When I was in college, a dear friend gave me the Dr. Seuss book, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose for my birthday. The story is about a moose who lets a little bug build a home in his antlers, which leads to more antler-dwellers always increasing in size and chaos. Despite their ungrateful behavior, Thidwick cannot bring himself to ask these parasites to leave. Soon so many animals are living in his antlers that Thidwick is rejected by his herd, and unable to travel to food or escape the pursuit of sport hunters. With peril laid before his eyes, Thidwick finally finds a way out when he realizes that it’s antler-shedding season. He throws off his antlers and escapes to the other side of the lake, leaving the freeloaders to the mercy of the hunters, who turn the antler-menagerie into a game-club wall-trophy.
Inside the front cover of the book, my friend wrote, “Ruth, you don’t have to carry it all…”
That was over 20 years ago, and despite having read the book dozens of times over the past two decades, I have not heeded this advice. Like most women I know, I have continually felt that I could take on one more project, one more person to care for, one more commitment, one more item for my over-loaded antlers. Thankfully I have a generous herd, good food to help, and no blood thirsty hunters in pursuit, but I still often feel on the brink of peril.
When I was preparing to come to Germany, I found the excuse to shed some commitments exciting. I wouldn’t have to let anyone down, or admit that I couldn’t handle the load, I could simply tell people that I was leaving the country and had to bow out for a year (with reassurances that I would be back at full commitment upon my return). I was shedding my antlers for one season, knowing that they’d grow back next year with plenty of room for new dwellers.
But I didn’t shed all of my antlers. In order to continue to help support my family, and keep my toe in the professional pond, I did not leave my paying job. Instead, I asked if I could telecommute, thinking that I would have plenty of time to log-in and do my work while my three children were happily attending school. After all, I only work half-time, finding four hours a day to work on spreadsheets and send emails shouldn’t be too hard.
But, despite having lived in Europe on two other occasions, and talked to dozens of friends who have taken their families abroad on sabbatical, I had no idea that it would be so hard! I had no idea that finding four hours a day to think clearly without interruption would be nearly impossible. I had no idea that school days were so short here, that figuring out how things work would be so challenging, that life without a car would make travel so time-consuming, that constantly translating the world around me would be so exhausting. And mostly, I had no idea that my small herd would need me so much that my antlers would simply have no room for any other dwellers, even those who paid their way.
I simply cannot carry it all.
This past month has brought this into plain view, as my son has been thrust into a behavioral crisis that led us to pull him out of his deficient kindergarten. And while my mother was visiting for much of the month, the visit proved to be a double-edged sword – a third helpful, loving adult in the house, but a further disruption to my son’s routine and sleeping arrangements. So having a troubled five-year-old around full-time meant that finding any time to do my work was just not possible.
I decided to quit my job. But, when I talked to my boss, she offered me a leave of absence. With the state of the world economy, this assurance of job security when I return home was difficult to refuse. So, as of early January, I will officially be on a leave of absence. I have no idea how I’ll get through the next month, wrapping up both spreadsheets and holiday presents, but I’ll find away.
I have been heartened by the reaction of colleagues who have expressed their support and concern. And I’m hoping that shedding this responsibility will allow me the ability to care for my family and take advantage of the amazing gift we have in living abroad for a year. And, I want the time and peace to write about our family’s other stories here, without such long periods between posts.
I will worry about finances, and then the transition back to work. I will undoubtedly once again commit to more than I can handle. But I wanted to write this blog post, so that maybe when I do, I can read this again, and refuse to let at least one more animal on board.