When I was in teacher’s college, there were two words that were spoken repeatedly in just about every single class I attended. One of them was reflect, and the other was balance. Back then, those words did nothing more than annoy me – these people kept talking about the importance of having a work-life balance while at the same time making any kind of balance virtually impossible as they piled on assignment after assignment. And most of these assignments were made up of reflections, on everything from childhood experiences to how knitting is really math. By the time I graduated I could make just about anything into a one page ‘reflection’.
I left teacher’s college, pushing the words reflect and balance to the darkest recesses of my mind. I was done with school, ready to experience the world rather than read and write about it. Far off places called to me and I hopped on a plane to meet them. I explored different lands and experimented with different cultures. Walking down a cobblestone street I would look at the world around me and think: Wow. I am on the other side of the world. The other side of the world! And I would smile as I continued on my way, feeling a sense of awe at the pure awesomeness of where I was, like a child seeing the world for the first time.
Then I had a child of my own. I spent one year of complete bliss at home admiring my baby, with nothing more pressing than choosing her next adorable outfit. Watching her explore the world around her, I could feel her sense of awe and wonder, and my life was full. I tried not to think about returning to work, but the first day of work has a way of sneaking up on you and making an entire year disappear in a heartbeat.
I knew it was going to be tough. But, really, I had no idea just how hard it would be. And it wasn’t just about leaving my baby – I mean, she was going to be hanging out with her dad, not some stranger she had no prior relationship with. And it wasn’t about having to return to a job I hated – despite what some people think, teaching is not a profession that you can do if you don’t truly enjoy it. Yes, summer vacation is great, but you need time off after working with thirty pre-adolescents for eight hours a day, five days a week. Not to mention the planning, the meetings, the marking, etc. (I could go on, but I’ll save that rant for another post.) No, the difficult part about going back to work was having to choose. Every day, I had to make a choice between being a good teacher or being a good mother. Now, on the surface that seems like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t choose being a good mother? But having a baby of your own makes you look at your students differently. Suddenly, they stop being someone else’s brat and become someone else’s baby. And denying my best to thirty babies depending on me not just for math and literacy skills, but for advice, acknowledgement, and understanding in order to give it to one of my own felt rather selfish. I couldn’t enjoy being a teacher if I didn’t have the time I needed to be a good one.
When I look back, or reflect, on that first year back at work, I remember the heart-to-heart chats I had with my students; the challenges we overcame together; the heartfelt thanks I received from parents who were thrilled with their child’s progress. But what I think about most is how much of my daughter’s second year I missed. She might not remember it, but I know how fleeting time is, and I know I will never get that time back. I survived that year by crying my heart out to my colleague every day as we carpooled to and from work, then getting pregnant with my second child and counting down the days to another year of maternity leave bliss. When I returned to work after my second child, I was lucky enough to be able to secure a part-time leave, which means that I can work part-time hours without giving up my full-time status. Which means I no longer have to choose between being a good mother or being a good teacher – I can be both. I think I finally understand the importance of that work-life balance they kept talking about in teacher’s college.
Balance is beautiful.