I am a procrastinator. Even when I have something to do that I really love – like writing – I waste my time clicking through facebook and instagram and twitter and the like. Maybe it’s just the time of year – springtime in the schoolyard – or maybe I’ve finally succumbed to the attention deficit culture we live in, but, lately, I cannot stay focused for very long. Maybe, instead, my procrastination is just a side effect of the parental brain. It’s the balancing act of splitting my neurons between my students and their words and actions in our classroom and my children and their words and actions in our home.
Every day, all day, it’s a constant shift back and forth. I wake at 4:30 am. In the hour before I wake our boys at 5:30am (in order to get them to daycare by 6:30am, and in order to get to school by 7:30am) I go over my lessons in my mind, usually switching or making up plans for the day. But once the boys are awake, my mind is only on them: their clothes, their food, their cries, their kisses, their dirty hands and muddy shoes and wet diapers and plastic toys. I steal kisses when I can, but mostly whisk them from room to room in an orchestrated effort to get them out the door on time. By the time I get to school, I’m tired.
Coffee. Water. Email. Chit-chat. Mailbox. Chit-chat. Email. Water. Coffee. As soon as the first bell rings, my adrenaline kicks in, and we’re off. I love teaching. I love the energy of the classroom, the individual personalities of my students, the chance to talk and laugh and consider new ideas. My days fly by, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are myriad storylines circulating and pulsing just under the surface of their faces. They show up to learn and participate but, sometimes, their minds are only partially here. Instead, there are friendships and relationships and due dates and failures, tears and shame and fear and pain; exhaustion and boredom and anger and joy. It’s live theater, really, although the audience is often uninvited and unimpressed.
In some ways, the emotional rollercoaster of a day in the life of a high school classroom is not unlike an evening with toddlers.
We get home around 4:15pm and literally fall on the floor and let the kids crawl all over us. In all honesty: our house is a disaster: the floors are littered with stuffed animals and sleeping bags, a toy violin and a Mr. Potato Head, a yoga mat and a Spiderman chair, Megablocks and rocking chairs. There’s no point in picking it all up unless company is coming over, because one of their favorite games is to pull everything out. Between playtime and dinner and bath time, the evening three hours with our boys are as blurred as the morning three.
When we finally walk out of the boys’ room around 7:30pm, after kissing them goodnight, turning on the oscillating fan for Dylan, and turning on the mobile for Oscar, I barely make it downstairs in time to turn on the monitor before I hear Dylan calling from underneath the door frame, “Mommy, can you hear me?…I just want some water because I’m thirsty.” I’m a pushover, so I bring him the water. He wants me to lay with him “a little bit” and tell a story. I do. And then I tell him it’s time for me to go downstairs. He stares at me for a few seconds, then says, “Okee Dokee goodbye.” I smile, and I melt a little– from heart swell, from exhaustion.
Downstairs, I find my computer, open to the grading website, and stare blankly at the names and scores. I can’t remember why I made this assignment worth so many points. What was I thinking? I start to read. Horrible essays. Careless sentences. Sloppy execution. And I think, they don’t give a damn – why should I? No, no, I tell myself, that’s not what this job is about. It’s about…suddenly, my mind begins to wander again…
I think about the idea of making the world a better place…but it can be so overwhelming, so I try to separate it into little pieces. Parsing the overwrought message into actual, actionable parts. Like what can we do about the crisis on the Mexico-U.S. border? How can we commit to social justice and convince our government that we need to show mercy? How can I prepare for this border trip without being slightly apprehensive about what I might witness, who I might meet, and how it might change me? How can I open my heart to this new experience and grow from it?
And how will I teach my students, my sons, myself, how to show preference to the poor, compassion to the anxious, and love to the vulnerable?
I don’t have the answer. For my students, for my children, or myself. And I’m comfortable with not knowing. But I do know that I love trying to figure it out. I derive an awful lot of personal satisfaction and professional fulfillment in choosing this life.
Despite the nights when bath time is an absolute nightmare – when I get so frustrated with Dylan pretending to be at the YMCA pool, rather than in the bathtub, that he kicks and splashes until the entire room is soaked and I walk out of the room and announce to Josh, “I’m done. I’m just done,” (not even knowing if I mean I’m done parenting for the moment or forever…).
Despite the nights when I feel like students don’t care about what we’re reading in class but it’s my job to try and make them care…
Despite the tough mornings of saying goodbye at daycare, peeling Oscar’s soft arms off from their grip around my neck, sinking my face into his cheeks and whispering I love you, pushing back tears, finding strength and logic to shake off my sensitivity to being away from them, and walking away…
Despite the tug, the pull, the stretch in both directions…
I love it all. And – barring winning the PowerBall – I wouldn’t have it any other way.