“I’m sorry I missed your show.” I’d broken it to him gently–I couldn’t go.
“Nobody came. I almost cried a little because I wanted you to be there.”
I missed the first grade show. They memorized three pages of lines and made character hats for costumes. Declan was a duck. He had duck hat, and duck dialog. It was the essence of duckness.
I couldn’t go. I got the invitation knowing it was smack-dab in the middle of my student’s final exams. Sure, teachers get time off and I never take it, but there are few sacrosanct things in education–certain things teachers shouldn’t miss. Graduation and exams are on that list. I told him ahead of time.
Still, it didn’t prepare me for the look in his eye as he hugged me, quivering lip trying to keep still, and said, “That’s okay, Mommy, I forgive you. But nobody came. I looked into all the people and thought I saw you and I was happy. But it wasn’t you. It was some old lady. I almost cried just a little bit.”
What does a mom say to that? I offered to take him for ice cream to celebrate, but he got a pizza out of me instead. Somehow kids know they can buy off guilt.
I couldn’t chaperone his field trip to the museum the next day. Exams.
“That’s okay, Mommy.” My heart sank just a little bit more.
As a teacher, I have two hundred students who look to me. As a mom I have one little boy who is the center of my world. He’ll end up seeing his teachers more than he sees me during the course of his life. What’s a teacher-mom to do?
“One of the hardest things,” a great educational leader told me, “is being an educator and a parent. I know everything about this school and nothing about my child’s.”
It’s true. By the time I come home from teaching, correcting, planning, it’s tough. I try to spend time with Declan talking about his day, but he’s had a rough little day, too, and he wants to kick back with some video games. He’s getting to the age where I’ve got to step up my game. I’ve got competition.
How can I be a good mom, involved, and balance that work-career relationship? It’s not just teachers who miss cool stuff. It’s parents all over the universe. I’m lucky. My job is somewhat flexible. Many are not.
I see this on parent-teacher night. Sometimes parents work late, go home, pick up little children and drag them across two towns for a five-minute conference with me. I’m deeply honored. Sometimes, they’re working and can’t. Adults have demands–it’s what makes us adults. Children spend their whole lives wanting to be adults and then it hits–that moment they discover adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Responsibility blows chunks.
I try not to feel guilty. In no time in this nation’s history have we catered to kids more. “Sorry, kid. The crops need planting or we’ll starve. Can’t play today. Maybe when they invent grocery stores.”
In the past children didn’t have free time. They worked in the fields. Today, children, if we have them, are our universe. We’ll change our plans for soccer season, birthday parties, and all sorts of nonsense that would’ve been unthinkable in Industrial New England, where kids would leave school to work machines not put on duck plays.
“Kids have it pretty good today,” I think, trying to erase my twenty-first century guilt. Still, it didn’t leave.
I emailed his principal.
“I’m a bad mom. I missed all his stuff.” The principal let me come in and serve lemonade. I served lemonade with pride. I chaperoned recess, and was even invited to spend the rest of the afternoon reading a story and helping with class. I taught a lesson on feeling good about yourself and treating friends with respect. I asked kids to show me their folders, and for just a moment, I felt the world of work–teaching–and being a mom converge.
Declan smiled. I’d redeemed myself. Suddenly the duck play faded into the background and I felt like a good mom once again, the type of mom who comes to the important things.
“Mommy, are you the substitute? Can you be our substitute more? Can you quit your job and teach me?” I told him I can’t but I’d try to take more days to come in and help out.
There won’t be many more years when Declan runs up to me in school, hugs me in public, and admits to being associated with me. I think I’ll enjoy it now.
It’s tough for teacher-moms and working parents everywhere.
We’re all doing the best we can.