This morning, standing in front of 20 or so surprisingly eager 10th graders in their Writers Workshop class, I got the giddy urge to share the news. After ten years, it’s my last week as a teacher. At least for now.
The decision to leave was not one I took lightly, and I still don’t feel entirely confident in it. But now that the decision is made, every time I share it (with my boss, father-in-law, students…) I have the exhilarating sensation of taking a wild leap from a great height.
Normally I allow myself to be guided by intuition, and my intuition is typically not quiet. When faced with a decision, a clear answer just sort of emerges like the response you get from a Magic 8-Ball. I read recently that if you’re fortunate enough to live in a stable country surrounded by relatively stable people, life isn’t about choosing between good and bad options, but about weighing awesome possibilities against ever-so-slightly awesomer possibilities. And this tends to make decision-making especially hard. But typically whatever the slightly better-feeling option is just presents itself naturally to me without much logic or sitting down and coming up with a good, old-fashioned pro/con list. And whatever it is, I just go with in good faith. I guess it’s impossible to know whether my intuition is actually right or wrong, but I rarely lose sleep over it. You don’t lose sleep when you’re moving along, full steam ahead.
But when I found out I was pregnant with our second child, I got completely stuck. How would I ever juggle it all now? In charged this incessant internal push and pull over whether to leave a teaching job that I love in order to spend more time with family and pursue other projects, or keep a good job (that we absolutely rely on to pay our bills) and miss out on a big chunk of this wonderful time with our children. Each path seemed equally awesome AND equally terrifying.
Ever since having the job of a parent on top of full-time teaching, I’ve gotten very familiar with the feeling of never quite doing either of them as well as I’d like to. I’m probably the only teacher in the country that refuses to bring my work home (save for planning time over school breaks), so I never feel like I’m quite the teacher I’d like to be. I find myself resenting the time it takes to meet with parents or give my 135 students individual feedback because of all the time it takes away from my own child. Student work gets skimmed, lessons are recycled, and I no longer lose sleep thinking about struggling Johnny. My two-year old takes away as much sleep as I can spare, anyway. On the other hand, in my other role as a mother, I never feel like I’m quite as in tune with him as I’d like to be. With every charming anecdote my daycare provider shares, I realize I’m missing countless others. At the end of long holidays together, we’re in complete sync with each other – I understand his unique communications, I’m more engaged and present for him. But then it’s back to work, and though daycare has been fantastic for his development, social skills, and cultivating independence, little by little we fall out of our supertight patterns. It’s not that I feel like I’m failing at either job, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m excelling at them either. The teacher in me gives me a B- in both and I’m an easy grader.
Yet both the possibility of keeping and leaving my job filled me with doubts and anxieties. What would life be like without the steady income? With the cost of two in daycare, is working worth the little I net anyway? Would I ever be able to find another teaching job I like as much? Would I feel fulfilled in my day-to-day life staying home with kids? I found myself feeling simultaneously protective of my job (I don’t want anyone else doing it!) and protective of my role with my kids (I don’t want anyone else doing it!). And no clear answer was presenting itself.
Until it did. When I let the doubts subside, these were the messages my intuition whispered: The money will work itself out. Another fulfilling job will come along when the time is right. You can design the job of mother in a way that works for everyone. You’re capable and creative and you’ll find a way to be with your kids, contribute financially AND feel content and satisfied with the work you’re doing.
I began having dozens of inspiring ideas about new projects and ways to make money. Some are ideas I’ve been kicking around for years that get dusted off and reconsidered every school break.
Tentatively, I brought up these thoughts with David. He always plays it safe. The safe thing seemed to me to keep doing what we’re doing. But fortunately, he was willing to take the leap with me. He’s scared, like me, but he believes in me. And with his faith, little by little the strange pull got stronger and stronger. The unknown usually is scary, but sometimes life whispers for it.
I got input from everyone I felt close enough to ask: my mom, stay-at-home mom friends, teacher-mom friends, work-from-home friends. Although everyone was coming from their own unique set of circumstances and perspectives, and not everyone echoed the same advice, there did seem to be a general consensus that the decision to stay home with young children is rarely one that’s regretted. Some scared me about the realities of living in poverty. Because that’s truly the decision we’re making, at least temporarily. If we don’t figure out other ways to make ends meet, we will literally have to choose between groceries and housing. (And there’s really no downsizing or cost-cutting on housing.) Some scared me about the realities of missing the work-life balance. And they’re right. I will go completely bananas alone at home with two little ones without some other project to serve as a respite from the insanity. But every single confidant also understood that overwhelming pull to be with your children.
Finally, I let my thinking be known to David’s dad. I don’t know why his opinion scared me the most. I suppose because he tends to play it safe and conservative as well, and because he really understands the importance of our financial security. To my great relief, he was not only supportive of the idea to stay/work from home, he was enthusiastic about it. He has faith it’ll be the best for our family. In fact, he even said, “You’re an entrepreneur.”
So first order of business, have a baby, and enjoy/survive the first few months. Second, find a small co-op of work-from-home moms who want to swap days caring for each other’s kids. This would give each of us time to get projects done, while maintaining some social interaction and routine for our children (without the cost of daycare). Then, dive head first into some of the ideas I’ve had on the back-burner up until now.
Of course, I kept my explanation a lot more concise to the roomful of kids. They were sweet and concerned, and in some cases mildly offended. There was a part of me, looking at each one, that already missed them. I really do love the creativity of teaching, the energy of teenagers, the camaraderie of my coworkers, the purpose in the community beyond the walls of my own home. But the giddy feeling stayed with me all day. Sometimes it’s best to trust that it’s time to make a change — that there’s no looking back when it’s full steam ahead.
So there we go. Another teacher bites the dust. When I return one day I’ll be a better teacher for it. Yes, it’s terrifying diving into the unknown, but exhilarating: the start of a new chapter, one that puts family first, and that is self-directed and hopefully meaningful. Where it will lead is impossible to know. How long it’ll last, I can’t say. But I’m finally certain (enough) that for now it’s right.