Just one year ago this week, I was daydreaming about a career change. On a whim, I checked some HR pages of different school districts “just to see” what was out there. I had been commuting over an hour a day, some days even two hours, to and from work. I was working a job that I was good at and loved the family that I had formed amongst my coworkers and bosses, but I resented it too. And my nine month old daughter was growing tired of the long drives. She had taken to screaming her head off for at least half of the drive and then falling asleep in exhaustion, making a 7pm bedtime nearly impossible to swing.
I was stretched so very thin. I was freaking exhausted (my darling baby girl also would not sleep for longer than two hours at a time). I was ready for a change.
I decided to apply to a few positions that were nearby my house. When I noticed the application closing date was the very next day, I frantically put my resume together and requested letters of recommendation from people who wouldn’t say anything if it didn’t work out. And then I hit send, like throwing a paper airplane off a cliff.
Within a few days of applying, I had three interview requests. Shit was getting real.
For one of the interviews, I had to write an essay about my teaching philosophy and how it meshed with one of the programs that the school had going on. As I opened a word document, with the blinking cursor staring at me, I felt stuck. The past few years I had gotten a bit jaded by politics. There was drama and pride and all kinds of silly things that I wore on my shoulders like two ton bricks. I had a hard time picturing the faces of my students because they were lost in data reports due to the state department and board presentations. I wondered what I could possibly say to make these new people want me to teach with them. I’m not normally at a loss for words, being a writer and all.
Then I saw my African Violet plant sitting on my desk, a teacher appreciation gift from our office staff. It was dry and shriveled and looked to be on its last leg. I remembered something someone had said at one of the countless education conferences that I had attended. African violets are apparently super resilient. They will survive in almost any environment. Yet there are also certain conditions in which they thrive. The speaker then compared this plant to children, suggesting that children are perhaps some of the most resilient creatures on the planet. But are we satisfied with survival? Or are we working to give them the very conditions they need to actually thrive?
So I wrote about it. I remember feeling a bit like a bull shitter. The metaphor seemed more about me than children. I was the shriveled little violet who needed water. The children didn’t need me. I needed them.
Nevertheless, I got the job.
It’s been nearly one school year at Hazeldale Elementary. And I am SO glad I made the change. I have a six minute commute, twelve minutes round trip (in case you needed help with the math). Mila and I are home by five, most days. I see my students at the neighborhood grocery store. And it has been refreshing to rediscover the “me” who works with children. Not the “me” who got bogged down in bureaucracy and my insecurities as a leader and my tendency towards neurosis and worry.
It hasn’t been all roses and sunshine. It’s been hard work and letting go. It’s been so much self-reflection I could drown in it. Here I go again, trying to control this or prove I’m smart or make so-and-so like me. And lately it’s been 31 out of the last 44 days with a God damned cold. But I really, truly am happy to be back in a school and working with those little carrier monkeys.
I took a huge leap of faith last year. I made a decision that was certainly risky (going from a contracted job to probationary status during an election year and in a state whose education budget is as rocky as an old canoe, yeah not that smart). But I had to do it. My conditions weren’t right. I was barely surviving, let alone thriving.
You guys, let’s be real. I’m not exactly the poster child for “thriving vs surviving” these days either. I’m still freaking tired. Maybe that’s just a constant from here on out. Our kid shit on the rug this month, my husband is overworked and sometimes has to sleep on his office floor, and I seem to be addicted to eating cookies by the sleeve-full. I can’t even eat them bite by bite. I instinctively shove the entire thing into my mouth and then chew very quietly for fear that our small child will hear or see it and then need to eat one too. And then it feels like I should eat more, since I technically only had one bite.
The conditions for me to thrive aren’t right yet. I’m still in that deep parabolic trench of life that researchers say is inevitable when you have kids that are under five. But they are closer because I listened to my heart and not my head last spring. And today, while (finally) watering the plants around my house, I noticed something. My African violet is blooming! I thought I had effectively killed off that capacity through my extreme neglect. See…told you they are resilient! And I had this hopeful feeling that I too will be thriving again soon.