Wednesday, August 29, 2007

:: Too Cool For School? ::

"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't build on it; it's only for wallowing in." -- Katherine Mansfield

SCENE: A mother and her son on the first day of school. The sky is blue and birds are singing in the background. Red and blue birds. Gorgeous birds. Hummingbirds. But not all is well. Crying can be heard. Loud crying. Sobbing. And these words, “Please don’t make me go!” These is some kicking. Some screaming.

If you’ve been following along in your workbooks, you know that my son’s only two months old. So what have I got to say about school, you ask? With more than fourteen hundred days until Evan starts Kindergarten, why am I already completely preoccupied with the beginning of the school year?

Ah yes. It’s because I am a teacher, and being a teacher means I must return to the classroom, and returning to the classroom means that I must leave my son. With someone else. Someone who is not me. For twelve hours a week.

Yup, the person who’s kicking screaming crying is me, not my baby.

I know that I am not the first person to face this, this return to work. I know that I am not the first person to hire a babysitter that she can hardly afford and hardly imagine with her son. I also know that twelve hours a week isn’t all that much, in the grand scheme of things. And I know that I am not the first person to make a list of things that my son will potentially do for the first time with someone else instead of me or his dad: he might roll over for the first time without me, might say his first consonant for someone other than me, might hold his bottle for the first time with someone other than me. He might have his first solid poop for someone other than me, and that would be really unfair since I’ve had the joy of all the non-solid poops. Come on, now, kid. Throw mommy a bone.

But I digress.

I know that leaving Evan here with someone else isn’t going to hurt him or me. Not really. But I am still trying to deny that the first day of class is ever going to come. I’m putting off writing my syllabus for fear of making the day come sooner. I haven’t even decided what we’re going to read, what my students will write about, or how I will grade them. All the teacher prep that I usually have done so far in advance, it’s all being put off and put off and put off until I can’t put it off any longer.

I know that this is Not Smart. I know that the first day will come (September 19th – we’re on quarters at OSU) and that it will slide into the second day faster than a sportscar into fifth gear, and from there into the third and fourth and fifth days faster than I can keep up. I know that I should be spending Evan’s naps between now and that fateful first Wednesday planning lessons, writing prompts, and uploading electronic readings.

But I just don’t want to. I want to throw myself on the ground like a two-year old in the grocery store and cry. I want to pretend that September is not three days away and that my students will not be reassembling themselves on and near campus in the coming weeks like little time bombs waiting to explode all around me. I want to ignore the fact that we don’t have sitters lined up for all of my class periods yet and then cancel class as an “emergency” when those days come.

I know that this is silly.

And I know that once I get into the classroom, I’ll love it. I’ll love watching my students work things out and learn things. I’ll love watching their writing improve and with it, their thinking. And vice versa.

It’s just that right now I’m preoccupied with watching my little baby boy work things out and learn things. Right now he’s working on a giggle that is going to be so cute once it finally materializes and makes its first appearance. It’s a giggle zygote that’s rapidly growing into a full adult giggle, and I am so much more interested in that giggle than I am in figuring out whether to teach a chapter from Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory or one from Mary Antin’s Promised Land.

Giggle for me, Evan. Giggle before September 19th, please. Giggle for me and do not giggle for the babysitter. Got it?

The question I ask myself is this: would I be going back to teaching next quarter if I didn’t need the money? Would I choose to spend not just those twelve hours each week I’m at school or commuting but also the fifteen-plus hours of weekly preparation and grading that accompany teaching doing something other than taking care of my kid?

I really don’t know. Or I guess I do know, but I’m not sure that what I would choose would automatically be the best thing for me. Because I’d choose to stay home. All day, everyday. I wouldn’t go to school unless I had to. If I spent time during the day working on my own stuff, it would be my dissertation and my other writing. My time would be spent playing with Evan and taking walks and doing yoga. It would decidedly not be spend grading papers, creating handouts, or planning small group activities.

But in a few years, would I regret that? Would I be sad that I’d left the classroom and, in turn, lost my momentum as a teacher? Would I regret how much harder it would be for me to get a job teaching at a college or university once my kid or kids were in school themselves? Would I look back later and feel I had given up too much to motherhood?

The regret question is never fair, of course, and even less so in a situation in which I have no choice. Because asking if I would regret not teaching means also asking if I would regret not being home. The question becomes not “would I regret this” but “which would I regret more.” And answering that question I end up at the same place I started: kicking screaming crying and not wanting to go back to school. Because all I can know is how I feel now, not how I’ll feel a few years down the line.

After all, I can hardly believe that I feel the way I do now. I am as surprised at my own desire (even if it’s not possible) to stay home with my baby everyday as I was at my decision, when I got married, to change my name. Younger Me would never have predicted this desire or that one. Younger Me wasn’t sure there would be a baby in the first place, but was pretty damned sure I’d still want to work, and that the name next to my door would be the one I was born with. And now here I am, all turned around. I could never have predicted this just as I can never predict what I’ll look back regretfully on later.

In the end, I really don’t know if it’s best for me to stay home or to go back to work because I’m not even sure how to begin defining “best.” The fact is, I don’t have the choice so I’m not too concerned about figuring it out. I just have to go.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t cry.


This post has been in response to Julie the Ravin' Picture Maven's weekly roundtable, Hump Day Hmm. This week’s topic is SCHOOL. Go read everyone else's responses. They're super smart.


Julie Pippert August 29, 2007 at 8:48 AM  

You are having to do the same letting go I describe in my post today. (So YES it's relevant, anyway my parameters were very broad LOL.)

I know that generally our kids are the richer for good other people caring for them in their lives.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

The thing I think we often do is set our expectations to the IDEAL or the IDEALIZED version of life.

"If only I didn't have to..."

"If only I wasn't/we weren't/things were more/life was less..."

You go to work. Your son has a caregiver. You do a job you like, yes? You chose a loving a caregiver, yes? This is the best within the realistic limitations and real life of life. KWIM?

I'm really talking to myself here, LOL. I don't think you need a soapboxy proselytized talk. LOL

But, like you, I must earn money. So, working isn't the choice. The only choice is in what I do to accommodate working and parenting.

And I remind myself that in the end we come out all right not just in spite of but also because of.

Really great post...exploring this.

Ravin' Picture Maven

Julie August 29, 2007 at 12:50 PM  

Julie, you're totally right that "working isn't the choice. The only choice is in what I do to accommodate working and parenting." I like that. The best thing I can do for my son is make sure he's got food to eat, love to spare, and someone wonderful taking care of him, whether that's me, his dad, or someone else.

Christina August 29, 2007 at 3:30 PM  

Leaving Cordy when she was three months old to go back to work was terribly hard at first. We needed the money, so I had no choice. I can tell you it does get easier, though.

With Mira, I decided to stay home. It was a difficult choice, because I do like working and money is tight, but it made no sense to pay all of my salary to childcare.

Evan will be fine, and while you'll both have some hard days, it'll be OK. And if your situation changes, you can always choose to stay home later.

Anonymous August 29, 2007 at 4:28 PM  

This brought all of those difficult decisions rushing back for me. The tricky thing is that there's no right answer. And I could totally fill your comments with my thoughts on this. We'll definitely chat about the subject when we hang out.


Snoskred August 29, 2007 at 5:32 PM  

Hi, my first time here at your blog. ;)

I think it's important to give yourself permission to feel however you feel about this. So many people would just say ok, grin and bear it, suck it up. But it's not that simple at all.


Emily August 30, 2007 at 8:07 AM  

"But in a few years, would I regret that? Would I be sad that I’d left the classroom and, in turn, lost my momentum as a teacher?"

Yes. You would. I do. I went back to work eventually, but it's been 3 years and I've not gone back to teaching.

Go. Do it. If it does not work, do something else next year. But, if, like me, you put it off because the pumping and the commuting is just too much to imagine, you may never end up back in the classroom.