power of milk production!

Another expense that my personal experience cautions me against is saving for college.  First of all, not everyone goes to college, and not everyone has to.  There are various career fields where our child can be successful without a four-year degree.  They may open up their own business.  They may be an artist or an athlete.  They may have a calling to the religious life, where they may not even need to come out of pocket for their education.  Second of all, the first two years of college cover what I believe everyone should know before they graduate high school anyway.  College is a right of passage, more about social life than academics.  I’m not going to chip away year after year so my kid can have an on-campus experience.  Our investment in our child’s education will come in the form of homeschooling – the socially tapped-in kind.  That’s up to $1,000 per year we can be applying towards family travel, which can be much more educational than a couple of semesters in a classroom!

Another expense that I can’t promise bc I’m married to Mr. Likes-to-shop is kids’ clothing.  Obviously, in the first year of life, a child goes through a lot of clothes for the simple reason of regularly outgrowing them.  Yet this is all the more reason not to have 30 outfits in any single size!  There are a few staples that will be needed in each size, but I will not apologize for my child wearing the same outfit twice in one week, so long as it’s clean!  What’s more, people tend to like buying baby clothes (and toys, another unnecessary expense!) as gifts, so we will only supplement whatever we don’t receive from our generous family and friends!

I mentioned toys.  There are some fascinating toys out there, but two caveats with that.  One, babies don’t need toys.  That doesn’t come into play until they’re a little older.  Two, toys are mostly for the adults anyway, to relive their happy childhoods.  Kids’ imagination should be encouraged as much as possible.  Only a few select classics like books, blocks, a doll or teddy, crayons, etc. are necessary.  Many everyday household items can be easily used for pretend play – boxes, pots and pans, mom or dad’s house clothes and accessories for dress up.

Then there’s the baby gear – stuff everyone tries to make you think you need when you actually don’t need it!  Most of this stuff is either a luxury that can be bypassed if you don’t mind an extra step here and there, or it’s stuff to distance you from your baby, discouraging close physical contact between the two (three) of you.  I won’t go into parenting styles here except to say that I do not believe we have a right to expect our lives not to change, and to try to make our baby fit into our schedule.  The baby didn’t ask to join our family.  We invited him or her.  Therefore, we have to accommodate the baby as best we can with whatever she or he needs to get the best start in life.  In our home, this will involve a lot of babywearing, skin-to-skin contact, and just overall togetherness at the expense of whatever was previously considered fun or entertaining for us.  Perhaps this is different in different families, but we longed for this baby for years.  We want our lives to change, we’ve prepared for our lives to change, and we are willing to change our lives to make room for this little addition. 

I’m sure there’s a few other expenses that don’t even come to mind right off the bat, like regular professional photo shoots (I take decent pictures myself, thank you very much.)  There’s others, no doubt.  One thing that gets talked about a lot is upgrading car and house when baby arrives.  This seems laughable to me.  We have a 3 bedroom right now that we don’t know what to do with.  We’ve been looking for ways to downgrade and simplify, so with a third human family member on the way, we simply won’t, considering we also hope to have grandparents visiting.  But you know what?  A baby doesn’t need a private room.  Again, this touches on parenting style, which is best left for another post.  But I see getting your very own room as a right of passage, not a given.  The whole home is ours... who’s to say mom and dad can’t sneak out for a romantic romp on the sofa when they need privacy? 

At any rate, there’s my first go at a critique of what the powers that be would have me believe about the cost of raising a child.  My motto?  Don’t believe everything you hear.