Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who am I?

12 years ago today was my last day teaching high school English. We had school conferences that day, shortened classes, and minimal Saint Patty's hoopla.

I went home, waddled around a while, and went to bed, only to be awakened by my water breaking in the middle of the night. Tom scrambled to find a tarp to protect the upholstery of our new minivan from my leaky self. I, of course, told him to get a grip and get me the heck to the hospital.

But this post isn't about Tom, or about my sweet baby born 12 years ago tomorrow, or how I lost the 52 lbs of baby weight. It's about me.

A dozen.

How can it be 12 years since I've taught school? That's more than a decade. Do I still call myself a teacher? Should I? Do I have the right?

I taught for 6 years, yet have been "semi-retired" for 12. Now I work part-time at a church, but teaching plays no role in that position.

Was this all part of a master plan that Tom and I formulated in the 90's? Have 2 kids, stay home for a decade, then go back to work part-time? No, like a lot of things, it just kind of happened that way.

It wasn't that I was terribly opposed to having someone else watch Jake for me, but with Tom's insane hours at work and our limited support system, I just couldn't figure out how to SWING it, even part-time. It all just seemed like so MUCH.

A second master's degree to become a librarian fell by the wayside when I couldn't figure out how to care for a constantly nursing child and still attend classes.

Even though I never considered it then, and just plunged into a wonderful decade of staying home, now I wonder if I am comfortable being so dependent on my husband's income, a situation not so very different from that of my mother, who married in 19 flipping SIXTY-THREE.

If I had kept on teaching, I would be making $75,000 by now. Going back tomorrow would earn me far less, but not nearly as little as I make at my part-time job, which pays for the groceries. Almost.

6 years teaching, 12 years not.

This makes me think of other milestones. Like being a daughter who has been alive longer without a mother than with one.

I think of the past and the future.

I think of planning and intentionality.

I have friends who PLANNED out their lives: how many kids, how big a house by which year, etc., in the same amount of time Tom and I took to decide whether we should get a pillow top mattress (no). They had goals. They looked at the big picture, not just the day to day. And of course, as we all know, not all of those plans came to fruition, but many did.

But life happens whether we plan for it or not. Sometimes life happens despite our plans.

I tend to live in the land of inertia, feeling that life happens TO me. I've realized, at age 41, that this is not the way I want to live.

I think rather than a life of planning, however, I yearn for a life of intentionality. What would I like the future to look like? My friendships? My family relationships? My faith? My career? How can I make a difference in the world? How do I get there from here?

I would like to face these questions with honesty, and optimism. Not a to-do list per se but perhaps a "will be" list.

And, as I am not known for my follow-through OR my big picture thinking, let's revisit this issue together...say in about 12 years?


Gretchen said...

anna, I am close to this. 5 years teaching, now on my 11th year out.

I often wonder, if I'd just FORCED myself to keep going, to FIND a sitter & keep teaching, would my life be better? Certainly I'd be making more money and we'd be living comfortably. But would it maybe be worse? Probably I'd have not tried for more children as soon as I did, and my marriage would have been stressful with us both working long hours & being so far away from family.

I often think of it this way: Life is not the consequences that happen to us, but rather how we deal with those consequences (of our choices). Do we find thankfulness in the present situation, or do we linger on regret of the situation that is out of our grasp? Do we praise God and trust him for the path he's leading us down, or do we fight him and question his guidance?

I am guilty of it all. I've cried that it's not fair. I've gotten angry about how I've lost myself while my husband gets fulfilled in his career. I've been all over the map - sometimes thankful, other times bitter. Sometimes trusting, other times questioning.

One last tidbit: relish your role as a wife and mother. These are not static roles, just meant to be like bookmarks of our life. They are positions which are blessed by God and he encourages us to be a positive female role-model to other women (including our daughters) and instructs us to be a partner to our husband as he is a partner to us. Don't look at the place you're at as a failure to achieve something more. Look at it as the exact place God intended you to be.

You are so amazing and I don't know how much you inspire other women JUST ON THIS BLOG through your stories, your helpful homemaking tips, and your pure joy. I am so much better for knowing you, Anna.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

If it makes you feel any better, your decision to not get a pillow top mattress was a good one. My husband had one when we married, and it just didn't like up to the hype.

Can you call yourself a teacher? Hm, from someone who entered the field "late," I'd say maybe... Not because you couldn't be one again, but because in the 13 years I've been in the classroom things have shifted so much. So much is the same, but even more is different. But, honestly, once a teacher always a teacher. (My husband has not pastored a church in over a decade, but he is still every bit a minister.) Would you like to teach again? I'm sure you'd adapt!

Around here, it's impossible to get a job. All of our non-tenure teachers were RIF'd yesterday. And so someone with six years experience and a master's would be a financial no go for payroll reasons.

I'd look at your situation as a blessing. You have choices, not all of which have unfolded for you. You have the blessing to have stayed home with your kids. You have the blessing of an education. Something will occur to you before the next 12 years pass by!

Ellen aka Ellie said...

PS--I am very jealous of stay at home moms having never had that option. So hold that thought for a while, you are envied!

Unknown said...

Very thought provoking. I haven't worked since 1999--is that 12 years? Can it possibly be? Wow. I often feel I've gone through life like a leaf in a creek--just bumping along dealing with things as they come along, not anticipating, not planning. Just going with the flow. And I don't like it. I don't like planning, but I also don't like NOT planning. I'll be very interested to see how you become intentional. said...

Ah this is a lovely post Anna.... And it's funny because here you are commenting about wanting to think in the big picture and I was just telling hubs I need to stop planning things out. I like to know things in advance. I always am looking forward to something being over and going on to the next thing (i.e. school). I rarely live in the moment and enjoy the day - I'm always trying to get to the next. So, while you do that I'll try to be more like you and take more time to think through decisions and realize that life is too short to try to structure it so much.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I didn't stay home until a couple of years ago - but the jobs I did have don't contribute anything to the future that I dream of. No more any any other job, I mean.

I see these twenty somethings doing exciting, creative things and I'm left with a sense of lost time.

Ah - the stuff that midlife crises are made of...

At least I know I won't take a mistress or buy a flashy red sports car. I totally can't afford either.

Nichole@40daysof said...

It's so great to know that lots of people have these thoughts about their life.

I know your kids probably don't say it, but they love having you around. My mom couldn't be, because she had to work to feed us. But I wanted her to be home so badly. Kuddos to you for being there. :)

Anonymous said...

I too flow along, without being super deliberate about anything. It's probably the main trait that I will regret about myself as I lie on my deathbed. Good luck with your grappling. Embracing intentionality is tough; I struggle with it daily.


mosey (kim) said...

I was forced out of my career by layoffs when my daughter was an infant, but it ended up being the best thing that could have happened. But I've now been out of that career for almost seven years and can't see how re-entry is possible. I work occasional freelance projects and hope that eventually they will lead to more meaningful work as Sweetpea needs me less and less...

It's tough contemplating both roles when our babes are young. I think your "intentions" are a great way to start making baby steps. Thanks for sharing!

dearheart said...

I operate on inertia too and my lack of purpose and long term goal setting nags at me daily. And it doesn't seem to matter if I'm feeling happy at my current place in life.

I sometimes wonder if the anxiety/reflections motivate us to achieve some small portion of our dreams. And that's something. Kind of like tackling that hideous laundry pile.

TwoWishes Tara said...

As a high schooler, I spent a summer as an exchange student in Germany. The mother of my German family was a teacher. She had been at home with her children for 18 years, but they explained to me that the German approach was "once a _____, always a _____."

At the time, I thought that was weird. It seemed so much more accurate to call her a stay-at-home mom. Now that I stay at home, though, I kind of get it.

I think a lot of the problem is how people de-value the work of stay-at-home mothers. If strangers ask what I do, I get a WHOLE different set of reactions to "stay-at-home mom" versus "securities lawyer." And yet they're both true, in the sense of my full range of talents and experience. And I find "mom" a lot harder, in terms of psychological challenges and lack of career and financial positive feedback.

Look forward to hearing more about your journey toward your own fulfillment.... At least know that you are FAR from alone in asking the questions!

Heidi said...

I like the "will be" of this. Rather than "to do". I like that a lot. I don't know if I have anything to add, but I just wanted to say that I get this.

Anonymous said...

I had that same question. I must be a bit more of a planner.... I did start worrying about it a little sooner :) when my oldest was in 2nd grade.

I agonized about it. I was volunteering at least weekly working with almost-on-an-IEP students and had a paper hanging on my wall that said "Master of Math Education". I wondered if it was the absence of a paycheck or the fact that my neighbors thought I was just a stay-at-home-mom. Visits to the doctors and other places with an "Occupation:" blanks on their forms made me frantic.

In the wake of 9/11, my part-time job fell apart as the coworkers that I telecommunicated with watched the buildings fall hours from my home. I had a 7, 5, and 3 year old... and was suddenly pondering the BIG question: Is this the life we imagined? is the the life I imagined?!

Within a year, I quit my part-time job and upped my volunteer hours. Finally, I applied for a part-time teaching position... and took it... just to prove I still had it. And to feel justified in referring to myself as a teacher.

Since then I have dabbled here and there with teaching, volunteering, programming, and none of the above. And I've come to realize that I AM, and always was, a teacher. There are surely some people who can only be identified as teachers by their paycheck... but there are many like me. We are teachers simply because we continue to find ways to share a love of learning with others as frequently as possible.

This blog is evidence enough that you ARE a teacher.... a great teacher!

JoAnna said...

i think once a teacher, always a teacher. i have taught for 15 years and don't have kids. i know if i did have kids and still taught, it would not be pretty for anyone involved. teaching takes almost all of my energy. if i had then had to go home to children, they would get nothing. if i spent it on my kids, my students would get nothing. good for you for being able to stay at home when you needed to.

it's scary to think about going back, i'm sure. things have changed a lot in 12 years. job security is no longer there for those of us who teach.

and as far as the pillow top, i swear it was the worst mattress we've owned! we have the sleep number and that was one of the best uses of my money EVER.

for a different kind of girl said...

Reading this was like really sitting down inside my brain and poking around. I spent seven years working as a newspaper editor and five years in public relations in the nonprofit sector. I was not getting rich by any means, but when my job in the nonprofit was eliminated in a sweeping round of lay-offs, I was secretly thrilled because my youngest son had been born just two months prior and all I wanted to do was stay home with my kids. I'm now staring down the barrel of a decade off from any work involving what I was educated for, and fearing (heck, KNOWING) what I learned all those years ago wouldn't be applicable to jobs I might try for in those same fields. Combine that with not even knowing if I want to work in those fields anymore, fearing being dependent on my husband's primary income, especially in light of life some days, and, well, as much as I love being home with the kids, as much as I wouldn't change that, I know they don't need me as much as they used to, and I wonder who might when I have to give this part of my life all up.

I can't find my blog said...

I'm with you. I worked for years before I stayed at home. It was by design...husband and I both thought that my being home was important. That doesn't change that I sometimes feel way out of it. Honestly, I'm the ONLY one of my local friends that doesn't have a job of some sort. Yeah, economy, whatever. Not that I don't LOVE being home with my kids, but I often wonder what I would be doing if I'd kept working, how much money I'd be making, etc. Although, I know I couldn't have stayed in the restaurant business. The hours aren't very family friendly!

fiona said...

Before I was born, my Mum muddled through a Bachelor's degree, a Masters and a PhD in the obscure world of Medical Ahthropology, but had no real career - just some secreterial work, some subsidised volunteer work... when I was born, she became a stay-at-home mother, and we were dependent on my father's income until I was 11 years old, at which point, living in a different country, and a different educational system, she trained to become a teacher. She has now been teaching for about seven years.

I appreciate hugely that I didn't have a working mother as a child, and though teaching is an unusually high-stress, high-working hours (I think at the moment it's about 60 a week) job I also understood the importance for her to have a job once my younger brother and I moved on to secondary school (I think that's middle school in the U.S.)

I just thought I'd share that.

Anonymous said...

I taught HS English. Then came two babies and a fire and a rebuild, immediately followed by a third new baby, followed within the week by a long-distance move. When my fried, shell-shocked brain finally reignited about three long years later I realized that I had missed renewing my teaching certificate. The "live by the seat of my pants me" figured I had no worries. We were flying high and I couldn't imagine teaching again. We're sputtering now barely avoiding a crash landing each month. I'd love to teach again, but renewing my certificate in my issuing state? Next to impossible and $$$$. Ladies, please keep up your credentials!