I am Thankful

Today was my third day of maternity leave, and even though I tried not to, I really thought Baby Scone would be here by now.

I was so exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically, when I left work on Friday, that I was actually hoping for a day or two to myself, just to sleep and clean and organize. Monday flew by–a doctor’s appointment, I’m still coaching, so I went to practice, did some writing, organized things… Tuesday, my mom and I went for a nice walk by the beach, it was Nick’s birthday, so I went all-out making a nice dinner. And then today. It was raining and cold when I woke up. I zipped around prepping for Thanksgiving in the morning, and then feeling kind of wiped out, settled in for a rainy afternoon.

And then I started to get really sad.

Every year since 2000 (my freshman year in college), my dad and I have run a local 5 mile Turkey Trot. There have been years when I was in pretty good racing shape and ran myself into an exhausted stupor at the race. Other years, I was more excited about the breakfast afterwards, but regardless, there has not been a year in the past 14 when I haven’t run as hard as I could, on the given day, on Thanksgiving morning. My high school coach works at the finish line, friends I haven’t seen in years show up on the starting line, and whether it’s an icy 20 degree morning or a weirdly humid 60 degree morning, I start the day doing something I love. For the past several years, we’ve had a family pasta dinner the night before including our close friends. The pasta dinner goes back well before I’d even met Nick, and has covered years that ran the gamut from lonely to joyful and everything in between.

In what I’m just beginning to understand is not in the least unusual for parents, my mom and dad are selflessly walking the race with me tomorrow. Nick and my brother are racing. This year, it didn’t work out to have a pasta dinner. My family was picking up my brother at the airport, our friends have a lot going on right now, I have virtually no appetite…. For a while this afternoon, I tried to tell myself it was nice not to be humming with the adrenaline of pre-race excitement, but by dinner time I was feeling pretty down. I love routine and tradition, and when I heard my parents and brother in the car on the way home from the airport, all on speaker phone, I suddenly felt so sad about the ways this year will be different–no wine while we wait for dinner to cook, no pre-race nerves, no falling asleep at my parents’ house so we’ll all be ready to go early in the morning–even though I know that the reasons for these differences are wonderful and joyful.

I did cry a little. Because I miss the pain of racing, and the satisfaction it brings. Because I’m a little bit scared about labor, and if I think about missing pain too much I realize I probably have plenty of Turkey Trots worth of pain in store for me very soon. I miss my friends who are busy and am afraid that having children will put a chasm between me and people I love who don’t. But, then, I started thinking about Thanksgiving.

I’ve had Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting” stuck in my head ever since I showed my students a video from last year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Probably because I feel engaged in the most epic waiting of my life. After my tears, though, I tried to borrow the rhythm of the poem and repeat the line “I am Thankful.”

I am thankful for parents who love me unconditionally. Never has either of my parents made me feel they wished I were anyone other than who I am (stubborn, sometimes ornery, weird, obsessive, occasionally myopic, a girl, a runner, a writer…) I truly hope I can be anywhere near the kind of parent that I have. I don’t have a list of things “I’ll never do.” I want my home to be as full of love and nurturing and adventure as the one I grew up in. This fall, both of my parents have changed their schedules to wait for deliveries at our house so that we could feel more settled by the time the baby does arrive. My mom has met me for walks, helped me organize our new house, listened to my repetitive and often indulgent stream of consciousness about pregnancy. My dad has traveled to Hartford to watch the girls on my team race, and though I know he does love supporting my team, it dawned on me after the first few trips that he was also there for me. Just in case.

I am thankful for my health and Baby Scone’s health. This pregnancy has been easy, in spite of the tears and fatigue. Having a little taste of what being anemic or uncomfortable does to my feelings of self-worth has been eye-opening to how deep the connection between physical and mental health is.

I am thankful for my husband. One of the stupid things I’ve been indulging in while pregnant is reading online message boards about pregnancy. A huge portion of the posts on these boards are from women whose husbands refuse to work, humiliate them about the weight they’ve gained, are having affairs, or in other ways hugely negative forces. Nick has picked up extra tutoring jobs, assembled more furniture than I realized we owned, broken down garbage bags full of moving boxes, and defended me against my worst critic–myself–on hard nights.

I am thankful for my running family. There are a lot of times when teaching feels like an isolating profession. Despite being around other people all day long, it’s easy to feel on the defensive against helicopter parents, administrators with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye, and even colleagues who view themselves as part of a different departmental faction. Coaching is different. The girls on the team threw me a baby shower (the pinkest event I’ve ever witnessed), the boys coach mapped out three different routes from the All State Banquet to the hospital where I plan to deliver, and team parents have offered me rides, given the baby track-themed onesies, and offered words of kind empathy.

Special Treatment

Before I got pregnant, a friend and fellow English teacher told me I wouldn’t believe how much differently students, and particularly their parents, would treat me once the word was out. We chalked part of it up to the knowledge that a teacher is having her own child undermines the image that some parents seem to harbor of me living in a closet at school, dreaming up ways to prevent Deserving Offspring from getting an A and subsequently into Princeton.

Less cynically, I do believe that some of the extra consideration comes from a purely good place: men, and especially women, remembering the exhaustion of early pregnancy, sharing in excitement for the wonderful, scary, exhausting, thrilling challenges ahead. Parents at track meets have offered me blankets and food, which is wonderful because if I’m already cranky and nauseated, I really do feel stressed about being stuck outside for 12 hours in early New England spring, but also a little strange, because, I mean, I definitely got cold and hungry and exhausted at track meets last year, or any of the other 9 years I’ve been coaching track.

I started thinking about the other things that I’ve noticed get me treated differently: the first one, and actually the thing that prompted the initial conversation with my teacher friend, is marriage. I have this really nosy next door neighbor, who, in the past, has sent me emails with passive aggressive “information” like: “There is a weed in your yard! It is so big you might think it is a plant! But, I wanted to let you know it is a weed.” (Uh, thanks? I”m working 70 hours a week and don’t really care too much about weeds?). Once Nick and I got married, she’s been much friendlier. Maybe she thinks I’m less likely to become a crazy old lady whose house is slowly deteriorating and becoming covered with weeds, now that my manly husband is here to help with lawn work. Or, maybe she’s relived to understand that when my best friend and her partner came over, I was simply hanging out with my best friend, not starting a lesbian commune that might change the neighborhood. Regardless, I get the sense that she likes having figured me out.

The other two biographical details that I’ve noticed change the way people treat me are much more blatantly about privilege (can you tell that even though I’ve been avoiding the news that absurd hullaballoo over the Princeton student’s sophomoric editorial has been seeping into my brain?): where I grew up and where I went to college. Revealing either of these two pieces of information seem to have the strongest impact when I’m talking with parents of students or athletes at work. I went to the high school where I now teach, and I have often observed looks of unrestrained relief cross the faces of parents at back to school night when I mention this. Part of this, I’m sure (trying to be fair and start with the less cynical explanation again) has to do with the imagined (and often real) class tension between public school teachers in one of the most affluent towns in America and their students. Recently our student newspaper published an article with an infographic comparing the average per capita income in town with the average teacher’s salary, the cars students drive with the cars teachers drive, and the average home price in the town where I teach and in the towns where most teachers live. I have heard, and remember from when I was a student there, many teachers making a point to enlighten students about privilege. Now that I’m on the other side, I’ll say that there certain are issues of entitlement (“my taxes pay your salary”), but there are also a lot of assumptions made about students in school based on town-wide demographic data. I imagine that some of the relief I’ve seen when parents “figure me out” in this way has to do with their own fears about what I’m assuming about them. Though this relief is often undeniably coupled with a (sometimes rather overt) sense of: oh, you’re one of us.

The other time I’ve seen faces change from skeptical distance to warm, enthusiastic surprise is when parents find out where I went to college. Often, this is followed with an incredulous (I imagine some people think is polite or subtle): “what made you decide to become a teacher?” Once, the first year I was teaching an AP class, a father raised his hand at back to school night and asked: “where did you go to college?” I had been teaching for a year, was flustered, young, felt outnumbered, but still hate that I answered (later, I would come up with retorts I wish I’d used, like: “college? I didn’t even graduate from high school!”). Even more, I hate how I felt when I saw the relief on his face and heard the approval in his voice. I was annoyed at myself for participating in this elitism disguised as accomplishment-based recognition. I thought of friends who couldn’t afford to go to the best schools they got into, friends whose high schools hadn’t even suggested applying anywhere outside the local state school system, kids I’ve taught who had a storm of life-event-hell throughout high school that made SAT prep and GPA perfecting beside the point.

I feel a little bit uneasy when I’m treated differently because I’m going to have a baby. I am so excited to have a baby. I am so grateful that so far I have been healthy, and all signs point toward a healthy baby. But, I didn’t really accomplish anything to have this baby. I was lucky to be born with a working reproductive system. I am lucky that I found a man I love and want to have a family with who was also born with a working reproductive system. Because I’m a straight woman with access to healthcare, the logistics of conceiving were uncomplicated and, well, free. I guess it’s not at all that I mind additional kindness when someone finds out I’m pregnant, or additional respect when someone finds out I went to a college that they think means something exciting, but guilt to be benefitting from the narrow-minded direction of kindness to such a privileged and narrow definition of what it means to be successful.