by Melissa Face
When my daughter’s kindergarten teacher called me at 10:00 in the morning, I stepped outside my own classroom and took her call. Delaney had woken up with a cough and hoarse voice, and though I was hoping she would get through the school day, I was also expecting she might not.
“Delaney is asking to go home,” her teacher said. “She’s upset and saying she just wants her mama.”
“Tell her I will be there in a few minutes. I need to write down some sub plans,” I told Delaney’s teacher.
I could have checked with my husband to see if he was free; we’ve split our work day in the past in order to take sick kids to the doctor. But I didn’t. Delaney asked for me, so I made arrangements to go get her. I notified the office that I would need coverage, organized my plans for my students, then filled out a leave slip and left.
While I was driving to my daughter’s school, I thought about an interview I watched recently on The Today Show about moms “having it all.” The guest, a local author and entrepreneur stated that moms can have it all, but can’t necessarily do it all themselves, meaning there are times when we must delegate certain tasks and responsibilities.
I thought about whether or not I agreed with her. I wondered what I could possibly delegate to someone else.
But for starters, what does “having it all” even mean?
When this phrase is used, it is often in the context of a mom who has a fulfilling, rewarding career and is also fully involved in raising her children. I am not using “fully involved” by accident, either. Working full time and parenting feel a lot like being on fire and not in the casual, upbeat meaning of having a string of successes.
So do I “have it all”?
I get to spend each workday with talented, artistic sophomores. We discuss classic literature, modern novels, and important worldly issues. We practice grammar, complete journal entries, study vocabulary, and improve our writing.
I am fortunate that my days are never boring or repetitive. Even the same lesson will solicit different discussion topics each class period. Plus, I always have the option to instruct in a slightly different manner, learn from the mistakes of a previous class period, and improve my delivery the next time around.
Another great part of my job is the schedule. I am able to pick up my children from aftercare at a reasonable time in the afternoon and help them get started with homework before my husband gets out for the evening. And then there are the breaks. I am fortunate to spend ten weeks with them in the summer, in addition to spring break, winter break, major holidays, and snow days. I am “fully involved” in every aspect of their lives, and I love it.
But do I “have it all”? Sometimes I think I do.
But then there are days like last Thursday, when I sat in a monthly faculty meeting, listening to coworkers receive accolades for their hard work and commitment levels. In that moment, I realized I definitely do not “have it all.” And the main reason for that is a big part of “having it all”, for me, means feeling appreciated for what I do and the sacrifices I make.
One of the employees praised at the meeting had recently taken on coaching the volleyball team as the season was about to begin. That was an honorable thing for him to do; the team needed a coach. Another teacher received accolades for agreeing to take on sponsorship of the junior class, an important and time-consuming responsibility. And though these extra tasks come with stipends, that monetary amount never compensates for the time and work individuals put in.
Taking on more responsibility at work is not an option for me right now. I will never be interested in a coaching position, and it will be years before I can dedicate the time required to serve as a class sponsor. At that meeting, I felt like if these are the things that bring the most value to the school and constitute a “great” employee, then I may never be one. I left work that afternoon feeling depressed about my job and disappointed in the myth of “having it all.”
I felt like giving it my all in my classroom isn’t enough anymore. Brainstorming lessons in my time off and right before I fall asleep isn’t enough. Correcting student papers in the car, while leaving for a weekend trip with my family isn’t enough. Working while worrying about a feverish child isn’t enough. And finding the mental energy to type up lesson plans at 5:00 in the morning, after cleaning vomit off my five-year-old daughter isn’t enough.
It isn’t enough anymore. And was it ever enough?
The really sad thing is that there are few careers with schedules more conducive to parenting than a teaching job. And though I have never had my sick leave or time off questioned in my current position, I was reminded of my days missed on a summative evaluation at a previous school. I had to sign off on a document that stated I had missed 25 days during that contract year, the year I gave birth to my first child. Never mind the fact that I had to use my own sick leave for some days; some were unpaid, and I purchased a short-term disability policy to cover the difference. Purchased it. Out of my monthly, pre-tax income.
“It doesn’t count against you,” the assistant principal told me, when she asked me to sign. But I felt it was unfair for them to type my maternity leave on my end of year evaluation in the first place. My husband didn’t have to sign anything about his paternity leave at his job. It served as another reminder of never being able to give enough as a working mother.
So do I “have it all”?
I definitely do not. But I do have what is important. I have a husband who believes I can do anything I want and who helps me every step of the way. I have two children who are curious, interesting and kind and who appreciate everything they have and everything I do for them.
I have a job that makes a difference, coworkers who are supportive, and students who try their best to make up for the areas in which our government has fallen short.
Teaching, though I do love it, is not my sole identity. I won’t burn my candle to the end for this job or any other. And I shouldn’t be asked to in order to feel valued.
At this stage of life, no one needs me more than my two children do. So if choosing them means that my name is never called for employee of the month at a faculty meeting, I can live with that.
I don’t need to “have it all.” I just need what matters.