My children’s first day back to school went off without a hitch this year. Days two and three? Not so much. The following words might help explain…”emergency heat-index early dismissals.” Despite having air conditioning in his school, my second grader got sent home at noon on these days while my twelfth grader remained in school for full days because his school had air conditioning. Explanation? Half of the district elementary and middle schools do not have air conditioning and they send all elementary and middle schoolers home early to keep students on the same bus schedule. So, on hot days 50% of K-8 students get sent home from air conditioned schools and unnecessarily lose instructional time. Fabulous. Just fabulous.
The emergency early dismissals left me unexpectedly scrambling to find child care for my second grader. I am a teacher and day two of his school year was the first day of my school year. Leaving school early on the first day really wasn’t an option. My husband, a car sales manager, couldn’t take time off during the last week of the month because it is a critical time in sales. So who came to our last minute rescue? My mother, who owns her own business and manages the care of my 90-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s. I felt incredibly guilty heaping more on my mother’s already overflowing plate. At least I got the call the night before the first emergency early dismissal and I had time to plan for my son’s after school care. I didn’t have that luxury on the second emergency early dismissal day and I left for work that morning not knowing who was going to watch my son that afternoon. Making arrangements for him on my cell phone as I drove to work was frustrating and stressful. I vowed never to be in that situation again, so now I send my son to his former preschool on emergency early dismissal days. He’s not happy about it and I’m not thrilled to spend $42 a pop for the service, but at least the problem is solved. This kept my stress at bay when two additional emergency heat-index early dismissals were called during my son’s second week of school.
In many ways being a teacher is the sweet spot job of a working mom and despite the bumpy start to the school year, I know I am lucky. I have a similar schedule as my children. I get summers off and most of the same vacation days. I can physically leave work in time to pick my kids up from school. My work doesn’t end when the school day ends, though, and I usually spend hours grading papers or creating lesson plans at home after my children go to bed. Like most teachers, I sleep less than I should and cram twelve months of work into ten, but I am not complaining. The trade-off is I can be with my children more than most working parents and spending summers with them is glorious. Even after we cram in all of our doctors appointments, there is plenty of time for relaxation, excursions, and play.
Every August I think about the inevitable return of the frenzied pace of the school year and I feel overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. Absolutely love it. What I don’t love is feeling like I can’t balance my home and work lives well. I never felt this way before I was a parent, but I’ve learned that being a working parent is hard. Really hard. Just when I think I’ve got a groove going at work, the school nurse calls and tells me to pick up my sick child. I try to create meaningful substitute plans in haste and rush out the door to get my kid. Just when I’ve got all my students’ papers graded, meals prepped for the week, and the house cleaned, one of my kids manages to puke…all over the bed…and the rug…in the middle of the night. I clean up the vomit, change the sheets, do a load of laundry, then log onto my computer to write substitute plans before round two of the puking begins. No matter how much I proactively work, plan, and organize, the curve balls come and they come often.
This year I made a deliberate choice to quell the nervous noise that usually fills my head in August. I’ve been a working mom for nearly eighteen years and teacher for over two decades. Despite the curve balls, I know I’ve got this. Worrying about how I am going to balance my kids and my job has never made the balance any easier, so why bother? When August 1st rolled in, I lived in the moment and truly enjoyed the remaining weeks of summer. Stress-free. The emergency early dismissals almost seemed to mock my newfound calm. I didn’t need a reminder that I can’t split myself in half and be in two places at once. I didn’t need a reminder that my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s has worsened and my mother is overburdened. My grandmother’s vacant eyes and my mother’s look of perpetual exhaustion are ever-present reminders. Despite this, I decided I was not going to let a few emergency early dismissals ruin the choice I made to stress less and enjoy more. If nothing else, the emergency early dismissals turned that choice into a promise-a promise I made to myself that I have no intention of breaking. I can’t stop the curve balls from coming and when they arrive, I will deal with them. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I know I’ve got this.