Something I always prided myself on as a teacher was the fact that I had very high expectations for my students and I would not stop pushing (and supporting) until they reached those expectations…or exceeded them. In order to have such high expectations of my students, I had to also have high expectations of myself. They were not going to learn the most possible by me photocopying their textbook page by page for classwork each day. No, I was a lesson-planning maniac. Well, okay, so I wasn’t always stellar at typing up the entire lesson plan ahead of time, per se, but I always knew what I was going to do that day…and it was always some type of project or activity that involved lots of prep work and would hopefully get my students as inspired as possible. In other words, I worked my arse off. However, this also meant I got to see results. Results that felt like they really mattered. I had 8th graders putting on fashion shows and creating restaurants in French, I had 9th graders trying 15 different types of food from various Spanish-speaking countries and then writing up descriptions and opinions in Spanish, I sent 11th graders to Morocco, Japan, and Scotland (to name a few) on full scholarship. It always felt like my hard work was worth it and my accomplishments were easily measured through the achievements of my students.
Looking back, there were also times when I was doing so much, all at the same time. At one point, I was teaching 8th grade French, getting my Masters in Teaching from Johns Hopkins AND working as a waitress. I also managed to have a pretty full (read: I pretty much always had my party hat on) social life. I am literally sitting here sighing at the computer screen as I reread those last few lines. My life was jam packed and I was ACHIEVING stuff, darn it. Every day.
Cut to 2010: I have a few more crow’s feet, a few (ahem) more pounds, and lot more confusion about exactly what my daily actions are worth. I mean, obviously it is really wonderful and important that I am raising my kids. That goes without saying. Or, well, I guess it doesn’t since I felt the need to say it. And to be honest, I do think I am doing a good job because, well, the proof is in the pudding. Or you can see the proof here or here or here. Shoot, this picture, alone, will tell you we are doing a pretty darn good job. And I am very happy and thankful that I get to be home with my kids, using this time to teach them, instill values in them, give them love and affection, etc.
But I feel like suddenly the bar for ‘what I can accomplish’ each day is set really, really, really low.
Like, the other day at The Little Gym of Harlem (amazing place, by the way) I told a few other mothers how proud of myself I was because I managed to shower/bathe all three of us that day (Xavi, Carlitos and myself!). And guess what? They were proud of me, too. Genuinely impressed. All smiles and clapping for me and stuff. I had this existential moment where I was looking at myself from outside of myself and thinking “Really? Really this is what your life has become? Bragging to women you barely know about showering yourself and your children? And practically receiving a standing ovation for it?” Only, the truth is that it is really hard to get all three of us showered and bathed in the morning…especially if I have to be out the door before 9:30 am for The Little Gym class. So, I truly was proud of myself and these women were truly impressed because they know how hard it is, too. So, I guess the problem is more with coming to terms with my new reality. Or maybe with finding the importance and meaning in my new life ‘accomplishments.’
It happened again today. My Mother-in-Law is coming to visit tomorrow and our house was a complete disaster; was, being the operative word. I have been cleaning like a mad woman all day with a really whiny 2.5-year-old and a fussy 2-month-old in tow. I changed all sheets, I cleaned all surfaces, I put away all clothing, I cleaned all floors, I did all dishes…I even went through my wardrobe and separated out pregnancy clothing to put in storage (Yes, storage, not the Salvation Army pile. We are crazy enough to possibly go through a third pregnancy.) and clothing to give away. I am finally done and am sitting here, sweaty and exhausted and completely proud of myself. Like, really, really stinkin’ (no pun intended) proud. And again I start thinking to myself, “Really? Because you cleaned your house? I mean, shouldn’t that kind of be a given?” But no, it is not a given, because each day you are home alone with two babies is entirely about just making it through the day unscathed and without having added to the mess by too much. It is certainly not usually about putting a dent in the mess that already exists. But today I cleaned this place within an inch of its life and part of me, life I said, feels like I really accomplished a lot. The problem is that part of me wonders what the worth is. So we have a clean house for like, a second (because we all know it will be trashed in less than 24 hours).
“Cleaned her house (occasionally) and bathed her kids (almost daily)” Is that really what I want on my tombstone?