This past fall, my lovely wife Bonnie took her bachelor's in education back to the classroom after a 19-year hiatus.
That is, if raising four children can rightly be called a "hiatus." Maybe "sentence" is more like it.
In any case, she accepted an assignment in August as a long-term substitute for a pregnant fourth-grade teacher who had been placed on full bed rest. Next month, when that teacher returns, Bonnie will neatly close the loop by going on full best rest herself.
Because teaching at the elementary school level, I've learned, is not just another 9-to-5 job (or in her case 7:30-to-2:30). After the students go home, there's still hours of work to be done - papers to be graded, lesson plans to be developed, nasty e-mails from irate parents to be deleted.
This means, most days, she works late into the evening. Other days, she works early into the morning.
For my part, I've received a crash course in motherhood - minus that whole pesky giving birth thing - as my role has expanded to include primary meal preparer, laundry doer, and child transporter. Even though I, too, have a full-time job, at least mine allows time for other things.
Elementary school teaching, not so much.
To my wife's credit, she has handled the situation with grace and aplomb, which is more than I can say for myself. Try as I may, I can't seem to manage household tasks with anything approaching her level of competency - a fact not lost on my kids, as evidenced by their faces when they learn dad is cooking yet again. (I use "cooking" in the loosest sense possible.)
In the long run, though, we've all adapted, mostly because it was either that or die from prolonged exposure to trans fats coupled with toilet paper deprivation.
The kids, especially, were required to take drastic steps toward self-preservation. No longer could they sit around waiting for Mom to do everything. Now they have to sit around waiting for Dad to do everything.
Through it all I have gained a deeper appreciation for my wife in particular and for stay-at-home moms in general. It's not easy meeting the needs of five other people, especially when doing so involves maintaining an inventory that would shame Wal-Mart.
Because - and here's the primary lesson I learned - that's what motherhood is really all about: making sure no one ever runs out of anything. Milk, bread, poster board, peanut butter, clean underwear, ironed shirts, college-ruled paper. If anybody might need it, mom better be sure to have it on hand.
In fact, from what she's told me, being a mom sounds an awful lot like being in charge of a fourth-grade classroom. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that teaching a class full of fourth-graders is a lot like raising 23 children - minus that pesky giving birth thing.
E-mail Rob Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.