Today educators awake to the final Monday before flipping their calendars to August, and likely seeing a day marked indicating the first day of school. As we prepare to re-enter our buildings and mentally ready ourselves for a new year, we hold on to those last whispers of sun-drenched days by asking the inevitable question, “How was your summer?”
“It was great! We vacationed to xyz!”
“Me and the pool became so close I gave it a name and we took selfies all summer long!”
“Fast. Always too fast.”
My answer, “Hard. Really damn hard.”
Let’s go back to April briefly where I was provided the opportunity to work as a summer school principal. As I sat listening to all the role would entail, I kept hearing the following:
“It’s only 23 days.”
“It’s a nice amount of money.”
“You can take a nice family vacation in July.”
“It’s a great experience to have…”
And in a moment that left me questioning giving up time with my own kids, it was done. I took the job, and found myself riddled with panic, anxiety, and guilt in the coming days.
I have no idea what I’m doing. This was a horrible decision as a mother. I’m supposed to give every additional waking minute to my kids. That’s what moms do. I just gave a whole month with them away. What have I done?
I barely remember the month of May. I think lunch schedules were made, duties assigned, and student incentives outlined because all those things were completed for the first day, and I’m certain no one else but myself would have done that. All those scary first-day-of-school dreams that lure into teachers’ brains in August, crept into mine May 30th. My repeating soundtrack, “Don’t lose a kid. Whatever you do, don’t lose a kid.”
The sun dawned on Wednesday, May 31st, and I set forth to my building. The kids are coming today–remember, don’t lose one.
Day 1: I did not lose a kid! Whew!
Day 2: I lost a kid. Damn. (We found him! wrong bus)
Day 3: I broke up a mean girl mob of twelve 4th and 5th graders on the playground. In an incident that would take three hours to flesh out, I was called a racist, my office a jail cell, and several expletives.
Day 4: I met with mean girl mob to make sure nothing played out over the weekend through text or social media. Things had played out over the weekend through text and social media. We spend three more hours getting students to a place where they feel safe returning to their classrooms.
Day 5: A bus driver has a near mental breakdown in my office from the behaviors playing out on the bus. We create a seating chart.
Day 6: A physical altercation plays out on said bus before it leaves that afternoon. I pull two students off each other and then off the bus, and deliver my first suspensions. I am at school until 6:00 with one of them because there are no working phone numbers for us to get a hold of the family. With district approval, I ultimately take her home with another teacher who happened to be in the building that late as well.
Day 7: An additional bus gets added to reduce the length of the route for the bus with behavior issues. I breathe a sigh of relief.
Day 9: Balloons were brought on the new bus and inappropriate sexual conduct played out with them on the ride to school. I pull the bus video and ride the bus home to inform parents of their child’s behavior on the bus. Final warnings are given. I continue to ride the bus for the next two weeks.
Day 10: A student from the school dies. His mother attempts suicide by jumping off the Bond Bridge later that day.
Day 11: News breaks of student’s death, reporting that he drowned in a bathtub within his home and his mother unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Students and staff crumble.
Day 12: Grief counselors arrive on site for the remainder of the week and into the coming week to support students and staff.
Day 13: I’m left a note to look into a incident at recess where a student was hit in the eye.
Day 14-18: I start to look into the incident with the student at recess. What is seemingly a minor incident is not. At least not to the family. As conversations take place throughout the week, I am ultimately accused of handling the situation in a way that perpetuates women’s silence in a rape culture. I meet with the family in person. Little is resolved. They leave. I go home and crumble.
I pick myself up and we finish out the last week. My 23 days are done. I did my time. Now my time turns to my family.
This has to be easier, better, right?
Before I accepted the summer school position, we had planned a family trip to Omaha with some friends for the July 4th weekend. I refused to cancel the trip. So, as soon as summer school concluded that Friday, I went home, loaded up the family and we drove to Omaha.
Lillian had an accident on the way despite stopping to use the restroom which she refused to do. So, we took her through the main entry of the Hilton with no pants or shoes on.
Beau slept the whole way. Glorious, right! Nope. Beau didn’t sleep at all the first night in the hotel room, so no one else slept either.
The next day we went to the world acclaimed, Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and what did the kids do? SLEEP!
And so this set the stage for July. We finished out this mini vacay only to jump right into the next. The guilt that consumed me as a mother in June, tried to over compensate in July by planning and attending every event within 200 miles to give my kids all the things I thought I’d denied them for the last 23 days. In addition to this we had swim lessons, and work trips for both my husband and myself, and, and, and…
It just didn’t stop. It was too much for us. It was too much for the kids. It was just too much. Partly because of life, mostly because of me. Mostly because my mom guilt reached further than just the past 23 days. It went back to last summer too. I kept Lillian in daycare that summer because I’d just had Beau and I knew I couldn’t handle having both of them home at the same time all summer long. I knew because I was seeing a therapist for the panic and anxiety that overcame me just thinking about it. And in one of many sessions that has stuck with me, we talked about expectations.
We had somehow gotten on the topic that I host Thanksgiving for my family every year. She asked me what my expectations were for that day. I told her that everyone has a good meal and a good time. To me this seemed minimal. She immediately said, “NO! That’s too much. You’re expecting too much.” I was shocked. She further explained, “Do you leave every family function having had a good time?” Ummm…no. “Exactly! You can’t own whether people have a good time or not. That’s on them. They’re adults. If they want to have a good time they will, if they want to be miserable they will. Same goes for your meal. To some it may be a good meal, to others it might not. Your expectations should be that food is on the table and everyone leaves still breathing.”
As this summer comes to an end I find myself once again returning to expectations. What were they for this summer? Why am I left with this feeling that it wasn’t all it could have, or should have, been? I don’t know.
For summer school I think it was simply survival. This being my first experience in a principal role, I didn’t know what to expect. I do know I did not expect it to be as demanding as it was. Everyone said that May was the hardest month, because you were doing two jobs. Getting everything set-up for summer school and your current job. Once summer school started, it pretty much ran itself. This was certainly not my experience.
For my kids, I guess I thought it was going to be easy and joyful to tote an 18-month-old and almost 3-year-old all over the place every day from morning until night, and that they too would love every minute of it. We just had to make up for all this lost time.(Insert therapist comments). A bit much, huh?
As I reflect on this and begin framing my mind for the upcoming year two words continue to be at the forefront–re-imagine (thank you ILA) and expectations. Maybe they’re separate, maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re separate and together at the same time.
What I do know is that the educator and mom gig is hard. And the hard is was makes it great. I’m honored to be in both roles. But the hard it also what makes it real. And we have to be real about the expectations placed on us and those we place on ourselves. Who really expects this stuff? If it happens, what? If it doesn’t happen, what?
This is where my reimagining begins. Reimagining what it means to work with kids-both others and my own. We’re transforming lives. That’s a big enough expectation on its own. What the world wants from me isn’t about transformation. It stays on the surface. It doesn’t last. This year, I’m focusing on letting that go.
That’s my expectation.