This Thursday marked Nico’s first spin around the sun. This time last year this happened. It’s been over one year since making the difficult decision to leave full time teaching and focus my attention more closely on our family. (I was fortunate to secure a part-time from home position, so while I’m still teaching two courses online, my work time is flexible.)
At the school where I work, teaching contracts expire at the end of each school year, so I wasn’t holding my breath that the same ideal from-home position would be offered for another year. As the school year is drawing to its close, I’ve found myself more edgy, more sad that this chapter might be ending right when we’re hitting our groove. But a few weeks ago I received news that I can keep at it for another year, if I want to. Um… absolutely! Another whole year relieved of a lot of the day-t0-day shenanigans that accompany full-time teaching. Another whole year watching my children grow and explore the world, learn, build their relationship with each other. I’m still not down from that high.
The decision to stay home or work or whatever other arrangement a family makes for however long they make it is personal and complicated, each possibility with its own set of pros and cons. I did not take the decision lightly, and I didn’t make it selfishly, as I doubt any parent does. Looking back on the year, I have no doubt I made the right decision for us. Although life with two in diapers is full of plenty of struggles, frustrations, and tears, I know that when I look back on my life this year will stand out as one of the very sweetest.
Although David quickly returned to work, I was fortunate to have my mom’s help for the first month after Nico was born. Every time she was addressing the needs of one while I was addressing the needs of another (or the household or my job), I knew not to take it for granted, that life was about to turn into a crazy juggling act. There wouldn’t always be enough arms to pick up crying babies.
Just like a teacher, I approached that very first solo day with a plan. Finger painting on the lanai. I do better maintaining collective sanity when there’s a shared purpose, even if that purpose only lasts 15 minutes. Or derails. Or causes major post-production clean ups. (Finger painting hit all of those.) Not every day would have a purpose, but I’d generally feel more accomplished at the end of it when there was one. Some purposes were more ambitious than others. Sometimes I’d find my missions incredibly daunting (the beach sounds wonderful until you try it with one crying baby, one non-swimmer running exuberantly into the waves, more crap than your arms can carry, and then come home exhausted and covered in sand). But I generally stuck to the philosophy of just confronting the challenges head-on (restaurants! crowded places! dangerous places!), trusting that with practice we’d improve, and even if we crashed and burned, it made the day go faster than being pent-up in the house. None of us liked being pent up in the house. Over time I have gotten better.
As a teacher, I used to notice that I would get more in sync with Micah when I was on school holidays. It might take the whole of spring break before we really found our groove, just in time to return to work. Over summer break we’d get to spend more time there, and now I get to live in that zone indefinitely. I can better predict results of various stimuli, I better speak his language, I can easily read his emotions. Nico and I have had the luxury of never knowing differently.
On the teaching side of the balancing act, I’ve learned to stick to a daily to-do list and never veer from it. For example, my in-box is cleared of all grading the same days each week no matter how daunting the stack is. The conveyer belt never ends, but at least there isn’t a giant backlog.
There are similarities in my teaching style and stay-at-home parenting style. I’d describe it as creativity or freedom within a predictable structure and routine. It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. Our days, like my lessons, follow a similar pattern or flow, but there is a ton of variety within that pattern. Just like our breakfast smoothies: it happens same time every day, but what goes in it changes from day to day. We always read before bed time, but from a stack of fresh library books. There’s an outing every morning, but where we go changes each day. In the classroom and at home, children thrive with routine. But there can still be plenty of room for spontaneity, newness, and discovery.
Since next school year is going to be a continuation of this, we’re not in a rush to start Micah in pre-school. We’ll continue our play groups and field trips, home pre-schooling and arts and crafts (on ambitious days). Tomorrow’s project is to start a garden (wish us luck, I’m nervous about this one!) I’ll continue developing and making it work as a non-traditional teacher, most likely returning to the classroom before too long, hopefully refreshed and reinvigorated. When people ask if I “nap when the kids nap” I’ll continue concealing my “are you insane?” look with a polite smile. For now, I need to keep taking pictures, making lists, loading the crew up and getting outside, meeting new friends, and trying to laugh through the madness, because this stage won’t last forever.