When you’re a kid, you dread going back to school after summer break. When you’re a mom--at least when you’re this mom who’s a teacher--there’s double dread going back to work after maternity leave; the usual angst of being in front of the class again, compounded by the mom guilt of leaving your baby.
And then it happens. One day you’re walking down the sidewalk engaged in baby talk and the next you’re walking down the hallway conversing in professional jargon.
I’m going on my tenth year teaching at the same school, and when I walk in, it feels like I never left and nothing has changed. But I did leave, for 16 months to have and care for Autumn, and it has changed, dramatically. Everyone wears masks now, desks are in rows, and reading corners are obsolete.
But the biggest change at work is me.
I always knew school was more than academics, but I thought I was teaching a group of students. Now I know they’re much more than that; they are sons and daughters with parents who are trusting and hoping that the person in charge -- me -- will always have their best interest in mind.
And so I take this into consideration when getting my room ready. I used to cover every inch of my walls with posters about using synonyms, analyzing literature, and editing essays. Now most of the room is blanketed in Snoopy, the cartoon character.
I don’t remember what drew me to Snoopy as a kid, but I do recall winning the 3rd grade award for the best costume when I was him for Halloween. My mom made it out of a white sweatsuit and some black felt circles. I probably just liked that he was a cute, funny dog, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate his uncanny ability to convey all his messages clearly without words.
Snoopy is simple, relaxed, and uncomplicated; so many things the world is not these days. And so I chose Snoopy and the Peanuts -- the hypoallergenic kind -- to decorate my walls; more of my walls than I ever did in the past, because everything is different.
I used to get up early, workout, walk Tod, drink coffee, and drive to work.
From now on, my mornings will be hectic, getting my daughter ready for her day, handing Tod off to the dog walker, and most of all, at least in the beginning, trying to keep myself together.
I’ll fight the woulda coulda shouldas that often surface in difficult moments. One of my favorite tortures to inflict upon myself these days is thinking about the marriage candidates I’ve met over the years and how tying the knot may have allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom. And I’ll try not to think about how, on Thursday mornings, the music class my daughter loves will still be going on, but without us.
And I will do my best to avoid thinking about this next chapter the way I described it to my mom.
“It’s the end of the beginning,” I told her. “The end of her babyhood, and our full-time days together.”
I might come to school wishing my mask covered not only my nose and mouth, but also my eyes to erase the evidence of my mornings that will be exhausting in so many ways. For sure I’ll come wishing my weekdays could be double days, where I could live a full day as a teacher and then live that same full day as a mom. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
And then there’s my students.
Maybe they learned remotely all last year, isolated in their bedrooms. Maybe they were afraid to go outside, or to go anywhere, and maybe they still are. Or perhaps they’re from one of the families who chose to send their kids to school in-person, where all the rules were reversed. And maybe the other moms and dads are dealing with their version of this too. No matter what, all of us, all of my students, their parents, and me, will be dealing with something.
While I can’t create more time in my days to be with Autumn while working, and I can’t protect my class from all the stuff that comes with being a kid -- or even from the pandemic -- I can provide Peanuts. Because this year, we could all use a little less stress, and a lot more Snoopy.