Finding Me Again
“Isn’t it nice to have something just for you?”
“Don’t you love being back at work?”
“It’s nice not to be a mom every second of the day, isn’t it?”
“Don’t you feel like you have an identity again?”
I’ve been back in the workforce for just under two months. Every time I get together with a friend, they want to know all about the job. How’s it going? Do I like being back? Am I happy? How are we all adjusting at home?
But time and time again, whether it’s another working mom or one of my stay at home parenting friends, they all want to know if I feel more “myself” with a job. It can be hard to answer the question.
Yes, I am happy to be working again. I know I made the right decision in accepting this job. I love being back in the classroom. I love working with my students. I really like my co-workers.
When I walk out of the house in the morning, I am not just a mom. I’m a commuter who enjoys her coffee while listening to a podcast on the way to work. I’m a teacher who encourages her students to engage in meaningful discussion as a means of learning. I’m a colleague who gets to chit chat with my fellow educators over lunch or in the hallways between classes.
From the moment I walk out the door before 7 AM to the moment I pick my daughters up in the afternoon, I’m not just a mom.
I love those hours. I feel productive and stimulated. I feel like a grown up again in work clothes and with my makeup done. I love getting a paycheck and knowing that I’ve put my all into my working hours to earn it.
I have a new identity. I’m Mrs. Sasso, high school history teacher. And then at 3:20, I get in my car and go pick up my girls. At 4:15 every day, two little people throw themselves at me, chattering about their days. I grab backpacks and lunchboxes and chase them out to the car.
We get home, throw everything on the floor and I run up to change. I’m a mom again. For about three hours a day, I’m a mom.
It’s such a weird shift from being a mom all day every day to spending more time at my job than I do with my children.
I thought I’d be devastated to lose that precious time with them, but I find that I am too busy to miss them during the day. I look at their pictures on my desk, I talk about them with my students and colleagues, I wonder what they’re doing, but I don’t feel the oppressive sense of guilt and sadness that I expected to feel.
I work as hard as I can during the day to prep for classes and grade homework so that when I’m home, I can focus entirely on my girls.
I feel caught between the two worlds sometimes. I can’t give everyone my all, but I do the best I can.
When I walk in the doors of my classroom, I am entirely focused on my students and courses. When I walk into the girls’ preschool, I am entirely at their disposal until they go to bed.
Sometimes I feel like I get lost in the shuffle.
Today, my school is closed, but the girls’ preschool is open. I used to judge the moms who left their kids in daycare when they had the day off, but today I happily brought them to school. I dropped them off at 9, allowing all of us to have a relaxed morning. And I’ll go back to pick them up around 3:30, giving us more time together in the afternoon.
Today I got to breathe. I went to Zumba, met a friend for coffee and then spent some time working, preparing myself for the upcoming weeks at school. I got to take a shower without anyone “keeping me company.” I got to hang out in my bathrobe without having to rush somewhere or get someone else ready for their day.
Being a working mom allowed me to have this day to myself. I practiced the art of self-care and was still able to wear my two hats as a mom and a teacher.
We have faced many challenges as a family since I went back to work. Some days I feel like we’re crushing this two working parents thing. We have food for the week pre-made on Sundays, lunches are packed up the night before, laundry is done. Other days, I feel like I’m scrambling to catch up and that my to do list keeps getting longer even though I’m checking things off.
But still, I am learning to embrace the positives.
The days fly by because I am so busy and efficient at work. My long commute gives me time to myself to unwind. I find that I am more patient and equipped to handle my children’s meltdowns and tantrums because I am not with them all day every day. I still need to work on maximizing our limited time together, but I think I am coming a long way towards doing this well.
On the weekends, we try to spend as much time together as a family as we can. This means I can’t put on that teacher hat. Sometimes I am so exhausted by the time the girls take their afternoon nap that all I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or read a book.
I have to ask myself a lot: what’s the worst that can happen? What’s the worst that will happen if the toys don’t get picked up before bed one night? What’s the worst that will happen if I don’t grade a homework assignment right away.
I can’t be the same mom I was before the job and I can’t be the same teacher I was before the kids.
But, you know what? I’m learning how to be me—as a mom, as a teacher, as a wife. I don’t know if I’m necessarily reclaiming an identity I used to wear. I’m forging a new identity, folding in all the pieces of myself.
I don’t do this perfectly, but every day, I’m learning to do it a bit better.