Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Today is the first day at a new job for my lovely wife, and it has been something of a seismic shift in our household. Much like an actual earthquake, the forces at work were acting over a long span of time, and then when things actually started shaking, it was very hard to stay ahead of the effects.

In general, my wife has become more and more disillusioned with the clinical practice of veterinary medicine, especially the inescapable realities of having to contend with management whose focus is more on the economic bottom line than the health and welfare of patients, or having to work around pet-owner clients with a similar but opposite focus (in other words, the boss wants my wife to bring in as much money as possible, and the client wants to pay as little money as possible, and my wife really just wants to increase the quality of life of dogs and cats). A corollary generally inescapable reality is that vet clinics are retail businesses, as pet owners tend to be people with disposal income (which is earned during regular business hours) and clinics expecting to make any kind of decent profit have to stay open late weeknights and/or on weekends, which means working as a clinic vet requires giving up a lot of things from social events to simple quality time with one’s family.

And in specific, the particular clinic which has been my wife’s place of employment for the past three and a half years has become a more and more difficult place to work, mostly stemming from a personal tragedy which befell the head vet a little over a year ago and which has caused extremely unpleasant fallout of varying sorts ever since. Apologies for the vagaries, but it is a long and depressing story and the only really germane point at the moment is that my wife had been questioning for a while how much longer she could work as a practicing clinical veterinarian, and really questioning how much longer she could stand all the shadows over her current workplace for a year, and the latter questions led her to accelerate a plan that had been coming together in response to the former questions.

My wife has always been school-oriented; she likes to joke that her parents groomed her from birth onward to be a college student, which was great for getting into and attending college but left her a bit adrift in terms of post-college plans, though luckily she had built up enough of a head of steam by then that things turned out more or less all right. But academic environments are ones in which she thrives, and she has found in herself as much capacity for and enjoyment of the teaching side as the learning side. Thus her gradually developing plan to transition from practicing veterinary medicine to teaching veterinary medicine, which would allow her to leverage her graduate-level education and stay in the industry with a somewhat different career focus, one that would be a lot less price-of-services-rendered-centric, and one which would also put her on a working schedule that did not include nights and weekends. In fact, with any luck, it would be a similar schedule to our own children’s schooldays, so that she could maximize the personal child-rearing and minimize the daycare, a big ol’ checkmark in the PRO column. So the plan included timing the transition around the same time both kids were in school five days a week anyway.

But then, the tragedy, the ongoing unpleasant repercussions, and coping with it all by constantly keeping one eye on the job listings. When suddenly a teaching job which did not require an impossible amount of prior teaching experience came to my wife’s attention, and she sent them her resume just to see what would happen, and there were e-mails exchanged and interviews set up and, well, here we are.

Make no mistake, it is a fantastic development. The opportunity is so golden it was impossible to even contemplate letting it pass by. In the long run (assuming things continue along present trajectories) it will be the fulfillment of the plan in the best possible way. But, as is always the case when the theoretical becomes real, there are some rough edges that don’t quite line up. The college where my wife will be helping to train future veterinary technicians is allowing her to get up to speed in the new position via a slow rolling start, partly because the entire vet tech program at the school is new. There aren’t enough students right now for her to have her own classes to teach every day, so the job is only two days a week. The pay is commensurate, which means by itself it would not be enough to cover the half of our household budget my wife usually covers. So rather than quitting the clinic job, she’s staying on, with somewhat reduced hours. Which has elicited no small amount of aggrieved negativity from her boss. And while my wife is working two jobs, the kids actually need more daycare (four days a week instead of three) rather than less. In a few months, when there’s every possibility my wife might be teaching full time and only doing clinic work on a relief, as-needed basis for extra money, the balance will be a lot better. And in a few years, when the kids are in school, the arrangement will be exceptionally good.

Right now I think it’s good, but exceptionally challenging. As I alluded to yesterday, this was a big part of why I went a couple weeks without blogging, as almost every evening was given over to grappling with the new job and new reality it brought with it. Long discussions of what we would do if my wife tried working both jobs for a few weeks and found it absolutely untenable (we agreed she would quit the clinic, making herself available for relief work if they still wanted her but getting away from the weekly schedule, and we’d tighten our belts and get through it as best we could until the college was able to give her more classes to teach). Long discussions of whether or not it was fair to put the kids in daycare more than they’ve usually been accustomed to (we decided it was, because they both love the place, the caretakers, etc.) and longer discussions of whether or not, fairness aside, my wife should feel self-excoriatingly guilty about putting the kids in daycare more often (she shouldn’t, I’m working on convincing her). Extensive analysis of everything that’s gone wrong at her present job – you know how when you have to suck it up and deal with something indefinitely, you tend not to want to think about it or talk about it much, but then when the end is in sight you finally start letting loose with all the things you’d been swallowing and stuffing deep down inside? That. And to top it all off, my wife needed to use the home computer just about every night to prepare for her first class, going over the pre-prepared materials and assembling her own additional notes and so forth. Not that I begrudged her that for a moment; the match-up of a step in the right direction toward her dream job and my random online ramblings is the epitome of a no-contest.

She made it through her first class this morning, and it went well, so that’s a good sign. But despite the fact that the new career phase is officially underway, much remains up in the air: how manageable will the commute be when summer ends and public schools are back in session? Will she be teaching full-time by then, or still splitting her attention between two part-time gigs? Will a new presidential regime next year outlaw all stripes of book-learnin’? Only time will tell!

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