It’s June. The school year is coming to an end, summer is nearly upon us, vacations are beginning, and most everywhere, teachers are boxing up their classrooms for a well-deserved vacation. It is obvious to most how hard teachers work, and how much time and energy they put into their jobs. Without summer, without vacations, without some kind of a “reset button”, teachers just couldn’t be. I know this because I am a teacher, but with this summer comes a whole new perspective for me.
When I had my son, Joaquin, I had 12 weeks of maternity leave. It came and went so fast that before I knew it I was lining up my books, packing up my breast-pump gear, making my lunch, and setting my alarm for 5:30am. Nothing about my return to work was any different than the millions of women who had done it before me, but nonetheless, that first day was truly the hardest day of my life. I felt awful, I felt alone, I felt so, so sad. The thought of leaving my teeny, tiny son that I hadn’t been away from for more than 4 hours since the moment he was born, was agony. It felt like the most UN-natural thing imaginable and I dreaded it.
Like most of my working friends and fellow teacher-moms told me, it did get easier. That first day was the worst by a long shot. There were the great days and moments when I felt right back in my element, so glad to be working and super productive. And of course, there were the times when I wanted to walk straight out of the building and go home to the only thing I could think about: my baby. I thought about Joaquin non-stop and I called home a lot. In my three months back at work (before summer came) I barely slept, I was sick so often, I was pumping on my incredibly precious “prep-time”, and I was managing a large third grade classroom. In those three months, when I would get home from my 10 hour day, and inhale Joaquin’s baby-ness, I always thought the same thing: “There has got to be a different way to do this”.
I decided that, although it seemed crazy from a financial perspective, I was NOT going to return to teaching in the classroom setting and instead take the plunge to figure it out independently. I had been in Panama for two years and felt that I’d made enough connections to make it work, make anything work – anything that would allow me more time with Joaquin. Luckily my husband Juan was incredibly supportive and always encouraged me when I would start to get too practical and second-guess the idea, even though we both knew that financially it was a huge risk. But now, here I am, looking back on a full school year come and gone that I was not working in a traditional sense, and I am so grateful.
I’ve always been one to “hustle” when it comes to finding ways to make money and in fact, I have always loved being my own boss. I can get pretty creative when I have to and so knowing this about myself helped me to have faith that it would come together, somehow. In the end, my last school year has consisted mostly of private tutoring. I also began three separate Improv Workshops for kids and I began free-lance work for a college consulting company. I make jewelry (an old business of mine) which is all on commission, and I’ve started developing writing-workshops for high school students. I rarely turn down an opportunity or a client and even at times when I find myself venturing into territory I’m not familiar with, I do it anyway. Some months I make almost double what I did as a teacher, and sometimes not. It’s a gamble, it’s not a guarantee…but then again, what in life really is?
In this last school year I entirely achieved what I’d hoped to: I had so much more time with Joaquin. Yes, there have been and will be so many moments when I have felt worried about finances and unsure if I’d have enough clients. Yes, I wonder sometimes if having a gap in my resume is the wisest thing for my teaching career. Yes, there were bumps in the road and at times I had to learn from mistakes. However, there has not been one, single, solitary moment in all of this that I have thought twice about my decision. Similar to my move to Panama, I now look back on a huge choice and see that I thrived in the unknown. These kinds of experiences are precisely what provide me with even more reasons to listen to my instincts, take chances, and believe in what I want. I realize that I was able to make choices and have opportunities that most working mothers probably don’t and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I really bust my tail, day-in and day-out, but because I have more time with my son who is growing faster than I can believe, it is all undeniably worth it.
So as summer unfolds, slow it down and soak it all up – mother or not, teacher or not. Find ways to be aware of the small things that you’re allowed and give yourself credit where it’s due. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” F.B.