Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Woman in Her Thirties on the Other Side

(*cross-posted on www.teachablelit.com

When I was pregnant with Anna and still teaching, a colleague told me that after I became a mother I would become a different teacher. That I would be more empathetic; that I would understand more all the ways my job mattered (and didn't matter). I never got a chance to fully understand if he was right, since my teaching jobs now are very different than every day in a public school. But now that I'm on the other side of the coin, with a child now almost finished with Kindergarten, I get what he was saying. Here are a few things I've learned about school, now that I'm a parent:



1. My words really, really matter

Anna loves school. Loves. Aaron loves school so much that he cries most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings because he can't go to school. I credit great schools and teachers for that, but I got to thinking the other day about how many times I dealt with kids who had huge chips on their shoulders about school. Teachers were always out to get them. The system was always 'stupid' or rigged. In my years teaching, I always blamed that way of thinking on being a jaded teenager. It never occurred to me that those were sentiments they were probably hearing at home, too. So even though I'm totally in support of asking questions about methodology and rationale, at home it's really important that my kids hear that I think their teachers are worth listening to and learning from.

2. Teachers don't get paid enough

I mean, who doesn't know that? But I know it so much more now, now that I'm part of supporting a family and trying to figure out budgets and college and savings plans. So many teachers are parents, too. We can't possibly think it's okay to keep them juuuuust above the poverty line, when their jobs are so important. We can't possibly put the demands we do on teachers and not compensate them for it. And yet we do.

3. It's a little, teeny tiny bit okay to miss school sometimes

I was a strict teacher in several ways, and one of those ways was with attendance. If school is in session, you go. Unless you're sick, someone is dead, or some other major calamity is going on, you get to school. I had very little patience for kids who were constantly off to long weekends to hunt or play a sport, and I had ZERO patience for the parents who sent me emails from the car telling me their kid was missing the next couple days to hang with grandma so could I please send some work.

I'm getting angry just thinking about it.

But now, on the other side, I am more understanding of this. Don't get me wrong- Disney is not an excuse to miss a week of school. And no, your family trip up north isn't equal to the learning you get in your classroom environment.  But family time is so scarce for some families (mine included), and sometimes there are some things that can be carefully calculated to be an okay-ish reason to skip school.



As long as you tell the teacher FAR in advance.

And don't email from the car.

And don't act surprised when your kid comes back to school and is behind- that is what happens when you miss school.


4. Why didn't I ask for help??

I often tell the story of the time I was photocopying the play Antigone for my sophomores because I didn't have enough copies for my class. Not only is that illegal, but it went against everything I stood for as a writer and reader. But what was I supposed to do? I needed the books and didn't have them.

It never occurred to me to send out an SOS call. I could have asked the PTO, I could have emailed the parents in my class, I could have put out a desperate plea on Facebook. I don't think it was pride that kept me from those things-- it was this weird sense that I was on my own island and that no one was supporting me.

But now, on the other side, I would welcome an email like that from my child's teacher. In fact, I just sent an email asking her if there's anything I can re-stock for her room for next year as an end-of-year gift. The parent community is there to help, and I should have asked for it when I needed it.


5. And speaking of community...

We are in this together. Principals often say things like that, how 'we are a community' and 'we are a team', but I can't say I ever truly felt that when I was teaching. I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water as the waves of work and expectation crashed over me. But we are a community, and those aren't just words to appease parents and board members. We are all working toward the same objective of lifelong learners. It would be awesome and transformative if we acted like it.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties Teaches the Art of Failure

It's been a rough week for Anna. First, she got strep throat after a whirlwind weekend in Arizona. Anna is allergic to penicillin, and the first antibiotic she took made her sick. So she took another and is better now, but any woman in her thirties who has children knows that strep throat along with complications with medicine is like... the worst.

Healthier times. 

Then on Monday, someone tripped into her at the bus ramp and caused her to trip and fall on her forehead. The result was a fairly nasty goose egg, which we treated alternately with chocolate and an icepack. 

Look closely and you will see the damage...

And then there was last night. 

Let me back up. 

I have made no secret about pushing swimming on my children. Swimming is, in my mind, the perfect sport. Lifelong. Individual AND team. No helmets or blades. Low impact. Gender neutral. Plus, I was a swimmer. I know swimming. Swimming rules and that's just the bottom line. 

We've had both kids in swim lessons since about six months old. Go ahead and judge all you want, but it has been a great activity for us (despite it being a pain in the a$# a lot of time), and again, if I want swimmers, I have to start them young. And now that Anna is six, she's gotten pretty good. Certainly able to hold her own in the pool, and she loves the "fun meets" at the place we go to, where all the kids swim the width of the pool and it's not really a competition because everyone gets a ribbon. 

So last night they held try outs for the real, Pleasantville Swim Club. "Try outs" is a bit misleading... you're on the team as long as you can swim strokes and breathe with control. Anna did a great job at backstroke-- 25 meters all the way across the pool, and while she certainly wasn't fast she was definitely capable. But freestyle was a struggle. She got across, but you could tell she was working really hard. Not a lot of control in her breath. My heart sunk. 

And sure enough, she came back to me after talking to the coach and said, "The coach said I'm not ready just yet." All smiles. NBD.

I'm a teacher at heart, and I think I always will be. In my head, I know two things:
  • This is not a big deal. At all. Like not even an little tiny bit of a big deal. 
  • "Failure" is character building and an extremely important part of life and growth. 
But Anna. 

She is my baby. 

My world. 



And I know that it's important that she learn lessons though hardship, and I know setbacks will make her a strong, independent woman, but, well...

A woman in her thirties probably doesn't need to go on. If you have kids or love a kid with all your heart you know exactly what I'm saying. 

Because I don't sleep when I'm worried, upset, excited... Fine, because sleep is not exactly my strength, I was up tossing and turning all night about it. Had I pushed too hard? Too soon? Was I putting MY wants on my child without considering hers? Was I becoming the mom I always vowed I'd never be?

I am surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful women, who assure me I'm doing just fine. And my lovely Jie-Jie reminded me of this story, about how failure was the secret to this entrepreneur's success. So I'm okay now, and might actually sleep tonight! Hooray!

Inspired, I went out a bought a chocolate cake today to celebrate two things: The first and most important being Anna, how great she did at try-outs, and her (seriously ridiculously) mature attitude about just trying again next time. 


And I bought the cake for me. For being the imperfect mom who loves her so much and will be beside her every step of her way. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties and the Happy Year of No

The last six weeks or so have been just lovely. Truly. I'm not being sarcastic. After a craptastic year of 2016, culminating in the worst ear infection known to man (almost three weeks of hearing loss! Awful!), I made myself a promise that 2017 would be better. And it has been. 

Don't get me wrong. I haven't gone on any crazy vacations. I didn't hit the lotto. L's travel is just... well, let's not talk about it. Work is busy. The kids are awesome (but busy). Life is exactly the same as it was.



But the difference is my implementation of The Year of No. 

I've mentioned several times that I'm the perfect person for New Year's Resolutions. I'm a woman of my word, and when I make a promise, I see it through. So making myself the promise to start saying no more intentionally wasn't just shooting from the hip for me. It was a calculated tactic to deal with the utter insanity of 2016. I'm sick to death of being a yes-(wo)man. No is my new word. 

This is not to say I haven't done stuff. 'No' hasn't meant sitting home with Netflix when I could be out doing something that makes me happy. Part of my self-realization this past December when I felt myself falling into some serious doldrums was that I love being busy. I love my job. I love my kids. I love having great friends and the desire to do more. I love doing stuff. 

But I want to do my stuff. IT IS TIME FOR ME TO DO MY STUFF. 

For me, 'my stuff' has included attending some really interesting educational talks, a day where I worked only on my third book (and got over a major plot hurdle. YAY!), a short weekend away to SF to celebrate a birthday and also spend time with some really important people in my life, seeing a movie with my Minnesota besties, and spending a lot of evenings hanging with the other man in my life: Harry Potter. (I'm almost done with book 4.)

I also cut off four inches of hair. (I want to cut off another four.)

And bought tickets to Hamilton next month. (GAH!!)

And started using Instacart more. (Heaven.)

And said 'I just don't want to', when I felt peer pressured to go out for drinks the other night. (Amazing how quickly that will shut people up, when you are just honest with them.)

I say no to volunteering for things I don't feel passionate about. I place at least two immovable yoga sessions per week on my calendar. I hire sitters when I need them and feel zero guilt. I turn down activities that don't appeal to me. I say no even when I could say yes, simply because saying no gives me more time for me. And when I give more to myself, I'm able to give more to others. These guys, in particular:




I started this blog eight years ago, thinking I was pretty wise about the world. A woman in her thirties wears pearls. A woman in her thirties doesn't buy cheap wine. All of that might be true, but the truest thing so far for me now, at thirty-eight, is this:

A WOMAN IN HER THIRTIES SAYS NO. 

Thus, she is liberated.