Month: August 2013

Backyard Life Lessons

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by Claire Bischoff

In the past two weeks, my sons and I have learned a bit about life and death without leaving our backyard. Most recently, I was inside tying my shoes in anticipation of a walk to Panera for dinner, when my five year old came running inside, yelling, “Mom, come quick! Come quick!” Fearing the worst, like blood gushing from my three-year-old’s head, I ran outside to find a squirrel swimming for its life in our inflatable wading pool. Dumbfounded, I watched as the squirrel tried in desperation to climb up the rounded plastic sides, only to fall back in. My three year old tugged my hand, pleading, “Mom, do something.”

An image formed in my head: me donning a gas mask, oven mitts, and knee-high waders to face this foe who could scratch me/pathetic creature who needed my help. I quickly realized that I did not own any of the equipment that would make this vision reality, so I ran inside and got a bucket, intent on scooping the squirrel out of the pool with it. After a few attempts, complete with me whispering to the terrified squirrel that I really was trying to help it to safety, the squirrel got a grip on the edge of the bucket. Now terrified myself, I tossed the bucket, and squirrel with it, toward the hosta plants that ring our yard, arms shaking violently. At first the squirrel did not move, but then we saw it shake its head, ever so slightly. Giving it a wide berth, we headed out for dinner. When we returned home, it was gone, and I am going with the story that it finally recoveredOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA its breath and scampered off (rather than becoming the dinner of some bigger critter preying on its vulnerability).

Had my kids not been there, what would I have done? Would I have waited long enough, hemming and hawing about what to do or who to call to do it for me, that the squirrel would have drowned, quite literally, in my indecision? But my kids were there, and in the face of their innocent faces, I felt an urgent need to protect the life of this squirrel. They will encounter, if they have not already, so many situations in their lives that make it seem as if death always wins. Instinctively, I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure this was not one of those situations. Along with my urging that they not step on bugs just for sport or pull the leaves off of trees, I hope this rather dramatic incident was a living example of what it means to value the life of all God’s creation.

Possibly, my strong desire to save the squirrel was intensified coming on the heels of an incident the week before in which nothing could be done. Again, my sons and I were in the backyard, this time playing soccer. Just as my five year old was dribbling toward the goal, our attention was caught by something swooping in front of us, dropping something else, and then flying away. Upon closer examination, the dropped object was a malformed baby bird. Similar to the squirrel situation, my three year old implored me, “Do something, mom.” As the three of us gathered round, my five year old listed possible solutions, including trying to return the bird to its nest in the second story rain gutter on our house. However, I sensed that there was nothing to be done, and so we just stood there, watching the bird as it took its last shuddering breath. “I’m sad, mom,” my five year old said when I pronounced the bird dead. “Me, too,” I said, and then I added without thinking, “At least we were here with it when it died. It did not die alone.”

We have talked about God and heaven at other times, but in that moment, it seemed more important that we had borne witness to the short life and quick death of this fragile creature. Rather than callously ignore or in fear run away from death, we had allowed ourselves to feel death’s sadness by staying put. God, empower us to do the same when we inevitably face the deaths of our loved ones, so that we might teach our children that death need not be feared, but rather mourned as the end of life in this world and celebrated as the beginning of life in the world to come.

How do you demonstrate a respect for life in your life? Upon what foundation does this respect for life rest?

Have you found yourself in a situation when you have had to explain death to your children? What have you said? Do you find faith helpful in the face of death? What do you want your children to believe about life and death?

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When Can I Have a Baby?

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by Claire Bischoff

My husband and I made a plan: aim for having our third child sometime during the spring SONY DSCsemester, a time during which I had no adjunct teaching opportunities on the calendar. Then I got an e-mail from the department chair at a small university a half-mile from our house. Having received positive feedback from the two introductory theology courses I had taught there, the chair of the theology department invited me to teach an upper level course… the following spring, when I was supposed to be on self-assigned maternity leave. Internally, I hemmed and hawed. But eventually I said yes because the good of doing right by this particular department chair outweighed the bad of pushing the maternity timeline back three months. Did I mention that this lovely, social justice-oriented women’s university is just a half mile from my house? I need them to like me.

So then my husband and I made a new plan: aim for having our third child sometime during the summer, another three month span in which I was not scheduled to teach anywhere. Then I got an e-mail from the Dean at a seminary at which I teach online. Having received positive feedback about my teaching online, he wanted to lock me in to come to campus the following June to teach an intensive course in person, when I was supposed to be hugely pregnant or at the hospital giving birth. Again, I hemmed and hawed.

And this is when it hit me: There is no maternity leave for adjuncts. If I kept saying yes every time I was asked to teach, I would never find time to have a third child. But as an adjunct, saying no to a teaching opportunity is a scary endeavor, as you are often only as good to an institution as the class you are teaching that semester. If I say no to a teaching opportunity, there are countless other under-employed holders of PhDs ready to step in to take my spot. And then my CV goes to the back of the file (or in the recycling bin).

Usually, I can be heard singing the praises of adjunct work: no department meetings, no search committees, no academic advising. Working as an adjunct since completing my degree has given me time to pursue writing projects close to my heart (like this blog), and more importantly, it has made it possible for me to be home part-time with my two sons. But the flexibility of this work also means that I do not enjoy some of the benefits that come with full-time and more permanent employment. Fortunately for me, we get wonderful health care through my husband’s job. But I do not think I can count on his company to support my maternity leave.

In the end, I sent an e-mail to the seminary dean, telling him that I hoped to be gloriously pregnant at the time when he wanted me to come to campus to teach the intensive. I told him that I valued my relationship with the institution and asked if there was any other way that I could help meet their teaching needs. Then I panicked and sent him another e-mail apologizing for my lack of professionalism.  Fortunately for me, this dean responded that he hoped that the seminary was the sort of family-friendly place where professionalism was marked not by ignoring the parental status of employees but rather by honest conversations about how to meet the needs of the seminary while also respecting the scheduling constraints of faculty, adjunct or otherwise. The dean and I together worked out an alternative plan in which I could meet the seminary’s teaching needs in my area in the coming school year without having to get on a plane nine months pregnant.

I am fortunate to be associated with an institution that aims to develop long-term relationships with their adjunct faculty and that was willing to grant me the “maternity leave” that I had been striving to carve out for myself. But not all part-time and at-will employees are so lucky.