The last few weeks of school are usually my favorite. Chapters wind down as enthusiasm ramps up, my mind frolicking with glimmers of summer.
But not this year.
You’d think that after my toughest term yet, I’d be ecstatic at its culmination. But excitement takes energy, and my stores were depleted. Leaving my 16-month old, beginning a new grade, and venturing into the pandemic world is not for the faint of heart — or for me – but mortgages don’t give extensions for mental health challenges, and so I carried on. And while COVID numbers surged, so too did my migraines. Multiple times daily, I thanked my prescription pills for providing stamina and sanity. Other times, I just stayed home – to catch my breath, and also to hug my baby – a far better remedy than any capsule.
It was the second to last day of school, as I was dragging myself to the finish line, that I turned my car around on the way to work. The thought of trudging through one more day exacerbated my already throbbing head, and so I found myself at 7:12 am, not sitting in my classroom, but poised at the kitchen table typing sub plans, a toddler in my lap. It made me think of something my colleague had said days prior.
“You’re expected to work like you don’t have a kid, and parent like you don’t have a job.”
I thought of a pan balance scale, and tried to imagine the sides hanging evenly, but found it impossible. Are there any moments when I’m exactly half mom and half teacher? Nothing came to mind. When I’m present in school, my body is 100% there, but my mind is maybe 60%-75%. And then when I’m home, I still check work emails and think about how the day went. What about the rare occasions I actually get to do something for myself? Does that factor into me as a teacher, a mom, or some generic third person?
I used to create cool book projects and lead lively debates, but this year there were more worksheets and trite lessons. Then I came home to my daughter and dog, both running and squealing with delight, and I wanted nothing more than to return their energy, but my coffee never contained enough caffeine to carry me to the end.
The guilt was real.
So I thought about what I could do to be a better teacher and mom. If I were full-time at home, would I have more vigor for Autumn? No, because after a year of maternity leave, there was a different kind of exhaustion that came with being around a baby all day. A color changing rattle might do wonders for a 6-month old’s stimulation, but at 44, it takes a bit more.
Then I thought back to before I became a mom, when I’d go to work by day, do yoga at night – and balance, both literally and physically, was simple. I was structured and strong, my routine pragmatic and predictable. But on second thought, even then, the melancholy I felt having no one at home was, alas, draining as well.
And so I came to the same conclusion I have come to a million times prior – that nothing is perfect and everything is manageable and there’s no reason to waste a limited resource like energy judging myself. That it’s best to just keep going, and doing, and finding joy in small moments.
It’s a gorgeous day and my students pretend not to hear when I call them in from recess. I want to reprimand as I watch them continue shooting baskets, but then think of Autumn wanting one more push on the swing, and then another – even when it’s raining. I take a deep breath, soften my shoulders, and find a gentleness that helps ease me through the day. Then I wonder if it’s possible that instead of being a teacher and a mom detracting from my ability to do both, perhaps they are each enhanced.