Homeward Bound

I've wrestled with being a "working mom" in a variety of ways in the three years since my son's birth.  I've felt proud for pulling it off, harried when I haven't, and a constant awkward juggling act of overflowing laundry, papers needing graded, and a neglected husband clamoring for my attention in between.  I've relished the worth of being a teacher and that of being a mom and have attempted numerous unwritten math equations of budgets, time management, and priority adjustments to magically execute both roles.  At my finest moments, I've stormed late into school after dropping a sick son off at day care and thrown a volatile, "This working woman stuff is crap!" to unsuspecting teachers who happened to be in my path on the way to my classroom--suggesting to them, myself and God above I was one ear infection, sock-less sock drawer, or frantic morning routine away from chucking it all in the trash and riding off into the sunset in my trail blazing search for the promised land: at home motherhood.

But really I never could muster the courage to step away.  I looked to women who had slipped off the grid for that title of stay at home mom and found them quite mysterious.  What did they do all day? No really, what was it they were doing all day?  How did they manage little ones who couldn't speak, preserving self, and all those household demands that can so sneakily slide into mundane? How did they keep their sanity intact with an endless string of children's songs and adult-to-child conversations? Did they question their decision? Were they lonely? And how in the world were they able to take that leap of faith?

Essentially, I couldn't prompt myself to walk away from the financial security of my salary for the enterprise of full blown motherhood, regardless of its honorable purpose, wherein I would likely find a great deal of failure in myself.  

Yet, I'm here to share with you that I'm in fact homeward bound.  At the close of this school year, I'm taking a break from teaching to be with my sons (the three of them...how cool to type that part!).

The decision has been met with, as any reasonable person would imagine, a roller coaster of emotions: peace in knowing it was definitely and finally time to do so, sadness for leaving a rich, collaborative work environment, anxiety for the unknown, and excitement for the opportunity to journey through something new, foreign, and undoubtedly challenging.

Two weeks ago I wrote down all my fears about being a stay at home mom on a piece of paper and took a moment to think.  It was very summer camp-esque.  That kind of activity where your paper plate of fears is thrown into the bonfire and ta-da, you're free! Only it definitely didn't make me feel free. It just helped me face the reality that stay at home motherhood isn't one big party of days that consist of me donning the apron and patiently showing my sons how to bake just as much as it wouldn't be one long nightmare of fiendish tear-inducing poop horrors, nursing babies out to kill, and me shower-less as I greet my husband at the end of the day.  It wasn't, won't, be either of those.  It will be some of this and some of that and a lot of in between stuff all over the place. 

Or so says the woman who hasn't even packed the chuck wagon bound for the promised land yet and has no idea that by the time she will have made it to the plains of Kansas she will have tossed half of her weighty belongings to the side of the well worn trail.  Because that's how I work.  I cling. I plan. I collect. I scheme. I write. I pack up all my hopes and dreams into my heart.  And then somehow along the way I happen to really live and in so doing discover to lean into an authentic reality...and that's when I let go and grow. 

Last night, I earned my initiation into that stretching title of SAHM.  At my first Mothers of Multiples meeting, moms with similar twin ages huddled together in small groups to swap advice, share stories, and ask questions.  After a winding conversation of birth stories, baby weights and milestones, and our considerations for the future, we landed in that subject of work.  Our positions on the Map of Working Mothers popped off one by one.  And there it was after my transition-to-at-home-motherhood-announcement, an onslaught of  "Oh, I could never do that" concessions and counters for my craziness.  I smiled, bit my tongue and thought of how we're all connected with our guilt to be superhero moms regardless of where we are and what our work looks like.  And that guilt can sometimes fuel our defensiveness when really we should be high-fiving each other for working our butts off to put family first in the unique and (always) courageous ways we know how: working mom, stay at home mom, or whatever title it is that you are currently wearing.

I'll go ahead and deflate this post.  I'll inhale the helium and make a funny voice to make you smile.  I thought I needed some big announcement to declare, "I'm going home! I'm gonna be a stay at home mom!", but I don't really.  I thought I needed people to rally by my side and congratulate me and wish me luck. And don't get me wrong---I would happily accept all above! But I'm in a happy place right now where I'm not concerned with the difference between me and other women, the race up the ladder, or what I have to prove. I'm at a happy place where I think womanhood rocks and being a mother is powerful and it's a super challenging job regardless of our titles and that unity is to be celebrated!  

Most of all, I'm here to tell you that all those questions I had about those elusive, off the grid mommies will now get answered by me.  I plan on spelling out for you how I've lost my sanity, detail my attempts to manage a string of endless days, and narrate both the joys and the horrors of the Real Housewife of Three Boys Under Four.  And you might get lucky one day and happen upon a post which throws a volatile, "This stay at home mom stuff is crap!" your way when you are least expecting it.  

"Why, Mommy?"

I had just told Thomas, my two year old, that we would eat chocolate cake but that we would share: one plate, one glass of milk, one fork, one piece.

I opened up the fridge and grabbed the container of milk. As I shut the door, I heard my son ask, "Why, Mommy?" with his head tilted to his right and his palms facing up and out beyond his shoulders in that universal stance of questioning.  I stood at the counter smiling at his look of query. Oh, happy day!

He has no idea what this means.  Maybe, even, he's like the rest of us---big people, adults---who think things so often, the line between said and unsaid is fuzzy.  Maybe he has been thinking Why? for quite a while now, but I know this is the first time I've heard it.

So, what does this mean? Why am I thrilled about this simple two-worded question?

1. You remember Discipline Reform School, or whatever it was I referred to it as? Well, that's going great and all, but I'm still at home with a toddler, one whose unrivaled fight for independence and authority is not quite an equal match to his entry-level vocabulary.  The use of that simple word why means another outlet for preventing and diffusing frustration. I try my best to explain to him why he shouldn't touch the flame or spray me with jet-force blasts of water, but I'm so happy that, if I forget, he will remind me to tell him why.

2. All knowledge comes from questions. Well, duh. We all know that. But seriously, pinch my slap happy teacher self!  For the nerdy, lit toting educator that I am, this day, the day my son started asking "Why?" is more significant than all those benchmarks in his neglected "baby book".  Forget the day his first tooth pushed through his gums or the day he rolled over unto his back. This is the real stuff! 

Good thing he's not quite old enough to ask, "Mommy, why have you eaten 1/3rd of that birthday cake you made for Daddy?"

Someone's Thomas

My teaching has changed since becoming mom. There is no doubt about that. And in a word, it would be that I have become gentle.  [Don't ask my students. They would argue otherwise. Really.]

There are two ways to motivate students. No. There are two ways to motivate anyone: Fear or Love

Everyone knows what it is to be motivated by fear. Don't miss a utility payment -- someone might turn off your electricity.  Turn in your assignment or you will receive a zero. Do what is expected as my child or I will not speak to you.  Fear traps us between a rock and a hard place, leaving us often in a situation to do what is asked but developing a poor relationship with the person and/or a negative understanding of that experience if it is only fear with which we feel motivated.

But to be motivated by love? This is altogether different. How many of us feel motivated in a way that is encouraging and life-illuminating, in a way that makes us feel whole and free to do so. And how do you motivate students to love literature [or history or math and so on]?

Well, that's not really the only question we have to worry about. It is this first: How do you teach to each individual student? For, the student who feels he/she matters is the student who feels that your subject area might. .... or does!

And this is how I feel when a student approaches my desk, raises her hand, answers a question, shares his prediction, listens to me:

 You are someone's Thomas. [or Thomasina]

You have a story, an experience, a life much greater [to you] than what I teach. And while I will wrap you in English for 50 minutes [and not one minute less] and expect from you great achievements and no excuses, I will look at you and see someone's Thomas.

I vow to respect my students, to show them what it means to matter, to be patient, understanding, and gentle. All while being firmly structured in a practice of sharing with them the great conversation we should all feel compelled to take part in: Literature!

And when I pause from the debate, the questioning, the directions -- they don't realize I'm in absolute awe that there are 21 miracles looking back up at me.