No matter how many years go by, I’m still nervous on the first day of school. I’m probably just as anxious, if not more anxious than many of the kids when I go back to work as a teacher after summer break. I don’t hesitate to tell my students this. They always think it’s odd.
As the adult in the room, shouldn’t I be over first-day jitters?
Well, last year was more than a case of the jitters. And I never told anyone. Last year at this time, I started a new job at a new school after having the summer off with my newborn.
My first day back for professional development, I learned how to defend myself against attackers with crisis prevention training. I learned about phishing scams. I pumped in a bathroom. I ran across town to breastfeed my son during lunch (after he finished a bottle). I learned about pineapple charts.
And I cried for the first time since my son was born.
Rushing like mad between buildings, I saw one of my friends (who is a stay at home mom) walking down Main Street with her kids in a stroller.
It hit me hard. Why hadn’t I set my life up differently to give myself more TIME? I needed time the way some people need... a pineapple.
This year, I’m glad to say, is totally different.
Part of this is because I know what to expect in my new position. I also know my son loves his daycare. And I know I enjoy working more than the option to stay home (gasp). Plus, I’m looking forward to seeing the students.
But I didn’t know any of this at that moment when I cried.
Below are some other surprising things I’ve learned this past year.
#1. Perfection is the Enemy of Good
(And the enemy of doing just about anything as a parent.)
I’ve always loved collecting quotes.
“Perfection is the enemy of good” is one of those quotes I keep in my ultra-healthy-brain arsenal while really thinking, “Good will be good enough once life is perfect. I’ll become lazy if I start implementing this philosophy now...”
After reading every pregnancy book I could find, avoiding red food dye like the plague, wearing no makeup for fear of toxins leaking into my body, doing pregnant yoga poses I forgot to try before I was pregnant, and (insert any granola person stereotype you have here), my husband thought I was going to read every book about infants, then every book about one-year-olds, and then every book about two-year-olds, until I was reading books about how to interact with a 35-year-old.
But a surprising thing happened once our son was born. The world exploded in a chaotic way (we felt like we were camping in our own house) and I just kind of... gave up.
(I let go is a probably a better way to put it.)
Whatever happened amongst that chaos, I became a far more relaxed parent than anyone (including me) thought I would be.
#2. Just Because I’m a Happy Mom Doesn’t Mean I’m a Crappy Mom
(This is a quote I came up with.)
Why do I think I'm a happy mom? Because I've made room for expressing myself.
At three months post-partum, I decided to start a social media account for a future blog while breastfeeding on the deck. Reading one book about breastfeeding was enough. I didn’t need to read twenty of them. Besides, a phone was easier to hold than a book (especially in my new life without enough hands).
A year later, here we are. In my mind, my son and my blog were born around the same time (and for similar reasons). I’ll never do justice enough for either of them. But we all move forward together in a weave each day and I’m doing my best.
“Perfect parenting” doesn’t allow for creativity (due to the enormous opportunity costs involved)... so I’ve broken up with perfect parenting. Instead, I’m an odd mix of being more confident than I have ever been, while at the same time, I have no idea what I am doing.
And I'm OK with this.
#3. Being Home Alone With Munchkin Pants is Harder Than I Thought
I’ve learned “Snow Day!” takes on a different meaning when you are a teacher with young children. I’ll honestly say, some days off with him last year were more difficult than work.
(I think we’ll become better at it. Don’t get me wrong - I still look forward to a snow day here and there. Just not ten of them in a row after Christmas break.)
Mostly, I’ve learned I work well with a bell because I like structure (even if school bells were inspired by factory set-ups from days of old). Loss of structure at home means I watch him create a game with measuring spoons and I can’t tell if 20 minutes or two hours have gone by.
Apparently, babies do not create most of their own routines. Creating structure and intentional habits for them takes enormous time and work (especially when going it alone for several hours on end). If my husband can be home too, I at least have time to eat a meal with five interruptions instead of twenty.
Four adult hands are nice. And an educated daycare person we love is an amazing bonus.
I’m still torn about going back to work this fall, but I’ve also realized I’m not built to be a stay at home mom. I treasure any extra time with him, but I also enjoy a healthy dose of routine and productivity out of the house.
#4. Life is Going Too Fast (and Too Slow)
Or maybe... I just don’t know how life is going? Maybe I never did?
Reflecting, in general, has always been a go-to coping mechanism for me.
Nature likes to play jokes though. And the funny thing is - your first few weeks with a baby are very profound (but good luck finding any time to process such profundity)! I’ve found life loves to have its biggest quantum leaps while zero time exists to grasp the wonder.
For example, I wasn’t in the mood to get the camera out and capture the moment perfectly when I had mastitis. Instead, I was sitting around shocked about how breastfeeding was harder than labor (at least for me). I had nothing to say about our first twelve weeks to my high and mighty journal either.
Still don’t. My mind is blown and...
#5. My Thoughts Are Slower
Mommy brain is controversial. I’ll speak for myself here and say - my thoughts are literally slower. I used to be someone with a racing brain. Thinking slower is kind of like an experiment in a different dimension. It’s not better or worse. Just different.
You know how a sloth experiences reality in a vastly different way than most other mammals because it has a warped metabolism? A sloth will process its food over a span of days while other animals will process it an hour.
I’m kind of like that.
I’ve always enjoyed quick banter while volleying wisecracks back and forth. Now, as a new parent, when I’m in a conversation with friends and witty colleagues, the ball often comes to me and goes… thud.
I like to listen just as much as I like to talk though, so I view this as a season in life where I will study others. That being said, I do believe introverted women should speak up more. As a result, I’ll save my coherent sentences for when it counts - like meetings, my job, and podcasting (maybe).
Why would evolution keep around a freak of nature like a sloth? I’ll have to get back to you on that...
Stay tuned for Part 2. I'll discuss productivity, batching, identity, crying for other reasons, and the magical strength of sloths.