Starting over

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I feel like a first year teacher. Even though I have six years of experience in the classroom (holy crap), taking almost a full year away from teaching makes me feel like I’m starting over.

This is a pretty scary feeling. I’m worried that I’ve forgotten how to actually write lesson plans,  manage a classroom, analyze data, and even respond to my last name and behave professionally (avoiding swear words has always been difficult for me). For example, I’m writing this post after staring at a blank page for several minutes after telling myself, “Ok, plan a unit. Wait, what am I teaching again?” In some ways, returning after a gap is even more daunting than being a true tyro because I know the things now that I didn’t know that I didn’t know as a first year teacher–for example, I know that I need to worry about figuring out the new grading software, and how to deal with the bureaucracy of improvement plans, and scheduling time in the computer labs, and all the other thousand paper cut deaths that await me.

Returning after becoming a parent brings a whole new set of fears and anxieties, too. I’ve never had a really pressing reason to leave school on time, leading me to futz around on planning periods and stay at work way too late. (Historically, I’ve done my best work at 6pm on Fridays because no one is around to help me distract myself.) But now, every minute I procrastinate is another minute my baby is in daycare and not with a parent, and while I’m ok with being away from him for good reasons (work, exercise, pedicures..), I really don’t want to feel like I’ve frittered away my hours with useless crap. So time management, never my strong suit as a teacher, is about to be paramount.

But in other ways, feeling like a new teacher feels really good. I’ve met up with a few colleagues this summer and while I enjoy them immensely as people, I was struck by how negative and beaten down they seem. Much of this is the system of education in our country today and I understand where they’re coming from, but I also feel like my time off has given me the breathing room to cultivate a new perspective. I’m seeing the possibilities instead of the obstacles. That blank page, though daunting, also leaves room for hope, creativity, and connection.

So yeah, I might get beaten down again. Administrators may drown me in paperwork, and my coworkers might let me down and draw me back into the breakroom blahs, and my students might demand way more energy than I have with a kid who still isn’t sleeping through the night. I will probably feel pulled in too many directions and like I can’t do anything 100%. I may regret going back to work. I may decide teaching isn’t for me.

But the idealistic 22 year old who had grand plans to save the world one student at a time is peeking her head out again, and though I thought she was dead, I’m not questioning her resurrection too much. I’m just trying to enjoy the moments–one of the lessons I’m trying to hold on to from my maternity leave.




Taking a breath.

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I’m sitting in a Starbucks after trying finding no parking at the quaint hipster coffee shop in which I was hoping to spend the morning. My husband dropped the baby off at daycare this morning, and I really wanted to make this time worth the distress he is surely feeling.

I go back to work in about four weeks, and we’re starting him early for a number of reasons that I’m trying to keep in mind at this exact moment–he needs to transition in at some time, and it’s probably better now rather than when I’m transitioning back to work too; I am a better parent when I have some time away from the baby to focus on other things; maybe we can get some daycare colds out of the way  before I’m working again; and we’re paying for it, anyway.

Later, I’ll try to write about all of the minutiae of how we got to this daycare decision, but for now, suffice it to say that my son is probably having a really tough time without me or my husband, and I’m not 100% confident that the care he’s receiving is what I would have wanted for him, and despite that, I’m.. ok. Right now, sitting in this Starbucks and listening to the Mazzy Star, Radiohead, and Lisa Loeb that they’re playing, and writing this post without checking the monitor every 10 seconds while drinking the iced coffee I’ve become addicted to this summer.

When I pick up my son, I’ll probably be overwhelmed with guilt if he’s been crying the whole time (likely, if history is an adequate predictor). I’ll do my best not to question my life choices and to, instead, cuddle the hell out of him and be present in the moments I have with him. To bastardize a quote from a random internet article on night weaning, I’ll do my best to “pay the baby” for putting him through this difficult transition by really focusing on him and his needs while I’m with him instead of being distracted and needing a break. I’ll fight the feeling of selfishness and vow to spend this time more productively. I’ll remind myself of all the reasons why sending him to daycare a month before absolutely necessary is a good thing, and try to remember the feeling of lightness in my shoulders while we were apart.

But for now, in this moment (in which I’m also trying to be present and fighting my instinct to overanalyze), I’ll just enjoy breathing.

Reason #3: My “happy weight”

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This is complicated.

I believe in health at any size. I truly do. I believe that fat and size and numbers on the scale should not determine our self worth. I wish that society was more accepting of different body types, and I know that I am loved however my body looks.

And I believe that the vast majority of the time, diets don’t work–there’s lots of science behind that. It’s important to eat in ways that make you feel healthy and energetic and fit, and it’s important to exercise because a strong body is just plain useful and helps you, you know, not die prematurely (although, of course, exercise alone rarely helps people lose weight..)

And scientific research is changing its recommendations constantly about the best way to be healthy (or sometimes misleading the public unintentionally or not through the vast game of telephone with the media). But the overall gist remains the same–don’t eat crap and move your body some.

I’m not doing that.

I’m eating crap. I’m not moving my body enough. And my body isn’t at what I consider to be my “happy weight.” You know what I’m talking about, right? When your body feels pretty good in general and can get through the day with ease?

After I got married, I gained about 20 lbs in 9 months. Then I got pregnant.

In the 2 years after I moved in with my then-boyfriend, I gained back the 20 lbs I had just lost with weight watchers after my weight crept up after college.

My body is not at my happy weight. I’m not functioning the way I want to be. I want more energy. I want to burst into little skips and jumps when I feel like it. I want to roughhouse with my husband (not a euphemism, actually!) and I want to crawl around with my kid. I want to feel better.

So I want to get back to my happy weight. It might be a new happy weight. No matter what, though, it’s going to take some work and discipline to eat less crap and move my body more, but it’ll be worth it.

I want my body to be happy again.

Reason #2: Any Future Pregancies/Kids

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I had geatational diabetes with my first pregnancy. I still have lots of qualms about the diagnosis and treatment and rhetoric surrounding this condition, but the fact remains that the medical establishment didn’t think my body processed sugar well enough and that I therefore posed a danger to my fetus and treated me accordingly. 

Being obese does not always lead to GD, but it is a risk factor. And GD is a risk factor for future type 2 diabetes.  And my diet has definitely not been any kind of diabetes-friendly in the past few months.

At this point, we think we’d like more than one child. And the earliest possible date we’d want to conceive said possible child woukd be December of this year. Six months away. Holy crap. 

I’m currently about 20 lbs from being considered overweight instead of obese. That’s my first goal. (Coincidentally, that would also put me at my wedding weight).  And then I’d be another 25 from being regular weight. That’s a long way away goal. I’d really like to lose about 30 so I could have a cushion for pregnancy, and with about 25 weeks before we’d be trying, I could definitely lose about a pound a week by then. 

If I work at it, that is. And again, that’s why I’m writing this. I need to remind myself that losing weight will not only hopefully help me have an easier pregnancy this time around (I would hate to be as miserable as I was the first time), but also help my kid have possibly better outcomes later on in life (my first kid has shown absolutely no ill effects yet, and if he does I’ll feel so guilty). 

And I’d hopefully be a way cuter pregnant lady. 

So a pound a week. I can do that. 

Reason #1: My Kid

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My mom had me at 31. I had my first at 30. 

My mom died at 58 from a sudden heart attack. I was 27. Her youngest two were 23. 

Part of the reason I wanted to start writing again is I am sorely lacking in both reflection and accountability. For the past 2 years, I’ve had issues with my health and weight, and I keep waiting for.. I don’t know what. I don’t know if it’ll ever come. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been spending my whole life waiting for epiphanies to change my life, and I’m slowly learning that that’s not how it works. If my mom dying and my son being born haven’t turned me 180, I don’t know what will. 

So I decided that I need to think about why I want to change my lifestyle, and I need to put it in writing. It’s how I work. And my biggest reason has to do with both my mom and my child. 

My mom was thin and active when I was young, but she had 4 kids ( including twins) and a tough life and it took a toll on her. I’m heavier than she was then, and even though she had other unhealthy habits that I don’t share, I can’t afford to be blind to the possibility that her fate could be mine. I could miss seeing marriages, grandchildren, my own golden years.. 

I don’t want E to have to go through what I did. Losing my mom was the hardest thing I have ever been through. I miss her every day. I have no doubt that my life would be better if she were still around. 

So. The most important reason I have to get healthy is my son and my mother. When it’s time to make good choices, I need to think of them. 

Human proofing

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In the course of baby proofing, I realized that my baby is a person.

I’ve realized this several times, of course, but as he gets better at making his wants and desires known (and making his displeasures very visible), he becomes more and more his own self in my eyes. He is a person who wants my phone so much that he cries when he can’t have it. He is a person who oh so eagerly pursues the cats even though they flee him every time (or clawlessly [so far] swipe him if he grabs their tails and doesn’t let go). He is a person who shrieks with joy when Daddy plays with him but wants Mommy when he gets hurt. (He is also a person who think that off-limits things must be very exciting, hence the baby proofing.)

When I was pregnant, it was easy to feel like it was a condition being inflicted on me for no good reason. I was sick and miserable and had a really rough time of it, and the prospect of a baby at the end was small comfort. (Literally. Ha.) I had no idea what having a baby would actually be like, and it mostly seemed full of exhaustion and difficult life choices. I could not even begin to comprehend that a soon-to-be-person was growing inside of me and, therefore, the point of all this.

When he was a newborn, he didn’t have much of a person-ality either. (I think. I don’t really have any other babies to compare him to, so maybe if we ever have another I’ll see a difference.) He slipped into our lives fairly easily—it was a cunning trick, exhausting us so much that we barely noticed that we were responsible for a whole entire human life (as tiny as it was). Most of our time was spent holding this little lump of baby who was essentially like a pet or Tomagotchi. He cried; we fed him. He fell asleep; we held him. We carted him to restaurants and friends’ houses and watched all of our shows and pretty much carried on with our lives. He had very little say (though when he did, he said it loudly).

But now? Now he is starting to become himself. He is less a barnacle on our lives and more of a.. well, a marine metaphor isn’t coming to mind, but he’s showing us that he is himself and not just an offshoot of us.

I bemoaned holding him for all of his naps, and now he wants to sleep by himself.

He’s crawling and cruising and won’t stop for a cuddle, but if I try to go to the bathroom he demands to be held for a moment and then immediately set back on his own course.

<He’ll babble incessantly to himself or the cats but won’t have a nonsensical conversation with me.

I think I’m just now realizing that having a baby is kind of like getting a roommate off of Craigslist. Even though you can set ground rules and write a commonsense lease/raise them the best you can, you’re still inviting a stranger to live with you. Who knows if he’ll enjoy scifi/fantasy novels, or if he’ll grow up to hate cats, or if he’ll be a homebody, or if he’ll want to play football (god forbid!)?

We might not always want the same thing. And we might not always like each other. But I’m pretty damn sure I’ll always love him.

Consider your audience.

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One of the things I’ve always told my students was you always have to consider your audience. It’s a state standard, but one I actually believe is worthwhile*. I have even given the example of writing my mom’s eulogy–I definitely had to consider the time and place when I chose my words, and I also considered looking back on it in the future.

I’ve started writing a monthly blog about my baby**, and I realized that I’m writing for a lot of different audiences there. First of all, there are the grandparents who check it religiously and quote it back to me and print out all the photos I post–they’re very close readers. There are also my good friends who check in to see what I’ve been up to and occasionally compliment me on the writing. Then there are the casual friends and coworkers who drop in, and there are probably some people I barely know who read it. And if I want to be prematurely nostalgic, FutureMe is also an audience for when I want to look back on these months and cry about how much I miss them and how teeny tiny my baby was.

And then there’s the baby.

Obviously he can’t read yet (my child is illiterate!***), but I realized that he may one day be interested in looking back on what his parents (let’s be honest–his mom) thought about his first year of life. In a way, it’s kind of like a newfangled baby book, especially if I print out the pages and immortalize them in paper. So now I have a quandary.

I want to be honest. And if I’m honest, there are definitely some things about this parenthood gig that have been really hard for me. And I think it’s important to be able to share that and not sugarcoat the challenges. Maybe it’s self-important of me, but like when my mom died and I wanted to be a grief evangelist, I think it’s partially my duty to help normalize the hard stuff. I want people to be able to read what I’ve written and think “Oh! It’s ok that I hated this part too! I’m human!”

But I also want E to know that he was loved and cared for by two people doing the best they could. My mom always projected an unshakeable confidence that she loved us, she loved being a mom, and we were wonderful unique human beings. Unfortunately, I never got to talk with her after I became a parent to find out if she ever felt the insecurities I do–I have to believe that she did, but also that she felt it was important to hide them from us****. So even though I want to be honest about my insecurities and difficulties, don’t ever want E thinking that he was a bad baby, or unwanted, or that he made our lives worse. I want him to have a mother like I had. I want him to be able to read what I wrote and feel safe and warm and special. But I also want him, if he ever becomes a parent, to know the nuances can be tricky.

So it’s a balancing act, I suppose. And that’s why I’ve decided to start up this blog again. I need a place where I can be a little more open, a little less guarded, and write about some more of the things that are going on in my mind.

*Yes, I realize I imply there are standards I don’t believe are worthwhile. I’m not a committee/automaton/mindless slave to the educational overlords!

**Oh yeah. I had a baby. More on that later!

***That’s one of my favorite jokes and it’s not old yet!

****I like to believe that if she had lived to grandparenthood, she would have opened up to me more about the boredom and anxiety and occasional sleepless rages of parenting young babies (and the future challenges I haven’t even started on yet). God, I wish she were still alive. I still need her.