Dear Kids, It Wasn't You

Dear Kids,

It wasn’t you.

“Oh, you work with middle schoolers? No wonder you quit teaching!” I have heard this more times now than I can keep track and every time I correct them. “It was never my kids,” I say, “It was everything else.” They all say it and they say it because they don’t know any better. They don’t know that I did everything in my power every damned day to protect you, to love you, to feed you. They don’t know that I’d stay up at night worried about you or that I stuck my neck out to protect you from immigration, police officers, and our school administration. My kids, you were the reason I was able to make it to work every day. As I struggled with leaving my son every morning, clinical depression, and generalized anxiety, you made me smile. You lightened my heart and showed me love when I didn’t think I deserved it. My kids, you are why I held on as long as I did; you are not the reason I quit.

For the first time since I entered the doors of my park district preschool, I am not packing my back to school lunch and laying out my first day outfit in anticipation of the year to come. I will not be joining my friends in the seats of a sweaty auditorium getting pumped up by the staff talent show and our superintendent’s yearly speech. There will be no ice-breakers with new staff and there will be no data review of the year prior. For the first time since I was just old enough to get a library card, I will not have a “first day of school.” For, I quit teaching this year. I quit teaching and I am never going back.

But, my kids? It wasn’t you. If there is anything in this world to be sure of, please let it be that. It was the hours, the lack of support, and the disrespect from leadership. It was being told by another teacher that they would have to “pull rank” because her class was “more important” than mine, and it was the toxicity of it all. But, my kids? It wasn’t you. It was working harder than I have ever worked in my life just to be told what I did doesn’t really matter. It was the expectation that I would continue to do more with less, that I would sacrifice precious family time to get the job done, and that I would do it all without administration support. It was the fact that I’d spend more time at work being put down than at home with the people who loved me, it was the side-eyes I’d get when I offered a suggestion, and the reprimand I’d receive for standing up for my students’ best interests. But, my kids? It wasn’t you. This I promise with my whole heart.

Teachers are the most incredible humans I know. There is no other profession I can think of that works overtime with no pay without a second thought and few other professions that work harder for less pay. In this day and age, teachers are expected to raise decent humans no matter students’ home lives, act as a human shield in the case of another school shooting, and do it all with a smile on their face and a “Please Sir, may I have some more,” attitude. And, my kids? I just got tired.

You will have many other teachers throughout your educational careers, ones that will inspire you and ones that will annoy you but I hope that somewhere in that list, you will remember me. For you have all been imprinted in my heart for the rest of time. My kids, if I have taught you anything, I hope it’s this: You are important, you are worthy, and if you don’t feel that way, something needs to change. And I needed a change.

But, my kids? It wasn’t you.

With all my heart,

Your teacher


When the Fog Clears

It was a Sunday afternoon that I'll never forget. My son, now three years old, was playing in the middle of our family room with Legos. He was fully content and absorbed in what he was doing and didn't need me right next to him. I sat on the couch and watched him for a while, still in awe of this human being that I created, but soon, I grew restless. "Surely there must be something I should be doing," I thought." As I started pacing the first floor of my house contemplating cleaning, laundry, or dishes, I tried to remember what I used to do on weekends for enjoyment before I became a mom. I drew a total blank. For the first time in years I had energy to do something, I had the time to do something and I felt like I was ready to conquer the day.  The problem now was, I had no idea what to do. For the past three years, I had been by my baby's side waiting on him hand and foot. I hadn't taken a solo trip to the bathroom in longer than I can remember and I surely couldn't recall what having spare time in my day felt like. And yet, there I was. I felt like I had entered an alternative universe, had an outer body experience, but mostly, I felt like myself. My real self, the one who was driven and who didn't need a nap to get through the day. It had been so long since I had been that woman, and I decided on that Sunday afternoon that it was about time I got reacquainted with her.

Most articles and books I read talked about the fog of new motherhood and insinuated that it would clear in six months to a year. And there I was, one year, two years, three years later thinking this was just the new normal. I would always be this tired, I would always struggle to keep my eyes open mid-afternoon, and I would never have time to myself before 8pm again. Little did I know that this version of myself wasn't the real me, my fog just lasted longer than most. It has finally started to clear and while I miss my son needing me every moment of every day, I'm also really starting to love the rediscovery of who I am. Over the past couple of weeks I have started several new ventures, gone on solo grocery shopping trips, and read two books. I have given my son all the love and attention he could ever need or want, but for the first time in three years, I'm giving some to myself as well.

Motherhood is exhausting, this is nothing new. It takes every ounce of energy you have and then some. Again, this is nothing Earth shattering. And while with every new stage of parenthood there are struggles and challenges, things do get better. Mamas, you will find yourself again. It may be six months from now, two years from now, or 10 years from now, but one day you will look in the mirror and recognize the woman staring back at you. When that happens, reintroduce yourself, tell yourself those bags under your eyes don't look as bad as you think, and take yourself out for a cup of coffee. You have a lot of catching up to do and Mama? You sure are worth it.


Never Again

I am a teacher. Every morning I walk into our school building wondering if today is the day. Every morning I walk into the building hoping against all hope that I make it home at the end of the day. It may be a morbid thought, but for many teachers, that is our current reality. I became I teacher to help students realize their passion for music, I became a teacher to help shape future generations, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that becoming a teacher involves being scared to go to work. I didn't think it would ever involve calming my students' fears when they hear an alarm or see a policeman in the building. I didn't think that I would ever hear a student tell me that if she ever has to die at school she hopes I'm next to her so she can die next to someone who truly cares about her. No child should ever have those thoughts, especially at school where they are supposed to be safe. Never did I think that becoming a teacher meant figuring out how to hide 60 kids in a closet in the event of any terror entering our schools' doors. Never did I think that when I became a teacher I also became a police officer.

This teaching environment is not what I signed up for and it's certainly not one I wish to see continue.   I am a teacher, but more than that? I'm a mom. I am a mom whose son is still young, who isn't yet in school. I am the mom of a boy who, like all children, deserve warm mother arms to hug them at the end of the day. They deserve to feel safe at school and to not get anxious at the slightest sound in the hallway. Just like many of you, I am a mom. And we all deserve to see our babies grow into wonderful adults. We deserve to send them to school without fear. We deserve to be free of anxiety that they won't come home.

We deserve better, our children deserve better. Now is the time to act, now is the time to embrace change, and now is the time to insist on a better world. Will you join me?


It Takes a Village

Squish. Splash.

Never did I wish to hear those sounds as I stepped off the bottom stair into my fully finished and carpeted basement. Expletives were thrown out of my mouth like confetti as I turned on the light to survey the damage. Yep, the basement was flooded. Not just flooded, it was flooded. "How do you change a sump pump?" I yell upstairs in a panic to my husband, expecting him to calmly and collectively know exactly what to do, per his usual demeanor. "I have no idea..." he responded in a frantic tone.

Well, crap.

Now what? My fight or flight response tells me to run upstairs, close the door, and pretend it didn't happen. Like Schrodinger's Cat, if I kept the door closed my basement could be both flooded and dry. I could live with that. I could just never use my basement again. It would be fine. But then the adult in me kicked in and I started making phone calls. First to my parents to whine about my misfortune and then to friends who I thought might know more about changing sump pumps and dealing with a flooded basement than my husband and I. Within minutes we had my parents on the phone waiting with bated breath and giving all the advice we needed and a friend on his way over with a dry-vac and his endless knowledge of household tasks. By 11pm, a new sump pump was installed, the water removal process had begun, and my husband and I had new homeowner knowledge thanks to the incredible command of my friend and colleague. We went to sleep that night exhausted and stressed, but oh so grateful.

I have always heard that it takes a village to raise a child but what I have come to realize is that it takes a village to raise an adult as well. My husband and I married young, right out of college, and we felt invincible. There was nothing the two of us couldn't handle! Car buying? Easy. Living within our means? Piece of cake. Adulting on a daily basis? Not even a challenge. We have been very fortunate, my husband and I. While we worked hard and were very conscious of our decisions, everything had, more or less, worked out for us. It wasn't until I took those fateful steps into the lagoon that was my basement that I realized how full of disillusionment I was. No matter how cautious, intelligent, or attentive you are, sometimes, shit just happens and you need help.

Thankfully, my village stepped up in ways I don't feel I deserve. From coming over late on a school night to replace a failing pump to pulling out sopping wet carpet and hauling it out to the garage to replacing our drywall to helping to carry the burden of it all, our village showed up. And while it's going to take a while for our basement to feel finished again, we couldn't have gotten as far as we have without our village. I have come to realize that anyone who says they can do this life on their own is fooling themselves or maybe? Maybe they just haven't experienced the horror that is a flooded basement yet. Either way, there is no way any of us would be where we are today without our friends and family who support us in the little and big ways they do daily. Yeah, we'd probably survive this crazy world without them but it wouldn't be as full of love, giving, and gratefulness. Sure it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a heck of a village to raise an adult too. After all, as the Beatles said, we all get by with a little help from our friends.  And if I can't live my life by Beatles lyrics then I'm just not sure I know how to live at all.


A Letter to my Baby Boy on his Third Birthday

My Sweet Baby Boy,

As I watched you fall asleep tonight, your eyelashes fluttering with each breath, I was in awe. Where did this big boy come from and where did my baby go? It seems like just yesterday we were meeting for the first time. You in your birthday suit, me in my hospital gown. I remember those first sweet hours we were together where I told you how many fingers and toes you had and what color your eyes were. Above all, I remember telling you that I would do my best to love you with every inch of my soul and that I would do anything in my power to protect you and support you for my entire life. Your little squishy body was so warm and fragile and I remember thinking that I needed to soak this in. I didn't want to take advantage of any moment I had with you. I wished for you for so long and I pledged to cherish every minute with you. And even though I feel like I have done just that, I blinked and here we are, three years later.

Sometimes, if I try really hard, I can still it. I see the baby in you when your bottom lip quivers when you cry, I see it when I look at your little monkey toes, and I still see it when you're playing in the bath tub. But so much of the day, there is a big boy where my baby used to be. When you help me around the house, when you insist on putting your socks and shoes on by yourself, and when you play with other kids, I see the boy you are and the one you are becoming. And every time I see you do something for yourself for the first time, I cannot help but shed a tear for I know that this season is ending. Soon, I will have more alone time, more time for self care, and more nights of not waking up multiple times. You won't want to be with me every second of the day, not leaving me alone long enough to even go to the bathroom by myself. A stubbed toe won't be your biggest hurt and a kiss from Mommy won't make everything instantly better. Soon, you'll roll your eyes when I insist you wear a jacket outside and that sweet voice that calls me "Mommy" will switch to "Mom." You will probably start wanting to hang out with your dad over me and you two will share your own jokes and special bond that I will only witness from the outside, looking in.

Soon, I will no longer be your entire world and while that is exactly how it should be, I cannot help but already mourn the days where all you needed was your mommy by your side. I am sure that I will love each of stage of your life and as I start shifting from main character to supporting cast, I am doing my best to take on my new role with grace and love. For you, my son? You will always be my little boy. You will grow and hopefully find someone, maybe even your own child, to make your life whole just like I did. You are it for me, forever and always. In my heart, you and I are one. Your DNA will forever be intertwined with mine and you will always be my first thought when I wake up and my last before I go to sleep. This, I promise you. But tonight, you still need me. So as I watch your little chest rise and fall as you drift off to sleep, know that I love you, so much, a lot, forever, with all my heart.

Happy birthday my sweet boy and may all your dreams come true.



When Having the Flu Feels Like a Vacation

This week, I had a day off. A true day off where I was not responsible for any human other than myself, I didn't have to do any dishes or laundry, and I didn't have to make any meals that were inevitably going to be rejected. It was the first true day off I have had in years and it was simply lovely. I woke up when I wanted, napped when I wanted, and watched something on television other than Mickey Mouse's Once Upon a Christmas. I didn't change out of my pajamas and heck, I didn't even brush my hair! I felt like a whole new woman. It was so liberating to remember what it was like to only have to care for myself. The house was peaceful and so was my mind. It honestly felt like a vacation. I mean, I also had the stomach flu, but boy, was the peace nice. Even though my stomach was moving in tumultuous tsunami waves, it was wonderful to get a chance to relax and breathe.

Within minutes of finishing one of my last work obligations of the season, I could feel my body succumbing to what was almost certainly brewing for weeks. My immune system fought the good fight, gave it all it had, and finally, was waving the white flag of surrender. The 4am wake-ups courtesy of my son combined with concert season work schedules and the stress that goes along with it posed for the perfect recipe for illness. My body knew it only had a one day window to give in before the next work event and it jumped on the opportunity. It knew that giving me the stomach flu was probably the only way I would actually take time for myself during this crazy season. And for that, I guess I'm grateful. Not the stomach flu, that part sucked. But the part where I got to focus on myself, where I was the only person I was worried about for a couple hours. For that, I'm grateful.

Isn't it odd, that having the flu feels like a vacation once you become a mom? I have talked to several other mom friends and they have all said the same thing: Being a little sick is still work. You're still responsible for day to day tasks, for cleaning, for keeping the family alive. But being really sick? The "I can't get out of the bed because I might vomit," sick? That's the sweet spot. That's when people remember they can survive without you and while I love feeling needed, sometimes, it's nice to just be left alone. And while I lay there, watching my trashy tv in between naps, I also meditated. I read. I daydreamed.  It was a day were I was not only healing my body, but my mind as well.

While my stomach is still on the mend, my spirit is lifted and I am reminded that I should not wait until I am debilitated by the flu to take care of myself. Self-care is important, and while it is more difficult to do during a busy season like the holidays, it is all the more important. If nothing else mamas, view this as a public service announcement: Take care of yourself, take time for yourself, and don't wait until you're eyeing the bottom of a puke bucket to do it.


No, I'm Not Doing Santa with My Child, and No, I'm not a Bad Mom because of it

It was 5am on Christmas morning and I was itching to get downstairs. Santa had come I just knew it! And let me tell you, when my parents pried their exhausted bodies out of bed and we went downstairs, I saw that The Big Guy did not disappoint. Deer tracks were outside in the snow, only crumbs were left from the cookies and carrots my brother and I left out for Santa and his reindeer, and when I looked under the tree and there it was. A ballet bar, a real ballet bar, was awaiting me. I couldn't believe it! Was I really that good over the course of this past year? I lied to my parents that one time. I spilled my milk. Were those things not as bad as my guilt told me they were? Wow, that's pretty awesome! What a gracious guy! How giving! This Santa guy, what a stellar dude!

Obviously, as a child I had a great Santa experience, let’s face it, the man spoiled me. But I also remember how worried I was that I would disappoint him. From December 26 to the morning of December 25 the following year, I was obsessively worrying that I would wake up on Christmas morning and find coal in my stocking. The paranoia and anxiety I felt were mostly self-inflicted but those feelings are something I still have not forgotten. And while I realize that this is not the experience for most, I can't help but worry my son will feel this too. I can't help but see how my son is like me, how his emotions are so big. Would he obsess about being on the good list the way I did? Would he be wracking his brain to calculate how many "bad" things he did that year? Would he barely sleep the night before not just because he was excited to see what presents were under the tree but also because he was trying to figure out how to explain to everyone why he got coal if that were in fact the case? Or would he find the simply joy and magic in all Santa represented? I guess we'll never know because my husband and I decided not to do Santa with our son. This was not a decision my husband and I took lightly and in fact, it was a decision that was fretted about over the course of several years. We knew what we could potentially be taking away from him, we knew the possibility of him ruining it for other kids, and we knew we'd have to have a rock solid explanation as to why his friends were getting presents from Santa but he wasn't. We recognized this that was an unpopular decision and while we understood many would disagree with us, in our heart of hearts we knew this was the path we needed to take. 

My husband and I have vowed to be as truthful with our son as possible as he grows and while Santa may not seem like a lie to most, my husband and I felt uncomfortable with it. Maybe part of it is because we dread that stupid elf and his stupid shelf or maybe we are lazy parents, or maybe? Maybe we just couldn't buy into the whole thing. So on this Christmas morning, as we're all surrounded with throngs of wrapping paper thrown about, please don't feel bad for my child because he doesn't believe a jolly old man in a red suit magically appeared in our house to provide us with gifts galore. A joyful spirit is still alive, the gift of giving is very present, and my son will still have a magical Christmas morning. No, I'm not doing Santa with my child, but please don't worry because among those presents, wrapping paper, and bows will be an abundance of love, giving, joy, and family. And those? Those are the things Santa represents, even if his sleigh didn't theoretically stop at my house on Christmas Eve.