I am home today. Which is to say, I am not at work. Which is to say, I feel like a slacker.
So. When one is home, as I myself have now discovered. There are a few things that sometimes occur. Sometimes large brown security trucks arrive unannounced in your driveway, with the unspoken expectation hanging there like a cloud over one’s head, that one must needs come to the door armed themselves with all the right answers.
Which is to say. The UPS guy just dropped by the house.
And I must say: he quite caught me off-guard. I almost didn’t come to the door. Me, with yoga pants on, hair done up in a purple butterfly clip and no make-up. Scary, female stuff. Working blue-collar guys just might not understand this stuff. But I am only surmising. Nevertheless. He looked as surprised to see a human being home as I was to hear the knock at the door, surprise which quickly turned for him to annoyance. It appears my husband had forgotten to inform me of this little visit from UPS, and the important package I should have had ready. No matter. He’s gone now. Off to do his important, adult job which quite possible could include harassing other unsuspecting housewives over packages their husbands forgot to mention.
All in a day’s work.
Today is meant for me to be a mental health day off from my real life (where I practice being an able-bodied, competent adult.) Again, which is to say: I often moonlight as a scared and tired, unable preschooler because that’s how humans roll sometimes, if we’re being honest. Adults are just kids whose skin has stretched. And truthfully, mental health days are sometimes necessary, even for me. And right now, especially for me. Because my life is not as perfect as it might seem from the outside(as if anyone’s ever is). And mental health counts as whole body wellness. And then some, I might add.
So I am home today, healing a few things from the inside out. And in order to be at home today, I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. this morning, so as to prepare my lesson plan at sharply 6:15 a.m. After which, I drove into the school for 6:40 a.m. to get my sub plan ready. And all this, so I could take my most-needed mental health day off from work.
All in a day’s work.
I love the school at 6:40 a.m. I move quietly around the classroom, preparing sheets, books, homework bags. Readying supplies, sticking Post-It notes on everything. Photocopying. You know, the usual teacher stuff. I love the quiet, the peace. The calm. So still. I can think without interruptions. Some people ask me why I go into school sometimes late at night to prepare for the next day’s lessons, and I have to answer that question in this way: the school after-hours, is for me, a respite. After the hectic events of the school day, that building is the quietest, most peaceful place I know.
It reminds me of a book in my classroom called My Teacher Sleeps in School. Which has done wonders in unravelling the mysterious myth that teachers have no life outside the confines of the four classroom walls. Now, if parents could only read the book.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Do I enjoy teaching this age?” (I teach Kindergarten), which really threw me for a loop. As those kinds of questions often do. Whenever I am asked questions like “Do I enjoy teaching?” or the more broad “Do I enjoy parenting?” or the more specific “Do I enjoy having a big family?”: I feel like it’s a test. Like I am completing an exam. And we all know, when writing exams or when answering those kinds of questions- there is always a right or a wrong answer.
I wish they’d just ask me if I have ever tried licking my elbow. For the record, I have.
In general, I have come to believe that quite often, people don’t really want to know the real answer to tough questions about life. They want to hear you say the right answer. That “yes,” you love “altruistically laying your life on the altar of self-sacrifice and that you get a secret thrilling satisfaction from doing everything the above questions entail, including but not limited to refereeing disputes and laminating holiday crafts of every variety, to wiping snotty noses (this one is geared to the middle and last questions) and changing bums, to acting as a chauffeur and making household ground rules only to have them broken the minute they’re been issued.”
I quite like all that. Really. I do.
But if that was the real reason I decided to be a teacher, or a parent or a mother, I’d have to be truthful. There’d be more mental health days than just the present one I’m on right now. Because quite honestly, I don’t really love all those latter parts of my job, as it concerns both being a parent or a teacher. Or as it concerns being a mother, to up the ante even more. The above answer is more about the details that sometimes complicate my love of this Life that I am living. Not so much about my motive. And we all know that details sometimes weigh us down. The records I am required to keep, the list making. The unrecognized acts of service: like wiping up bloody noses and picking freshly chewed up wads of gum off the classroom floor or dispensing of crumpled up food containers that didn’t quite make it in the right waste receptacle. The constant, continual reminders, to follow the classroom rules. The late nights and early mornings. The duty days with no regular pee breaks.
Acts of service that sometimes go unnoticed. It’s all in the details.
Details like rushing home so as to throw supper on before rushing back to pick up kids from after school programs, then making sure everyone has practiced their piano, done their homework and hung up their coat, even if that means receiving the Meanest Mommy Award in the process. Details like sifting through back-packs and lunchboxes so as to ensure everyone has their ‘favorites’ and enough of these goodies to last at least three feedings throughout the day; along with all papers signed and ready to go, mittens, hats, boots, coats. Oh! And Pajamas, teddy bears, slippers and housecoats packed, if it happens to be Winter Carnival. Details like filling medicine vials for one while slathering Vapo-Rub on another, while lying down with another who is just a wee bit scared of being alone. Details like acting as the presiding judge over such important cases as “who really did touch that donut first” or “who let one go during bedtime story.”
Details like listening to your children’s hearts and navigating through the clutter of everyday life. To search out and know, I mean really know the issues that matter to them. The issues that are important in understanding another human being, as precious as a child. Details that help shape a person into a good citizen, details that make or break a person’s character. Details. But so important to the job. Without such, there would be no job. The details could be defined in this way: all that essential stuff that makes a person a teacher, a woman a mother, a human being a citizen: stuff the life manuls, textbooks and baby books never covered. You can’t fault a book. They just forgot to include that life isn’t really all in the details. Sometimes life is more complicated than that.
I’ve read articles on parenting and have had really deep discussions about teaching with my colleagues. And the question I hear asked or that I am asked myself, is this one: “What makes a good teacher, parent, mother, human being?” And I have thought long and hard about this one.
Because the right answer, I think, is also the real answer.
We human beings in general can forget that life is about caring. We can feel these expectations weighing down on us. Feeling the pressure on us, so much so that we think that if we slack off in any aspect of our lives- whether that be the job, in the homes, in relationships, through unspoken expectations we have placed on ourselves- that we are failing to live up to a certain standard. Some people oddly, yet joyfully align themselves as slackers. And I’ll admit it. There is a freedom that comes in admitting you cannot do your job perfectly well. And for those who don’t take the pressure off themselves, there can be enormous guilt from not living up to expectations, whether those be for a job or a home. But for either/or: if a person ultimately CARES about what they do, it really doesn’t matter how well they think they are doing. Or not. What matters is their concern about the matter.
Caring about something indicates your heart is in the right place. You cannot qualify care. You either have it, or you do not.
The thing is. We all want to do our best. Those who openly say they don’t care, and those who inwardly beat themselves up because they do, we all care about what we do. We care, because we are human. We care about what we do because to not care would be to not be human. And caring is just a form of kindness. When we care, we show kindness. Whether that be showing care to one’s students, co-workers or one’s children. Care indicates kindness.
All of life is really about kindness.
The question that matters in everything is this: “Are you kind?”
I write a message to my Kindergarten students everyday to reinforce learning outcomes, and the latest area of teaching has been regarding the area of punctuation in writing. So this week, I introduced quotation marks. Every day, I write a new quotation at the end of my message, all in the hopes that the students will “get it.” The punctuation, that is. I am such an intentional teacher, teaching quotation marks to Kindergartners. But I digress. So this morning, I was finishing up my message, all while searching my mind for a quotation to put in the message. I began looking around the classroom, and the very last line of our collaboratively created class rules caught my eye: Show others you care.
Which is to say, I wrote the following: “Show others you care,” said Mrs. Gard. And as I was writing, I began to see that teaching quotations marks is not the lesson.
The message was the lesson. “Show others you care.”
Is this not all of life summed up in a line? Is it not the answer to those hardest of questions? Do I like teaching this age or that age? Yes I like teaching- not because of the outcomes or grade level-expectations: but because I care about the students. Do I like my job? Yes. Because I care about the people with whom I interact. Do I like parenting? (And here is where the questions get harder…) No, I don’t always like parenting, but I like being a parent. Because I care about my kids. Do I like mothering? No, I don’t always like mothering, but I love my children. And because I care about them, it makes everything else worthwhile.
Do I like the details that weigh me down in my various roles of Life? No. Do I always even like my own four sweet children? No. But I love them. (No one ever said you had to like ‘em or their peculiar habits and annoying ways.) Do I have to love the details in order to love The Life? No. But I have to love the people who are affected by the details, who often create the messiness of the details, that hinder me from understanding the true meaning of life. That life is about love. And love is borne of care. And care is just another word for kindness.
The right answer to the hard questions about people is always this: to care about them. If we care, it takes care of the sordid details. Caring makes everyone and everything else worthwhile. And if there is one message in life that I would have my students learn, indeed my Flesh and Blood- my own four beautiful babies learn, it is this. That all of human relationships- both work-related and home-related boil down to this underlying principle: caring and kindness are what they are all about. And when we practice these two in tandem, it makes all the difference for everything else.