Block Schedule

"Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch."
                                         --Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Over a decade ago the high schools in my county underwent a shift—changing from days comprised of six year-long class periods to those with four semester-long classes.  On the surface this plan was a practical one—students and teachers would be able to spend a longer amount of time on daily lessons and, since teachers would all have one more section of students (teaching six classes instead of five in a year’s time), individual course enrollment would be smaller.  Of course, ultimately, class sizes are larger than ever and the actual amount of instruction and time for students to complete reading and homework is compressed.  Life and knitting seem to behave in the same manner—when burdens on time are seemingly reduced, time seems to put on its gloves and fight back, shrinking and compressing itself.

Last night a friend called me lamenting this phenomenon.  A teacher who is raising two children on her own, she was upset because she can’t fulfill all of the demands on her time, even during a weekend, which one might think offers a wealth of free hours.  "How am I to be a good friend, a good parent, and a good teacher?” she queried.  I couldn't offer apropos words of wisdom except to remind her that she could only continue to do her best and to reassure her that friends would forgive her if she didn't call us back immediately or get together with us every weekend. 

While I have a recently retired husband whose dogged domestic work has freed up much of my time, as a working mother I still undergo conflicts about responsibility, self-fulfillment and the hours in each day.  I haven’t blogged in weeks, as I have had so much to do for school (and the thought of sitting in front of a computer on the weekends is unappealing as it is reminiscent of what I do every spare moment at work when I am not teaching).  

This past Friday I had a day “off,” but found myself spending over five hours in Starbucks grading Beowulf essays.  (Mid-day I switched from caffeinated beverages to water to avoid heart palpitations.) Late that afternoon, I decided to squeeze in a trip to the movies before attending my older son’s evening football game.  When I arrived at the theater, I realized that the show time posted online was off by twenty-minutes, and that I had arrived early.  I sat in the parking lot fretting.  Should I go in and be away from my 13-year-old son and husband at dinner time, before rushing to my older son’s football game?  Was I a bad mother yet once again indulging myself?  (I had, after all, spent two weeks away from my family this past summer.)  The movie I really wanted to see was only playing at one theater in the entire Charlotte metropolitan area, and the length of its run time was dubious.  After driving out of the parking lot to forgo the movie and head home, I decided to let go of my guilt and ended up as one of only four women in the theater, where I laughed my head off at farcical Austenland, a film whose heroine is a kindred spirit—a Jane Austen fan obsessed with Mr. Darcy. 

I found some wise words by Madeleine L'Engle (a writer I enjoyed as a child and
whose autobiographical works have inspired me as a adult) that seem appropriate to
share with this picture:  "I like the fact that in ancient Chinese art the great painters always
 included a deliberate flaw in their work: human creation is never perfect."  Madeleine L'Engle
(Of course, my flaws weren't "deliberate.")

With this movie, two football games, a hair appointment, a get-together with my husband’s family, and a Sunday afternoon college fair squeezed into this past weekend, it is a bit surprising to me that I actually cast off and blocked two projects.  And one of them is my nemesis sweater!  If this weekend has taught me anything, it is the very lesson that I imparted to my harried friend.  I need to carry on and keep working, doing the best I can.  There will be rewards to reap, even if they are slow to come—and, as a teacher, there is always summer to sustain me.  Even now as the weather cools and I am in the throes of hectic school year, dreams of future summer days with endless hours whisper to me of their promises (and memories of this past summer in magical Oxford sustain me).  As I finished my Prairie Shawl, made with a pattern purchased in London and yarn obtained in Oxford and my Midsummer Aran—a project I took with me to England this past July with plans to finish it before I returned home—I am no less satisfied now with the final products now than had they been done in a timelier manner. While I can envision a schedule made up of conveniently laid out blocks, life has its own agenda against which I am powerless.  This coming weekend, however, I might elude this foe.  I am suppressing any working mother's guilt and am escaping to a 19th century inn in the North Carolina mountains for a knitting retreat, where, perhaps, I can escape clocks and obligations for a bit as I sit on a rocker on a wide porch and ply my needle.  


  1. Love the quotation you begin this with! Got to go and reread Mansfield Park now! The Midsummer Aran sweater is wonderful - worth every moment of care and trouble you've taken. Wear with justifiable pride! The whole tyranny of time thing is never an easy juggling act and it's often compounded I find by other people's expectations which can make bad worse. At the end of the day we only have one life to live and it's ours not anyone else's so my mantra is to try to keep faith with who you really are along with the juggling or one risks everything coming tumbling down like a house of cards. That may mean occasionally putting "me time" first & the juggling act on hold for a bit. Sustainability is much more important than I realised, I think. For everyone's sake. So go and enjoy every minute of your knitting retreat - your family and pupils and friends will only gain by you having had the chance to recharge! (rather wish I could join you!) E xx

  2. Congrats on finishing your sweater! :) It's beautiful! The shawl is very lovely too. I am a stay at home mom with 3 kids and we homeschool.. Even though I am at home I can never get my little blocks of time to cooperate! There is always something to do.. Your knitting retreat sounds wonderful. I hope you have a great time! Hugs, Deann


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