I wasn't supposed to be a stay-at-home mom.
Or, to put it another way, I wasn't supposed to be a year-round, stay-at-home mom. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, and our rent and monthly bills require two paychecks.
By the time our son Ryan was born, I had been teaching for seven years. And there was no question that I'd continue to teach. Other teacher-moms told me that teaching was the "perfect" career for parents.
"Once he starts school, you and your son will have the same hours each day."
"You'll always be available when he's got a random day off from school."
"You'll spend vacations together."
"You know what your schedule is year-round. It's not like other jobs, where your schedule changes on a weekly basis."
Like my husband's schedule. Paul's retail career didn't provide the same consistent schedule, week after week, that my teaching career did. While Paul's schedule could be erratic, I would provide Ryan with a reliable, fixed routine.
And my colleagues were right.
Aside from a few exceptions, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences and Back-to-School Night, Ryan and I would have dinner together each night. I imagined us doing "homework" together each afternoon—Ryan doing actual homework, me grading my students' homework.
Because there are 180 school days, theoretically, that means that the other half of the year, I'd spend with Ryan. But again, there were some exceptions. I usually spent quite a bit of time each summer attending conferences, workshops, and professional developments. I always returned to my classroom several days before the start of the new school year to get everything ready.
Still, teaching would continue to provide our family with a needed second income, feed my passion for teaching, and allow me the opportunity to spend considerable time with my son each day, all year long.
If Ryan attended the same small, local elementary school where I taught, I'd never have to choose between my students and my son. We'd come and go to school together, I'd watch him walk with his class in our school's Halloween Parade, and he'd watch me walk with mine. I'd hear him and his class sing holiday songs during our winter performance, and he'd hear my class.
That was the plan.
But while Ryan was a preschooler, the plan changed.
I got sick with a "mystery illness" that took doctors almost a year and a half to diagnose. Eventually, my rheumatologist determined I suffered from Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disease. I tried to pretend that my disease didn't impact my life or require any major lifestyle changes. But I couldn't keep up the pretense. So, in 2013, after a 12-year teaching career, I retired due to a disability.
I wasn't merely forced to give up my career. I had to give up my passion. I was now thrust into the role of year-round, stay-at-home mom, and I wasn't completely sure how to do it.
Thankfully, my disability check would continue to provide us with some income and the matching schedules Ryan had grown accustomed to would continue as well. But there were a lot of changes.
I had never before been the person to take Ryan to preschool. That job had always fallen to either our nanny or Paul. Now, I had to learn the timetable for breakfast, and the morning routine of getting washed, dressed, and out of the house.
I also had to figure out what to do after preschool. When I was teaching, I came home in the late afternoon. Ryan and I had some play time and shortly after that, we would begin our nightly evening routine. Now, with preschool ending at two o'clock each afternoon, we would have hours together before it was time for dinner.
How would I fill that time?
I knew how to lesson plan for a class of 30-plus students. I knew how to fill school days with a mix of whole-group instruction, independent work, and cooperative group work. I had a pacing plan to adhere to, standards and concepts that I was mandated to teach on a
timetable to prepare my students for periodic assessments and yearly standardized testing. But how would I organize a single day that involved just Ryan and me?
Many colleagues told me to find the silver lining. I had a disability, but I had also been given a gift—the opportunity to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. While that was true, it came at a price.
I felt confused because I wasn't accepting my new role with complete enthusiasm and pure delight. I alternated between feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration because it wasn't my choice. My doctor and the state of California told me I could no longer teach. And when someone tells you that you can or cannot do something, it means something entirely different than when the choice is your own.
While I love my son and am honored to be his mother, I didn't know how to reconcile the fact that mothering had now become my primary job every day. I wasn't sure how to accept and make sense of my new identity. Disabled woman. Former Teacher. Stay-at-home mom.
I've slowly come to realize that I'm still a teacher, but now my student roster consists of one, my son, and my classroom isn't always a room. Sometimes it's the library. Sometimes it's our kitchen. Sometimes it's our backyard.
Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. But it is always an adventure.