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Parent Moments: Back to Work

Our family plan had always been for me to stay home with our two kids until our youngest was in kindergarten.

But I surprised even myself when I announced, "I'm going back to school," in a gut-reaction to my husband's news that his shore tour in the US Navy was cancelled and he was going out to sea again.

As it turned out, though, graduate school was just what I needed to get through that unexpected sea tour. School gave me a project to work on. My studies kept my focus on something constructive -- instead of on how much I missed my husband and how hard it was to take care of our children on my own. It would be better for me and my kids, I knew, if I maintained a positive frame of mind. I studied from 4 to 7 a.m. each day, and whenever I could find the time between all of the usual preschool and kindergarten activities with our kids all day, and then went to class or studied again from 7 to 10 p.m. (If it matters to you, I also drank gallons of Dunkin Donuts coffee and could frequently be found cat-napping, sometimes while standing up.)

Toward the end of graduate school, I was offered a teaching position. I could do most of the prep work and grading at home, but there were three hours a week in the classroom and one office hour, plus travel time, for which I would need child care. It sounded manageable, but still I worried. This transition to the work world had come a year-and-a-half before I was ready for it. Would I be able to transition from stay-at-home-mom to working-part-time-mom successfully? What would I do if one of the kids got sick on a day I had to teach? At the college level, there are no substitute teachers; you just cancel class. And if you cancel class too often, you don't get re-hired. My husband, still assigned to the ship but by that time home from sea again, assured me he would do whatever he could to help. Despite my trepidations, I went for it.

The semester started off smoothly. Then, Sabrina, my oldest, got strep throat, which she then passed along to her brother Jake, who passed it along to my husband, who then generously shared it with me. That winter, the four of us set a family record for illnesses. For six weeks straight, every single day, one of the four of us was sick enough to stay home from school or work. We each contracted strep throat at least twice, along with several interesting stomach bugs. Although I bought out the commissary's supply of disinfectant and laundered the hand towels in the bathroom until they were threadbare, we continued to pass germs back and forth as if we were playing a twisted game of hot potato.

Somehow, though, we made it work. Most days, my husband was able to flex his schedule so he could stay home in the morning while I was in class and then work later into the evening. Two or three times, a nearby aunt and uncle of mine, recently retired from the Navy, helped me out by sitting with the kids.

At the end of my first semester back to work, I had only cancelled class two times -- a small miracle, considering what we'd been through. I learned that winter that my class of college freshmen wouldn't notice or care if their teacher came to class looking a little green around the gills. I also learned that if I could nurse my family through that long span of illnesses while still fulfilling my obligations at work, I was up for whatever challenges life brought my way -- whether at work or at home.


Shannon Riggs is the author of the award-winning picture book "Not in Room 204" and is a columnist for the Dream Team newsletter for Family.com.
How about you? Whether your maternity leave was just a few weeks or several years, what was your experience once you went back to work? Click on "Share Your Comment" below to add a quick comment to this article. If we like your comment best, you could win a great prize in our Comment Mania! Contest.

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