Half Life

“Please mom? Can we go the waterfall way?”  all three kids shout from the backseat in unison.

It’s just a dam.  And half the time it’s off and there’s no “waterfall” anyway.  But it means 20 extra minutes with the kids, singing the Despicable Me 3 soundtrack at the top of our lungs before dropping them off to their father.

So I always say yes.  Always.

This is the part of divorce that I wasn’t prepared for…the part where I see my kids less.  While I am a full time teacher, I am a mom first and foremost. I made breakfast each morning.  I packed the lunches, signed the permission slips, did the homework.  I made dinner each night.  I did the baths and showers and the bedtime routine and then also the house cleanup after bedtime routine before slumping exhaustedly and somewhat defeatedly into the couch for the rest of the evening.  365 days a year this is what I did.

It’s not the case anymore.  Two days a week I don’t see them at all.  I always feel like I’m going to be happy about having a break.  “Yay!  No kids tonight!  I can relax, or watch TV, or sleep in a little bit tomorrow morning!”  But that feeling lasts for about an hour and then I just want them with me.

It’s because of this whole half time phenomena that it took me so long to leave.  It was an unhappy and unhealthy marriage for far too long but I couldn’t not see my kids every day.  I assumed they would fall apart.  But in reality, I seem to do way more falling apart without them.  And no matter the sadness we feel at being apart sometimes, we are all happier.  All of us.

I think back on last year and get nauseous knowing how much I put them through when I couldn’t leave, but I couldn’t stay.  The shortness of breath.  The tightness in my chest.  They rush in when I think of last year, a panic attack on the brink every single time. It’s the year I would take back if I could ever take back anything.

But I can’t take it back.  It’s there.  It happened.  It changed us.  It scathed us.  It traumatized us.  But it also taught us.

It taught me it was ok to not see my littles every single day if that meant a better quality of life for all of us.  It taught me to leave the pile of legos for the night if that meant feeling like they were here when they weren’t.  It taught me to put down the phone and really be present in the moments because they were no longer unlimited.

And no matter how much longer it makes the drive, always say yes to waterfalls.

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The Scaries

I think maybe I’m having a mid life crisis.  I’m only 37, so I sincerely hope not.  Since I don’t really know when midlife is, maybe I’m just always in crisis.  That sounds a bit more like it.

Happiness in some life aspects seems to be taking its toll and I’m struggling lately.  While my “relationship” with my ex is always in turmoil, my other key relationships seem to be working rather nicely.  It took me a long time to actually feel confident in my life with Joe.  Seeing as both of us were with other people when we decided to be together, the constant wondering if he’d rather be back with her was always in my mind.  Now, not so much.  I’ve accepted the fact that he wants to be with me and with that acceptance it feels like a giant weight has been lifted.

Additionally, my relationships with my kids has never been better.  While I wish I could see them every day, I do get them for 5 days a week so I know I am lucky.  When they are with me there’s not a lot of emotional breakdowns.  There’s the age appropriate ones of course, but no more of the tantrums and fits where I would contemplate calling a priest for an exorcism.  Without all of the hostility and toxic air that Mike and I would spew around the house, they are thriving and I love having this daily reminder that I did the right thing even though it was incredibly hard.

But now, in the absence of these major life instances to worry about, I actually feel a loss.   One might think that now that I have these things worked out, it’s time to reflect on other items that may have been plaguing me but that I’ve brushed aside.  Yes, this is probably true, but I feel like it’s more than that.  It’s almost as if I’m scared of happiness.  That I look at myself being content and happy and immediately begin to wait for the other shoe to drop.  I begin to worry about not being worried about something so I find something to worry about (the ever present vicious cycle). I think that’s why lately I have been so focused and seemingly unhappy in my career.

For me, the Sunday scaries seem to be a thing of the past…because now they begin on Friday night.  I spend my entire weekend with the idea and unhappiness of going back to work on Monday looming in my mind.  AND. I. HATE. IT. I find new causes and excitements each day.  I get excited about buying in bulk and reducing my plastic usage.  I get excited about making muffins with a new recipe.  I even get excited about starting a new book.  But I can’t get excited about going to work.

Don’t get me wrong, when I get there it really isn’t that bad.  I love my students.  I love feeling like I’m making a difference, at least in the life of one child but ever since I switched schools my enthusiasm for teaching at all has gone lower and lower with each passing day.  Yes, I always felt stressed about teaching and my job…but in a way that everyone does.  This year is different.  I feel like an outsider in this school, locked away in my own little corner, almost as if no one expects me to stay so no one makes the effort.  Everything seems so competitive, almost as if you can only do well if you are doing better than someone else.  It’s completely exhausting.

At Collington I was never really a favorite.  I did my job and I did it well and for that I fell under the radar (not extremely motived to do everything in the school, but also not drowning).  I knew the families and they knew me.  And I had people.  There’s something about working in a school in an atmosphere like that one.  You need people.  You are not going to make it without people.  You band together because you know they get it.  I don’t have people at my new school and that makes it rather lonely.  That, topped with a complete lack of any praise EVER makes it a hard environment to work in day in a day out.

So I stress.  And I stew.  And I worry.  I deliberate.  I panic…literally.  And then I tell myself every single morning as I walk out that door that if it gets to be too much, I can quit.  Or I quietly remind myself that I only have a certain amount of days left of this year and next year is sure to be better.  And these two things seem to be all that is getting me through.

I don’t know why I allow myself to be consumed with the stress of this job ALL THE TIME.  I have to stop.  I spend roughly 7.5 hours there each day. That translates to 35.5 hours at work.  That’s it.  Barely a blip on the 168 hours that are in a week.  And yet I spend the rest of those hours worried about work!  And the saddest part of all?  I’m a 37 year old woman and I keep worrying about if I’m doing a good job.  That’s it. No one tells me I’m not.  But no one tells me I am.

This is ridiculous. I have to be more present in the moment with my kids.  I have to focus more on the good things than stress that is ever present.  I have to stop letting 35.5 hours dictate the rest of my time.

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The Elusive Other Shoe

Things have been good lately.  Really good.

Yes. I’m still annoyed by my job.  Yes.  My kiddos drive me insane.  Yes.  There is never enough time, or money, or resources, or sleep.

But yet, things have been good.

We took all three kiddos on a walk around the neighborhood today.  The boys ran ahead playing Pokemon Go and chatting with a neighbor friend who turns out to be in Ollie’s class at school.  Charlie toddled. And fell.  And begged to be picked up.  And begged to be put down. We, as the grownups, meandered slowly, relishing in the fact that we live in a neighborhood where it’s ok that the kids run ahead of us and Charlie walks in the middle of the road.

There was an instant that I realized this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.  Not days, not months. Years. Probably 5 years if you want to put a number on it. And it was the most amazing feeling.  Nothing extraordinary was happening at that moment or today, and yet, pure bliss.

And then after the bliss comes worry.  Because this kind of happiness doesn’t stay.  At least not for me.  I’m half enjoying the bliss and half waiting for the other shoe to drop.  That elusive shoe that’s always hanging in the background waiting.  Waiting to swoop and and remind you that you’re fallible.  That life is full of ups AND downs.  To bring chaos to the stillness happening around you right now.

So we enjoy the happiness, but on our tiptoes.  Scared to make too much noise.  Scared to make any sudden movements.  Because, as much as we want to believe that this kind of happiness, true and unadulterated happiness, is here to stay, we know that darkness is hiding in the shadows.

So we sit and wait until we hear it…the sound of that shoe hitting the ground.

And then we brace our selves.

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We’ll all float on Ok.

I don’t seem to know who I am anymore.

Not so long ago I felt like I had it all figured out.  I’m a mom.  I’m a runner.  I’m a teacher.  I’m a friend.  Things were going well.  I had a wonderful new daughter, two amazing boys, and a fantastic support system of friends and family.  I literally had no complaints and was perfectly content any happy.

And then I broke…again.

This wasn’t like the first time I felt that I had broke, when my dad had died.  When that happened I feel apart all at once so it was almost easier to out myself back together.  The pieces were right there and easier to find, not scattered over space and time.

I wish I could say I knew the exact moment that it happened, but really it was a series of events that started small, each one separately almost microscopic in size, but together crumbled my world into a million pieces.

I cut back on my running and dropped out of the NYC marathon.

An old friend came back into my life just when I thought I was finally over our past.

I lost a person in my life who I thought was a good friend.

The separation began…and ended…and began…and changed so much that I don’t even know where we are at this point.

Most recently I’ve done things I probably shouldn’t have.  I’ve eaten things I probably shouldn’t have.  I’ve stopped running altogether.  With each passing day, the numbers on the scale keep inching closer to where I said I never wanted to be again.  And the worst part of it all is that I just don’t seem to care.  Not about being a bad person, or losing certain people from my life, or even losing everything I worked for.  None of it.

I feel like I’m on the roundabout on the playground spinning more and more out of control each day.  The sad part is that I know I’m the one that’s pushing it to go faster and faster.  I am in complete and utter control of this and I can’t seem to jump off and just stop. Because I know that when I do I’m going to break even more from the impact.  I know that I’m really going to have to work to find all the pieces and put myself back together again.  Not only in the “now” but in the past too.  The task seems daunting and so impossible that 99% of the time I don’t even have the desire to try.

But then, out of the blue, today happened.  The 1%.  The one glimmer of hope I had been hoping for.

We’re driving to the park and the library and all three kids are squeezed into the back seat.  Charlotte is singing along to Modest Mouse playing in the background while Oliver and Max argued about how many sheep are in an adjoining field.  The sun was shining in the blue sky as wispy clouds float by, my hand out the window rising and falling in the warm air.  I finally felt it.  What I had been longing to feel for so long lately.  A sense of peace and contentment.   A sense of placement.

This is where I was supposed to be.  Maybe not forever, but at least for right now.

And with that tiny feeling of hope, I know that pretty soon I’ll have enough courage to make the leap off the roundabout.  And maybe, just maybe, my feet will actually hit the ground and I’ll be able to pick myself up and begin to collect all the pieces.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter the teaching profession

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” ~Dante Alighieri – Inferno

Most teachers I know believe that this was their calling.  They wanted to work with society’s youngest and most impressionable.  They wanted to “make a difference” and “change the world”.  The wanted to inspire and mold the next generation; the generation that would undoubtedly take over when they eventually perspired.

This was not me.  I never wanted to be a teacher.

I started college as a pre-med student, wanting to be a surgeon first, then a medical research scientist.  Once I discovered that chemistry and I would never be friends, I changed my major (to be honest, there were about 50 in-between) and picked up a dual degree in psychology and sociology.  I was going to go to graduate school and do research about the world; why it was broken, and what I could do to fix it.  Or I’d work at a non-profit.  Or join the Peace Corps.  Eventually I would probably teach, but to the “big kids” and the grown-ups who had a choice about taking my class.

But, as life has a way of showing us, it didn’t work out that way.  My senior year of college brought forth: a disastrous internship at the Baltimore ACLU, the GRE’s, 9 grad school applications sent out (1 acceptance), and a part time job working at the pre-school on campus.  It was there, working in the pre-K/kindergarten class, where I discovered my love of the little people; the tiny scholars who would one day change the world.  I discovered beginning writing, circle time, centers, recess and story time. I discovered a lovely world full of hope and amazingness.

And I also discovered something I was actually good at.  I remember the exact day, sitting on the carpet with my “friends” and realizing that this is what I wanted to do…forever.  I immediately found graduate schools education, got my M.Ed. in early childhood education, got certified, and embarked on my life path. I was ready to change the world, one five year old at a time.

Fast forward to 6 years post grad school.  I am no longer a teacher.  Yes, I work at a public school in Baltimore.  Yes, I am in a classroom. But I am no longer a teacher.

I am a data analyst.

I am a paper pusher.

I am a photo copier.

I am a lesson planner.

But I am not a teacher.

I was hired to be a teacher, but I very rarely get to do my job.

Beginning writing is now forced handwriting.  Circle time and morning meeting (character and community building parts of the day) only happen if we can keep it under 10 minutes.  Centers are nonexistent because I’m usually either still teaching my pre-prescribed scripted lessons from the district (yet still have to write multi-page lesson plans) or I am testing and the rest of the class has to do busy work.  Recess?  What’s that?  We barely have time to look out the window to check the weather for our weather graph let alone go outside and PLAY.

The other part of my day I get to be a bouncer and break up fights, stomp on sassy attitudes, and continually call and text parents of disrespectful students.  Why?  Because their ENTIRE day is one big structured minute after another and they get NO time to act their age.  We can barely take a bathroom break without it interrupting too much instruction.  And even then I could bet you that most of them don’t actually have to use it: they simply just want to get up and walk around for a minute and just be.  But I have to get through it all.  Whether they can do it or not.  Whether we’re ready or not.  Because if not, I’m the failure.  Not them.  Not the system.  Not the district.  Me.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I think this may be the year I decide to not be a “teacher” anymore.  It’s just too much and I can’t keep up with all the “extra” non-teaching things I have to do on a daily basis.  I’ve said before that there is no way I can be an effective parent and an effective teacher and I whole heartedly believe that because by the time I get home after working a 8+ hour day I still have to make dinner, pack lunches, and spend quality time with three of my own little people.  By the time I finally sit down at 9 pm to do the 2-3 hours of nightly work that I have before going back to school tomorrow, I AM DONE.

So something gets dropped.  We eat pizza instead of a healthy meal.  I put on a movie so I can work.  I just don’t get the school stuff done and I look bad.  And once I’m caught up, the vicious cycle starts over and over and over again.

There are lovely moments, don’t get me wrong.  But that’s what they are – moments.  Fleeting glimpses of what teaching used to be.  Smiles and math manipulatives and bright-eyed understanding.  And it’s always just enough to get me to think maybe it’s not so bad.  Maybe I can keep doing this.  Maybe I’m over reacting.

But then I check my email.  Or get a text from an administrator about something I forgot to do.  And I realize there is no winning.  Not for me, or my colleagues, or the students.  There’s simply getting by.  And I know this isn’t enough.

Are we ever going to be able to just TEACH?

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Today was a good day

Today was actually a good day.  It’s hard to pinpoint what made it a good day, it just was.  And the funniest part?  School actually contributed to my good mood (somewhat).

The morning started out like any other with the millions of children (I have 34) coming into the classroom for breakfast.  We did our thing like always; we ate breakfast, changed to our leveled reading classes and continued about our morning.  Nothing remarkable, nothing mood altering, just typical Wednesday.  For the most part, everyone worked hard, everyone was respectful, and everyone walked out with a little bit more understanding of why character traits are important in a narrative.

Then it was time to change back to our homeroom classes.  This is usually a busy and loud time of day where I just feel like screaming “SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET FOR 5 MINUTES!” I stepped in the hall to talk to another teacher about a student when I slipped on something and went down hard.  There were a quite a few students in the hall, but it was pretty anticlimactic.   It didn’t hurt (though I have a giant bruise now).  But what happened next did.

Someone laughed.  And not just someone.  A child.  An 8 year old laughed at me.  And then I cried.  I wasn’t crying because I fell, I was crying because an 8 year old was mean to me.  Yes.  I am 34 years old.  Yes, this kind of disrespect happens at my school daily.  Yes, I realize that kid’s opinion of me means nothing, but in that moment, my feelings were hurt.  By a child.

But then a funny thing happened.  My entire class crowded around me.  Through the chorus of “what’s wrong” and the many, many hugs I was able to tell them I fell and that while I wasn’t hurt, my feelings were hurt by another student.  And they were upset.  They were upset that someone would hurt me, even if it was just my feelings.

And in that moment I felt truly loved by these little people, in a way I don’t think most teachers get to feel, at least not in my school.  In the 11 weeks that I’ve been with my 35 little friends I’ve questioned how much of a difference I’ve actually made in their lives.  Some days I feel like we’re getting somewhere, but most days I want to throw up my hands and walk out.  The fights, petty bickering, and whining and arguing get to me on a daily basis (Seriously, why can’t you just keep your hands to yourself?!?!?!  How is that so hard?????)

But not today.  I heard their concern.  I saw their love.  And for the first time I thought maybe I can do this for the next 100 days.  Maybe we actually are getting somewhere.  Maybe we actually are going to be OK.

From Where I Sit.

“Your life is your message to the world.  Make sure it’s inspiring.”

I sometimes forget people are watching.  I sometimes get so wrapped up in myself that I forget there are other people in the world.  Not only do I forget that I’m being watched, but I forget that people in my life are watching me critically, with eyes open wide to take it all in.  The things I do on an everyday basis are being scooped up by the people, both big and small, and I’m making lasting impressions.

This morning I came downstairs in my ratty running clothes.   The beauty of being on maternity leave is that I don’t ever really have to look nice, especially if I’m not going anywhere during the day. But after I got the kids some breakfast and settled with a short (educational, I promise!) show I walked over the the bookshelf and grabbed my headphones.

“Oh!  Are you going for your run, mom?”

It hit me, just from that one little sentence, how many things in our life just get NOTICED.  Just from that sentence I learned that my 4 year old notices my running and he realizes that it’s a habit (grabbing headphones  = running).  In his own way I think he also realizes how important it is to me (your run).

I was thinking about this as I left the house and started on my way.  A few houses down I saw a neighbor walking his dog.  He’s the kind of neighbor that we’ve said say hi in passing, but we’ve never really spoken.  As I passed him he says. “I was wondering when you were going to get back to running!  I had noticed you stopped and didn’t know why until I saw you out with the baby the other day.  It’s great that you’re getting back to it.  I used to enjoy watching you pass.  You were doing a great job.”

While my son noticed every time I was headed out for a run, other people who I had no real connection to were also noticing when I wasn’t running.  Impressions are made in the big moments, but also in the small moments too.  It can be in the grabbing of head phones, the handing handing of a book, a quick hello or nod as you pass by.

And with these little moments I begin to realize that maybe others are noticing me too.  As much as I look to others for inspiration, I hope that I am inspiring others as well.  I hope that my son who sees how much my runs mean to me finds something in his life that gives him that much joy and pleasure.  I know I don’t look like a “typical” runner, but I hope that inspires those that are too scared to run because of fear of judgement.   I hope that I can show others that if I can do it, they can do it.

It’s not necessarily about running, but really just getting out there and doing that thing you’re scared to do.  Fear of doing something is usually manifested simply by fear of judgment from others.  I was always scared that people would judge me as a runner simply because I was slow or didn’t look the part.  But If I never would have gotten out there, I wouldn’t be where I am now…completely in love with this “thing”.  It’s made me push myself and challenge myself in ways I never thought I could.

I hope that people look at me and my journey and realize there’s nothing to fear except fear.  That sometimes you have to jump.  That if you’re willing to take the leap of faith when everything tells you you shouldn’t you might just find something amazing.  You might just find yourself.

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