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Counting my chickens after they hatched

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:32pm

The chickens came home to roost last week.

The perils of doing grad school and two jobs at the same time came crumbling down on me like a Colorado avalanche.

There wasn't any long-term damage to report, actually. But there were several embarrassing episodes that made me question: Is this all worth it?

I am doing the classic journalism juggling act: I work full-time at The Record of Bergen County, N.J. I'm a part-time adjunct professor at Rutgers University. I am a part-time graduate school student at Columbia University. I am a dad full- and part-time.

And that's only half my workload.

On Thursday, I showed up at my Rutgers teaching job 10 minutes late, wearing the same clothes I wore the day before (and they weren't very professor-like) and smelling like Andy Dufresne after he crawled through that sewer pipe in " The Shawshank Redemption." I had just spent much of the previous 48 hours working on a final project at Columbia, with no sleep.

My class chuckled intermittently as I tried to explain away the previous 48 hours. The crowning blow came when I asked one student, "What do you plan to write about for your final assignment?"

"I don't have any idea," he said.

"I don't have any idea" was what I wrote on the board. Then came another laugh. It was a lighthearted moment, and I tried to play along.

But, inside, I felt empty. I felt like I just wasted a whole semester teaching 19 people how to write. Is this how they all feel? I thought.

Luckily, the next student I called on had an answer, and we moved on. But when they left at the end of the period, I felt sick and ready to collapse. All the adrenaline left my body, and left me feeling lifeless and bloodless.

I recovered soon enough, so I could go to work. Once I got there, however, my boss had some unpleasant news: I missed a story that appeared on the web involving a PATH accident near Newark.

My ever-supportive boss was not happy. And rightly so. What's interesting is that I was harder on myself than he was on me. "Don't worry about it," he said, over and over. But the sick feeling just got worse. I knew I could do better, and I didn't.

Then came Sunday. Place: Metuchen Little League field. Event: My 6-year-old's game at the town's elite field. Their names would be announced on the P.A. system. They would be given the complete major league treatment: National Anthem, dugouts, nicknames, a snack bar.

I was the manager, and I wasn't prepared for any of it. I scrambled throughout the game, carrying a piece of paper from my pocket. I wrote down the names of my players, accompanied by their favorite foods ("pizza" was the overwelming choice) and their favorite players. I continually forgot the line-up, and repeatedly sent players to the batter's box even though they were out-of-order.

I could hear one of the other coaches snicker. "He's gotta be better prepared for these games..." At the end of the game, my legs again felt lifeless.

This weekend, You Tube saved me.

Out of the ashes was my below appearance at the Metuchen Third and Fourth Grade Talent Show. It was an event that had me worried the least. But after the embarrassing of the events of the weekend, my fear-level hit an all-time high as I thought of appearing sleep-deprived, ego-blown and pale before 1,000 people.

Somehow, however, everything came together. When stressed, crawl out of your egg shell and remember your inner kid.

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