8 Years Ago
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
When I went to my mother's doctor with her this morning, I recognized the nurse who called us back. I could tell by her face that she recognized me, too, but wasn't sure where, so I told her: I was her English teacher. I felt a surge of nearly-maternal pride to see her in her scrubs and know that I played some small part in her education. More, I felt proud of her for following through, getting an education, and making a career.
I thought of that moment later today, when in a round-about sort of way, a friend asked me what I was doing eight years ago. In the summer of 2003, I had just finished my student teaching. I had set myself the goal of enjoying every single drop of that summer, because I felt my role as a teacher bearing down on me, like a train I couldn't escape. I'd already had five or six interviews, and been offered one teaching job. I turned it down because it was at a junior high, and I'd thought, when I applied, that it was a part-time position. I couldn't bear the thought of working with seventh graders all day every day.
When my student-teaching adviser, a man whose very presence had the ability to make my blood pressure rise out of sheer anxiety, found out that I had turned down a job, he made sure to personally call me and let me know I had ruined my chances at ever finding a teaching job. Part of me didn't care, but the wiser part knew it didn't matter: I'd be given a teaching job. It was inescapable. In a way, it felt like my responsibility. Like it was a way to pay back a debt I owed the universe, which had made sure my dream of getting an English degree was fulfilled. (My junior and senior years of college were funded by a grant.) I knew I would teach.
But I didn't want to. I wanted to keep being a stay-at-home mom. My student teaching, which I'd done at a high school that was a 40-minute drive each way from home, had given me a taste of how hard it is to be a working mom with little kids. It felt like being constantly torn: if I was a good mother, I would fail at being a good teacher. The opposite was also true. No, what I wanted to do was live the fantasy. I wanted to stay home, and send Jake off to kindergarten at the school his sister had gone to, and Nathan to the preschool his brother had attended. I wanted to clean my house, to write and scrapbook and maybe learn how to quilt. I wanted to cook big meals every night. And, more than anything, I wanted desperately to have another baby.
Of course, none of that happened. I stumbled upon my teaching job, and even though I didn't want to take it, I did because I knew I needed to. Not just needed, but was supposed to. I took it, and I dedicated every bit of myself that I could to teaching. I continued feeling torn between being a mother and a teacher. I lived on caffeine and nachos and sheer willpower. Jacob, who had to go to daycare for part of the day and to kindergarten at a school by where I taught for the rest of the day, suffered. Haley, who had to get ready for school with her dad's help instead of mine, suffered. Or, at least, her hair did. Nathan, who loved and adored his daycare teacher, Miss Diane, thrived. But all the while I wondered: why, when staying home with my kids was a righteous desire, was it not granted?
Eight years later, I'm not sure I have the answer, fully, to that question. Financially, my teaching helped us fill back up the hole that Kendell's 16 months of unemployment made. We paid off our van and replenished our savings. It taught Jake at an early age that he could survive hard things like loneliness. It gave Nathan two blissful years with a teacher he loved. (He still talks about Diane.) It helped Haley develop some of her fierce independence. And I learned, as well, about the value of time, and how to be patient, and what is important. I learned that things like reading, writing, grammar, and poetry aren't important to most teenagers, even though they helped save me. I also made a sort of peace with my teenage self. I think I wanted to teach partly because subconsciously it felt like a way to reach out and connect with the angry adolescent girl I used to be in a way no teacher did. In fact, I learned an immense amount about myself and what is really, truly important to me during my teaching years. I mostly can't say that I regret them. While it was hard and exhausting and felt like it was tearing me away from my family, I loved teaching—loved having my classroom and sharing my knowledge and forming relationships with students. It held some good, shining moments.
Except, I still deeply miss the years that I didn't get to experience because I was experiencing teaching instead. I hate knowing that Nathan doesn't remember the years when he was little and I was a stay-at-home mom. I missed a lot of time with my kids because I couldn't figure out how to be a good mother and a good teacher. More than anything, I miss feeling like I deserved the blessing of being a stay-at-home mom. It became another thing I wasn't worthy of for a reason I don't understand. I am still trying to make peace with what I lost.
But I also know this: I paid my debt back. I was the best teacher I knew how to be. I answered the question "should I be an English teacher?" and I always have the answer with me: I can, but I don't have to. And being a teacher facilitated my future life in a way I couldn't have guessed at. If I hadn't been a high school English teacher, I wouldn't have gotten my current job as a librarian. I would have a different baby instead of Kaleb, and how I could I trade a dream baby for my real one? It gave me some knowledge about teenagers that has helped me with my own. And it gives me moments like I had today, when I see some young person I helped shape, and a knowledge that I had a small influence in many lives.
Eight years ago, I didn't know any of that. What did you not know eight years ago?
" More than anything, I miss feeling like I deserved the blessing of being a stay-at-home mom. It became another thing I wasn't worthy of for a reason I don't understand. I am still trying to make peace with what I lost."
= Totally expressed what I felt and still feel. Awesome writing.
Posted by: karen | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 03:02 AM
I loved reading this, Amy. 8 years ago we were grappling with the reality of needing to adopt, and I didn't know it then, but I was in my last year of full-time employment.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we label our missed blessings as something we don't deserve. Did I not deserve to bear a child, to adopt more than one? Those questions haunt me now and then, and the pain can be acute, but I don't think that's the way it is. I don't think it's about deserving or not deserving our desired blessings. It's the fear that we didn't deserve that makes it so intensely painful--and fears like that are not based in truth.
When I focus more on trust in God's timing, in His vision, in His love, which I believe ARE real, I feel less pain, more peace, more patience and acceptance with the way my life is so different from what I dreamed.
I hope you don't mind that I wrote all of that. I simply can't let myself get caught up in feeling like I haven't deserved some of the things I wanted so deeply. It doesn't help me be happy when I let my thoughts head that way. When I acknowledge them and turn to God about them, then I find healing, but when I foster them, they cause more pain than I think is necessary, because, really, it's not that we haven't deserved what we wanted.
Posted by: wendy | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 06:47 AM
What a great Essay, and do you know what is crazy, eight years ago on June 26, (my Mom's birthday) I got laid off from my full time job as an engineer. I made 65% of our income.
My husband, an editor, was a stay at home Dad. He watched the kids during the day and I was with them at night. Two full time jobs and no daycare is exhausting. But it made him a great, involved Dad, very close to his children. Having worked for so long allowed me to not wonder what I had missed as a career person, a family with a higher income, but to know for certain that I was not missing a thing. That I had been there, done that, and was more than all set.
When I got laid off we agreed that I would stay home and he would get a second job. 6 years as a SAHD and he needed a break, 7 years (including the horrible pregnancy in my time) as a working Mom, and I needed a break. Really 23 years as a person who was always working and going to school, or working and being a Mom, I relished the chance to focus on just one thing.
It was terrifying losing the income, I was concerned I would miss the intellectual challenge of work. Eight years later, and I have not missed one single thing. Here I am a happy SAHM sending her baby girl to first grade next year.
I had one pregnancy where I didn't have to drag myself sick and exhausted to work. I had on baby I didn't have to leave and try to work that useless infernal pump in random corners of an office building. I had some one on one time with each of my children, more so with the last, my girl, something statistically speaking I was never suppose to have.
Quitting my job is something I never would have done, but getting laid off is the best gift I have ever been given. As a result I have looked at what I want for my family, I have gotten off the consumer track. We value time together over things. Now that my youngest will be in school full time, I want to generate some income for the family. I know I will do this with out giving bulk of my life over to corporate culture.
Thanks so much for posting this today, funny how our 8 years line up.
Posted by: Maureen | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 06:49 AM
The past eight years seems like an eternity to me. We had just moved to South Carolina from Seattle the year before, had a baby, and moved into a new house. I was still trying to not hate everything about our new location - the heat, the bugs, and the isolation from friends & family. I have learned that I can be happy just about anywhere.
Posted by: Jenna | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 07:41 AM
Thank you for posting this. I'm a working mom with babies at home and I constantly worry about how my kids are suffering while I am not home. I started working as a technical writer last year when my husband lost his job and I miss my children so much (2 month baby and 2 year old girl).
Your story is encouraging. You worked while you had little kids at home and they turned out okay. Hopefully, mine will too.
Posted by: Becky | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 08:23 AM
Eight years ago, I thought I was just about the most excellent person possible - smart, motivated, capable, cute, etc.
I feel like the last eight years have really helped me see the many many ways I'm flawed, but also that I can love myself and my life despite that.
Posted by: Janssen | Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Eight years ago I had moved to Atlanta from Korea to teach. I was teaching in a really tough school and wondering how I was going to make it through. The American school system was very different than what I was used to coming from Canada originally. I was single, living in a new country, no friends and barely making enough money to survive month to month. I spent a lot of time alone and worrying. In the last eight years I have moved back to Canada, married the man of my dreams and have finally got a full-time continuing contract in one of the few places that is still hiring. We have made good friends and last year bought a house. Although where we live is not the ideal location(very far North, in a small city), it is home and I have a life that I am contented with.
Posted by: Jennifer | Friday, July 01, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Eight years ago, I thought staying home with the two more children we hoped to have would be the biggest blessing I could possibly receive. I am not saying it isn't a blessing, but I would have never guessed eight years ago how lonely this life of 24/7 mothering would be for me (esp. given my circumstances of moving to the country).
Eight years ago, my only child was the center of my universe. I never imagined how different it would feel when he pulled away to become a teen and when I pulled away in exhaustion from dealing with his demanding younger brothers. Yes, I feel and even articulate the loss of that with Bryce occasionally (in gaining brothers, he loss the intensity of our previous closeness).
I agree with the other Wendy, though, that you shouldn't ever believe that you didn't deserve to have what you desired. Lucy mentioned Job in her post tonight and I think Job didn't deserve to lose all of his children. But, there was a purpose and a glory that came from it.
I wish I could have sat for one day in your classroom. I would have loved to have encountered you there. I have a tape of myself introducing some student presentations. I should dig that out just to remind myself of what I was like back then (now 18 years ago).
Posted by: Wendy | Friday, July 08, 2011 at 10:04 PM