Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011 ~ Day 133
Struggling with My Ego

My ego is rearing its ugly head again. I hear it whispering to me, just the faintest sound.

This happens from time to time, and has done so consistently throughout the four years I have now been a stay-at-home mother.

"But you could BE someone!" it says. "You could DO so much."

Like a genie trapped in a golden lamp, something has rubbed against my side today and caused me to yearn a little bit for freedom.

People reading this blog - especially the ones it is intended for (my children) - know that I was a teacher for 10 years. I had an interesting career, a little bit 'out of the box'. Started teaching right out of college before I had a credential; was hired on by a prestigious local private school as an assistant teacher and then later asked to specialize in the teaching of writing.

Specialized in the teaching of writing in multiple classrooms at different schools... altogether, led Writer's Workshops in about 23? 24? classrooms throughout the course of two years. Met a lot of dedicated teachers; met even more amazing children. Went through a heinous romantic breakup that left my ex at the school where we'd taught together (he's still there, 12 years later, along with his wife)... and me out on the street looking for a new job and a new life.

Did some exciting things! Got into graduate school at Harvard and UC Berkeley... chose Cal. Spent the 6 months leading up to my move working for a local university in my town and seeing as much live music as possible with my crew of phenomenal girlfriends. Moved to Berkeley. Adored my roommate. Hated the graduate program.

(Sooooo sorry to two of my dearest friends and consistent blog followers who are proud Cal alum, I'm sure I just wasn't there long enough to give it a real chance!)

Dropped out of grad school, moved to LA to "follow my dreams!" and spent four months trying to break into a career in A&R, otherwise known as the kickass job where you get to go to shows for work, find great bands, get them signed to your record label. Also a very high turnover job... you're only as good as the last band you've signed, meaning how many albums they've sold. Most of the A&R reps I became friends with back in those days got fired within three years of my meeting them.

Learned very fast that what my close band manager pal said was true: "Music business is like any other business. Profit is the bottom line. They don't care about artists in this town. You could be selling snowshoes!"

Hated that. Artists are my passion, business is not. Started thinking about a more fulfilling line of work.

Moved home. Went back to graduate school in my home town - loved the program. Co-managed a band on the side. Saw as much live music as possible. Supported art and artists wherever I could. Fell in love with one of them. Married him.

(Ironically, he has turned out to be a business guy - with me being the artist!)

Taught gifted underprivileged youth at two schools, one public and one public charter. Led some fantastic projects, won a few awards. Felt good about myself every time I looked in the mirror. Loved my work.

Had a baby.


I don't have to explain to any mother or father how much life changes when you have a kid. If you are reading this and you have children, then you know already. If you are reading this and you *don't* yet have kids, there is nothing I could say that would adequately explain it.

Here is just one brief example to illustrate my point:

It's nearly the end of winter term. Grade comments are due for all students. This means a thoughtful paragraph about each one, along with perceptive advice specific to each one. It is 3 in the morning. My baby has been crying for three hours. I am holding him on my lap in the bathroom, consoling him. I have the flu, and he probably does too. My computer is by my side, comments only half finished.

I have just thrown up in the bathtub. I am still holding the baby, who is still crying. The grade comments are only half done. I have to get up for work in the morning in three hours... and my school does not use substitute teachers because it does not believe in them. If I don't show up, my partner teacher will have to carry the burden of our entire student group for the entire day by himself.

There is no obvious solution. I begin to cry too... which makes the baby cry harder.

Something about this picture was not working.

After a lot of careful thought and financial analysis, my husband and I decided it might be time for me to become a stay-at-home mom. We were paying our nanny almost as much as my net salary. We thought we'd wait one more year and see what happened.

Here is what happened, just a few weeks later: We got pregnant again.

I gave notice.

Four years have passed. Three babies in total. I'm working my way back to equilibrium. I am still the same person inside - excited about life, optimistic, yearning to do something of substance in the world. I am also still a mother, and I always will be.

Today I read about a video project edited by one of my former seventh grade Humanities students (he's now a senior in high school)... it's up for a huge honor. His project (and thus the school) has been selected as one of the top five contenders for President Obama's high school commencement challenge. If they win, President Obama himself will come to the school to give their graduation address.

I am so proud!!! He has always been a phenomenally talented kid, and he has the nicest parents in the world. I knew five years ago that he would move mountains in his life and already, he has.

These are the gifts we receive as teachers, to come into contact for a brief window of time with incredible, thirsty minds who soak up all we have to give them before they move on to new learning with different teachers. We are granted for a brief time the opportunity to share our knowledge, compassion and world view with a variety of younger humans who will feed off of them and grow into adults of tremendous worth and substance.

It is a huge honor to be a teacher.
(Not all teachers look at it that way, unfortunately.)

When I read about projects like this, about amazing things that teachers are doing with students to effectively change the world, I feel my ego RISING UP!

I feel that pull back into a world of career success, of high aspirations. I feel the call to "Make Something Of Myself". I too want to be brilliant and amazing again, in the sense that I want to do something LARGE for the world. I want to help a lot of people in my time on this planet. I want my life to have mattered.

I look around.

Snapshot of our home:
Wooden floor in need of sweeping strewn with toys, slippers, language learning materials, a solitary tap shoe. "Shoot," I think to myself. "I need to find that tap shoe before my son's recital this weekend!" I just mopped the kitchen floor but dishes are piled in the sink. I spent three hours this morning folding laundry, having washed 10 loads of it last night with my three children at a laundromat. (They had a blast. I left totally exhausted!)

Our bank account is dry. A high health insurance deductible is eating us alive. I'm just getting back to vibrance after two years of illness.

And then there are my children. The adorable, scruffy, creative, chaotic, fascinating, fractious bunch.

Does it matter to them, at all, that their mommy "used to BE somebody"?
Does it matter to them that I am at home with them? (I think it does.)
Does it matter to them that our house is never tidy and we have no money, if that is the tradeoff for having your mom pick you up at the end of every school day or take care of you all day when you are sick?

My ego begins to quiet down.

Of all the many things that I am - student, teacher, dreamer, writer, wife, mother - the most important one is mother.

What matters most now that I am a mother is clearly whatever is in the best interest of my own children. I'll keep checking their pulse on this issue, but for now, it is very clear that it is in their best interest to have me fully present in their day-to-day lives as the one who does all of the thankless chores that hold their lives together seamlessly.

I'll never forget my friend Shawn*, a nice guy who sat next to me in one of my graduate school classes. His own mother had been a teacher and he mentioned once in a small group session that he had actively resented his mother's students all throughout his childhood because he'd felt like she lavished all of her attention and love upon them, with him sort of shoved out of the way and watching from the sidelines.

Shawn was probably about 26 years old when he told us this story, but you could tell that it still hurt him a little. (Interesting that he too had chosen to be an educator!)

I don't want to be that mom. I don't want to be the mom whose kids feel abandoned and alone because she is so busy giving back to the rest of the world that she doesn't have time for them.

That said, I have HUGE admiration for working mothers and I know so many that balance their lives beautifully. Well adjusted children. Peaceful homes. Retirement savings. They are strong female role models for their daughters and sons, showing clearly that it is possible to have both and do both.

The question then, is this: Is it possible for ME to do both, knowing my own personality. I give 180% to everything I do. Can I be the mother I want to be, if I am already giving my 180% to a job?

With small children at home, the answer is probably no. I tried it for the first 18 months of my oldest son's life and it did not work out well. I am not as superhuman as I want to be. My child got shafted. He didn't know me or feel the radiance or constancy of my love for him. The effects on our relationship linger to this day.

The other day that same son brought home a math "test". This is only the second test he has ever taken, and he was very proud of it. "WOW!!!" I exclaimed when he handed it to me at pickup time. "You know what is SO GREAT about this test? It shows me that you are really understanding math, and math can be so helpful in life!"

he answered very seriously. "I want to be a math genius."

"My son, the math genius!" I smiled, and hugged him warmly. "I believe you are capable of doing anything in the world, my love. I am so proud of you."

My heart began to glow in a different way - not over some personal success that I had achieved but over HIS unique achievement. He is feeling safe and loved in our new community, and beginning to thrive. I have played an important part in that.

The manual tasks I complete on a daily basis are giving my three children a springboard from which to dive into the world and find their own magic in it.

Don't get me wrong... I think the work being done at my former village of schools is life-changing, inspiring, beautiful. I would LOVE to be part of something like that again. I hope that someday both my career AND my family will be flourishing.

But in the end, if I had choose between being honored by the President of the United States vs. working hard (and thanklessly) every day to give my kids the support and guidance they need to find their own solid footing in life... there is no competition.

Presidents stick around for only 4 to 8 years. My children will matter to me eternally.

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