It’s been a very long time for me since the start of a “real” school year. One with full-time school days every day of the week. Hard on the kids. Also murder on the grown-ups. At least on grown-ups like me.
One of the main reasons I once went into Academics as a career was the idea that I wanted to work all of the time and none of the time—that is to say, I need to be able to work more or less continuously to be sane, but I also need to come and go as I please most of the time while doing it, without having eight- or nine-hour blocks completely greyed out in my calendar every day.
School did not sit well with me when I was a kid. (Anyone who knows my bio or anything about it knows this.) I wasn’t able to function in the daily schedules until I got to college, basically. I have spent exactly one year over the course of my entire working life in a regular, in-house nine-to-five job—and it nearly killed me. Other than that, I have always been either remote-flex or on a university teaching schedule.
And now here I am, at 42 years old, with a kid that has just entered the first grade and is back on a full-time school schedule. And I am losing my mind. Like, it is so constrictive that I want to pull my hair out. House is a mess. Nothing is getting done. I hate it. I hate these schedules. There must be a better way.
I can’t see how anyone can get anything done on a full-day/every-day schedule. It just deadens the mind, all while being so highly structured that there is no room for any adaptation to the actual vagaries of life.
I have the vague theory that this regimentation is not actually due to the productivity gains that come with rationalization, as some optimists have proposed, nor a matter of the more easy extraction of surplus value, as some pessimists have proposed, but something worse—an alternative to mass-liquidation of human beings. That is to say that the wealthy and powerful would rather that we don’t exist at all. But if we’re going to, and they can’t mow us down or freeze us up into ice cubes and store us away, the next best thing is to plug us all into desks stuck in a single room and force us to stay there all day.
Okay, that’s hyperbolic. Well, mostly.
— § —
I am also bummed with entropy.
You cannot keep things intact with kids around. You simply can not. House. Car. Appliances. Affordances. Whatever it is in your life that you value and want to care for, kids do not. Not that there is malice in it; they are simply incapable of being careful and tremendously and often physically enthusiastic.
This combination = shit gets fucked up. All the time. Dents and scratches and stains and misuse are par for the course, no matter the value of the property and no matter how hard you try to educate them about responsible care of and for it. They’re just not there yet; it’s not something they’re capable of.
Anyone that has nice things and that has kids either has (1) kids as dumb as rocks who sit there like potatoes all day doing nothing, or (2) wealth. Lots and lots of wealth that enables them to replace the shit that gets fucked up.
For the rest of us, those living in middle-class precarity, kids are a direct trip to poverty. Your career, your assets, and your potential and intellect all slowly collapse as you transfer the wealth, mostly in the form of investments in their future minds, to the children.
Yes, it is worth it. Children are awesome. But do not for a moment imagine that there is not also some sadness in watching yourself and your life be slowly digested and consumed as raw material as a part of the process. There is an element of ritual suicide buried somewhere deep in the heart of parenting; you become a sacrifice to a future you will not see but hope to improve, through them.
It is a way of “dying nobly.” Make no mistake.
— § —
In more specific terms, this season has been hard because everything is breaking. Everything. I cannot think of a time in my life when I have been farther behind the curve in terms of tools, appliances, cars, housing, etc. falling into disrepair. There is no way that I can keep up with the costs; we just have less and less, gradually.
I can maintain the most critical things—car, for example, though not cosmetically, and house floor, also for example, largely by doing both myself and just buying the raw materials—but the luxuries, they are going. As the kids break them, they do not get and can not be replaced.
And I am more than a bit nervous about how long I can hold out. Money is beyond tight, and so is time. It feels like I’ve been stuffed against my will at a giant precarity buffet and now I’m rolling around, so full of precarity that I can barely breathe, and trying to function all the same.
At some point, there is a failure threshold. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how close I am to it. That’s terrifying and sometimes a lay awake in the wee hours and stare at the ceiling and worry about it until I think my head is going to explode.
Then I get 1.5 hours of sleep, wake up, and hop back on the ridiculous school-year-schedule-overlapping-with-serious-job-schedule treadmill. If I’m lucky, it’s a treadmill that leads to old age with nothing having really been accomplished in my life.
If I’m lucky.
Let’s hope I’m lucky.