Wednesday February 27, 2013

As of yesterday, I am officially a stay-at-home mom.

I made this decision several months ago, so there wasn’t much drama associated with it, but finally made the phone calls I’d been putting off and told my superintendant and department head that I would not be returning to teaching next year.

This was probably one of the most agonizing decisions of my life, which is funny because it’s what I’ve wanted all my life. For as long as I’ve wanted kids – which is as long as I can remember – I’ve wanted to do what my mom did and stay home to raise them. As I got older, I became more aware of what that entailed – essentially, asking a man to support me while I did this, and then, later, asking a man to support me and make the payments on the student loans I took out for a degree I’m no longer using.

Believe me, I know how fortunate I am to have found someone who not only agrees to do this and who also has a job he works hard at that enables us to have this choice. What I never quite counted on, though, was that I would find a career that is so difficult to put on hold. I know it seems easy – teaching is a job very forgiving to those who want a family, and I can always go back when my children are in school. But it’s also a job that works follows strict pay scales, and it’s hard to find your place on those scales when you re-enter the field years later – and reality says I’ll have to start over at the bottom. Five or six years may not seem like a lot, but I worked hard those five or six years, and I don’t want to see their impact erased. And with English teachers a dime a dozen, will anyone want to hire me unless I want to start from scratch, salary wise? To say nothing of the impact on my retirement prospects, or the fact that our dream of having a house is much further away without my income.

But all this is still secondary to the more important impacts of relinquishing my job. First, I miss my friends. I was so fortunate to work with some truly wonderful people, and I miss interacting with them, in the classroom and the lunchroom, over drinks after school (teachers drink early and often), in the hallways and at meetings. I lost a whole chunk of my social life when I stopped working.

And then, the most visceral impact – the job itself. The satisfaction of a lesson well taught. The outlet for ideas. The interaction with the kids.  Those kids are why I became a teacher, and why I continued teaching through all the things I won’t miss, even a little – things too tiresome to list here.  Chatting with them – no matter the subject – was my favorite part of the job. Our babysitter is a junior in high school and I chatted her ear off so hard the last time I drove her home that I forgot to pay her and she had to remind me.

These things all weighed heavy on my mind as I agonized over my decision, trying to balance them against Klara’s drooly smiles, gleeful giggles, whiny clutching at my legs, 45-minute nap cycles that left us both exhausted and cranky, reading binges that left the floor strewn with every book on her shelf, trips to the library where she crawled away among the stacks faster than I could chase her, hours spent at playgroup where conversations about nursing and teething replaced those about IEPs and curriculum standards. Either way, I felt I would be giving up so much. Finally, my mother put it in black and white for me: going back to teaching was one thing, but going back to a school an hour’s drive away was another. It wouldn’t be good for me or for Klara.

During that conversation, my mother and aunts went on to list the alternatives – finding a job closer to home, subbing, finding a maternity leave position – but I found that once the decision was made not to return to my previous job, the desire to return to work at all evaporated. My agony was about leaving this particular school more than it was about not working. And I think part of it was guilt, and an inflated sense of my own importance. I felt like I’d be abandoning and disappointing my colleagues – the teammates I worked closely with in the junior high – by leaving. What would they do without me? They’d be so sad to see me go. And while I know this is true, to some degree, I also know that, after a moment’s pause, they will move on. I’m replaceable – maybe not easily, but…see my aforementioned comment on English teachers being a dime a dozen.

So now, a few months later, I’m at peace with my decision. And once I made it, I found that, as Klara grows and learns and becomes more fun and more interesting every day, the longing to be back in the classroom has faded until I can’t truthfully say I miss work that much. I’m having fun at home, where we watch “The Bachelor” taped from the night before, take wagon rides around the neighborhood, visit the library –  she runs away now – and have tea parties on the rug.