Who Comes First?

In Parenting, Teaching by Jenn1 Comment

Last week my former students whom I had last year at the career center had their convocation in which they received their career-tech credentials. Last year before I left, I’d promised my juniors to come back for their convocation.

I had to break that promise.

With Fire Monkey less than three weeks old and breastfeeding going just so-so (more on that soon), I didn’t feel comfortable giving bottles during the many hours I’d have to be gone. I also didn’t think I could manage bringing him with me alone while Science Guy was at work. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stay awake during the hourlong drive out to the school.

Missing convocation kind of crushed my soul. Not just because I hate breaking promises, but because this was my last chance to see the students that made such a difference to me in my first year back in the classroom. I know how things work for high school seniors. Everyone promises to keep in touch, but everyone inevitably drifts apart like dandelion seeds. Facebook helps people stay connected, but I really wanted to see everyone in person one last time. I posted a message on Instagram and my kids said they would miss me but understood. One girl, who has a son of her own, even insisted that the baby needed me more. It still kind of crushed my soul.

Thus I’ve run facefirst into the great conundrum of being a parent-teacher: how does one balance being there for one’s own child/family with the calling to care for other people’s children?

I’ll admit that while I was pregnant, a lot of times my answer to that question was, “I can’t.” The hormonal rage machine did not look favorably upon leaving Fire Monkey to babysit (because that’s what it felt like some days) squirrely teenagers who couldn’t be bothered to multiply by 10 without a calculator. In previous years, it was enough for me to connect with students regardless of how they did academically, but for some reason this year that connection wasn’t strong enough for me. I don’t know if it’s because my own emotional energy was diverted or because there was more pressure to cover more content and deliver good results or because the students in a suburban district don’t need the same kind of cheerleading that rural or urban kids do (a raging generalization, I know). Whatever the reason, I felt like a fundamental piece of my teaching experience was missing, which made the less fun parts of being a teacher all the less bearable. I thought for sure that once Fire Monkey arrived I would be stepping out of the classroom, at least for awhile.

Something changed when he was born, though, that I did not expect. Looking at him now, I think of all my minions, but especially the lost puppies who need need need so very much, and I realize that each of them started out as a helpless little bundle in someone’s arms not unlike the ferocious piranha-kraken sweet angel in mine. And some of them, especially the lost puppies, didn’t get the love and attention they needed to be their best, which makes my postpartum hormonal casserole go up in flames. I remember a colleague from my first year of teaching telling me that she always looked at a student acting out and, before reacting, reminded herself that this was someone’s child. I thought I understood what she meant, but now I really, really get it. I look at Fire Monkey and I hope that if (when) ever he struggles in school or life, someone will care enough to help him if I can’t be there. (Because I’m helping someone else’s child succeed? Ouch.)

I don’t know where that leaves me for next year and beyond. My emotional energy tank is fuller than I expected it to be postpartum, but that may only be because I’m not teaching right now. I’m not entirely convinced I’ll be able to leave my child in someone else’s care in order to teach without somehow resenting having to do so, at least while he’s little. But I have managed to rediscover part of what was missing this last year, which is something…the question is what kind of sacrifices I’ll be willing and able to make and which calling comes first.

Until next time,
A-minus Mama



  1. Now is a great time to ponder these questions. Just wanted to add another layer–sometimes a child needs help/guidance from a “not Mom” figure too, whether for a particular issue or just as exposure to different ways of thinking/doing things.

    My little Ryn motivated to learn to roll, crawl and walk ASAP because she sees the older babies at daycare do those things every day. I can’t say for sure what would be different if I had stayed home with her instead, but I know she wouldn’t be watching (and learning from that observation how) older kids move and play every day.

    In short, try not to let the postpartum emotion roller-coaster take you too far into guilt-ville. You are a great Mom and your Fire Monkey is lucky to have you and Science Guy for parents, but he will also gain knowledge/confidence/guidance from other folks in his life too–much like your students did from you.

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