This is my second and last year off of work. And it IS my last year off of work, unless I miraculously come upon a million dollars in the next ten months. Last year, my year off seemed like this amazing blessing because Joe's job was in Pittsburgh and I was in and out of the hospital with those stupid kidney stones (SKS, as I've come to think of them), and it was like, Oh my God, what if I had had to be teaching, too?? I seriously can't imagine what it would have been like to have that kidney stone pain AND walk into a classroom full of middle schoolers AND come home and be a "single" mom.
THIS year, Joe's job is back in Buffalo AND my kidney stones, as of July third, are silent and invisible (I just can't believe they're all gone, since I've had these problems pretty much my whole life). Therefore, I am doing all the cool and amazing things I meant to be doing last year. Like taking Noah to the zoo just because, and learning how to bake a whole chicken and make perfect mashed potatoes, and making everyone wholesome breakfasts and packed lunches. And I have a dog, which I'm mostly excited about (except when I'm not, and then it kind of stinks).
Today, Joey forgot his water bottle when he left for school. Water bottles are all the rage these days, aren't they? Remember when we were kids and went to school and were just thirsty a lot of the time? Sometimes we'd ask if we could go get a drink from the drinking fountain, but unless I was choking my teachers always said NO. Now children are permitted, nay, encouraged, to bring water bottles to school lest they be too parched to learn.
As a germophobe, I must admit I'm a fan of the water bottle because I think drinking fountains are gross and horrible harborers of plague and disease. Noah came home after his first day of school and announced, "I used a DRINKING FOUNTAIN!" and I nearly fell out of my chair. "No, no, no," I told him with fervor, "we don't use the drinking fountain. They are germy." Noah thought about this for a minute and then said, "No, I don't think so." Like he's such an authority on what's germy. Like he's been to medical school recently and might know more than me.
Or maybe like he lacks my super control freak germophobic paranoid insanity.
When I looked on the kitchen counter today and realized that Joey didn't have his water bottle, and considered that he does actually have a cough, I decided that I would bring him the water bottle at school. Noah gets dropped off at 8:30, so I was going to be there anyway, and I could just tuck the bottle into his backpack. I've seen other moms do this before, and it seems to be pretty standard. Kid forgets something, mom brings it and tucks it into the backpack. (Backpacks and coats are hung on hooks in the hall. Very convenient.)
When Noah and I arrived at school, he joined his class's line, already formed in the foyer. His teacher greeted me warmly. She already knows me because I have visited the class twice this year so far: once to read Where the Wild Things Are and once to help chaperone a field trip to the firehouse. She glanced down at the water bottle and said, "Did Joey forget something?" and I said, "Yes, I thought I'd bring it to him." She gestured toward his classroom, just down the hall and said, "You might just catch him before they head to church."
I trotted down the hall to Joey's classroom, beautifully adorned by construction paper leaves and pictures of the children at work--gotta love the digital age--and saw the children lining up at the door. Joey's class knows me from his birthday parties and from seeing me wait in the driveway as he gets off the bus. They called out, "Joey, your mom's here!" Once, I might have worried this would irritate the teacher--that a mom showed up mid-day for something as absurd as a forgotten water bottle--but that isn't the mentality of this school. Instead, I was met with smiles all around, and Joey rushed to the door, grabbed his water bottle, and said gratefully, "Thanks for remembering, Mom!"
I walked out of the building with conflicting feelings. I love that I was able to do that--see both my boys in the middle of the day, and be a part of their school life as well as their home life. That it was as natural as anything for me to walk into school for something as small as a forgotten water bottle. Most of all, that I could do it. Because two years ago, and next year, that was and will be an impossibility. A forgotten water bottle will be a regular occurrence, and a thing to put up with, because no one will do anything about it. I've already acknowledged that I think water bottles are a luxury kids can survive without, but I also love that I have this chance, this one year, to just bring in the stupid water bottle. For my kids to know, "Hey, my mom can be there for me if I need her to be."
As I pulled out of the parking lot and headed home for a precious two hours alone (which I spend doing laundry and cleaning and occasionally writing this blog), I felt the good feelings float away. I was thinking of myself next year, and of all the moms out there who do not have the luxury that I have to be at home. I was remembering what it felt like to say goodbye to teary-eyed children as I rushed out the door in the morning, to see a kid get off the bus with the wrong coat, or with no coat, because I didn't have a chance to check the weather report that morning. To be in the middle of teaching about the difference between their, there, and they're (because they ARE different and it matters, damn it) and have the phone ring and hear Joey's school say, "Joey threw up and needs to go home," and have total panic strike my heart as I think, "My God, I'm twenty miles away and I'm talking about homophones and my own kid needs me and how the hell am I going to take care of this?" I remembered what it felt like to arrive home every day, mentally drained from the homophones and middle schoolers, and have my kids say, "Mom, you're finally home! Can you get us a snack? Can we go to Target? Can you do a puzzle? Can you help me with my homework? What's for dinner? Mom, today was 'Wear Red' day and you forgot--I was the only kid who wasn't wearing red."
Or the one that hurt the most: "All the moms came to school today, except mine. Will you ever be able to come?"
Once, while I was still teaching, I read an article written by a stay-at-home mom. She was all outraged by working moms who said they two full-time jobs: working AND being a mom. She said, "Don't call yourself a full-time mom until you've actually done it full-time," or something to that effect.
Well, I'm going to tell you the truth. Moms who go to work every day ARE working two full-time jobs. You don't ever get to stop being a mom. I didn't get to stop thinking about Joey and Noah when twenty-five twelve-year-olds were sitting in front of me asking me, "Why do we even HAVE English class, because we already, like know how to speak English?" You're expected to do two completely different things as well as the people who are only expected to do ONE thing in the same amount of time. Your own children still have to be cleaned, fed, and performing beautifully at whatever. They have to be involved in fifty activities and arrive smiling and on time and prepared. At your job, YOU have to be on time and smiling and prepared (preferably fed and cleaned) and performing beautifully. Every day is a mountain climb, and every day you feel the stress of that climb. Not every day do you feel like you've made it to the top, or are going to make it.
So this blog entry is about me saying: Yes, I love my life right now. This has been an opportunity, and a privilege, and a huge financial sacrifice I will never, ever regret. But KUDOS and SALUTES and a TON of credit goes to the ranks of moms I will join next year. You are unbelievable. You are amazing. You are doing more than other people can possibly comprehend. And the reason they can't comprehend it is because you ARE so good at it, you make it look normal and easy.
And in the meantime, I'm going to continue to enjoy water bottles and beautifully packed lunches while I can. It isn't easy--I'm not saying it's easy--but it's certainly nice to be able to give one thing my all.