My defining moment as a mom doesn’t have much to do with my daughter. Of course, she is peripherally involved in the story, but actually, if someone had taken a picture of this moment, it would be of me with big fat tears rolling down my face and a giant bag of M&Ms.
Let’s back up.
I am a school psychologist. It’s not exactly one of those careers that anyone starts to dream of as a small child. I didn’t decide to follow this path until well after college, and by the time I finished the long, tumultuous process of grad school and internship, I was 29 – on the older side for a first-year educator. I couldn’t believe my luck when, with zero years of experience, a wonderful school district decided to take a chance on me.
It was, in many ways, a dream job. I struggled a bit at first for sure, but I quickly realized what a special community I was part of. It was such a warm, welcoming place, and I formed many friendships with colleagues throughout the building. I always felt supported, both professionally and emotionally, which was important because I really needed it during those years. On top of being a relatively inexperienced school psychologist, I got married during year one, got pregnant and bought a house during year two, and became a mom – and later a working mom – during year three. I don’t think I could have had as much success as I did through all of that change and growth in my life, had it not been for my job and the support of my colleagues.
It wasn’t until after I came back from maternity leave that I started to think about the possibility of more change. My 40-minute commute was long and became much more stressful when I was carting around my infant. Plus, on the days when my parents watched my daughter, she was in the car for over two hours. While it seemed foolish to give up a job I loved, I couldn’t live with the thought that at some point my school-aged daughter would have her parents 40-60 minutes away from her in opposite directions. I was thrilled, flattered, and terrified when I was ultimately offered a job in another fabulous district just minutes from my home.
On my last day of work, my colleagues threw me an ice cream party. It was a pretty lighthearted affair, but as people said their goodbyes, I began to cry. It was a crying worst-case-scenario – an honest, ugly cry. I couldn’t stop myself. It was one of the first times in my life when I knowingly made and went through with a decision that seemed crazy and stupid. That I thought might very well be a giant mistake. And I did it for the sake of a tiny, squealing, fuzzy-headed bundle of my husband’s likeness. It was a supreme realization of the fact that parenthood requires a level of sacrifice that I truly hadn’t been prepared for. Not just going out to dinner less or having a slightly tighter budget or giving up some sleep. This felt more like jumping out of a plane without a parachute and hoping I would land on something soft.
Probably not having any idea what to say to me at that point (everyone had already done their rounds of, “It’ll be ok,” “You’re doing this for the right reasons,” etc.), someone handed me the leftovers of a giant bag of M&Ms from the party. As I drove away from the building for the last time, sniffling and wiping my nose on my sleeve, I crammed fistfuls of candy into my mouth and began to regain my composure. I repeated in my head what I knew was true:
“I am doing the right thing. This has to be the right thing. I will make this the right thing. I am doing this for her. I am doing this for her. I am doing this for her.”
And the moral of this story is that candy makes everything better! Ha – I wish. But that day really defined my outlook on parenthood, and it allowed me prove to myself that I can be as brave as my daughter needs me to be.