Left thumb in mouth, right thumb and pointer finger twirl earring: Allison’s unmistakable “I’m tired” cue.
A Starbucks cup in hand: Mommy’s unmistakable “I’m tired” cue.
The other day while waiting in line at the drive through at Starbucks, Andrew asked me, “Mommy, why do you need Starbucks everyday?”
[Oh come on now, I don't need it every day... I mean I didn't have it today for example]
“Well Andrew, coffee helps me not feel so tired.”
“But why are you tired? If you’re tired you should get more sleep.”
[The undeniable logic of a three year old.]
“I’d love to, Andrew. You should have a chat with your sister about that. She’s the one who wakes me up at night.”
I had terrible pregnancy insomnia starting about a week before I found out I was pregnant with Allison. It lasted until the very end at which point I had a newborn and if you’d told me then that she would still not be consistently sleeping through the night at 9 1/2 months, there is a very good chance I would have slapped you in the face.
It’s not that she can’t do it. She can. She also knows how to soothe herself back to sleep most of the time. And she goes down for naps well (finally) and she goes down most nights without a fuss. This is all thanks to my wonderful friend and brilliant newborn sleep coach, Jessica of Eat-Sleep-Love. Without her I would most certainly be living in a padded room somewhere wearing a special coat that ties in the back. Jessica’s advice has been invaluable. In fact I think every new mother needs a sleep coach and I can’t recommend Jessica highly enough. Still, the elusive 12 hour stretch has eluded us until very recently when we had a major breakthrough. Thanks to our nifty new Motorola Wireless Video Baby Monitor, we discovered that her bedroom was around 86 degrees at night. (By the way, I will never ever ever buy a Summer Infant monitor again after ours broke after only a few months of light use.) This was shocking since our thermostat which is right outside her room, is set at 78. It is also shocking because none of the other rooms are like that. But because she was always cold as a baby we never used the fan. One night we forgot to turn it off and lo and behold she slept 11 hours straight. That was a week ago and every night has been the same except two nights ago when she slept until 7:20– the 12 hour stretch!!
You wrack your brain and beg and plead and cry and stomp and beg some more “PLEASE CHILD, JUST SLEEP!” I’d whisper to her each night before laying her in bed, “I love you dearly but I don’t want to see you again until the sun is shining in the morning!” And then it’s something as simple as turning the fan on. Go figure.
So now that we have overcome that obstacle we are surely due for more teeth or a Wonder Week or something of that sort. But in the meantime I’m just glad I might get a few decent nights of sleep because life lived well is exhausting. Exhausting but worth it.
f2.8 1/25 12,800 ISO (Wow!)
I was at the mall the other day. It was just one of those trips to kill some time before picking Andrew up from school. There I was, pushing the stroller slowly through the fairly empty shops, contemplating the purchase of a Starbucks Frappuccino when all of the sudden I feel this magnetic force take hold of my body and brain. It’s the same force that draws some into places like Best Buy and the Apple store. But this one is a force that only moms feel. I know you know what I’m talking about.
Powerless to stop it and all thoughts of icy chocolaty coffee brushed aside, I maneuver my stroller and babbling baby in the direction from where my name is being called. I hear it whispering. “Come heeeere Emily, you know you NEEEEEED to.”
My pace quickens as I glance at my watch. Only 15 minutes before I need to be in the car. This is dangerous. I should go back and just get some coffee. But then I catch a glimpse of those bright orange letters and my pulse races and I cannot help myself. The stroller takes control and steers me right into the store.
And though the mall is mostly empty I can see that like me, other moms have been hearing the faint whispers too for the stroller traffic jam makes it hard to even enter the store.
That’s when I see it. Oh my gosh! They got new things! Yes! Look at that outfit. I MUST have that outfit. My mind stirs into a frenzy and I start fingering through the racks. AH there’s only one left! Yes and it’s even her size! Well I can’t put this down. What if someone else picks it up? Slow down, Emily, don’t go overboard now.
Then I glance over at the boy side of the store and while it’s hard to find cute boy clothes I never have much trouble here. It’s like the clothes are laced with crack and I need a fix. I’m frantically grabbing shorts and tops and dresses and headbands and socks and shoes and debating, should I get this one or that one? Oh heck, buy both, that’s what my mom always says!
I glance at my watch. No time to make decisions. I take the entire pile and put it down next to the register and try to quiet the heart palpitations while the cashier rings up the damage.
Three hundred and twenty dollars?!? Holy hell how did I do that in only 7 minutes? But WAIT. I get GYMBUCKS? You mean I get to come back here and spend MORE money? You mean I can buy that $50 dress that will only fit for about 3 months and ONLY pay $25 for it? Well see it’s like they’re paying ME to shop. I mean really that makes it practically free anyway.
Hands shaking I take my receipt, my Gymbucks and my credit card and shove them all in my wallet. Then hook the shopping bag on the back of the stroller as I push past other salivating moms through the store to the door. I glance at my watch again. It only took 11 minutes to do all that shopping. I have 4 minutes to spare! That is almost enough time for a Starbucks. But no, I feel the guilt rise up in my chest and walk past the funky haired baristas. Oh willpower! I’m so proud of myself!
As I walk to the car I start thinking about what I’m going to tell hubby when I get home. I do a mental inventory of the clothes they already have. I make a note that it’s time to start feeding Andrew more. His continued ability to fit into size 2T at age three and a half is seriously cutting in to my shopping strategy.
I get home and remove the tags and hang the clothes up in the closet. I breathe in the smell of new cuteness and debate in my mind which to have them wear first. I go back to the feelings of guilt as I look once again at the receipt. It’s like someone took control of my brain and my credit card and filled my kids closets. Damn you Gymboree you did it again.
I resolve not to go back to the mall any time soon. I know going there will only result in a summons from the store with the bright orange letters. I shall stay away. I shall not go near that store again. I shall be a good budget conscious mommy…. And I am…
… until it’s Gymbucks time again.
Shortly before I left the classroom for the last time back in June of 2011 I started thinking about my new career as a stay at home mom. The opportunity to take a yearlong maternity leave was a chance for me to really grow as a parent but at the same time, I was scared and somewhat directionless. That’s when I decided to approach parenting the same way I do teaching. I set out making a plan for each day and goals for the week, month, and year. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping on top of the plan but lately I’ve been feeling like I’m getting lost again. Well, not so much lost as just in a holding pattern, a plane constantly circling the skies unsure of where to land. I spend most nights mulling over the day in distress, wishing I had done a better job. That’s when I realized I needed to go back to my teaching roots. In both undergrad and grad school I had to write a set of teaching philosophies. The most recent version is in my educational portfolio (link on the left hand side of this page). I decided what I needed was to write out my parenting philosophy. Just like in teaching, it is an evolutionary list but it encompasses a lot of the thoughts I’ve been having recently. These are goals I’m working towards and they are a work in progress but here you have it, my Mom-olosophy.
Most if not all of my readers probably know that I just got back from a 9-day trip to Italy. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing and spiritual experiences of my life, right up there with the birth of my children. But I missed my children with intensity so great I had to force myself not to think about it for fear of completely falling to pieces. Leaving them was not easy. I missed them and I missed my husband and I gather that I was missed quite a bit as well. But I knew they were in capable hands.
Now that I’ve been home a couple days I’ve started getting caught up on the things I missed while I was gone.
“I got a free oil change.”
“Really? Cool! How did you manage that?”
“Oh they took a little longer than usual and when they saw that I was by myself with two kids they gave me the oil change and car wash for free. Oh yeah and I also got a voucher for a free oil change next time, too.”
“Wow, okay that’s great!”
It got better.
“So apparently I was the first parent to turn in preschool registration for next year.”
“Good! Glad that’s taken care of!”
“Yeah they were so impressed that I did it by myself that they gave me a giant sticker. It says ‘Great Job!’”
“Wow what did they think you are three or something? Sheesh!”
The stories kept coming. One day that Hubby was late picking Andrew up from school because of a long line of traffic behind a fatal traffic accident. But instead of being annoyed at having to wait for him, the teachers at the school assumed it was because of the stress he was under from being by himself with the kids.
“Oh you poor thing! Don’t worry about being late at all. We understand.”
Wow, that’s not the response I get when I’m late to pick Andrew up.
I was starting to get annoyed, not at A but at the other people whose actions and tone suggested they were astonished he could be alone with two children without accidently forgetting to feed them or throwing himself off a bridge.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad he had people who were willing to step in. I’m glad he had people practically lined up to babysit while I was gone. I’m glad that the manager at Chic-Fil-A personally delivered his food to the table, checked back 4 times to make sure he was doing okay and offered to hold Allison while he ate.
No wait, I’m not. Because the double standard is so glaring that I can’t help but wonder if I slipped through a time warp back into 1950.
Add this on top of the scathing looks and judgmental criticism I took for going on the trip in the first place and I find myself downright shocked. We’ve come so far we’ve started going backwards.
Do you know how old Andrew was the first time A left us to go to weekend unit training with the National Guard? Five days. That’s right, DAYS. His first over night trip was before Andrew hit the one-month mark. And I spent the entire first trimester of my pregnancy with Allison with a 2 year old who was not fully potty trained, debilitating nausea, a full time a job and a husband who was only home on weekends. Too bad no one offered me any free oil changes. Must be because I’m a mom. No one expects a man to be able to do the job but a woman? Well why should she need any help. That’s what she does. And if she can’t she must be inferior and weak. If she asks for help she must not be able to handle the job. It’s a secret world of judgment when you’re a mom and I’ve gotta tell you, I’m over it.
Turns out A didn’t need much help at all. He accepted a babysitter for 45 minutes while he went to get his hair cut. Other than that he did it on his own. Both kids were clean, dressed, fed, entertained, happy and healthy while I was gone. He also worked to earn a living for our family, kept the house clean, the laundry washed and oh in his spare time he re-tiled the shower.
But I wasn’t surprised by any of this. I wouldn’t have married him if I thought he would make a crappy father. I wouldn’t have fathomed leaving my kids to go across the ocean to another country if I thought there was the slightest chance he couldn’t handle it. We believe in an equal partnership. We have always shared the task of raising our kids. Why should now be any different? I’m offended by the insinuation that I should have expected any less of him just as I would be appalled if anyone would have expected less of me. What an insult to his character to suggest he couldn’t do the job and do it well. Why do we as a culture think men can’t handle it? Maybe it’s because we spend so much time expecting them not to that they figure they can’t, or shouldn’t even try. Well enough of that. This is 2012 people! Time to move past the double standard and raise our expectations. Time to put an end to the sexist rhetoric that suggests dads can’t be just as good at parenting as moms or at the very least realize that gender has no impact on whether or not someone might like an extra hand when they are raising children alone.
All in all it was good for both of us. I learned how hard it is to be away traveling when you miss your kids back home and he realized just how exhausting it is when you are on alert at all times, knowing you are solely responsible for the safety and well being of those entrusted to your care. But the greater lesson to be learned is this: women have broken through gender barriers to be CEOs, doctors, judges, astronauts, all manner of careers. It’s time to believe that men can make perfectly wonderful fathers as well and stop accepting any less.
When I was pregnant with Andrew, my mom told me that being a mom would make me a better teacher. She said it would help me relate better to the students. What she never mentioned was how it would help me relate to the parents. Maybe that went without saying. I’m not sure.
What I know is that I used to be a pretty harsh critic. I had opinions on everything. Well, in fairness I still do. It’s just that being a mom has also opened up a great big world of other opinions, different opinions, contrasting opinions… you get the idea.
Old me: “My child will NEVER use a pacifier.”
Mom me: “Unless of course it’s the only way they stop screaming.”
Old me: “My child will NEVER use hand-me-downs.”
Mom me: “Holy crap why on earth not? Have you seen some of this stuff? It’s freakin’ awesome. And free!”
The list goes on– no creepy dinosaurs, no cartoons, no french fries, no indoor playgrounds. It all kinda goes out the window. Some of it against my will (indoor playgrounds are just gross, french fries unhealthy) but other things I had to be willing to change my mind about.
And then Andrew started school. And whoa I feel bad for every judgment I ever made against parents as a teacher.
See for the life of me I could never understand how any parent would send their kid to school with food on their face, unbrushed teeth, unbrushed hair, an untucked shirt, a shirt with a stain on it, mismatched socks, no belt, missing homework, missing permission slip, no lunch. I was harsh. I see that now. The sad truth is I’m not the only one like this. I’m willing to bet that if your kid’s teacher is not a parent he or she has also thought some pretty rotten stuff about you too.
I wish I could go back and apologize. Maybe this can be my apology.
Today I sent Andrew to school with his shoes on the wrong feet. His hair wasn’t brushed either but then again it’s hard to tell when his hair is brushed. We had a rough morning. He was distracted by every toy from his bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen to the car (toys mind you, that I should have put away last night but that’s for another post) and we were running late. It never even occurred to me to check to make sure he’d put his shoes on correctly. My friends were quick to assure me that this was no big deal and that teachers had seen far worse. This, I can’t deny. I sent my kid to school with funky shoes but with a full belly and a kiss on the cheek and an “I Love You” for the road. So life isn’t all that bad. But I’m not just a mom. I’m a teacher mom. I’m supposed to know better, right? The old teacher me would have kindly helped the child fix his shoes and then wondered silently how that kid’s parents let him out of the house that way. It made me realize that the old teacher me needs to stop after the helpful part, nix the judgment part and realize that the parents of my students are parents just like me and we’re all just doing the best we can. Those little things mean the morning was rough or the kid was uncooperative or mom was in a hurry or overslept because she is working 3 jobs but not that the child is unloved or the parent irresponsible.
I’ve come to realize that getting older means accepting when you’re wrong and learning to change your mind. And really, what better lesson is there than that to teach our kids? Mom was wrong. It’s okay. The world didn’t stop spinning on its axis. Life goes on. You grow up, you get smarter, you realize that those little details matter far far less than you thought they did and you live to fight another day…. though hopefully with your shoes on the right feet.
I don’t know if it’s just that I’m more tuned into it but it seems like there has been a rash of anti-kid news lately. If it’s not someone getting angry looks for breastfeeding in public it’s airlines and restaurants contemplating “kid-free” areas and times of day. Now I know as well as anyone that a bratty kid can ruin a perfectly nice meal but that is beside the point. This isn’t really a diatribe on why these people are wrong, no this is a simple story to illustrate one of the many reasons why I think being a parent is all worth it.
Yesterday afternoon I was folding laundry and putting it away- a typical Monday afternoon. I walked into the closet and put away some socks in a drawer and for whatever mindless reason, I left the drawer open. So after bending down to put away a pair of shoes I stood up suddenly and *CRACK* my head slammed directly into the corner of the drawer. Now I’m not one to yell out in pain. Not even while laboring to 8cm without an epidural (that never really fully worked) during my last childbirth. But the sound that escaped my lips at that moment is something I’m quite certain could be heard 3 houses down.
Hubby and Andrew came running and thankfully no words were necessary to explain what happened. Crumpled on the floor, clutching my head, and glancing briefly at the still open drawer were all that was necessary to explain what happened. Hubs quickly assessed the situation and it struck me in that moment that he would have made a great doctor though now after consideration I realize that his ability to stay calm and cool under pressure is what makes him great at just about everything he does.
“Are you bleeding?” He asks.
“I don’t think so.” I reply as I remove my hands from the spot they had been clutching to reveal that yes, I was in fact bleeding quite a bit.
Andrew, who had just been watching this unfold darts off into his bathroom and retrieves his box of beloved Buzz and Woody band-aids, a box which inspired a string of delightfully creative manifestations of pain and discomfort on his part when he first got them. The same box which also inspired a rule in our house, “you don’t need a band-aid unless there’s blood.” Well he’d heard an utterance of the magic word and he was off to save the day.
Frantically ripping open band-aid after band-aid he took each one and inquired repeatedly on where he could put it to help make me feel better. He wanted desperately to fix my head for me. Finally, after opening at least 5 or 6 band-aids he found what he was looking for.
“Look Mommy! I found you a Jessie one. You like Jessie because she’s a girl and you’re a girl.”
Proud and certain that he could now fix me, he insisted that he must put the band-aid on me somewhere. I offered my hand, not quite willing to offer him a place on my head and hair for the sticky bandage. He was hesitant about putting it in the “wrong spot” but stuck the Jessie band-aid confidently on my hand.
“There, you feel better now, Mommy?”
But it was more a statement than a question. He did for me what I have done for him. The funny thing is, in that moment I did feel better even if I was still seeing stars.
Later that evening we went to dinner. I opened his door and unbuckled the bottom latch of his carseat which is still too tough for him to release on his own. He took my hand as we walked across the parking lot. He glanced down at the band-aid and finally addressed his concern.
“Mommy, how does it help your head if it’s on your hand?”
Good question little dude. Can’t fool you, can I?
“Well,” I replied, “When I look down at my hand I see it and it makes me think about how much I love you.”
“Oh Mommy, I really really love you.”
He smiled and squeezed my hand as I often do with his. He took on the role of mommy when mommy needed it and he expressed a love and concern so genuine that it could make anyone forget any problem in the world. I think it’s simple stories like this, of which I have hundreds, that are why people have kids in the first place. Sure there are long nights, gobs of laundry, butts to wipe, appointments and classes and trips to the zoo in the 100 degree summer heat but in the end it’s the little moments that make it all worth it.
A few months ago, I was watching an Oprah episode on happiness. I didn’t see the whole thing but I recall a part of it where the guest explained that when you buy something new, the happiness surrounding that purchase only lasts 9 months. This was an interesting thing to hear because it seemed surprisingly accurate. Think of all the things you *have* to have and think about how you feel about them several months later. I own very few things that still make me as happy now as the day I bought them. In any case, the guest’s point was that memories make happiness last much longer. In fact he explained that you get more bang for your buck to spend money making memories than buying actual things. That point has really stuck with me.
So last weekend, when our family plans to watch the space shuttle launch went awry (think, 12:30am email summons to a 9am meeting on the wrong side of the state) I knew I had a choice to make. And laying in bed at 2am discouraged and angry that our plans had once again been foiled by work, I got the sudden urge to go anyway– to go on my own.
Now for some people this would have seemed like a most logical solution but I was at the time 32 weeks pregnant and I do not like driving in the dark (don’t see well). Nor is it anywhere within the distant reaches of my comfort zone to do things like that alone. But at that moment somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I decided it would be an adventure I had to attempt and that no way was my son going to miss the last launch of the space shuttle on account of me being a coward.
So I got dressed and put Andrew in the already loaded car. I set the GPS and off I went… on 2 hours of sleep… across the state for what was only a 20% chance of liftoff. The drive was quiet minus my nearly 3 year old chatterbox in the back seat who despite my urging, had no intention of going back to sleep. We were doing pretty well until I noticed we were getting low on gas. After pulling off at 5 consecutive exits and not finding an open gas station anywhere (it was around 4am) I started to panic. Long story short, we made it to a gas station, driving 15 miles on “zero miles left”. Talk about guardian angels! That plus some serious bumper to bumper traffic near the space center really had me rattled and convinced I had made a very very stupid choice to attempt this so called adventure.
But then something changed.
I had been on the phone with A for a while when Andrew asked to talk to daddy. I handed him the phone in the back seat just as the first glimmers of dawn approached and the sky lightened slightly enough that one could see a few of the details of our surroundings. Andrew yammered away, telling A about all sorts of fantastical things when suddenly he caught sight of what I believe is a full scale model of a shuttle along the side of the road. Grasping for words he pointed and shouted into the phone, “Daddy, Daddy! It’s a… it’s a… it’s a HOLY MOLY space shuttle!”
And I realized at that moment he would not forget this experience.
Upon our arrival to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, I got Andrew out of his pajamas and dressed. I loaded up our backpack with as much as I could carry and grabbed his hand. I knew we would need chairs and perhaps even our cooler but I knew more than anything I wanted my hands free to keep a tight hold on Andrew as we headed into a mass of humanity and that meant sacrificing chairs. We were so lucky to find my mother in law and brother in law quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief to have help. We met up with the rest of A’s family and started our 2 hour wait to board the bus to the launch site. I’ll admit that at this point the exhaustion was started to get to me– and it was only around 7am. Finally we made it to the launch site and set up a little camp where thankfully, the others had brought chairs and were kind enough to let me sit on one. We got breakfast and the wait started but I’ll be the first to say, 3 hours passed very quickly and the anticipation started to build as with each passing minute it seemed more and more likely that the shuttle would in fact, launch. Andrew kept asking when we were going to go to see the shuttle and I knew explaining it to him was useless as he had no real concept of what he was going to see. Instead I told him he just had to keep on waiting, we’d see it soon.
Twenty minutes to go turned into 5 minutes to go and then a brief delay at 31 seconds accompanied by the word “failure” caused a great groan to roll throughout the 45,000 some odd people waiting along the shore of the river across from the launch pad. But quickly the countdown started again and I didn’t have to tell Andrew where to look, for as soon as the bright golden fire appeared radiant on the horizon he let out a gasp of glee and he continued to giggle in the most lighthearted childish tone until the shuttle had long left the Earth’s atmosphere. I didn’t need to explain what had happened. In that moment he knew and he knew it was something truly special. In those moments, between his glee and my own tears of joy I knew it was something truly special too. The first shuttle launched just 12 days before I was born. I watched, at the age of 5 in horror as the Challenger exploded. I watched other launches in the school yard with the rest of my classmates hoping to be one of the first to glimpse the orange dot as it crossed over the state. I remember where I was when I heard about Colombia. I watched the first night launch on TV. I once wanted to be an astronaut and I knew then that even the word “special” didn’t do the event justice. We had just witnessed history. It wasn’t just special, it was monumental.
The rest of the day was something of a blur and Andrew managed incredibly well considering that he’s 2 and had had only slightly more sleep than I had. We saw some of the sites at the Visitor Center and had ice cream before walking, exhausted and sticky with sweat and dirt back to the car. We headed north to Daytona Beach and somewhere in the middle of describing for perhaps the dozenth time that hour, about how the shuttle went “up, up, up in the sky into outer space with FIRE (and fire’s hot so you can’t touch it!)” Andrew fell fast asleep and I knew it didn’t matter how tired or hot or uncomfortable I was, it was completely without a doubt worth it.
A joined us that evening and the next day we drove to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse where all three of us (no make that *four* of us) climbed to the top. We went and enjoyed lunch at a cute restaurant along the Intercoastal and then, dressed in regular clothes, we stopped at the beach where we let Andrew run around in his clothes and get completely soaked in the ocean tide and covered in sand– something I can say with absolute certainty, my parents would NEVER have let me do. And all I could think the whole time was, I hope he remembers this. I hope he remembers these moments– these simple experiences of running in the surf, of climbing the steps of a lighthouse and viewing the world from the top, of watching one of the greatest technological feats of our time. I hope that long after he outgrows the t-shirt and eats his astronaut ice cream and forgets about his plastic space shuttle, that what he has left is even more precious and even more significant. I hope he remembers.
Before I was a mother, I was a teacher. Technically, before I was a wife, I was a teacher too. For the last 7 years a huge part of my life has been my career. I spent 3 of those years and a large sum of money earning my Master’s degree in the field of education. I devoted most of my waking thoughts and sometimes my dreams to teaching. I used to resent it when people would say things like, “Wow, you’re a special education teacher, that takes a special person.” I wondered if they were mocking me. Now I realize that the sentiment I once resented is actually true. I learned this after spending years around other teachers. I realized that yeah, it’s true, it takes a person with a lot more patience than most of the human population can muster– and sadly, quite a few other teachers too. So I’m far from perfect as a teacher. I make mistakes, I worry about them. I go home and lay awake at night and think of ways to fix my methods. I have been told that’s what makes me good at what I do. I feel connected to my job and my students. I feel a sense of duty to give them the best I’ve got. I feel a sense of devotion to the Lord for guiding me to teaching. It’s not something I could ever just give up.
So next year when I’m not a teacher anymore I have to wonder a little bit about what will happen.
Oh it will start the same. Friday is the last day of school and I’ll finish cleaning up my classroom and spend a good 4-5 hours working on files and paperwork. Then I’ll tackle the remaining to-dos on my seven page list. And I’ll pack up my stuff and I’ll go home. I’ll spend the summer taking Andrew to swimming lessons, and gymnastics, and art class, and violin. I’ll keep on tutoring my very favorite student of all time and life will seem pretty normal.
Until August that is.
When I should be hitting up the stores for the best deal on bulk school supplies I’ll instead be buying school supplies for just one, my own one. When the first day of school rolls around I’ll be sitting at home, or I don’t know, maybe having a baby since past precedent suggests my kids like to come at the least opportune times . But I won’t be in the classroom. And as freeing and exciting as that feels, it’s also quite scary. Who am I if I’m not a mom wife and teacher? What does it mean to be a mom and a wife? I know people resent the term “just” a mom as much as I once resented the other phrase but I can’t help but seeing it that way. Is this what I want? Yes. I know that it is. After all, it’s only a year and I will get to put my children first. I will get to put my husband first. I will get to truly become good at being a wife and mother, something I’ve felt that despite my best intentions always fell short because I had to balance it with a career. But I am not satisfied to “only” do what’s easy and please don’t hate me my fellow SAHMs but being a working mom is ridiculously difficult, and crap I only have one child! I know plenty of people who have MORE than one and they are running all over the place to soccer practice and whatnot. Yes, it’s harder than staying home in many many different ways. (Not trying to start anything here but think about ALL the things that have to get done during the course of the week. Now remove 40+ hours and try to still get it all done.) What will it feel like to pour all my efforts into my 1 (WOW 2) children? What about the other 20 back at school? Am I letting them down? Have I BEEN letting my own child down? I’ve never been satisfied unless I’m splitting at the seams with stuff on my plate. In high school it was 3 sports and 2 musical ensembles plus being an officer in a club or two. After college it was working 80 hours a week in 2 jobs. When I had a newborn I was also taking graduate classes and then working full time along with it. I’m a glutton for punishment. I don’t know life any other way. I don’t know, maybe it will be a lot harder than I think. But I get a taste of SAHMamma-hood every summer and I don’t really think so. Maybe having 2 will be overwhelmingly difficult. I don’t know.
So these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about the past couple months since I made the decision to stay home. My students still don’t quite understand that I’m not coming back right away. They ask me about the things we’ll do next year (I teach the same kids for 2 years before they move on). It breaks my heart to slide around the true answer. But it melts my heart to tell Andrew I’ll be home for him, that I’LL be the one who he spends his days with now. That I’ll take him to school and pick him up; that I’ll go on field trips with HIM and not 20 others. That I’ll make real dinners for my family instead of whatever is fastest and easiest. That I’ll finally stay on top of the laundry and not drown in piles of clean but unfolded clothes.
I want to grow a garden, and decorate our new house, and try new recipes, and find the creative soul who once resided in my body, who has been shoved aside for lack of time, lack of energy and lack of patience that gets all used up during the school day. I have a vision of the person I want to be. I’ve just never given her a chance to make her way out… at least not for a really long time. And I’m sure that 22 year old and this 30 year old are pretty different people.
So who am I right now? I’m still a teacher, after all that never stops and let’s face it, my kids will never get away from it. I’ll be here teaching Andrew to read, and to speak using grammatically correct sentences, and to write his name and alphabet. I’ll teach our little newbie his/her (it’s a secret!) first words and watch his/her first steps and all the firsts many of which I missed before. Maybe I’m a little afraid of how easy it just may be to forget everything about the career and fall head over heels in love with being “just” a mom. Maybe I’ll discover more about myself than I ever thought possible on this year long journey.
In the mean time, I’m hanging up my career woman hat. I’m pulling out my flip flops, my sunscreen and my mamma bag filled with stickers and bubbles and an extra pair of Buzz Lightyear underwear. I’m packing up a cooler and I’m taking my son on a picnic. Because that’s something moms do and for the first time in my life, that’s what I am. No more, no less.
I guess results in the same outcome– nothing.
I have had so much to say for so long and yet never find the time or display the decision making ability to sit down and actually pick a topic and blog. I have many friends with blogs and they are so good about updating. Guess I could make it my new year’s resolution to blog more but truth be told, I don’t really believe in resoultions.
So instead I decided to pick a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time and that’s to discuss the work outside the home vs stay at home mom dilemma. I’ve probably mentioned it before but it’s interesting how life’s twists and turns take ordinary decisions and help you find more focus and clarity when you least expect it.
I won’t lie. Some days I hate working. Hear what I’m saying. I hate WORKING. I don’t hate my job or my students or my colleagues or getting up early or any of that. I hate leaving the house while my son is still asleep and knowing that he is growing up and learning new things and exploring the world and I’m not there to see it.
And I think the reason I’ve decided to talk about this particular topic now instead of the 1000s of others I could have picked that have strayed across my brain over the last few months, is because the decision to continue working outside the home after having a child is particularly trying after a holiday or break. I just got to spend 2 weeks reminding myself about what I miss when I’m at work.
So the easy answer is, “If you want to stay home so badly, then just quit.” But it’s no where near as simple as that. For one thing I just spent 3 years and a lot of money earning my Master’s degree in education. I think I owe it to myself and my family who made many sacrifices for me to actually USE my degree.
The other thing is that in the world today, with the economy such that it is, I could not fathom being able to justify leaving a good job with health benefits, quote frankly, no matter how bad it is (which it’s not). There are too many people without jobs for me to just up and leave.
So I come to the conclusion that I reach over and over and over again every time I let my head go to this space where I have this debate in my mind. I have decided that when it comes down to it, really comes down to it, I’m good at what I do. And leaving my job would be selfish. So I would get to spend time with Andrew, so I could stop feeling guilt about not being there. At school, I get kids who can’t read and I help them read. I’m not a miracle workers but I’ve seen enough to feel like I am doing something. I am making a difference. I mean heck, if you are going to leave your child for the day you sure as hell better be doing something worthwhile, right? I guess I just decided that my students need me more than Andrew needs me. And that’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes when I miss him so terribly during the day but this is what I have chosen. And I respect all those moms who have chosen to leave careers to stay at home with their kids. It’s an admirable thing to do. But for now it’s not for me. Not when I have 20 other kids who need me too. If I sound a little defensive it’s because I get the looks from the SAHMommy crowd. I’ve heard the subtle jabs at my decision to work. I’ve felt the unspoken pressure and the guilt guilt guilt. I’ve heard argument that staying home is soooo much harder (Um… no, it’s not. I still have the same amount of crap to do at home and 40 hours less to do it). And I’ve come to the realization that people can say “to each her own” all they want but that sometimes it comes across in such a mildly transparent way I feel like shaking them and saying, “Go ahead, tell me how you really feel!” I wish people would be a little more respectful of my decision. Sadly, the people who have made me feel this way won’t even read this since they’re not my friends.
In the meantime, I just have to jam as much as I can into the few hours I get with Andrew when I’m home from work. I guess in the end it’s the quality of the time you spend together more than the quantity. And when I have a hard time believing that myself, I just look at my calendar and remind myself that there’s just 92 days until summer, and I get to be full time Mommy again.
Today is a kind of ironic day.
You see, this blog has evolved into not your average mommy blog because I talk a whole lot (in the earlier entries) about being a teacher and I’m a special education teacher so it has that twist to it too… but I’m not trying to sell my blog to you. No it’s just interesting because today was the first day of school and I met my new crop of awesome kids who struggle with learning disabilities. Each new year starts as a challenge but one I feel more and more equipped to handle. I’m love my job because it’s not a job, it’s a ministry. I was called to do this and so I do.
I love my students. I love the challenge of finding new ways to meet their needs. If you don’t know much about learning disabilities let me just explain quickly that kids with LD have a normal to above average intelligence. We’re not talking about a low IQ here (although some do have a lower IQ to us it’s just a number). It’s just that strictly speaking, Special Education (or Exceptional Student Education as it is referred to in my certification) covers two types of children– those like my students…
… and those like my son.
Today I took Andrew for his 2 year check up. He’s 35 3/4 inches tall, weighs 29 pounds and has officially met all his 2 year old milestones and most of his 3 year old ones. You read that right. My doctor said that essentially I have a 3 year old and that in his years of practice he’s only ever met one other child who was as advanced as Andrew is right now. And as a parent I’m not going to say I’m sad to hear it but I’m not doing a happy dance either. I’m kinda taking a deep breath and a step back and realizing that as much as it’s totally awesome to hear that right now, I also know that if his learning trend continues as it is currently, we will have challenges ahead, too. We will come to see the other side of special education.
Some parents pray for a healthy child, or a strong child, or a beautiful child. Well I prayed for healthy but I also prayed for intelligent not because I would have loved him any less if he were to be in any way challenged but because we strongly value education and want the same opportunities for him as we had ourselves. But there is also this other side of it because as a parent first of all, no one wants to hear about the challenges of raising a smart child so there’s not a whole lot of people I can ask for advice. In fact some times it’s hard to be around other kids his age because I worry people think we are showing off. People routinely think he’s older than he really is because he carries on full conversations, orders his own meals at restaurants, says his complete alphabet, counts past 10, recognizes his name in writing and has a shockingly good memory. I’m proud of him but it makes for some awkward moments at times since most completely normal 2 year olds don’t do all these things. But the bigger question is what do we do with school? I’ve been told by more than one professional that we need to start thinking seriously about his education. We have already picked a preschool which he’ll start next year (yikes!) but will it be enough? Our pediatrician told us today that he’ll be the kid in first grade who’s bored out of his mind and I know full well that a bored child is not a happy (or well behaved child). So I guess right now the thing to do is digest the info we’ve been given and try to find the next step. I’m so proud of my little guy but I always knew he’d keep me on my toes. I want to be able to give him everything he needs and commit as much of my effort to his education as I do my students.