Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Reason Why

Summer break went so well this year that I began to think about staying home full time. I was less than thrilled with my job and washing dishes looked absolutely idyllic. This faded after the first month, however, but I still wished that the kids could be home more. Chris and I looked into getting some help - someone to prepare lunches and get the kids off in the morning. We even considered having that person retrieve the kids from their schools so that they could be home at a more decent hour. After checking Craig’s list, the newspaper and asking around, we even interviewed someone. She gave us her hourly rate and we quickly fell to the ground in shock. There is a reason that only rich people employ nannies.

I crunched the numbers over and over and found that even with a more reasonably priced “helper”, we really couldn’t afford this luxurious service. Chris and I coaxed ourselves into accepting that we would have to wait one more year before considering this option again. Our debt is unusually large due to losing so much money on the house we sold in Green Bay. Couple that with a primary mortgage, child support payments, car payments (reasonable, but still there), Ella’s preschool tuition, and day-to-day expenses and it adds up to one thing - we are STRAPPED.

As the school year began, my feelings were mixed. I was enjoying my job much more than the previous two years, but still felt that the kids deserved to be home more - like I was. My mother was always home. She did raise a feminist, though. The pop psychology movement of the ‘70s had a large effect on me and my mother. She was reading I’m O.K., You’re O.K., and I had teachers showing me commercials that stereotyped female roles. I distinctly remember analyzing a commercial for a stain remover, “Wisk” I think. Its slogan had something to do with getting rid of “ring around the collar”. A man would be wearing a dress shirt and someone would notice the stains around his collar – immediately the camera would focus in on his wife as if she were a criminal. The premise being, of course, that if she used their product to pre-treat the stains on her husband’s collar, they would come out in the wash and she would never be shamed again for not keeping her husband presentable. I think since that moment, I have always avoided becoming that woman. I was raised to do it all – work, marriage, career. Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder if it is all worth it.

Harrison’s Kindergarten year went extremely well. We entered with trepidation and exited with confidence. He became an emergent reader, he never bored of entering Mr. P’s classroom and he bonded with an accepting adult other than a parent. His report cards showed progress and achievement. His behavior remained in check and there were no trips to the office for misconduct. As first grade began, we had no reason to worry. We assumed that things would go as smoothly as they did last year. Unfortunately we were wrong.

Harry’s new teacher is extremely experienced. She has been teaching for over 20 years and still seems to truly love teaching six year olds. One thing she isn’t, though, is Mr. P – Harry’s Kindergarten teacher - the man who single-handedly got my son to enjoy school and learning, while accepting him wholly as the smart, yet wildly immature little boy that he is. Harry felt this acceptance immediately and flourished. Ms. B. doesn’t have this connection to him. I understand that the kind of teacher-student relationship we experienced last year is rare. I just don’t think we realized how special it was until we didn’t have it anymore.

First grade started well. We experienced a three week honeymoon period. Harrison skipped to school each morning and behaved well. Things weren’t going as well after the regular school day, though. Each afternoon, after school is dismissed, he goes to the gym for an after school program. It has too many kids and not enough experienced staff. Harry loves all the playing, but the lack of structure is not good. One day I came to pick him up, but had trouble finding him. I didn’t see any familiar adults and as I was scouring the playground, I noticed that the gate surrounding the playfields was open. I went back inside and looked for Harrison. After re-visiting the playground, I found him on the jungle gym. After asking him about his day, he recounted an episode with another boy which ended with Harry getting bonked on the head with a rock. He came with me, but there were no adults that seemed to notice. The gate was still open and my discomfort was rising.

Later that evening, Chris and I had a long talk about priorities and our family. I flipped open my laptop and searched for part time counselor position. I was stunned to find two openings in the area. We spent a few days discussing the realities of this option and decided that I should apply and think about the rest if I received an offer.

I worked for days on updating my resume, writing a cover letter and contacting old supervisors as references. About a week and a half later, my stress level went through the ceiling when I was contacted to schedule an interview. After making it through that process, I was asked to come back for a second meeting – they wanted me to teach a lesson to a “live” classroom of students. I passed that test and was offered the position a little over a week ago. The minute I told my husband, it all came clear – we knew the answer I needed to give. Financial sacrifices aside, my children need me to be home more often. They need me to take them to school each morning, and pick them up each afternoon. They deserve more time in the evening in their home. Due to my long commute, and their varied school locations, we don’t get home until almost 6 pm. Dinner is thrown together, homework is hurried through, baths are taken, and books are read. It would be palatable if it didn’t feel as if a stopwatch were running. The stress during our weeknights is always high.

After six years of trying to do it all, I have finally given up. I can’t do it all well, so I have decided to take the half-time counseling position in another school. I start the beginning of next month. I told my fellow staff members, and my students, today. It was bittersweet. They completely understand, but we are all sad. I feel an unusual closeness to most of the people I encounter at work each day. I was one of the original staff that opened our school. This is our third year in existence. We are very small and very close. I sometimes compare how our school is run to a family business. We all do a little of everything. There are pros and cons to that. One of the main cons is the extra hours that most public school educators don’t have to put in. I just can’t give that much anymore.

My mother has been on my mind so much during all of this. I have imagined how she would have reacted each step of the process. What questions she would have asked and the comments she probably would have made. I know she would be proud of me. She was always my biggest supporter. She would probably tell me that the more I take care of myself – the better mother I’ll be for my two babies.

Ironically, I think her death may have had everything to do with this. I compare my parenting style to hers so much more since she has died. She wasn’t perfect, but she was pretty darn good. And she was always there. I rarely remember her not being at home. I guess I just want to give my kids a little more of that.

No comments: